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Criminal Law

Volume 670: debated on Tuesday 28 January 2020

I beg to move,

That the draft Release of Prisoners (Alteration of Relevant Proportion of Sentence) Order 2019, which was laid before this House on 14 October 2019, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved.

With this we shall consider the following motion:

That the draft Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 (Consequential Amendment) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 14 October 2019, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved.

It has been 47 days since the general election, and these measures deliver on a crucial manifesto commitment. Taken together, they will ensure that the most serious violent and sexual offenders spend two thirds of their sentence in jail, rather than half their sentence, as is currently the case. By making this change, we both protect the public and ensure that justice is better done. We protect the public because while someone is in prison they cannot commit any further offences, and we will be increasing the length of time they spend in prison. Secondly, this change will build public confidence in the justice system in general and the sentencing regime in particular.

Would the public’s confidence not be served if prisoners served the sentence that was delivered in court, rather than this fabrication whereby the sentence is announced and everybody works out on the back of a fag packet what it actually means for the sentence that will be served? Why go for two thirds, up from a half—why not have the sentence that was delivered in court by a judge served?

There are provisions, which I shall explain in a moment, to make sure that many of the most dangerous offenders serve all of their sentence in jail, but for many offenders the sentence has two parts: the part served in jail and the part supervised on licence following their release from jail. Together, those two parts make up the sentence. Moving the release point to two thirds for the category of offences we are talking about will make sure that more of an offender’s sentence is served in jail and less of it is supervised under licence. For certain categories of serious offender, as my right hon. Friend mentions, there is a legitimate public expectation that more than half the sentence will be served in prison, rather than automatic release happening at the halfway point. As the Minister responsible for sentencing, I get quite a lot of correspondence from the public and from victims of crime asking why some very serious violent and sexual offenders are released at the halfway point, which is what currently happens.

Let me be clear what this debate will not cover. The regulations do not cover serious terrorist offenders, who will be dealt with separately in a piece of primary legislation that we intend to bring forward shortly to honour a manifesto commitment. Nor will we cover the wider issues to do with sentencing, which we will consider via a sentencing White Paper and sentencing Bill later this year.

I am grateful to the Minister for setting out the timetable that he sees going forward. He knows that I have been campaigning hard for Tony’s law and longer sentences, in honour of Tony Hudgell, a child who was brutally attacked by both of his birth parents and left with severe injuries. When does the Minister think his legislative programme might get to that?

Victims who feel that a sentence is unduly lenient currently have a 28-day period following sentencing to apply under the unduly lenient sentencing scheme to the Attorney General, who can then make a reference to the Court of Appeal. On a review of sentencing more generally, which may well include the tragic case to which my hon. Friend referred, the sentencing White Paper that will come forward a little later this year, followed by a sentencing Bill, will provide my hon. Friend and other colleagues with an opportunity to raise issues that go beyond the matters we are considering today. I will of course listen carefully to this debate, in which colleagues from all parties may raise issues that can feed into the sentencing White Paper.

One topic that the sentencing White Paper will certainly deal with, although we are not dealing with it today, is short custodial sentences, which are not particularly effective at stopping reoffending. The White Paper will address that, and in particular it will make proposals to do more to treat the causes of offending behaviour, particularly drug and alcohol addiction and mental health problems, which are often the cause of high-volume repeat offending. Short custodial sentences do not deal effectively with that cohort of offenders, but that is not the topic of the regulations; it is a matter we will come to in the forthcoming White Paper and sentencing Bill.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way again. May I offer a refinement on the suggestion made by my constituency neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne)? We understand why one wants to give prisoners who are serving a sentence an incentive to behave well in jail, but that could be achieved without this upset of the public perception that someone is getting a longer sentence than they are really getting. Prisoners could be given the sentence that they are going to serve, with the expectation that if they misbehave, it can be extended by a certain amount, rather than their being given a sentence that they can reduce by a certain amount if they behave themselves in prison. That would avoid the perception among the public that the Government are trying to con them into believing that the sentences being imposed are more severe than we all know them to be in reality.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention. I should make it clear—I will explain this in a bit more detail in a moment—that the standard determinate sentences under discussion today have an automatic release point. The current release point, at 50% of the sentence, is not contingent on good behaviour; it is automatic. We are proposing to move that automatic release point to two thirds as a first step, but, of course, there are other things that we could do in the area that he has just mentioned. Examining and investigating the clarity of sentencing decisions and how the public understand them are certainly matters that the sentencing White Paper and sentencing Bill can properly look at, and I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising that.

What today’s regulations do is to take a very specific area where we can act quickly and immediately, rather than waiting for the larger and wider piece of work to be done later in the year. Of course, as part of that piece of work, we might well choose to go further than is the case today, but here is an area where we can act quickly and decisively and deliver on a critical manifesto commitment just 47 days after the general election.

During the election period, when I was delivering leaflets, a young lady caught up with me and talked to me about her experience at the hands of somebody who had treated her absolutely heinously. She was with her friend, who was a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart), and it was her father who was the perpetrator. He was given a sentence of 18 years for those heinous crimes. The two felt that justice had been done until they found out that he would serve only half of that sentence. They told me that that had contributed to them feeling that justice had not been done. The Minister wrote to me very sympathetically when I took up the case. I absolutely support these changes, but can we can have some solidarity in this place for people who do not feel that justice has been served because they have watched their perpetrator serve only half of their sentence?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that case once again. I completely agree with the sentiment that he expresses. When a perpetrator of a serious offence automatically gets released only halfway through their sentence, victims very often feel that justice has not been done. Today’s regulations are a small first step in addressing the wider problem to which he refers. We can and we will return to the wider question and see whether we can go further via the White Paper and sentencing Bill later this year. This is very much a first step in the direction that my hon. Friend and other hon. Members have mentioned.

I understand entirely the logic behind these proposals, but what analysis has been made of the impact on the prison population and how many further places, if any, will be required?

I would expect nothing less from my hon. Friend than a forensic and detailed question. In fact, I do have those figures. Perhaps it would be worth going through the details of how this scheme will operate and the consequential impact on the prison population and other matters. In answering his question, let me start by defining exactly what offences are in the scope of today’s regulations. We are talking about the offences appearing in parts 1 and 2 of schedule 15 to the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which could attract a life sentence. They include offences such as rape and grievous bodily harm with intent. Currently, there are three types of sentence that might be handed down for those offences. The first, which is for the most serious offences, is a life sentence with a tariff—the tariff is the minimum amount the offender will serve, after which they are eligible for release by the Parole Board at its discretion. The second type of sentence—the next most serious—is for offenders deemed by the judge to be dangerous. That is called an extended determinate sentence. For those offences, the prisoner is eligible for release after two thirds of their sentence, subject to Parole Board discretion. After release and after their prison sentence, they are subject to an extended period on licence.

The third type of sentence—the type that we are going to talk about today—is a standard determinate sentence, for which somebody is eligible for automatic release at the halfway point, with no involvement from the Parole Board. Those are the sentences that most concern the Government, and on which we are acting today.

Let me turn to the numbers. In 2018, just under 6,000—5,862 to be precise—sentences were handed down that met the criteria I have just laid out. Some people online have suggested that, mostly, these are extended determinate sentences and that today’s regulations will therefore make very little difference. That is categorically untrue. Of those 5,862 sentences, only 90 were life sentences and 243 were extended determinate sentences, but 4,735—81% of those sentences—were standard determinate sentences with automatic release at the halfway point. The vast majority of those sentences for very serious crimes had automatic release after only half the sentence. Some 84% of rape convictions had a standard determinate sentence. That means that 84% of incarcerated rapists were eligible for automatic release at the halfway point. We take the view that that is simply not right.

The Minister has outlined that this applies to rapists, and to those accused and found guilty of grievous bodily harm.

Yes, GBH with intent—so we are talking about incredibly violent criminals. But the Government’s own assessment of these proposed laws says that they could increase prison overcrowding, introduce significant costs and lead to increased prisoner violence. The gravest risk, however, is that prisoners spend more of their sentence in prison and less time on release with a licence, which could actually lead to an increased risk of reoffending. Although we are all sympathetic to the victims of crime, who may feel like justice has not been done, we absolutely must not introduce an increased risk of violence and reoffending after offenders finish their term. Instead of talking tough on crime, will the Government follow the evidence and do what is necessary to prevent crime and reduce reoffending?

Ensuring that this cohort of prisoners stays in prison for a bit longer does serve the public interest and public safety, because they cannot commit further offences while they are in prison. Under these measures, they will still spend a third of their sentence on licence. Of course, there is an opportunity for people to take part in rehabilitative activity while they are in prison. There will be an impact on the prison population, which I will outline in a moment, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) asked the same question. We are making provisions to ensure that places are available so that meaningful rehabilitative work can take place, but this is about preventing crime by ensuring that serious offenders are in prison for a bit longer, and ensuring that victims’ rights are respected by making sure that the time served in prison better reflects the sentence handed down by the judge.

The Minister is being generous in giving way. I welcome today’s announcement because it injects an element of honesty into our sentencing system, and reduces confusion and frustration among victims. Will he be absolutely categoric that this is part of a process and not an event in itself—that is, will we see further occasions where such measures will be rolled out so that there can be more justice for the victims of crime?

My hon. Friend has been a tireless campaigner for victims’ rights and ensuring that justice is done. I can give him the assurance he is asking for. This is just a first step. The sentencing White Paper and Bill later this year will have the scope to go further and take wider action across the sentencing field. I look forward to working with him and other colleagues in this area.

I am grateful to the Minister.

It is important that victims get justice, and that it is seen that justice has been done, but the Liberal Democrats worry about the language that is being used, because there is not enough emphasis on rehabilitation. Will the Minister come forward to point out how effective rehabilitation is actually going to work—in addition to tougher sentences, if that has to be the case?

The hon. Lady makes a fair point. Sentencing and more time in prison for serious offenders is very important, for the reasons that other Members have outlined, but rehabilitation is important as well. She will be aware that private community rehabilitation companies did some of that work, and that it is now being brought back in-house to be provided by the National Probation Service. She will be heartened to hear that the probation service and the Prison Service will be receiving significantly extra money in the next financial year, much of which will specifically address the matter of rehabilitation.

Let me outline in more detail exactly what this first step entails. I have defined a cohort of offenders and a cohort of offences. For standard determinate sentence offenders, we intend to apply the later release measure, in order to increase the amount of the sentence served from half to two thirds, where the sentence passed down is seven years or more. That applies to about one third of the 4,735 standard determinate sentences that I referred to earlier, so this measure will apply to 1,450 offenders per year, based on the 2018 figures. To be clear, of the 1,450 offenders affected directly by this measure, 30% were convicted of rape, and a further 30% were convicted of causing grievous bodily harm with intent—very serious assault. We will make sure that those rapists and serious violent offenders spend two thirds, not half, of their sentence in prison.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham asked about the prison population. These measures will start to bite in about three and a half years’ time, because any sentence in the categories that I have described handed down from 1 April this year onwards will have the later released provision applied, so it will take 50% of three and a half years, minus time on remand—just under three and a half years—for these measures to start affecting the prison population. The impact assessment, which I see that the hon. Member for St Albans (Daisy Cooper) has in her hand, shows that as a result of this measure, by March 2024, there will be an uplift in the prison population of 50, but by 2030, there will be 2,000 extra prisoners in the prison estate.

The Government are already taking action to increase the prison estate—action that will include accommodating the extra 2,000 prisoners that this measure will create. We are building 3,500 additional prison places at Glen Parva, Wellingborough and Stocken, and in the 2019 spending review, just a few months ago, the Government committed to building a further 10,000 new prison places. The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer), is working hard on planning for those extra 10,000 places. In fact—this is very timely—she is at this very moment arriving in the Chamber. She has clearly been busily working on those extra 10,000 places as we have been speaking.

Of course, what really matters to victims is that there is not reoffending, and that we are able to rehabilitate prisoners while they are in prison. The Minister was talking about rapists. Can he assure me that Horizon and Kaizen, the new sex offender training programmes—although they are no longer called that—are actually effective, and that we will have sufficient numbers of staff to deliver them to the new prisoners who will be spending longer inside?

As always, my hon. Friend raises an extremely pertinent point. I can confirm that these programmes will be a focus both for Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service and, of course, for Ministers at the Ministry of Justice. As I said, the Prison Service and the probation service will see significant increases in funding next year as a consequence of the 2019 spending review settlement, and material amounts of that funding will be applied to the programmes that we are providing.

In addition to the extra 10,000 prison places that my hon. Friend the Minister has been working on, we are spending an extra £100 million on prison security, and in the next financial year alone—the one due to start in a few months—we will spend an extra £156 million on prison maintenance. That is on top of the extra 4,581 prison officers who were recruited between October 2016 and September 2019. The Government are acutely conscious that the increase of 2,000 in the prison population needs to be catered for. Plans are in hand to do that, as well as to ensure that appropriate levels of resource are dedicated to rehabilitating those extra prisoners.

I apologise for coming in late, Mr Deputy Speaker; I was at another meeting. What assessment has been made of the likely rates of reoffending among the prisoners who will be released after longer custodial sentences? There is a quite widespread view among penal campaigners that longer custodial sentences will not be as effective at rehabilitation as rehabilitation in the community. In looking at the long-term need for prison places, what assessment have the Government made of reoffending rates among these particular individuals?

Of course, the longer that is spent in prison, the more opportunity there is to deliver rehabilitative services. If we look at reoffending rates in general, they are worse for people serving short prison sentences, which is why I mentioned the importance of focusing on treatment of mental health and addiction problems as an alternative to short custodial sentences. We do not have precise reoffending figures for the cohort we are discussing today, but for broadly these kinds of offenders serving sentences of four to 10 years, that is the closest proxy I have been able to find. The one-year reoffending rate is about 20% at present, but of course we would like to do more work to reduce that.

The second statutory instrument before the House is a technical one, designed to ensure that consecutive sentences are dealt with in the same way as the non-consecutive sentences that I have described. These measures deliver a manifesto commitment in just 47 days and show that this is a Government who will act, not delay, and who will build public confidence in the justice system and protect the public. I commend these measures to the House.

I want to deal first with the second measure to which the Minister referred, the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 (Consequential Amendment) Regulations 2019, which is a technical instrument to ensure that the measures in the Release of Prisoners (Alteration of Relevant Proportion of Sentence) Order 2019 will extend to those serving consecutive sentences. It amends what would effectively be an inconsistency in sentencing, and we will not oppose it.

I turn to the Release of Prisoners (Alteration of Relevant Proportion of Sentence) Order 2019, which will probably be the main subject of our debate. The Government’s stated objectives for the order—to increase public safety and public confidence in the sentencing regime—are ones that the Opposition fully share. I am sure that there is absolute agreement across the House with the principle that serious and dangerous offenders who pose a risk to the public must serve sentences that reflect the severity of their crimes and keep the public safe. On that basis, we will not oppose the order, but we have some issues.

The Government have not demonstrated why this change is the best way to protect the public. On the evidence that we have been presented with so far, we feel that the case for supporting this order has not been made. This Government have been in power for almost 10 years, and over those 10 years, if they had possessed the desire or drive to increase the public’s confidence in the sentencing regime, and, most importantly, to protect the public, they could have taken action to do that.

The hon. Gentleman is talking about reoffending rates. May I remind him that the reoffending rate for young males under the last Labour Government was 70%?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention, but the fact of the matter is that in the last 10 years, this Government have enacted policies that at best ignore the impact on public safety, and at worst actively undermine it. Cuts to the police service have led to frontline police officer numbers being slashed and to forces being under-resourced elsewhere. My police force in West Yorkshire has had its budget cut by £140 million since 2010. We have seen cuts to the Prison Service; prison officer numbers have fallen by a quarter between 2010 and 2015, which has left many of our prisons—including high-security prisons—being staffed by inexperienced officers. We have seen an ill-advised decision to break up the probation service, with catastrophic consequences—something that the whole House now accepts—and just days ago, we were found to be leaving the public less safe as a result of under-staffing and overloading with casework.

Prosecution and conviction rates for serious offences have stalled. That has been driven by these cuts to important services that work to keep reoffending down and the public safe. Most alarmingly, prosecution and conviction rates for the offence of rape have fallen by 32% and 26% respectively in a year, creating a situation that women’s groups say effectively amounts to the decriminalisation of rape. Reoffending rates across the whole range of offences remain stubbornly high, with proven reoffending rates for sexual offences fluctuating at about 14% between 2006-07 and 2016-17. The figures for violence against the person offences have increased from 20% to 26%.

Under this Government, the public are less safe. Faced with such a record, we and the public should rightly be sceptical when the Government talk about cutting crime and keeping the public safe. To try to correct their abysmal record and create an impression that they are tough on crime, the Government have brought forward this order, but even they know that it will not be enough to overturn the problems that they have created. Taken on its own, it will increase neither public confidence nor public safety, and it is far from the silver bullet that the Prime Minister would like to praise it as being.

Throughout this process, the Government have consistently failed to make the case for the order and its implementation. As their own impact assessment and explanatory note point out, judges already have powers akin to the ones set out in this order for dangerous offenders. They have the ability to hand down extended determinate sentences, which not only require an offender to serve longer in custody, but are subject to the double lock of the requirement that the parole board be satisfied the offender is no longer a danger to the public before they are released. Conveniently for the Government, however, Ministers seem to have been remiss in telling the public about that when talking about the action they are taking.

Instead of the Government bringing in such measures without properly making the case for them, and without showing evidence that supports their proposal, they should get serious and tell us how they will reduce the rampant overcrowding and violence in our prisons; how they will increase the quality and availability of real, purposeful activity both in prisons and in the community; how they will deliver an effective probation service that is not hampered by the Government’s failed privatisation agenda, which has proven so disastrous; and for non-violent and non-sexual offenders, how they will deal with the number of ineffective super-short sentences that their own evidence, in the report the Ministry of Justice published last year, shows lead to more people becoming victims of crime than if effective alternatives were used. The Minister accepted that earlier.

Does the hon. Member agree that letting violent and sexual offenders back on the streets after they have served just half their sentence is clearly letting victims down?

Let me remind the hon. Gentleman that I made it absolutely clear at the beginning that we are in full agreement that serious and dangerous offenders who pose a risk to the public must serve sentences that reflect the severity of their crimes and keep the public safe. The point we are making—I will go on to make it, if the hon. Gentleman will allow me—is that this is a missed opportunity. Quite frankly, there are so many underlying issues that are not being addressed, and as I have said, the order will not single-handedly achieve the objectives mentioned.

We are concerned about the additional pressures that the order will place on an already overstretched Prison and Probation Service. That point was made by the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), who does not appear to be in his place now, but is a learned Member and comes with some experience. The probation service, without sufficient places or staff, will be forced to do the same level of rehabilitative work with offenders after their release, but in the shorter time before the end of their licence period.

The Government have not made the case for this order. To do so, they could have brought forward a comprehensive plan to deal with the additional burden the order will place on our already overstretched Prison and Probation Service—evidence shows that is the most effective way to protect the public—but they did not. We urge the Government to look into and address these issues, and to ensure that prisons have the investment and support they need to meet the needs of their existing population.

The Government must also ensure that the forthcoming changes to the probation service see it better funded and better supported, so it can return to being the award-winning service, protecting the public, that it was before the Conservative party made the disastrous decision to break up and part-privatise probation. The Government must ensure that the Parole Board is sufficiently respected and resourced to deal with release decisions for the most serious offenders and keep the public safe.

This order is ultimately a missed opportunity for the Government. It is a missed opportunity to bring forward a comprehensive and evidence-led sentencing reform package that would make the changes necessary to reduce the number of victims of crime, and to begin to allow the public to regain confidence in our crumbling justice system.

I am just concluding now; the hon. Gentleman has missed his chance to intervene.

This order is also a missed opportunity to set out measures that will increase public safety, such as boosting the resources available to the probation service, retaining experienced prison officers and returning our prisons to safe staffing levels, and increasing the availability of real, purposeful activity and rehabilitation programmes in prison and in the community. Instead, we see this piece- meal, headline-seeking approach from the Government, which does not address the crisis in our justice system.

Fundamentally, the Government have failed properly to make the case for this order, by failing to demonstrate that it is the most effective way to keep the public safe and protect victims of crime. We will therefore not support the order this afternoon.

Order. As we can see, a lot of Members want to speak in what is a very short, time-limited debate, so we will have to introduce a time limit right from the very outset of four minutes to ensure that as many get in as possible.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I congratulate the Front-Bench team on bringing forward this measure today. It is a real delight to be standing in this place, welcoming and supporting it with open arms, and there is a very good reason for that.

This issue has affected my constituents very deeply. They have had to live with the consequences of the early release of a serious sexual offender just five years after he received a 22-year sentence for his role as a ringleader in a Telford child grooming case. He was convicted of controlling child sexual exploitation and trafficking for the purposes of child sexual exploitation, and the victims were as young as 13. This was organised child rape with a profit motive.

The impact on the victims and their families and our wider community was such that I began to campaign assiduously for the very measure before us today. I approached many Ministers in the course of this campaign and I do not have time to pay tribute and give thanks to all of them today, but I would like to say that my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice and of course the Prime Minister have done a fantastic job in leading the way on this issue; as the Minister rightly said, they have done so very early in this Parliament, having promised that they would. It is a proud moment to be standing here to welcome this legislation.

In December 2012, an eight-week trial led to a grooming gang-leader being handed down a sentence of 22 years, of which 14 were to be served in custody and eight on licence. The victims had been put through the ordeal of an adversarial court case and had been rigorously cross-examined on their testimony and character, and they felt that it was a price worth paying to know that justice had been done. The community was able to breathe a sigh of relief, and victims and survivors and their families set about the process of rebuilding their lives. In this case, however, without it even being considered by the Parole Board, the offender was eligible for automatic early release just five years after the case had been sentenced. It was because the 14 years in custody was cut in half to seven years and he had already been two years on remand pre-trial. The reaction locally was one of shock and disbelief. There was a sense that the system had once again failed those who needed it most. The victims felt that their experience had been trivialised and demeaned, and the community felt afraid that the offender would return to Telford and still be a risk to the public.

No one in Telford could understand how this had happened and I had no answer to give them. How could victims of serial child rape begin to rebuild their lives if the system failed to recognise the seriousness of the offences committed against them? Yes, there was anger, but the overriding sentiment was: “The people in charge don’t care about us. We’re nothing. If the system doesn’t work for people like us, what is the point of having a system at all?” It made a mockery of justice. There was absolutely no confidence in a system that could trivialise such serious crimes.

What was particularly troubling in this case was the concept that the offender who had committed such crimes was going to be released on licence, and that we should simply expect that he would adhere to his licence conditions and therefore custody was not necessary. He did not adhere to his licence conditions and, fortunately for my community, he is now back in prison for a serious breach of those conditions—indeed, so serious that he is now serving all 22 years of the original sentence.

It is absolutely right that the Government have taken such prompt action on this issue. I thank all those involved in prioritising it. It was in the manifesto and it was in the Queen’s Speech. My constituents are deeply grateful, as I am. It restores trust and confidence in our justice system, and sends the right message to victims of sexual violence.

May I also say that it is wonderful to have you back in your rightful place, Mr Deputy Speaker? I would also like to express a huge debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for Telford (Lucy Allan), who has done so much work to champion this cause.

It must be a core purpose of the criminal justice system to provide victims and survivors with a sense that justice has been delivered. For that to be achieved, survivors and their families need to feel that the punishment is commensurate with the crime. The all-party group on adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, which I chair, last year conducted an inquiry into survivors’ experiences of the criminal justice system. We worked with nearly 400 survivors, many of whom found the pursuit of justice to be confusing, arduous, and, at times, traumatising. Despite the lifelong impact of abuse, many survivors did not feel as if the sentence given to their abuser in any way reflected the severity of the crime that they had committed. Discussing her abuser’s sentence, one survivor said:

“What’s two years? My sentence has been 46 years and counting.”

Commenting on what they felt was a lenient sentence, another survivor said:

“It is a slap in the face for the victim. What message does that send to people thinking of reporting a crime? Why put the victims through years of mental anguish when a lenient sentence is the outcome?”

It is undoubtedly important to victims and survivors of serious sexual offences that sentences are meaningful and proportionate to the impact of the crime, and that they are served.

I am pleased that today’s statutory instrument in part addresses this issue, but more work needs to be done. Looking specifically at the law on double jeopardy, there appears to be a contradiction in the Government’s approach to defining serious sexual offences. For this statutory instrument, a broad list of serious violent and sexual crimes is provided under schedule 15 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. However, the Government have a far more restrictive list of serious offences that can be retried in the event of new evidence, otherwise known as double jeopardy. They are listed under schedule 5 of the 2003 Act and do not include the offences of sexual assault of a child under 13, sexual activity with a child, or causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity. These are certainly very serious crimes and there can be no doubt that children who experience non-penetrative sexual abuse experience significant trauma as a result. Does the Minister agree with me that all forms of child abuse should be recognised as a very serious offence? Will he commit to review the law on double jeopardy, with a view to including all sexual offences committed against a child?

I would like to touch briefly on support for survivors of sexual violence and abuse. Time after time, survivors told our inquiry that they felt discarded at the end of the justice process. Few were referred to appropriate support services, and those that were described long waiting lists and limits to the therapeutic sessions available. The Government have a rare opportunity to address this crisis in their spending review by creating a cross-departmental strategy and fund for responding to child abuse.

Finally, longer sentences will not make the changes we want unless they are underpinned with safeguarding when the offender is released. Too often, survivors tell me that they have no knowledge of their offender being released until they find out on social media. It is a serious concern that little to no effective rehabilitation is carried out in prisons, but on release good work is done by charities such as the Circles projects and the probation service, but those are both under resourced. The Government also need to invest in early intervention when perpetrators first show inappropriate behaviour so that it does not escalate. All that takes funding and will, and I urge the Government to prioritise those for all our sakes.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) and my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan), who both made important points about the need to safeguard the interests of victims. In relation to the measure itself, I think most of us recognise that the objective is an entirely laudable and proper one. It is right that there is confidence in the sentencing process for the general public, and it is right that those who commit the most serious offences should receive condign and appropriate punishment, so I do not have a problem with supporting this measure.

There is no great magic in two thirds, as opposed to a half. What this measure does is to take the situation back to where it was when I started in practice at the Bar before 2003, and that was certainly the feeling among professionals at the time, when it was changed from two thirds to a half. That was largely done as a matter of presentation, because it enabled the then Labour Government to suggest that they were reducing the number of prisoners. What we have failed to do for many decades is to actually invest in prisons, so I hope that, at the same time as we make sure that we have proper levels of sentencing for those who commit serious offences, we will invest in our prison estate, which—as the Justice Committee has pointed out in several reports—suffers from grave overcrowding and, in many cases, from a serious degradation in the physical fabric of the buildings, and for that reason is often not able to deliver the rehabilitative work that we all wish to see. As Lord Garnier said in the other House when this was debated, it is not the magic of two thirds as opposed to a half that is important; it is what we do with people when they are in prison.

The other thing that we need to tackle—and I know the Government are determined to do this—is to ensure we get down our stubbornly high rates of reoffending. Our rates of reoffending are markedly worse than many of our near neighbours’ rates. I do not think that is because the British population are inherently more inclined to commit crime than those of the Netherlands or Scandinavia; it is because we have not historically made enough, perhaps nuanced, use of imprisonment to turn lives around.

I recognise that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), when he was Lord Chancellor, started an ambitious scheme to make sure that purposeful activity, rehabilitation, re-education and changing lives around were key parts of our prison strategy. I know that the current Lord Chancellor shares that view, and I hope that we will see the rest of the package of justice measures advance that side of the equation too, so that we get that balance right, which includes tough sentences where they are warranted and which the public has confidence in; good, positive, constructive work with prisoners while they are inside to make them less likely to offend when they are released; and robust alternatives to custody for those who do not perhaps present a physical threat, but have often got into criminality because of drug addiction, mental health issues and a raft of other matters that are better tackled much earlier, by early intervention.

I hope that we will not lose the opportunity to have greater transparency and simplicity in sentencing, which has become complicated even for judges, as I know from experience. Of course there is a Law Commission enabling measure in the other place, under the special Law Commission procedure, to lay the ground for a codification of sentencing. That will be a welcome step and something that the Justice Committee has urged the Government to do. I hope the Minister will be able to take that on board too.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this most important of debates. Out there, there are countless victims of some of the most serious crimes—rape victims, GBH victims, the families and loved ones of manslaughter victims. My family and I fall into that last category, as I have previously mentioned in this place. In my case, a line from Lois McMaster Bujold’s 2002 novel sticks with me:

“The dead cannot cry out for justice. It is a duty of the living to do so for them.”

It is our duty to ensure that justice is done for the victims of the most heinous crimes. For those victims and their families, it can be difficult to feel that justice can ever be served in an appropriate and proportionate way. That is why sentencing is so crucially important. I can remember sitting in court at age 14, listening intently to proceedings—if I thought I had nervous butterflies on election day, they were absolutely nothing compared with that.

On the road to recovery from a severe criminal court case, the delivery of the verdict is the first hurdle. For victims and families who do hear a guilty verdict, the second hurdle is the delivery of a sentence. When a sentence feels too lenient, it can leave a victim or family feeling lost and drifting, with justice not having been done and no real way to move on. We must always support victims by ensuring that the sentences that are delivered are proportionate and sufficiently serious.

The third hurdle to recovery is what this debate is focused on: the point at which the sentenced perpetrator is released from prison. I still remember the day that my nan saw my dad’s killer for the very first time after he was released after just 18 months, and the anger, frustration, confusion and sheer grief that flashed across her face, especially when he raised a glass to her as we drove by, which was a real clincher. This experience is shared by far too many, with victims feeling severely let down by the current automatic halfway release point.

What is the purpose of a prison sentence? There are several. The first is to protect the public from the offender. The second is to ensure that victims feel that justice has been done. A serious offender serving just half a sentence does not provide victims and victims’ families with that sense of justice. The third is to act as a deterrent for future offences, but the existing automatic halfway release gives a sense of leniency, which means that it does not necessarily act as a deterrent in the way that it should. The fourth and final purpose of a prison sentence is to provide an environment in which offenders can be rehabilitated. For serious offences, it is not perverse to assume that such rehabilitation could be a lengthy and complex process. By ending the automatic halfway release from prison, these changes will also ensure that the most serious offenders have more time with specialist support in prison to rehabilitate them and prepare them for release into the community. Of course, it is right that they will still be subject to strict conditions on their release.

In the manifesto that we were elected on with a substantial mandate, we vowed that we would introduce tougher sentencing for the worst offenders. Like other colleagues have said today, I had some reservations about moving the goalposts from an automatic halfway point to two thirds, because for some victims this may seem like it is not enough. However, I was really encouraged to hear the Minister talk about this as the first step that our Government can achieve quickly to begin to deliver on that election promise at the earliest possible opportunity. I will certainly follow the sentencing White Paper with close interest to ensure that victims are represented fully in the legislative process. I support this statutory instrument as a step towards proving to victims that we are on their side.

I applaud my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison) for making such a powerful speech.

In Watford, I have had many emails and conversations over the past few months where people feel that there has been a creeping, pervasive shift away from the victim towards the perpetrator—that the victim is no longer put first, but the perpetrator is. That feeling causes not only great frustration, but an awful lot of fear for many people. They feel that people have decided—often it is a decision, whether that is in a moment of passion, pre-planned or an ongoing situation—to do the wrong thing and yet the victim, who had no choice, is the one who is not looked after and cared for. Sentencing is a really clear part of the law of the land, which needs to be upheld. When we look at the length of the sentences that we give to criminals who have decided to do the wrong thing, we should be saying to them, “There is a very clear consequence of your actions and that consequence will be delivered upon.” Giving people half a sentence is not the right way to go, so I applaud the Government for saying in the SI that we need to fulfil more of that sentence—ideally, I would say the whole of it, but that is just me going a bit further.

In looking at the criminal justice system, of course we have to look at rehabilitation. We also need to look at pre-offending provision, such as education to stop people getting into this situation, and particularly for things such as knife crime, we need the right facilities, from community centres to education, to support that, so that we do not have children and young people getting into a life of crime, especially violent crime.

On this specific SI, we have to carefully consider the victim’s voice, listen to them and include them in the ongoing conversation, because as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland, these crimes are not one-off moments, but affect victims and their families over the ripples of time, forever, but too often that gets forgotten.

We must also remember the police in this process. I have been out with them and talked to them. They put so much work into catching criminals and do so much paperwork. They are out there trying to catch these people. What message does it send to them when they have caught them if we say, “Hey, you’ve caught them, but in a few months or years, we’re going to cut their sentence”. It is an injustice in itself. It must also be incredibly demotivating for our hard-working police forces and the families and victims when the offenders are told, “You’ve done okay, so we’ll release you early”.

In conclusion, I applaud the Government for introducing this SI. It is the right thing to do. Rehabilitation and pre-offending education are key, but please let us put victims first and show the nation that we are the party and Government to keep this country safe.

It has been a long journey to get sexual assaults, in particular, treated as among the most serious offences in the justice system, so I welcome the changes in the statutory instrument.

Standard determinate sentences are given out for minor offences but also for the most serious. Having no distinction in the automatic release trigger point between the two is clearly an injustice that needs to be rectified. When implementing this change, we must ensure two things. First, some prisoners who carry out the most serious crimes should not be automatically released at all; rather, their release should be reviewed by the Parole Board and covered by rules applying to extended determinate sentences or sentences for offenders of particular concern. The statistic, which the Minister highlighted, of 84% of rapists being given standard determinate sentences is one of concern, but one I know he will look at in the sentencing review.

The proportion of sex offenders who reoffend within a year is 14%. As part of the sentencing review, we should look at how a judge assesses whether someone represents an ongoing danger to the public and whether a standard determinate sentence is appropriate at all. Regardless, it is important when we introduce this change that we do not inadvertently reduce the use by judges of the ability to categorise offenders as dangerous and therefore necessitate Parole Board involvement. Undoubtedly some prisoners will still pose a danger to the public after two thirds of their sentence is complete and therefore will not be suitable for standard determinate sentences, regardless of these now being more robust. That is obviously not the intention, but we should monitor the change to make sure that it does not have this effect on sentencing decisions. Over time, we should also reduce the use of standard determinate sentences for sex offenders in general.

Secondly, the driving force behind these changes is to help victims have greater confidence in the criminal justice system and to keep offenders off our streets. The fear of meeting attackers again continually comes up among victims in my constituency and in victims surveys. These changes will help immensely with that and give victims time to deal with their horrendous ordeals. We will have the chance later, however, to go further, particularly on licensing conditions. At the moment, victims have to request that no-contact conditions be included as part of their licence. We should consider making that automatic over time. It would help to relieve the burden on individuals.

To conclude, it is important that we keep these changes under review—we must make sure that the most serious offenders go before the Parole Board and are not let out automatically—but this SI is right. It is a necessary and welcome step forward for victims of the most serious crimes.

I support the statutory instrument, and in doing so I support not just the Minister, but the strength of the voices in favour of it on the Conservative Benches.

This statutory instrument is really about three things. It is about delivering on our promises, it is about public safety, and it is about community cohesion. I want to focus on the third.

We talk about crime in two ways, I was very moved by what my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison) said about the impact on individuals of serious violent crime in particular. However, although we tend to talk only about the impact on those individuals, there is also an impact on families and communities. Safe streets and safe communities are not the sufficient, but the necessary conditions for a productive, thriving, worthwhile life. Unless you, your family and your community are safe, you cannot bring up your family; unless you, your family and your community are safe, you cannot go to school, go to work and get on in life. That safety is fundamental to everything. I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Dean Russell): this Government, and indeed any British Government, must ensure that the British people feel and are safe, because that is the foundation of everything else that we talk about in this Chamber.

It is a shame that the hon. Member for St Albans (Daisy Cooper) is no longer in the Chamber, because I want to take on the argument—I admit that it came not from the Labour Front Bench, but from the Liberal Democrats—that spending less time in prison is somehow safer, over either the short or the long term. I believe that that argument is a poor one, and is not borne out by any evidence.

Of course the rehabilitation of prisoners needs to be improved. I think that the Minister, indeed everybody, understands that, and the Government are working hard on it: for them it is a major priority. As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), investment in our prison estate also needs to be improved. However, if prisoners spend more time on release when they are dangerous, and there is evidence that they are dangerous because of the offences that they have committed, that poses a danger to the safety of the public.

This statutory instrument is going in the right direction. I should like it to go further, but I take in good part the Minister’s statement that it is a first step and part of a wider range of measures. It is right, and it is right not just for individuals, but for individuals, families and communities. Safer streets and safer communities are the foundation of everything that we talk about in the Chamber. This is what I, as a Member of Parliament, want to represent and will stand for, this is what Conservative Members should always do, and this is what the Government are proving that they are doing by introducing the statutory instrument.

No one should feel unsafe walking the streets, but unfortunately some people do. For far too long decent people in this country have been victims of violent crime, and time and again we see those violent criminals given paltry sentences and released early, so that they are back on the streets to wreak havoc and create misery. Unfortunately, some people cannot live by the rules of our society. They must therefore be taken to a place that has different rules, and that place is prison.

In Ashfield, people are fed up with violent crime. They are fed up with seeing violent criminals get short sentences, and then leave prison halfway through their sentences. I will tell you who else is fed up. Our police are fed up. They have a difficult enough job as it is, apprehending the most violent criminals in our society. As my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Dean Russell) said earlier, they must be really angry to see violent criminals released early and back out on the streets—and guess what? Our police are then having to waste time and resources catching those criminals and putting them back through the system.

It is not rocket science. If you lock up a serious offender for 10 years instead of five, that is five more years when they are no longer a threat or a risk to society. It gives them five more years to reflect on their crimes, and it gives us five more years to rehabilitate the most serious and violent offenders in this country. I welcome this statutory instrument. I also welcome the fact that we are recruiting 20,000 extra police officers and creating 10,000 more prison places, as well as locking up our most serious offenders for longer. That will not only make our streets safer but restore confidence in our justice system.

It is a pleasure to be called to speak, Madam Deputy Speaker, especially now that I have something to say. Wakefield is a peace-loving and loyal city that does its duty and securely houses the many men and women who reside in the constituency at Her Majesty’s pleasure. I believe fundamentally in redemption and the power of rehabilitation. I have experience gained from assisting the Pakistan army and the United Nations in designing the curriculum and facility in the shadow of Churchill’s picket on the summit of Malakand pass in the provincially administered tribal areas of what was until recently known as the North-West Frontier province. That facility has become known as Sabayoon, a Pashto word that refers to the first rays of the morning light that herald the dawn. The facility, like Wakefield’s high-security jail, houses many deeply troubled criminal young minds.

Sabayoon, however, was designed to de-radicalise and rehabilitate young people who were being groomed to become suicide bombers under the brutal direction of Mullah Fazle Rehman, then leader of the vicious brutes that controlled Swat and shot Malala Yousafzai. The process to rehabilitate those who have been trained to do harm to their neighbours and themselves is a long process. The length of that process is in fact a kindness, as it permits a thorough assessment of each subject and the time required to provide valuable life skills, so that when they are finally deemed fit to be readmitted to society, they are equipped with the wherewithal to forge a meaningful new life away from malign influences. Sadly, despite the best efforts of all, some subjects are simply incapable of reformation and are likely to remain a threat to themselves and others for as long as they live. For such people who are beyond reform, if not redemption, a full whole-life sentence is necessary.

This experience has informed my views at home, and I believe that sentences should be long, to allow for reform. Reformation, rather than just punishment, should therefore be the primary objective, and long sentences, coupled with effective programmes, can help to achieve this objective. Her Majesty’s Government’s plans to provide 20,000 more police officers with enhanced powers, along with £35 million extra to tackle violent crime, 10,000 more prison places, and tougher and longer sentences, when taken together, constitute a real and credible plan to make our streets and homes safer, and I thoroughly support this statutory instrument.

This is only my third contribution in this House, and I am glad to be making it on these statutory instruments. Indeed, I welcome the wider package of measures that we are introducing to toughen up the criminal justice system overall. I have been humbled by the contributions from my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan), who I know has campaigned for a long time on this issue, and from my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison), who gave the House a deeply moving and personal account. Members of the public sometimes worry that politicians are out of touch, but those two contributions alone show how in touch we on these green Benches are on this issue.

We must remember that these measures deal with the very worst of offenders. We have heard about rape, grievous bodily harm with intent and child sexual exploitation. I have heard directly from my constituents about the devastation they have felt at being victims of such crimes, which is then amplified when the offenders are released at the halfway point. It is a second betrayal, and it puts a serious strain on victims and communities.

I agree with the concern that automatic release at the halfway point does not provide an incentive to change behaviour sufficiently, and that is not just a wrong committed against the victims who feel that justice has not been served, but a wrong against future potential victims, against communities and their ability to feel safe, and against perpetrators who have not been rehabilitated. I understand and wholeheartedly agree with the worries about increasing sentences to the full-term point, but there is an issue of capacity and ensuring that we can deliver on our promises, so I welcome this measure and its expedience. I also welcome the spending of billions on the prison system and downstream costs within the criminal justice system so that we can deliver for victims.

One of the greatest duties that I have in this place is to ensure the safety of my communities and to ensure that victims feel that justice has been served. I support this SI and welcome the measures brought forward today.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to follow my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Claire Coutinho). This debate is about public confidence not just in our judicial system, but in our political system, which will come to in a little bit.

The principal purposes of sentencing are quite well understood by most of the House—my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison) touched on them—and I believe that the public support them. On protection, increased sentences for the worst offenders will increase public protection. On deterrence, it remains to be seen, but one would have thought that if someone knows that they will go to prison for longer, they will be appropriately further deterred. On rehabilitation, on which my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) made an important intervention earlier, this measure provides more time for rehabilitation. It is important that we do a better job than perhaps we have been doing, but it can only be a good thing to allow more time for support and rehabilitation for people who are not only some of the worst offenders, but perhaps have some of the worst reasons for being so. These measures also offer more of a chance for people to pay reparations, although I appreciate that can happen in the community, too. Last but not least, punishment is another important part of sentencing, and there is nothing unworthy in that, because it is fundamental to justice.

However, my experience on the doorstep in Newcastle-under-Lyme is that most people do not support automatic early release for the worst offenders—certainly not at half-time, as at present, or at even less than half-time, as my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) mentioned. People are cynical about it. They look at the length of a sentence and say, “Well, it won’t be anywhere near that. They will probably be out in 18 months”, or whatever. Our manifesto commitment was therefore actually very popular and will restore some balance to the different purposes of sentencing and, dare I say, some good old-fashioned common sense.

The wheels of justice can often turn slowly. Likewise, this place rightly takes its time when it has complex Bills to consider—well, at least most of the time—but my constituents will welcome the fact that, with these statutory instruments, we have been able to act quickly to deliver on a clear promise that we made a couple of months ago. That swift action will in turn strengthen public confidence not just in our judicial system, which is what we are talking about today, but in our political system. People will know that we can pull our finger out when there is clear and pressing demand from public belief that the present system is unsatisfactory. In addition to the public in general, the change will strengthen victims’ confidence. The Victims’ Commissioner said:

“I welcome any move to make sentencing more transparent”.

Victims’ rights campaigner Harry Fletcher has said that the previous system

“removed the incentive to comply and reform. Increasing time served but encouraging good behaviour restores the balance for victims.”

Balance is very important.

We still have more to do. The sentencing Bill, the foreign national offenders Bill and many other Bills in the Queen’s Speech will form a welcome and more comprehensive package than what we are discussing today, but this is a swift and impressive first step, so I commend these statutory instruments to the House.

Prior to coming to the House I was a criminal legal aid defence solicitor for 16 years. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) mentioned, this statutory instrument simply takes us back to a position that I recognise from the courts prior to 2003. It is no more than that. Sentencing is a multifaceted matter that covers many issues, but I have yet to hear one positive, coherent argument as to why we should keep automatic release at the halfway stage in sentences for the most dangerous offenders. There is no argument for doing that. I have yet to have a constituent in Bury North knock on my door to say that we must keep that for the public good—there clearly is no public good in it.

We are here to defend the public interest. Why is this statutory instrument in the public interest? It will protect the public, for the reasons articulated by all speakers in this debate. Importantly, it will increase the deterrent impact of long-term sentences. What I take from my experience in the courts is that severe, deterrent sentences have an impact on behaviour, which this debate sometimes seems to ignore.

As other colleagues have said, this measure allows an extra period of rehabilitation for offenders. Valid points have been raised about the nature of the rehabilitation programmes that are available, especially in prisons, because sentencing is worth little if it is not effective. Sadly, despite our having fantastic probation officers and fantastic prison officers, my experience of working in the criminal justice system is that rehabilitative sentences have simply not achieved the expected outcomes, whether in reducing reoffending rates or putting people on to a more positive way of life. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to look at those sentences, because they are not working. Much work has to be done to address the underlying reasons for offending. Most importantly, victims and their families must be at the centre of our thoughts in any sentencing guidelines and sentencing measures that come through this place. I am sorry for repeating myself, but it is inconceivable that we could say dangerous offenders should automatically be released at the 50% stage—it is as simple as that.

We are dancing on the head of a pin. We can debate other important things, but I would welcome it if any hon. Member could point to a constituent who thinks such automatic release is a good idea.

We recently had a tragic case in Ipswich in which a young man was murdered. The murderers were sentenced to life in prison, and another was sentenced to 14 years for manslaughter. He bragged on Facebook about how easy it is in prison and how he will be let out halfway. As a direct result of that action, would it not be reasonable to eliminate any chance he has of being let out halfway?

Absolutely. My hon. Friend’s words speak for themselves.

I congratulate the Front-Bench team and my other colleagues. We are acting on a manifesto commitment that is in the public interest and that will have an impact on offending behaviour. We have all talked about other related issues, but this is a good measure that is supported by the public, and I warmly welcome it.

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate and to follow the incredible contributions of my hon. Friends, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison)—she is so new to this place, yet she speaks with such passion—and my more experienced hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan), who has championed this issue. We are all in awe of them.

This is a manifesto commitment, as the Minister said, and we politicians must take seriously our efforts to keep our promises to the public. The Government must be on the side of law-abiding people who do the right thing, and we must have a care for the victims of heinous crimes.

Many colleagues have spoken about getting sentencing right. This is not about just locking people up and throwing away the key. The scales of justice are there for a reason. We must be tough on people who commit crimes, but we must also be tough in providing opportunities to help those who want to reform. In a compassionate and civilised society, we must never lose sight of that, as it is the ultimate mark of a Government who are truly compassionate and who care about social justice.

To that end, I wish to use my time to touch on an organisation of which I have personal experience and which will be familiar to Members of this House—Learning Together. One of my sons was a volunteer for that charity while at Cambridge University. He started his volunteering when he first studied there, and he has told me that it was the most profound and meaningful experience he had while at Cambridge. He saw at first hand the impact he had when he was working with prisoners, some of whom could not read or write. Some of the work he was doing there with his fellow students at Cambridge was truly transformational, so I want to speak up for charities such as that, which are doing difficult work; we are all familiar with the Fishmongers’ Hall tragedy. We as a Government must continue to support those charities and allow them to work with criminals, and even terrorists, to reform them if possible.

I also want to speak about an organisation called RoadPeace, which is involved in my constituency. My friend Lucy Harrison has brought this charity to my attention. What RoadPeace is doing is relevant for the Minister when he comes to look at the wider powers in the sentencing Bill. It is calling for driving crime to be looked at as “real crime”. My friend Lucy lost her brother, and it had a profound impact on her life. We definitely need to look at sentencing for driving crimes, as it is currently not adequate. I am sure that many of our constituents all across the country who have experience of that would like to see the system changed.

The Government are looking at justice across the board, doing our best and introducing real change to the system, in order to keep the public safe. We are introducing 20,000 new police officers and 10,000 new prison places. This Government are on the side of people doing the right thing, so I welcome these measures and thank the Front-Bench team for what they have done to bring it forward.

This has been a full and, at times, moving debate. I have been particularly grateful for the contributions by the many Members from the new 2019 intake. Their contributions have been impressive, well-informed and moving, and I look forward to hearing many more such contributions in the weeks, months and indeed years ahead.

I wish to touch briefly on some of the points that have been raised. The hon. Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) both drew attention to making sure that the resources are available so that the extra people in prison can be properly accommodated and rehabilitated. Let me repeat the assurance I gave that the extra investment, a total of £2.75 billion, is designed to do exactly that. We are talking about 10,000 extra prison places, over and above the 3,500 currently under construction, as well as extra money for prison refurbishment and prison security.

My hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) made an extremely powerful point, as did the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), who is not in her place, about the importance of victims in this entire debate. We are doing this as much for victims as for anything else. They have suffered terribly at the hands of offenders and expect the perpetrator to spend more of their sentence in prison. My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison) spoke movingly about her own tragic experience of a family member who was a victim of a very serious crime, and the terrible circumstance she described is exactly why we are bringing forward this statutory instrument. My hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Dean Russell) made a similar point about the importance of victims in this whole debate. Opposition Members asked, “Why are you bringing this forward? What is the rationale?” The speeches we have heard this afternoon about the impact that early release has on the victims of these terrible crimes—often crimes of rape and, in some cases, even manslaughter—powerfully make the case for this statutory instrument. However, as I said and as many Members have mentioned, it is only the first step. The White Paper we will be publishing, followed by a sentencing Bill, provides an opportunity to go further and broader.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (James Daly), who clearly has a lot of experience in this area, touched on tackling the causes of some kinds of offending. I very much want to see us do more to treat issues such as drug addiction, alcohol addiction and mental health problems, which are often the causes of some kinds of low-level repeat offending. As an alternative to short prison sentences, treatment is essential.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Laura Trott) made an interesting and important point about whether extended determinate sentences should be more widely applied. The figures I gave earlier showed that few serious offences currently attract EDSs—for example, 84% of rapes get a standard determinate sentence with an automatic release point—so that is exactly the kind of question we should consider as part of the sentencing White Paper and the debate that will follow. I strongly urge my hon. Friend to take that point forward. I have listened to it, but I urge her to make it again and to make representations during the White Paper process.

My hon. Friends the Members for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami) and for Ashfield (Lee Anderson) made some important points about prevention. My hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Claire Coutinho) made some equally important points about the importance of preventing criminal offences by incarcerating serious criminals for a little longer.

My hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean) made a critical overarching point: that by fulfilling this manifesto commitment so quickly, after just 47 days, we are demonstrating that we are on the side of law-abiding citizens and believe in keeping our promises.

Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Tom Hunt) made an intervention about a manslaughter case in which a 14-year sentence was handed down. If I have understood the case history correctly, the case that he described—a 14-year sentence for manslaughter with an automatic release at halfway—is exactly within the scope of this statutory instrument. By passing this SI, we can ensure that the terrible circumstances that he so eloquently and powerfully described will not happen again.

We have heard some extremely compelling speeches this afternoon. Members have spoken on behalf of victims, whose voice it is so important that we hear in the House. The measures that we are about to pass are simply the first step in part of a wider process to make sure that we not only protect the public but respect the rights and concerns of victims. I strongly commend the order and regulations to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That the draft Release of Prisoners (Alteration of Relevant Proportion of Sentence) Order 2019, which was laid before this House on 14 October 2019, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved.


That the draft Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 (Consequential Amendment) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 14 October 2019, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved.—(Tom Pursglove.)