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“A Smarter Approach to Sentencing” White Paper

Volume 691: debated on Tuesday 16 March 2021

What progress his Department has made on the proposals in its September 2020 White Paper, “A Smarter Approach to Sentencing”. [R] (913474)

Last week, we introduced the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. This landmark piece of legislation will deliver on the commitments that I made in the White Paper to make punishments tougher for the most serious offenders and those who commit crimes against women and girls, and to introduce more effective community sentences. We are working on those non-legislative reforms in the White Paper that aim to tackle the underlying causes of criminal behaviour and to improve the rehabilitation of offenders in our community.

I thank the Lord Chancellor for that answer. Over the years that I have been involved in the criminal justice system, I have often been struck by the potential for technology to play a greater role in keeping the public safe, punishing criminals and helping to reduce reoffending. I wonder whether my right hon. and learned Friend can tell the House how measures in the White Paper will enable the courts, prisons and probation services to exploit new technology.

As ever, I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s continued commitment to this issue. We are expanding the use of electronic monitoring to support robust and responsive community supervision. Following its well-received launch in Wales, as I mentioned, courts in England will shortly be able to impose the alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirement—the sobriety tag—to help tackle offending. We will shortly lay legislation to impose GPS tracking on offenders released from custody who have committed burglary and theft offences. The Bill will extend the maximum length of a curfew from 12 months to two years, making the use of those powers more flexible, and we will use those powers to test the house detention order concept outlined in the White Paper to see how that can contribute to reducing reoffending.

The Secretary of State’s own strategy says that short prison sentences for women do not work because they fail to tackle the reasons women are there, which is often due to the abuse and trauma caused by the men in their lives. His own strategy says that. When the Government’s neglect of crimes against women is under the spotlight, why is he still insisting on spending another £150 million on ineffective prison places when that money could be spent on action to break the cycle of abuse and reoffending?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to refer to the female offender strategy, which is at the heart of our approach to women offenders—the trauma-informed approach that she knows is so important. I can reassure her that the prison places that we are building will improve and enhance the existing female estate, some of which, frankly, is not fit for purpose. This will replace and revivify the estate and allow women to be in a secure environment where they can do purposeful activity, support each other and, indeed, benefit—[Interruption.] I do not know why Labour Front Benchers think it is so funny, Mr Speaker. I have certainly supported the female offender strategy, and I will repeat the point that what we are doing is improving and enhancing the custodial experience while delivering the strategy and, of course, residential centres such as the one in Wales that will be opening very shortly indeed. [Interruption.] I really fail to see why women offenders are so funny, Mr Speaker.

Can I just reassure you, Secretary of State, that they were not laughing at you? I think it was the expressions of the shadow Minister that they were laughing at—and people might think that those on the Government side were, too. I just want to reassure you that nobody was laughing at that situation.