Previous Section Index Home Page

Mr. Hanson: I am grateful for the support from the hon. Gentleman and the Liberal Democrat party. There is in many ways a synergy with the policy objectives that we seek, and I hope we can consider a range of sentencing options which will provide a greater menu for the judiciary to examine. One of the
9 May 2007 : Column 181
key issues that the hon. Gentleman alluded to was that of community-based sentencing. Yes, the objective in all this has to be punishment, and we need to have strong punishment even in community-based sentencing, but we need to have it with the objective of preventing reoffending. We must ensure that individuals learn from their experience in the community, get better trained, recognise, through reparation work, the damage that they have done, and return to the community as better citizens as a result.

With regard to the financing of the Department, the hon. Gentleman will know that we are in the middle of a comprehensive spending review settlement. I can assure him that the resources from the Home Office and the DCA are there on the table for this year, as planned. Obviously, that will be subject to negotiation. However, he can take the reassurance that the Government are committed to reducing crime, and one of the main methods of doing so will be the work of my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State and my other colleagues in the Ministry of Justice. I very much hope that the CSR settlement will reflect that.

The hon. Gentleman said that we wish sentencing to mean what it says. Obviously, we want greater clarity in sentencing. There will be options to ensure that, as with indeterminate sentences, those who are a danger to the community spend longer in prison, until such time as they are deemed not to be a danger to the community. That is a solid basis for the policy.

I take issue with the hon. Gentleman on the question of the Labour Government’s “failure” on prison policy. I do not agree with his statement. We now have an option to look at a wider range of sentencing policies. The 20,000 prison places that have been built over the past 10 years and the 8,000 that are being built between now and 2012 will make a difference. However, at the heart of our whole criminal justice policy must be the objective of preventing reoffending.

Lastly, let me say to the hon. Gentleman that I hope that I have made it clear to the House that the independence of the judges is paramount, and it is part of the role of a criminal justice Ministry to ensure that that independence is maintained. I can never give a blanket guarantee on the issues that he examined, but I would say that our role is to set a framework for a sentencing policy and a prison policy that prevents reoffending, while the judiciary’s role is to interpret that on a case-by-case basis. I believe that they do a very good job in the vast majority of cases, and I look forward to working with them to prevent offending still further.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on his new appointment and on his success in his work in Northern Ireland. He knows that I have an interest in issues to do with local justice in my constituency and throughout Cheshire. He may not yet be aware of the close collaboration that I have had with the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), over certain difficulties that we have faced locally. To enable us to get the maximum confidence of all the professionals and the
9 May 2007 : Column 182
judiciary, particularly the lay magistracy, as the new system beds down, will my right hon. Friend ensure that mechanisms are in place so that proper feedback can come from the people who practise on our behalf throughout the country at a local level? We do not want filter mechanisms that cut out the words of the people at the coalface; we want them to get their words directly to Ministers in positions of responsibility, such as himself.

Mr. Hanson: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s support. We share a constituency border—although there is a large river in the middle of it—and I know his constituency very well. I give him the assurance that through the proposals on the National Offender Management Service, which we are bringing forward as part of the Home Office responsibilities of my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South, we are trying to ensure that we increasingly involve the community in these decisions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) will know that we are looking to establish probation trusts in each of the probation areas and to ensure that we have community involvement in those trusts, as well as involvement from local authorities and elected officials. It will be rocky and difficult, but the potential is there to ensure that we have more community involvement in managing the probation service.

Most of all, I want to ensure that when community reparation is undertaken by people through probation and community services, as it now is in my constituency in Flintshire in north Wales, the community is involved in determining those projects, seeing those reparations made, determining the priorities at a local level, and making it known to people who have committed offences that none the less, the work that they are doing is productive to society at large, and giving them back their self-respect. There are great opportunities there for my hon. Friend, and I welcome his comments.

Mr. Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): I welcome the two new Ministers, whom we look forward to questioning in the Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs. Why was this important constitutional change rushed through without any prior parliamentary discussion so that some of the concerns of the judiciary, for example, could have been resolved? That was surely the lesson to be learned from the last round of constitutional changes, which was suddenly sprung upon everybody and had to be modified subsequently. Given that there was no significant new policy on prisons in today’s statement, would it not have been better to use this first opportunity to tell the House that the Government are rethinking the proposals that the Select Committee believes will seriously damage access to justice through legal aid?

Mr. Hanson: I welcome the opportunity to go before the Select Committee—although perhaps not today because we have enough on our plates, but certainly in the near future. I am sure that the Select Committee will do what it is supposed to do, namely, to hold Ministers to account and determine input into policy for the House as a whole. The right hon. Gentleman
9 May 2007 : Column 183
will know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made a statement to Parliament, as did my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. These are machinery of government changes, as we have made clear. Time will tell how the Ministry of Justice beds in. He said that there is no new policy direction in my statement. I disagree—there are new policy nuances in the direction of policy on supporting reoffending reductions in the community. No doubt there will be a major opportunity to discuss those over the next few weeks and months.

With regard to legal aid, the Under-Secretary, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird), has taken a great deal of interest in that at the DCA and will continue to do so in the new Ministry of Justice. I am confident that the reforms will create a sustainable legal aid system for the future that is fair to clients, to the taxpayer and to practitioners. It will continue to be an integral part of the criminal justice system. I know that my hon. and learned Friend will also relish the opportunity to go before the Select Committee to have a nice friendly chat about those matters over a quiet glass of water.

Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): Is it not significant that while the first statement from the Ministry of Justice makes passing reference to the independence of the judiciary, the main thrust concerns penal policy, which may end up tying the hands of the judiciary?

On drugs policy, will splitting the Home Office provide a co-ordinated and effective response to drugs enforcement and treatment, stem the tide of drugs flowing into our country and communities—particularly into our prisons—and provide the drugs treatment that our prisons and communities need and deserve?

Mr. Hanson: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for highlighting a problem of which I think, even though I have been in post for only 12 hours, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South is very well aware—drugs policy and how that affects prisoners. A large number of prisoners enter prison with drug problems and continue to have them, and we need to take strong action to help them through that. Unless we stop the drugs problem inside prisons, it will continue to drive crime levels in terms of feeding people’s habit once they are outside and in the community. We have spent a considerable amount of resources on drug treatment. In fact, over our term in government there has been an increase of some 974 per cent. in spending on drug treatment through the criminal justice system, and we want to focus on that for the future.

Although I am only 12 hours into the job, I do not hide from the fact that there is a very difficult issue as regards the prison population. With growing numbers of people in prison and a need to increase prison places, we need to look at how we manage the prison estate more effectively and stop people going to prison in the first place through reoffending. That is a big task for the Government to undertake, but the prison building programme and the changes in offending behaviour programmes that we have discussed today give us an opportunity to do so. I would welcome the hon. Gentleman’s input because
9 May 2007 : Column 184
there is a common agenda for all parties in this House in ensuring that we protect the public and reduce reoffending.

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): The Minister said that he wanted to deliver a world-class justice system. However, we clearly do not have a world-class prison system. As my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) said, our prisons are not only full but spilling into our police cells. I saw that with my own eyes when I recently visited Dorchester prison, where not one single cell was spare. Will the Minister elaborate on the way in which we can prevent the dilution of sentencing? More important, when will police cells stop being used for the overflow from prison cells?

Mr. Hanson: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the use of prison cells. Under Operation Safeguard, and through the Under-Secretary, we are implementing policies that we introduced in the days of the Home Office to ensure that we use police cells only as a last resort. Sadly, given the prison population, we have had to use them. In several places, police cells are used as temporary accommodation for prisoners. That is not ideal and I want the practice to be reduced and stopped. We need to take action on that.

I believe that the twin approach of increasing proper prison places—as we are doing in HMP Kennet in June, and in Belmarsh West and in Maghull near Liverpool later this year—and considering community-based sentencing to reduce the number of people who go to prison, is important. Frankly, some people can be better served in terms of punishment and rehabilitation by not serving a prison sentence.

I recognise the problem, which we need to tackle, and I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns. I hope that, over time, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I can bring better news to the House.

James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con): I join other hon. Members in welcoming the right hon. Gentleman to his new role. I also welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), with whom I have had some helpful and positive exchanges in the past few years, to his new position.

The Minister said that the right interventions for offences were necessary. He highlighted the new Cabinet Committee and the new protections that will be introduced at official level for interlinking the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office. When the Lord Chancellor recently gave evidence to the Select Committee about the construction of the new Department, he suggested that it would cover new offences. We are expecting new provisions in the Session on violent offenders. Will the Ministry of Justice or the Home Office take the lead on that? If the answer is the Home Office, what role will the Ministry of Justice play in that context?

Mr. Hanson: The new Department is responsible for criminal law in England and Wales and it will take measures on that through the House. That will involve discussions across government, through the Cabinet
9 May 2007 : Column 185
Committee chaired by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, about identifying the priorities for the Government. It will be up to the Home Office to implement existing legislation on policing and a range of similar issues. It will also be the Home Office’s role to suggest, if it wishes, legislative options for the Ministry of Justice to consider. Our role is to consider criminal law, pilot criminal law measures through the House of Commons and win the House’s support. The Home Office’s role is to implement them in due course.

Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): I add my congratulations to the Ministers. Are the new community punishment arrangements that the Minister outlined his way of describing what is already in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, or does he propose yet more legislation?

Mr. Hanson: Obviously, a considerable amount of activity is undertaken under the 2003 Act. The hon. Gentleman knows that, for example, unpaid work, supervision programmes, drug rehabilitation, alcohol treatment, mental health treatment, residencies, activities, prohibited activities, exclusion and curfew can all be tackled in the community. We want to consider how we can develop that to ensure that, when appropriate—I stress “when appropriate”—and when the punishment fits the crime, we expand the use of the mechanisms in the 2003 Act. We want to ensure that individuals feel punished, but also consider community reparation. To revert to the point that the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) made, we also want to prevent reoffending.

In 2006, more than 35,000 items of unpaid work constituted sentences. Some 6.5 million hours of work to the value of £35 million were undertaken in the
9 May 2007 : Column 186
community. I want that to be expanded for the good of the community and to ensure the objectives that, I am sure, the hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara) and the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey seek: to punish the individuals responsible, but rehabilitate them in the long term.

Lady Hermon (North Down) (UUP): After the Minister’s enormously positive and enthusiastic contribution in the Northern Ireland Office, he will be sadly missed in Northern Ireland. However, I welcome him and all his team members to their new positions.

The statement is interesting. Given that the new Ministry of Justice has at its heart the reduction of crime and reoffending, why does the statement say so little about the valuable work of the probation services? Does not the Minister believe that they are fit for the 21st century?

Mr. Hanson: I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s comments about my tenure in Northern Ireland. Not only will—I hope—Northern Ireland miss me, but I will certainly miss Northern Ireland. I had a productive and useful two years there and found the friendship and support of not only Members but the people of Northern Ireland welcome.

Offender management and the probation service are key to delivering the objectives that we set in the overall context of the policy announced today. For that reason, I want the Offender Management Bill, which is currently in another place, to be carried in both Houses. I greatly regret the fact Opposition Members voted against it. I hope that they will realise its benefits and recognise that there is an agenda, which I know the hon. Lady shares, of reducing offending, making community-based sentences more appropriate and ensuring that we protect the public at large and reduce crime. The probation service has a key role to play in that and I know that I have the hon. Lady’s support in trying to make that a success.

9 May 2007 : Column 187

Point of Order

2.7 pm

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Has the Speaker’s Office received a request from the Department for Transport for a Minister to come to the House to make a statement about the growing crisis in the Maritime and Coastguard Agency? Yesterday, 81 per cent. of union members voted to take industrial action. For people in coastal and island communities, the coastguard is as important as the fire, police and ambulance services. I cannot believe that we would—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The hon. Gentleman must not press his point of order too far. As he knows, strictly speaking it is not a point of order. The short answer to his question is no, but he has had the opportunity to place his concern on the record. I am sure that it will have been noted.

9 May 2007 : Column 188

Copyright Term for Performers and Producers

2.7 pm

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): I beg to move,

Having met Lonnie Donegan’s widow, Sharon, and their son Peter last week, it was suggested to me that I should begin the debate by reminding hon. Members of the words of “Cumberland Gap”, which was at the top of the hit parade in 1957 for five weeks. It runs:

It was suggested that the second line should be changed to, “50 years to the copyright gap”. Uniquely, we have a position whereby people who record and produce music, which is a single creative act—often not repeated, despite the number of times people try to re-record the same tune—suffer a disproportionate imposition. After 50 years, their music can be taken, put on another CD or included in another collection, sold around the world, often with the revival selling more than the original, with nothing being paid to the recording artist, the producer, the band or the individual’s family or estate.

We are not talking about millionaire pop stars. I compliment Sharon Donegan, who opened the books to us. When Lonnie Donegan died aged 71 in 2002, his total estate amounted to £82,000. His income, which also meant that of his wife and children, ran to £30,000 to £40,000 a year from his royalties in a good year. We are talking not about millionaires, but about working musicians. In fact, the Musicians Union has done a detailed analysis and found that the average income from royalties for people who work in the music industry—even someone who may have been well known in their time—is about £15,000 a year, which is not a great deal.

This debate is significant now because it is 50 years since many of the original rock and roll tunes were released. Lonnie Donegan recorded “Rock Island Line” in January 1957—my preference over “Cumberland Gap”—but his family has received no money for it. Tommy Steele recorded “Singing the Blues” and had a hit with it. As a primary school pupil, when I went out for my Halloween, as they called it in Scotland, I had to give a performance to get my treat. It was not like it was in America—where it was trick or treat, but if they did not get a treat they smashed the windows or something like that. We had to sing and I learned “Singing the Blues” for my little treat because it was easier to sing than others.

Next Section Index Home Page