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Sentencing White Paper: Public Protection

Volume 680: debated on Tuesday 22 September 2020

What plans he has to include proposals on improving the protection of the public in the forthcoming sentencing White Paper. (906339)

What plans he has to include proposals on improving the protection of the public in the forthcoming sentencing White Paper. (906340)

What plans he has to include proposals on improving the protection of the public in the forthcoming sentencing White Paper. (906354)

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Last week, I published a White Paper entitled “A Smarter Approach to Sentencing”, which sets out my plans to crack down on crime and keep dangerous criminals in prison for longer. It signifies a fundamental shift in our approach to sentencing towards one that is fairer, smarter and, ultimately, better protects the public. The measures I have announced include the abolition of automatic halfway release for certain serious sexual and violent offenders, and we will also introduce a new power to prevent automatic release if a prisoner poses a danger such as a terrorist threat.

May I start by wishing the Secretary of State a happy birthday?

The use of technology to prevent crime is developing rapidly. From drones and predictive analytics to biometrics, technology is helping to keep our cities, towns and rural communities safer. How will the Government work with expert organisations to ensure that we use the best technology to tackle crime and protect local communities from burglars and robbers?

My hon. Friend is right to talk about changes in technology that can be harnessed to improve the way in which we monitor offenders and drive out crime. The White Paper contains important measures to utilise GPS technology. For example, we will use electronic location monitoring to track burglars following their release from custody. That will allow probation to monitor the whereabouts of an offender and, where appropriate, share that data with the police, which will help in the investigation and prosecution of further offences.

Protecting the public cuts both ways. I welcome the plans in the sentencing White Paper to ensure that those convicted of the most serious crimes spend longer in prison, but given the impact of covid on the court system, those on remand face long delays to have their cases heard. What plans does my right hon. and learned Friend have to ensure that those in that position will see justice sooner rather than later, the public will be protected and community tensions will be tamped down as much as possible?

My hon. Friend will be glad to know that, as a result of the hard work of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service and the judiciary, we are already reaching a turning point in our magistrates courts, with disposals exceeding receipts. In the Crown court, we continue to scale up jury trials, with more than 100 jury trials being heard every week in our Crown courts. We will have 250 courtrooms ready for jury trials by the end of October, which includes using existing capacity, with safety measures such as Perspex screens, up to 30 Nightingale courtrooms, experiments with different court hours and a range of measures that are designed to reduce the wait for the victims of crime.

I thank the Lord Chancellor for his answer. Tragically, in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, we are plagued with county lines gangs, who take advantage of some of the most vulnerable people in my community. What steps are the Government taking in the White Paper to tackle county lines offences and ensure that these vile offenders are punished with the full force of the law?

My hon. Friend is right to talk about the scourge of county lines. Like me, he will welcome the investment of £25 million by the Home Office to boost law enforcement efforts by not only local police forces but the British Transport police, who are doing incredible work across our railway network, which I have seen at first hand. The Sentencing Council for England and Wales is currently revising its guidelines for drug offences. It is important to note that, among the plethora of county lines is the exploitation of vulnerable children and young people, and that needs to be fully reflected by the investigating and prosecuting authorities.

May I, too, wish the Secretary of State a happy 52nd birthday?

Sentencing reform is needed, but on its own it is not enough. The truth is that most criminals will be released from prison at some point, and if they are not rehabilitated when they are released, they will commit further crimes and create new victims. This Government’s prisons simply are not working. Six out of every 10 offenders who serve less than 12 months in prison reoffend. A recent Public Accounts Committee report accused the Government of a “staggering” failure on the prison estate. Does the Secretary of State plan to publish a cross-departmental plan to reduce reoffending within the next three months, as the PAC recommended last week?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind comments.

The right hon. Gentleman can be reassured that in response to the Committee’s findings, the Government are working across Departments. I think that is vital, because he will share my belief and understanding that the Ministry of Justice alone cannot solve these issues; it takes the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Education and the Department of Health and Social Care working together. That is why the Prime Minister’s Cabinet Committee, the crime taskforce, meets regularly. Indeed, on its agenda are our ambitious targets to improve offender employment and resettle offenders in a more co-ordinated way to reduce reoffending. He will see the results of that work very shortly.