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.
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 BillsI was intending to do soas 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 Billwhat relation it bears to a UK Borders Bill that, in some respects, covers much of the same territory is another debatebut 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.
Nick Herbert: Just wait a second, please. The Lord Chancellors 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 weekfrom 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 from being raped by people who have been let out of prison early?
Nick Herbert: No; let me answer my hon. Friend first, please. The disgrace of this Governments 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?
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.
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 Governments 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 Chancellors response was not adequate in this respect. When the Minister of State responds, perhaps he can tell us which proposals in Sir Ronnie Flanagans 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 formit takes police officers several minutes to complete, and we regard it as a significant impediment to their ability to interact with the publicand 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 Governments 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 ordersthe 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 effectivenessespecially in the case of ASBOs, half of which are breachedmust 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 offendersconditional cautions under which prosecutors will be able to impose a punishment with no involvement by the judiciary, which is a fundamental breach of the judiciarys 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?
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.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab):
I promise to be briefer than the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert)obviously, as I am subject to the 10-minute limitbut I am delighted to be asked to
participate in the debate. I wish to use the opportunity to raise issues related to the new special immigration status, intermediate sentences and compensation for victims of miscarriages of justice.
The House has waited 11 months since the Gracious Speech of 15 November last year, when the Governments intention to reform the criminal justice system was first announced. In some respects, it was as a result of the new threat facing this country. Since that time, Britain has faced serious attempted terrorist attacks, on 29 and 30 June this year, which if successful could have killed hundreds of innocent people. As the Prime Minister mentioned in his statement to the House on 25 July, the issue of pre-charge detention periods will be looked at again. That is why I am glad that the Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, will give evidence to the Home Affairs Committee tomorrow.
The concept of the Bill goes back to the Home Office report Rebalancing the criminal justice system, published in July 2006 as part of the Governments commitment to better empower our police and probation services to protect the public from violent offenders and antisocial behaviour. Since then, the organisation of the Departments with responsibility for our criminal justice system has undergone significant change. We now have the new Ministry of Justice, headed by my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor, with responsibility for criminal law, sentencing and prison management, and a Home Office dedicated to policing, national security and managing immigration. Of course, the Bill cuts across both Departments.
Despite the fact that crime has fallen consistently under this Government, there remains a perception, which has been highlighted over the summer, that crime committed by violent and serious offenders is an increasing threat to law-abiding citizens. I know that hon. Members on both sides of the House would wish to express their sincere sympathies with the families of those killed recently in tragic and high profile cases. Rhys Jones was only 11 years old, walking home from a football match, when he was viciously gunned down by a youth on a bicycle. Only last week, Magda Pniewska, a Polish care workerone of a number of migrant workers supporting our health servicewas shot dead in crossfire between two men.
Such cases are clearly uncommon in British society, which is why they have caused such great revulsion and attracted so much attention. They raise two different issues regarding the management of our criminal justice system. The first is how we prevent people from falling into a life of crime and better support the work of our police service in carrying out effective policing and preventing such crime. The second, which the Bill seeks to address, is how to ensure that our criminal justice system has a serious reputation for properly punishing the most serious, persistent and dangerous offenders. When those crimes are committed by foreign nationals, how do we ensure that they no longer remain a threat to British society?