Schedule 17 — Knives and offensive weapons: minor and consequential amendments
Devolved Administrations (Armed Forces Covenant Reports)
Sadiq Khan (Tooting, Labour)
My hon. Friend raises a very good point, which is about inequality of arms. These are some of the most vulnerable people who, with a bit of advice early on, will find that their quality of life is improved; and all the evidence suggests that it saves the taxpayer money as well. Huge parts of the country will be devoid of the resources required to access justice because law centres, citizens advice bureaux and small high street solicitors will close down. We will have, I am afraid, advice deserts around the country.
But it does not stop there. In a further effort to save costs, the definition of “domestic violence” is being changed, which will lead to between 25,000 and 30,000 women who are the victims of domestic violence being denied legal aid. That could mean that vulnerable women and children who are the victims of domestic violence will continue to suffer as a direct consequence of the Bill.
Another substantive objection to the Bill is the Government’s cherry-picking of Sir Rupert Jackson’s proposals on civil litigation. That will create an obstacle to those who rely on no win, no fee cases to challenge some of the powerful in our society. The Government have even ignored the protestations of those involved in high-profile cases, such as the family of Milly Dowler. Only this morning, on the “Today” programme, we heard the calmness with which Christopher Jefferies articulated how he benefited from a conditional fee agreement in pursuing claims against national newspapers—an option that will not be available to further victims of wrongdoing if this Bill is passed, because there will be nobody left to advise them.
The Government’s policy on sentencing is an utter mess. Despite their claims, it does not bring clarity to the system, it is not based on common sense, and it will not increase public confidence. Totally abolishing indeterminate sentences takes away judges’ power to keep in custody the serious and violent offenders who put society most at risk by reoffending. These proposals in no way fill the gap left by the removal of indeterminate sentences. All this has been done in 73 minutes during the course of the past three days. The Justice Secretary’s policies on sentencing have been startlingly inconsistent over the past 12 months. Let us not forget that he began by saying that he had a target to reduce the prison population: first, the figure was 6,500; then it was 3,500; and then it was 3,000—and this week he has published an impact assessment giving the figure of 2,600.
I cannot end without dealing with the Liberal Democrats. They speak sanctimoniously from their Benches and they brief sympathetic newspapers and communities that they will stand up to this Conservative Government, but when it comes to pushing their amendments to a vote, they withdraw them on the basis of meaningless assurances or simply vote with the Conservative Government. They should be ashamed.