Management of Offenders (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 25th June 2019.

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Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

I never aim to disappoint, but in this case I probably will. If it were agreed to, amendment 3 would result in a small part of the Parole Board procedure being provided for in primary legislation, while the remainder would be provided for in secondary legislation in the Parole Board (Scotland) Rules 2001.

Gordon Lindhurst has made a strong argument for the principle of what he is suggesting: I think that we would all unite around the principle of vulnerable prisoners being given support such as he suggests. However, my issue is largely with where that support would lie in legislation and the unintended consequences and problems that that might incur. Although we disagree about amendment 3, I thank Gordon Lindhurst, who has been very constructive in his approach. We have tried as best we can to reassure each other mutually. I know that he comes at the issue on the basis of the experience gained from his professional background.

Rather than being able to be made through secondary legislation, any further changes to the provisions that are set out in amendment 3 would require an act of the Scottish Parliament. In this instance, I remain of the view that it is entirely appropriate that matters of procedure for the Parole Board be provided for in secondary legislation. That gives us the flexibility to change aspects of Parole Board procedure more quickly, should the need to do so be identified. For that reason, I consider that matters relating to procedure are for the Parole Board rules, rather than the bill.

In addition—I know that Gordon Lindhurst and other members will be aware of this—the consultation on transforming parole in Scotland, which closed on 27 March, included proposals to provide additional support to prisoners who are in the parole process. We are currently considering the responses to the consultation.

As I stated in my letter to Gordon Lindhurst when he lodged a similar amendment at stage 2, I consider that his proposals should be progressed as part of the response to that consultation. I have already given him an assurance that that will happen, but I put it on record again. We are planning a revision of the Parole Board rules at a later stage, once all potential changes to the rules have been identified. If Gordon Lindhurst’s amendment 3 is not agreed to, and he wants to discuss the proposal with me in advance of that process, I would be more than happy to have such a discussion.

Notwithstanding my views on the appropriateness of such matters being dealt with in primary legislation, I have considerable concerns about aspects of amendment 3 relating to the clarity of some of the terms that are used and the scope of the provision. I can expand on those matters if members would like me to do so. For those reasons, I urge Gordon Lindhurst not to press amendment 3 and I ask members to reject it, if he does.

My amendment 125 seeks to amend section 40A of the bill, which was inserted at stage 2 by an amendment in the name of Mary Fee. Section 40A would make it mandatory that, before making a recommendation to release a prisoner under section 1 of the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993, the Parole Board take into account the impact of its decision on the prisoner’s family and the ability of the prisoner to reintegrate with their family. I say at the outset that I am sympathetic to the intention of that provision. It is only fair to put on record the tremendous amount of work that Mary Fee has done in relation to the families of people who are in prison. It is also worth putting on record the great work that is done in that context by organisations including Families Outside, which has informed many parliamentarians about the impact of imprisonment on family members.

However, I have various issues with the provisions of section 40A. There is a lack of qualification and specification in respect of who would be considered to be a “family member”. In addition, the requirement that it provides for would be mandatory, regardless of its relevance in individual cases. For example, when the prisoner has no intention of contacting the family, the requirement would not be appropriate. I also believe that it could be difficult for the Parole Board to satisfy the requirement in all cases—I am thinking of the need to obtain the views of the family to enable them to consider the impact that the prisoner’s release might have on them.

I have lodged amendment 125 to adjust the powers to make the Parole Board rules of procedure include specific reference to consideration of the “likely impact” of any recommendations of the Parole Board on prisoners’ families. I believe that that is a more flexible approach that will include in the 1993 act reference to the impact on a prisoner’s family of a recommendation to release, but will allow for detailed provision to be made in the Parole Board rules, where I consider such provision would be better placed, as I said of Gordon Lindhurst’s amendment 3.

Therefore, I urge members to support amendment 125.