With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on the Government’s plans to reform the system of sentencing in England and Wales. This morning I laid before Parliament a White Paper entitled “A Smarter Approach to Sentencing”, and I wanted to come to the House to outline the measures contained within it.
The first duty of any Government is to protect their people, but the complex system of sentencing in England and Wales does not always command the confidence of the public. At one end of the spectrum of offending, there are serious sexual and violent criminals who, by automatic operation of the law, leave prison halfway through their sentences. We are going to ensure that more of these serious offenders stay in custody for longer.
There are also criminals who, while serving time for their offence, may become a danger to the public but who would currently be eligible for automatic release. We are acting to prevent fewer of those offenders from leaving prison without being assessed as safe by Parole Board experts. These measures will keep offenders who pose a risk to the public off the streets for longer, and help to restore public confidence that robust sentences are executed in a way that better reflects the gravity of the crimes committed.
At the other end of the spectrum, protecting the public from the effects of lower-level offending means finding new ways to break cycles of crime—to prevent a revolving door of short custodial sentences that we know offer little rehabilitative value. Criminals in that category often have chaotic lifestyles and their offending can be driven by substance misuse, poor mental health or learning difficulties. They often have limited education and few job prospects, and experience generational patterns of offending.
Rather than continuing to send them back and forth to prison—doing the same thing but expecting a different result—we want to empower the sentencing system to use more effective community sentencing to get them off drugs and into the jobs that we know can lead them to a better life. We will do that by better identifying individual needs, providing treatment options where appropriate, and utilising technology, such as sobriety tags, to drive compliance. These measures will support offenders to change their lifestyles for good and, in the process, protect the public from the ongoing effects of their crimes.
The reforms will not work unless they are underpinned by a world-class probation system that can understand and implement sentencing properly, backed up by a high-quality probation workforce. I pay tribute to the probation service and everyone who works in it to supervise offenders. We have set ourselves an ambitious target to recruit 1,000 new trainee probation officers in 2020-21, and over the next few years we are determined to invest in the skills, capability and ways of working that probation officers need to do their job to the best standard.
Within the new probation arrangements, we will unify sentence management under the National Probation Service to further increase confidence between probation and the courts, with which there is a much closer relationship than under the old model. The 12 new probation regions will have a new dynamic framework, making it easier to deliver rehabilitation services through voluntary and specialist organisations. We will legislate to give probation practitioners greater flexibility to take action where offenders’ rehabilitative needs are not being met, or where they pose a risk to the public. These measures will empower probation services to be more effective at every juncture of the criminal justice system.
The White Paper also contains measures to reduce stubbornly high reoffending rates by utilising GPS technology to drive further compliance, and to make it easier for offenders to get jobs by reducing the period after which some sentences can be considered spent for the purposes of criminal records checks for non-sensitive roles. In the youth system, it puts flexibility into the hands of judges to keep violent young offenders in custody for longer, while at the same time allowing courts to pass sentences that are tailored to the rehabilitative needs of each young person.
The White Paper builds on the current sentencing framework to create a system that will be much better equipped to do its job effectively, and throughout this document there are contributions from other ministerial colleagues right across Whitehall. That is an acknowledgement of the cross-Government approach that will be required if we are going to make a success of these reforms. We must come together to fulfil our manifesto commitments, to bring in tougher sentences, to tackle drug-related crime, to treat addictions, to improve employment opportunities for offenders, to review the parole system, and much more.
A smarter approach to sentencing will increase confidence in the criminal justice system’s ability to deal robustly with the worst offenders and reduce the risk of harm to the public. It will also be smart enough to do the things that will really bring down crime in the longer term. I look forward to bringing its various measures through Parliament. I commend the White Paper and this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. We need to scrutinise the changes the Secretary of State has announced today in detail, but I will start by saying that Labour’s priority is always to keep the British public safe. The Secretary of State will remember that it was a Labour Government in 2003 who introduced compulsory life sentences and minimum sentences for over 150 offences. It was a Labour Government in 2010 who raised the minimum prison sentence for knife killers from 15 to 25 years in the wake of the death of Ben Kinsella, and it was a Labour Government who obliged judges to hand down 30-year minimum sentences for murders involving firearms and explosives. There is no doubt that Ellie Gould’s killer got too short a sentence for the horrific crime that he committed. I praise Carole Gould’s fortitude and dignity amid such a horrendous loss. Her campaigners commanded cross-party support and the Labour party stands with her today.
We are a party that welcomes strengthening sentencing when it is necessary to protect the British public. It is in that spirit that Labour accepts that there are some exceptional cases in which a whole-life sentence might be deemed appropriate for a young person over the age of 18. The murderer who helped to plan the senseless terrorist attack on Manchester Arena is one such case. We will need to carefully scrutinise exactly how the Government’s proposed changes are written into law, of course, and it is important to remember that, even without the changes the Secretary of State is announcing today, no one imprisoned for crimes as serious as these leaves prison if the Parole Board is not satisfied that they are no longer a danger to society. It is also the case that the general presumption in criminal law is that when someone is younger there is more opportunity for them to reform, and removing the opportunity for parole can also remove incentives for offenders to rehabilitate and behave well in prison. We will come back to that, I am sure, when the Secretary of State comes forward with the legislation. I hope he will confirm that these changes, while appropriate for the most extreme cases, will not be applied gratuitously, and that it would be wrong to abandon the general presumption in criminal law that when people are younger there is more opportunity for redemption and for them to turn their lives around.
There are other announcements today that we welcome. We welcome the reforming of criminal records disclosure to reduce the time in which offenders must declare offences to employers, and that is sorely needed. It is something that I called for in my review, and I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Warley (John Spellar), who is in his place and who has campaigned on these issues for many years.
I also welcome the Secretary of State’s new pilots for problem-solving courts. He will recall that problem-solving courts were introduced by a Labour Government and cut back by a Conservative Government. I am glad to see them back, but why are they just pilots? Can we not go further? We know they work for people with serious addictions and problems who come back into the system again and again. It is also very good to see the Ministry of Justice hearing our calls—again, I raised this in the Lammy review—on behalf of offenders who need greater support because they have neurodivergent conditions such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia. I am sure the whole House welcomes the fact that we have finally arrived at that place.
We welcome the Government’s announcement that they will recruit more probation officers after their U-turn on the failed experiment with privatisation conducted by the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling). It missed targets and cost taxpayers an extra £460 million. We will continue to hold the Government to account as we get back to having a fully national probation service.
Labour also welcomes the Government’s use of the White Paper as an opportunity to increase the maximum penalty for causing death by dangerous driving, as well as the maximum penalty for causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink and drugs.
Sentencing reform is needed, but on its own it is not enough. Ministry of Justice data show that between 9 June and 31 July this year, nearly a third of prisoners—2,400 people—were released homeless or to an unknown circumstance. How will longer sentences protect the public, if people continue to be released homeless and without the chance to turn their lives around?
The announcement abount GPS tagging in the community is welcome, but what steps are the Government taking to ensure that services exist to support former offenders into work? Why is there still no cross-departmental plan to reduce reoffending and enable the reintegration of prison leavers? Does the Secretary of State plan to publish one within the next three months, as recommended by the Public Accounts Committee last week? Does he share the concerns of the Victims’ Commissioner that recent changes to the Crown Prosecution Service guidance could lead to the CPS having the freedom to drop difficult cases, leaving victims feeling cheated if the current system is overstretched?
This statement has come in a week when a Secretary of State who took an oath to uphold the rule of law has let his office and the system down. The whole country has watched him squirm in his seat as he has stood with the Prime Minister. I hope he recognises the importance of the days ahead, as he brings this White Paper back to the Chamber.
It was all going so well, and then the right hon. Gentleman had to spoil it with an ill-judged, ill-timed and wholly inappropriate intervention. May I remind him that as a practitioner, for years I had to endure a Labour Government who passed with incontinence criminal justice Act after criminal justice Act, creating the chaos with sentencing reform that I am now having to deal with? With the greatest respect to him, I will take no lectures about a Labour Government who made automatic early release at the halfway term the norm for so many sentences. That is the wrong that we are righting now as a result of the reforms that we will introduce.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for engaging sensibly with the important issues about the rehabilitation of offenders. I am particularly pleased by the warm welcome for the work we will do on neurodivergent conditions and disorders. That has been a long-standing passion and commitment of mine. Autism and ADHD are real conditions that affect thousands of people in our country. I have had personal experience in the criminal justice system of representing people with those conditions, and I think we can do better. That is why we will take action on that.
I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman about the cross-Government work on offender employment. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, who is deeply committed to increasing the number of offenders in work. We are working on plans and a cross-Government strategy. The committee is chaired by the Prime Minister, which exemplifies the Government’s deep and fundamental dedication to this bold agenda.
I welcome the other comments that the right hon. Gentleman has made, and it is in that spirit of constructive engagement that I am sure we will work together to make sense of criminal justice after years of failure, mainly by the Government of which he was a member.
I warmly congratulate the Lord Chancellor on an excellent and very well-balanced statement, which shows his own experience as a practitioner in these matters. A number of the themes that the White Paper addresses are ones that the Justice Committee has picked up on a number of occasions. I look forward to progress being made on those. I particularly welcome the recognition that protection of the public and rehabilitation of those who can be rehabilitated are not mutually exclusive. However, will he also use the opportunity of the White Paper to engender a wider debate across society as a whole about the purpose of sentencing, and the purposes of imprisonment and community sentences, to give both the public and sentencers greater confidence in the suite of measures available and create a broader-based, better-informed understanding of the complexities of the tasks that people in the justice system grapple with from day to day?
I am grateful to the Chairman of the Justice Committee. We all know of his long and deep knowledge of the system as a practitioner. He is right to remind us of the purposes of sentencing. He will see in the White Paper a lot of reference to issues of public protection—protecting the public from harm, but also protecting the public from crime. The two go together, and one is served, I would submit, by effective prison sentences, while the second is served by rehabilitation through the community options that can make such a difference with the right support.
I thank the Lord Chancellor for his customary courtesy in affording me advance sight of his statement. However, it is a little difficult to stomach rhetoric about how tough this Government are on lawbreakers when only a week ago a Minister stood at the Dispatch Box and told us that they intended to break international law, albeit in a limited and specific way. Even the Lord Chancellor seems to think that, when it comes to his Government colleagues, the rule of law can be watered down to allow lawbreaking that he finds acceptable.
I want to make it clear that in Scotland the law applies equally to everyone, whether they are a Government Minister or an ordinary member of the public. I wonder whether the Lord Chancellor agrees that it should be the same in England and Wales. That is where this sentencing White Paper applies; sentencing is devolved to Scotland. However, the position of the SNP is clear. We want to work hard with the UK Government and European friends to make sure that all communities in these islands are protected from terrorism and serious crime.
There are elements of the White Paper to be welcomed, including the offer of treatment for vulnerable prisoners with mental health and addiction problems, and the proposals to encourage courts to pass community sentences for less serious offences, following the Scottish model. However, I would express caution about giving whole-of-life sentences to teenagers. Expert evidence shows that young people are more likely to be open to rehabilitation. That is important for the public, because every time we manage to rehabilitate or deradicalise someone, it makes the public a little bit safer. Prisoners who know they will never be released have little incentive not to kill or maim not only other prisoners, but prison officers. I would like to know that the Lord Chancellor has taken cognisance of those factors. The Scottish Sentencing Council is consulting on its third draft guideline on sentencing young people. Are there any proposals to consult on this issue in England and Wales as well?
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Lady. With regard to the latter matters, the Sentencing Council here in England and Wales has done a lot of work on sentencing of young offenders. Any further guidelines are matters for that council, but perhaps she and I together can explore that with its chair.
I note the hon. and learned Lady’s point about young offenders, which echoes what was said by the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), the shadow Justice Secretary. We absolutely will preserve the principle that the sentencing of young offenders is a separate legal regime from the sentencing of adults. Quite clearly there are differences, and the welfare issue must be paramount. That said, there will be, sadly, some egregious and particularly extreme examples of serious criminality that may merit the imposition of the most serious sentence available to the court. What I am proposing is that the courts would have a discretion in relation to those under 21, as opposed to their being mandated to impose such a severe sentence. That element of discretion is at the heart of what I am trying to achieve here: a flexible, balanced system.
In terms of balance, I assure the hon. and learned Lady that when it comes to the rule of law, both within Her Majesty’s Government and our country as a whole, I, like her, yield to no one in my belief in equality before the law. I also believe in maintaining a balance, and that is what I am doing every day.
The residents of Blackpool South are fed up with the soft liberal approach to criminal justice that has failed victims, weakened communities and seen public confidence in the system eroded decade after decade. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that we need a new approach to sentencing that puts the public and victims first and ensures that serious offenders are locked up for longer?
My hon. Friend is right. He represents the proud community of Blackpool, where I know that many law-abiding citizens are frankly fed up with the position they find themselves in. They want reassurance and to have confidence in the system. The proposals we are setting out today follow on from the manifesto commitments that allowed us to have my hon. Friend in this House—thanks to the good people of Blackpool South—and those commitments will be honoured.
Local voluntary sector organisations, including many in Newport West, play a vital role in providing the type of support mentioned by the Lord Chancellor around rehab, drugs and mental health. Despite that, Ministers have admitted that the involvement of the voluntary sector in probation was lost in the mix when it came to previous provision. A number of small charities have made it clear that the new system will be just as bureaucratic and costly as the old one, so they are opting out. What action will the Minister take to ensure a strong role for the voluntary sector in Newport West and across the country in delivering his plans?
I thank the hon. Lady, whose constituency, of course, I know well—I appeared as a practitioner many, many times at the Crown court at Newport, both prosecuting and defending, and I know the community that she serves. I say to her and all those smaller organisations that it is my fervent hope and intention to make sure that they are involved in what we call the dynamic framework. I have made it very clear to my officials that I expect to see the small specialist organisations at the table. She is right to say that previously, the tendering process tended to squeeze out the smaller players. That is wrong. I have already seen well over 150 small organisations apply to get involved, and both I and the Minister of State, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer), will be taking a very close interest in this matter. If there are any further concerns, the hon. Lady should not hesitate to write to me.
We head up to Harrow, to Flight Officer Blackman.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
I warmly welcome my right hon. and learned Friend’s statement. He will be well aware that my constituency suffered a spike in extremely violent aggravated burglaries prior to covid-19. My constituents want to know what steps he will take to ensure that the new sentences he is announcing are actually awarded by judges, and that criminals who perpetrate crimes against the person are not only brought to justice but punished and kept in prison, so that the sentences meet the crime.
My hon. Friend is right to raise an issue that I know many of his constituents in Harrow East have faced. I assure him that when it comes to dwelling-house burglary, which is not just a crime against property but a crime against the person, because it robs somebody of their wellbeing, we are going to change the criteria so that only in exceptional circumstances would a court disapply the minimum three-year term that “three strikes” domestic burglars will receive. That will see a greater number of those people serving longer behind bars.
There has been a terrible rise over the last 10 years in assaults on emergency workers, with ambulance workers being sexually assaulted, punched, spat at, stabbed—everything. That is why I introduced private Member’s legislation a couple of years ago: the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018. Unfortunately, magistrates are still saying to police officers, “I’m sorry, but I just think that a bit of violence is in the way of your work.” I hope the Lord Chancellor will say that that is nonsense. All prosecuting authorities have to take this far more seriously, because the sentencing guidelines have still not been changed, and the number of cases is still rising. I wholly support the sudden conversion of Ministers who violently opposed my Bill when I introduced it and said that they did not want it to be a two-year maximum sentence. I welcome their conversion on the road to Damascus, but I want to ensure that this law is actually used; otherwise, this will continue.
The hon. Member is to be applauded for his work on that important legislation. Our commitment to double the maximum term is set out in the White Paper, and that is what we will do. He is right to talk about prosecution and practice within the courts and our magistrates system. I do not know about the road to Damascus, but I have been on the road to Tonypandy in his constituency quite a few times, and I know what his constituents would say to me. They would expect prison officers, police officers and blue light workers to have that protection. Let us not forget that it is not just about the provisions in that Act—it is about the law on assault generally and the aggravated circumstances that a court can take into account in increasing sentences— but he makes a powerful point.
I hope my right hon. and learned Friend keeps his balance, but will he address eye-watering costs such as the £456,000 clocked up by Andrew Harper’s killers? That cannot be right, can it?
My right hon. Friend knows that everybody in this country is equal before the law, and fair trials have to happen. Legal costs are, of course, paid to the people who represent criminals or accused people. I take his point about ensuring that our legal aid system is efficient and that money is not wasted, but the fundamental principle of the right to a fair trial is something that I will defend and that I think he would agree with as well.
There is much in the Lord Chancellor’s statement that I strongly welcome, as a former police and crime commissioner. I want to raise an issue that I know he is well aware of. In my constituency, there are many people who were victims of evil men who sexually abused them. Those women will carry that burden for the rest of their lives. It is incomprehensible that, once the perpetrators have finished their term before probation and been released, there is nothing to stop them confronting their victims. The victims could walk round the corner and find their attacker in front of them. Can the Lord Chancellor assure me that, as part of the White Paper, we can look at how that can be prevented in future, even if it cannot be done retrospectively?
I am grateful to the hon. Member for raising that. We have met to discuss this matter. It seems to me that existing types of order—for example, crime prevention orders and serious crime prevention orders—could potentially be used, particularly where somebody has completed their term of imprisonment and licence and therefore the probation service’s involvement has come to an end. I will welcome further engagement with him, because he not only speaks for past victims; he speaks for people whose voice has yet to be heard, and whose voice must be heard if we are to effectively protect the victims of sexual abuse.
They say that an Englishman’s home is his castle, and it is certainly a place where all people should feel safe and secure. As a result, when someone burgles a home, they do not just take possessions; they violate a person’s safety in their own home. Can my right hon. and learned Friend assure me that his new sentencing guidelines will ensure that the people who commit these crimes are appropriately punished and appropriately rehabilitated, and that the public will be protected from further occurrences?
My hon. Friend is right to echo the comments I made about burglary being a crime against the person. She will have heard my observations about strengthening the safeguards of the “three strikes and you’re out” burglary minimum term of three years, which will mean that a greater proportion of offenders of that type will now serve longer in custody. We are also doing two strikes for knife possession because we want to send a clear message that this type of criminality will not be tolerated.
I thank the Lord Chancellor for his diligence and wisdom in the statement. I welcome the news that child killers are to be held longer and that the automatic release of violent and dangerous criminals is to end, but will he further confirm that intervention measures will be in place for young men who are drawn into drug deliveries and so on and who need to be kept away from hardened criminals in prison, as a method of giving them space, a fresh start and a true rehabilitation purpose?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s comments, and I am grateful to him. He makes a very interesting point about young offenders. I am keen to make sure that people who are sucked in—they might be quite young and themselves victims—do not end up becoming criminals themselves. That is why reforms to the remand system for young offenders and alternatives to immediate prosecution, in particular for victims of modern-day slavery or abuse, are so important. We are seeing with the county lines operations some really good work by the police in making that distinction between the child as abused victim and the child as criminal. We will keep drawing that distinction in a sensible and sensitive way.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (James Sunderland) and I are extremely grateful to our right hon. and learned Friend for picking up our Desecration of War Memorials Bill in his White Paper. Can he confirm to the people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke that the law will be changed as soon as practically possible to make sure that those who insult the memory of our glorious dead can be given sentences that fit their abhorrent crimes?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friends for their campaign to make sure that the law properly reflects the damage that can be caused to the national consciousness and the wellbeing of communities when war graves, religious graves and important memorials are desecrated. In the White Paper, we have committed ourselves to taking up his challenge, and we will reform the law in the year ahead.
Thirteen-year-old Jack Worwood was walking along the pavement on his way to play football with his friends when he was struck by a vehicle driven by an uninsured driver at nearly three times the speed limit. The driver, Liam Wilson, fled the scene and Jack died the next day. Liam Wilson was sentenced two weeks ago and is likely to serve in prison only two years of a six-year sentence. Jack’s family members in my constituency are devastated by the lack of justice. I am glad the Government are finally acting to ensure longer sentences in these cases, but can the Lord Chancellor tell me when he expects these changes to come into force, and what reassurance can he give Jack’s family that the Government will look again at the leniency of the sentence in this case?
The hon. Lady raises a tragic and appalling case. I would need to know a little more about the index offence. It may well be a matter that the family can refer to the Attorney General under the unduly lenient sentence scheme, if the offence is within the purview of that scheme. I know that she will not hesitate to advise the family of that. On the general point she makes, it is important for us all to remember all the victims of those who cause death by dangerous driving. I think today of Violet-Grace Youens, whose parents have assiduously campaigned for a change in the law. Even if they cannot bring back their beloved daughter or turn back the clock, their campaign has achieved a change in the law that I believe will give greater justice to future families. This law will be changed with legislation that will come during this Session. I can make the commitment now that we will make the necessary change in tribute not just to Violet-Grace, but to all the families and those who have suffered so much.
I thank the Lord Chancellor for the White Paper. It reaffirms my belief that the Conservative party is the party of law and order. As he will be aware, the Ministry of Justice published a report last year, which showed that the cost of reoffending was £18.1 billion per year, not to mention the emotional and psychological harm to victims of crime. Can he give us further details on how we are focusing on breaking the cycle of reoffending?
My hon. Friend is right to mention the importance of that depressing cycle of reoffending, and he will see in the White Paper ready acknowledgement of some of the drivers of that: drug addiction, alcohol addiction, the lack of stable accommodation, no work. The three things that I believe offer the way to avoid a life of crime are a home, a job and a friend, and that might be treatment or probation support. That is what we are committed to in the White Paper; that is what this Government are going to achieve.
The Lord Chancellor has already partly answered this question, but can he expand on it. Currently one of the biggest problems is overcrowding in prisons and failing to rehabilitate enough people? Can he also address how we are dealing with adverse childhood experiences and trauma that people have suffered, which lead to exactly that spiral of crime? How will his Department respond to that?
The hon. Lady makes a really interesting point about childhood trauma. In the call for evidence on neurodivergence I want to open up some of these issues in a much more novel way, because I am sure that, with proper support and proper intervention, we can divert a lot of people away from a life of crime. When they get into the system it is vital that we expand community sentence treatment requirements. I am a strong believer in the mental health treatment programme, and the NHS, which is scaling up its support for that, is to be thanked. We will expand the availability of that type of treatment order throughout the jurisdiction, so that judges have a real choice when it comes to passing sentences. It does not always have to be custody; there can be a constructive way forward, properly tailored around the offender.
I warmly welcome the White Paper and in particular its proposal for longer curfew periods alongside GPS tags. That strikes me as something approaching a smart house arrest system. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it could fill a significant gap in current sentencing options, because it would be an excellent way of punishing criminals by restricting their liberty while at the same time enabling them to be successfully rehabilitated and therefore less likely to reoffend?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I pay tribute to him for his long work in the criminal justice system—as a member of the Sentencing Council, for example. I warmly welcome his comments, and I am a strong believer that an element of house arrest, let us call it—the use of curfew together with electronic monitoring —alongside various other treatment orders that could be imposed could be a really intelligent, smart way of providing a tougher, more robust approach to sentencing. It will deprive offenders of liberty—causing, of course, huge changes to their lives—but, frankly, that is part of the punishment and part of the solution if we are really going to move people on from a cycle of crime.
Access to justice has declined for our citizens over the decade in which the Tories have been in power, and that is particularly the case in my constituency. What are the Government doing to ensure that the comprehensive spending review places our justice sector on a secure and equal footing for all for the future, and pays particular attention to community law centres?
We are of course talking about criminal justice, and I can assure the hon. Lady that she will be impressed by the progress we will make as a result of the work I have been doing on criminal legal aid—the £51 million increase that I have ordered for the remuneration of advocates—and further to review the whole criminal legal aid system. On the general point about access to justice, the people of Liverpool will, I know, warmly welcome the measures we take to remove serious offenders from the streets of that city and other great cities of the north-west: those measures will really protect the public in a way that her constituents will applaud.
The Government already accept the principle of sentence escalation. For example, under the coronavirus legislation, those in receipt of covid-related penalty notices face a doubling of the fine on each repeat offence. Will the Secretary of State extend sentence escalation to other crimes, especially serious and violent crimes, so that repeat offenders face a stiffer sentence each time they commit the same offence?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to make the point that as a point of principle those people who have been grimly accustomed to and far too familiar with the criminal justice system in the accumulation of sentences merit stiffer terms of imprisonment or stiffer forms of sentence. The courts should and must take that into account when assessing the overall sentence to be passed. With regard to prolific offenders, the tightening up of the minimum term provisions that we are announcing today goes quite a significant way towards the desired outcomes that he and millions of other people seek.
A stalker caught with a murder kit in his car could be charged only with a minor offence because the victim, Dr Ian Hutchinson, was unaware that he had been stalked for over four years. The offender, Thomas Baddeley, was sentenced in August but has already been released. Dr Hutchinson was not informed. Will the Secretary of State commit to a review of sentencing in stalking cases and to strengthening the rights of victims?
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for taking up the baton on that issue from her predecessor in Dwyfor Meirionnydd. She is absolutely right to draw me back to a campaign that I helped to champion in order to criminalise stalking and to enhance and improve the law further. I will look at that case more carefully, if I may. I am sure that more work can be done, particularly with regard to awareness and training of police and prosecutors with regard to the true seriousness and insidious nature of stalking and what it can lead to.
I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on this White Paper, which reflects what he has long argued: an intelligent criminal justice policy requires provision to promote both punishment and rehabilitation. I particularly welcome what he said about sentencing code consolidation, which will not just reduce the number of mistakes made in sentencing but help victims to understand the system better. May I urge him to turn his mind urgently to the practicalities of the interesting proposal to keep offenders in custody for longer if they are radicalised in prison, particularly with a view to giving the Parole Board the tools it needs to make judgments on intelligence material that it will not be familiar with handling?
My right hon. and learned Friend and I toiled in the vineyard with regard to criminal sentencing procedure. He did not quite write the book, but he certainly read it. I am grateful to him for his warm support and for the excellent work of the Law Commission now being enshrined in law by this Government. That is the bedrock of what we are doing, and we are going to build on it in an intelligent way.
My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right to talk about the role of the Parole Board. I have taken a particular interest in making sure that sensitive intelligence material is indeed released to it in the most proper way. I pay tribute to the former vice-chairman of the Parole Board, Sir John Saunders, whom my right hon. and learned Friend will know from his days as a Birmingham practitioner, and who made those points very cogently. We have acted on them, but we are going to go further with a root-and-branch review of the Parole Board to make sure that it and other mechanisms are truly working in such a way that it makes fully informed risk assessment decisions.
There is much to commend in this announcement. Earlier the Lord Chancellor referred to the unduly lenient sentences scheme. How many criminals have had their sentences increased since he announced the expansion of that scheme last year?
The figures are released annually by the Attorney General’s office. I do not have the most up-to-date figures. I do know, from my own long experience as Solicitor General, that the rate of inquiries had increased dramatically to well over 1,000 a year. Last year, to the best of my recollection, the rate of successful appeals was somewhere in the region of 80 cases. That shows that the Law Officers are properly applying the law, and properly taking cases to the Court of Appeal and achieving a higher level of justice where it is absolutely merited. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman can follow up these questions with my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General.
May I commend the balanced judgment that the Lord Chancellor has brought to this? My constituents will welcome the tougher sentences for the most serious and violent offenders, but I think they will also welcome the more innovative sentences that judges will be able to mete out to those with more complex cases. On that point, how is he going to assess the pilots, which were also referred to by the shadow Lord Chancellor, and judge whether they are successful? The public might need persuading that some of these innovative ways of dealing with crime will reduce offending and thereby keep all of our constituents safer.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s support, and I am grateful to him, as ever. He is right to highlight the assessment procedure. He will be glad, and he will remember from his time in office, that my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), pursued problem-solving courts when he was Lord Chancellor. We already have a considerable amount of learning from that process, and I want to build on that. Although I cannot prejudge every jot and tittle of the effect of problem-solving courts—[Interruption.] The House liked “jot and tittle”. As I was saying, I am pretty clear in my mind about the direction of travel on the effectiveness of their more widespread use in our criminal justice system.
Just 206 prison places built out of 10,000 promised by 2020; massive overcrowding in our prisons; little time for rehabilitation, prisoners dumped out of prison with no housing to go to; and a probation service where, owing to a failed privatisation, people are being left with a phone call every fortnight, if they are lucky, which has led to a massive rate of reoffending. That is the legacy of this Government. There are many fine words in this statement from the Lord Chancellor, but where are the resources that are going to turn around that record of failure?
The hon. Gentleman will be glad to know that within a month of my taking office we secured £2.5 billion for the biggest prison-building project in years. I am keeping a close eye and tight rein on the project delivery unit that will be doing that. We have the model in place; the Wellingborough prison model is one we can replicate, so we do not need to keep changing the specification and make the same old mistakes on Government procurement. The commitment is absolutely clear, and the money is in place. Last year, the Department obtained a near 5% increase in its revenue budget, which was the biggest single increase in years. We have just secured one of the biggest single injections into prison maintenance budgets in years. Although I do not pretend that I can claim to be as rich as Croesus when it comes to Justice budgets, we are definitely in a better place than we were, and I look forward to the spending round negotiations ahead with relish.
I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on this White Paper, and on the root and branch approach it takes to sentencing, probation and rehabilitation. There is a focus on neurodivergence and mental health. Is his primary objective to prevent these people from falling into the criminal justice system in the first place or to help them cope once they do so? If it is the former, how will he work with other agencies to achieve early intervention?
My hon. Friend speaks with her own knowledge and experience as a practitioner. She is right to ask me that question, because this is not just about how to make the necessary adjustments in the system once the person with that neurodiverse condition is in it. It is equally, if not more so, about prevention in the first place. We will achieve that only with the help of the Department for Education, the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Work and Pensions. There is already a cross-governmental disability strategy, which I want to build on with the call for evidence that we are going to undertake. I look forward to engaging with all the agencies, and indeed all the voluntary organisations out there, which bring so much expertise to the table in dealing with these issues. I am also going to put speech, language and communication disorder into the mix, because I know it has been a long-standing issue that we need to address as well.
Our prison system is in crisis. After 10 years of funding cuts and privatisation, many of our prisons are simply not fit for purpose, while overcrowding is leading to dangerously high levels of violence and self-harm. In January, the Howard League for Penal Reform pointed to drastic improvements in the conditions at Liverpool jail as an example of what can be achieved when action is taken to reduce overcrowding, but it also highlighted the fact that overcrowding is a systemic issue across England and Wales. Does the Lord Chancellor recognise that any discussion about increasing custodial sentences has to be accompanied by a dramatic increase in funding for prisoners so that we can tackle overcrowding?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to talk about Her Majesty’s Prison Liverpool; I pay tribute to the governor and, indeed, all the prison staff there for the incredible work they have done to help to change a challenging position to one of real progress. That has been happening in prisons up and down our country. I make no bones about it: the prison environment is a difficult one and the hon. Gentleman is right to highlight overcrowding. But I repeat that the Government have already committed £2.5 billion to a new prison-building programme and secured more funding for prison maintenance. We have also secured £100 million for new prison security, including X-rays, to protect not only prisoners but the staff who run the line and do so much incredible work in the art of jailcraft, which is truly understood by only a few of us in the House but which we should remember when we pay tribute to the tireless work of our dedicated prison officers.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor is to be congratulated on bringing forward this excellent White Paper. The measures it contains will be widely welcomed in my constituency and are long overdue. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the additional measures to end automatic early release for serious offenders will protect communities such as Telford, where we have experienced fear and a sense of injustice because of the early release of perpetrators of child sexual exploitation?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her tireless campaigning on an issue that has affected her community and the lives of people she represents. She is right to remind us of the purpose of this White Paper: we are seeking to protect the public and to achieve a higher level of confidence. When a prison sentence is passed, yes, there is a period on licence during which the individual needs to readjust with the appropriate controls, but there has to be a clear signal that the bulk of their term will be served behind bars. That is what the public expect; that is what will increase confidence in the system; and that is what we are doing.
There are many sensible reforms in the White Paper, but all changes have to be consistent with the European convention on human rights, which is also a critical pillar of the Good Friday agreement. In the light of media reports over this past weekend, will the Lord Chancellor give a categorical and comprehensive reassurance that the Government have no plans to change either their commitment to the European convention on human rights or the Human Rights Act 1998?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He knows that in our manifesto the Government committed to updating the Human Rights Act, which is entirely—[Interruption.] The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) laughs; it is entirely right that an Act that is now 20 years old is looked at carefully, and we will do that. May I absolutely, categorically—[Interruption.] I am sorry, but no Act of Parliament is immune from review or updating, and frankly it is right of us—[Interruption.] It is entirely consistent and correct—[Interruption.] I find the faux outrage of Opposition Members extremely discordant with what the public of this country think. What we are doing, having secured a large majority, is following through on our manifesto commitment. I make no apology for that, but I will say to the hon. Member for North Down (Stephen Farry) that the commitment of this Government to membership of the European convention on—[Interruption.] If the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) listens, he might learn something. The commitment of this Government to the European convention on human rights is absolute. It was British Conservatives who wrote it—my predecessor Lord Kilmuir, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, and his team wrote the convention—because we were and are believers in fundamental human rights and freedoms. We wrote it; we are the party that created the convention; and we will stick by that.
In fairness, we just need to turn it down a little. The Lord Chancellor is one of the most respected and well-mannered Members of this House, and I do not want him to spoil that in my company.
I congratulate the Lord Chancellor on this White Paper. The tougher measures within are certainly welcomed by me and will be welcomed by my constituents in Newcastle-under-Lyme, but I also welcome the smarter approach to sentencing. The British people expect the most serious offenders still to face the full force of the law, even if they are under 18, so will he confirm that the White Paper recognises that, and will not only change the release point for young offenders committing the most serious offences, but close the gap between sentences for murder for older teenagers—15, 16 and 17-year-olds—and those for young adults? The gap is significant at the moment, and that needs to change.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the difficulty caused by having a generic starting point for all young offenders, irrespective of age and maturity. It is far better to have a sliding scale that allows the courts, using their discretion, to reflect the differing maturities and age ranges of the serious offenders before them. Although the welfare of young people has to be our primary concern, he is right that when it comes to the most serious offences, we cannot, I am afraid, shrink from our duty to protect the public and to ensure that the punishment fits the crime.
I welcome aspects of this White Paper, especially paragraphs 239 to 242, which acknowledge the role that homelessness plays in reoffending. Being released on a Friday makes it difficult for offenders to access public services, which leads to increased reoffending. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to reconsider release on a Friday?
The hon. Gentleman, who speaks with experience as a practitioner, is right to highlight that issue. I have considered whether we should just ban release on a Friday, but that is probably the wrong answer because, frankly, services need to be there every day of the week. There should be no distinction between what happens on a Friday and what happens on a Wednesday. That is why proper cross-Government work has been done to ensure that accommodation and potential jobs are identified when an offender is released and to ensure that the benefits system is working if no job is available. That is at the heart of what I am trying to do.
I welcome the statement, and thank the Lord Chancellor for meeting me to discuss the tragic case of my constituent, Sean Morley, who was killed in a horrific hit-and-run accident. Does the Lord Chancellor agree that the punishment really must fit the crime for those who cause death or injury by dangerous driving? As Sean’s mum said, in the wrong hands a car is as deadly a weapon as a gun or a knife.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his assiduous work on the behalf of his constituents. As Solicitor General, I dealt with a number of egregious cases of causing death by dangerous driving in which the 14-year maximum simply was not enough to deal with the true justice of the case. I have seen far too many judges struggle with the maximum, and I have seen the Court of Appeal’s struggle with it as well. We can end that struggle now by allowing far greater discretion when it comes to the most appalling crimes.
The Lord Chancellor knows that I will welcome the work being done on neurodivergent people who come into contact with the criminal justice system. May I encourage him not only to keep working with Autism Injustice, which was founded by some of my constituents, but to ensure that the Home Office is on board with this?
On death by dangerous driving, I remind the House that it was on 17 October 2017 that the now Foreign Secretary made a commitment to me to introduce the change that has now been announced in the White Paper, and I have been chasing him for the past three years to get on with it. I am glad that it is in the White Paper, but can we have that legislation as soon as possible? Grave injustice is still being suffered, including by the parents of my constituent Sophie Taylor, who was killed in a terrible case.
The hon. Gentleman knows that I am very familiar with his constituency having been part of the criminal justice community in Cardiff for many years. I assure him that matters relating to causing death by dangerous driving will be introduced in a Bill in this Session, which means that we can get on with this important job.
On neurodivergence, I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents for their tireless work. It is vital that their experience, and those of others like them, are not repeated time and again, and that we actually learn from that experience and incorporate it into our mechanisms and make that change.
I welcome the White Paper, particularly the proposals to extend the minimum term for sexual and violent offenders and the power to end automatic early release. However, will the Secretary of State consider ending the standard determinate sentences for rape so that the Parole Board is always involved before a perpetrator is released into the public?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has taken a long and deep interest in this, both as a Member of Parliament and in her previous work as an adviser, when she, like me, took an interest in criminal justice issues. Sometimes in the world of politics, criminal justice issues are somewhat unfashionable; they are seen as too hard to deal with—too difficult. Well, we should be doing difficult in this place, and she is right to offer me that challenge. What I would say to her at the moment is that these reforms offer a higher degree of justice to victims of rape, who can be assured that perpetrators will now serve longer behind bars. The question of risk and dangerousness needs to be fully understood and examined, and of course I will undertake to do that with her assistance.
I want to try to get through the list, so could we speed up a little?
Two years ago, my constituent Jackie Wileman was killed by four known criminals who stole a heavy goods vehicle. Those men had 100 convictions between them. The Lord Chancellor met me and Johnny Wood, Jackie’s brother, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank him and to welcome the decision to increase the maximum sentence for death by dangerous driving from 14 years to life imprisonment. May I also take this opportunity to press him on what progress his Department has made on the reintegration of the probation system?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I well remember the meeting with Mr Wood. It left an impression on me, and the cumulative impression of the meetings I have had with her constituents and others has led to this important announcement. I promise and pledge that we will get on with the legislation. On probation reform, she can be assured that my officials are working to a deadline of next summer—June 2021—to roll out the regional model with a dynamic framework. In Wales, that work is complete already; the unified service started its operations at the beginning of the year. Despite the covid challenge, we are getting on with the job, and I am confident that we will have that unified model in place, certainly by this time next year and perhaps before that.
I welcome the White Paper. Will the Lord Chancellor provide an update on what it will do to increase the capacity of probation services and to improve them in Wolverhampton?
Again, Wolverhampton is a community and a court I know well, having sat there in the past. My hon. Friend’s constituents will be glad to know that, with the changes to probation—the investment that we are making in increased staff by ramping up the number of probation officers, improving training and making the necessary changes—we will have a system that is better equipped to help end the cycle of offending. It will be better equipped not just to manage offenders—I do not like the word “management”; I prefer “supervision”, because that implies much more direct action.
During the passage of the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill, the director of the Prison Reform Trust told the Bill Committee that if we do not seek to rehabilitate young people, who are more prone to rehabilitation, public protection is undermined rather than enhanced. That advice is well recognised by other experts in the sentencing field. To what extent does the White Paper take that into account?
I thank the hon. Lady for her work on that important Committee on a Bill that of course has United Kingdom as well as England and Wales application. I can assure her that in no way do we lose sight of the welfare issue when it comes to young offenders, but at the same time we have to be frank and honest at times where the descent to very serious offending—particularly extremist ideation—has occurred. Then, a mixed approach has to be taken, and public protection does have to be foremost in our minds. That is why we are taking the balanced approach that I advocate in the Command Paper.
The good folk of Brigg and Goole and the Isle of Axholme will welcome the changes when it comes to burglary, as do I, as somebody who has been burgled three times—I have nothing worth kifing, though. However, on the important issue of autism, one of the big problems we have in this country is people’s ability to access an assessment and a formal diagnosis. Will the Lord Chancellor ensure that proper training is put in place across the Prison Service and the probation service to identify that?
I was sorry to hear about my hon. Friend’s experiences. I am glad that he has shared with us that he has nothing of value—perhaps nothing left of any value. As a victim of crime, he is right to point to both ends of the spectrum. When it comes to autism, we have some excellent therapeutic services in places such Her Majesty’s Young Offender Institution Aylesbury, but it seems to me that they are islands of excellence in a sea of a lack of response. That is what I want the call for evidence to identify. Through that body of information, we can then take the action that he and I have wanted for so long.
The Lord Chancellor will be aware of the serious violence related to drugs in my constituency and the number of terrorism offences that have taken place. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), I will look constructively at these proposals, because I want to see tough action on serious criminals.
The Lord Chancellor was on television this morning talking about fudging the law, after a week in which he has been defending a specific and limited breaking of the law. Could he ever have imagined making such comments when he was a recorder in south Wales, or among his legal colleagues at Apex Chambers in Cardiff? Many of them will welcome the sentencing reform, but they certainly do not welcome comments that undermine the rule of law in this country.
Well, that was a question of two halves. I absolutely welcome the point that the hon. Gentleman makes on behalf of the people of Cardiff South and Penarth. I have to say to him that to make that sort of analogy with the position regarding an international negotiation and the interpretation of a treaty is to stretch the point too far.
Fewer than one in 10 crimes now lead to a suspect being charged. That is the lowest charging rate for reported crimes since records began. Nearly half of all crimes close with no suspect being identified at all. What steps are the Government taking to fix that?
The hon. Lady quite rightly refers to what is often termed the justice gap: the difference between crimes that are reported and the bringing of those offences to full prosecution. The sad truth is that not all offences have the requisite evidence for the threshold to be met, and that is why we have an independent prosecutorial service in this country. She is right to talk about the need for us to bear down most heavily on investigation. Increasing the numbers of police officers—we are already 4,000 up on where we were, and we will hit the 20,000 target and, I believe, move beyond it—will help to turbocharge the investigation and prosecution of offences so that we can, in large measure, help to close that gap.
The final question is from Dr Kieran Mullan.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.
“Where an offender commits the premeditated murder of a child, we will legislate to ensure that the expectation is that a Whole Life Order…will be given, meaning they will spend the rest of their life in prison”.
Those words, taken straight from this White Paper, mean that finally the parents of a murdered child will at least be able to get justice, although the hurt and pain will never be undone. I have spoken previously about the case of Elsie Urry, who had to endure the pain of seeing the man who brutally murdered her three young children—Paul Ralph, four, Dawn, two, and nine-month-old Samantha—being released from prison last year. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that that and other changes demonstrate to people that this Conservative Government understand how British people feel about these issues, and that, where we can, we will go further to get justice for the victims of serious crime?
I pay warm tribute to my hon. Friend for championing the cause of that family, who suffered an unbelievable tragedy, and trying to make something positive of it. I am profoundly grateful for his support on these measures. I value the conversations that he and I have. He is a member of the Justice Committee, and I am extremely obliged to him for his warm support.
Virtual participation in proceedings concluded (Order, 4 June.)