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House of Commons

Wednesday 24 October 2007

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

private business

London Local Authorities and Transport for London Bill



Private Bills [ Lords] (Suspension)

Ordered ,


Ordered ,


Ordered ,


Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Community Sentencing

1. Barbara Keeley (Worsley) (Lab): What measures he is taking to improve the effectiveness of community sentencing and to encourage public support for it. [160183]

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3. Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): What measures he is taking to improve the effectiveness of community sentencing and to encourage public support for it. [160185]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. David Hanson): Community orders are an effective way of reducing crime. The Government have ensured that more than 7 million hours of unpaid work are completed by offenders every year, with increasing visibility of projects in the community.

Barbara Keeley: Some 18,000 children are affected every year when their mothers are sent to prison, yet 70 per cent. of those mothers receive sentences of less than a year. Does my right hon. Friend agree with Baroness Jean Corston’s recommendation that community sentencing should be the norm for those mothers? Does he also agree that their particular vulnerabilities and their caring commitments should be taken into account in sentencing?

Mr. Hanson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. As she knows, Baroness Corston has produced a report, which I intend to respond to before Christmas. The report recommends strongly that community sentences should become the norm. We have accepted in principle a large number of the recommendations and we want to explore how we can work those through, but I agree that we should try to find as many community sentences as possible for women, to reduce the number of women in prison and to ensure that their needs are taken care of.

Dr. Starkey: The rehabilitation of offenders should be a key part of any sentence. Will the Minister confirm that when there is a short custodial sentence, it is difficult for the Prison Service to organise effective rehabilitation, and that a community sentence may allow better rehabilitation over a longer period?

Mr. Hanson: My hon. Friend is correct, in the sense that people who receive short prison sentences, particularly sentences of less than 12 months, have a high rate of reoffending; she will know that it can be as high as 75 per cent. Community sentence statistics show that in 2000, 53 per cent. of people undertaking a community sentence had reoffended within two years. That figure dropped to 50.5 per cent. in 2004, so there is a clear correlation showing that community sentences help to prevent reoffending more successfully than short prison sentences.

Mr. Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): Does the Minister agree that support for community sentences is greatly strengthened when they are associated with restorative justice, particularly among victims and their families? That being the case, will he look carefully at the threat to the Thames Valley restorative justice scheme because of a funding problem, and ways in which restorative justice could be encouraged and funded throughout the country?

Mr. Hanson: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that restorative justice is an important element in working through community sentences. He will know that the Liverpool and Salford community court options allow
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local people to be involved in deciding some community pay-back schemes, which are effectively restorative justice, whereby individual offenders look at the impact of their offences and how they can support the local community. I will look into the Thames Valley scheme that he mentions, and follow up with a letter to him in due course.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): As a long-term supporter of community sentencing, may I suggest to the Minister, in direct answer to the question on the Order Paper, that if he wishes to increase the effectiveness of community sentencing and popular support for it, the National Offender Management Service—NOMS, or the national offender management scandal—should be dead and buried, and we should go back to resourcing and training probation officers properly, thereby doing exactly what the question asks.

Mr. Hanson: I have to disagree with the hon. Gentleman. The National Offender Management Service tries to match offenders through the system, from pre-sentence report, through sentencing, custody or community sentence, and onwards into probation and supervision afterwards, with the sole intention of preventing reoffending. However, I agree that community sentences can provide a better form of prevention of reoffending than can short custodial sentences. They are not appropriate for everybody, but they are a positive means of bringing offenders face to face with the consequences of their action and providing a way in which they can be punished and rehabilitated without some of the difficulties that a short prison sentence brings.

Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): I know that my right hon. Friend is aware of the particularly difficult situation for the families of women offenders in Wales who do not receive community sentences but are imprisoned, because there is no women’s prison in Wales. In the Government’s response to the Corston report, will he consider particularly the situation in Wales and the need for a special unit there to deal with women offenders?

Mr. Hanson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who takes a great interest in such matters. She will know that I intend to respond to the Corston report shortly, before Christmas. That response will consider a range of issues. She will also know that the Welsh Affairs Committee has produced a report recommending consideration of custodial facilities in Wales—particularly north Wales, because of the difficulties faced by women who, in almost all circumstances, have to travel out of Wales for custodial sentences. I am currently assessing both reports. I have said that I want to investigate potential alternative facilities for women in Wales and elsewhere—a theme that arises throughout the Corston report. I shall certainly keep my hon. Friend informed of progress on those matters.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): The Minister knows that we strongly support effective community sentencing. May I draw his attention to the multi-agency public protection arrangements—MAPPA—figures released this week? They show that one in 10 of those under supervision commit a breach
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of their licence within a year. Last year 83 committed a further serious offence—murder, violent assault or rape—within 12 months of release. Does that not show not only that prison is failing to rehabilitate or deter those offenders, but that supervision needs greater resources to ensure public safety?

Mr. Hanson: I accept that the figures produced this week have caused difficulties concerning some individuals who have committed further crime. I want to take all possible steps to ensure that the public are protected when individuals are released on licence. Given the number of offenders going through both community sentences and prisons, there will always be the likelihood of some reoffending by some individuals.

We have to put in place proper supervision, and I believe that the probation service is doing that. However, I shall certainly reflect on the hon. Gentleman’s points. He has my assurance that the top priorities for the Government team are public protection, prevention of reoffending and stopping serious crime being committed by people on licence.

British Statement of Values

2. Kerry McCarthy (Bristol, East) (Lab): What steps he is taking to engage in dialogue with the public on a British statement of values. [160184]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. Michael Wills): The process for developing a British statement of values will involve local, regional and national events, and opportunities for the public to deliberate and debate, using a wide range of mechanisms.

Kerry McCarthy: I appreciate the value of the exercise as a way of crystallising some of the issues that have been debated concerning Britishness and citizenship for the best part of a decade. However, how will the Minister ensure that once the statement of values is agreed, it will achieve some purpose and be disseminated to the wider British public, rather than just being an intellectual exercise?

Mr. Wills: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that it is not just the formulation of the statement that matters, but what it will be used for. That will be for the British people themselves to decide. They are going to deliberate and debate, and in the final stage of the process—a citizens summit—they will decide not only what the statement should be, but what it should be used for, subject to the views of Parliament.

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): Does the Minister agree that with any statement of British values, it would be absolutely fundamental that communities across all regions of the United Kingdom would embrace and cherish that sense of Britishness—and it would actually mean something?

Mr. Wills: I completely agree; it is vital that the process be inclusive and involve every part of the United Kingdom. We are making great efforts to ensure that the process of deliberation and debate reflects that.

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Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): Is not fair play a quintessentially British value? How can the Minister justify the introduction by the Ministry of Justice of regional pay banding, in which people doing exactly the same job in adjacent towns are paid different rates?

Mr. Wills: I pay tribute to the ingenuity of my hon. Friend’s question. Of course he is right; most people would agree that fair play is an important British value. However, I am not sure how he is arguing that the system to which he alluded transgresses that fundamental principle.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Will the Minister please translate his first answer into plain English? Will he tell us how much all this gobbledegook is costing, and precisely what the nonsense of a citizens summit is supposed to mean?

Mr. Wills: I am genuinely sorry that the hon. Gentleman, who has a distinguished history of democratic participation, sees so little value in the process on which we are embarked. We very much hope that all Members of this House will take part in that process. I would have hoped that he would want to look for a statement that can bind this country together at a time of rapid change. Unfortunately, I think that he wants to make a political point, and I am sorry about that.

The hon. Gentleman asked a specific question about how much this is costing. We are still working out the process, so we do not have a specific figure to give him, but he can be assured that we will look for value for money. I shall be happy to write to him in due course when we have a figure.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the strengths of the UK is that we are made up of many cultures and many nations, and that central to any British statement of values should be a recognition and endorsement of the multicultural and multinational nature of our society and our country?

Mr. Wills: Of course I agree with my hon. Friend. It is precisely because we are now a very various and diverse nation undergoing huge changes that we believe it is important to embark on this process of trying to find what binds us together. As I said, we want the process to be inclusive and we want all Members of this House to participate in it; I very much hope that they will do so.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): As part of the citizens summit, will the Secretary of State agree to meet me to discuss the contents of my private Member’s Bill about burglary—the Criminal Law (Amendment) (Protection of Property) Bill—particularly in relation to ensuring that having a go, and the right to defend oneself and one’s property, family and possessions against burglaries will form part of the British statement of values?

Mr. Wills: My right hon. Friend is nodding vigorously, and I think that the hon. Lady can take that as assent.

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Sentencing Policy

4. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): What plans he has to consider proposals to make changes to sentencing policy. [160186]

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): A major review conducted by Lord Carter of Coles is currently considering sentencing policy as part of the wider examination of prison and probation services.

Tony Lloyd: I thank my right hon. Friend for his response; the review will be very welcome. We have already had a serious debate in this Chamber about the need for non-custodial sentences for those who do not pose a major danger to the public. Does he accept, nevertheless, that there is public disquiet about those who pose a serious threat to the public—those who have been found guilty of crimes involving great violence or unreasonable cruelty—but whose sentencing does not always seem to reflect what the public would see as the need for salutary deterrent sentences? Can he refer that to the review body?

Mr. Straw: I share my hon. Friend’s concern about the need to ensure that the committing of a serious sexual or violent offence is properly punished. Whether in respect of the review of indeterminate sentences for public protection or in other ways, we have no intention of seeing any cuts in sentences for rape. He may also wish to know that between 1996 and 2004 the average sentence for rape increased from six and a half years to seven years, and that the minimum recommended by the Sentencing Guidelines Council in any circumstances is four years.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): In considering any proposals for changing sentencing policy, will the Minister ensure that the lack of capacity in the prison estate does not influence the length of sentences given and the proportion of those sentences which are served?

Mr. Straw: Any prison system has to take account of total capacity. We have increased capacity by 20,000 places over the past 10 years—twice as fast as the rate under the previous Administration whom the hon. Lady supported, with 2,000 places a year compared with 1,000 places previously. We have already announced plans for an additional 9,500 places over forthcoming years. In his review, which will of course be published first to this House, Lord Carter of Coles is considering what further capacity is needed.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the great challenges of sentencing policy is to educate the public about the sentences passed by our courts? In discussions with my constituents, it is clear that there is an under-appreciation of the length and nature of sentences. Will he take every opportunity to inform the public better about sentences that are actually passed?

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