House of Lords
Monday 15 November 2021
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Ely.
Introduction: The Lord Bishop of Exeter
Robert Ronald, Lord Bishop of Exeter, was introduced and took the oath, supported by the Lord Bishop of Ely and the Lord Bishop of Derby, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Introduction: The Lord Bishop of Liverpool
Paul, Lord Bishop of Liverpool, was introduced and took the oath, supported by the Lord Bishop of St Albans and the Lord Bishop of Manchester, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Levelling Up White Paper
We aim to publish by the end of the year. However, our priority is to have a White Paper which meets the scale of ambition and sets out our transformative agenda to deliver real long-term change across the United Kingdom. Levelling up is at the heart of this Government’s agenda to build back better after the pandemic. The recent spending review showed the significant action we are already taking to empower local leaders, boost living standards, spread opportunity and restore local pride.
My Lords, I welcome the Government’s commitment to levelling up and to reducing some of the inequalities in our country. But if levelling up is to be more than a slogan, does it not need clearly stated objectives, transparency in the allocation of resources, and measurements so that we can monitor progress? Is my noble friend able to tick those three boxes?
My Lords, in July, the Prime Minister set out that we will have made progress in levelling up when we have begun to raise living standards, spread opportunity, improved our public services and restored people’s sense of pride in their community. The forthcoming White Paper will set out the further detail, so that I hope we will be able to tick my noble friend’s three boxes.
My Lords, as the official Social Mobility Commission has made clear, levelling up is about people as well as places. Why therefore, to quote the commission, is England the only nation in the UK without a strategy to address child poverty?
My Lords, further to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Young, on criteria, I note that the levelling-up fund, the towns fund and the community renewal fund all prioritise GVA over income deprivation as a metric to rank places according to need. This can lead areas with low economic output but affluent households to rank above places with high-value employment but low local incomes. Will the White Paper clarify whether the priority for levelling up is to help the poorest people wherever they live or to target the least productive localities? How do the Government want to be judged—on how individuals are faring, or on how far left-behind areas improve?
My Lords, we need to understand that different funds have different priorities. The £4.8 billion levelling-up fund seeks to improve infrastructure and productivity, while the UK shared prosperity fund will deal with the issues around skills and replaces much of the funding that we saw through the EU structural funds. We need to see that in the round and, of course, the White Paper will provide further detail.
My Lords, with the much-awaited publishing of the White Paper on levelling up, growing the private sector is what we all want to see in progress. As we see businesses planning at record levels of digital investment, does the Minister agree that priority must be given to reforming the skills system to better align with employers’ demands because of the acute skills shortage?
I agree entirely with my noble friend. We do not want anyone to have to leave somewhere they love in order to have a truly fulfilling career. That is why we are investing £3.8 billion in skills by 2024-25 and have just set up our new adult numeracy programme, Multiply, to get hundreds of thousands more adults with functional numeracy skills across the United Kingdom.
Minister, successive Governments have grappled with this one under various names and the consensus is that they have largely failed. Do the Government recognise that the fragmented system of funding and bidding is part of this failure? Recently, the LGA found evidence that £23 billion of public funds aimed at regeneration were fragmented across 70 different funding streams and managed by 22 different departments or agencies. Are there any signs that the Government will change this scattergun approach?
My Lords, just because previous Governments have failed does not mean that this Government will not succeed. However, I take on board the importance of ensuring that there is appropriate streamlining and that we do not have a scattergun approach to funding. The point is well made.
I declare my role as chair of the Commission on Alcohol Harms. Have the Government included alcohol harm as the top priority in the levelling-up agenda, given that, regarding place, alcohol-related mortality is over 20% higher in the north-east of England than the English average? Alcohol-related violence is up to five and a half times more prevalent in lower socio-economic groups, and alcohol consumption is linked to poorer child development and poorer general well-being.
My Lords, I expected this Question to go in any number of directions. It is important to address the barriers for people getting on in life. We are looking to spread opportunities and, of course, we need to address issues such as alcohol harm, which the noble Baroness has raised.
I declare my interest as a vice-president of the LGA. Will income disparity be addressed in the forthcoming White Paper, given that people in London are paid £16,150 more per year on average than people in Burnley? Do the Government plan to level up wages?
My Lords, I am not sure that is the way to think about these problems. We need to recognise that, as well as the income disparity, there is the cost disparity. Admittedly, living in a great capital city comes at a price. We want to level up some of the areas that have been left behind. That does not mean we want a reduction in income in places such as London. We need to ensure that we lift all boats—that is the philosophy behind levelling up.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that financial inclusion—that is, ensuring that people have access to essential banking services and financial products that are fairly priced—is particularly important for areas that the Government are looking to level up, and that incorporating a clear financial inclusion strategy into the levelling-up agenda could make a big difference? Can the Minister say whether Treasury and DWP Ministers who lead on financial inclusion are part of the Government’s levelling-up agenda?
My Lords, financial inclusion is very important in particular areas, and it is important in addressing it to bind together different departments. That is why there is a new levelling-up task force under the leadership of Andy Haldane that brings together the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Cabinet Office, precisely because we need that Whitehall join-up.
My Lords, can the Minister tell the House how he believes that levelling up can be squared with cancelling the eastern leg of HS2? Is he aware that if HS2 East is cancelled, it will take four times longer to get to Sheffield and Leeds, and six times longer to get to Durham and Newcastle, than it takes to get to Birmingham? Does he appreciate that this will introduce a new east-west divide into the country, which will be the equivalent of our Victorian forebears deciding to build the railways in the western part of the country while leaving the eastern part of the country with the canals?
My Lords, I recognise the noble Lord’s expertise on high-speed rail. However, I do not want to comment on the specific scheme. The most important thing for the Government is to back up the investment we have in transport infrastructure in our city regions, and we have committed £5.7 billion for transport settlements for those regions. Of course, decisions about high-speed rail will be taken in due course.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of (1) reports of violations of the Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire agreement by the government of Azerbaijan, and (2) the number of Armenian military and civilian personnel who have yet to be released by the government of Azerbaijan.
My Lords, the Minister for Europe and Americas has repeatedly highlighted the need for both countries to avoid provocative actions. She has also raised the long-standing issues of prisoners of war, detainees and the missing or deceased in calls with both Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Bayramov and Armenian Foreign Minister Mirzoyan. We urge both Governments to engage in substantive negotiations to settle all matters relating to the conflict.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply, but the impunity enjoyed by Azerbaijan has encouraged continuing violations of the ceasefire agreement by Azerbaijan. As Azeri forces continue to advance into Armenian territories, a few weeks ago I visited a village, Davit Bek, in Syunik province, and witnessed the suffering of the Armenian people there. Azerbaijan also refuses to release Armenian prisoners, subjecting many to torture and killing. What will Her Majesty’s Government do to require Azerbaijan to stop violations of the ceasefire agreement and of human rights?
My Lords, the UK has engaged very actively both during and after the conflict. The Minister for Europe and Americas, Wendy Morton, speaks regularly with her counterparts in both countries. She continuously urges de-escalation and a return to the negotiating table under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group, and she has condemned the alleged war crimes, including the deliberate shelling of civilian areas, videos purportedly showing beheadings of soldiers, and alleged deliberate use of white phosphorus against civilians. The allegations come from both sides in this conflict.
My Lords, in June, I visited the border inclusion area of Syunik province, at an earlier stage than the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. In Khoznavar, the incursion had cut off the nearby village from its main water source, and access to grazing land had been denied, threatening the survival of this poverty-stricken village. Following my letters of 7 July to the Foreign Secretary and of 5 November to the Minister for Europe and Americas, what further steps are Her Majesty’s Government taking to challenge those illegal incursions, to ensure the integrity of Armenia’s borders and to press for the withdrawal of Azerbaijani troops according to the terms of the November 2020 ceasefire?
My Lords, the UK notes the ceasefire agreement reached in November last year. Both countries had to make difficult decisions to secure stability and peace, and it is important that remaining issues relating to the conflict are resolved through negotiation. In particular, the OSCE Minsk Group is the obvious and key forum for this, facilitated by France, Russia and the US. The UK is not a formal member of the OSCE but we continue to support its efforts to negotiate a permanent and sustainable settlement.
My Lords, for years, one of the major causes of tension and violence has been the lack of a clear and mutually acceptable demarcation of the international border. Although the border agencies of both Armenia and Azerbaijan are now in contact, given our close connections in the region, have we considered assisting or promoting this vital process, which is essentially technical, on the basis of clear international principles?
My Lords, as I said, the UK supports the OSCE Minsk Group process and, alongside that, the basic principles. Last updated in 2009, these include a return of the occupied territories and the acceptance of a free expression of will on the status of the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
My Lords, I just returned at the weekend from a visit to Karabakh, where I saw thousands—yes, thousands—of homes which had been demolished or vandalised by the occupying troops over the last 30 years. First, can the Government now confirm that they recognise that Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan? Secondly, were all the Armenian prisoners of war captured before the ceasefire released by Azerbaijan? Thirdly and finally, have either the Russian peace observers, whom I saw, or the Minsk Group reported any breach of the ceasefire by Azerbaijan, and will Her Majesty’s Government continue to encourage UK investment in Azerbaijan, including Karabakh, now that it has been liberated?
My Lords, I will not repeat the last answer, relating to recognition of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, but in relation to the ongoing conflict, the UK Government continue to raise at every opportunity the critical importance of settling all matters related to the conflict, in particular last year’s conflict, with the Armenian and Azerbaijani Governments. That includes, for example, the return of all prisoners and the remains of the deceased, which has been a particular focus of the Minister for Europe and Americas, Wendy Morton, who has raised this repeatedly with her counterparts.
My Lords, on the first anniversary of the ceasefire, the US State Department statement, as well as listing all of the humanitarian issues that are supported by allegations on both sides of this—the Minister has referred to almost all of them—expressly called for an investigation into alleged human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law. Do the Government support that call and, if so, have they discussed it with the United States, and how do they intend to advance this really important initiative?
My Lords, the UK Government are of course aware of allegations that war crimes were committed by both sides during last year’s conflict. There is credible evidence for that. My colleague Wendy Morton, Minister for Europe and Americas, has raised this issue with both Governments, and she has urged that those allegations be thoroughly investigated. Where we can, we support the trilateral OSCE on a regular basis.
My Lords, Azerbaijan has handed over, bona fides, Armenian POWs who had been detained during the course of hostilities, but the cessation of hostilities provides huge opportunities to reopen transportation and communication routes between Azerbaijan, Armenia and the Zangezur corridor. Once fully operational, this could provide inter-and transregional trade and economic connections, bringing significant benefits for Armenia’s own economic development. Will HMG consider encouraging the Armenian Government to seize this opportunity to ensure that the transport corridor is reopened?
The noble Lord makes an important point. Of course, we continuously urge both the Armenian Government and the Azerbaijani Government to honour in full the agreement reached last year. That is why our support for the OSCE Minsk Group is also important: the opportunities for both countries in a lasting settlement are enormous, as he rightly says.
My Lords, what representations do the UK Government intend to make to the Government of Armenia to encourage the latter to fulfil its obligations under the 10 November bilateral ceasefire agreement—specifically to fully withdraw its troops from the Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh region, where the Russian peacekeepers are currently stationed, and to reverse its lack of co-operation with Azerbaijan in helping with the opening of communication and transportation routes?
My Lords, will the Minister make urgent representation to the Government of Azerbaijan to allow UNESCO to investigate all Armenian cultural and religious sites to ensure their physical preservation, and to guarantee the rights of Armenian clergy and religious communities to continue to run and live in them?
The Government strongly support the noble Baroness’s appeal for full access and full transparency, in relation both to cultural heritage and the allegations that have been made, and to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which does not currently have full access to all prisoners of war. That is something that we are pushing hard for.
My Lords, six months ago, I raised with the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, the fact that Russia had taken significant control over the administration of Nagorno-Karabakh. Last week, a Russian news agency suggested that the Armenian President wanted the Russian army to remain for good. What assessment has his department made of this move, and what impact will it have on security in the region?
As I said, the UK has not yet made a full assessment of the deployment of the Russian peacekeepers, but deployment of peacekeepers clearly has to have the support of both parties to the conflict, or the aims become almost impossible to achieve.
My Lords, over the next three years, the UK’s demining work will continue to save lives, limbs and livelihoods across the world, supporting those most in need and delivering our treaty commitments. The Global Mine Action Programme 3, due to begin in 2022, will involve landmine clearance and risk education to help affected communities keep safe, and capacity development to help national authorities manage their landmine contamination. We are currently working towards finalising funding and country allocations for this programme.
My Lords, I declare my interest as an ambassador for HALO, which has an agreement with the Taliban to continue to carry out mine and IED clearance in Afghanistan. It employs 2,500 locally engaged staff with financial support from Germany and the United States for this work. However, there is no support from the United Kingdom. Why not?
My Lords, in Afghanistan, since 2018, the FCDO’s funding to UNMAS has cleared landmines and unexploded ordnance in 27.2 square kilometres of land. It has released a further 211 square kilometres of land by assessing it as no longer being dangerous. That has directly benefited nearly 1.5 million people. UNMAS has also delivered landmine-risk education to at least 1.2 million people, including more than 450,000 women and girls. The UK has a long track record in Afghanistan.
My Lords, a long time ago, back in 1982, while the Argentinians had a short occupation of the Falkland Islands, they laid a number of landmines there. These were mostly still there when we retook the islands a few months later. What is the present position? Is everything now safe?
My Lords, in September, the United Kingdom assumed the presidency of the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Since then, the FCDO has removed funding for mine-clearance operations in Vietnam, South Sudan and Zimbabwe, some of the countries worst blighted by cluster munitions and landmines. Will the Minister explain how this decision will help the UK achieve its objective of the universal application of the convention? From outside, it looks as though we are failing to put our money where our mouth is.
The noble Lord is right that the funding has currently been reduced in relation to demining. The Global Mine Action Programme, which I mentioned earlier, will begin next year. We are reviewing funding and country allocations and hope to be able to share our plans for the programme in due course.
My Lords, further to the last question, is not the truth that the cut in our support for clearing landmines, cluster bombs and cluster munitions will result in thousands of people either being killed or having their legs blown off? How can we justify such a cut?
My Lords, the UK has invested really significant sums; it is one of the most generous countries in the world when it comes to funding demining. We have saved, as a consequence of taxpayers’ contributions to programmes backed by the Foreign Office, the lives of many, many hundreds of thousands of people. As I said, the FCDO recognises how critical this work is. That is why we are reviewing the decisions that were made: we are reviewing funding and country allocations and we will come back with details as soon as possible.
My Lords, I declare my interest as co-chair of the Zimbabwe APPG. I may be able to help the Minister with the answer to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. Last year, landmine clearance in the Falkland Islands was completed, with Minister Wendy Morton paying particular tribute to the brilliant contribution of the team of Zimbabwean deminers. In the context of this assistance, does the Minister recognise that it is absolutely unacceptable for the Government to cut entirely our mine-action funding to Zimbabwe, which has some of the densest and most dangerous minefields in the world? Will he review this decision and restore funding so that Zimbabwe can meet its goal of being landmine-free by 2025, and will he meet me to discuss this matter?
My Lords, as I said in answer to the previous two questions, we are reviewing the funding decisions. We are reviewing country allocations and we will come back with figures when we can. No one disputes the importance of this work to people’s lives and to the stability of countries. Yes, I would be very happy to meet the noble Lord.
I think it is worth repeating this really important point so that the Minister hears: there has been a 75% cut in our landmine clearance work. That will result in deaths. While the Minister is waiting for another nine months, many children and women will be killed as a consequence of this action. It is no good talking about the past; it is the future we are concerned about. Will he, therefore, go back to his department and say, “Restore these cuts now”?
My Lords, the department is currently—not in nine months—reviewing funding decisions in relation to demining. As I said, none of my ministerial colleagues and no one in the foreign office disputes the importance of this work. Every penny that we put into this programme is a penny that will contribute to saving lives and we are very aware of that.
My Lords, as a qualified bomb disposal officer, this is an area in which I have some experience. I confirm that it is difficult, dangerous and challenging work, and often poorly paid. The HALO Trust is an exemplar, offering a five-week training package. I witnessed its people finishing clearing the Falkland Islands back in 2019. What assurances has the department put in place to ensure that all charities offer appropriate training packages for their workers and—crucially, should the worst happen—appropriate insurance and compensation packages for their workers as well?
I thank the noble Lord for his question and for his work in this area. All FCDO contracts and NGOs are held to the highest standards. GMAP 2 partner organisations have robust training and monitoring processes in place to ensure the safety of their staff and of the beneficiaries. The FCDO conducts due-diligence assurance checks on all areas of their work, including staff training and safeguarding before any funding is released.
My Lords, in April 2017 the then International Development Secretary, Priti Patel, standing alongside Prince Harry at a Landmine Free 2025 event, announced the UK’s funding commitment and said of humanitarian demining:
“Global Britain has a historic role in tackling the indiscriminate and lethal legacy of landmines … We have a moral duty to act - and it is in our national interest to act.”
Until we discharge that moral duty and until it is no longer in our interests, we should not reduce our investment in either of them by one penny.
My Lords, the UK remains a leading donor in this sector, notwithstanding the recent cuts, and our demining work will continue to save lives. We are committed to all of our international treaty obligations. We are finalising our plans for GMAP3—the global mine action programme. As I said a few times, we will release details as soon as we can.
My Lords, it has been only in the last few weeks that NGOs have heard that the cuts they will face will be between 75% and 80%, so I welcome the confirmation from my noble friend the Minister that this is being reviewed. Could he tell me when this review will be completed and assure the House that we will be informed of its findings?
The Indo-Pacific is a region that is heavily contaminated with landmines and unexploded bombs, and is set to lose UK funding despite the Government’s ambition to strengthen their relations and influence there. In fact, Vietnam will no longer receive any funding at all. What assessment has been made of the impact this will have on UK relations in this region? Will the Government commit today to reinstate Vietnam’s funding to rid that country of its dreadful mine legacy?
The legacy in Vietnam of live mines that are still in place is appalling, of course. I know that our funding has been valued by the Vietnamese Government and the Vietnamese people, and has helped to support wider diplomatic objectives. I cannot make any commitments on funding today, other than to say that those decisions that were recently made are being reviewed. I hope they will be reviewed as quickly as possible and that we will be able to continue the work that this House is rightly proud of.
My Lords, some 15 years ago I was chairman of the Halo Trust, which has been mentioned, and a very good organisation it was too. I was also on the DfID Select Committee for some six years. I have seen that not all international aid from Britain is well spent: a lot of it ends up in overseas bank accounts, fast cars and weaponry. However, the Halo Trust got the money and spent it on exactly what it said it would. I plead with my noble friend, when the Government review it, to look at what is achieved. I saw the Halo Trust achieving fantastic things around the world.
The noble Lord is right. There will never be enough public money to resolve the various issues we are committed to help resolve around the world—this being an important one, but just one. It is incumbent on us to ensure that, when we invest money, it is invested as well as it can be. The point he makes about the Halo Trust is a view that I know is shared by colleagues in the Foreign Office. I will convey his words back to colleagues.
The Government remain committed to acting against Islamophobia in all its forms. We utterly condemn the prejudice, discrimination and hatred directed towards British Muslims due to their faith. While we are considering definitions of Islamophobia, this in no way restrains our ability to monitor, prosecute and punish those perpetrating religiously motivated hate crime. We have provided Tell MAMA with £4 million over the last five years to monitor anti-Muslim hate crime and to support victims.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his response. I first raised this matter in your Lordships’ House on 11 July 2019. We were told then that the Government agree that there needs to be a definition and that two advisers would be appointed. One adviser was appointed more than two years ago and nothing tangible has been done since. The Muslim community is concerned about issues relating to Islamophobia, and would ask that a second adviser now be appointed and their terms of reference agreed, which must include consultation with the community. We need to do this without any further delay and to commence the process.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for raising the concerns of the Muslim community, for his contribution to how we tackle the issue of Islamophobia and for his advice on how best to proceed. We remain committed to tackling Islamophobia where it exists across our communities, and we will continue to consider this issue with the utmost seriousness.
My Lords, the Government’s own hate crime statistics show that nearly half of all recorded religious hate crimes were against Muslims. What specific urgent steps have the Government taken to end this abuse and will the Minister commit to working with Muslim groups to ensure urgent progress?
My Lords, it is quite correct to say “nearly half”—around 45% of religiously motivated hate crime was against Muslims. As I mentioned in my Answer, we provided Tell MAMA £4 million over the last five years to monitor anti-Muslim hate crimes and support victims. We have also awarded £1.8 million through the faith, race and hate crime grant scheme to support established community groups and civil society organisations to boost shared values and tackle religiously and racially motivated hate crime.
My Lords, the Minister has acknowledged that the Home Office’s own figures show that 45% of all recent recorded religious hate crimes in England and Wales targeted British Muslims, but he has not yet said why the Government are so reluctant and are dragging their feet over coming up with a clear definition of Islamophobia. Why have they refused to do this? Is he aware that it is mainly Muslim women who are being targeted, because of the way they dress? Young people are being targeted and bullied in schools and on the streets. Given the scale of this problem, and given the rise in far-right extremism, can the Minister tell me what actual action, besides funding an organisation to monitor it, the Government will take to reassure the 3 million British Muslims of their commitment to tackling hatred, and the violent crimes and discrimination they are experiencing?
My Lords, we recognise the seriousness of this, but we also recognise the point made by Khalid Mahmood MP in the other place that there are issues with the term “Islamophobia”. It has been weaponised by particular groups to tackle free speech. We recognise that it is important to establish a definition, but as he himself says, this is a difficult thing to solve and the first principle is to do no harm. We will proceed slowly and carefully in order to get this right.
My Lords, I think the House will be united against anybody who discriminates against somebody on their beliefs, but I will follow up on the last question about what exactly we mean by “Islamophobia”. I understand that it means fear of Islam. Why should one be frightened of one of the great religions of the world? It is fair enough to be frightened of the people who blew up the Manchester Arena or whatever, but surely not of Islam itself. I think the Minister is on my side in this: could we please be absolutely clear what it is that we are trying to do?
My Lords, part of the difficulty of adopting some of the definitions that are being proposed, including that proposed by the APPG, is that they effectively conflate anti-Muslim hatred and Islamophobia with race. They also do not deal with issues around sectarianism. I completely agree that we want to tackle prejudice that discriminates against people based on who they are.
My Lords, a phobia is a fear. An irrational fear of Muslims is best countered by leaders of the community explaining that discrimination against women and violent attitudes to other faiths have nothing to do with Islam. Will the Minister agree with a previous government statement that all faiths and beliefs should be given equal protection, and that giving special consideration to one or two groups at the expense of others is totally contrary to the Government’s levelling-up agenda?
My Lords, I can give that assurance. We must provide our faiths and beliefs, particularly a religion such as Islam, with the same protections as all other important religions, but we must not make the mistake of conflating religion with race, as I said in the previous answer.
My Lords, it is crucial that we distinguish between aberrant anti-Muslim bigotry and the highly contentious concept of Islamophobia which threatens free speech for fear of it being labelled Islamophobic. Does the Minister acknowledge this chilling effect for liberal Muslims, as is well described in the Don’t Divide Us film “‘Islamophobia!’ The Accusation that Silences Dissent”, muting any criticism of Islam as a religion and even muting critiques of political Islamism, however dangerous? Does the Minister accept the nervousness of politicians from all parties in supporting the Batley Grammar School teacher who was forced into hiding under shouts of “Islamophobic”, effectively allowing a default blasphemy law to be snuck in for fear of being called Islamophobic?
My Lords, I do recognise that issue and I was trying to point that out in the responses I gave to previous supplementary questions. There is no doubt that the term “Islamophobia” is used as a heckler’s veto to shut down alternative opinions. We need to come up with a way forward that does not compromise free speech, and that is absolutely what we are committed to doing.
Imam Qari Asim, whom the Government appointed to assist with this in 2019, has been a magnificent ally in the fight against anti-Semitism and had a huge impact in West Yorkshire on Covid vaccinations in the Muslim community. Would it not be in the Government’s interests to find more work for Qari Asim to do?
My Lords, as someone who has spent time with and engaged with Qari Asim—I met him in my previous role as Faith Minister—I recognise that he has much to contribute and I am sure we will continue to make best use of his undoubted reputation and track record.
My Lords, Islamophobia is a real problem in the UK. Prejudice against Islam must be taken very seriously. The Government are certainly proceeding very slowly—there is no question about that—as highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh. Can the Minister confirm that it is the Government’s intention to adopt a definition, or are they not planning to do so? It is very easy, either way.
My Lords, I always thank the noble Lord for providing me with an easy question. Of course we want to work on establishing a definition that can be adopted, but I want the House to recognise that this is not a straightforward matter and will take time.
My Lords, do the Government recognise that in any attempt to elucidate a formal definition of Islamophobia, religion and not race must be the central tenet? I agree with the noble Lord’s earlier response. Will the Minister give a personal assurance to the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, me and others that he will do everything he can to resolve this as a matter of urgency?
Private Notice Question
My Lords, it is unacceptable and unjustifiable that Iran has chosen to continue with this second, wholly arbitrary case against Nazanin. Iran has put her through an inhumane ordeal. We continue to call on Iran in the strongest possible terms to allow her to return to the UK to be reunited with her family. The Prime Minister raised her situation with former President Rouhani, and the Foreign Secretary continues to engage with Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian, most recently on 8 November.
—in his determination to get his wife home safe. We understand why he ended his hunger strike, and it was right for him to do so.
Will the Minister now confirm that there is no doubt whatever that the United Kingdom Government owe Iran £400 million for tanks the Iranian Government paid for but which were never supplied? Secondly, when the Prime Minister was Foreign Secretary, he pledged that that debt would be paid, and it is further acknowledged that when it is paid, Nazanin will be released. Can the Minister therefore use his undoubted influence with the Prime Minister to get him to make it his top priority to resolve this issue and get Nazanin released and returned home to her husband and daughter, because it is the Prime Minister’s moral duty to do so?
Like the noble Lord, I recognise the commitment and huge sacrifice that has been shown by Mr Ratcliffe and the families of other British detainees in seeking the release and return of their loved ones detained in Iran. We continue to call on Iran to end Nazanin’s suffering immediately and to allow her to return home to her family in the UK. But I need to be clear, in the place of my colleague and noble friend Lord Ahmad, who is not here to answer the Question, that the UK does not and never will accept our dual nationals being used as diplomatic leverage. Our priority is securing Nazanin’s immediate release so that she can be reunited with her family.
While it is absolutely right that the dreadful detention of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe should be kept totally separate from other issues in the relationship with the Iranian Government, will my noble friend explain the delays in the payment of the proper debt for the Chieftain tanks that were never delivered? It seems to me a straightforward matter, entirely separate from this horrible detention issue, which surely could be settled, and settled fast. Can he explain what the delay is because we do not understand?
As we have said—I know my colleague has said this many times from this Dispatch Box—we are actively exploring the options to resolve this case, but it is not helpful in any way to connect wider bilateral issues with those arbitrarily detained in Iran. It remains in Iran’s gift to do the right thing and to allow British dual nationals home to be reunited with their families.
My Lords, I have met Richard Ratcliffe and I associate myself and colleagues who have met him with the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes. In May, the Foreign Secretary said that the treatment of Nazanin amounts to torture. There is no point in a British Government making clear assertions on the contravention of a UN convention if they do not follow through with any actions. When I asked the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, why the Government had not formally requested that Iran investigate the accusation of torture, he said that he would ensure that it was in the Foreign Secretary’s briefing pack when she met Richard. Why have the Government not formally requested that Iran act on the convention which it is duty bound to carry through?
My Lords, no one disputes that Iran’s treatment of Nazanin and others in similar circumstances is inhumane and cruel, exceeds any normal boundaries of behaviour by a state and is completely unacceptable, but I cannot add more to what my colleague the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, said in answer to the same question just a few weeks ago.
My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my interests as set out in the register. I totally support what the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, said. The behaviour of the Iranian Government in this affair is disgraceful, but the Government have not been clear. They have been very ambiguous in answering questions in the House about this issue, including, as was said, in the previous debate in which it was raised. Will the Minister confirm or deny that fear of American sanctions is preventing this money being paid?
My Lords, what does the Minister think Governments on both sides might have to learn from a simple prayer that was once prayed on this day in Coventry, after the destruction of the city? It is a simple prayer but a brave one; it simply says: “Father, forgive.” It does not try to forgive the other side, or even to absolve the other side from responsibility, but it does say that, somewhere along the line, both sides, in whatever proportion, need to accept that a very deep hole has been dug and suffering people have fallen into it. In this case, there is a suffering woman at the bottom of the hole, and her husband and child. Can we not do more to accept that there is something we have a responsibility for?
My Lords, I do not accept, and the Government cannot accept, that we have a responsibility for the incarceration and appalling treatment of Nazanin. This is a decision made by the Government of Iran, and one that they can reverse. Of course, we will, and we continue to, do as much as we possibly can to secure her release. That is why this issue—this appalling case—has been escalated to the highest level, not least in the form of diplomatic protection, which means that it becomes a case between states as opposed to the prior situation.
My Lords, many people still do not understand the issue of the £400 million that we owe to Iran; it keeps getting raised. The Americans have paid money to the Iranian Government despite their sanctions. Can the Minister please explain clearly what is going on? Many of us who have met Richard Ratcliffe on his hunger strike outside the Foreign Office have given him an undertaking that we shall continue to press the Government. This will go on and on until the Government do something.
My Lords, the Government are doing something. We are engaging at the highest possible level; whether it is the Prime Minister or the previous or current Foreign Secretary, engagement happens on a very regular basis. I do not accept the idea that the Government are doing nothing. However, were the Government to pay hundreds of millions of pounds to the Iranian Government, that would undoubtedly be seen as payment for a hostage situation.
I am very surprised at the Minister’s answers in relation to the £400 million. Does he accept that an international arbitration tribunal—an independent tribunal—has ruled that this country owes £400 million to the state of Iran? Does he accept that? Does he also accept that it is vital that this country complies with its international obligations to meet international arbitration tribunal reports? Does he also accept that to pay that sum without further delay would be to meet our obligations, and not to pay a ransom?
My Lords, no one disputes that there is a historic debt, one which was owed to pre-revolutionary Iran. There is no dispute or debate about that. However, here I am answering a Question about Nazanin, yet the majority of questions relate to that money. The combination of that issue with the issue that we are dealing with—an appallingly tragic human case—is exactly what we should be avoiding. Otherwise, this does become a hostage situation and any payment of any money becomes payment for a hostage. That is not in our international current, medium or long-term interests.
Let us put it a different way. When I met Richard outside the FCDO, he described the policy of the Government as a “policy of waiting”. The Minister has said that they are doing things; well, this House wants to hear precisely what they are doing. One thing this Government should be doing is ensuring that we improve relationships with the Government in Iran—to ensure that all the outstanding issues, including of those who remain in prison, are properly resolved. So what are the Government doing?
The Government certainly want to improve our relationship with Iran. In direct answer to the noble Lord’s questions, we have raised this case at the highest levels of government at every opportunity. The Prime Minister raised it with President Rouhani on 10 March this year. The previous Foreign Secretary engaged regularly with Foreign Minister Zarif. The current Foreign Secretary, who has been in post for only a few weeks, has spoken twice now with her counterpart, most recently just a week and a half ago. Our ambassador and the wider team continue to lobby Iranian interlocutors at every opportunity. They helped to secure the release of Nazanin on furlough and continue to push for a full and permanent release, most recently on 9 November. As I said earlier, escalation in the form of diplomatic protection on 7 March 2019 represented a formal recognition that her treatment breaches Iran’s obligations under international law and raises the status of this case to the highest possible level.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the ambitions of this country is that Iran should adhere to the rule of law? If so, should we not be adhering to the rule of law—and, therefore, will he now give us a very clear “yes” or “no” reply to my noble and learned friend Lord Judge’s very straightforward question, which he has yet to answer?
My Lords, the Government do have some responsibility for the suffering that Nazanin is experiencing because our Prime Minister told a lie that she was teaching journalism. That meant that the Iranian Government were much more exercised about her presence in Iran when, in fact, she was only there to see her family. Has the Prime Minister shown any remorse?
My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister not accept that the answers that he is giving this afternoon—stonewalling answers—are doing no good to the Government and, most of all, no good to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe? Can we please accept that this country does owe this money? Can it not be paid immediately to the United Nations? That would be a good way of having it transferred. Can we not have a positive move to get back this poor woman, who has been tortured and incarcerated as an innocent being?
My Lords, at the risk of being repetitive, it would be a grave error for this Government to behave as though that historic debt is in any way connected to the incarceration of Nazanin, in the manner in which the noble Lord suggests. It would be disastrous foreign policy.
My Lords, the problem is that the Iranians regard the two as linked. If we will not accept that, how is the difficulty to be resolved? The Prime Minister made a very foolish intervention; one might think that that increases his moral obligation. If there is any question of the Government being in some way concerned about the attitude of the United States, does anyone here think that the United States would hesitate for a moment if the circumstances were reversed? There is, not least, very strong anecdotal evidence that President Obama did exactly that: release in return for resources.
Hereditary Peers By-election
The Clerk of the Parliaments announced the result of the by-election to elect a hereditary Peer in place of Viscount Simon.
Two hundred and sixty-four Lords submitted valid ballot papers. A notice detailing the complete results is available in the Printed Paper Office and online. The successful candidate was Lord Hacking.
I am grateful to our Clerk for acting as returning officer and giving us the result of another dramatic by-election. Normally, when by-election results are passed on, the resulting great excitement and drama are watched by the national media, but I have noticed that throughout this by-election process the House has remained calm, and that is to be commended.
One of the numerous reasons why there is no further interest in the by-election once the name of the winner has been announced is that in normal by-elections—if I can refer to them as such—the returning officer, in a scene familiar to all of us, not only announces which individual has won the by-election but goes on to announce the figures for all the other candidates too, whereas in our unique system we learn who the winner is but if we want to find out any more, such as how many votes our candidate attained, you are referred to the Printed Paper Office. I do not think it would work in by-elections as they normally apply if the returning officer announced who had won and then said, “If you want to know who got how many votes, you need to go to the council offices tomorrow morning where a paper will be issued with the details.”
I suggest that we add a bit more detail to these announcements. Why not give the individual results for the candidates, the number of spoilt ballot papers and details of that sort, and maybe allow two or three minutes for the victorious candidate to make a short speech thanking—
Yes—thanking the returning officer and commiserating with the other candidates. I think that would enhance the by-elections and our understanding of them. Maybe, if we really wanted to analyse their significance, perhaps a room could be set aside where an analysis of the result could be presented by Professor Sir John Curtice, who is an expert in these things.
The House may know that I am not a fan of these by-elections, so maybe we should have a bit of sunshine on the results in future. This would aid public interest in them and I am sure that supporters of these by-elections—there are a few left—would like to see a bit more detail presented. I think this is something that the Procedure Committee should consider.
Business of the House
Motion on Standing Orders
That Standing Order 38(1) (Arrangement of the Order Paper) be dispensed with on Wednesday 17 November to enable the third reading of the Professional Qualifications Bill [HL] and the continuation of the Committee stage of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to be taken before oral questions that day.
My Lords, I beg to move this Motion on behalf of my noble friend the Leader of the House. In doing so, I shall make a short statement about the arrangement of business on Wednesday.
The House will meet at 11 am. After Prayers we will take the Third Reading of the Professional Qualifications Bill followed by the continuation of the Committee on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Proceedings will adjourn at around 2 pm and then resume at 3 pm for Oral Questions. We will then continue with the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill Committee. The Grand Committee will meet at its usual time of 4.15 pm.
Telecommunications (Security) Bill
4A: Because the Commons consider it appropriate and sufficient for oversight and scrutiny of decisions made by the Secretary of State for DCMS in relation to telecommunications diversification to be conducted by the departmental select committee.
My Lords, noble Lords will recall that this Bill will create one of the toughest telecoms security regimes in the world and ensure the security and resilience of the UK’s telecommunications networks and infrastructure.
Amendment 4, which was tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, and the noble Lords, Lord Alton of Liverpool and Lord Fox, would insert a new clause into the Bill. The clause would require the Secretary of State to report on the impact of the Government’s diversification strategy on the security of telecommunication networks and services, and would allow for a debate in another place on the report.
I ask that this House do not insist on its amendment for two reasons. Our first objection to this amendment relates to the flexibility necessary for diversification. The reporting requirement, which is based on the risks as we find them today, is restrictive and premature for a market and technology that is evolving and rapidly changing. Policy work is at an early stage, and the criteria for how we measure its success is evolving in line with our policy. It would not be suitable to set out specific reporting criteria in legislation.
The diversification strategy and any reporting on its progress must be flexible so that we can focus on achieving the greatest impact. As we hope diversification to be a short-term problem, enshrining it in legislation—a long-term solution—would be counterintuitive and unnecessary. We are currently focused on diversifying radio access networks, for instance, but that may change in the future.
The Government take diversification seriously. I reassure noble Lords that mechanisms are already in place, through Parliamentary Questions and Select Committees, to thoroughly scrutinise the strategy and its progress now and in the future. This is the appropriate method of scrutiny for an evolving, time-limited strategy.
Secondly, this is principally a national security Bill intended to strengthen the security and resilience of all our telecoms networks. The Government’s 5G telecoms diversification strategy has been developed to support that objective but it is not the sole objective of the strategy. In addition, the strategy is focused on a specific subset of the telecoms supply market, not the security of public networks as a whole.
From debates in your Lordships’ House so far, it is clear that this amendment intends to hold the Government to account on the impact of the diversification strategy on the security of public networks. We will be happy to provide updates on the strategy’s progress through existing channels, and are encouraged by the developments that we have seen since the strategy’s launch. The amendment would extend the Bill beyond its intended national security focus and creates an inflexible reporting requirement on a strategy that, as I say, will evolve as it fulfils this important work. That is why I ask your Lordships’ House not to insist on Amendment 4.
I shall also speak to Motion B, which asks that this House do not insist on its Amendment 5, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 5A. As noble Lords will recall, Amendment 5 was tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Alton of Liverpool, Lord Coaker and Lord Fox, and my noble friend Lord Blencathra. The amendment would require the Secretary of State to review decisions taken by Five Eyes partners to ban telecommunications vendors on security grounds. In particular, it would require the Secretary of State to review the UK’s security arrangements with that vendor and consider whether to issue a designated vendor direction or take similar action in the UK.
As I said on Report, I welcome the intention of the amendment. It demonstrates that noble Lords across the House take the security of this country and its people incredibly seriously. However, while we support the spirit of the amendment, we cannot accept it for four reasons.
First, this amendment is unnecessary as the Bill already allows the Secretary of State to consider the policies of Five Eyes countries. Clause 16 includes a non-exhaustive list of factors that the Secretary of State may take into consideration when issuing designation notices regarding high-risk vendors. That list illustrates the kinds of factors we will be considering proactively and on an ongoing basis as part of our national security work. A decision by a Five Eyes partner or indeed any other international partner to ban a vendor on security grounds could be considered as part of that process. The amendment asks the Government to do something that has been part of the Bill from the outset. We believe that our existing approach is the right way to continually consider the decisions of all our international allies and partners.
Secondly, the amendment is unnecessary because we are already committed to a close and enduring partnership with the Five Eyes countries. We engage with our partners regularly and, where relevant, consider their actions when developing our own policies. The Five Eyes intelligence and security agencies maintain close co-operation, which includes frequent dialogue between the National Cyber Security Centre and its international partners. This dialogue includes the sharing of technical expertise on the security of telecoms networks and managing the risks posed by high-risk vendors. Engaging with our partners in this way is at the very core of our national security work.
In another place, members of the Intelligence and Security Committee agreed that the amendment was not necessary as the existing intelligence relationship with the Five Eyes, and other international parties, is strong. The chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, Dr Julian Lewis, said:
“We looked at Lords amendment 5 and we understood the temptation to flag up the importance of the Five Eyes relationship. We agreed ... whenever a serious objection is raised on security grounds by one of the Five Eyes partners, we take that with the utmost seriousness.”—[Official Report, Commons, 8/11/21; col. 119.]
The chairman of the DCMS Select Committee, Julian Knight MP, agreed and said that
“any Government worth their salt would take very seriously the approach of our closest security partners.”—[Official Report, Commons, 8/11/21; col. 117.]
Our third reason is that naming individual countries in legislation would be restrictive to the development of wider international relations and set an unhelpful precedent on national security legislation. The Five Eyes alliance was not created through legislation and it has not required legislation for us to develop and strengthen that relationship in the past. Moreover, we need to consider the policies of a wide range of countries, including those of our European neighbours such as France and Germany, and those of other nations such as Japan, South Korea and India, to name but a few. It is highly unusual to refer to specific countries in legislation in this way, and the amendment would set an unhelpful precedent for future legislation.
Finally, the amendment is impractical because of the many different ways other countries operate their national security decision-making. It may not be immediately clear when a country has taken a decision to ban a vendor, particularly if it relied on sensitive intelligence. It also may not be clear why a country has taken this decision, and it may not always be based on national security grounds. So, while I welcome the intentions behind the amendment, we cannot accept it and that is why I ask that the House does not insist on Amendment 5 either. I beg to move.
My Lords, I hope my noble friend Lord Fox has given his apologies to the Minister for being unable to be here due to a Select Committee engagement. However, that does not mean that on these Benches we are any less disappointed—or indignant, as I think my noble friend Lord Fox would put it—about the Government having turned down both amendments, which my noble friend signed. The Minister is developing a fine turn of phrase in turning down amendments that appear perfectly sensible. On Report he talked about sharing the ambition and warmly welcoming the intent and then said that they did not quite fit the Bill and the Government could not accept these amendments. It is rather baffling since both are built very firmly on the Government’s expressed intentions —indeed, ambitions—set out in the integrated review. That was very clear in our debates on Report. It seems that the Government’s motives are much more firmly based on resistance to scrutiny and the idea that, somehow, they would be constrained in their work on diversification by having to report, in the case of Lords Amendment 4. However, the words he used were:
“legislating for a reporting requirement would be limiting and inflexible.”—[Official Report, 19/10/21; col. 86.]
Having reread the debate and heard again what the Minister had to say, I still cannot understand the Government’s rationale for this.
The rejection of Lords Amendment 5 is equally baffling because the Minister talks again about the limitation of the amendment to a particular set of countries. Surely, one of the reasons we are where we are, and the Government had to backtrack on their treatment of high-risk vendors, is precisely that they were not in step with their other Five Eyes allies. Therefore, the Government are not even learning from experience. We are where we are, however, and clearly we are not going to take this further, but I believe that the Government will regret not accepting both amendments.
My Lords, the matters under consideration today are about not party politics but the first duty of any Government: to ensure the security of our citizens and the United Kingdom. Following majorities in this House and considered debate in this and the other place, it is regrettable that the Government have rejected sensible amendments to this important Bill, which I still believe would have improved and enhanced our collective security. The arguments against these amendments have been somewhat wanting, generally conveying the message, throughout the passage of the Bill, that it is all being take care of—a view that this House, on all sides, has not shared.
Our extensive use of new technology throughout the pandemic shone a very bright light on the degree to which we rely on telecoms networks and our experience has reinforced how intertwined these networks are with issues of national security. So, to ensure our security, diversification is crucial and thus far an effective plan to diversify the supply chain has been absent. As I recall, we do, however, have broad agreement that we cannot have a robust and secure network with only two service providers, which is what will remain when Huawei goes. This is why we need to ensure diversity of suppliers at different points of the chain, with sufficient support for the UK’s own start-up businesses. I, too, will quote, from the debate in the other place, the words of Dr Julian Lewis MP, the chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, who is obviously much quoted today. He said, of Lords Amendment 4:
“For the life of us, we cannot understand why the Government are opposing it. We believe it would strengthen parliamentary scrutiny and provide a valuable annual stocktake on the progress being made on the diversification strategy and how it is helping to improve national security.”—[Official Report, Commons, 8/11/21; col. 119.]
The Government have said that they are serious about protecting our telecoms security and they respect the vital role that diversification plays in achieving that. I would therefore have thought that the Government would welcome the added layer of diversification scrutiny that Lords Amendment 4 provided. It is disheartening, therefore, that the amendment is rejected by Motion A.
On Motion B, our telecoms security also depends on strengthening our international intelligence bonds and the Five Eyes provides the perfect opportunity to do so. It is therefore similarly disappointing that the Government, having promised to work with this alliance in the integrated review, have resisted introducing a requirement that the Government should automatically review vendors—and by that we meant only “review” vendors when others in the Five Eyes ban companies from their networks. This was provided for by Lords Amendment 5. Such a response, as outlined in Motion B, flies in the face of common sense and it is very disappointing to see this rejection.
I accept that on this occasion we have reached the end of the parliamentary road with the Bill. However, as time goes on and the provisions of the Bill take effect, I hope that the Minister will reflect on the debates in the House and the other place concerning the intent and practical considerations that would contribute to security improvements, as provided by Lords Amendments 4 and 5. I hope the Minister will not feel constrained when he further considers making improvements in this area.
My Lords, I certainly hear the disappointment and perhaps, as the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said, even the indignation of his noble friend Lord Fox, in his absence. I am sure that if the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, who is not able to be with us today, were here he would have had something to say as well. However, I hope to be able to reassure all noble Lords that the Government certainly have listened to and taken on board the points which have been made. Where we respectfully disagree, I would point to the fact that another place has disagreed as well, but, as I said in my opening remarks, we are very conscious of the spirit of scrutiny in which these amendments have been put forward. Noble Lords have wanted to ensure that the Bill does what the Government intend: to set up a framework to protect the national security of our country. We simply disagree about the practicalities of some of the amendments which remain at this late stage.
It may be helpful to say a little more about the opportunities for parliamentary oversight of the diversification strategy which noble Lords and Members of another place will have been able to take advantage of. Since its publication, Members of another place and noble Lords have had the opportunity to scrutinise and provide feedback on the strategy. The Science and Technology Select Committee in another place held an inquiry earlier this year on 5G Market Diversification and Wider Lessons for Critical and Emerging Technologies. The Government responded to the committee’s report in April, agreeing with its assessment of the scale of the diversification challenge and that there is a need to work swiftly to make early progress and build momentum as we work towards our long-term ambitions. We have not yet committed to a specific way of reporting progress, as policy work is at an early stage and the criteria for how we measure its success is evolving in line with our policy, as I said in my opening remarks.
However, we have made and announced a lot of progress on our diversification strategy already: for example, on our programme of targeted R&D support, including the future RAN open competition, the winners of which will be announced soon. We will continue to update on progress and are planning to launch further policy commitments at the same time as announcing the winners of that competition later this year. I know that noble Lords, if they agree with us and do not insist on their amendments today, will certainly continue to watch this issue vigilantly and find every opportunity to pursue these important issues in your Lordships’ House and through Parliamentary Questions and Select Committees, and it is right that they do.
I end by thanking again the Bill team and all officials who have been involved in the development of this important Bill. I listed them in full last time, so I will not try the patience of the Hansard editors by repeating their names but I will add one final name: Daniel Wilson, who has been of great support to me and my noble friend Lady Barran in working on this issue in private office.
I commend the Bill to your Lordships’ House. It will create one of the toughest telecoms security regimes in the world and ensure the security and resilience of the UK’s telecommunications networks and infrastructure.
Motion A agreed.
5A: Because the Commons consider it inappropriate to specify the steps to be taken by the Secretary of State where decisions in relation to telecommunications vendors are taken on national security grounds by other countries.
Motion B agreed.
Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
Committee (8th Day)
Relevant documents: 1st, 4th and 6th Reports from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, 6th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 7th Report from the Constitution Committee
208A: After Clause 115, insert the following new Clause—
“Review of the arrangements for the resettlement and supervision of prisoners serving sentences of IPP: effectiveness
(1) Within six months of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State must lay a report before both Houses of Parliament on the effectiveness of the arrangements for the resettlement and supervision of prisoners serving sentences of imprisonment for public protection (“IPP”) released on licence.(2) The report must include, but not be limited to—(a) an assessment of the factors underlying the rates of breach and recall of prisoners serving sentences of IPP released on licence, and what could be done to address them, including—(i) the effectiveness of the arrangements for the preparation of prisoners serving sentences of IPP to be released on licence, including the adequacy of information and guidance for prisoners on licence provisions, breach of licence and the risk of recall;(ii) the adequacy of existing probation service guidance on breach and recall;(iii) whether more use could be made of alternatives to immediate recall to custody including electronic tagging;(iv) the extent to which a failure to properly support and supervise prisoners serving sentences of IPP on release is contributing to the high proportion of this group breaching the terms of their licence and being recalled to prison.”Member’s explanatory statement
This, along with another amendment after Clause 115 in the name of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, is a probing amendment intended to require a review of the arrangements for the resettlement and supervision of prisoners serving sentences of IPP.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 208A with its proposed new clause, I give my wholehearted support to the other amendments which have been laid, to which I have appended my name, and a strong encouragement that we build on the alliance that has been put together. I thank noble Lords and, where they have them, their staff—and mine—for the terrific co-operation that has emerged over recent weeks. I give apologies from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke of Nottingham, who wished to be here but has a medical appointment. Members of this House will recall that the noble and learned Lord was Secretary of State for Justice when the IPP proposal was set aside and the 2012 abolition of that sentence agreed by the two Houses of Parliament.
At the time, I took the late and much lamented Paul Goggins to see the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke, to discuss what might be possible as a rapid wind-up of the consequences of the original Act, part of which is my responsibility and which I want to speak about in a moment. The noble and learned Lord has reflected with me on a number of occasions, as he did on that occasion with Paul Goggins, who had been a Prisons Minister and the Minister of State in Northern Ireland responsible for the prison service there, on the massive political challenges in getting agreement. I hope that this afternoon we can take a step in finding a way forward almost 10 years later, when so many prisoners still find themselves subject to the original imprisonment for public protection.
I thank the Prison Reform Trust, the Howard League and many others for their advice. I will take a moment to thank Frances Crook for her many years of dedicated commitment and service in the cause of reform. Frances, who retired at the end of October, will long be remembered as a beacon for her commitment and dedication. But in an area which is so unfashionable and difficult to gain the public’s attention in, you also really need the utmost stalwart tenacity to carry it through. I particularly want to offer my appreciation and thanks to campaigners, individuals and families for their understanding, determination and tenacity, particularly the campaigning group UNGRIPP: Shirley Debono and Donna Mooney have been with me for almost as long as I can remember in trying to put right something which, as I mentioned a moment ago, I had a hand in getting wrong. The remarkable coalition that exists inside your Lordships’ House and outside, should surely give the Government the cover and courage to take steps now that will put wrongs right and ensure that we have a journey—a road to travel—for the future.
I want to refer briefly, because I am aware of the enormous pressure on time for the Bill, to how we got here in the first place. Back in 2003, with the Criminal Justice Act’s provisions on sentencing, we thought—this was held across both Houses at the time—that the steps we were taking would be beneficial rather than ending up with the disaster, let me call it that, which has occurred over those subsequent 18 years. The intention was, first, to put right a wrong which existed with those who were on indeterminate sentences—they were not called that, but that is what they were—who had no route out because the therapies and courses, or the journey as I like to call it, were not present.
For many years I have been trying to help a prisoner called David McCauliffe, who was sentenced for the second time in his life, that time for seven years, and is still in prison. He was sentenced at the end of the 1980s for a crime that undoubtedly created unsafe conditions for the public at the time but fell short of rape or murder. He is still in prison today after 33 years. The longer he has been in, the more difficult it has been for him to show he is safe to be released. Many IPP prisoners find themselves in that position today.
The intention was that there would be a route for those caught in that trap, like David McCauliffe, to find a way forward. At the same time, there have been a number of incidents where people who were known to be unsafe—they had declared their intention to commit further heinous crimes such as kidnap, rape and murder—were allowed out without any clarity as to how their behaviour was going to be monitored, and they were not on licence. That is why, going back to the Halliday report of 2001, the good intention was that there would be mechanisms put in place to supervise and support—I emphasise “and support”—prisoners on release, to provide safety for the public and rehabilitation for those who were safe to be in the community. Both those elements went badly wrong with the IPP sentence.
First, we had not fully agreed with the Treasury for the resources to be put in place from 2005, after I had left the Home Office, which at the time had responsibility for what is now the Ministry of Justice and sentencing. Therefore, the resources were not available, and are still not, to do the job properly for those who needed rehabilitation and preparation for release. Secondly, we had not understood that, because those therapies and courses were not available, it was quite likely that cautious members of the judiciary would take a “safety first” view in applying an indeterminate sentence rather than a determinate sentence, which in some cases would have been a matter of two or three years, in the initial phases, rather than the 10 years plus originally discussed and envisaged. This was not applied as a mandated sentence because of the understandable requirement of the judiciary to have flexibility and be able to determine a sentence without it being laid down by Parliament.
So, here we are all these years on, with two strands having gone very badly, and the lessons that needed to be learned still in front of us today. I do not think any of us could have envisaged the impact—I certainly did not—of the recall provisions which were later strengthened and therefore made more draconian. This has led to a large number of prisoners finding themselves back in prison, sometimes for committing a crime that could be very minor and sometimes for a breach of their licence conditions. Out of the 3,000 people who are still in prison on IPP, 1,300 of them are there because of recalls. That is 100% up from 2016, five years ago. If we are not careful, that trajectory will lead to more prisoners being in prison on IPP on recall than are actually in prison for the original IPP sentence applied, which is a farcical situation and a tragedy for them.
More than 60 clinical and forensic psychologists, psychiatrists and criminologists have written to me, and I hope they will write to the Minister, setting out the trajectory from those early days, where the lack of therapies and courses led to caution and to the inability of prisoners to demonstrate that they were safe to be released; in other words, the failure to put the other mechanisms in place led to prisoners not being able to demonstrate their safety for the community. By not being able to do so, they spent so much more time in prison that the impact of that lengthy sentence and the hopelessness of not having an end date made their emotional, mental and psychological situation worse. The original sentence was supported by those who believed that the right kind of psychological conditions and help were essential to make them safe and, having undermined those conditions, we now have a situation where they are seen as unsafe; in other words, we have gone full circle, undermining the original intentions and, by doing so, having people in prison far beyond what was originally envisaged.
The modest Amendments 208A, 208C and 208E are part of a journey to the much more robust and necessary Amendment 208F, which would be the logical conclusion of trying to get this right and doing so very quickly. Here we are, all these years on, nearly 10 years since the abolition of the Act, and we still have 1,700 prisoners who have not yet been released and 1,300 who have been released but who have, within an average of 20 months, been recalled and are still in prison. That, on a traditional fixed-term sentence, would be a sentence of three and a half or four years, often for a minor breach. This is not just unequal and unjust, it is immoral. It is immoral because those individuals, who have already had their confidence and likelihood of being able to demonstrate their safety undermined, are further undermined by the conditions they found themselves in when they came out of prison.
Amendments 208A, 208C and 208E look at the conditions inside prison for preparing people for release—which would apply more broadly, so getting this right might improve the Prison Service delivery for prisoners as a whole—and the conditions people find themselves in when they come out. It is not surprising that, since 2012, the incidence of breach and return has grown exponentially, because Christopher Grayling MP was responsible for the virtual demolition of the National Probation Service. Nobody can blame the probation service, whose resources were undermined, and the connectivity that the Centre for Social Justice quite rightly laid out all those years ago, for ensuring that people were not returned to prison, because we had not put them in the right places with the right support in the communities they were returned to.
None of this undermines my culpability in not seeing this 18 years ago, in not understanding that it would be really difficult to get the resources out of the Treasury and that it would be difficult to persuade the public—having said this was a sentence which required the presentation to the Parole Board for safety—that we were absolutely sure all these prisoners coming through and who had minor breaches were not going to commit crimes. None of us can be sure of those aspects, but it is very difficult to say that to the public.
Having a coalition of the willing and cross-party and no-party support for real change, the Government now have an opportunity to demonstrate both their humanity and rationality in getting this right for the future. My party, and Members of the Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrats, Cross-Benchers and the Spiritual Benches are all committed to backing the Government in doing the right thing.
I have never resiled from wanting people who have committed heinous crimes to be put away for a very long time, or from having tough sentences where they are needed. But this situation cannot go on. We have to do something for the sake of the individuals and their families, and for the safety of the community, because the longer they are in prison on a suspended animation sentence or on licence, the more likely they are to find themselves unable to rehabilitate and live a normal life. When that happens, they are more likely to commit a crime. I got it wrong. The Government now have the chance to get it right. I beg to move.
I commend the speech of my noble friend Lord Blunkett. I agree with every single word of it. I am as culpable as he is in relation to this. I was a junior Minister in the Home Office at the time, and the Lord Chancellor did not foresee the consequences of what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, who I am glad to see in his place, described as
“the greatest single stain on our criminal justice system.”
Our purpose on these Benches is to participate in a coalition of people with a view to persuading the Government to make sensible changes to the regime to get rid of this injustice that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, and my noble friend Lord Blunkett, have referred to. The amendments before the Committee today provide a number of sensible options, but we put them forward, or support them as part of that coalition, with a view to reaching agreement with the Government to do something about them.
I may try the patience of the Committee too much, but I will speak to the amendment to which my name is put, and then I will speak again indicating the Labour Party’s position on the whole range of amendments. The amendments I speak to at the moment, therefore, are Amendments 208A and 208C, which deal with the position in relation to those IPP prisoners who have been released, and what the Government should be doing about them. I add my thanks to those of my noble friend Lord Blunkett to the Prison Reform Trust, which has provided an incredibly valuable briefing to the whole House. I also thank the Howard League for Penal Reform, which has done the same; Frances Crook, who has, over a very long period, provided real guidance to policymakers on these issues; and UNGRIPP, a group of friends and prisoners who have suffered as a result of this regime.
I turn now to the probing Amendments 208A and 208C, which are in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Blunkett. He gave the figures. The basic proposition is that to reduce reoffending, energy and resources need to be devoted to ensuring that IPP prisoners who secure their release are able to live successful lives thereafter, avoiding recall to prison. That is what is best for society and for them. Without this, the current incidence of recall will soon, as my noble friend said, lead to a situation in which the number of people serving the IPP sentence may start to grow rather than decrease. From 30 September 2015 to 30 June 2021, the number of never-released IPP prisoners fell by 61%, from 4,431 to 1,722.
However, at the latest date for which I have figures, which is June 2021, there were 1,332 people back in prison having previously been released—more than double the number of five years ago. Recalled IPP prisoners who were re-released during 2020 have spent an average of 20 further months in prison before re-release. The hopelessness and despair that engenders is incredibly effectively described in the Prison Reform Trust’s report No Life, No Freedom, No Future. Its findings are based on data provided from Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service on recalls and re-releases and on interviews with 31 recalled IPP prisoners. A briefing from the Prison Reform Trust said:
“The report found that IPP prisoners’ life chances and mental health were both fundamentally damaged by the uniquely unjust sentence they are serving. Arrangements for their support in the community after release did not match the depth of the challenge they faced in rebuilding their lives outside prison. Risk management plans drawn up before release all too often turned out to be unrealistic or inadequately supported after release, leading to recall sometimes within a few weeks of leaving prison, and for some people on multiple occasions. The process of recall also generated strong perceptions of unfairness.
At its worst, the report found that the system … recalled people to indefinite custody”
for what appeared comparatively trivial matters,
“defined needs (e.g. mental health) as risk factors … ignored the impact of the unfairness of the sentence on wellbeing and behaviour … could not provide the necessary support; and … provided no purpose to time back in custody or a plan for re-release.”
Not all IPP recalled prisoners endured that, but it was common enough to say that the system needed looking at overall. As I indicated, many IPP interviewees suggested that the recall decisions were taken too lightly. At most, 23 of the 31 participants had not been convicted of a subsequent offence when they were recalled.
What to do about it? To prevent the current situation continuing—and I am dealing only with people being recalled—there are basically eight things to do. First, the process for licence review should be automated, and the qualifying period reduced from 10 years to five. That is in line with Amendment 208D. Secondly, the test for recall should be changed. It should be that there is imminent risk of the person committing an offence causing serious harm, and that that risk cannot be managed in the community. For other things, such as not staying at the address named in the conditions, other measures should be thought about—for example, adjusted reporting requirements, use of electronic tags and curfews. Thirdly, where a person has been charged with a further offence, the normal criminal justice processes should apply, with a court considering whether remand in custody is appropriate for the new alleged offence. Fourthly, if a person is convicted of a further offence, the court should decide what happens to that person, not an official. Fifthly, if a person is convicted of a further offence and the court decides to recall them under the provisions of their IPP sentence, the Parole Board should be required to consider release alongside any considerations of discretionary release that attach to the new sentence—for example, an extended determinate sentence. Sixthly, IPP prisoners who have been recalled, not having received a new custodial sentence and not being re-released on the papers by the Parole Board, should have the right to an oral hearing if they so wish. Seventhly, if the Parole Board panel upholds the decision to recall, it must set a fixed date for a further review. Eighthly, all recalled prisoners should be entitled to annual reviews of their continued detention at an oral Parole Board hearing with free legal representation.
We, on this side of the Committee, are very much aware that proper measures need to be in place to provide public protection, but that has to be balanced against a system where once people on IPP are released, they are not recalled except when something significant has happened and there is proper and serious support. I commend these amendments to the Committee.
My Lords, first, I commend, as others have, all those who have, in recent times, been building the road on which we are set today—none more so than the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett. For many years, I have urged, with no success thus far but with great hopes today, the reform of what remains of the IPP sentencing regime. It is in no way hyperbole to describe it, as I already have, as the greatest single stain on the justice system. Indeed, it is a deeper, growing stain because of the situation with the recalls.
The system was prospectively abolished by LASPO in 2012, but, nevertheless, some 3,000 of these prisoners remain in prison, as noble Lords have heard. By definition, they were sentenced before 2012. Some 1,700 have never been released, and now more than 1,300—a steadily increasing number—have been recalled after release, mostly not for reoffending but rather for some often comparatively minor breach of licence conditions, such as not giving their current address. This is very often because they do not have a satisfactory one.
In recent years, I have been to see many a Lord Chancellor about this growing injustice. All have then been moved on before they have had an opportunity, or certainly the political will, to deal with this. Several ex-Lord Chancellors—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke of Nottingham, and Michael Gove prominent among them—have expressly recognised the deep injustices that these particular prisoners suffer. Many commentators in public life have made the same points, culminating in a stinging column, which I hope some noble Lords caught, by Matthew Parris on 31 July this year, urging the immediate reassessment of all of these people who have been so unjustly treated, remaining incarcerated under this long since discredited system.
I must remind myself that this not a Second Reading speech—I made one of those. Therefore, I shall not, for the most part, repeat the appalling statistics, such as the suicide and self-harm figures—twice as many IPP prisoners as even life prisoners self-harm—that mark this regime; nor shall I describe again the depths of hopelessness, despair and uncertainty that not only these prisoners but of course their families continue to suffer.
However, I emphasise that even my amendment, which the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, described, rightly perhaps, as the most fundamental of this group, falls well short of the radical proposals that Matthew Parris put forward. I single out just two specific categories of unreleased IPP prisoner—those suffering the most conspicuously from this flagrant injustice. The amendment invites not their immediate release but merely some modest measure of relaxation in their extreme cases. It seeks that, once one of these unfortunate prisoners, by definition sentenced over nine years ago, as I said, has either served at least 10 years over the sentence that was recognised to represent his just punishment, or been locked up for longer than he would have been had he been sentenced to the “maximum determinate sentence” prescribed by law for his offence, then, instead of it still being up to him to prove that he can safely be released with no risk to the public—proving that negative is always most difficult—the burden would shift to the detaining authority, which would have to prove that he would present a serious risk to the public if released, to justify his continued incarceration. I hope that this might be some way of at least countering what one suspects and understands is a risk-averse approach on the part of the Parole Board. This is the only amendment in the group that is directed to giving some early relief to these two categories of the never released.
However, I also strongly support the other amendments: they would, variously, make for better preparation for the release of this cohort, under the existing scheme, and put some real controls on the present exorbitant provisions for recall. The majority concern licences and would go some way toward mitigating the harsher of these provisions, which, in fact, if one thinks about this, reflect or mirror the licence regime that applies altogether more appropriately to actual life-sentence prisoners—those who were justifiably sentenced and actually made subject to that specific life-sentence penalty. Of course, life-sentence prisoners are punished by that sentence for what they have already actually done, and they rightly remain subject to recall for life. But, by contrast, IPPs are being punished for what they might do in future, if they are released. This is preventive detention and, essentially, internment, a concept that we have previously always thought alien and inimical to our system of law.
These amendments would not merely make recall less draconian and lifelong than it is in most cases now; they would cure a particular anomaly, by which actual life-sentence prisoners can be released by order of the Secretary of State, whereas IPPs always have to have the agreement of the Parole Board. In short, it is necessary to legislate to change the law to allow the Secretary of State, on the return of recalled prisoners, to release them when he thinks that they should be released.
I turn to my final point. To anyone, whether the Daily Mail, unthinking politicians or others in the “Lock them up and throw away the key” school of thought, I ask this question. Suppose that, today, an IPP prisoner with a tariff sentence of less than two years—his offending having been adjudged to deserve less than a two-year period of detention as punishment—is still in prison more than 10 years after that two-year sentence has expired. This June, there were 207 in that category—there are hugely more who have served 10 years beyond their slightly longer tariffs. Suppose that that prisoner cannot persuade the Parole Board that he would pose no risk of reoffending if released. I ask this doubting group: must he remain incarcerated? Is that fair? What if that position remains, five, 10 or 20 years down the line? Are we really going to continue to sanction lifelong internment in this country? Not in my name. I urge these amendments on the House.
My Lords, I support all the amendments in this group, but, for the sake of brevity, I will specifically address Amendments 208B, 208G and 208H, which stand in my name. Like the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, I add my thanks to all the organisations and charities that have helped us so assiduously and briefed us.
In January this year, a young woman on an indeterminate sentence wrote to me. I will call her Ella; I will not use her real name to preserve anonymity. I said that Ella was a young woman: she was 25 when she first went to prison in 2007. Her tariff expired in 2010, but 11 years past that date, she was still in prison. She was at the time she wrote waiting for a parole assessment in April, by which time she would be 39.
I wrote back to her and said that I was not willing to take up individual cases, but, having read her story, I would address the issue if suitable legislation came along. That is why I am here today. I am here for Ella and the more than 3,000 people still languishing in prison under the provisions of this law, despite the IPP sentence having been abolished nearly 10 years ago.
I wrote to her a few weeks ago to tell her that I was going to raise the matter of IPP sentences under the Bill, but I received no response, which was odd. Having contacted the authorities at HMP Bronzefield, I was told that Ella had been released, but recalled because she had
“failed to attend an Approved Premises at a specific date and time as directed.”
She was therefore back in prison awaiting another Parole Board hearing—a yo-yo process which happens to the majority of IPP prisoners.
To be released they have to jump through hoops, in the form of various training courses—when those courses become available—but if they do not show a sufficiently positive response, they are not deemed fit to be released anyway. It quite reminds me of something by Kafka, or perhaps Catch-22. When the Parole Board in its wisdom decides an IPP prisoner is fit for release, if they infringe their conditions, such as by failing to attend an approved premises at a specific time and date, they can be hauled back to prison to start the whole thing all over again.
Indeed, the situation for IPP prisoners is often much bleaker than for lifers. We heard from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, about some of the statistics. The biggest group of IPP prisoners still incarcerated today received tariffs of only two to four years. Some 96% of IPP prisoners are still in prison, after their tariff has expired. Their rate of self-harm, as we have already heard, is double that of lifers. It is a form of modern-day torture, fuelled by a constant sense of anxiety, hopelessness and strong feelings of injustice and alienation from the state. You would feel like that too, wouldn’t you?
Even when they have been released on licence, there is a constant sword of Damocles hanging over their and their families’ heads—that some contravention might trigger a recall. Because of this constant threat they are fearful of asking for help with problems, and families often bear the brunt of shielding and protecting the ex-prisoner for fear of recall.
That, in a nutshell, is why we need a better system. This one certainly does not work. Through my Amendment 208B, I am trying to suggest ways in which we can start removing the Catch-22 element from inside prison. I am proposing a review to examine the quality, effectiveness and availability of offender behaviour programmes, progression programmes and other opportunities to demonstrate reducing risk to the public; the availability of welfare and mental health support to help redress the damage that the system and the constant powerlessness and uncertainty of being an IPP prisoner creates; and, if and when prisoners have been recalled, the support available to help them pick up the pieces while they face another interminable wait for a Parole Board hearing.
That brings me to the Parole Board. There are many who believe that parole boards are becoming more and more risk-averse, because they conflate the behaviour of some prisoners with the increasing deterioration they experience arising from the treatment they received in prison, not their likelihood of reoffending. Therefore, Amendment 208B describes several measures aimed at improving the parole system and providing better support in the community to facilitate a safer release.
Amendment 208G would automatically bring the licence period to an end two years after release at the direction of the Parole Board, provided that the person has not been recalled in that period. The Secretary of State himself has already mooted the idea of reducing this period, and Amendment 208D in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, would decrease the automatic period of release from 10 years to five. Both amendments are a win-win, and if two years looks a little short, Amendment 208G also has safeguards to protect the public by allowing the Secretary of State to ask the Parole Board to extend the licence period by a further 12 months if they have concerns about the risk to the public. This would call time—literally—on the yo-yo way a prisoner can be recalled up to 10 years after release, potentially for the rest of their lives, even if they have committed no further offences.
Finally, Amendment 208H seeks to create an additional power of release on top of the mandatory requirement for a recalled prisoner to potentially avoid the necessity of having to languish in prison waiting for the next Parole Board hearing. This is a similar power to that already held for determinate sentenced prisoners, including those serving certain public protection sentences. I hope the Minister will be favourably disposed to this “levelling up” measure. After all, these prisoners have all been deemed fit for release at one stage.
All these amendments would contribute to radically reducing the final rump of victims and their families—including Ella—who are caught up in this cruel Catch-22 situation. Let us stop the damage we are inflicting on these prisoners, their families and ourselves as a country.
My Lords, I shall speak briefly to my Amendment 208C. My noble and learned friend Lord Falconer eloquently introduced it. He took all my best lines—in fact, all my lines—so I will be very brief. This is a very modest amendment. It simply requires a review of the resources and support available for the resettlement and supervision of prisoners serving IPP sentences who are released on licence.
I very much hope the Government will listen to this afternoon’s debate. There is such a powerful force behind these amendments all around the House; it should provide enough cover to the Government to do the right thing. One comes back, time after time, to the comments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, when he described this situation as the greatest single stain on our criminal justice system. Surely the Government must respond sympathetically to what noble Lords are saying this afternoon.
All I want to do is emphasise what the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, said about the Catch-22 situation that applies particularly to those who have been put out on release. First, if those people are honest about the fears and problems they have faced in prison, they can often risk being considered unsafe to be released in the first place. Secondly, if they ask for help with a mental health problem in the community, they could be assessed as being high risk and be recalled to prison. It is an extraordinary situation. If they enter into a new intimate relationship, they do so in the knowledge that an upset partner could make false accusations which would result in recall. How are people meant to live in that situation? As the authors of the Prison Reform Trust report say—it is an extraordinary and moving piece of work—it is hard to imagine how any of us could hold on to our sanity and self-belief in this situation. I plead with the Government to take note and be sympathetic to the plight of these people.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 208D in my name. I am grateful to the noble Lords who have lent it their support.
At Second Reading, I said that I considered it a shame to this country that there were still prisoners serving indeterminate sentences for the public protection. I do not propose to elaborate on this today, although I associate myself with the remarks made by noble Lords in the debate so far.
Some amendments in this group are probing amendments, but Amendment 208D seeks to change the law in a way which is helpful to the Government. It does not concern those in prison under an IPP, only those living in the community on licence; that is, those who have already been found by the Parole Board to be safe for release without presenting a threat to public safety. As noble Lords have described, currently these persons are potentially subject to a lifelong licence. They can be recalled to prison for a breach of the licence conditions at any point while the licence is in force. The only way in which the licence can be terminated is for the individual to apply to the Parole Board for a licence review after the expiry of the qualifying period. This is currently set at 10 years. The Government have stated that, in future, they wish these reviews to be automatic, and not to require an application from the prisoner.
On 21 July, in response to a Question for Written Answer from the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, my noble friend Lord Wolfson of Tredegar said:
“From September this year, officials will refer automatically to the Parole Board the case of every offender serving the IPP sentence who has become eligible to apply for termination of his/her IPP licence.”
There is a problem. Close examination of the current legislation makes it clear that the review can be undertaken only on the prisoner’s application. Therefore, the Government cannot make an automatic referral to the Parole Board without the prisoner’s active co-operation. This somewhat holes the policy of automaticity. Amendment 208D addresses this deficiency by amending the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 to require the Secretary of State to make an automatic referral to the Parole Board at the end of the qualifying period. If the application is dismissed, it can be made annually thereafter. The referral does not depend on the acquiescence or collaboration of the prisoner. It allows the Government to do what they have said they want to do. I hope the amendment will command their support. It does not prejudge in any way the decision of the Parole Board on that referral. The decision as to whether or not to terminate the licence remains entirely in its hands.
Noble Lords may wonder why a prisoner entitled to a review at the end of the qualifying period should be slow to make one on his or her own initiative; in other words, why is there a need for automaticity? It certainly seems strange not to apply for a termination of the licence. As noble Lords have explained, a person on licence under an IPP and who commits an offence for which an ordinary criminal might receive a short determinate sentence can be recalled to prison for an indeterminate term.
None the less, there are reasons why IPP prisoners do not apply for a termination of their licence. First, many do not know what the qualifying period is, nor what it means. Nobody is obliged to contact them to tell them. There is evidence of confusion, even among probation officers, as to the rules. In any event, many prisoners out on licence will not be in regular contact with a probation officer, since, although the licence lasts for a minimum of 10 years under the current system, supervision can be terminated after five. Many IPP prisoners out on licence after that many years simply do not want to take the risk of re-engaging voluntarily with a criminal justice system which they believe has treated them so unfairly. Automaticity is good and necessary. The Government agree and I hope this amendment will pass.
There is one more part to the amendment which is easily missed. I referred earlier to a qualifying period after which a review of the licence can be applied for. If this amendment passes, it will take place automatically. The qualifying period is set by law at 10 years. The very last words of the amendment would have the effect of reducing it to five years. As far as I know, this is not government policy. It is, of course, open to my noble friend to accept the part of the amendment dealing with automaticity, while rejecting the reduction in the qualifying period.
I hope that noble Lords will support me in pressing this on the Government. For those IPP prisoners who receive a short minimum term, the 10-year licence period is wholly disproportionate to the term that would have been attached to the equivalent determinate sentence, had one been imposed instead of an IPP. It can hardly be argued that it is necessary for public protection. As I said earlier, under this amendment, the decision whether or not to terminate a licence would remain with the Parole Board. Reducing the qualifying period to five years would simply reduce the length of time after which an individual out on licence would be entitled to a review. These people would be out on licence with the approval of the Parole Board and would have shown themselves to be safe in the community for five years. The number of IPP prisoners out on licence who are recalled after five years is, in any case, very small. Furthermore, the latest available data show that no IPP prisoner committed a serious further offence five years or more post release. Their supervision can be—and often is—terminated after five years.
I believe that everything argues in favour of a reduction in the qualifying period to five years. I hope that the Government will accept this part of the amendment as well. A person in this position—with a track record of living safely in the community for five years—needs the opportunity that we wish for all prisoners: to serve their sentence and return to the community to make a useful contribution to their own and to others’ lives.
My Lords, I shall contribute very briefly to this group of amendments. I fully support the views already expressed. I will not repeat them. I strongly commend the opening speech by my noble friend Lord Blunkett. He set out clearly the direction of travel which this House wishes to take.
I will speak briefly on Amendment 208B, particularly proposed new subsection (2)(b), which the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, has already eloquently described. It states the need for
“an assessment of the welfare and mental health support available to prisoners”—
still serving an IPP sentence—
“including measures to reduce the risk of self-harm and self-inflicted death”.
I declare my interests in the register as trustee and vice-chair of the Prison Reform Trust. Again, I thank it for the excellent work it has done over a number of years in this area, culminating in the report by Edgar, Harris and Webster, entitled No Life, No Freedom, No Future. I think this sums up the mood of the House this evening.
People given IPP sentences are disproportionately more likely to have a pre-existing mental health problem and, obviously, that can be exacerbated by the fact that it is an indeterminate sentence. As the Ministry of Justice figures alluded to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, show, in 2020 IPP prisoners had one of the highest rates of self-harm, with 1,244 incidents per 1,000 prisoners, which is twice as high as the rate for determinate sentence prisoners of 620 per 1,000. It should be noted that in the Safety in Custody annual releases, self-harm and assault figures refer only to unreleased IPPs; incidents for recalled IPPs are hidden in the broader “recalled prisoners” category.
As we have heard, the fact that the imprisonment is indeterminate can leave people feeling hopeless and helpless yet afraid of seeking support which might prolong their imprisonment. Further, it can make it difficult for families to avoid relationship breakdown and estrangement from their relative serving the indeterminate sentence, as clearly evidenced in Annison and Straub’s 2019 report. Crucially, mental ill health can limit progress towards release, and serving an abolished sentence can make people feel—to quote Sarah Smart’s 2018 report for the Griffins Society—“disenfranchised, frustrated and distressed.”
We have heard clearly tonight why this appalling situation cannot continue. We must set the direction of travel tonight, and I hope that the Government will recognise that action needs to be taken. However, in the short term, people with mental health problems need proper assessment in prison so that their issues can be addressed effectively on their road to release from prison.
My Lords, because of the quality and content of the speeches already made this afternoon, I hope I can be quite brief. I begin by declaring an interest as a trustee of the Prison Reform Trust and by commending the report that the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, just mentioned: No Life, No Freedom, No Future, the title of which brilliantly encapsulates the Kafkaesque state of affairs that we see when we consider IPPs. I also briefly thank Frances Crook, the retiring director of the Howard League, for all the work she did and for trying over the years to improve and inform the debate about what goes on in our prisons.
Our prisons are a secret world. When I was a Member of Parliament I once explained to a local journalist that I thought that all prisons should of course have walls to keep the prisoners in and to protect the public from the prisoners. However, all these prison walls should have windows in them so that the public could see in and learn what is being done on their behalf inside these prisons, but also so that the prisoners could see through those windows out into the world and into society, to see that if things went well for them and if their life, educational and employment prospects were improved by what they were doing and learning in prison, there was a world out there waiting to welcome them back. The journalist said, “Have you considered the public expenditure implications of building all these windows in those walls?” It is occasionally possible to lose the will to live when discussing something as complex as the state of our prisons.
Where it is not necessary to lose the will to live is when one listens to the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, explaining and accepting—very publicly and bravely—that he got it wrong in the early part of his time as Home Secretary. I congratulate him. Most former Home Secretaries—most politicians—spend their post-government life rewriting history. This former Home Secretary has accepted that he got it wrong—I thank him for it—and he is now trying to assist us in getting it right again. I also congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, on following on that particular train of thought. It behoves all of us in this Chamber, whether we are interested in this subject directly or indirectly, to mend this problem, and it is a problem that needs mending. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, describes IPPs as the greatest stain on our justice system, and he is entirely right. However, it is a stain that we can remove.
I tabled Amendment 208E and have co-signed Amendments208F and 208G, but I could have co-signed any of these amendments. I simply want to see IPPs abolished. I want to see all those who are on IPPs at the moment either released under supervision or transferred to some other form of more humane sentence which gives those people hope, a life, an aspiration of freedom and a future which they can aspire to. At the minute, they are literally hopeless.
Some 14 or 15 years ago, when I was shadow Minister for Prisons in the other place when the Conservative Party was in opposition, I made a point in that job of visiting as many of the prisons in our system in England and Wales as I possibly could. There were then about 140 or 145 institutions—adult male prisons, adult female prisons, YOIs and secure training units—and I think I managed to get to about 70 or 75 of them. On a number of occasions I visited prisons where there were IPP prisoners, and the governors universally said, “This cohort of prisoners is the most difficult to manage because they have no hope.” They did not know when they were going to be released or whether they were going to be there for ever or whether they might be released in a year or two’s time. They had no idea which it was going to be.
One of the reasons I tabled Amendment 208E is that proposed new subsection (2) of that amendment describes the things within prison which are hopeless and entirely damaging to a fair justice system. Amendment 208E is one of several “six month report” amendments—I say in parenthesis that Amendment 208F is the one to go for if we are to do anything of a positive nature this evening. Amendment 208E, along with others of these “six month report” amendments, describes what is wrong with the system as it currently is. It asks
“whether there are sufficient places available for prisoners serving sentences of IPP on offending behaviour programmes”.
No, there are not. It asks
“whether prisoners serving sentences of IPP are able to complete offending behaviour programmes in appropriate time to aid progression milestones such as parole or recategorization”.
No, they cannot do that. You may be queuing up for a course while you are in, let us say, Maidstone Prison, and then you are churned—moved to another prison—so you will go to the back of the queue, or moved to a prison which does not have the relevant people to lead you on that particular course. Your mental and physical health records take months to follow you to your prison, and when they arrive and when the new governor or the new teaching staff of that prison to which you have been sent catch up with your request—guess what? You are moved to a prison in Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool or somewhere else. It is a hopeless state of affairs, and we should have done something about it years ago.
It follows that there are not sufficient places available for prisoners serving sentences of IPP in prisons providing progression regimes, for the practical reasons I have just pointed out. Is there availability of other opportunities for prisoners serving IPP sentences to enable them to progress and demonstrate reduced risk, particularly for those who have completed opportunities afforded to them by offending behaviour programmes and progression regimes? Of course not; it is a shambles—a cruel shambles.
Even on what I call ordinary life sentences, prisoners can do a particular course to demonstrate that, before long, they may become suitable for release on licence. However, if they do them within the first two or three years of their imprisonment, then remain in prison for another 14 or 15 years, all that they may have learned on that course all that time ago has long been forgotten, and all the people who have supervised them in prison have no corporate memory of what prisoner A, B or C learned all those years ago. So when they are reassessed after having completed the tariff, they fail the assessment. Can they get on a course again? Of course not. They are told, “You’ve been on one already. You’ll have to wait your turn, after all the other people”. The simple, practical organisation in our prisons is not fit to cope with this troubled and troubling group of prisoners on IPPs.
I will end on this point. The thing that a convicted defendant on sentence wants to hear is not a moralising judge telling them that they have behaved very badly and must never do it again, but the number—that is, how long they are going inside for. When they are sentenced to an IPP and hear the tariff of two or five or 10 years, that is the number that sticks in their mind among all the noise and clatter that is going on in their heads and in the courtroom. It is only when they get into the prison van—the sweat box—or get to the prison for their first reception that it dawns on them that the sentence does not mean two years; it means for ever unless they can do something to help themselves. Of course, because of the lack of availability of the factors that I have just addressed, it is almost impossible for that prisoner to help himself to improve, to see some chance of release and to come out as a better citizen again.
This obscenity must now end. I am sure that my noble friend the Minister and his government colleagues have it within them to do that, and I am sure that they will.
My Lords, I add my voice to those who have already spoken in favour of these amendments. I declare my interest as Anglican Bishop to Her Majesty’s Prisons.
All the detail I was going to mention has already been carefully and expertly explained; again, I pay tribute to the organisations that have been named, including the Howard League, the Prison Reform Trust and UNGRIPP, for their excellent briefing reports and research. It resonates strongly with all the conversations I have with people in prison and family members who write to me or send me emails. The thing I am struck most by is the sense of hopelessness; many noble Lords have mentioned that. I am a proud patron of Prison Fellowship, whose motto is:
“We believe no one is beyond hope.”
We really need to listen to that in this debate.
The indefinite IPP licence goes against all the evidence about what enables people to move away from offending. As we have heard, people need to feel hopeful about their future. They need to have a plan to work at. As we have heard, the IPP licence stops people being able to look forward to a different future. It disrupts relationships and breeds anxiety, despair, hopelessness and alienation. Much more could be said, but I think it has all been said; I am heartened by the strength of feeling so apparent in your Lordships’ House.
I agree that this Bill provides a timely opportunity to address this enormous injustice of IPP sentences. I stand with those seeking to make these changes.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the right reverend Prelate and precede, I think, the noble Lord over there. I just want to say, it all may have been said, but not by me. None the less, I will be brief because—it is not often I feel like saying this—it has been an absolute privilege to listen to today’s debate. Every point of morality, sensible practice and detail on this compelling menu of amendments has been made.
I want to make the briefest of pleas to the Minister, who has been a distinguished commercial barrister for many years; I, by contrast, have been a humble student of the miserable world of justice and home affairs. I also want to make a political point, of all things, in a debate that has been so rarely elevated above politics. I believe that today presents the beginning of an historic opportunity in our politics in this country. For most of my adult life—indeed, pretty much all of it—we have been embroiled in an arms race, particularly around incarceration, that has put us on a path which is more like the American one than a sensible path from anywhere else, let alone the path we might be on. How often do you hear someone of the stature of my noble friend Lord Blunkett say, “This was a mistake. Hands up; it is a fair cop. I am offering a bipartisan hand to help set this right”? I have not heard anything like that in justice and home affairs in my time as a student of these issues.
What is more, this is about rectifying a mistake that the Minister’s party already accepts was a mistake; that is why these sentences are no longer available to new offenders. The Minister, his party and his Government ought to be half way—indeed, three-quarters of the way—there already, in rectifying what my friend, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, called “the great stain”. We are so close. The Minister has an historic opportunity to begin to put this right. How often does an opportunity like that come about? The point about this stain is that it is wrong in itself, and it is terrible for all those hopeless people whom the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, and other noble Lords mentioned. It is also a symbol of both injustice and the arms race I mentioned. That is why this opportunity is so precious and important.
It is ever harder to justify an unelected second Chamber—your Lordships’ House—nearly a quarter of the way into the 21st century but, if the Minister listens to the debate and does not slam the door closed to reason, today might just be enough for the moment.
My Lords, I strongly support all the amendments in this group, not least because the cause of prisoners serving indeterminate sentences has been languishing ever since such sentences were formally abolished by LASPO in 2012.
I commend the tireless work of my noble and learned friend Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood on their behalf. For nearly 27 years, since my first inspection as Chief Inspector of Prisons, I have been campaigning for changes to be made to the operational management structure of the Prison Service to bring it in line with the practice in every business, hospital or school: to appoint named people responsible and accountable for particular functions within the organisation concerned.
In the case of prisons, I have campaigned for separate directors to be appointed for every type of prison, and for certain types of prisoners—lifers, sex offenders, women, young offenders, the elderly, foreign nationals, and those serving indeterminate sentences. Imagine how easy it would be for Ministers interested in IPP, for example, to send for the relevant director and question him or her about what was happening or not happening to all prisoners in that category. I had hoped that somewhere in the 298 pages of this monstrous Bill, space might have been found for something so practical. However, as that is clearly not going to happen, I stringently commend the change to the Minister.
My Lords, I find myself in a puzzle. The Government of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, who introduced this form of sentence, have indicated that they would not have introduced it if they had known how it would work. A different Government, the coalition Government, of which the present Government formed the majority, saw the iniquities of it and Parliament got rid of it. Therefore, we now have a strange system. We have people in custody under the old system and people with the same record, the same problems, the same issues arising, who are not subject to the same sentences as each other. That seems rather strange, but in terms of an Act of Parliament, it is an utterly illogical situation for the Government now not to at least address the consequences of the sentence having been abolished in the 2012 Act.
Quite rightly, that was not made retrospective. I see that retrospectivity must be avoided, but we have been going on with the sentence that has been abolished for eight or nine years now. We all know that something must be done. I am not making a personal comment about the Minister, but everybody knows that it must be done, including Ministers in the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice. We must do something about it, in fairness and logically.
I added my name in support of the amendment tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, but all these amendments are asking one simple question: “You must do something, so will you now tell us what it is?” It is no good us being in a situation where “Something must be done” when “What is going to be done?” is the real question.
My Lords, I hope that the Minister can acknowledge that this is one of those comparatively rare occasions when noble Lords from all parties and none and from across the House have come together in the face of overwhelming evidence that a great public policy, in this case a great criminal justice policy, has gone disastrously wrong. It is beyond argument that IPPs have resulted in periods of incarceration out of any reasonable proportion to the gravity of the original crimes for which they were imposed. That is wrong. It is beyond any reasonable argument that these sentences are beyond any proportion to the risk that continues to be represented by any of the offenders to the public. That is wrong. There is the strongest evidence before the Government that IPPs are observably responsible for persistent and continuing injustice. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, spoke very movingly about the reality of those injustices for those who are suffering under them.
I declare an interest as president of the Howard League and in doing so repeat what a number of noble Lords have said about the contribution made by Frances Crook. She has been a monumental figure in criminal justice, which is better today for her work than it would have been without it. The Government now have an opportunity to make a startling improvement to our criminal justice arrangements by the simple expedience of doing away with IPPs in their entirety; I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, in this respect. The evidence could not be clearer. I support all these amendments and urge the Government now, in the face of this overwhelming case, to act.
My Lords, I hope that when the Minister responds to this debate, he can put away the departmental brief and respond to two simple questions. The first is whether he accepts that the present system is unacceptable. The second, which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, posed, is: what will the Government do about it? This is not a new problem. The Government have had years to think about the options and to consider what to do. The noble Lord is already a very distinguished Minister of Justice. Can he say what the Government will now do to address a manifest injustice?
My Lords, I have met a few of the people who these sentences are designed to control, and quite often they are terrifying. Some of the things that they have done are awful. However, the present situation is indefensible. It is unfair because, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, has said, they do not know how long they will be detained, and because many of them have been detained since before the law was changed. It is really trying to deal with the basic problem of dangerousness, which is very hard to define. Doctors cannot define the mental illness that they suffer from, as has been mentioned already. This should be addressed far more clearly.
There are only two ways forward. First, many of these amendments are talking about research in the future, but we need more research into the medical definition of the type of illness which we define as “dangerousness”, of people seeming likely to commit an offence in the future. This is not mentioned anywhere in the amendments. I recommend that there is good investment to be made there.
Secondly, what is presently indeterminate must be made determinate. I do not suppose that anyone has yet argued that all the people who are detained under these restrictions should immediately be emptied from the prisons on to the streets, but it is entirely possible to see a transfer of that risk either into the health element of prison control—Broadmoor or similar institutions—or a far better way of dealing with them within the community. To continue carrying the risk entirely within the prison estate in the numbers that are described is entirely wrong and I cannot see that it is defensible for this Government to continue doing so.
I was not intending to contribute to this debate, but I think decency requires me to do so, because looking in the past, I was the person who perhaps failed the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, in persuading him at his time as Home Secretary of the extent of the error which he was making. I think he may remember that I did attempt at the time to dissuade him from this course, but I obviously failed and we see now the consequences of the biggest mistake made in the criminal justice system during my period as a judge. I hope that the House will bear in mind that, if a mistake of that nature is made, there is a huge burden on each one of us to try, as far as we can, to put it right.
This is the first time I have contributed on this subject and I apologise to the House for not doing so earlier. For reasons of health, I was not for a time taking part in the activities of the House, but I thought the House would like to know how I feel about this as a former Lord Chief Justice and the person who carried out an important report into prisons, which I hoped would provide a better system than we have now.
My Lords, I am humbled by speaking at the end of an extraordinarily strong debate. It was eloquently and, as many have pointed out, courageously opened by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett. He has been supported by many movers of amendments and others, among them the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, whose campaigning against IPPs has been a model for us all. I hope the Government will take note of the unanimity in this House on the issues surrounding IPPs.
From these Benches, my noble friend Lady Burt, with her extensive experience of working in the Prison Service and of the injustice of IPPs to individual prisoners, has spoken movingly to her amendments and supported all the amendments in the group, so I will add only very briefly to what she and others have said.
These amendments give this House a chance to send this Bill back to the House of Commons to give it an opportunity to right a wrong that has for far too many years been a scar on our penal system, on our national self-esteem and on our international reputation for fairness and justice. The continuation of the unwarranted detention of IPP prisoners—1,700 never released and 1,300 recalled for breach, often for utterly trivial reasons—has kept them incarcerated for years on end, way beyond their tariff terms, without any moral, intellectual, philosophical or human justification of any kind.
We support the ending of this injustice unreservedly. At Report, we will vote for whatever of the amendments then before the House appear best placed to end this disgrace as quickly as possible.
My Lords, I have already spoken once. I speak very briefly to say two things. First, what an impressive debate this has been. I draw attention in particular to the speeches of my noble friends Lord Blunkett, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and Lord Bradley, the noble Lords, Lord Moylan, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Hogan-Howe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Burt. I draw attention to them because they are not lawyers; they are people who have had contact in other ways with this system and come to the conclusion that it should end.
Secondly, we on this side of the House support all the amendments. Some are alternative ways of dealing with a particular problem, but we support all the proposals. We are not, in the amendments before the House, going as far as some of the speeches went. We are not suggesting the immediate abolition of the sentence. We are saying: support for those in prison to try to get released; support for those who are released to get proper help; and an easier process of having consideration of the licence being got rid of.
As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, said, the one with the teeth is Amendment 208F. It says you get rid of these licences and release the person if they have served more than the sentence for the offence. If you have been sentenced to five years in prison, and that is the maximum sentence, once the maximum is reached, unless the detaining authority can prove that you are still a risk, you get released. If you are still below the maximum sentence for the offence for which you were convicted, but you have been in for 10 years, the same principle applies. It is an incredibly sensible way of ensuring the sentence goes for those who have got it, but you keep inside those who represent a severe danger, as long as the detaining authority can establish that they remain a danger.
I very much hope that the Minister will be able to give some words of comfort to the effect that these very moderate proposals will be taken up by the Government. If there are amendments to these proposals, of course, everybody in the House will consider them, but it is time for a change. These modest proposals require consideration for this Bill, because the biggest disappointment would be to be told that it is coming at some later stage.
My Lords, Amendments 208A to 208H relate to offenders serving sentences of imprisonment for public protection commonly known as IPPs. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, who was very kind about my work as a Minister, invited me to put away the departmental brief. I am not going to do that, not least because it might mean that my work as a Minister here ends somewhat prematurely. But that is not inconsistent, I hope, with making it clear to the Committee that I have listened carefully to the debate and to the points raised around the Chamber. I will reread the debate in the Official Report as well.
Of course, I feel the mood of the Committee—that would be impossible to miss. The speeches have been powerful and sometimes heartfelt. Without wishing to ignore others, may I say the contributions from the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, about their personal part in the genesis of IPPs have been unusual and moving. This politician, may I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti—although I see myself still as a lawyer, not a politician—certainly is trying to get this right. I do not think this is an issue which admits of easy analysis. To use the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, it is something of a puzzle, which requires looking at carefully and solving.
I am grateful to those noble Lords who have met with me and discussed the issue. I am sure we will have further discussions between now and Report. I should say that I read Matthew Parris’s column at the end of July as well.
I will go through the amendments and set out the Government’s position, then I will come back at the end to some more general points. Four of the amendments, Amendments 208A to 208C and 208E, the latter from my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier, would require the Government to conduct a review on matters such as sentence progression, resettlement and supervision of prisoners serving an IPP sentence, and to lay a report before both Houses of Parliament.
The Government recognise that work needs to be done in relation to this group of prisoners. I will set out the work that has been done so far. We have put together what I think has been a successful action plan dedicated to the rehabilitation and risk reduction of IPP offenders. We continue to work to increase opportunities for IPP offenders to progress through their sentences via this plan. A qualified psychologist leads a review of the case of every IPP prisoner who is not making the expected progress. Between July 2016 and September this year, which is about five years, just under 1,700—1,679—reviews were completed; 440 prisoners were subsequently released and a further 474 secured a progressive move to more open conditions.
My noble and learned friend Lord Garnier commented on the availability of courses for IPP prisoners to help them make that progress. It is right that during the pandemic there were fewer places on some group interventions. We asked offender managers to look at other sorts of interventions to draw evidence from them for the parole reports. However, we have now been able to ramp up the provision again. Not all IPP prisoners will require the same interventions, of course, but we try to make sure that each prisoner has a suitable pathway, as it is called, to a future safe and sustainable release. That is the focus of the programme. There is a range of interventions, including places on progression regimes, other accredited programmes and places in open prisons. Where a programme is not available for an offender, the prison offender manager would seek to have the prisoner transferred to a prison where the programme is available, subject to a risk assessment and available places. In the meantime, other work would be identified so that the prisoner could undertake that work.
We believe that the action plan is working. High numbers of IPP prisoners are being released each year and the proportion of positive Parole Board decisions remains high. I do not think anybody mentioned this, but let me put it on the record that the Justice Select Committee in the other place has recently launched an inquiry into IPP sentences. Its stated aim is to examine
“the continued existence of IPP sentences and to identify possible legislative and policy solutions.”
The Select Committee will scrutinise what the Government are doing. I have no doubt that it will provide recommendations, which the Government look forward to hearing. I therefore underline that we are doing work in this area. We do not believe that a separate government-led review is necessary at this time.
I turn to Amendment 208D from my noble friend Lord Moylan. Currently, an IPP offender may apply to the Parole Board to have their licence terminated once 10 years from their first release from custody has elapsed. To do that, the offender must give their permission to the Secretary of State to apply to the Parole Board for licence termination on their behalf. The first part of this amendment would therefore remove the legal requirement for the offender to give their permission. Instead, offenders would be automatically rereferred for consideration each year, were they unsuccessful. The second part would change the time period from 10 to five years.
Even without this amendment, the Government expect a large number of applications for licence terminations over the coming years as more offenders become eligible to apply. We do not believe that this will be inhibited by the need for the offender to give permission.
Of course, there is no guarantee that referrals will be successful. The decision lies not with a Minister but with the independent Parole Board. We believe that offenders being managed under licence in the community is a vital part of longer-term rehabilitation and of public protection. The Parole Board will agree to terminate a licence only if an offender’s risk has reduced such that the board is satisfied that the licence and its conditions are no longer necessary for the protection of the public.
With the greatest of respect, I do not agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, or the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, that the Parole Board is risk averse. We believe that the Parole Board is applying properly what we consider an appropriate and suitable test. However, we have concerns that, when its various parts are put together, the amendment could cause the Parole Board to consider many applications that have little to no chance of success.
I should also point out that IPP offenders, through their community offender manager, are already eligible to apply to have the supervisory elements of their community licence suspended, again at the decision of the independent Parole Board. They can apply for that after five continuous successful years on licence in the community. If supervision is suspended, they are no longer required to attend supervision sessions with the community offender manager, or to seek approval for where they are going to live or if they want to go abroad, as long as those decisions do not breach any victim-related conditions that remain active. We believe that living under a licence which is suspended is not onerous and allows offenders to lead very normal lives.
My noble friend Lord Moylan commented that offenders may be unaware of how and when their licence might be terminated. It is ultimately the offender’s responsibility to understand the conditions of their sentence and what they can do to end it, even when the active part of the licence has been suspended, but—and this is an important “but”—the probation service does and will continue to make every effort to contact those eligible to apply to have their licence terminated and to seek their permission to submit an application. Unsupervised offenders on licence can still contact the appropriate probation office to discuss any relevant matters, including to make arrangements for licence termination. The probation service will support that application when its assessment is that the licence is no longer needed for the protection of the public. For these reasons, we do not agree that the licence changes are necessary.
Amendment 208F is intended to reverse the burden of proof, in part, for the test applied by the Parole Board when considering whether certain IPP offenders are safe for release. This would apply to offenders who have served a prison sentence 10 years or more beyond the minimum term or longer than the maximum equivalent determinate sentence for the offence.
The current Parole Board release test is constructed so that the board must not give a direction for release—it is a negative test—unless it is satisfied that it is no longer necessary on the grounds of public protection for the prisoner to remain confined. The effect of this amendment for offenders within its scope would be that the burden of proof would be reversed, so that the Parole Board would have to direct release unless it is satisfied by evidence from the detaining authority that further detention is necessary for public protection.
Of course, I understand the reason behind that change in the burden of proof, but we do not believe that it would have a material impact, because the Parole Board would still have to undertake an assessment of risk of harm and reoffending to make a judgment on whether the risk could be managed effectively in the community. We believe that it is one of those cases in which the matter of where the burden of proof lies will not likely affect the underlying decision.
Amendment 208G relates to licence termination. It would automatically terminate the licence of any IPP offender who had been released for two years and was not recalled in that time, unless the Secretary of State applied to the Parole Board to extend the automatic termination point by up to one year. The key point is that the licence termination is automatic. The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, said that recall provisions had been strengthened and made more draconian, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, made a similar point about the ramping up of the recall provisions, but these were not changed after the IPP sentence was introduced or, indeed, after it was abolished; the provisions have remained the same.
I listened very carefully to the case of Ella, as we are calling her, which the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, spoke about. Of course, I obviously do not know the details of that particular case, but I can say that recall provisions for IPP offenders in fact have a higher threshold than determinate sentence recalls, as there has to be a causal link between the original offending and the new behaviour to make it possible to recall the IPP offender. So, the threshold is actually higher for IPP recalls.
Secondly, we have to bear in mind that focusing only on criminality when an IPP offender is out on licence is not, I suggest, always the right way of looking at it. What may appear to some to be minor breaches of licence conditions can be, when viewed in the light of what might be called the index offence—or the original offence—evidence of escalating risk. It is risk that we are focused on here—risk to the public at large, which justifies a recall to protect the public. Therefore, it is not always the case that one is looking only at criminal acts when the IPP offender is on licence; we may also have to look at other behaviour that is related to the index offence and shows an escalation of risk.
The licence is an important tool by which the probation service manages the risk—it is all about risk —which an offender presents to the public. Without the prohibitions and requirements in the licence, the probation service would lack the power to manage and mitigate the offender’s risk. For example, if the offender starts drinking very heavily, and we know that the index offence—or offences—was also linked to very heavy drinking, that would be a sign of increased risk, although there may be no criminality in drinking heavily itself.
Offenders are already able to apply to the Parole Board to have their licence terminated once 10 years since their first release from custody have gone past. The Parole Board is then to determine whether it is safe for their licence to be terminated. We believe that terminating their licence automatically, without any consideration by the Parole Board, would present an unacceptable risk to the public, and for that reason we do not propose to accept that amendment as drafted.
None of the amendments would mean that there would not necessarily be a consideration by the Parole Board, including Amendment 208G, which is the two-year automatic end unless the Government made an application to the Parole Board, so I am not quite sure what the basis of rejection of that one is.
I am not basing it only on what I have called automatic termination. The scheme set out in Amendment 208G would represent a very different approach to management on licence and, for the reasons I have set out, that is not a form of management which we think provides adequate protection to the public. I may come back to that.
Amendment 208H creates a power for the Secretary of State to release an IPP offender who has been recalled to prison, so long as the Secretary of State is satisfied that it is not necessary for public protection for the offender to remain in prison. The position at the moment is that the Parole Board has a responsibility to assess whether offenders are safe to be released into the community, even after an IPP offender is recalled to prison. They can take a decision to rerelease from only 28 days after the offender is recalled. We believe that the Parole Board’s expertise in determining whether offenders serving indeterminate sentences are safe to be released is, as I said, an essential tool of public protection.
If I may, I come back to where I started, with the words of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. Again, I am grateful for his kind words. I agree that there are certainly problems with the current system; we are looking at it. We believe that our IPP action plan has achieved significant results and we keep it under constant review. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, in what I have learned to be his habit of putting his finger on the point at issue, asked, “Well, what is going to be done?” I hope that I have made it clear that I have listened to the debate very carefully, and that I have no doubt of the mood and the strength of feeling of the Committee. I am also sufficiently acquainted with the ways of this House to anticipate what might or might not be moved on Report as and when we come to it. I can say this afternoon that I will continue to work on this issue—a number of noble Lords know that I have been working on it already—and to listen to the debate, but for the moment, I ask noble Lords who tabled this amendment to withdraw it.
My Lords, there can be no disagreement that this has been a thoughtful and deeply impressive debate—the kind of occasion that does massive good to the reputation of this House. I hope, therefore, that the Minister’s words at the beginning and end of his response will give us some hope for the future. On a lighter note, I have to say that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, gave me so much advice when I was Home Secretary that I have difficulty remembering which bits of it I took and which I did not.
On this occasion, I have said already that we clearly have got it wrong, and we now have the opportunity to put it right. The House of Commons Justice Committee has not yet started its process; even with the length of debate on the Bill and the number of days that will be added, it will not have reported in time for us to be able to use this vehicle, and I see no other vehicle coming down the road. We have a chance and, given the Minister’s opening and closing remarks, we may have the opportunity to get this right. It would be admirable and most sensible if the Government were able to bring forward their own proposals before Report, through amendments, guidance and any further regulation by subsidiary legislation they are prepared to use, but if we do not get some movement in time for Report, I believe there is unanimity across all parts of this House that we will have to take action. When we do, I hope that we will have the kind of unanimity we have had this evening. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment in my name.
Amendment 208A withdrawn.
Amendments 208B to 208H not moved.
Clauses 116 to 124 agreed.
209: After Clause 124, insert the following new Clause—
“Maternity services in prisons
(1) The Secretary of State must provide appropriate midwifery care within the female prison estate.(2) “Appropriate midwifery care” means—(a) midwifery care that is appropriate to a custodial setting;(b) maternity services that are suitably resourced to provide—(i) an appropriately qualified midwifery lead in each prison to oversee all aspects of perinatal care;(ii) a maternity pathway for prisoners that includes a process for women who decline to engage with services;(iii) access for prisoners to psychological and psychiatric services;(iv) training for staff in trauma-informed care;(v) training for staff in neonatal and child resuscitation procedures; and(vi) appropriate emergency equipment for children and neonates.(3) The Secretary of State may provide guidance on how to respond to births in prison.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment builds on recommendations from the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman investigation into the death of Baby A at HMP Bronzefield to ensure there are appropriate maternity services in the female prison estate.
My Lords, Amendment 209 seeks to reinforce the existing provision of maternity services for pregnant women and their babies in prison. Noble Lords who follow these matters will know that many women’s prisons have mother and baby units, but they are not equipped to facilitate childbirth, and the birth should always take place in hospital. However, around one in 10 does not: either the baby is delivered on the way to hospital or still inside the prison.
I have experience to bring to bear on childbirth in prison which I imagine no other Member of your Lordships’ House possesses. I have been, at least nominally, in charge of a prison when an inmate started labour. I was in my early 20s at the time, a new and highly inexperienced assistant governor at Holloway Prison on evening duty, so nominally in charge of the jail. The news that an inmate had started labour was received with glee by the officers, who delighted in telling me the good news and watching the expression of panic on my face. Fortunately for me, and the woman giving birth, these officers were highly experienced in handling these circumstances. An ambulance was summoned, and the mother-to-be was promptly sent off with an escorting officer to hospital. The outcome was a happy one.
More than 40 years later, pregnant women are still sent to prison, locked up with no agency to determine their fate, and the outcome is sometimes very different for the mother and the child. Now is not the time to delay your Lordships with an argument for not sending pregnant women to prison, much as I would like to, but it is important that provisions are watertight and that women and their innocent babies are kept as safe and well as possible because we know that things can go very wrong.
I turn to the scandal of Baby A who was born at HMP Bronzefield on 27 September 2019 and who died alone with her mother, not to be discovered until the following morning. The pathologist was unable to determine whether this baby died before or after birth. HMP Bronzefield has a mother and baby unit, but for some reason Ms A was deemed unsuitable for the unit, so she and her unborn baby were left to the mercy of the general prison staff, medical and general, who regarded her as difficult. I am sure that she undoubtedly was difficult. Going back to my time at Holloway, I remember being put in charge of what was then termed the Borstal unit. That was full of difficult young women who presented immense behavioural challenges to the staff and with whom they were very unpopular. It was not until I went into the backgrounds, upbringing and abuse that those young women had suffered that I began to understand what had contributed to that behaviour.
Forty years later, Ms A was one such vulnerable young woman. She was only 18 years old, but her young life was already beset with abuse and trouble. I know what a pain a young prisoner can be. I was in charge of a whole wing of them, and I get why Ms A was not Ms Popularity with the staff, but it was known that she was extremely vulnerable, mistrustful and terrified of having her baby taken away from her. The ultimate irony in the case of Ms A is that she had not been convicted of a criminal offence. She was on remand, and three days after she had suffered the trauma of giving birth alone in her cell and losing her baby, this vulnerable, traumatised young woman was released on bail.
I do not want to pile further agony on the staff at HMP Bronzefield specifically, but it is crystal clear that the service given to troubled pregnant women in prison is not fit for purpose, hence this amendment, which sets out the very least a pregnant woman should receive, whatever her circumstances. The amendment is based on the recommendations of the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman in its report and subsequent inquiry: an appropriately qualified midwifery lead in every woman’s prison; a maternity pathway to include prisoners who decline to engage with the maternity services available; making sure that prisoners have access to psychological and psychiatric services; training for staff to understand and deal with young women—and men, for that matter—who have experienced trauma which is contributing to their behaviour; appropriate training to deal with emergencies for neonates and children; and the physical tools to resuscitate them.
I acknowledge and welcome the work that is being done in the extensive review of care for pregnant women, which was published in September in the pregnancy, mother and baby units and maternal separation in women’s prisons policy framework. There are some helpful recommendations, including early contact and signposting to services, more extensive central reporting on women in MBUs including reasons for non-admission decisions and additional welfare checks. However, I still look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about these recommendations in my amendment and how people such as Ms A and her lost baby will be better helped in future. I beg to move.
I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, on her extremely moving opening speech. I agree wholeheartedly that pregnant women should not be in prison. We have abysmal conditions in many jails and they are not the place for a pregnant woman. A pregnant woman might be difficult. I have been pregnant twice and I can guarantee that I had some difficult days—some people might argue that I am still having them. When women suffer in this way—and trans men who are having babies—there are lifelong repercussions, I hope for the Government as well as for the women and their babies.
The Howard League for Penal Reform has highlighted the fact that pregnant women in prison are routinely denied access to suitable maternity care and that babies have died as a result. Many women and transmen in prison have very complex needs physically and sometimes mentally. As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, explained, they often have a history of abuse, neglect, addiction and poverty. The Government are not helping. They are not recognising those problems and do not understand their role; while prison is a punishment, rehabilitation has to take place afterwards.
Women in prison should receive at a minimum the same standard of maternity services as women outside. Of course, they often have additional challenges and are in need of specialist midwifery care, which should be supplied. When we punish these women in prison, we also punish their babies, and that cannot be right. Getting this right will change the lives of prisoners and families, and have an impact for generations. Like the previous amendment, this is something the Government have to pick up.
My Lords, I have added my name to this amendment and I warmly commend the speeches of the noble Baronesses, Lady Burt and Lady Jones. Reading the report of the shocking death of Baby A is salutary indeed. It took me back to the debate we had earlier in Committee, looking at the special needs of women in prison and the effect of custody on those women and their children.
I refer back to the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, when he referred to the briefing from the charity Women in Prison. This related how more than 53,000 children each year were affected by their primary carers being sent to prison and that 95% of children whose mothers are in prison were forced to leave home. One sentence encapsulated it for him:
“‘We’ve been sentenced’, says a mother, ‘but they’ve been sentenced with us.’”.—[Official Report, 1/11/21; col. 1036.]
The point was also at the heart of the contribution made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester. She said that parental imprisonment was, for the children concerned, a well-recognised predictor of mental ill-health, poor educational achievement and employment prospects, and future criminality. It sets a context for discussing the particular circumstances of Baby A and pregnant women prisoners.
Of course, there are many lessons to be learned in respect of both HMP Bronzefield and the prison system as a whole. The report of the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman made a number of very important recommendations. In particular, there was a recommendation of principle that, as the noble Baroness referred to, all pregnancies in prison should be treated as high-risk by virtue of the fact that a woman is locked behind a door for a significant amount of time and there is likely to be a high percentage of avoidant mothers who have experienced trauma and are fearful of engaging with maternity care.
The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, listed some of the key recommendations. I just want to focus on what I would call “system recommendations”. A specific recommendation was made to the director of health and justice for NHS England to consider the findings and recommendations of the report and ensure that the learning is applied across the women’s estate. It went on to say that this should include recognition that a clinic-based community model of midwifery care was not appropriate for custodial settings, and that all pregnancies in prison were high-risk. What response has been received from NHS England and what co-operation is being given by NHS England to the Prison Service to take forward that recommendation?
I, like the noble Baronesses, welcome the new policy framework for prisons on pregnancy, mother and baby units and maternal separation as a significant step forward, but I am sure we need to do more. I was struck by the comments of Dr Edward Morris, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, who said:
“The next step is to ensure that these policy commitments are translated into practice on the ground across all women’s prisons, and that all staff in women’s prisons receive the right training to provide women with the information and support they need. Alongside strong links to the local midwifery team, we feel strongly that all maternity services located near to a women’s prison should have a designated obstetrician with responsibility for ensuring high quality care for women in prison.”
I very much agree with that. I, too, would welcome some reassurance from the Minister that his department is taking these recommendations seriously. I particularly urge on him the need for the closest co-operation between his department and NHS England. At the end of the day, the lessons learned from this tragic case must be applied to the prison system as a whole.
My Lords, I support this amendment, and very much hope that the Government will either accept it or explain what they are doing in response to the report of the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman on the case of Miss A and her baby. The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, has explained the facts; it is worth looking at them in a little more detail.
Miss A, as she is called in the report, was remanded in custody on 14 August; she was pregnant. It does not say in the report whether the court knew that she was pregnant, but that is not what this amendment deals with. On 19 August, she was seen by a safeguarding midwife, who said that her estimated delivery date was between 24 September and 14 October. On 26 September, she was put on extended observation, which means she would be seen by a nurse in the morning, at lunchtime, in the evening and twice overnight. On that very day, 26 September, she went into labour. At 8.07 pm, 8.32 pm and 8.45 pm, she called for help and, in particular, called for a nurse. All three calls for help were ignored. At 9.27 pm and 4.19 am that night, she was inspected—I assume through a cell hatch—for a regular roll call, and nothing untoward was spotted. At 8.21 am the next morning, other prisoners reported that there was blood in her cell, and at 9.03 am an officer identified that she had given birth overnight and that the baby had died.
It is an absolutely terrible story, as the ombudsman describes. As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, said, the ombudsman made specific recommendations, which are reflected in proposed new subsections (1) and (2) of her Amendment 209. It says that the Secretary of State must provide “appropriate midwifery care” within the female prison estate, and then defines “appropriate midwifery care” as meaning
“midwifery care that is appropriate to a custodial setting … maternity services that are suitably resourced to provide … an appropriately qualified midwifery lead in each prison to oversee all aspects of perinatal care … a maternity pathway for prisoners that includes a process for women who decline to engage with services”—
as Miss A may have done—
“access for prisoners to psychological and psychiatric services … training for staff in trauma-informed care … training for staff in neonatal and child resuscitation procedures; and … appropriate emergency equipment for children and neonates.”
A lot of those go beyond what would have made a difference in this particular case, but if those recommendations of the ombudsman had been given effect to, the tragedy almost certainly would not have occurred. This gives the Government the opportunity to respond in this House to those recommendations, all of which seem sensible and will not impose a substantial financial burden on the prison estate, because there are not that many women’s prisons. If the Government are not willing to accept these proposals, what are they going to do about the problem? Can they give a reason why a duty such as this on the Secretary of State should not be expressed in the legislation?
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, for tabling this amendment. As the explanatory statement makes clear, the amendment builds on the recommendations of the recent independent investigatory report by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman into the death of Baby A—as we are calling the baby—at HMP Bronzefield.
I shall start by repeating what my honourable friend Victoria Atkins MP said when giving oral evidence to the Justice Select Committee’s inquiry into women in prison on 3 November. I quote her because I want to associate myself with this, word for word. We are
“very grateful to the ombudsman for her report. The facts as they unfolded in that report were truly shocking. And the fear that that young woman must have felt and the loss she is dealing with even today, we do not, we cannot contemplate anything of that nature ever again within the prison estate.”
My deepest condolences remain with those affected.
The death of Baby A was a tragic and harrowing event and has rightly been the subject of several investigations and inquiries, including that by the PPO, to try to ensure that all the necessary lessons have been learned to avoid a repetition in future. The Committee may be interested to know that there is a Question on this incident on, I think, Wednesday, which will be another opportunity for the House to look at this terrible event, and I believe I am going to be responding to it.
While I point out that we are not talking about sentencing here, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, was right to say so, it is right to say that when it comes to sentencing, pregnancy is certainly a mitigating factor that is specifically taken into account in the sentencing guidelines. I should also say that it is exceptionally rare now for a woman to give birth in prison. The most recent figures, from July 2020 to March 2021, show that 28 births—90% of the total number of births—took place in hospital and none took place in prison. I understand that in the case of the missing 10%, the baby came out a bit quicker than anticipated and the birth might have taken place in the ambulance, but none took place in prison.
In response to the terrible disaster of what happened to Baby A, the previous Lord Chancellor, the right honourable Robert Buckland MP, commissioned the independent external investigation by the PPO. We have since accepted and acted upon all its recommendations for the Ministry of Justice and the Prison Service. We immediately put in place practical steps across the women’s estate, including providing all women with free phone access to local NHS pregnancy advice services and additional welfare observations for pregnant women in their third trimester. At that time we were already undertaking a fundamental review of national policy on pregnancy, mother and baby units and maternal separation in women’s prisons.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, recognised and said she welcomed, that work led to a new policy framework, published on 20 September, which develops those immediate actions into national requirements for all women’s prisons, delivering on a wide range of reforms. The new framework has an extended policy remit covering requirements on perinatal care and maternal separation, in addition to mother and baby units. I hope that what I have said so far—although I will say something more—reassures the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, that we are serious about our response to this matter. We are determined to take all necessary action to avoid a similar tragic event in the future.
I shall turn to the detail of the amendment and explain why, in the light of the current legislative framework, we are not persuaded that what is proposed is necessary. Currently, NHS England is responsible for commissioning almost all forms of healthcare for prisoners within both the public and private estate in England under Section 3B of the National Health Service Act 2006 as amended by the Health and Social Care Act 2012. That statutory obligation has to be read together with Rule 20(1) of the Prison Rules 1999, which states:
“The governor must work in partnership with local health care providers to secure the provision to prisoners of access to the same quality and range of services as the general public receives from the National Health Service.”
The requirement to commission healthcare services and to secure and ensure prisoners’ access to them therefore already applies to the provision of maternity services in the women’s prison estate, so we do not consider that there is any need to add a further separate obligation in statute as proposed by the amendment. What is important is that we ensure that it actually happens. I certainly do not mean to be flippant, but repeating something in statute is not the way to ensure that it happens. We are focused on ensuring that it happens. We already have the statutory obligation.
In fairness to the PPO, I should note that it did not recommend any change to the statutory framework. Rather, it said at paragraph 14:
“Overall, the healthcare offered to Ms A in Bronzefield was not equivalent to that she could have expected in the community.”
It is that provision that we are focused on—ensuring that expectant mothers in prison get the same care as they would have received in the community. The Government’s position is that we would rather focus on that than duplicate statutory provision.
What is required is that women in prison have access to the same maternity services as they could expect in the community. My suggestion is that once that is set out, that is a sufficient legislative obligation and the Government need to ensure that it actually happens.
I hope that nothing I have said detracts from what I said right at the start, which is that we are appalled by what happened to Baby A. It must never happen again, and we are going to do all we can to ensure that it does not. However, for the reasons I have set out, I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I would like to ask him about the relationship between his department and NHS England. What express work is now being undertaken to ensure that the NHS discharges the statutory responsibility that he has just referred to?
I know that when it comes to the prison estate, there is a very close relationship between my department, the Prison Service and NHS England. Rather than read something off a screen, may I write to the noble Lord and set out a paragraph or two to assist him on that? I am happy to discuss that further with him—or it might be appropriate for the Minister in the department with particular responsibility for prisons to do so. Anyway, I will write to the noble Lord.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful for the learned contributions that have followed my words today, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. I have taken heart, to a degree, from what the Minister has said. I accept what he says about the difference between statute and practice. We cannot just enact laws and expect everyone to suddenly do as they are told—it does not work like that—so I think the intention is extremely important.
I shall take this away and consult the bodies that have advised me—particularly Women in Prison, to which I am very grateful. For the time being, I respectfully request to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 209 withdrawn.
210: After Clause 124, insert the following new Clause—
“Determination of sentence and predicted day of release
After section 60 of the Sentencing Code insert—“60A Determination of sentence and predicted day of releaseWhere a court is deciding the length of a custodial sentence to impose on an offender for an offence, having taking into consideration all other factors, the court must not set a length of sentence that is likely to result in the offender being released on a public holiday, Friday, Saturday or a Sunday except in exceptional circumstances.””
My Lords, I shall also speak to Amendment 211 in the name of my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts. Both these amendments seek to deal with the same mischief: the release of prisoners on a Friday, Saturday, Sunday or bank holiday. I do not think either is perfectly drafted—for instance, mine would not prevent release on the day before a bank holiday.
I am lucky enough to have been able to spend quite a bit of time at Brixton prison, looking at how a well-run prison works. When I was looking at the release process, I saw that the last prisoner released had been released to no fixed abode—NFA—which I was told was not unusual. This generally means that the probation officer tells the prisoner where he will sleep that night. I was not surprised to see this because I was already aware of the NFA problem, and these amendments do not seek to deal with it.
The relevant problem is that, if a prisoner is released on a Friday or other unpropitious day, he or she is far less likely to be able to properly access the necessary welfare services. I am sure that other noble Lords much more experienced in these matters will explain to the Committee the avoidable disadvantages that the released prisoner will experience. I expect that the Committee will hear that the lack of support at a crucial time could result in reoffending, even before the weekend is over. That cannot be sensible.
My understanding is that there are operational advantages for the Prison Service if prisoners are generally released on a Monday or Tuesday. I can accept that there may be an issue with the desire of judges to announce a sentence of X months, rather than X months and 23 days. For longer sentences, the approach of my noble friend Lord Hodgson may be superior in this respect but, for very short sentences—of a few weeks, say—my approach might be better. These amendments propose a minor tweak that could reduce avoidable reoffending, and I hope that they find favour with the Minister and the Committee.
My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Attlee has just said, I have tabled Amendment 211 in this group, and I have been very grateful for the cross-party support that I have had from the noble Lord, Lord Bird, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Bakewell. I am further indebted, as I suspect other noble Lords who take an interest in this important subject are, to the work undertaken on it by Nacro. My noble friend has persuasively talked about this issue in moving Amendment 210. I will not repeat his analysis, but I make it clear that I support it, and it seems to me to be very sensible. But I want to add a bit of gloss of my own and step back from the detail, at least initially. Wherever you stand on the political spectrum, we can surely all agree that the rate of reoffending by prisoners on release is a reproach to us all. Further, in a well-ordered society, we should be making every effort to reduce it. This is one of the things behind the amendments that he and I have tabled.
Why is this? First, there are some hard economic numbers: the costs of our Prison Service and the ancillary services to back it up are stupendous. But there are other, more hidden but very severe social costs that are difficult to measure but nevertheless have a huge impact on our society over the long term: on the prisoner’s family, partner and children, who grow up in very disadvantaged circumstances, with greatly reduced life chances. As the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, pointed out, there are other hidden costs. The people who have suffered from crime are traumatised by it. Elderly people whose houses have been broken into find it hard to leave their homes and go out. There is a very severe pressure on the fabric of our society, and it leads to neighbourhoods in which suspicions and concerns run rife.
While of course I understand and regret the economic and social costs, the basic issue for me is the point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester: it is about common humanity and behaving decently to our fellow citizens, to offer them the best chance of getting back on their feet. At no time is common humanity more needed than at that most vulnerable time when the prisoner is first released.
With that, I turn to my amendment. It does not take a Nobel prize winner to work out that Friday is not the ideal day for release from prison. A long weekend stretches ahead—longer still if followed by a bank holiday—during which the support systems of the state and the voluntary sector are either entirely or largely shut down, as my noble friend pointed out.
In preparing for this debate, I spoke to one of the groups that has briefed us and said, “Can you get someone to talk about this?” I thought that we would get to this amendment last Wednesday, so this is from a prisoner, Michael—that is not his real name—who was released a week ago last Friday: “I was released from prison last Friday, homeless, and everyone knew for months that I would have nowhere to go when I was released. But there I was, late afternoon on the Friday that I was released, still without anywhere to go. The housing people at the council had gone home for the weekend, and I had already been told that there was no chance for a council property. So I was waiting and waiting for news of some emergency accommodation, even just for a couple of days over the weekend. No wonder people reoffend”. Michael’s resettlement worker said, “The holding cell on a Friday is rammed, as such a high proportion of people in prison are released on a Friday. The pressure on the prisons and the resettlement service is incredible. It can lead to people being released late in the day, and, on the Friday, it becomes a race against the clock before services close for the weekend. The barriers to effective resettlement are just too high”.
My amendment, like my noble friend Lord Attlee’s, seeks to spread the days on which prisoners are released and remove the default option of the release day being predominantly a Friday. As he said, his amendment proposes that the courts should decide the specific release date. My Amendment 211 suggests that the governor of the relevant prison should be given the discretion of selecting the five-day window for the release date for a particular prisoner.
I say to my noble friend that the courts are too distant, and Amendment 210 runs the risk of a slightly clunky and administratively burdensome procedure. By contrast, the governor is the person on the spot, with day-to-day responsibility. He or she is therefore able best to take the decision that reflects the particular circumstances of each case and each individual prisoner. I recognise that, in parallel with this new flexibility, there will obviously be a need to make sure that the governors do not slide back to the old default option—the Friday—and some records need to be kept.
That having been said, what unites my noble friend and me is far greater than what divides us. As he said, he and I are concerned about introducing a policy change at very little cost, and possibly no cost, as a way—perhaps only a modest one—of reducing the likelihood of prisoners reoffending. I very much look forward to hearing my noble friend the Minister’s reply.
I support Amendment 211, to which I have added my name. The case has been made very powerfully by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts. I am also supportive of the aims of Amendment 210, although that goes further by leaving less room for discretion—that may be a good thing, given the Scottish experience, which I will mention later—and I suspect would find even less favour with the Government.
I am struck by the strength of the case for change, from both the short-term perspective of the prisoner being released and the longer-term perspective of the likely impact on reoffending that we have heard about. Just last week, the Justice Secretary emphasised the importance of employment in reducing reoffending, and these amendments would help to support the initiatives to which he referred.
I ask the Minister to put himself in the shoes of a prisoner about to be released. Even the most organised of us would quail at the number of essential things they have to sort out: accommodation, health services, benefits and employment support. As an aside—although I know that the Minister will not be able to answer this question, I would be grateful if he could write to me—why does the law not permit prisoners to initiate their claim for universal credit before the actual release? Having a first UC payment available on the day of release would at least remove one obstacle, helping to create a much more effective resettlement process and, potentially, cut the rate of reoffending.
Returning to the matter at hand, I can only begin to imagine the mixture of relief and anxiety that prisoners must feel on release. To face this on a Friday, when many key services will be closing for the weekend, must be experienced as a set of totally unnecessary hurdles to be negotiated. Is it surprising that, according to Nacro, whose briefing I am grateful for, the inability to surmount those hurdles can lead to reoffending and/or turning to the more accessible comforts of drugs or drink. In the words of one prison-leaver, “If you’re released on a Friday and there are issues then they are not likely to be resolved until the following Monday, leaving the weekend to panic/stew/worry which could easily lead to reoffending.” I would panic/stew/worry if I were in that situation, I really would.
It seemed to me that this was a no-brainer, and thus it was with some surprise and disappointment that I read the negative response from the Minister in Committee in the Commons to the same amendment as Amendment 211. It felt as though he was clutching at straws in his rejection of the case made, and contradictory straws at that. On the one hand, he suggested that the change proposed would create pressure on the other days of the week, ignoring the fact that this amendment is purely discretionary and that, apparently, a third of releases currently take place on Fridays. Surely, if it were acted upon, the amendment would help to even out releases over the course of the week.
On the other hand, much was made of the fact that, in Scotland, prison governors have rarely used this discretionary power, which they have. Can the Minister tell us whether we have any information as to why that is the case? It would be helpful to know so that appropriate steps can be taken. Whatever the reason, however, it is surely not a good cause for refusing to follow suit in England and Wales. Even if it helps only a few prisoners on release, surely helping even a small number is better than helping none at all. It would be good if the impact of the change could be monitored so that, if it is shown to have a beneficial effect, it might encourage governors to use the power more.
In the Commons, the Minister acknowledged that there are challenges in making sure that offenders leaving prison are given access to the services they need so that they can get their lives back on track, but he then said that the Government
“would prefer to focus our efforts on making sure that those services are available on Friday.”—[Official Report, Commons, 22/6/21; col. 706.]
He then spoke rather vaguely about investment in reducing crime and tackling the drivers of reoffending as well as pilot programmes in five probation areas. But what exactly are the Government doing to ensure that services are available on a Friday, and functioning in a way that ensures that an ex-prisoner’s needs are sorted out before the weekend? Why do Ministers think they know better than probation officers and others on the front line who have supported Nacro on this?
I do not understand why the Government are so averse to this very modest change. I had hoped that this was an amendment they might accept in some form and that, while the wording may not be quite right, the essence of the amendments put together would be acceptable. I still hope that the Minister might be more open-minded to it than was his counterpart in the Commons.
My Lords, both these amendments are really sensible. I very much hope that the proposers can work together before Report so that we have something quite powerful that we can all back and take forward. I realise that it is not easy for Ministers in your Lordships’ House. They hear all the expertise and sensible arguments, yet they have to go back to their Ministry and try to convey these arguments at the same time as being totally crushed and told, “Go back and just defend the status quo.” Still, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, could be quite tough with the Ministry about this and I very much hope that he will be.
When you hear about what happens to prisoners—a third being released on a Friday when, of course, housing benefits, healthcare, banking and all essential services are basically closed—you cannot believe that anybody would do it. It just does not make sense for those people who are being released. They have paid their debt to society; now we have to support them to make sure that they do not go back inside where they cost society a huge amount of money and contribute very little.
The other issue, of course, is that many people in prisons are miles from home and cannot easily travel home on a Friday; they may not have the money, the trains may not be running over the weekend, and so on. It seems that the Government and prisons are punishing ex-prisoners more and more. Can the Minister tell us why Friday is so popular a day to be mean to released prisoners? Why not give them the best start to reintegration?
My Lords, I rise to support Amendments 210 and 211, and congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, on their introductions.
I am at one with the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, on this issue. When he was Prisons Minister, Rory Stewart once attended a conference on the issue, organised by Nacro, which as the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, said, has led on this for a long time. Some brave prison governors risk censure by using release on temporary licence to avoid release on Fridays. I have never understood why the Department for Work and Pensions does not make staff from jobcentres go into prisons to work out a prisoner’s entitlement to benefits, including universal credit, so that they do not leave prison with a discharge grant, but with the first payment of whatever benefit they are entitled to. In that way, they can pick up the next benefit the next week rather than having to wait six weeks following release before they can apply.
In many ways, the Government are setting people up to fail by, first, releasing prisoners on Fridays and, secondly, insisting on a six-week delay; I defy anyone to exist all that time even on an increased discharge grant.
My Lords, I am sure that the fabulous quintet of noble Lords led by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, and so on, will be delighted by that endorsement from the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, as there has never been a clearer or braver voice for penal reform in my adult lifetime.
I briefly add my own three cheers for these two amendments and for everything that goes with them. They have highlighted the piteous state of provision for prisoners from the moment of their release, quite often into destitution, and a total deficit of support. I hope that that will be taken on board, as well as the precise amendment, by the Minister in his reply. Notwithstanding comments made during the last group that law is not everything and practice is important, sometimes law is very important in itself, particularly release dates because they have to be enshrined in law. So, while there is no doubt that other provision, referred to by my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett and others, needs to be made, this matter requires urgent legislative attention. I think I agree with the noble Earl that, on reflection, something more like Amendment 211 is probably better.
To deal with the concern of my noble friend Lady Lister about Scotland would not take much, would it? Off the top of my head—forgive me, parliamentary counsel will do better—the “may” in Amendment 211 becomes “must” and the words
“at the discretion of the governor of the prison”
are moved to the gap between “on a day” and
“within the previous five working days”.
In other words, the discretionary part is which day within the previous five days. However, there is no discretion; there is a mandatory requirement that the prisoner must not be discharged on a Friday or a weekend. Something of that kind would be delivered very easily—and it really must be delivered. I hope that there will be none of the antics that we heard described in the other place to justify the totally illogical, impractical and unjustifiable status quo.
My Lords, I rise to speak on behalf of my noble friend Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, who is unfortunately unwell and unable to be in her place. She wanted to speak to Amendment 211 in the name of the noble Lords, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts and Lord Bird, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, to which she added her name. She would have spoken about her personal experience, so I shall just read the words that she had hoped to say had she been here.
The routine releasing of prisoners on a Friday, especially before a bank holiday, can cause both services and the prisoners themselves significant problems. Finding accommodation on a Friday afternoon can be extremely difficult. Those who have managed to get clean of substance abuse while in prison find themselves desperate and start using, begin criminal activity again or, in some cases, both. For 10 years, my noble friend was a councillor on South Somerset District Council where there were marvellous officers who worked tirelessly to try to ensure that no one was left with nowhere to stay. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, made a powerful case for the amendment and the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, similarly made the case for not releasing prisoners on Fridays or bank holidays. This is a matter that my noble friend feels very strongly about, so I will share two cases sent to her by the officers of South Somerset.
First, prisoner A was released on a Friday from Guys Marsh prison near Shaftesbury. He was given a rail warrant and got on a train to Yeovil. He contacted his family, realised he did not have accommodation to return to and went to see his offender manager at the probation office, who contacted the housing team. By this time, it was 3 pm and they had very little options available for him at that time of day. It was too late for them to find suitable accommodation and although they managed to get him into a hostel in Yeovil, that was not the best place for him, He had left prison clean of drugs and had to stay in a hostel with very easy access to illegal substances. Unfortunately, he used again, the accommodation broke down, he reoffended and was recalled to prison.
Case two was prisoner B, who was released from prison in Bristol on a Friday and got a train back to Yeovil. He then got a bus to Chard, some 17 miles away, to collect his possessions from his old tenancy. He then returned to Yeovil, by which time the offices had closed. He spent the weekend rough sleeping before he could contact the district council again. South Somerset District Council is fortunate to have secured funding to employ a prison release worker who tries to contact prisoners before they are released so they can plan ahead and help them. However, when people are on short sentences, the prisons rarely have time to work with the prisoners, so they get released without the council being informed. My noble friend Lord German has tabled amendments on those serving short sentences.
Other prisoners think they are okay and have homes to return to. These often do not materialise and by the time they realise they are homeless, it is 5 pm on a Friday. Sadly, one of the people in these case studies died over the weekend of 16 and 17 October aged only 45. He was quite a prolific offender and spent a lot of his time in prison. He had been in care from the age of two and did not have the best start in life. The council tried to help him on a number of occasions and sometimes succeeded, but not always. These are just some examples of what happens when prisoners are released on Fridays. This could be avoided by flexibility being used both in the courts and in the prisons. I hope the Minister will agree that this is a very sensible, non-controversial amendment which could prevent reoffending for the want of a roof over the heads of prisoners who have finished their sentences. I fully support Amendment 211 and look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I will add a few words to give some examples of how this actually affects real people. The third sector, the charities in our society, have been very good at helping and supporting people. Given that we now know that a third of prisoners are released on a Friday, one would think that the charity on hand to meet them at the gate and help them through a very difficult period on a Friday would be helped by the prison authorities explaining when the prisoner was going to be released. After all, if you are sitting in a car, possibly round the corner from the prison, waiting for the gate to open and the prisoner to come out, you need to know that you are not going to be waiting there from 8 am or 10 am until 5 pm or 6 pm. Yet, in fact, that is the story I have heard from one charity that helps people in this matter.
The second example was very concerning. A food bank based in Hereford told me that these prisoners—the third who are released without anywhere to live—were given tents and sleeping bags, directed to a farmer’s field and given the address of the food bank. That is the sort of emergency you then place these people in. These are people who have done their sentence but who face no fixed abode, nowhere to live and certainly no money.
The third thing that worries me is how people get their benefit if you now require a bank account. As I understand it—perhaps the Minister will correct me—setting up a bank account while you are in prison is not a possibility; in other words, even if you were to get your benefit paid at the time you left, you would have to have a bank account to pay it into and to provide the necessary ID as well, all of which of course becomes less popular and less possible on a Friday.
These amendments do not seem to be rocket science. They are actually very practical and since that group of one-third of prisoners who are let out on a Friday are the group most likely to reoffend if they cannot find anywhere, there is a societal impact. We all can benefit by giving these people the right helping hand in their very first window of opportunity in real community life.
My Lords, I was not intending to speak to these amendments but, having been involved in prisoner resettlement in the past, I feel it is important to say that Friday release has a particular impact on younger women prisoners if their only option is a bail hostel. Women, as we know, are much more likely to find their family life disrupted than men during the often short sentences that they suffer. The noble Lord mentioned somebody being in a car round the corner. That very patient person who was managing that young woman as a sex worker before she went into prison will spend the whole day waiting to snatch her away and take her back to the life she was in before. When the alternative options are so dreadful for such young women, it is not surprising that there are the statistics on them falling back into the kind of oppression they knew before. Our whole approach to resettlement would be advanced hugely by these amendments being accepted by the Government.
An incredibly powerful case has been made. We support it and I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, my noble friend Lady Lister and, in her absence, the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, for tabling these amendments. I completely adopt what my noble friend Lady Lister said about the total inadequacy of the reasons given in the Commons for not supporting this. The first was that it would mean there would be bunching of releases on other days, but if a third are on Friday already that seems a completely hopeless point. Secondly and separately, it was said that it is not used very much in Scotland; if it is not used very much, then the Government would not have much to worry about. Why not do it?
My Lords, I am grateful for the various speeches which have been given on these amendments, which, as we have heard, seek in different ways to avoid the release of prisoners on a Friday. Obviously, I understand the distinction between the two, although it is fair to say that they are both aimed at substantially the same point.
The current position is this. Section 23 of the Criminal Justice Act 1961 provides that prisoners whose release dates fall on a weekend or bank holiday should be released on the working day which immediately precedes that