Ministry of Justice Questions 13/03/2012

Nick takes Oral Questions in the House of Commons as Minister of State for Criminal Justice

Oral Answers to Questions


Illegal Encampments (Public Parks)

5. Mike Weatherley (Hove) (Con): How many prosecutions have been brought in respect of illegal encampments involving vehicles on public parks in the last 12 months. [99259]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): In 2010, there were 38 prosecutions for offences under sections 61, 62B and 77 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. Figures for 2011 are not yet available and the data do not show what proportion of these prosecutions related to unauthorised encampments in public parks or whether vehicles were involved in each case.

Mike Weatherley: Will the Minister consider a review of the powers of local authorities to prosecute trespassers effectively and/or to charge occupants fees so that there is an effective deterrent against uninvited encampments and so that some of the costs associated with unwelcome activity can be recouped?

Nick Herbert: I appreciate my hon. Friend's concern, which is widely shared, about illegal encampments, whether they are on private land, thereby attempting to subvert the public planning process, or ruining people's enjoyment of public parks. A range of powers are available to the police and agencies, and we are strengthening them through the latest legislation, the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, to allow local authorities to attach the power of seizure to their byelaws. We want to ensure that the new powers are used effectively.

Public Order Convictions (Havering)

12. Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): How many people in the London borough of Havering have been convicted of offences in connection with the public disorder in August 2011. [99268]

Nick Herbert: Data available on 1 February show that six people from Havering were convicted for their part in the public disorder of 6 to 9 August last year.

Andrew Rosindell: As the Minister knows, many of our courts worked extra long hours last August to ensure that many of those who engaged in the riots were dealt with very quickly. What lessons have the Government learned from that to ensure that our courts are more efficient in future?

Nick Herbert: We certainly were impressed by the speed with which the criminal justice system responded to the disorder, and we are grateful for the efforts of those working in it. Cases were dealt with in a matter of hours and days, rather than the routine, which can be weeks and months. We seek to learn the lessons from that and we will shortly come forward with proposals for how we can ensure that we have a justice system that is swifter and more sure.

Community Service Sentences

20. Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): What his policy is on the use of community service sentences; and if he will make a statement. [99276]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): It is for the court to determine whether an offence is serious enough to warrant the imposition of a community sentence. When a community sentence is imposed, we want to ensure that it is effective in stopping offending behaviour escalating to the point at which prison becomes the only option.

Diana Johnson: Hull Crown court recently found Lee Bates guilty of illegal moneylending, or loan sharking as most people call it. At least 17 victims and their families suffered from his exploitation, and he got 180 hours' community service for pleading guilty, but surely such criminals should go to prison, should they not?

Nick Herbert: I cannot comment on that particular case, but in general we certainly believe that serious offenders-those offenders who have committed repeat offences-should be sent to prison, and that option remains for the courts. We believe also, however, that community sentences, when they are imposed, should be more rigorous and have a more punitive element, so that we can stop the escalation of offending which results in a custodial sentence. It is that escalation that we seek to avoid.

Topical Questions

T8. [99287] Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): Until now, prisoners who were on the run often managed to stay on the run because the authorities were unable to name them. That is an obvious barrier to their recapture, so will the Minister outline his plans for improving that state of affairs?

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): We were concerned that there was a belief that it was not possible to name offenders on the run for reasons of, for instance, data protection or human rights. When offenders are unlawfully at large, it must make sense for there to be a presumption that they can be named by the authorities. The Government will take steps to ensure that that is made clear and that there will be such naming unless there are specific operational reasons why that would not make sense.

Nick Herbert