Imprisonment for Public Protection Scheme - Question for Short Debate

– in the House of Lords at 1:31 pm on 13 October 2022.

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Photo of Baroness Burt of Solihull Baroness Burt of Solihull Liberal Democrat 1:31, 13 October 2022

To ask His Majesty’s Government what progress they have made in producing a new action plan for offenders still serving indefinite sentences under the Imprisonment for Public Protection scheme.

Photo of Baroness Burt of Solihull Baroness Burt of Solihull Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am most grateful for the opportunity to bring this issue before your Lordships’ House today. My noble friend Lady Hamwee, who originally managed to secure this debate, has stood by to allow others more time to speak, as this is an important issue about which noble Lords feel strongly, given the number who have put their names down to speak today. I will follow her lead by being as brief as possible in my remarks

I heartily welcome the report of the House of Commons Justice Committee on IPP sentences. The report pulls no punches in its description of the dysfunctionality of the current IPP system and the mental toll it takes on those trapped within it. It makes clear that unless considerable resources and improvements to the system are employed, the current rump of about 3,300 IPP prisoners—either on recall or never having been released at all—will not diminish significantly anytime soon.

I do not want to spend time going into the history of how we got here—only to say that, since 2016, several action plans have been implemented—but progress has been slow, to put it mildly. The current plan focuses on 15 different work streams, each of which seeks to tackle a different aspect of the problem, such as mental health issues, progressive transfers and so on. This is clearly ineffective without resources and without regular monitoring, reviewing and evaluation of the effectiveness of the different programmes.

The report recommends a fresh action plan to include clear performance measures for each work stream, someone accountable, and a timeframe for completion of each activity. Then we will know what the targets are and be able to measure how effectively they are working within the target timescales. The committee recommended that this revised plan be published by around March 2023.

I must tell the Minister that I have a lot of questions, and if he is unable to answer any of them today, will he kindly undertake to write to me and other noble Lords with the answers?

On the new action plan recommendations, are the Government currently working on a new action plan along the lines of the Justice Committee’s recommendations? Will they at least aspire to meet the timescale for producing the plan recommended in this report? Will the plan include clear performance measures for each work stream? Will someone be held accountable for performance within a specific timeframe?

The report is graphic on the psychological harm caused by IPP sentences. Will the MoJ and the HMPPS set out how they intend to improve access to mental health support? Will the Government publish the commissioned report by Professor Paul Moran into the offender personality disorder pathway by this December, as the Joint Committee report recommends?

Another major inhibitor to progress is the lack of appropriate parole preparation courses. Long waiting lists add time to sentences before the prisoner can even reach the starting gate for assessment. Will the MoJ and HMPPS ensure there are enough places on courses?

There is the whole system of managing the release into the community and the parole system to consider. Will sufficient resources be made available to curtail the inordinate delays in helping to prepare prisoners for parole? Will the parole system prioritise consideration of IPP prisoners, and will more help be made available to enable prisoners who have been released to make a success of life on the other side of the bars?

All those recommendations deal with the system as it stands, but the report goes further—much further. The committee recommends a reduction in the qualifying license period from 10 years to five. Our doughty cross-party team of Peers who worked on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill earlier this year—many of whom I see in the Chamber today—argued strongly for this, and I hope the Government have had time to reflect and see they can make a big difference without compromising public safety.

The final, primary and most radical recommendation of the report is to end the plight of those still suffering from this cruel, inhumane sentence altogether, by conducting a resentencing exercise with a small, time-limited expert committee and members of the senior judiciary. I do not propose to speculate on exactly how this would work, and I know it would not be easy, but this terrible, unjust treatment of prisoners must end. Will the Government look at the feasibility of creating this committee and how it might go about its work?

I commend Bob Neill and his committee: they took the brave step of showing a path to end this sentence. They have not consigned the solution to the “too difficult” box, and neither should we.

Photo of Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood Judge 1:38, 13 October 2022

My Lords, that was a masterly introduction to this debate, and I am honoured to follow it. As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, says, this report is to be welcomed greatly.

Your Lordships’ House has long recognised the shocking injustices suffered by all those sentenced under this scheme—injustices continuing and growing 10 years after its abolition. We have hitherto been given to understand that the other place, the all-powerful elected Chamber, is unpersuadable; we have been told they do not have the appetite to change the law in a way which could put at liberty some who could reoffend and who are currently—however unfairly and most of us regard it thus—lawfully locked up.

This House of Commons report is not so hard-hearted, but nor is it soft-hearted; rather, it is hard-headed. It contains a masterly analysis of the wrong and what is necessary to put it right within the system. At last, it is recognised that the scheme has resulted in a gross injustice. IPP sentences are effectively life sentences by the back door. The committee describes it as “preventive detention”, imprisoning people

“on the basis of what they might do, rather than on the basis of what they have done.”

As the committee recognises, the only actual, long-term, final solution is for those still affected to be resentenced according to just principles.

Of course, everybody ever sentenced to an IPP sentence—between April 2005 and December 2012, until its prospective abolition under LASPO—is still subject to this injustice; not only those still detained, many for years beyond tariff dates and several beyond the statutory maximum for their offence, but everybody. That is a total of 8,711 IPPs, the only exceptions being the tiny handful who have finally secured the discharge of their licences by definition, 10 years after their initial release. All these are to be regarded as victims of an unjust scheme, who desperately need far greater help than most have been getting in order to secure and then retain, at long last, their liberty. As the committee recognises, what is needed now is an intensive, well-resourced, new scheme, custom built to maximise the prospect of safe and sustainable release for this whole cohort of our unfortunate fellow citizens. The report points the way ahead.

Photo of Lord Garnier Lord Garnier Conservative 1:41, 13 October 2022

My Lords, in a short debate such as this, it is often not possible to say anything at all and certainly not anything original. However, the two previous speakers, the noble and learned Lord and the noble Baroness—I congratulate her on achieving this debate—have demonstrated that my first premise is wrong. I congratulate them on what they had to say.

That said, I happily refer once again to my connections to the Prison Reform Trust and a few other charities connected to the welfare of prisoners, and pay tribute to the small band of noble and noble and learned Lords, many of whom are taking part in this debate, who have kept the continuing injustice of indeterminate sentences for public protection before your Lordships’ House, the Government and elsewhere.

I shall make a couple of points. First, the Commons Select Committee report is a powerful document, as the noble Baroness made clear. It needs to be taken seriously by the Government and not just put in the “too difficult” file. The Government must act quickly on the recommendations that can be dealt with now and make a solemn promise, despite the many other matters on the public agenda, to produce a plan or schedule to deal with those recommendations that will take a bit more time. Whatever the timetable, the work must start now. Procrastination or equivocation will no longer satisfy the need for justice to be done and for hope to be restored to all those still incarcerated many, many years after their tariffs expired. The burden of proof is very much on the Government to show why no or little action is the answer, and why those still in prison beyond their tariff or those who have already served longer than the maximum for the underlying offence should not be released.

Secondly, historians can occasionally identify watershed moments in the past which turned events. There have been debates, books or public events which, it can be said with the benefit of hindsight, influenced, or even catalysed, the course of history. Is it too fanciful to ask my noble and learned friend the Advocate-General to recognise that we are now at a time when the Government must do things about IPPs which in the future can be seen to have made that real and civilising difference? This sentence, which the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, has bravely admitted should never have been enacted, was abolished 10 years ago; let us strike out now and clear its foul stench from our justice system. If our forebears stopped sending children up chimneys and abolished slavery, I rather think that we can get rid of the remaining injustices caused by IPPs. Can I see a Wilberforce or a Shaftesbury on the Treasury Bench?

Photo of Lord Woolf Lord Woolf Crossbench 1:44, 13 October 2022

My Lords, I look to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, for a sign that the message has got home. This injustice should never have happened in the first place but, having happened, surely there is a very heavy burden on the state to rectify the injustice for which it is responsible. I hope this reminder, if it is needed—I hope it is not—gets home and persuades the House and those responsible in this area of government that enough has been enough.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Chair, Consolidation, &c., Bills (Joint Committee), Chair, Consolidation, &c., Bills (Joint Committee) 1:45, 13 October 2022

My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness in securing this debate and to the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, who has admitted that this was a mistake.

I want to make three points. First, we now have what is essential for policy, which is an evidence-based report. The committee listened to everyone on all sides. It has produced a clear analysis. The conclusion from that analysis is clear: although there are a few people who present an ongoing danger for a long time, the position of the vast majority needs reconsideration as incarcerating them for longer puts the public at greater risk.

Secondly, we must bring to an end delay, procrastination and failing to grasp the problem. It is very long standing. When I visited Leeds Prison in February 2006—some months after the sentence had been introduced—it was clear that the problems that have emerged were already apparent. There is no excuse for the inordinate and inexcusable delay. The report sets out with absolute clarity the effect of inaction. Inaction in many cases does not necessarily make the position worse but in this case it has. I have sat on cases where it is self-evident that the terms of the IPP sentence have made the prisoner more dangerous. That we cannot go on with. The reasons are set out with the utmost clarity. They are completely accurate and I need say no more.

Thirdly, I welcome all the solutions, but in the time allowed I will say something about resentencing. This was first raised with the Government by me in 2010, so it is nothing new. There are very good examples of where the judiciary and the Government have worked together to get sentencing right. The 2012 Act was got right with such work, save for this one problem. The experience of dealing with resentencing on murder—in which I had a role to play—has worked. Although there are difficulties, they can be overcome.

I urge the Minister: use an evidence-based report, do not delay, do not procrastinate and, at long last, achieve justice.

Photo of Lord Trevethin and Oaksey Lord Trevethin and Oaksey Crossbench 1:48, 13 October 2022

My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble and learned Lord. I read yesterday his judgment in the Roberts case in 2016, in which the Court of Appeal described the circumstances of various offences which had led to the imposition of IPP sentences in the relevant period. The court, for the reasons explained in its decision, had to reject the appeals because they were not good as a matter of law, but I was left reflecting that those individual offenders had committed offences that were certainly serious—they were not trivial—but far from being the most serious types of offence that come before the courts. Those offenders, if still in prison, and some may well be, would have been sitting in prison now for 15 years or so watching other offenders come and go. These other offenders who had committed markedly more serious offences and have since been released while they remain in prison, unable to obtain parole for a number of reasons powerfully and devastatingly set out in the House of Commons committee report.

Coming for the first time to understanding the detail of this shocking state of affairs, the reasons, it strikes me, include the following. First, an outrageous lack of resource was made available following the imposition of this new and strange regime. Secondly, the striking fact, as given in evidence by a number of prisoners, is that prison is sometimes not an easy place to demonstrate that one is of a peaceful disposition. It is sometimes a place in which it is unwise to make that claim to your fellow inmates. Thirdly, and most troubling of all, is the fact made so strikingly in this report that this regime, with its unfair and cruel imposition of potentially indeterminate imprisonment, has itself impaired the mental health of many of these prisoners in a way that has made it even more difficult for them to satisfy the Parole Board release test.

I think there are still around 3,000 IPP prisoners in prison. That is a shade over a third of all those subjected to these sentences in the first place. That is a lot of prisoners. Apart from the possibility of a resentencing exercise, which I can see will generate problems, but may well be inevitable—if it is going to happen, it should happen now—there is one possibility that I respectfully ask the Minister to consider in his response. It is that canvassed by the committee report, namely using the power under Section 128 of the LASPO Act 2012 to reverse the burden of proof for IPP prisoners when they make their applications to the Parole Board so that the burden rests on, as it were, the state to demonstrate that the relevant prisoner remains dangerous. That would reduce some of the current unfairness.

Photo of Lord Moylan Lord Moylan Chair, Built Environment Committee, Chair, Built Environment Committee 1:52, 13 October 2022

My Lords, rarely can a report from a Select Committee have been welcomed with such joy by those directly affected by it. What is perhaps most welcome about it is its sense of urgency and dispatch. We have discussed this topic for quite a long time now. We have had warm words and sympathy from Ministers, but we have not had evidence of the urgency and dispatch that this report so rightly calls for. Ministers and officials wish to be seen as just, but they know that they are practising a major injustice. They wish to be seen as humane, but they know that they are continuing a monument to inhumanity.

Think about this briefly from the point of view of those affected: prisoners who are told that they are in prison for life but can get out if they demonstrate this, attend certain courses and go through certain hoops. They then find that they cannot demonstrate it: the courses are not available or, if they can get on one, they then find they might be moved to another prison before they can attend it. No wonder their mental health has deteriorated. No wonder they do not talk about it. Look at paragraph 49:

“I don’t speak to staff as any mention of a mental health issue goes on your prison record and will be brought up at board and can block release. The truth of it is we are all suffering from mental health problems because of the sentence but we are frightened to speak up”.

Imagine being in that position.

Think about the licensee, the person out on licence, having to demonstrate for 10 years that they are of good character or whatever, subject to being capriciously taken back into incarceration. Look at paragraph 115, which tells you that the majority of those taken back into prison have not committed a further offence; they have simply failed to satisfy their parole officer that they should remain out.

Think also here about the psychologists involved: people who are there to heal, but know that by giving a correct clinical judgment about the mental health of the prisoner, they are not assisting that prisoner but condemning him to continue in the circumstances that are the cause of the mental health problem. They feel deeply compromised in the role they are asked to carry out in prison in dealing with IPP prisoners. One of the most touching things in the report was the evidence of the prisoner who said that the best thing that ever happened to him was being sent to a mental hospital during his sentence, because at least there he was treated like a human being.

Finally, I ask your Lordships to think about the families, because they are serving the sentence too. With that, I come to my question for the Minister. There are two groups representing the families: UNGRIPP, the United Group for Reform of IPP, and the IPP Committee in Action. They will be lobbying the prisoners’ MPs on 19 October. Will my noble friend secure a meeting for them with the Secretary of State and the Lord Chancellor, either on 19 October or on some date soon after that, because they wish their voice to be heard and for Ministers to take this up and pursue it properly, as this report recommends?

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Liberal Democrat 1:56, 13 October 2022

My Lords, I thank my noble friends Lady Burt and Lady Hamwee for securing this debate and pay warm tribute to Sir Bob Neill and his committee. Sir Bob has been a constant supporter of prison reform and that is reflected in this report. I also send my good wishes to the new Prisons Minister, Rob Butler MP, who was an assiduous and thoughtful member of the Youth Justice Board during my tenure between 2014 and 2017.

My locus in this debate is that I was the Minister who took the LASPO Bill through the Lords and abolished IPPs—as we thought. I made it clear that good existing IPPs would be dealt with by various means, including prisoners being able to earn their release through various training schemes and rehabilitation programmes, to which the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, just referred. The truth was that that idea was foiled by the various Catch-22s to which the noble Lord referred, including a lack of resources.

No one has claimed that LASPO denied judges the opportunity to hand down strict sentences—I was pleased to hear the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, refer to this—and the LASPO regime has stood the list of time. What remains is a hangover, which both the Minister who introduced IPPs, the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and the Minister who thought he had abolished IPPs, have said does not work as we thought it would and remains a stain on our justice system.

Let me put one shade of doubt into our debate. Throughout my time in the Ministry of Justice, attempts at prison reform were knocked back by 10 Downing Street with the simple message “not politically deliverable”. Throughout this time, we have had to face the problem that both Front Benches have been keen to avoid being outflanked on the right by being seen to be soft on prison reform. I fear that this is still the problem and it will need a great deal of courage to overcome it. This is not a plan to set free dangerous criminals but what a civilised country would do. I hope the Minister has come with a brief accepting the report and committing the Government to legislative action to right this wrong.

As I came into the Chamber, I received an email from the British Psychological Society, from which I shall read only one sentence:

“A resentencing exercise would restore a sense of certainty, hope and fairness: three vital ingredients to behavioural change, engagement with psychological support and compliance with the law.”

This has been an overwhelming message to Ministers. I hope they are listening.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Ipswich Lord Anderson of Ipswich Crossbench 1:59, 13 October 2022

My Lords, I signed up for this debate for two reasons: a nagging discomfort about the handful of IPP sentences that I felt myself obliged to impose—not on the most serious criminals—as a Recorder of the Crown Court, prior to 2012; and respect for and solidarity with those noble and learned Lords who have done battle on this subject for so many years.

I simply add two stray observations. First, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood has pointed out, the Justice Committee’s report noted that the IPP sentence is unusual in that it detains individuals in prison on the basis of what they might do, rather than on the basis of what they have done. It occurred to me that similar comments are often made about the sentencing of terrorists—the so-called precursor offences—and indeed about the effective house arrest of terrorist suspects by executive measures, such as TPIMs. The pre-emptive aspect of counterterrorism law rightly results in particularly anxious public and parliamentary scrutiny. The same uncertainty that contributes, according to this report, to the high levels of self-harm and suicide of IPP prisoners was something this House had well in mind when it refused to allow TPIMs to become indefinite—a position to which the Government eventually agreed in the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Act 2021.

While we can get it broadly right where terrorists are concerned, it is depressing that we still have not corrected a manifest injustice for those convicted of ordinary criminal offences; an injustice that was recognised as such not only by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, but by Michael Gove and Liz Truss when they were Lord Chancellors in the middle of the last decade. It is an injustice that, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, said, may even make the subjects of that injustice more dangerous.

Secondly, the committee notes that it was the decision to curtail the usual discretion of judges to determine the most appropriate sentence for each offender that led to the initial proliferation of the IPP sentence. There is there, surely, a cautionary tale. We see in this place repeated proposals for remote control of judicial discretion, whether by minimum sentences in criminal cases or by seeking to influence the grant of remedies in civil cases—I think of the Environment Act 2021 and, rather more happily, of the Judicial Review and Courts Act 2022. Such attempts are liable to cause more problems than they solve because of that most foundational law of all, the law of unintended consequences. That is certainly what we have seen with IPPs.

I strongly support the Justice Committee’s recommendation of a comprehensive resentencing exercise for the reasons that it gives and look forward to finding out whether the Minister is able to do so as well.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Chair, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Justice and Home Affairs Committee 2:03, 13 October 2022

My Lords, I am unable to maintain my self-denying ordinance. I had hoped to give other noble Lords more time than has been allowed, although I cannot work out the arithmetic. Noble Lords have been particularly succinct, so having spotted the gap, I will move into it.

I have been particularly struck over the last few days by the emails that I have received from family, friends and campaigners in this area who all thought that I would be leading on this. I have thought about how much this regime brings the law into dispute and what a very serious matter that is. If somebody had written a novel about all of this, we would say that it could not happen; but it has and it must not go on.

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 2:04, 13 October 2022

My Lords, I want to open by thanking the noble Baronesses, Lady Burt and Lady Hamwee, for securing this debate. I agree that the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, gave a masterly and comprehensive introduction to the issue. I also extend my best wishes to Rob Butler MP, who is the new relevant Minister. I served with him as a youth magistrate at Highbury magistrates’ court for a number of years and wish him well.

We too welcome the JSC’s report. It pulls no punches. It makes concrete recommendations, and I will listen to the Minister’s response to them with great interest. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, said, it is now 10 years since the abolition of the IPP scheme. There has been a consistent effort from many in this House to move forward and try to find a way of resolving the wrong that has been done to the many people who are currently languishing in our prisons. My noble friend Lord Blunkett has bravely spoken out against the regime that he himself introduced.

There have been some exceptional contributions today but the gist of them is that the Government need to respond positively and urgently to the recommendations made. It is also fair to say, to take on board the point made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that there is a shade of doubt. We need to acknowledge that. There is a political decision to be made about the possibility of releasing dangerous prisoners, and there needs to be a proper way of reducing those risks.

I want to make one major point that is different from the points made by other noble Lords and to speak to the brief from the National Association of Probation Officers, which wrote to me about this matter. Its point is covered most fully in paragraphs 93 and 94 of the JSC’s report. In a nutshell, it is about resourcing. It is about allowing probation officers to do their job properly, to have training, and to provide resources for offenders once they have been released and are out in the community. It is no accident that the support is not adequate and there is a high level of recall for these prisoners. That is a problem that can be partially addressed by the Government recognising that there is an additional training and resource element for the probation service. I hope that the Minister will address this specific point, because it is one that I have been asked to raise here today.

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland 2:07, 13 October 2022

My Lords, I join many of today’s speakers by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for securing this important debate. I say how glad I am to see her in her place and how much I appreciated her succinct contribution.

I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, for opening the debate and laying down so many challenges for me to meet in the form of questions. In the spirit of good will and co-operation across the whole House, let me begin by providing her with a specific answer to one of the questions she asked. The report by Professor Moran on the offender personality disorder pathway was published today on GOV.UK. With that expression of delight from noble Lords, I should perhaps sit down, but I have more to say in response to the many points taken up by your Lordships.

It is indeed the case that the IPP sentence continues to generate enormous interest, concern and challenge in this House. The Ministry of Justice has certainly felt the strength of feeling from many noble Lords in previous debates on this matter. I acknowledge the work of the probation service, to which the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, referred a moment ago, in playing its part in addressing the difficult problems that have emerged as a result of this piece of legislation.

As noble Lords will know, the IPP sentence became available for the courts to use from April 2005. When the sentence was abolished in December 2012, there were more than 6,000 offenders in prison serving an IPP sentence. Since that time, the Parole Board has released a substantial number of those prisoners on licence, although I assure the House that we recognise that there is still much more to be done.

On 30 June this year, there were 1,492 offenders in prison serving the IPP sentence who had never been released, and 1,434 offenders serving it following recall. In light of these numbers, I should here reaffirm the Government’s commitment, through the work of His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, to support: first, those serving the IPP sentence in prison, to reduce their risk to the point where the Parole Board, in the exercise of its independent function and discretion, judges that they are safe to release; and secondly, those serving the IPP sentence in the community, to progress to the point where the Parole Board, in the exercise of that same discretion, judges that their IPP sentence may safely be terminated. Our commitment will be delivered through the HMPPS action plan.

As your Lordships will be aware, it has long been the Government’s intention to review and refresh the action plan once the Justice Select Committee published its report following the IPP inquiry. We welcome the fact that, after a year-long inquiry, collation of the evidence base to which the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, referred, was published on 28 September. That means that we can now review thoroughly this important collation of evidence and recommendations in the context of consideration of our next steps. However, I emphasise that the Government have not stood idly by, awaiting the publication of this report. Work has been done to ameliorate matters for persons serving such sentences, as I will advise your Lordships.

As your Lordships have noted, the Justice Committee has laid out a clear recommendation for a new IPP action plan and a new approach to its oversight. The committee wants focused, actionable guidance to ensure that the plan has a clear strategic priority and ownership, and for HMPPS to deliver more in terms of fixed timeframes and performance measures. The Government welcome the publication of the committee’s report and view it as a real opportunity to take stock and identify areas for possible improvement. As I have observed, HMPPS has been working very diligently, over a considerable period, to deliver improved prospects for those serving IPP sentences. However, we must always be responsive to new information and take further steps to ensure that this work is robust, structured, and properly directed.

A full government response will be provided to the Justice Committee by 28 November this year, with an updated IPP action plan to follow. I emphasise that 28 November is the final date. My noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy, the Minister with responsibility in this area, will be very much looking forward to sharing and discussing progress on this with your Lordships over the coming months.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, in his powerful submission, acknowledged the importance of evidence, and of an evidence base on which to work. I emphasise that such an evidence base, together with the facts and statistics already available to the Government, must be subject to proper interpretation and analysis. However, I hope that this will not amount to what my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier potentially styled it as procrastination, or to equivocation.

While our focus is now on revising the action plan to address the Committee’s recommendations, it is important in a debate such as this to give a short overview of what has been delivered and achieved thus far in support of bettering the prospects of those serving an IPP sentence and in permitting them to progress through the system. Indeed, many of the improvements delivered in recent years will remain key features of the IPP action plan, as they have been shown to be effective in supporting progression.

In September 2016, a joint HMPPS and Parole Board IPP action plan was introduced, overseen by a board of senior representatives from prisons, probation, the Parole Board, health services and psychology services. I place particular emphasis on that latter component because of the profound concern that your Lordships have exhibited in relation to the mental health of persons imprisoned in this way. This early version focused significantly on improving the processes associated with the delivery of an efficient and timely parole process. At the time, there was a significant backlog of oral hearings which had a particular bearing on the prospects for IPP prisoners to secure progression, but, through the work outlined in the first action plan, the efficient flow and handling of cases improved significantly and that backlog was eliminated.

Once the parole process was operating efficiently, focus shifted largely to what HMPPS could and would do to support IPP prisoners, so that they could embark on their parole reviews with realistic hopes of showing the Parole Board that the statutory release test was met in their case. Then, as in each year from 2016, the Parole Board released hundreds from their IPP sentence for the first time and, as more were being managed in the community on an IPP licence, HMPPS began to explore what was needed to support those eligible to apply for the supervision requirements of their IPP licence to be suspended and, later, to apply for their IPP licence to be terminated altogether.

I now turn to the specific achievements of the IPP action plan thus far. I start with the case review initiative delivered by psychology services. These are comprehensive reviews, vital to identifying the most appropriate pathway for individuals, especially those with complex needs and challenging presentations, which the significant majority of those who remain in custody have. However, it is important to note that the case reviews are not a ticket to release but an absolutely key step to help practitioners home in on the best course of action to enable that individual to take progressive steps.

The department considers it impressive that almost every post-tariff unreleased IPP prisoner currently in prison has now received such a case review. The initiative has delivered well; between July 2016 and April 2022, 1,877 thorough reviews were completed, with many individuals going on from this platform to complete the work required to secure their next progressive step. In fact, 552 prisoners in this cohort have subsequently been released and a further 537 secured a progressive move to open conditions. It is clear that these reviews have, in conjunction with prison and community offender managers, led to improved individual pathways to progression, notwithstanding the fact that many are still struggling to progress due to their challenging behaviour, complex needs and the risks that they pose. Such cases are revisited through an update to the original case review and further multidisciplinary discussions of next steps.

Another key success of the action plan is the planning and implementation of three specialist progression regimes, which brings the total of such regimes to four. They collectively offer 385 places. These regimes, at His Majesty’s Prisons Warren Hill, Erlestoke, Humber and Buckley Hall, operate in closed, adult male prisons and provide opportunities for prisoners to gain a fuller understanding of their risks and problematic behaviours, and support to address them. Progression regimes aim to reintroduce the responsibilities, tasks and routines associated with daily life in the community, to test prisoners’ readiness to respond appropriately to trust where it is placed in them, and to encourage the active pursuit of activities and relationships that support rehabilitation. The system and the Government are conscious of the pressures posed on persons who have spent a long time incarcerated on returning to ordinary life. Although not all IPP prisoners would be ready to move to a progression regime due to the unique regime offering increased freedoms and responsibilities, it has proved an important opportunity for many to secure future release, and will be for many more who arrive there in the future.

Also worthy of note is the delivery of the IPP progression panels initiative, led by the probation service, which supports progression for those serving the IPP sentence in prison and in the community. These panels offer a multidisciplinary approach to risk management and progression, enabling cases which may have stalled to be put back on the right progression pathway. The panels are informed by the psychology services’ case reviews and are an important part of the wider toolkit to improve progression of IPP offenders. These are used prior to release but mainly following release to enable the effective management of individuals while on licence in the community. To date, over 6,600 IPP progression panels have been held across community and custodial settings.

The final success that I would like to highlight today to your Lordships is the addition to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act earlier this year which requires the Secretary of State to automatically refer every eligible IPP offender to the Parole Board for consideration of licence termination. This takes effect once 10 years have elapsed since their first release and then annually thereafter. I note that this period is one which is challenged by the report of the Joint Select Committee, and the department looks forward to engaging with that matter in due course. This is something that your Lordships’ House certainly played an important part in delivering.

I join others in acknowledging the work and approach of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, in relation to consideration of the impact, value and merit of the IPP sentence. I think it was my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier, in particular, who made mention of that, but others did as well.

This amendment built further on what was previously delivered through the IPP action plan, which was to amend policy to seek proactively to ensure all eligible cases for licence termination made application to the Parole Board. Every eligible case will be considered by the Parole Board and, where successful, will lead to the IPP licence, and IPP sentence as a whole, being brought to a definitive end.

I am aware that many of your Lordships considered that this change did not go far enough and have pushed for a reduction on the period before individuals are eligible for consideration to have their IPP licences terminated. That featured, as I say, in the recommendations of the Joint Select Committee, although its primary recommendation has sought to go much further: to set up a time-limited expert committee, as your Lordships have heard, to advise on the practical implementation of a resentencing exercise, which the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice could then consider. As stated previously, all recommendations within the report will be considered thoroughly. However, I am unable to comment on the Government’s views on the report’s recommendations until that formal response is available.

Although the successes coming from the IPP action plan, which I have sought to outline, are certainly encouraging, it is crucial at the same time to recognise the enormous challenges faced in working with this cohort to best effect, and the challenges that a refreshed IPP action plan will need to tackle. As the number of IPP prisoners who have never been released continues to decrease, the proportion of those who remain in prison who committed more serious offences and whose cases are particularly complex continues to grow. These prisoners, when not being released by the Parole Board, are still assessed to pose a high risk of committing further violent or sexual offences. These risks and associated behaviours must be addressed, and that has to be kept in mind when we consider IPP sentences because there is a risk-management component involved in that. It is not a simple task.

The Government’s priority continues to be to protect the public, but we remain committed fully to doing all that we can to support the safe progression of those serving IPP sentences.

Photo of Lord Moylan Lord Moylan Chair, Built Environment Committee, Chair, Built Environment Committee

My Lords, at the risk of prolonging my noble friend’s speech—I sense that he might be sitting down shortly—what can he say in response to my question about what he will do to secure a meeting with the families and the Secretary of State on 19 October, or as soon after that as possible?

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

I can give my noble friend an assurance that there will be engagement with the bodies to which he referred in his submission.

As your Lordships recognise, it is a mark of the health of a society that it extends compassion to victims of crime as well as to those who find themselves in custody as a result of having committed it. The proposals that the Government will bring forward once we have considered the terms of the JSC report will, I hope, assist that and permit people to reform and to enter into society to lead as full and useful a life as they may.