§ Mr. Beith
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what organisations were consulted about changes in the retirement age and the limitation to term of office of prison boards of visitors; for what reasons these proposals were not included in the recent review of the board of visitors system; and what representations he has received on this matter. 
§ Miss Widdecombe
In deciding to amend the policy on appointments to boards of visitors, I noted that a number of members of boards felt that requiring all members to retire at the next triennial review following their 70th birthday did not reflect the fact that many people are well able to carry on voluntary work beyond their 70th birthday and are keen to do so.
On the other hand, it would be inappropriate for any member to be able to serve indefinitely and thus prevent an influx of new members from time to time. It is generally the case in public appointments that reappointment is not automatic and should not be repeated an indefinite number of times. In particular, members of boards of visitors in Northern Ireland have a limit of 12 years on their length of service. However, in view of the larger scale and greater numbers involved in boards of visitors in England and Wales, it seemed reasonable to set a higher limit of 15 years. This limit thus replaces the retirement age which has been abolished.
The review advisory group which considered and reported in May last year focused more on recruitment of new members and the day-to-day work of members of boards rather than on the question of length of service. Although my right hon. and learned Friend endorsed the recommendations of the report, this cannot prevent Ministers from considering other changes when and if it is deemed appropriate and necessary to do so.
The new policy was first announced to the National Advisory Council for Boards of Visitors and, following representations from that committee, I agreed to phase the new measures in. I have received a number of letters from boards and individual members whose comments I have noted.