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Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the important issues that confront those who live in Sudan. I cannot promise an early debate, but he might like to apply to you, Mr Speaker, for an Adjournment debate, or apply for a debate in Westminster Hall, so that those important issues can be ventilated.

Mr Tom Harris (Glasgow South) (Lab): May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 2681?

[ That this House notes that Network Rail has been found by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) to be in breach of its licence and that, according to the ORR, ‘major asset failures, congested routes and poor management of track condition' contributed to poor performance of the UK rail network in 2011; welcomes the statement by the Secretary of State for Transport reported in The Daily Telegraph on 19 December 2011, that ‘Passengers would be extremely surprised if Network Rail attempted to award bonuses next year in the light of this action by the ORR'; further notes that Network Rail members, at their meeting on 10 February, are to be asked to confirm annual bonuses for directors equivalent to 60 per cent. of their annual salary, resulting in a 340,000 bonus for its chief executive; and calls on the company's directors to reject these bonuses. ]

The motion urges Network Rail directors to reject their six-figure annual bonuses this year on the basis that they do not deserve them. Will the Leader of the House invite the Secretary of State for Transport to come to the House and confirm that she stands by what she said last year, namely that

“Passengers would be extremely surprised if Network Rail attempted to award bonuses next year”?

Sir George Young: The hon. Gentleman’s question is very timely, because later today there will be a debate on Network Rail in Westminster Hall. It would be entirely appropriate for him to stay in the Palace of Westminster a little longer so that he can raise those issues again this afternoon, when he will receive a full reply from the relevant Minister.

Mr Edward Timpson (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con): Members may be aware that Nantwich, in my constituency, plays host to the world’s largest cheese fair, which showcases outstanding local produce including the unbeatable Cheshire cheese. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on promoting local British produce, so that we can discuss how to stretch the consumer audience as far and as wide as possible?

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend may have sparked a bidding war to establish which Member of Parliament has the finest cheese in his or her constituency. [Interruption.] I can hear that the bidding war has already begun. I welcome what my hon. Friend has said. I cannot find time for an early debate, but he has drawn attention to the wide range of cheeses that are available in this country and available for export, and I commend what he has done to promote that fine product.

Mrs Jenny Chapman (Darlington) (Lab): Two weeks ago I took the opportunity to alert the House to the plight of Darlington football club. I know that the House will be pleased to learn that the club is still alive,

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thanks entirely to the efforts of the fans and a very sympathetic administrator, Harvey Madden. When I alerted the House two weeks ago, the Leader of the House very kindly, and somewhat to my surprise, said that he would look into how the Government might be able to help, and would speak to colleagues. Will he let us know how he has got on?

Sir George Young: I commend the hon. Lady’s work on protecting the interests of her football club. Following our exchange a fortnight ago, I wrote to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, and I will find out what action he took as a result of my representations.

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): Following an announcement made some 18 months ago, 170 of my constituents are to be made redundant later this year as a consequence of the decision to transfer the functions of the General Social Care Council, based in Rugby, to the Health Professions Council, based in London. Given that office accommodation costs and the cost of employing people are lower in the regions than in the capital, may we have a debate about the Government’s strategy for the location of Departments and regulatory bodies?

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend raises a serious issue, and I was sorry to hear about the loss of jobs in his constituency. Of course I will raise the matter with the appropriate Minister. As my hon. Friend will know, the Government have had to take some difficult decisions on public sector manpower that involve some rationalisation, but I will certainly see that his point about the relative costs in the regions are taken on board as we come to make these difficult decisions.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): May I press the Leader of the House on the absolute bombshell for British manufacturing industry that we may not get the Eurofighter contract with India? Is it not about time that the House showed our constituents that we care about the manufacturing sector by having an urgent debate on the subject? Will he use his good offices to send Lord Bhattacharyya to India to try to sort this out for us?

Sir George Young: There was an exchange on the subject during Business, Innovation and Skills questions; I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was here.

Mr Sheerman: I was.

Sir George Young: The hon. Gentleman will have heard the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills say that we are disappointed that at this stage we are No. 2, rather than No. 1, but that there remain opportunities to try to secure the contract. We believe that the Eurofighter Typhoon offered the most comprehensive offer on technology transfer, industrial participation, and security of supply.

I now have in front of me a letter dated 26 January to the hon. Member for Darlington (Mrs Chapman), setting out the action that is being taken as a result of the representations she made two weeks ago.

Mr Speaker: Well, that is helpful up to a point, but it is a bit of a tease from the Leader of the House. It is like saying, “I know a good joke, but I won’t tell it to you.” The hon. Member for Darlington (Mrs Chapman) is probably itching to learn the contents of said letter.

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Sir George Young: It is a letter to the hon. Member for Darlington, dated 26 January, that I hope is in her hands.

Mrs Chapman indicated dissent.

Mr Speaker: We are all better informed. It is not clear whether the hon. Lady has yet received or read the letter; it seems as though she is not in receipt of it and has not read it, but there we go.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): There are two great mysteries in my constituency. First, do we have a giant cat with yellow eyes in Woodchester? Secondly, why are Gloucestershire’s schools suffering so badly under section 251 in the allocation of administrative grants and moving on to become academies? I would like a debate on the cat and school funding, but particularly on school funding, because the subject is important, and we need to encourage the academy programme.

Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I think that I am right in saying that he has raised the issue with me before. There is a problem in his county about the way in which the so-called LACSEG—local authority central spend equivalent grant—formula works. His academies get the same per-pupil funding as local education authority schools, but the funds that the local authority used to dispense are dispensed to the academies in a formula that has disadvantaged his county. He will be pleased to know that there is a review to see whether we can move to a fairer system of funding. I hope that his county will find that that is an answer to the problem that he raises.

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): I have just come from a meeting with News International in Wapping in my constituency, during which I took the opportunity to congratulate it on today’s issue of The Times, which launches a campaign for safer cycling. Given the Leader of the House’s personal interest in the subject, will he advise me on whether there will be a statement from the Department for Transport, or a debate on cycling safety and the campaign, in the near future?

Sir George Young: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the subject, and to The Times both for the front-page spread and the profile it is giving to making cycling safer, not just in London but everywhere. Along with many other Members, I bicycled into the House today. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), takes cycling seriously. I would welcome a debate in which we could set out some of the steps that we have taken to promote cycling. I went on a trip with the all-party cycling group to Holland, where the lesson was that there is safety in numbers. When there are more cyclists, the terms of trade with the motorist begin to change, and cycling becomes safer. I welcome some of the steps that have been taken to promote cycling, as that will in turn change the terms of trade and make it a safer mode of transport.

Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): May we have a debate on how we can expand the fantastic network of university technical colleges across our country?

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Early results are impressive; they represent real poverty-busting, enterprise-enhancing change in our country. I have one in my constituency, but I would like all colleagues to have one for the benefit of all our constituents.

Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I know that he has in his constituency a UTC that was approved in October last year by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education. We are committed to putting in place at least 24 of them across the country over this Parliament. Two have already opened and 17 are on the way. We will make announcements in the summer about where the UTCs will be based. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the support he has given, and for raising the profile of UTCs, which have an important part to play in higher education.

Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): I was surprised to read a story in yesterday’s Financial Times, quoting liberally the Minister with responsibility for defence procurement, on a new Government policy of procuring defence equipment from overseas companies as well as British companies. I was particularly surprised when I turned up at the House to find that no oral statement to the House was planned, and that the statement being released was only a paper one. Either this is another instance of unilateral action by a Minister, in which case I hope the Leader of the House will take the issue up on behalf of the whole House, or the Government are changing the rules of engagement, and have decided to allow Ministers to announce major policy in the newspapers before they tell the House, in which case may we have a debate on the matter?

Sir George Young: I understand the hon. Lady’s concern. I think it was entirely appropriate for the information to be placed before the House in a written ministerial statement. There are plenty of precedents for such important announcements being made in a WMS. If she looks at the business before the House yesterday, she will see that it was a serious debate on welfare reform. I am not sure that the House would have welcomed the Government injecting an oral statement, and so taking away from the House some of the time for debate.

David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): In his autumn statement, the Chancellor announced £30 billion-worth of capital projects as part of the rebooting of the economy. A recent Institute for Public Policy Research report stated that 84% of the projects are in London and the south-east—a spend of £2,700 per head in London, £134 a head in the north-west, and £5 a head in the north-east. May we have a debate or discussion on how we can get capital spending better aligned in the regions?

Sir George Young: I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. We developed the regional growth fund precisely to help regions such as those that he mentioned, and to move the centre of gravity, so far as one can, away from London and the south-east. He will know that we have introduced enterprise zones to encourage business investment in the north-east and north-west, which benefit from allowances not available elsewhere. There are also allowances available to new companies that

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locate outside London and the south-east, so we are doing what we can to promote a sensible regional policy to help regions such as that represented by my hon. Friend.

Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab): At a meeting of the Select Committee on Education earlier this week, the Secretary of State three times refused to answer my question about whether personal e-mails have been used to avoid scrutiny of information that should be available under the Freedom of Information Act. He was unable to clarify whether any steps were being taken to prevent deletion of e-mails that contained important information that should be in the public domain. Given how potentially serious that is, will the Leader of the House ensure that time is allowed for Members to seek definitive answers to these important and incredibly urgent questions?

Sir George Young: If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education was unable to give an answer when asked the question three times, I hope that the hon. Lady will understand if I do not give an answer now, but I will raise the matter with my right hon. Friend to see whether he can add to what he said to the Education Committee. I shall also put to him the specific question that the hon. Lady asks about the deletion of e-mails, and ask him to write to her.

Mark Menzies (Fylde) (Con): Warton in my constituency is proud to be the home of the Eurofighter Typhoon and the thousands of jobs associated with it. Will the Leader of the House give us some time to debate the Indian order, some of the decisions behind it, and what more the Government can do, even at this late stage, to secure that order for the UK?

Sir George Young: I understand the concern of my hon. Friend’s constituents at the Indian Government’s decision to back the Rafale rather than the Eurofighter Typhoon. During an exchange at BIS questions, the Secretary of State outlined the action still open to this Government and this country to try to secure the order. I cannot promise an immediate debate, but my hon. Friend might like to apply to you, Mr Speaker, for an Adjournment debate or a debate in Westminster Hall.

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): International women’s day will be celebrated worldwide on 8 March. The theme this year is connecting girls, inspiring futures, which is timely at a time of such austerity. It would be a travesty if there were not a debate in this House, the mother of all Parliaments, on 8 March. Will the Leader of the House help to ensure that a debate takes place, in the main Chamber, on international women’s day?

Sir George Young: Last year, there was a debate, rightly, on international women’s day in the Chamber. As she will know, responsibility for finding time for international women’s day is specifically mentioned in, I think, paragraph 145 of the Wright Committee report. I will seek to make available to the Backbench Business Committee a day on or around that specific day, so it has the opportunity to fulfil the hon. Lady’s request.

Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth) (Con): HealthEast is the GP-led commissioning pathfinder group that covers Great Yarmouth and, indeed, Waveney. May we

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have a statement on the progress of GP commissioning pathfinder groups across the country, given that, like HealthEast, many are enthusiastic about the programme and want to get on with the work, in order that local decisions can be made by local medical experts, rather than by central diktat in the NHS?

Sir George Young: There will be an opportunity to consider this issue when the Health and Social Care Bill returns, but my hon. Friend makes a good point: many GPs step forward to act as volunteers for the clinical commissioning groups. It seems there is a broader appetite in the country for these reforms than the impression sometimes given by the leaders of such bodies. My hon. Friend will have seen that the heads of more than 50 new doctors groups have argued that the BMA’s policy of blanket opposition fails to represent their views. I am grateful to him for making that point.

Mr John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): Does the Leader of the House agree that Select Committees, particularly the long-standing Public Accounts Committee, are crucial to our parliamentary system? If so, was he as concerned and alarmed as I was to see the article by Sue Cameron in today’s edition of The Daily Telegraph stating that the outgoing head of the civil service, Sir Gus O’Donnell, who staggered out the door under the weight of his pay-off and his pension, had written to the Chairman of the PAC complaining about the robust questioning of senior civil servants? Is that not an outrageous challenge to the rights of Parliament, and may we have a debate in which we can remind these arrogant mandarins that they are supposed to be civil servants, not uncivil autocrats?

Sir George Young: It so happens that I have read Sue Cameron’s article in The Daily Telegraph, concerning the alleged letter written by Sir Gus O’Donnell to the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee. [Hon. Members: “Alleged?”] I have not seen the letter. The right hon. Gentleman raises a serious point, and of course the PAC is one of the most important Select Committees in the House. As I understand it, it will be up to the PAC to decide how it wants to respond to that letter, and it may want to make a report to the House, to which the Government would respond. That is the appropriate way to take the issue forward.

Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con): The UK Government have prioritised health reform and committed to increasing spending, while devolving decision making to clinicians at local level and making it more accountable. Sadly, my constituents do not benefit from such changes. May we have a general debate on health care, so we can compare and contrast the different forms of health care provision within the UK and expose the fact that Labour is the only party in government in the UK that is cutting the health service?

Sir George Young: I am sorry that my hon. Friend’s constituents do not benefit from some of the reforms that will be the subject for debate when the Health and Social Care Bill comes back. He rightly points out that the Department of Health is allocating an extra £12 billion over the spending review period for investment in the NHS—spending the NHS would not have got, had the Opposition been returned to government.

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Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Some weeks ago, the Leader of the House promised me in this Chamber that we would have adequate time to consider the Welfare Reform Bill on receipt of the Lords amendments. Given the very short time we had yesterday, we could not divide on the programme motion, as we wanted to protect precious time for debate. The Minister of State hogged the Dispatch Box for some 45 minutes during consideration of the third group of amendments. One of the amendments that was then accepted, because it could not be put to a Division, hollowed out the Child Poverty Act 2010, which was supported by all parties in this House in the last Parliament. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the House can reconsider the matter, so that we do not end up telling the public that we inadvertently deleted a key field in that important Act, which was passed in the last Parliament?

Sir George Young: I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern. The question whether any further debate is held on the Bill depends on another place, to which it has now been returned, amended. I did announce last Thursday one day’s debate on the Welfare Reform Bill. No official representations were made against what I had planned, and there was no Division yesterday on the programme motion. There were three separate debates yesterday, every single Lords amendment was considered, and we had already had some two days on Report, so it was not as if the House was addressing these issues for the first time. My view is that, in the context of Commons’ consideration of Lords amendments of other Bills, a one day debate was adequate, and that its structure enabled debates to take place on all the important Lords amendments.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I agree with the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan). If the House had divided on the programme motion, I would have voted against it—the House’s view on it should have been tested. However, I am afraid that the official Opposition did not seek to divide the House, so the Leader of the House cannot be blamed. That said, I hope he will consider such issues in future, because that is what was wrong with the previous Government: they did not give enough time for proper consideration of Bills. Although I support the welfare reform legislation, we should have had more time to discuss it.

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend has consistently argued for more time for debate. I am not sure whether he was in the House for last Thursday’s business questions, when I announced the provision of a one-day debate. That would have been his opportunity to make the point he has just made, which is sadly one day too late.

Mr Speaker: Or even a week. I call Mr Barry Gardiner.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): The Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting is due to take place in Sri Lanka in December of next year. Given that President Rajapaksa is turning that country into a kleptocracy, that term limits on the presidency have been abolished—turning that country, potentially, into a dictatorship—and that there has been no adequate response to the UN Secretary-General’s commissioner for human rights, does

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the Head of our Government believe that it is still appropriate to hold the CHOGM there, and will the Queen attend?

Sir George Young: The hon. Gentleman asks some good questions, and it sounds as if we have some time to reflect. If the CHOGM is taking place in December next year, we have adequate time, but I will certainly convey his concern to the Foreign Secretary. I expect that the decision on the location of this conference is one not for the UK Government but for the Commonwealth as a whole. However, as I said, I will pass on his concerns to the Foreign Secretary and ask him to write to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): My right hon. Friend will be aware of the recent leaked NATO report suggesting that the Taliban insurgency will not be beaten and that the Taliban have widespread support among local residents, despite NATO’s public claims to the contrary on both counts. Given the report’s credibility, is this not the right occasion for the Government to make a statement?

Sir George Young: The Government do not normally comment on leaked reports, but my hon. Friend will know that the Government make regular quarterly statements on Afghanistan. I anticipate that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will make such a statement to the House very shortly, when my hon. Friend will have an opportunity to put to him the questions about this report.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (Lab): The Leader of the House will be aware that the Government failed to convince the majority of Members in the other place of many aspects of the Welfare Reform Bill. Against that background, will he use his good offices to clarify reports that the Government intend to appoint to the other place a number of peers equivalent to the number of elected MPs in this place?

Sir George Young: That sounds an ambitious target. The question of the appointment of peers to another place is way above my pay grade, but I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should not believe absolutely everything he reads in the press.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): Caring is a noble vocation but there are too few opportunities for training. May we have a debate on the establishment of carers’ academies, such as the one proposed in South Staffordshire at Rodbaston, to be run between the college there and South Staffordshire housing association?

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend makes a good point. We want to raise the qualifications of those who are caring and he might have seen a number of recent instances of bad quality care and untrained practitioners. I would welcome the initiative he has just mentioned. I will mention it to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health—and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, if it is an academy—and see whether we can make progress down that path.

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Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): This year the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency received more than 1 million requests just from car park operators for individuals’ vehicle registration information. Invariably, penalty notices followed. May we have a debate to review the measures the Government can take to protect motorists so that they are not fleeced by car park operators aiming to boost income through hefty fines?

Sir George Young: The hon. Gentleman raises a good point because later this year it will be illegal to clamp on private property, so the emphasis might move on to the collection of fines for parking on such property. I will raise the matter with the Secretary of State for Transport and see whether any additional measures are necessary to protect innocent motorists from being harassed by such companies.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): On 16 January, in Education oral questions, the Secretary of State was unable to reassure the House that he or his special advisors had not

“deliberately destroyed or deleted e-mails relating to Government business that he has sent or received through private e-mail accounts”. —[Official Report, 16 January 2012; Vol. 538, c. 467.]

May we have a debate on that issue, which other hon. Members have raised and which is beginning to have the whiff of a cover-up about it?

Sir George Young: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who raises a similar issue to that raised by his hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy). I have already undertaken to raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and I shall ensure that the hon. Gentleman is copied in to the letter that will be on its way.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): When will we get the Secretary of State for Education’s promised statement on the capital programme for schools? In the past, Ministers have made promises to visit schools in Coventry but they have not materialised. We have schools that are falling down and badly need a rebuild. The midlands in general badly needs those capital programmes, which could revamp the west midlands economy. When are the Government going to do something about it and when will we get that statement?

Sir George Young: As the hon. Gentleman will know, when we came into government we sought better value from the capital programme for schools and we brought to a halt a rather extravagant programme that we had inherited and introduced one that gives much better value for money. I shall raise the concerns with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and ask him either to visit Coventry or to write to the hon. Gentleman to set out our programme for investment in that city.

Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): May we have a debate on what safeguards there are to protect people studying for qualifications when their privately run providers go into liquidation? I met a constituent on Friday who had paid a substantial sum to obtain a plumbing and gas qualification from BTSC Europe—Building Trade Skills Centres Europe—which had styled itself as the largest such provider in Europe

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and even had the Prime Minister come and open its premises in Trafford park. My constituent has been left high and dry with no qualification and with debt now that that company has gone into liquidation. It seems another example of people who work hard and play by the rules being the ones who are punished when we as a state should protect them.

Sir George Young: It sounds as though the hon. Gentleman could have raised that issue in BIS questions, when the Minister for consumer affairs and others were in the Chamber. I am sorry to hear about the hon. Gentleman’s constituent. I shall raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and see whether there is any action that we can take to get redress.

Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab): May I associate myself entirely with the comments made by my hon. Friend the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee on the question of time? It is becoming rather difficult to manage the business proposed to us by hon. Members. At the Select Committee on Education on Tuesday, the Secretary of State asserted that he had received what seemed to be conflicting advice from officials about the use of private e-mail accounts for official business. He also told us that he chose to follow the advice that he had received from the Cabinet Office. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the publication of the advice the Secretary of State received from the Cabinet Office and have it placed in the Library? Will he also arrange for a statement to clarify what advice is given to Ministers on such issues?

Sir George Young: The hon. Gentleman will know that advice from civil servants to Ministers is not normally published, but he raises an issue that has been raised by some of his hon. Friends. I have got the message: they want some response from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I shall do what I can to secure that.

Mr Dave Watts (St Helens North) (Lab): We already know that the Ministry of Defence will no longer support British industry and jobs. This week, Merseyside police authority decided to purchase a fleet of cars with no manufacturing base in the UK. May we have a debate on whether the Government and public services overall need to do a lot more to support British industry and jobs?

Sir George Young: There will be a debate on the police grant next Wednesday. The hon. Gentleman will know that it is not the Government but the police authority that purchases police cars in his constituency. He will have an opportunity to raise the issue on Wednesday and I shall ensure that the Minister replying to the debate knows that the matter will be raised by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): I do not know whether you, Mr Speaker, or the Leader of the House have read the article in today’s The Guardian by Professor Roy Greenslade on the continuing refusal of the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, to give the names of the 15,000 victims of data mining and illegal data trawling carried out for newspapers by

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Mr Steve Whittamore. I raised this absolutely astonishing question last week. May we have a debate on it? Perhaps you are among those people, Mr Speaker, because in those days the media were always ganging up on you. We need a debate on the Information Commissioner’s denial to the British people. He has given those names to the media and the police, but not to the victims. It is outrageous.

Sir George Young: I have to repeat what I told the right hon. Gentleman last week: it would be quite wrong for the Government to overrule the Information Commissioner. There is a process of appeal if the right hon. Gentleman is dissatisfied with the commissioner’s decision, and that is the line he should follow rather than asking me about it week after week.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): The Government’s written ministerial statement, published yesterday by the Ministry of Defence, sets out a worrying path on defence procurement that will be to the detriment of British manufacturing jobs. May we have an urgent debate on that in Government time? Secondly, if time was short yesterday, why could not the Minister come and make the statement today so that we could question him on his policy?

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend the Minister made the statement yesterday by means of a written ministerial statement. I have looked at it and I see no evidence to support what the hon. Lady has just said about it being bad news for UK industry. On the contrary, much of what he has proposed will benefit UK industry. For example, purchasing off-the-shelf rather than individually specified equipment is of great advantage to British manufacturers who already have a number of products in that range.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Tragically, it now requires 24 early-day motions to list the names of those brave soldiers who have fallen in Afghanistan as a result of decisions taken in this House. As the aims of the war become increasingly meaningless, may we debate early-day motion 2673 so that we can record our gratitude for the sacrifices of the fallen and avoid our military leaders being faced with the terrible question that John Kerry asked himself at the end of the Vietnam war: “Who will be the last soldier I will order into battle to die for a politician’s mistake?”

[That this House salutes the bravery of the armed forces serving in Afghanistan and records with sorrow the deaths of Lance Corporal Kyle Cleet Marshall, from 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, aged 23 from Newcastle, Private Lewis Hendry, 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, aged 20 from Norwich, Private Conrad Lewis, 4th Battalion The Parachute Regiment, aged 22 from Bournemouth, Warrant Officer Class 2 (Company Sergeant Major) Colin Beckett, 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, aged 36 from Peterborough, Ranger David Dalzell, 1st Battalion, The Royal Irish Regiment, aged 20 from Bangor in County Down, Private Martin Simon George Bell, 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, aged 24 from Bradford, Private Joseva Saqanagonedau Vatubua, 5th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, aged 24 from Suva, Fiji, Warrant Officer

2 Feb 2012 : Column 1030 Class 2 Charles Henry Wood from 23 Pioneer Regiment Royal Logistic Corps, serving with the Counter-Improvised Explosive Device Task Force, aged 34 from Middlesbrough, Corporal Steven Thomas Dunn from 216 (Parachute) Signal Squadron, attached to 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment Battlegroup, aged 27 from Gateshead and Private John Howard, 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, aged 23 from Wellington, New




Sir George Young: The hon. Gentleman has consistently pursued this case in the House and we respect him for that. As I said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron), I anticipate that the Foreign Secretary might make his statement on Afghanistan quite shortly. That will be an opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to make his case.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): I have had many representations from constituents who are very concerned about the large increases in water bills announced in the past week or so, particularly against a background of people having their wages cut, losing their jobs or having only small wage increases. May we have an urgent debate so that we can hear from the Government what representations have been made to the water companies to try to keep down their charges?

Sir George Young: The hon. Gentleman is quite right that Ofwat recently announced that water and waste water bills could go up by 0.5% ahead of inflation. That decision is broadly in line with the decision taken back in 2009 and is necessary partly to secure investment in infrastructure and drive up the standards of water in this country. He will also know that the Government are taking action to ensure that tariffs are available to those on low incomes so that they are insulated, to some extent, against the increases.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): On Wednesday 20 July, I received a written answer from the Department for Education on the use of e-mails. It was very clear:

“Never use non-DfE email services…to carry out Departmental business.”—[Official Report, 20 July 2011; Vol. 531, c. 1017W.]

It then became equally clear that officials were using Hotmail accounts to advise people in relation to academy status. I raised this issue at business questions on 8 September, when the Leader of the House helpfully said I would get a reply from the Secretary of State. In that reply, the Secretary of State made it very clear that this was one rogue official, and I accepted that response, but we have now heard, as recently as the Select Committee on Education’s session this week, that there is still a lack of clarity about how the Secretary of State himself is using private e-mail accounts. May we have a statement by the Secretary of State in the House to clear up this issue?

Sir George Young: It seems there is a theme running through some of the questions from Opposition Members. I refer the hon. Gentleman to my answers to the questions asked by his hon. Friends. I have registered the concerns of Opposition Members and I will take this up with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education; I will ask him to respond to and address all the relevant issues that have been raised in this question session and to send a copy to all the Members who have raised them.

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Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): The Government plan to introduce a draft parliamentary privilege Bill soon. May I urge the Leader of the House to delay the publication of that report, unlike all the other recommendations, until the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport has finished its report into phone hacking? I am not on that Committee, but it might well suggest that those who have lied to Parliament, including the police, the Murdochs and others, should appear at the Bar of the House and it would be unfortunate if there were any conflict with what the Bill is going to propose. While I am at it, may I suggest that the Leader of the House should stop continually delaying the end of this Session so that he can get his legislation through? That is what the Stuart kings used to do and it did not do them much good in the end.

Sir George Young: I am not sure what Bills they were trying to get on to the statute book but I wonder whether they had the merit of the Bills now before Parliament. On the hon. Gentleman’s first question, we are committed to publishing a draft privilege Bill in this Session, and we plan to do that, but it is a draft Bill and it will be accompanied by a consultation document. If after we have published the draft Bill other documents are available from a Select Committee, of course they can be taken on board before we decide to go ahead with a real Bill, so the conflict he outlines need not arise.

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Points of Order

1.2 pm

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. We look forward to debating the Water Industry (Financial Assistance) Bill, which is being presented by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs today. It will certainly be good finally to have some Government business to discuss. Can you advise me, Mr Speaker, whether it is normal when a Bill is introduced outside the legislative programme, as this one has been, for the Opposition to discover its existence through leaks from the other place? Can you further advise whether it is normal for a Secretary of State when approached by her opposite number to state, “I’m not speaking to you; I don’t have to speak to you,” which was the response of the Environment Secretary when I approached her yesterday? I am not sure whether she was feeling a little out of her depth. When I informed her office, at 6.15 pm last night, that I would raise this point of order about the lack of usual courtesies, I received an e-mail from her 20 minutes later finally informing me of the Bill’s presentation in the House now. May I ask you, Mr Speaker, to use your good offices and the usual channels to ensure that the Opposition are kept fully informed of any future urgent business and that the Government do not just drip-feed information to us?

Mr Speaker: I will say a number of things to the hon. Lady. First, on the whole it is probably unwise for the Chair to rule on the matter of normality, which the hon. Lady raised early in her point of order. I shall eschew any temptation to say anything about that. Secondly, she has regaled the House with a racy and intoxicating account of the recent sequence of events which apparently perturbs her but about which I do not think any further comment from me is either necessary or helpful.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon) rose—

Mr Speaker: Of course, I will happily hear the hon. Gentleman. I did not know he was seeking to come in, but he will have his opportunity in a moment.

Thirdly, on the face of it, at this stage, the way in which this matter has been handled is not a matter for the Chair. All I can do, and must do, is ensure that proper notice is given to the House, and it has been. The rest of the matters may continue to be unsatisfactory in the hon. Lady’s mind, but she has given eloquent expression to her dissatisfaction.

Richard Benyon: Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to get on the record that the Secretary of State has written to the Opposition spokesperson, as well as to the Chair of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the devolved Ministers, which I believe is the normal courtesy in these matters. We are very keen to work with both sides of the House to make sure that legislation is taken through in as consensual a way as possible, and we look forward to working with you and Members on both sides to make sure that that happens.

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Mr Speaker: I am most grateful to the Minister. Two sides of this have been heard, and I think we will leave it there for today.

Mr Dave Watts (St Helens North) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In relation to the urgent question, is it in order for Ministers to put up a spokesman who obviously does not know the answers to the questions that Members are putting to him when the Minister who does know the answers is sitting next to him?

Mr Speaker: Who the Government put up on a matter of this kind is a matter for them. As to the content of answers, whether they impress the hon. Gentleman or not and what their quality might be, that is very murky territory, certainly for the Speaker, so I shall keep away from it. I do not think the hon. Gentleman really expected an answer to his question; I think he simply wanted to give vent to his views—and that he has done.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will know that previous Speakers have ruled that when a Minister relies on a document for their argument, they are then required to publish it to the House. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury earlier referred to documents that he had signed, so surely he should publish those to the House.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. My understanding of the position on the question of reliance on a document and its consequent publication is that that applies where state papers are concerned, but whether it applies in this particular context I am not at all sure. I do not advance a strong view on the point. I think he is seeking to rev up or simply repeat a point that was made earlier.

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Chris Bryant: No, this is a new one.

Mr Speaker: The hon. Gentleman professes his innocence and says it is a new point, but even if it is, it has been clearly made and has been heard. I shall not rule on it, because I do not think it is, at this stage, a matter for the Chair to rule on, but the Leader of the House will have heard it and I have a pretty strong sense that it will percolate through to the relevant Ministers. If the hon. Gentleman is still dissatisfied, I feel sure, knowing him for the sort of upmarket terrier that he is, that he will raise the matter again at the earliest opportunity. And in case he is going to ask me whether that was a compliment, as he did the other day when I paid him a compliment and I assured him that it was, it was. We will leave it there.

Bill Presented

Water Industry (Financial Assistance) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 5 0 )

Mrs Secretary Spelman, supported by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Vince Cable and Richard Benyon, presented a Bill to make provision for the giving of financial assistance for the purpose of securing the reduction of charges for the supply of water and the provision of sewerage services and in connection with the construction of, and the carrying out of works in respect of, water and sewerage infrastructure.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Monday 6 February, and to be printed (Bill 299) with explanatory notes (Bill 299-EN).

2 Feb 2012 : Column 1035

Transparency and Consistency of Sentencing

[Relevant documents: Seventh Report from the Justice Committee, Session 20 10 -12, Draft Sentencing Guidelines: Drugs a nd Burglary, HC 1211; First Report from the Justice Committee, Session 2010-12, Revised Sentencing Guideline: Assault, HC 637; and o ral evidence taken before the Justice Co mmittee on 13 December 2011 on t he Annual Report of the Sentencing Council, HC 1711-i. ]

1.8 pm

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Kenneth Clarke): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the work of the Sentencing Council and the transparency and consistency of sentencing.

I am glad to have the opportunity to debate this issue today. Public confidence in our criminal justice system rests on the principle that justice is dispensed independently by a judge in possession of the full facts of a case. It is normal to quote Magna Carta: we do not deprive people of their liberty

“without due process of law”

in this country. It is not the case in the United Kingdom, as it still is, unfortunately, in many parts of the world, that the Executive can order the detention and trial of people simply on the basis that they disagree strongly with the Government. Neither is it the case, as it is in some other judicial systems, that trials can be stretched out and rerun, until the “right” judgment is reached. Politicians do not sentence people in individual cases, judges do, and British Governments lose cases when they are parties in civil actions. I shall not go on, because we all know that those are the fundamentals of civil liberties and the rule of law in this country.

Independence is what we employ judges for, but alongside that fundamental truth lies an equally important principle—the discretion to do justice in individual case. Only judges see the full circumstances of each case, and they need the freedom to vary sentences in individual instances in accordance with the gravity of the offence. They have to bear in mind the circumstances of the individual offender and such mitigation as they may be able to offer. Sometimes the offence will be so aggravated that a higher than average sentence is required, as we saw, for example, after the riots in August. On other occasions, there will be significant personal mitigation, or relatively little harm caused to the victim, which means that a lower sentence than average will be justified. Just as we trust that our independent judges are the right people to make sensible decisions about the running of cases, so we generally trust them to apply the framework of criminal law across a range of different kinds of case of varying degrees of seriousness.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab) rose

Mr Clarke: It is very early, but I give way to the right hon. Gentleman.

Keith Vaz: On the point about gravity, the right hon. and learned Gentleman will have noted the sentences that were given yesterday to a group of four al-Qaeda inspired fundamentalists, who as the result of a Goodyear hearing will, in effect, be out of prison within six years. Does he consider it important to revisit the whole

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notion of Goodyear hearings in view of the fact that people who were going to cause mayhem in London have got away with being in prison for only six years?

Mr Clarke: I am not yet familiar with the full facts of the case, so I certainly shall not comment. There is also a matter of principle. The custom is growing that Ministers conduct a running commentary on sentences in individual cases as they proceed. I do not think that that is wise. I believe in the separation of powers. The right hon. Gentleman is a senior and respected Member of the House, but my understanding is that those people will be sentenced next week. I will check. When the sentence is actually imposed, we have a system whereby the Attorney-General can put in an appeal on the ground of leniency and ask the Court of Appeal to reconsider it. I will inquire more closely during the course of the debate, as the right hon. Gentleman is obviously concerned.

Public confidence would not be well served if individual judges gave widely varying sentences in similar cases. We have one body of law as determined by Parliament, and the punishment should fit the crime. Parliament imposing the law is the guardian of public opinion. We are answerable to the general public and the maximum tariffs set by the House have to be taken as a guide by judges in all cases.

Different cases should attract different punishments. The question is how to ensure that our independent judiciary can make judgments that fit the facts of the case but are also consistent with each other: how to balance, on the one hand, the imperative of judicial freedom—such that they have the latitude to sentence according to circumstance—with, on the other hand, the need for a consistent approach across the system and in all our courts.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): My right hon. and learned Friend rightly focuses on public confidence. What assessment has he made of the current state of public confidence in sentencing? Does he have a view about the poll commissioned by Lord Ashcroft and carried out by Populus, which shows that more than 80% of the public, more than 80% of the police and more than 80% of victims think that sentencing is too lenient at the moment?

Mr Clarke: That has always been the case, certainly in my lifetime, and I suspect it always will be. I always wonder why that is the consistent public attitude. I shall not launch into criticism of the press, but I think it is because of the way these things are always presented to the public. The newsworthy cases are those where the newspaper decides to give a short version of the case and rouses the indignation of its readers by the apparent leniency of the sentence. Much though I respect opinion polls, particularly those obtained by Lord Ashcroft, the fact is that most citizens never go to a court of law. Most people, if we ask them, do not know what sort of sentences are imposed by the court. If all they read about are individual sensational cases, which a particular editor is trying to present as scandalous because of a lenient sentence, it tends to form public attitudes.

I shall not go further, but when we read a newspaper, we should not believe we are hearing all the facts of the case. The judge has probably heard hours of evidence

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from both sides, but what we read are two or three snappy lines summarising what is supposed to have happened in the opinion of the journalist.

Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): Let us look at the facts. Perhaps the public are worried about this fact: 48% of burglars do not receive an immediate custodial sentence.

Mr Clarke: In a moment, I shall probably make another passing reference to the fact that the Sentencing Council guidelines make it clear that custody is undoubtedly a normal sentence for burglary. In my experience, it always has been, and it still is. There has to be a clear mitigating circumstance for anybody to avoid a custodial circumstance.

Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): My right hon. and learned Friend is correct in his assertions about lack of knowledge. It is not the fault of the public; it is the fault of the system that there is lack of knowledge in the public domain. That point is eloquently demonstrated and backed up by the findings of research conducted by Ipsos MORI for the Sentencing Council in May last year.

Mr Clarke: There is a very interesting website—I forget what it is called—

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Crispin Blunt): You be the judge.

Mr Clarke: I am reminded by my hon. Friend.

The facts of a case are given and the public are invited to give what they think is an appropriate sentence. Then they are told the sentence the judge gave. In fact, members of the public tend to give more lenient sentences than judges impose, because they have been led to believe—I shall not carry on, because it will only lead to reprisals in the morning. Some of our right-wing newspapers, which I started reading when I was a very small boy, have been telling the nation about soft judges letting off criminals for as long as I can remember, and in my opinion that will be the theme of some of our leading popular newspapers in 50 years’ time, if they survive that long. I shall move on.

This is where the Sentencing Council comes in—the independent body established in 2010 and ably led by its chairman, the right hon. Lord Justice Leveson, to whom I am grateful. Its role is precisely to promote a clear, fair and, above all, consistent approach to sentencing, backed up by supporting analysis and research. As hon. Members know, it does that by publishing guidelines—carefully crafted analyses that set out a clear decision-making process for courts and give guidance on aggravating and mitigating factors to help inform the sentence.

The guidelines include examples of the different levels of harm that a crime can cause, both to victims and the community. They set out varying levels of culpability that apply to offenders, such as whether the offence was committed on the spur of the moment or whether it was carefully planned in advance. They suggest common starting points and ranges for courts to use for different levels of offence. Importantly, they are guidelines, not

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tramlines or a rigid framework. They are flexible, and judges are always free to depart from them in exceptional circumstances. The most valuable quality for any judge in any court is judgment, which is what, in the end, they bring to bear.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): The point that guidelines should be guidelines was demonstrated after the riots, when in extraordinary circumstances judges used their discretion and gave firm sentences. Guidelines are for ordinary circumstances, but for those extraordinary events judges were spot-on in using their discretion.

Mr Clarke: As it happens, I entirely agree with my hon. Friend’s opinion. Judges rightly reflected the fact that the background was a sudden, alarming outburst of public disorder and that they needed quickly to give firm and severe sentences, in some cases above the average normally imposed for the offence. That was a correct response to public need.

In the two years it has been operating, the Sentencing Council has done much valuable work not only to promote consistency but in its more general role of seeking to improve public confidence in the criminal justice system. However, it has on occasion been criticised for both its general role in developing guidance for the courts and the contents of particular guidelines. The case that I want to make today, before listening to the views of the House, is that the current system is the right one and that these criticisms are largely misdirected. Contrary to what one sometimes reads in the newspapers, sentencing guidelines take a proportionate and sensible approach to the punishment of offenders, and one in which the public should have great confidence.

Mr Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): My right hon. and learned Friend, in his normal charming way, has encompassed some of the problems in his overview of the concerns about the faith and trust of taxpayers and constituents in the criminal justice system. He says that he does not want to set a precedent whereby Parliament provides a running commentary on sentencing, and he criticises the media prism in which sentencing is discussed, but surely he concedes the obfuscation of court procedures. When will the average taxpayer get a say on sentencing in this country?

Mr Clarke: That is what this debate is for. MPs, and everyone else, are of course perfectly entitled to make whatever comments they wish about the criminal justice system, which, like every part of the public service, is accountable to Parliament, and ultimately it is Parliament that determines the framework of law by which the whole thing is conducted. It seems to have become rather fashionable nowadays for a running commentary to break out about a series of cases, and I think that we should be more sparing. I also think that anyone who comments on this or any other matter should ensure that they have the full facts before going out and giving a considered opinion, rather than just reacting to something they read over their morning coffee.

Nicola Blackwood (Oxford West and Abingdon) (Con): Will the Lord Chancellor give way?

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Mr Clarke: I will, but then I really must make some progress.

Nicola Blackwood: I thank the Lord Chancellor, who is being extremely generous, for giving way. His points about press sensationalism, the separation of powers and not wanting to have a running commentary from politicians are well made. However, I think that the lack of public confidence is not just due to a thirst for punishment beyond reason, because there is also the fact that reoffending rates are high. The point about sentencing is that we want it to be an effective deterrent against reoffending. At the moment, 49% of all prisoners reoffend within a year of release, and for adults released from short-term prison sentences the rate rises to 60%. We have to convince the public that our criminal justice system is effectively deterring prisoners from reoffending, which is not an issue of sensationalism.

Mr Clarke: I could not agree more. In fact, in so far as I have brought anything into policy since taking up my current post, it has to put much greater emphasis on reoffending, which is the biggest weakness of our system, but covering the full range of reforms would be outside the scope of the debate. The system punishes first of all, but it would serve the public better if it also led to the reform of more offenders, so that we could get reoffending rates down to a more respectable level. My colleagues and I are trying to address that in everything that we do in the Department of Justice.

It is relevant to the debate to consider what is most effective in deterring reoffending. Some people have held the belief for years, quite understandably, that in order to cut reoffending we must deter people by sending more and more to prison for longer and longer sentences. My personal opinion is that the evidence completely refutes that view. That approach does not work, particularly if it makes prisons overcrowded and unresponsive places where prisoners toughen up and meet some rough friends before being released to fend for themselves in the outside world. We are making more intelligent use of the prison estate so that, in addition to the punishment of confinement, there is a process of reform based on a working environment that tackles drugs, drink, mental illness and all the other things in order to lead people to behave when they are released.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Clarke: I have now set off a whole lot of other interventions. As I have started this diversion, or been led to it, I will give way again.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): I am very interested in what the Secretary of State is saying and agree with his view about the importance of deterrence as well as punishment, but there is a flaw in what he is saying about sending people to prison. When talking to police officers in my constituency a year or so ago, I was told that they took five or six prolific burglars off the streets and put them away for a year or two, which had a massive impact on burglary rates in the area, so it does work. Although they will be released eventually and might reoffend, the fact is that putting people in prison does have an impact in certain circumstances.

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Mr Clarke: Burglary rates dropped in recent years because we had an economic boom, and I think that there is a serious danger that they will go up again—they are going up at the moment—if we do not get out of our present economic difficulties quickly. Better policing also counts. In my opinion, the police have become much better at targeting suspected offenders and arresting the people causing most of the crime. Of course prison is the right place for serious offenders, so the sentences that the hon. Gentleman describes sound quite light to me for persistent burglars, and everyone gets a rest while they are sent to prison. As I said when agreeing with my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood), while such people are in prison, given that they will be released one day, we should make more intelligent use of prisons to try to ensure that we reform those people so that they are less likely to reoffend.

Philip Davies: The Secretary of State seems to be arguing that sending people to prison for longer would not help to reduce reoffending, but his Department’s own figures indicate that the longer they spend in prison, the less likely they are to reoffend. If he is not sure about that, I can tell him that the reoffending rate for people who spend less than 12 months in prison is 61%; for those who spend 12 months to two years in prison, it is 36%; for those who spend two to four years in prison, it is 28%; and for those who spend more than four years in prison, it is 17.6%. It is clear that the longer people spend in prison, the less likely they are to reoffend.

Mr Clarke: There is another debate to be had on that, which my hon. Friend will no doubt press for. If people are sent to prison for less than 12 months, we really do nothing whatsoever for them there. They are locked up, released at the end of their sentence and given no support when they leave, and there are staggering levels of reoffending. One thing that has always been done, by the previous Government and every Government, is that the more serious offenders are kept in prison for longer and more effort is made to try to keep an eye on them when they get out. That is a very brief summary of that debate. Once we start swapping statistics in this way, we could argue practically anything, particularly as most criminal statistics have been remarkably unreliable in recent years—I hope that they are now being improved. My hon. Friend’s view is not quite the same as mine, but I respect it.

Mr Stewart Jackson: My right hon. and learned Friend is being most gracious and generous in giving way. I wish to be helpful, if I can. I am puzzled by his view on the fact that putting people in prison does not work, because he will know about the possible great success of the social investment bond in HMP Peterborough, where 46% of the indicative income for keeping prisoners in prison will go back to St Giles Trust, Nacro and other third sector organisations. That approach will be rolled out across the whole country, if it is successful. Surely the point is that putting people in prison can work, if it demonstrably reduces recidivism in the long run.

Mr Clarke: I do not disagree. I have always held up the arrangement at Peterborough prison as a model of where we want to go. It is exactly what I wish to

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encourage. People are imprisoned, first, because they have to make their reparations to the public and be punished for what they have done but, as my hon. Friend has rightly said, there is now an extremely interesting situation in place where attempts to start reforming criminals start in the prison and are followed through outside by St Giles Trust, which is the partner of the private sector managers of the prison. We hope to replicate that pilot across the country, which is an example of where we ought to go. People get the punishment first and then proper efforts to stop them offending when they are released.

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): To pursue that point further, is it not the case that if we have a system that faces constant increases in numbers, overcrowding and prisoners being moved around in order to accommodate the problems that the system faces, we will not get sentence planning, the careful structuring of sentences or measures to prevent reoffending, which are needed.

Mr Clarke: I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. Indeed, that problem has constantly recurred with the extraordinary explosion in the number of people in prison in recent years.

As I have said, I am not saying that everything is perfect in the wider criminal justice system. I freely acknowledge that reporting and public understanding of our system is far from ideal, which is one reason why the coalition Government have a far-reaching programme of criminal justice reform as well as measures to promote transparency and public understanding. However, we should not muddle the problems of an overly complex body of law, which is too rarely reported accurately, with the rules governing how our judiciary apply the law in particular cases.

For the avoidance of doubt, it is worth saying that although the Sentencing Council is a recent innovation, the approach that it embodies is not new. Sentencing has operated in England and Wales for more than 100 years under broadly the same well-established constitutional settlement, in which Parliament sets the overarching legislative framework within which courts sentence, including the maximum penalty and, for some offences of particular public concern, the minimum penalty available to the courts. The role of independent judges is to work within that framework.

Since 2010, the Sentencing Council and its predecessor, the Sentencing Guidelines Council which was created in 2005, have provided courts with a decision-making process to assess the harm that offences cause to victims and communities, suggesting common starting points and ranges, and highlighting aggravating factors. The Sentencing Council has not fundamentally changed the basic division of responsibilities or the balance of power between Parliament, Government and the judiciary. Before the previous Government created the Sentencing Council, the Court of Appeal carried out this function. Its criminal division gave guidance to courts when it thought that discrepancies were beginning to occur. The Court of Appeal has not lost that power entirely and still gives guidance when it feels it necessary. However, the council now provides the great majority of such support to the courts.

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Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr Clarke: If my hon. and learned Friend will forgive me, I ought to get on or else I will be running a seminar for a large part of the afternoon, which would not satisfy all my hon. Friends.

The Sentencing Council adds stronger checks and balances to the tradition. It does so, first, through its 13-strong membership. The majority of its members are judges and magistrates, but it also includes the Director of Public Prosecutions, the former acting Metropolitan Police Commissioner and the former chief executive of Victim Support. The council has not yet produced guidelines for any category of offences that have not received the support of the Association of Chief Police Officers. These are not simply judge-made guidelines for the courts; a range of backgrounds are represented on the council.

Secondly, the guidelines are determined independently and transparently, but with extensive public consultation. The consultations for recent guidelines have happened over 12 weeks and have elicited thousands of responses. Thirdly, the guidelines enjoy a proper level of parliamentary scrutiny. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) and his colleagues on the Select Committee on Justice consider every draft guideline in detail, taking extensive written and oral evidence from a wide range of experts, including the chairman of the council. The Select Committee’s work ensures that there is meaningful democratic engagement in sentencing guidelines, without compromising the crucial principle of judicial independence.

Over the past 18 months, the council has published guidelines on a number of areas, on occasion attracting lurid headlines about excessive leniency and so-called soft judges. Let me address that directly. Our judges are far from overly lenient. The average length of prison sentences has increased by 20% over the past 10 years. I do not have proper figures but, having practised myself 30 years ago, I think that the increase has been even greater. We now send many more people to prison and impose longer sentences than was ever the norm until the past four years. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) pointed out, judges can still respond to things such as the riots in an appropriate way.

The guidelines are concerned centrally with ensuring that sentences properly reflect the seriousness of an offence. They are statutorily required to have regard to the impact of sentencing on victims and public confidence in the criminal justice system. Naturally, people seize on isolated parts of the guidelines and quote them out of context. However, when set against the cases that courts see every day, they are well-thought-out, carefully considered, serious pieces of work. For example, the guideline on burglary concludes that domestic burglary should habitually attract a custodial sentence, that the sentimental value of any goods taken must be considered alongside their financial value, and that the presence of children when a burglary is taking place will significantly aggravate its seriousness.

Mr Leigh: My right hon. and learned Friend is gracious in giving way so often, and he has made clearly his point that burglars should get a custodial sentence. Let me refer to my previous intervention. If we are talking

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about domestic burglary—which is the worst thing—in 2009, 37% of those convicted of domestic burglary were given a non-custodial sentence. Does it worry him that the courts are not following what he is advising, which is that the people who cause such misery should end up in prison?

Mr Clarke: Individual judges must have considered the guidelines, which are quite new. I am surprised by that figure, however, because burglary has always habitually required a custodial sentence. There must have been some feature in those cases that made people think—either because of a particular problem with the offender when it might have been better to send them on a drug-rehabilitation course, or some other mitigating feature—that on this occasion they would not impose a custodial sentence.

Like all criminal offences, burglary is a wide-ranging offence. It covers everything from someone who has opportunistically opened a door, nicked something off a shelf and run, to two men wearing masks and going into a building, prepared to be violent towards anyone who tries to stop them. There is bound to be a range of sentences, but the guidelines of the Sentencing Council state that domestic burglary should habitually attract a custodial sentence. I have always agreed with that, as does my hon. Friend.

I want to consider the guideline on drug offences that produced some headlines last week. That guideline helps courts to distinguish between organised criminals who, as we know, cause misery to families and the whole community, and those who have become involved in the drug trade through intimidation or a dependency of their own. Contrary to the rather inaccurate headlines that occurred last week, which claimed that street dealers caught with 6 kg of cocaine could avoid jail—that startled me when I heard it repeated on the radio—the truth is that possession of that amount of a drug would be a very serious crime. The starting point for sentencing would be at least seven years in custody, even for an offender playing a lesser role in a criminal operation, rising to a starting point of 14 years in custody for those who have a leading role. The wholly inaccurate headlines stating that drug offences would receive lighter sentences were based solely on the reduction of the sentence for so-called drug mules, if they are addicts and are being exploited to carry drugs for the person who is manipulating them. That sentence has been eased a bit, to the extent that sentences for drug mules who bring in 1 kg of heroin or cocaine now have a starting point of only six years in custody, whereas previously that might have been 10 years.

Significantly higher sentences were recommended for those who play leading roles in a criminal operation, which is why the guidelines on drug sentencing did not receive the slightest criticism from anybody who knows the criminal justice system, including the police and prosecutors. Frequently, the commonly made criticisms of our judiciary and of the guidance produced by the Sentencing Council are unmerited.

I do not, however, wish to defend the status quo uncritically. Anyone who is remotely acquainted with our justice system knows that there are genuine challenges facing it, and that we cannot afford any complacency in addressing them. Sentencing guidelines, and the work of the Sentencing Council, would benefit from further

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public scrutiny and understanding. The need to ensure that the guidelines receive due public and parliamentary focus is precisely why the Government have allocated today for this debate. I look forward to listening to right hon. and hon. Members and hope that the debate will make a small contribution to establishing public attitudes, and perhaps also to successfully scotching some of the myths that surround the Sentencing Council’s work.

More broadly on confidence in the criminal justice system, it is no surprise to me that the public find it difficult to make sense of the body of criminal law, given that it has grown like Topsy in recent years. Under the Labour Government, constant changes and 20 criminal justice Acts over 13 years left us with a system that even experts have struggled to make sense of. Top-down schemes, meddling and prescription left the system in a complete mess. There were thousands of new offences. I was greeted publicly at the judges’ dinner with the complaint that

“hell is a fair description of the problem of statutory interpretation”.

The net result? A sentencing policy so chaotic and badly managed that towards the end of the last Government’s time in office, they had no room for all the extra people they were putting in prison. They had to let 80,000 criminals out early who promptly went on to commit more than 1,600 fresh crimes. I approved of the new unpaid work community payback scheme, but the way in which it was put into practice meant that offenders serving community sentences usually completed only one or two days of unpaid work each week. That is why there is an urgent need to sort out sentencing, and why we are reforming it. We will simplify it and make it easier to understand, and the House has already considered the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, which is currently in the other place and will introduce some of our far-reaching reforms.

Under that Bill, we propose to reform the statutory duty on courts and judges to explain the meaning and effect of their sentences and communicate them in plain English so that people can understand what will happen to the offender. We are simplifying the release framework so that all prisoners will be governed by one set of rules, making it easier for justice agencies to keep victims informed, and we are replacing the disgrace of so-called indeterminate sentences for public protection with a tough, determinate regime that can be easily understood by victims and the public. [Interruption.] I hear protests, but we all know that the guru on sentencing, Mr Thomas, described those sentences as an “unmitigated disaster”. In due course, we will also bring forward proposals to ensure that community punishments punish and reform more effectively.

Finally, I believe that our system suffers from a fundamental lack of information and openness. Public understanding of sentencing is critical to confidence in the system and to its effectiveness in ensuring that justice is done. We need to open up a system that to many people remains a rather mysterious world, to reassure people that the law is on the side of the law-abiding citizen. That is why I have announced measures that, in my opinion, collectively amount to a revolution in transparency in our courts.

One major item of progress is that we are developing legislation to remove the prohibition on cameras in courts and allow the broadcasting of sentencing remarks. That will be introduced in the Court of Appeal in the

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first place, but will be followed by extension to the Crown court at a later date. The filming of victims, witnesses, defendants and jurors will of course not be allowed under any circumstances. The change is intended to ensure that the public can see and hear sentences being handed down and hear the comments that judges make on cases. It is not so that our courts will become theatre. I hope that it will help to demystify the court process without undermining the seriousness and diligence that is so central to the quality of our justice system.

Alongside the televising of sentencing remarks, we are seeking to expand the use of restorative justice. Though the restorative approach is often seen as a means of reducing reoffending, for victims who want to take part it also helps to open up the court process. It allows victims to play an active role in helping the court determine how to deal with an offender, which is one reason why victim satisfaction levels with the approach are so high. Restorative processes can help to turn the justice system from one that does things to victims to one that does things with victims.

Last but not least, we are releasing more data than ever before on the performance of our courts. The radicalism of that policy has perhaps not yet been fully recognised, but it has the potential to deliver major progress in public understanding. For the first time, we are making available information on court performance, including delays and total times, and on sentencing decisions classified by offence. That will enable the public to see exactly what sentences are being handed down and where, particularly in their own locality, and it will help them to put that information in context.

What we are doing will represent a fundamental shift in how the justice system works. Justice must not only be done but be seen to be done if it is to command public confidence. The challenge is to deliver reforms to the wider system to simplify it and make its performance more visible to the public. As the measures that I have outlined suggest, I believe we are on the threshold of a step change in openness and transparency. The changes will complement and strengthen the sensible arrangements under which the Sentencing Council operates, which I readily acknowledge were introduced by the last Government, and its wider place underpinning the sound and long-standing division of responsibilities between the judiciary and the Executive in England and Wales. I look forward to the whole process being subject to parliamentary scrutiny, which we are taking a step further by having this debate.

1.46 pm

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): Transparency and consistency in sentencing is both an end in itself, as part of an open justice system, and a means to an end. It is an essential component in dispensing criminal justice that is fair and credible and has the confidence of the public. No one has a monopoly on wisdom in these matters, although this country is fortunate to have a judiciary and judicial system that has intellect and integrity and applies itself to achieving fair and honest outcomes. From the magistracy to the Supreme Court, from first hearings and summary trials to second and third-stage appeals, there is much to take pride in.

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Anyone who doubts that needs only to read the sentencing remarks of Mr Justice Treacy in the case of Dobson and Norris, the murderers of Stephen Lawrence.

That is not to be complacent, and it does not mean that we do not need to review and change things. In government, Labour improved the quality of training for lay magistrates, which means better and fairer decision making and gives us confidence to rely more on what has been a mainstay of justice for 650 years. We also set up the Supreme Court, a body that within a few years has become central to the administration of justice in the UK.

I give credit to the Lord Chancellor—[Interruption.] Will the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt), allow him to have my attention? I give credit to the Lord Chancellor for some of the steps that he has taken to promote open justice. Publishing comparative data is a good way of examining the performance of individual courts and measuring consistency. We can cautiously welcome the televising of proceedings. Provided that it protects witnesses and victims and does not sensationalise crime or allow defendants to grandstand, it will be a welcome extension of the principle that the default position of the English courts is that they operate in public.

Perhaps in return, Government Back Benchers will give some acknowledgment of the record of recent Labour Governments, although I doubt it. We inherited a poor record in criminal justice, as we did in health, education and policing. We had communities in thrall to crimes that all too often went unsolved and unpunished and a sentencing policy that was too inconsistent and unscientific, lacking any coherent vision of how to deal with criminals and the revolving door of recidivism. Vulnerable young people were being recruited into crime at ever younger ages. In Moss Side, Liverpool, Newcastle and London, people knew that the Tories could not be trusted on crime and justice. Poorer communities suffered more from the effects of crime, and were abandoned by a succession of Tory Governments who either would not or could not turn things around. It was not only Liverpool that the Thatcher and Major Governments condemned to managed decline.

Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con) rose

Rehman Chishti rose

Mr Slaughter: I will give way to the hon. Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti).

Rehman Chishti: The hon. Gentleman talks of managed decline and the Thatcher and Major Governments, but will he explain why 80,000 people were released early from prison under the Labour Government? Those people were prosecuted—I was a prosecutor—and judges passed proper sentences, but they were let out early by Ministers. That was totally unacceptable.

Mr Slaughter: I took only two notes when the Lord Chancellor spoke, one of which was on that point. It was a bare-faced cheek for him to talk about the early release of prisoners by some days at the end of their sentences under the Labour Government and then immediately to decry indeterminate sentences for public

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protection, which ensure that violent and dangerous sex offenders are kept in prison until they are not a danger to the public. Does the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) want to intervene?

Paul Maynard indicated dissent .

Mr Slaughter: The hon. Gentleman can make his point in his own time.

Labour’s legacy was somewhat different from that of the Thatcher and Major Governments. The current Government published statistics that show that over the last Parliament, there was a 43% reduction in first-time youth offenders—down from 107,040 per annum to 61,387. As a result, there was a 34% reduction in offences committed by young people, down from 301,860 per annum to 198,449. As a result of that, there was a 15% reduction in young people in custody, down from 2,830 to 2,418. That trend has continued to date. Those are long-term changes in behaviour, in opportunity and diversion from criminality, not the quick-fix methods of trying to shave numbers off the prison population that the Justice Secretary favours.

Youth offending teams—multi-agency partnerships embedded in local authorities—dealt with young offenders from arrest to court to managing their punishment in the community or the securest date for reintegration. As the teams bedded down in their core statutory functions, the previous Government added prevention work to their remit and resourced them with expertise on gang behaviour and restorative justice. We also gave them considerable latitude for innovation to allow for the development of new ideas and local solutions. At the same time, we created the Youth Justice Board to ensure that places in custody were commissioned efficiently and effectively to co-ordinate best practice among YOTs.

Mr Stewart Jackson: Would the hon. Gentleman care to explain why Labour Administrations, in 13 years, lamentably failed to deal with key prisoner issues such as literacy, numeracy, health and mental health? When we had benign financial circumstances and a growing economy, they failed the general public and prisoners.

Mr Slaughter: That would be a good point, if it were true. My colleagues and I visit prisons and young offender institutions around the country, every week and every month, and see excellent education work, and vulnerable and damaged young people gaining skills. We also see YOTs at work.

Nicola Blackwood: “Rehabilitation of Prisoners”, a Home Affairs Committee report from 2004, states that

“47%...of prisoners…spent no time in education and 31%”


“no time in prison work.”

Mr Slaughter: The young lady—the hon. Member—quotes statistics, but she fails to give credit for the steps that were taken and the resources that were put in. I think I had better stop on that point before I say something else I might regret.

As I was saying, the Youth Justice Board and YOTs together ensured that a child-centric approach was embedded in our youth justice system. The Labour Government correctly said that the right way to cut

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youth offending and the number of young people in the secure estate was to stop them turning to crime in the first place. Labour’s approach was incremental, evidence based and properly resourced.

The Opposition understand that the Lord Chancellor’s reckless promise to lead the austerity charge means 20% cuts to YOTs in one year, but up to 60% cuts to their preventive programmes. We puzzled at the wanton attempt, which was abandoned only at the last hurdle, to abolish the YJB. At least the Government did not seek to abolish the Sentencing Council. I do not know why they did not do so, because it is a recent Labour innovation, and it is transparent and effective, and it gives coherence and yet flexibility to a key area of public policy. I would have thought it was ripe for the chop.

It is worth recollecting the recent history of sentencing policy to see how far we have come in a relatively short time. I do not disagree with the Lord Chancellor on the current operation of the Sentencing Council, but I shall go over its history to show how it developed. Prior to 2004, sentencing guidelines were laid down by the Court of Appeal criminal division in the form of guideline judgments, and beyond that advocates and sentencers were reliant on practitioner texts, primarily Thomas. The texts were effectively sentencing decisions in individual cases accompanied by a more general judicial commentary on sentencing ranges for the type of offence under consideration. In the words of Professor Ashworth, former chairman of the Sentencing Advisory Panel:

“A guideline judgment is a single judgment which sets out general parameters for dealing with several”

variations of a certain

“type of offence, considering the main aggravating and mitigating factors, and suggesting an appropriate starting point or range of sentences…This kind of judgment was pioneered in the 1970s...guideline judgments...set out a fairly elaborate framework within which judges should determine length of sentence…These judgments acquired authority from the fact that the Lord Chief Justice laid them down: they were intended to bind lower courts, and were treated as doing so...the key element is that they were intended and accepted as binding, in a way that most Court of Appeal judgments on sentence are not.”

The Court of Appeal criminal division’s guideline judgments covered both a limited number of specific offences and more general overarching sentencing principles. Guideline judgments were, however, relatively infrequent and by the late 1990s covered only a small proportion of offences.

The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 created the Sentencing Advisory Panel to solve a problem with the Court of Appeal system. When drafting its judgments, the Court of Appeal was constrained by the material on which reliance could be placed. The Sentencing Advisory Panel, chaired by a distinguished academic lawyer, was established to draft and consult on proposals for guidelines and to refer them back to the Court of Appeal for consideration and, in that way, to inform the issuing of a guideline judgment. The Court of Appeal was not obliged to accept the panel’s recommendations, but in most cases did so, sometimes with modifications.

The important feature was that the laying down of guidelines remained under the control of the senior judiciary. The Sentencing Advisory Panel was launched on 1 July 1999 as an advisory non-departmental public body, its role being to promote consistency in sentencing by providing objective advice to the CACD to assist it in framing or revising sentencing guidelines. The panel

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consisted of 14 members, including sentencers, academics, those with recent experience of the criminal justice system and lay people with no connection with criminal justice. They reviewed the applicable law and statistics and any relevant research and consulted on proposals before formulating advice. In its first five years of operation, the panel produced draft guidelines on about a dozen offences, which were submitted to the Court of Appeal. The Court acted on all but one of those advices, issuing guidelines in a subsequent decision.

In 2001, the Home Office published the Halliday report, which examined the sentencing framework in England and Wales and concluded that we should go further and set up an independent body—either the Court of Appeal sitting in a new capacity or a new judicial body set up for that purpose. The Government took that recommendation forward in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which established the Sentencing Guidelines Council. The council was established by the 2003 Act and came into effect on 27 February 2004.

Mr Buckland: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for regaling us with a detailed history of sentencing policy development, but would he enlighten us on what happened to “custody plus”, a policy that was introduced in legislation but then dropped because no work was done on how it would be implemented?

Mr Slaughter: I hope I am not boring the hon. Gentleman, who I know takes a keen interest in such matters. Contributions from Government Back Benchers seem ad hoc and based on anecdote. I am setting out how a Labour Government approached policy in a rather more controlled manner. He mentions “custody plus”, but he will be aware—he was a member of the Public Bill Committee on the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill—of the terrible confusion that he and his colleagues got themselves into on the question of whether to allow magistrates to sentence for 12-month periods. They first objected to that and then withdrew their objections, so he has not chosen a great example.

Mr Buckland: The hon. Gentleman touches on another measure the previous Government brought in but never enacted, so that was a very poor example to choose, if I may say so.

Mr Slaughter: At least we were clear in our intent—the hon. Gentleman does not even seem to be clear in that. However, I do not want to have a go at him. While I was listening to the Lord Chancellor, I was reading the evidence Lord Justice Leveson gave to the Select Committee. I was pleased to see that when he sits as a recorder he always fills his forms in properly and submits them to the Sentencing Council. I think he deserves a bonus for that. [ Interruption. ] I might be telling the hon. Gentleman things he already knows, or he might just not be interested, but I will progress.

In all fairness, the Lord Chancellor said that the Sentencing Council was a good thing to set up and that it was performing a sensible role. The Sentencing Council was set up in 2010 under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. The Act replaced the SAP and the SGC with a single unified Sentencing Council. The council’s functions, of which the House should take note, are to promote a

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clear, fair and consistent approach to sentencing; produce analysis and research on sentencing; work to improve public confidence in sentencing; prepare sentencing guidelines; publish the resource implications in respect of the guidelines; monitor the operation and effect of the sentencing guidelines; prepare a resource assessment to accompany new guidelines; promote awareness of sentencing; and publish an annual report, the first of which we saw last October.

I trace that history to show that, in only 15 years, we have moved from a largely ad hoc system to one that is comprehensive, statute based and already recognised as an asset to the criminal justice system. That process of change has been rapid, but organic. It has required co-operation and open minds among politicians, civil servants and sentencers. Finding a balance between a framework that delivers consistency and transparency, and retaining the discretion and independence of the sentencer, is no easy task, but the stepped process the council adopted permits the best of both worlds.

In his foreword to the first annual report, which was published last October, Lord Justice Leveson rightly says the council is proud of its progress so far. I do not believe we would have had a Sentencing Council without a Labour Government, any more than we would have had a Youth Justice Board or YOTs. I welcome the present Government’s support for all three, however belated.

The annual report came too early for the latest published guidelines, on drugs offences, which were released last week, as the Lord Chancellor said. However, the guidelines are a good example of how an effective and intelligent sentencing regime could operate. They recommended lower tariffs for what are sometimes called drug mules, who, the council noted, are often vulnerable people.

Mr Leigh: If only to slow the hon. Gentleman down a bit—he is reading very fast—may I ask him a simple question? Does he think domestic burglars should go to jail on virtually all occasions? Is that the Labour party’s policy now?

Mr Slaughter: I am glad the hon. Gentleman is listening, and I will direct my words more to him. He put that question twice to the Lord Chancellor, who made a very reasonable point: the purpose of sentencing guidelines is to identify a framework in which judicial discretion can progress. The question is therefore somewhat nonsensical. There are starting points for sentences, and there are recommended sentences; there are aggravating and mitigating factors, and there is a range of sentences that can be brought in. The Lord Chancellor talks about us commenting on sentences, but the hon. Gentleman seems to want the House to make sentences in individual cases, which is simply not possible.

Stephen Phillips: The point my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) is driving at is Labour party policy on this issue. The Sentencing Council says domestic burglars should ordinarily go to jail. If the Labour party disagrees, why does it do so? Will the hon. Gentleman tell us?

Mr Slaughter: No, the Labour party does not disagree. As I said a moment ago, the Labour party set up the Sentencing Council and believes that thus far—we do

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not always necessarily agree with everything it does—it has done a good job. I do not see the point of the hon. Gentleman’s comment.

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that, under the previous Administration, the Sentencing Guidelines Council said that a first-time dwelling-house burglar who was addicted to a drug, and who was susceptible to treatment for that addiction, should not go into custody?

Mr Slaughter: I do not know whether the hon. Lady is still practising—she was practising recently—but she has a slight advantage over me in relation to those issues. However, the point is that we cannot pick and choose. Where I do agree with her, and where I disagree with the Lord Chancellor, is that the public have a role. The idea that they, or indeed the media, do not have a role in expressing their view of sentencing policy is quite wrong; if they did not, we would have no change, be it a liberalisation or an intensification of sentencing policy over the years. It is arrogant to say that they should not have a role. Indeed, in giving evidence to the Select Committee, Lord Justice Leveson said as much. He sees one of his important roles as chair of the council as going in the media to explain things. Yes, he is in despair, as the Lord Chancellor is, when his comments or recommendations are taken out of context and bowdlerised, but he sees that it is important to have the confidence, support and advice of the public, and indeed the media, in these matters.

I was talking about drug mules. The Lord Chancellor has referred to this issue, but it is a good example of where a comment by the Sentencing Council has been taken out of context. The council noted that drug mules are often vulnerable people and victims of exploitation and violent coercion by organised gangs. Disproportionately, they are women, poor and poorly educated, and they are minor beneficiaries of the illegal trade, if they benefit at all. However, the guidelines retain the deterrent effect of a substantial prison sentence, while rejecting the current entry point of 10 years’ custody. They reduce that substantially, but the sentence is still six years.

There are changes in sentencing for the possession or supply of illegal drugs. However, if people make money from selling drugs, they will go to prison; if they deal heroin or cocaine, they will go to prison for a long time; if they deal drugs to children, they will go to prison for a longer period still; and those who take an industrial approach to drug manufacturing and supply can, under the guidelines, expect substantially longer jail sentences than is currently the case. That guidance and clarity is invaluable. By setting standards, it increases the likelihood of the deterrent effect working. It will increase public confidence and increase the confidence of victims in the justice system.

In government, Labour aimed to replace a patch-and-mend system of criminal justice with something more coherent and long term, whether it was a matter of prevention, detection, reassurance, due process—including sentencing—or punishment and rehabilitation. Now, we are going back to patch and mend. To get to the point of sentence, we need a well-resourced police force that can detect and solve crime, but we face 20% cuts to policing numbers. We need effective prosecutors, but we face 25% cuts to the Crown Prosecution Service.

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Sir Alan Beith: Is the hon. Gentleman making a commitment that a future Labour Government—if there were such a thing—would increase expenditure on policing by 20% and expenditure on justice by a similar amount?

Mr Slaughter: I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is committing himself to the coalition in perpetuity in making those comments, but he knows the answer to his question, because the shadow Home Secretary set it out very clearly. We would have made cuts, but we would not have made 20% cuts, and we would not have made the cuts in front-line police officer numbers that are happening everywhere, but particularly, as I can attest, in London.

We need options for judges; we need prison places, which, as we know, are already at crisis level; and we need community sentencing. Every probation service and YOT can name at least one community sentencing project that has had to shut down in the face of cuts, and that is without looking at the cuts in youth services that divert young people away from crime and anti-social behaviour.

The Secretary of State and his Ministers talk a lot about restorative justice, and we have heard about it today. Restorative justice can indeed be transformative justice. As compared with control groups, those sentenced to restorative justice see falls of between 10% and 50% in reoffending. However, despite its success in Northern Ireland, the Government will not resource restorative justice conferencing.

The Opposition support effective alternatives to custody, but where are they? If magistrates and judges do not have the option of, or the confidence in, community punishment, they will be forced to impose custodial sentences. Cutting probation service, YOT and community justice budgets to the extent, and at the speed, that this Government are doing will fatally undermine their plan to reduce detention numbers.

Mr Stewart Jackson: Will the hon. Gentleman answer a direct question? If he is not in favour of a 20% cut in police numbers, and, assuming that he would ring-fence any savings or cuts within the criminal justice system, how would he make up the difference between the 12% cut in police numbers that he would make to Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, and the 20% cut that the Government are proposing? Where would that 8% come from in the criminal justice system?

Mr Slaughter: I hope that I have answered all questions directly. The hon. Gentleman is asking about an alternative Budget. He is asking what a Labour Government would do differently. We have made it clear that we would not ask police forces around the country to take a 20% cut. That will result in falling police numbers and an increase in crime, but as always the Lord Chancellor seems completely complacent about the idea that we are in a recession and therefore that crime will go up. We were in a recession in 2008-09 but crime was still falling.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): Why, when police numbers in Humberside in 2008 fell by 137, did not a single local Labour politician campaign against the cuts, but instead defend them saying that police numbers did not necessarily have anything to do with crime levels?

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Mr Slaughter: I can go a certain distance with the hon. Gentleman, but I cannot get involved in the minutiae of his conflicts with local Labour politicians—he must fight his own battles in his own backyard.

The size of these cuts fatally undermines the coherence and transparency of the sentencing framework. The guidelines might talk about community punishment but we tell our judges, quite properly, to work with due care: they must minimise risk, and if they cannot sentence in the community, they will sentence to the secure estate. For women and children in particular, this is often a tragedy, disrupting families, education and life chances. We have agreed with the Government on those parts of their policy that simplify and rationalise sentencing options, as some of the measures in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill do, but we do not agree when quick and lazy solutions are sought merely to reduce funding. The 50% discount on sentences and the restriction of magistrates’ ability to remand are back-door ways to cut prison numbers, and they put the public at risk.

The Lord Chancellor may be sincere in wishing to reduce the prison population and in seeing effective community punishment both as an alternative to custody and as a better way to reduce recidivism, but there is little or no sign that he knows how to do this or has the resources to do it. The very significant falls in young offenders in custody were not an aberration but the result of applied policies over 13 years. Keeping young people out of the criminal justice system by preventing offending is probably also the most effective way of reducing the adult prison population in the long term, but the scale of cuts to YOTs risks these hard-won gains.

Worse is the Secretary of State’s attitude to dangerous offenders. This is another difficult issue but not one that will be solved by sweeping away IPPs and replacing them with a patchwork of slightly longer tariffs and the bizarre “two strikes and you’re out” policy. Where violent and dangerous criminals and sex offenders are concerned, the public want a “one strike and you’re out” policy.

I started by praising the sentencers and the sentencing framework that Labour introduced, and I noted the successes we had—not least the 43% fall in crime and the introduction of neighbourhood policing—but further improvements in sentencing policy are needed. Last summer’s riots focused an unusual degree of attention on sentencing policy and practice, and questions were raised about the harshness or deterrent effect of some sentences. What should be of equal or more concern, however, was the disparity between sentences in different regions and different courts. Today’s Library debate pack includes statistics showing that a higher percentage of people in black and minority ethnic groups than of white defendants were sentenced to immediate custody for indictable offences.

I wish I had confidence that the Government would deliver the improvements that we still need. Criminal justice policy should throw up a good deal of consensus, not least because effective solutions need continuity across Governments, but that is not what this ministerial team will be remembered for. Instead, they will be remembered for the sabotage of their flagship Bill by the Prime Minister’s press conference shoe-horning a mishmash of measures into the Bill hours before the Lord Chancellor’s statement to the House; for living

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under the shadow of their own Back Benchers, who are always watchful for a deviation from the “prison works” mantra; and for offering up cuts so deep and so damaging that successful initiatives have no chance of continuing or being replicated.

This is more than a missed opportunity; it is a certain path to decline. It is the opposite of transparency and consistency; it is holding out false hope and muddling through. The Secretary of State is a prisoner of the promises he made to the Treasury, and as the prison population grows towards capacity and further cuts need to be found in the rest of the Ministry’s budget, his options will become more limited. On sentencing, as in so many other areas of public service and public policy, we found a creaking system and left one that worked well. Our legacy, and that of the country, from this Government will be another broken justice system.

2.15 pm

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): I was going to begin by complimenting the previous Government on setting up the Sentencing Council, but given that the Labour spokesman devoted his final paragraph to the cuts, I have to say, before turning to the work of the Justice Committee, that since the Labour party envisages cuts on a similar scale to the Government’s—they might be slightly smaller, but spread over a longer period—we are all talking about the same amount of money. Were there a realistic prospect of removing from the Ministry of Justice the obligation to make significant cuts in expenditure, we could all think of ways of spending the money, but any party confronted with office now would have the problem of funding desirable things out of a shrinking resource of public expenditure. If we can all be realistic about that, we may be able to make more progress on those things that we agree on.

One of the things that we seem to agree on is that the Sentencing Council is a valuable body. The Justice Committee has a statutory role in being consulted on the council’s proposals, as has happened in several cases—a couple of reports are on the Order Paper today, one relating to drugs and burglary and the other relating to assault. Our normal practice is to take detailed evidence, after which I normally write to the chairman of the council, Lord Justice Leveson, on behalf of the Committee, and we publish the letter along with the evidence that we have received. I strongly recommend that Members concerned about the council read the evidence from representatives of bodies such as Victim Support and others who come to hearings and give their views about the impact of sentences and about what they think is appropriate.

We believe that the system works well but faces serious inherent difficulties. On the evidence base, we have drawn attention to a fundamental absence of sufficient empirical evidence on which to base decisions on guidelines—for example, those relating to the cost and effectiveness of specific sentences. This is a general problem for those in the judiciary, be they judges or magistrates. Rarely do they get much evidence on the effectiveness of sentences, still less on the effect of sentences on individuals—unless of course they see the same individuals coming back again and again, having committed further offences. We need to ensure that we have the empirical evidence to provide a realistic basis for decisions about appropriate sentences.

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Another problem has been mentioned today: the need to produce guidelines which the general public can understand and which are not simply lawyers talking to lawyers—that was an expression that Javed Khan of Victim Support used in evidence to the Committee. There is a tension between providing guidelines that are reliable and soundly worded—for legal purposes—and enabling the public to understand what the Sentencing Council is doing. It is a challenging task, the importance of which we have drawn to Lord Leveson’s attention. We also encourage Lord Leveson’s efforts in matters of public awareness, to increase public understanding of sentencing and work more effectively with the media, a role that the judiciary did not want to undertake in earlier times, for understandable reasons, but which is now much more widely recognised to be important.

Having referred to the work that we do on the Sentencing Council, I want to address what the purposes of sentencing are. The first purpose in my view—this view is generally shared across the Committee—is public safety and the maintenance of law and order. Therefore, there are people who have to be sent to prison, in some cases for very long periods, because they represent a serious danger to public safety and there is no obvious way of reducing that danger while they are at large. Prison therefore has an important part to play in the system. However, public safety also requires that sentences be imposed that are most likely to prevent further offences and the creation of further victims. The vast majority of people who are sentenced in court will come out again—whether after a short sentence or after a longer sentence—committing further offences and still representing a potential danger to our constituents. In many cases, they will have committed offences for which it would not be reasonable, by comparison with more serious offences, to impose very long sentences; therefore, we have to accept the reality. People will come out of prison, and at the moment, far too many of them come out and commit further offences—often repeat offences—over a number of years, which creates more victims.

Mr Stewart Jackson: The right hon. Gentleman is making a reasoned and moderate contribution, if I may say so. Indeed, he certainly takes a more robust view than many in his party. However, what would he say to the family of my constituent, John Hutchinson, who on 31 October was attacked by a group of feral teenagers, one of whom has subsequently been sentenced to a nine-month referral order, which is effectively a glorified contract promising to be good? My constituent is now having to leave his home and go into institutionalised care. Where is the faith and trust of my constituents in the criminal justice system when such an incident happens, and when they know that that individual is likely to go out and commit further crimes in future?

Sir Alan Beith: The hon. Gentleman’s constituent has obviously had a terrible experience, but we should all resist the temptation, in this place and elsewhere, to comment on particular sentences when we do not know all the circumstances in which they were given. If the sentence in a particular case is not appropriate, the Attorney-General has the power to return to the courts and seek a longer sentence, a point that the Lord Chancellor made earlier.

The second purpose of sentencing is deterrence, but the effectiveness of deterrence is often exaggerated. The fact is that when they commit offences, most criminals,

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first, think that they will not be caught and, secondly, do not have much idea what the sentence will be if they are. Therefore, sentencing is not usually a matter that is firmly in criminals’ minds when they commit offences in the first place. There are many circumstances where the function of deterrence in sentencing is exaggerated. It is there, and it has a role to play. For example, after the public disorder last summer, there was a legitimate reason to believe that unless we made people realise that the offence of theft in the context of public disorder would be treated very seriously, there might be a failure to understand how the courts were going to deal with such matters. There was a deterrence aspect in that case, but there are many offences where deterrence plays no role at all, even though it is one of the legitimate purposes of sentencing.

That brings me to the third purpose of sentencing, which is punishment. Punishment is a wide concept, because it involves the community declaring that it rejects and abhors crime with all its harmful effects. We sometimes fail to understand that purpose of sentencing. One reason why people react as they might have done on reading in the newspaper about the case that the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) raised a moment ago is that they think the court has not demonstrated how seriously the community takes a crime of that kind.

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): I could not agree with my right hon. Friend more. Does he agree that the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, which is currently in the other place, firmly demonstrates the Government’s commitment to that principle in relation to the crimes of sexual exploitation and paedophilia, by clearly saying that two thirds of a sentence must be served and that if somebody goes on to perpetrate another horrendous crime of that nature, they should receive a life sentence?

Sir Alan Beith: Yes, but there is also a public safety aspect to the kind of cases that the hon. Lady has described, in that they may involve criminals where the likelihood of their not reoffending is very low and where long, determinate sentences are therefore appropriate. However, the problem with this very necessary part of sentencing is that it can lead to a tension between society declaring very clearly that it will not put up with something and what would be likely to lead to that person not reoffending—I am not thinking of the kind of case to which she has just referred, but a much broader range of crimes.

Understandably, the public read about crimes and compare how different ones are treated by the courts; indeed, we all do that. We want to be sure that the worst crimes are taken the most seriously. Prompted by media reports in particular, the relative seriousness issue tends to be judged according to whether a sentence is a prison sentence and how long it is. Such sentences might not be the right answer for every case, however. The likelihood of reoffending could be greatly reduced in some cases by tackling a drug or alcohol problem, for example. If that is not done, it does not matter how long the person is kept in prison, because they will commit further offences when they come out, fuelled by their problem. The judiciary therefore has to bear in mind all the purposes of sentencing. Considerations of public safety, deterrence and punishment must all inform each decision.

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In the light of those principles, we should also consider how the judicial processes work. We want them to enable the most effective sentences to be available and to be applied. As I mentioned earlier in a different context, however, we have a weak evidence base for allowing the judiciary to determine whether sentences have been effective. Few judges are able to tell how the sentences that they have passed have worked out in practice, or whether they have had the desired effect. The exceptions are those cases in which an offender comes back before the court. We need to deal with that evidence problem.

We have also seen a lack of effective management of sentencing and post-release provisions. The Government have set about improving that situation, and the Committee very much welcomes that. We have discussed in some detail the payment by results model and other ways in which the Government have sought to ensure that people coming out of prison have access to provisions that actually work. We cannot achieve that, however, if our prison system is in turmoil. A system in which people are simply shunted around in order to create spaces for other prisoners is the enemy of effective sentence management.

There is an institutional bias in the system in favour of the use of custody, regardless of whether it is the best option. If a judge or magistrate passes a community sentence, the first question has to be, “Are the necessary facilities available in this area?” That applies to residential provision for tackling a drug problem and to the various kinds of community disposal. We have to ask what is available. If a custodial sentence is passed, however, the prison van rolls up outside and the prisoner is taken away. The judiciary can be confident that that will happen, although it might not know where the prison place will be found. The system will find a place somewhere, however, and there is an institutional bias in the system in favour of such disposals.

Custodial sentences and non-custodial sentences are commissioned by different people. The commissioning of custodial sentences is a national function, carried out by the National Offender Management Service largely on a national basis. There is an attempt to provide prison places locally, but in practice, prisoners are often circulated and shunted around. Non-custodial sentences are commissioned much more locally. In the case of youth custody, we have seen how much more effective the process can be when it is handled locally. My Committee has regularly sought to interest this Government and their predecessor in the idea of more local commissioning of custodial and non-custodial disposals, so that a balance can be struck more locally. Clearly, there will still be a need for responsibility to be taken at national level for high-security prisons and other specialised services, but local commissioners could buy into that provision. In many areas, including the health service, this Government and the previous one have seen the value of a separation between commission and provision, and it seems strange that that is still not fully appreciated within the Ministry of Justice.

I want to refer to one of our Committee’s earlier reports, “Cutting crime: the case for justice reinvestment”, which was published not long before the general election in 2010. It was very well received and is still much

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quoted, which we find gratifying. The report identified a never-ending cycle of spending money on the punishment of offenders whose crimes we ought to have been able to prevent from happening in the first place. If we had spent the same amount of money on diverting young people away from criminality into positive activity, on education, particularly for those whom the education system has failed, on intervention to deal with problem families and on very early intervention for young children, we could have prevented some of the crimes. Instead, we are spending money on incarcerating the people who committed them.

I very much welcome what the Government are doing—particularly on the latter two issues I have mentioned thanks to the efforts of the Minister of State, Department for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather)—in insisting that even in these straitened times, we must find money for early intervention and early access to education, especially for those in deprived circumstances. I welcome that commitment.

The theme of our report, which has sadly been overtaken in this respect by the circumstances in which we now find ourselves, was that there should be a real resources shift from the custodial system into crime prevention. On this issue, people often say, “You can’t do that because the crime has happened,” but if we do not start in some way to inject and invest money at the stages where people’s propensity to commit crimes begins, we will continue to have to spend more and more money dealing with the consequences of crime.

We had, of course, hoped that financial circumstances might allow the money to start that process moving to come from elsewhere, but they have not allowed that— except to the limited extent to which the Government have been able to invest in early years education. The Ministry of Justice has thus had to find from within its own budget money to spend on more preventive measures. It is not just a matter for the Ministry of Justice, because it also involves the Department for Education, the Department of Health and a whole series of Departments whose expenditure decisions will determine whether some of our constituents are victims of crime in the future. Only to the extent that they divert those most likely to commit crimes away from that course will we achieve the purpose of preventing crime and promoting public safety.

The purpose of the sentencing system, as viewed here from the perspective of parliamentarians, must surely be the protection of our constituents—keeping our constituents safe. We should spend public money on sentences that cut crime rather than on the grim and often devastating consequences of crime. That is the principle towards which I believe all Governments should work, and I hope that this Government will work towards it.

2.32 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): It is an enormous pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), the Chairman of the Justice Committee. I agree with almost everything he said. Many lawyers are present, which is not unusual in the House of Commons, especially on a subject like this one. It is absolutely the right approach to highlight the importance of investing resources on prevention rather

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than at what happens at the end of the criminal justice system. As the right hon. Gentleman has said, that means early intervention—something that no Government seem prepared to do because it costs money up front, whereas at the moment, our system pays to keep people in prison at astonishing rates in order to punish them, but they often come out of prison and reoffend.

When the Solicitor-General winds up the debate—I understand that he is the Government’s spokesman at the end—I hope he will tell us whether Lord Justice Leveson is still chairing the Sentencing Council, even though he is also—[Interruption.] I am most grateful; the Solicitor-General no longer has to wait for the winding-up speech. We work quickly together, Madam Deputy Speaker, as he is my neighbour in Leicestershire, so we understand each other quite well.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. Telepathy is difficult for Hansard to pick up and it is not easy for other Members in the Chamber. It would help if we made that sequence a little clearer.

The Solicitor-General (Mr Edward Garnier): To make it clear, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) meant that I, not Lord Justice Leveson, was his parliamentary neighbour. I say that in case that does not appear clearly on the record either.

Keith Vaz: In football terms, that was an instant replay. I am glad that Lord Leveson now chairs the important inquiry into the media. After that is completed, he will start the next inquiry. He must be an incredible chap to be able to chair the Sentencing Council and conduct all these other inquiries. I am glad that he is still there; continuity is important.

Let me go back to the intervention I made at the start of the Lord Chancellor’s speech. He said that the Government would be able to give us more information at the end of the debate on the case that I raised, which has been concluded in the courts. It concerns a group of four al-Qaeda-inspired fundamentalists who admitted planning to send mail bombs to their targets during the run-up to Christmas 2010. Their targets included the Palace of Westminster, the home of the Mayor of London, the Stock Exchange, and other buildings of that kind.

Those defendants participated in what is known as a Goodyear direction, which, as the Lord Chancellor and other Members will know, enables a trial judge to indicate the sentence that will be given if a defendant pleads guilty. I understand that the sentence that is indicated cannot be increased by the judge at the time when the defendants are sentenced.

Rehman Chishti: I have huge admiration and respect for the right hon. Gentleman. However, I dealt with Goodyear indications when I practised as a barrister, and I recall that a judge can refuse to give such an indication. He can say, “This is too severe. If the defendant wants to plead guilty, he can do so; otherwise he can stand trial.” A Goodyear indication can relieve a potential victim of the stress and the ordeal of giving evidence, but ultimately it is a matter for the judge: if he thinks that the sentence is too severe, he will not give a Goodyear indication.

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Keith Vaz: The hon. Gentleman is a very experienced prosecutor, and he knows much more about these matters than I do. Perhaps, given the charges that were levelled against the individuals in the case that I mentioned, the judge ought to have refused the application, but the fact remains that two of the defendants, Mohammed Chowdhury and Shah Rahman, were effectively told by Mr Justice Wilkie that they would be out in six years, because that was what was indicated by the sentence of twelve and a half years that he proposed to give them.

I have raised that case because it came before the court yesterday, because we are debating this issue today, and because I think we should consider the severity of what would have occurred had the matter been brought to fruition.

The Solicitor-General: I do not want to rain on my right hon. neighbour’s parade, but I am afraid that I will not be answering questions of the kind that he has put to me when I wind up the debate. The matter is ongoing. It may well be that the judge has given a Goodyear indication, but he will be sentencing next week, and nothing that I shall say today, or that the right hon. Gentleman will say today, should in any way impinge on the judge’s discretion. The Goodyear direction system is there, and its conduct is circumscribed by fairly strict rules. While the right hon. Gentleman is perfectly entitled to make any point that he wishes to make about particular sentences, I think that—as my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor said earlier—we would be better advised to leave that particular issue until the sentence has been promulgated. All sorts of implications may flow from that.

Keith Vaz: I am very happy to take the Solicitor-General’s advice. What I have sought to do is ensure that the issue is looked at, as I hope it will be in future when the sentence is finally determined.

Let me move from the specific to the general. I do not want us to reach a point at which we have plea bargaining in criminal justice, because I think that that would be wholly wrong. The hon. Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) mentioned the riots. I pay tribute to the way in which the criminal justice system operated throughout that period. I well remember going to Horseferry Road magistrates court at midnight and receiving a call from the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt), who welcomed me. I do not know how he knew that I was going to be there, but somehow he knew that I was looking at the 24-hour courts. Although there was something of a gap because both the practitioners and the defendants had to be brought from police stations, the courts moved very quickly at a time when it was necessary for that to happen.

Although politicians are very wary of trampling on the jurisdiction of the judiciary, the public, and even the Prime Minister, made known their views on sentencing during the riots. The result was that the courts issued sentences that were, on average, more severe than for similar offences committed outside the period of the riots.

I also pay tribute to the Lord Chancellor and the Ministry of Justice for providing my Committee with so much information. I do not think that we have had so much transparency before, as regards figures relating to

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the riots being made available. I think it was the Lord Chancellor who told us, in a Select Committee evidence session, that 76% of people who appeared before the courts for offences committed during the riots had a previous conviction. He also told us that for adults, the figure was 80%, and for juveniles it was 62%. It is important, as we look at sentencing and transparency, that figures are made available to Select Committees and Parliament, so that we can have informed views on the issues that we are deliberating.

The hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood), who has left the Chamber, raised the issue of rehabilitation in her intervention on the Lord Chancellor. One of the most important issues that the Lord Chancellor has raised during his time in office is that of rehabilitation. As the Chairman of the Justice Committee has said, there is no point in just sending people to jail; if one convicted criminal in four reoffends soon after completing their sentence, something is wrong with the way we deal with rehabilitation. Of course people have to go to prison to be punished in certain circumstances, but the prison authorities need the time and space to start the process of rehabilitation.

We have been looking at the roots of radicalisation and will publish a report on the subject on Monday next week. We feel it is very important that when people are incarcerated, those who are able to detoxify—that was the word used in the evidence given to us, and I use it again today—people who have been radicalised have time to do that. One cannot do that in a short period, or without resources; it has to be done over a period of time. We need to ensure that when those people come out, the experience has made a difference to their lives, because at the end of the day it is our constituents who suffer if that is not the case.

This is a good debate, and I hope very much that it will not just be about tougher sentences, because as we all know, 83 of the 134 prisons in this country are classified as overcrowded. If we are to make sure that when people come out, they do not reoffend, we need a criminal justice system that is fit for purpose and able, in the end, to do the one thing that we want it to do: help in the reduction of crime.