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Business Statement

Volume 671: debated on Tuesday 11 February 2020

Madam Deputy Speaker, I informed the House last week of the Government’s intention to introduce legislation to stop the automatic early release of prisoners convicted of terrorist offences.

Today, the Government will introduce that legislation and tomorrow’s business will now be consideration of a business of the House motion, followed by all stages of the Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill

Thursday’s business will be as previously announced: a general debate on matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment.

I shall also make a further statement announcing future business on Thursday.

I thank the Leader of the House for advance sight of the emergency business statement. The Opposition repeat that terrorist prisoners should not be released automatically but be subject to Parole Board assessment before release while serving their sentences.

I have three quick questions for the Leader of the House. First, when is the Bill likely to be published? Will it be published immediately after the statement? Secondly, what sort of timetable, in terms of protected time, does he have in mind for tomorrow? Thirdly, will he clarify if there will be a further statement on what resources will be available for the Parole Board and probation service? We want to keep our citizens safe.

I thank the right hon. Lady and the Opposition Front Bench for the support that they have given. I understand that they have worked with my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor to ensure that there is satisfaction throughout the Chamber in respect of this very important business.

Let me respond to the three questions that the right hon. Lady asked. The Bill will be presented today; the time will be protected, so it will not be affected by statements or anything else tomorrow; and the Treasury has approved an increase in resources to ensure that the cost of maintaining people in prison and the associated costs are affordable.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to ensure that this business has priority over all others, but can he give us the proposed timetable for the debates on the police grant and local government finance grant motions? Those also involve important and timeous issues—not as grave as this, but important to local authorities that are seeking to set their budgets.

My hon. Friend is right: those matters are indeed important, and they are being delayed. The local government finance motion must come before the House by 1 March to help councils. It will be introduced as a matter of priority, and on Thursday I will announce when it will be introduced. The same applies to the police grant motion. Both are relatively time-sensitive, and they will be returned to the House as urgently as possible.

Like the shadow Leader of the House, we support the intentions behind the Bill. As all Scottish Members will know, we long ago separated the concept of early consideration from the actuality of the outcome of that consideration, so we look forward to seeing the details of the legislation. However, the Government have said that they regard this as a matter of extreme urgency. It will be possible to conclude the Bill’s Commons stages tomorrow, but if it then goes to the other place and its Members choose to make amendments, when will this House consider those amendments, and when might there be a prospect of our actually getting the Bill on to the statute book? We seem to have approached this in a somewhat haphazard way when it comes to making a timetable.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor has been in touch with the justice Minister in Scotland, and I am grateful for the collaboration that there has been across all parties in the House. The other place obviously regulates its own business, but the urgency and the message coming from this House are very clear to its Members, and I therefore expect that they will handle this in a reasonable manner. Of course if they make amendments those will come back to this House in the normal way, but as there is cross-party agreement and the Opposition Front Bench has considerable influence in the other place, I anticipate that the business will be concluded swiftly in both Houses.

My right hon. Friend has made an important statement, and I welcome the fact that both my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary have been present to hear it.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the difference that the Bill would make is to early release and not overall sentencing. Will he make time available for a debate on the law of treason, which dates back to 1351, a little before even his time? Perhaps we could find time in our calendar to update it as the Commonwealth of Australia did in 2018, and perhaps, in considering how to update it, he would like to read a rather interesting Policy Exchange report written in July last year and entitled “Aiding the Enemy”.

My hon. Friend is very well versed in these matters and is aware of the danger that treason may present to a nation, but I hope I can give him some reassurance about what happens next. He rightly said that the Bill would only stop early release, but offenders will be subject to robust safeguards on release, which could include terrorism prevention and investigation measures or serious crime prevention orders, among other existing measures. So, even at the point of release, they will not be let out among an unsuspecting public, because our top priority is to keep the public safe.

My hon. Friend’s proposal for a debate on the Treason Act 1351 interests me, because I am always interested in historic Acts, and I quite like the fact that one of our most important Acts of Parliament dates back to the 1350s.

The reference to TPIMs may resonate on this side of the House. They are, of course, much weaker than the control orders which were previously in place but were watered down.

Obviously, because this is emergency legislation, there is no time for a full impact assessment, but the Leader of the House mentioned the extra spending allocated by the Treasury. Will there be full details of what that will entail at the time of the Bill’s publication?

I think that those details are really for the Second Reading tomorrow, when it will be possible to provide the information that hon. Members will want. However, I can reassure the House that the Treasury is happy with the cost, and that the cost is not enormous. It is not as much as will be spent by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, as was clear from his statement earlier.