Criminal Justice Bill

Nick replies to Jack Straw MP in the House of Commons during the debate on the Criminal Justice Bill

Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): I congratulate the Lord Chancellor on introducing his first criminal justice Bill in his new role. He has a hard act to follow-in fact, he has at least 35 Acts to follow. That is how many pieces of legislation on criminal justice and immigration we have had already from the Government.

How much this Bill will add to that we will come to debate, but at least we know what it will subtract. Part 1 will scrap the plethora of orders introduced by the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000, including the action plan order, the attendance centre order, the curfew order, the exclusion order, the supervision order and the youth community order-the Government's own provisions and they lasted seven years.

Clause 10 will repeal section 189 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and remove the right of magistrates to suspend jail sentences. That provision lasted just four years. However, this Bill goes further than repealing the Government's recent laws. It repeals Bills that have not even been passed. Schedule 23 will repeal schedule 21 of the Legal Services Bill, which has not even been passed yet and which we will consider next Monday. The Lord Chancellor already wants to repeal it-he has told us today that he is already reviewing clause 26 in relation to criminal appeals in this Bill.

What a farce. Not only does the Bill repeal the Government's own legislation but it repeals parts of Acts that have not yet been fully implemented. Rather than curtailing magistrates sentencing powers in clause 10 of this Bill, perhaps the Lord Chancellor could implement section 154 of the Criminal Justice Act and give magistrates the power to sentence offenders to a year in jail. That was what Labour promised. They legislated for it and under the last Home Secretary they broke that promise.

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman is making a rather forced point about clause 26. Can he explain what his point is? We put out a consultation paper. There was consultation on it. The particular drafting of the clause did not find favour. Is he therefore condemning us for listening to the consultation? If not, what is his point?

Nick Herbert: The point is quite straightforward: it is a good idea to do the consultation before one legislates. That is the purpose of it. It is certainly the case that the majority of respondents to the Government's consultation paper opposed that provision. In fact, the Government said that a majority of the legal correspondents, as they are called, opposed it. Let us have a look at how many other respondents there were. The legal correspondents included a number of important bodies, including members of the judiciary, the Criminal Appeal Lawyers Association and the Criminal Bar Association; I could go on. The members of the public, and we do not know what their views were, included someone called Trev. The majority of the respondents, as the Government have said themselves, have rejected the provision. The question is why the Government have introduced a criminal justice Bill before the end of the Session, which they intend to carry over-they originally intended to debate it in June-when they have not consulted properly on the measures in it. That was the point that I was seeking to make.

Stephen Hesford (Wirral, West) (Lab): Did the hon. Gentleman take part in the consultation exercise on quashing convictions-yes or no?

Nick Herbert: We did not take part in the consultation exercise. I do not think that, with the number of eminent legal authorities that responded, it was necessary for us to do so. There has been an overwhelming rejection of the proposals in the consultation paper.

This is a typical Christmas tree Bill where the Government are certain that they wish to legislate about something but are not sure what. We see the same with the Government's proposals in relation to the Flanagan report. The Lord Chancellor said nothing about that. Originally, the Prime Minister said that this Bill was to provide the vehicle for measures relating to police efficiency that would arise as a result of the Flanagan report. Why did not the Lord Chancellor tell us what those measures will be?

Mr. Straw rose-

Nick Herbert: Perhaps he can tell us now.

Mr. Straw: I will tell the hon. Gentleman why I did not talk about that. I thought that Madam Deputy Speaker might rule me out of order if I started to talk about things that were not in the Bill, rather than about things that were in it.

Nick Herbert: The Lord Chancellor talked incessantly about things that were not in the Bill. The Prime Minister, when he talked about the pre-legislative programme, specifically said that, if Flanagan recommended measures that would improve police efficiency, they would be added to this Bill. As a result of the Flanagan review of police efficiency, can the Lord Chancellor now tell us what measures will be brought forward in amendments to the Bill? The Government have had the interim report, but they are unable to tell us what measures may be added to the Bill in later amendments.

Mr. Straw: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way but it seems blindingly obvious. We only got the Flanagan report about three weeks ago. It was an interim report. We have not had the final report, which is not due till the new year. The chances of any provision from that being included in this Bill are extremely unlikely.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. May I remind all right hon. and hon. Members that we are discussing the Bill that is currently before the House?

Nick Herbert: Indeed. Part of the problem is that we do not yet know what will be in the Bill. Although the Prime Minister has promised legislation in relation to policing, we have no idea what that legislation will be.

Since the Government came to power, more than 3,000 new offences have been created, 430 of them by the Home Office. The creation of 3,000 new offences works out at a new offence for almost every day that Labour has been in power, and it is twice the rate seen under the two previous Conservative Administrations. I have lost count of the number of new offences in this Bill. The Guardian reports that it is 19. Perhaps one of the Ministers sitting on the Government Benches could do something useful, count them and let us know at the end of the debate. The Bill was published on the eve of the departure of Tony Blair, the previous Prime Minister, from Downing street. There could be no more fitting tribute to him or to the legislative incontinence that has characterised 10 years of this Government.

I hesitate to mention ICM's poll in the News of the World yesterday. I appreciate that it may be in poor taste and that that poll had no impact at all, of course, on the Prime Minister's courageous decision not to call an early general election. However, that poll showed that 63 per cent. of voters in marginal seats think that the Government have done a bad job on law and order, and only 30 per cent. think that they have done a good job. More than half of Labour voters said that the Government had done a bad job. There have been 35 Bills, 3,000 offences have been created, but two thirds of voters say that the Government have done a bad job. Do Ministers by any chance think that those facts are related? Perhaps they should listen to the Law Society, which said in a briefing on the Bill that it

"strongly believes that the criminal justice system is suffering from ‘change fatigue', and that new legislation, particularly that creating additional criminal offences or alternative ways of dealing with people who have re-offended, can be counterproductive if it unnecessarily results in the wastage of scarce resources".

Mr. Hanson: Can the hon. Gentleman tell me whether he is going to vote against the Bill this evening?

Nick Herbert: I am afraid the Minister of State will have to wait and see, if he can bear the tension.

Alongside the successive criminal justice Bills, we have seen a succession of sentencing reviews and a constantly shifting sentencing framework. There are
other sentencing reviews now in train that the Bill does not take into account, including the review on indeterminate sentences, which the Lord Chancellor has announced, but has not confirmed to the House.

Let us dwell briefly on the elements of the Bill that we can agree on. In relation to the pornography offences, we support the principle of clause 64, which implements measures to combat possession of images that are both extreme and pornographic. We also support the principle behind clause 67, which relates to the penalties applied for possession of extreme pornographic images, and clauses 68 and 69 relating to indecent photographs of children. As usual, we will need to look at the drafting, but the whole House will share a determination to protect children from paedophilia and society from images that could provoke violence. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford), who has worked tirelessly to promote more robust action in relation to those issues.

We also support the principle of clauses 104 to 106 regarding a new offence of causing nuisance or disturbance on NHS premises and the powers to remove offenders from hospital premises. However, given that that measure will not apply to patients who are violent towards NHS staff, we will have to look in due course at how effective that will be in practice and whether it affords nurses and other NHS personnel the protection that the whole House believes they deserve. We also support the creation of the prisons commissioner, so long as the commissioner has the power to recommend criminal sanctions akin to those in the Corporate Manslaughter Act against the Prison Service and other state agencies that are charged with the custody of individuals, and so long as his appointment is not a ground for delaying the implementation of the Corporate Manslaughter Act.

We will look carefully at the proposed offence of inciting homophobic hatred because clearly there are important considerations in terms of the right balance between protecting free speech and a desire to protect gay people from hatred. We will debate the provisions in Committee once we have seen them.

The core purpose and effect of the Bill is confused; will the Bill send fewer people to prison or more people? Clause 16 proposes to limit recalls to prison to 28 days, provided the Secretary of State is satisfied that the prisoner will not present a risk of serious harm on release. The Government say that the measure will save 1,000 prison places, but we are opposed to it in principle. We want a more effective process for recalls, but we believe that offenders who breach their conditions should expect to return to prison to serve out the rest of their sentence.

The Bill also abolishes the power of magistrates to suspend custodial sentences, and again we oppose this interference with judicial discretion. The crimes in question have passed the custody threshold. Before even considering a suspended sentence, the magistrate must decide that a final probation would be insufficient. If they cannot suspend the sentence, they will have to jail the offender.

There is another concern; a provision that is intended by the Government to reduce the prison population could have the opposite effect. The National Association of Probation Officers has warned that the abolition of the power is justified on the grounds that some magistrates use it instead of fines or unpaid work. Nevertheless, there is a real risk that many magistrates will impose custody instead of suspension and the association goes on to predict that it will increase the prison population by 1,000.

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is making a typically powerful case. Does he agree that the Bill has more to do with digging the Government out of a hole of their own making-not providing enough prison places-rather than their doing the right thing that our constituents would like to see?

Nick Herbert: I strongly agree. The prisons crisis, to which I shall refer, is one entirely of the Government's own making; for 10 years they have ignored the warnings that the rise in the prison population would outstrip the provision of prison places. The Bill is an inadequate response to that crisis and my hon. Friend is absolutely right. On the one hand, we have measures that the Government claim are intended to reduce the prison population-partly in response to the prison overcrowding crisis-but which many experts are claiming will increase the prison population. On the other, we have measures that the Government admit will increase the prison population.

According to the National Association of Probation Officers, the violent offender order, to which I shall return shortly, will add at least 4,000 to the prison population. The Government's own regulatory impact assessment says that breaches of the violent offender orders will have an impact equivalent to approximately 20 places a year. There is an extraordinary discrepancy between these two figures. We need to bear in mind that the Government failed woefully to predict the impact of their own indeterminate sentences.

During the Committee stage of the Criminal Justice Bill 2003, the right hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Hilary Benn) predicted that indeterminate sentences would require an additional 900 prison places. The number of people in prison serving indeterminate sentences since then is already at two and a half times that number. In April this year, the figure was at over 2,500, just two years after that sentence was introduced. The Prison Reform Trust has estimated that 12,000 people will be serving indeterminate sentences for public protection by 2012. The gaping hole that is not filled by the Bill and the issue that the Lord Chancellor signally failed to address is that the prisons are full, to bursting point. On Friday, we saw prison numbers rise for the second successive week to a record high.

The Government's policy of early release-under which 25,000 criminals are to be released 18 days early on to our streets, under which 6,000 criminals have so far been released, 1,000 of whom were violent offenders and under which many of those have gone on to commit offences while released-has saved only 1,200 prison places. It has been a failure.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): On foreign criminals who require deportation, does my hon. Friend agree that another gaping hole in the Bill is set out in the explanatory notes relating to the Human Rights Act? Unless the Human Rights Act is repealed, a coach and horses will be driven through the Bill in relation to such matters. In respect of the framework decisions applying European Community law, the best thing to do would be to include in the Bill a provision that says "notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972 and the Human Rights Act 1998" and then to legislate. We could then bring these important decisions back to the House on behalf of the electorate, something that the Government are refusing to do. They are in fact making it worse under the absurd reform treaty, which is completely constitutional.

Nick Herbert: I agree. That is another gaping hole at the heart of the Bill and I will turn to that issue in a second.

Some 17,000 prisoners are now doubling up in cells, twice as many as when the Government came to power. Nearly a quarter of the entire prison population is housed in cells designed for one fewer person. We have just seen the obscenity in the 21st century of a wing of a prison in this country closed because of sewage and rat infestation. There has been a huge increase in suicides in our prisons and, contrary to the Minister of State's claim, that increase in prison suicides this year far outstrips the rise in the jail population. The Government's own figures show that suicides are far more likely in overcrowded jails and that an inadequate number of new prison places will not keep pace with the rising custodial population.

There needs to be proper accountability for deaths in custody and the fact that the Government resisted their own corporate manslaughter legislation in relation to prisons and police cells-eventually only accepting it with a delay of years-demonstrates that Ministers know there is a serious problem but have been unwilling to take the steps to deal with it.

These are the issues that we will address when we come to consider a provision in the Bill that we welcome-the appointment of a commissioner for offender management and prisons. The Government, frankly, have simply stood by and watched as the prisons have filled up. On 24 July, the Minister of State conceded that

"it is clear that a gap remains between the number of new places and the forecasted rise in the prison population."-[ Official Report, 24 July 2007; Vol. 463, c. 755.]

They know there is gap but they are refusing to tell us what they are going to do about it and they are producing a Bill that will increase the prison population in spite of that.

The Ministry of Justice's median projections of future prison population show that there will be 12,370 new prisoners by 2012, but only 9,500 new prison places by the same date. That is a gap of 3,000. If all of the measures in the Bill were implemented, those measures increasing the prison population would, on the Government's own estimate-it is wildly behind the forecasts of the National Association of Probation Officers-add 49. Those that would reduce the prison population would subtract 1,100. According to the Government's own figures there remains a serious gap in the projected prison population that is not addressed by the Bill, even on its own terms.

We need a coherent strategy to address the crisis, but what we get is political grandstanding. Part 11 of the Bill concerns itself with foreigners who commit crimes in Britain. On 25 July, the Prime Minister told The Sun:

"If you commit a crime you will be deported. You play by the rules or you face the consequences...I'm not prepared to tolerate a situation where we have people breaking the rules in our country when we cannot act."

Then, two weeks ago in Brighton, the Prime Minister said:

"But let me be clear: any newcomer to Britain who is caught selling drugs or using guns will be thrown out. No one who sells drugs to our children or uses guns has the right to stay in our country."

However, today in his press conference the Prime Minister made it clear that he was talking only about newcomers to this country.

First, we were told that all foreign criminals would have to be deported, then we were told that it would be drug dealers or gun criminals, and now the Prime Minister confirms that he is in fact talking only about people who have yet to visit this country. The Prime Minister simply does not understand the damage that that kind of spin has done to politics and his own Government-not only over the past 10 years, but, specifically, in the last two weeks.

The Prime Minister knows that he cannot remove thousands of foreign criminals from our country, not least because Labour's own laws prevent it. He could not even deport the murderer of Philip Lawrence because of an EU directive, which the Lord Chancellor negotiated, and the Human Rights Act, which the Lord Chancellor introduced. That is why we say that one of the major flaws in relation to this Bill, which is intended to deal with the issue of foreign prisoners in our country, is the HRA itself. That is why we have said that the HRA should be scrapped, and replaced by a British Bill of rights and responsibilities that would enable us to take the necessary action against, for instance, those who commit acts of terrorism.

Dr. Evan Harris: Will the hon. Gentleman clarify whether it is his intention to resile from the European convention on human rights, and if not, what would be achieved, except in terms of slowness of justice, of simply repealing the HRA, which puts the European convention into UK law? Is it the hon. Gentleman's intention to resile from the ECHR?

Nick Herbert: No, it is not our intention to resile from the ECHR. It is not us who proposed that. The former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid), proposed that-he did so in this House on 24 May. As the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) knows perfectly well, the argument is that if we were to have our own British Bill of Rights, the convention would be reinterpreted accordingly and the margin of appreciation would allow us to take more action against those who threaten our country.

Mr. Straw: I must say that the hon. Gentleman has a lot of learning to do on the margin of appreciation and Strasbourg. He is implying that in the Chindamo case-he is still locked up, and will, I think, remain so for quite some period to come-had there been a new Bill of Rights and responsibilities all the problems of getting tribunal agreement to deport him would have disappeared. At the same time, the hon. Gentleman is blaming an EU directive. If he reads the tribunal judgment, he will see that the ECHR was a subsidiary and minor issue, and that the key issue was to do with EU directives that had been extant for decades although they were consolidated and updated to similar effect in 2006. Is the hon. Gentleman therefore saying that those provisions, which are binding in EU law, would also be abrogated by a future Conservative Administration?

Nick Herbert: Let me make two points to the right hon. Gentleman. First, his successor the aforementioned former Home Secretary reaffirmed as recently as last month that he thinks that the HRA is an impediment to our ability to deal with terrorism. Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman correctly refers to the directive in the Chindamo case, but he negotiated it and it was an impediment to removing Chindamo not to some country where he might be tortured but to a country in the EU. He should have ensured in negotiating that directive that we could deal with people whom we do not wish to remain in this country because they have committed serious offences-in this case, a brutal murder. After all, the Prime Minister has promised that; he has told the country that he would ensure that any foreigner committing an offence would be removed from this country. If the Lord Chancellor is now saying that that is not possible, perhaps he would like to explain to the Prime Minister why he is wrong.

Mr. Cash: Does my hon. Friend agree that the crucial question-the test-is whether our judiciary will obey legislation from Westminster or from Europe in matters that affect vital national interests? It is clear from his excellent speech that my hon. Friend has understood the nature of the problem, and I believe that the margin of appreciation, as he put it, will be appreciated by the Lord Chancellor-if I can use that term because I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman is the Lord Chancellor or the Secretary of State for Justice. Perhaps he can enlighten us on that.

Nick Herbert: Other jurisdictions have a greater ability to deal with such matters because they have constitutions that frame people's responsibilities as well as their rights and that enable them to deal with terrorist suspects. We should also have that; that is what the former Home Secretary said. That is also what the Prime Minister implied when he said we should have the ability to deal with such issues. However, the reality is that, behind the spin, it is clear that the Government have no intention whatsoever of moving on this issue.

Let us look at another issue in relation to this Bill on which the Government have been grandstanding. The Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson), said about this Bill in a news release of 26 June that it builds on reforms

"to rebalance the system in favour of the victim and the law-abiding majority",

to which I say, "Hear, hear." The Lord Chancellor said two weeks ago that he would review the law to ensure that people can defend themselves from attack without fear of prosecution, but the right hon. Gentleman was this Government's first Home Secretary and in four years he did nothing. On the "Today" radio programme he gave a deeply unconvincing explanation of why that was:

"Indeed and let me say that I wanted and was very interested in changing the law and...other matters intervened and then I...I was moved on and indeed I wish I had...".

We repeatedly urged a change in the law so that people could protect themselves from intruders in their homes. The right hon. Gentleman and his party colleagues fought us on that idea year after year. Indeed, in 2000 the right hon. Gentleman dismissed out of hand calls from my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) to give greater protection to home owners who use self-defence against burglars. The last time the Government grabbed a headline by signalling a change in the law they reneged on it within weeks.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Nick Herbert: In a moment. That is the worst kind of cynical politics, and it is exactly what turns people off.

Nevertheless, let us take the Lord Chancellor at his word. He promised an

"urgent review of the law on self defence...aimed at ensuring that those who seek to protect themselves, their loved ones and their homes, as well as other citizens, have confidence that the law is on their side."

So I can tell the Lord Chancellor that when the Bill is in Committee we will re-table the provisions for which we have fought for years to give that greater protection to people who seek to protect themselves against burglars. I would be delighted if the Lord Chancellor would intervene on me now to say whether, in view of what he said at the Labour party conference, he will support that amendment. Go on, have a go, Jack.

Mr. Straw: I am delighted to respond. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would be pleased that the matter has been further considered. Let me say that I never dismiss out of hand suggestions for changes in the law on this issue, but there were good reasons why I judged that it was not possible to proceed in 2000.

The proposals contained in two private Members' Bills need some changes in their wording, and I will be happy to sit down with the promoters of those Bills-I was intending to do so-as part of the consultation process, with a view to tabling amendments on Report and to see whether we can reach a consensus. The specific wording, which I have carefully examined, does not quite meet the need, but I am always open to argument.

Nick Herbert: Let me tell the Lord Chancellor that there will be no problem reaching agreement if he can persuade himself and his colleagues that the law needs to be changed, but the fact is that we have been arguing for this for the past 10 years and he and his colleagues have consistently argued against it. We look forward to the proposals which he now suggests he will bring forward in amendments to this Bill. We will hold him to the words that he used when he talked about the need to protect those who defend themselves.

Let us look at what should have been in this Bill. This is a Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill-what relation it bears to a UK Borders Bill that, in some respects, covers much of the same territory is another debate-but the one thing that the vast majority clearly want is not in here: a limit on economic immigration. We have said that we want the right people and the right number of people coming to Britain, which is why our policy is that there should be an annual limit on the number of economic migrations to the UK. However, we have another immigration Bill that does not set that limit.

We have said that there should be a policy of honesty in sentencing. The fight against crime depends on integrity in the criminal justice system and on courts that deliver swift, effective justice, with punishments appropriate to the crime and the criminal. In the Criminal Justice Act 2003, the Government introduced automatic release on licence halfway through the sentence for all determinate sentences of longer than 12 months. Combined with the early release scheme, this means that an offender sentenced to a year in jail is usually out after little more than five months. The policy amounts to a deliberate dishonesty. It damages the trust that victims and wider society place in the courts, and it encourages criminals to hold the system in contempt.

If this were our Bill, we would introduce provisions to restore honesty in sentencing, in order to reassure victims and leave criminals in no doubt that justice is done. We would ensure that convicted criminals served the full sentence handed down to them by the judge. Our purpose in this respect is not to increase the length of sentences; rather, we believe that judges should hand down minimum, as well as maximum, sentences, with no possibility of parole until the minimum has been served.

Mr. Hanson: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Nick Herbert: Just wait a second, please. The Lord Chancellor's preposterous suggestion that this policy would increase the prison population by 60,000 is clearly based on the fact that he has not read what we said. Given that we have not said what the minimum and maximum should be, there is no way that he can calculate what the increase in the prison population would be. All that we have had is a series of increasingly fanciful projections from the Lord Chancellor about what the increase in the prison population might be under an alternative Government. One day it is 60,000; another day, it is 320,000. Instead of spinning in this way, he should address the serious overcrowding problem in his jails; he has to decide what he is going to do about that. It seems that this Government have learned nothing from the last week-from the spin that has so damaged them.

Mr. Hanson: I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman is saying. I would really like to know what his assessment is of the extra prison places required in the event of individuals serving a full sentence. It is clearly not possible to have a discounted sentence under current regulations and not add to the prison population.

Nick Herbert: We have made it clear that the purpose of the policy is to introduce honesty in sentencing. The Government seem to have no understanding of the damage that is done and the crisis in public confidence that is engendered when people serve very short prison sentences, particularly when the victims have heard in court that the sentence would be handed down in full. It amounts to an institutional lie, and it needs to be dealt with.

David T.C. Davies: Will my hon. Friend the shadow Minister accept the good wishes of the many victims of crime I know who have formed an organisation called "stop all forms of early release"? They include the parents of murder victims and the rape victim Gabrielle Browne, who publicised her own story in the London Evening Standard because she was so angry that the person who had raped her had been let out of jail early. Does the Minister of State not agree that it is high time that prisoners serve the sentences given to them by the courts? Does he not also agree that this policy would not only save money in the long run, but would save people like Gabrielle Browne being raped by people who have been let out of prison early?

Nick Herbert: The disgrace of this Government's management of the prison system-

Mr. Straw: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Nick Herbert: No; let me answer my hon. Friend first, please. The disgrace of this Government's management of the prison system is not just the overcrowding over which they have presided, their failure to rehabilitate criminals and the consequential rise in recidivism rates, but their willingness to pioneer alternatives to custodial sentences for criminals who simply should not be in receipt of them: violent criminals who have then gone on to commit really serious offences. What do the Government have to say to the victims of these crimes, who have suffered really serious violence at the hands of criminals who should have been in custody, but who were released purely because the Government failed to manage prison places according to their own predictions?

Mr. Straw: We are all trying to follow with care what the hon. Gentleman has just committed his party to. Let us take the example that he used of someone who is currently sentenced to 12 months in prison, but who, under the 2003 Act, will normally serve 50 per cent. of that, which is six months. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that, under his proposals, that same prisoner would in future serve 12 months in prison, or six months?

Nick Herbert: We have said that we will fundamentally review sentencing, so that we introduce bracketed sentences with a minimum and a maximum. It will then be for the authorities to decide at what point people are released, between the minimum and the maximum. That introduces honesty in sentencing, because those individuals could not be released until they had completed the minimum term. That is in contrast with this Government, who instituted release at the halfway point of a sentence, and who have also presided over an early release scheme that ensures that 25,000 offenders will be released 18 days early. That is the institutional lie that affects our sentencing and has undermined public confidence in sentencing. It is that which we seek to redress through a policy of honesty in sentencing, so that there is no possibility of parole until the minimum sentence is served.

Mr. Hanson: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Nick Herbert: No. I have dealt with that point enough.

I want to focus on two other serious omissions from this Bill, the first of which I have already referred to. During the statement of 11 July on the Government's legislative programme, the Prime Minister said:

"We stand ready to introduce new measures into the Criminal Justice Bill, which will be carried over into the next Session, including measures that come from the review of policing by Sir Ronald Flanagan, which will report later this autumn."-[ Official Report, 11 July 2007; Vol. 462, c. 1451.]

The Lord Chancellor's response was not adequate in this respect. When the Minister of State responds, perhaps he can tell us which proposals in Sir Ronnie Flanagan's review of policing, which was intended to reduce police bureaucracy, will be carried into the Bill by way of amendments. We would have proposed abolition of the stop form-it takes police officers several minutes to complete, and we regard it as a significant impediment to their ability to interact with the public-and the wholesale reduction of central targets. I doubt very much whether we will see those measures, but the fact is that the Lord Chancellor would not confirm the introduction of any measures on policing, despite the promise that the Prime Minister made as recently as July.

The other absence from the Bill is any consideration of the impact of the Government's summary justice programme, under which whole swathes of cases have been taken out of the magistrates courts altogether and are now being dealt with by police officers by way of cautions and fixed penalty notices. They are counted as offences brought to justice, even when those notices are not paid. That policy is consistent with an underlying feature of this Bill that has characterised many other criminal justice Bills that this Government have brought before the House: a cavalier approach to the civil liberties that this House should be protecting.

We have seen proposals for ending the discretion of the Court of Appeal to quash convictions, and the criticism of them by the legal profession, not least the Law Society. In the light of that, the Lord Chancellor has conceded that he will reconsider the drafting of that provision. There are also violent offender orders-the latest in a line of quasi-criminal measures that started with antisocial behaviour orders, and which continued with control orders and serious crime prevention orders. Those orders deliberately blur the line between the criminal and civil law. Their effectiveness-especially in the case of ASBOs, half of which are breached-must raise great concern about whether violent offender orders will be similarly robust. Such orders effectively use the civil law to criminalise people while sidestepping the job of any Government, which is to ensure that they have a legal framework to deal properly with offenders.

There is also the arbitrary cap on compensation for miscarriages of justice, which is set out in clause 62. Finally in relation to civil liberties, there is a proposal for the extension of conditional cautions to juvenile offenders-conditional cautions under which prosecutors will be able to impose a punishment with no involvement by the judiciary, which is a fundamental breach of the judiciary's role in sentencing people.

The fundamental problem at the heart of this Christmas tree Bill is that it contains a rag-bag of ineffective measures, including some that are cavalier with the civil liberties that we are here to protect.

Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): My hon. Friend talks passionately about the need to re-establish the credibility of the courts. Does he think that the credibility of magistrates courts would be enhanced or undermined by clause 58, which is designed to extend the powers of non-legally qualified staff to conduct trials in magistrates courts?

Nick Herbert: My hon. Friend is right. The Law Society has expressed grave concern about those provisions and we will have to examine them very closely in Committee.

Martin Salter: Has the hon. Gentleman read the report from the Modernisation Committee, which has been backed up by guidance from Mr. Speaker, that Front-Bench speeches on Second Reading should be no longer than 20 minutes plus interventions? The hon. Gentleman has just bored both sides of the House and constrained many hon. Members from representing their constituents in this debate.

Nick Herbert: I have read that recommendation, but the hon. Gentleman should have a word with the Lord Chancellor to stop him intervening on me quite so much. However, he will be relieved to learn that I am coming to an end.

The Bill is a tired repetition of the same failed approach by the Government. We have had 35 Bills and endless tinkering with the criminal justice process, 3,000 new offences, and civil liberties eroded, but violent crime has doubled and reoffending soared. Of those discharged from prison, 65 per cent. now reoffend, compared with 59 per cent. when this Government came to power. Among young people, the recidivism rate is even higher. Reoffending now accounts for more than half of all crime. That is a measure of the success of this Government in dealing with crime and of their endless criminal justice Bills. We desperately need a new approach, but sadly it is now clear that we will not get it for at least two years.

 


Document type

Speeches

Published

8 October 2007

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"I pledge to work hard for everyone in the constituency, to stand up for local people, and to be a strong voice at Westminster for your concerns"