‘In Chapter 5 of Part 12 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (sentencing: dangerous offenders) omit—
(a) section 225(3) to (4) (imprisonment for public protection for serious offences),
(b) section 226(3) to (4) (detention for public protection for serious offences),
(c) section 227 (extended sentence for certain violent or sexual offences: persons 18 or over), and
(d) section 228 (extended sentence for certain violent or sexual offences: persons under 18).’.—(Mr Kenneth Clarke.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Government new clause 31—Life sentence for second listed offence.
Government new clause 32—New extended sentences.
Government new clause 33—New extended sentences: release on licence etc.
Government new clause 34—Power to change test for release on licence of certain prisoners.
New clause 3—Determination of minimum term in relation to mandatory life sentence—
‘In Schedule 21 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003—
“(a) Substitute paragraph 5(2)(g) with—
“(g) a murder that is racially or religiously aggravated or aggravated by sexual orientation or disability,”
(b) Substitute paragraph 5A(10)(b) with—
“(b) the fact that the victim was at greater risk of harm because of age or disability,”.’.
Government new schedule 4—‘Life sentence for second listed offence etc: new Schedule 15B to Criminal Justice Act 2003 Offences listed for the purposes of sections 224A, 226A and 246A.
Government new schedule 5—‘Life sentence for second listed offence: consequential and transitory provision.
Government new schedule 6—‘New extended sentences: consequential and transitory provision.
Government new schedule 7—‘Release of new extended sentence prisoners: consequential provision.
The new clauses and schedules relate to the abolition of sentences of imprisonment for public protection, known as IPP sentences. They were introduced in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and have been in operation since 2005. Since their introduction, there have been numerous problems with them. The Government’s policy is that they must be replaced, and we have brought forward proposals to do so. My proposals to replace them with tough determinate sentences have inevitably aroused criticism from both the right and the left—the story of my life, as I complained yesterday. We are replacing a regime that did not work as it was intended to with one that gives the public the fullest possible protection from serious, violent and sexual crime.
The sentences in their present form are unclear, inconsistent and have been used far more than was ever intended or contemplated by either the Government or Parliament when the sentence was first created. Mr Blunkett, who is in his place, was very much involved in their introduction. I have no idea exactly what his view is now, but I am sure that he never imagined that thousands of people would be detained in prison indefinitely under these sentences. The debates at the time contemplated only a few hundred people.
I shall be extremely brief, given the time. It would be helpful, following the Secretary of State’s meeting with me and my right hon. Friend Paul Goggins, if he assured the House that reconsideration of the detail will take place in the House of Lords. There is no difference between those of us who accept that the original intention has not been followed through and those who think that the changes that my right hon. Friend Mr Straw introduced have not fully bitten as intended, but the propositions before us this afternoon do not meet the specific need that was identified back in the early 2000s by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, and which I carried into being.
Order. The right hon. Gentleman knows that he should make a short intervention, not a speech at this stage.
Order. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that he may have finished, but he should not take so long in future.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, and I will remember the need for extreme brevity. I am grateful for the discussion with the right hon. Members for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough and for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins), and I will follow up the account by the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East of the experience in Northern Ireland. We all acknowledge that where we are is not where anyone intended us to be. That is why we are addressing how to deal with serious and violent offenders.
I am sure that the words of the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough will be noted in the House of Lords. He speaks here with great authority. We will reflect on what is said by those who say that of course we have not got it quite right.
Normally I would give way, and if we had a full day of debate, I would have expected to give way to Members on both sides of the Chamber—[ Interruption. ] It is not my fault. Let me first finish explaining the general case. I will then try to give way as generously as I can. It would be quite possible to take so many interventions that they filled the remaining time, but I have no intention of doing so.
I remind the House that in June the Prime Minister announced that the Government intended to replace IPP sentences. He and I had agreed on that. We had originally proposed in our Green Paper greatly to restrict the number by raising the threshold above which IPP sentences were given. The sentencing parts of the Bill were received extremely well in public consultation because those who responded were largely those involved in the criminal justice system, but we received many representations saying that IPP sentences should abolished completely, which is why we have moved on.
I said that I would give way when I had finished my general points, and I will do so in a few moments.
I was referring not just to my opinion and that of the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough. I shall remind the House of some of the people who have said similar things. Louise Casey, the Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses, whose appointment to deal with problem families has been welcomed, said that she was pleased there would be a review of indeterminate sentences as they
“often leave victims in a horrible situation of not knowing when a criminal may be released from prison”.
She welcomed the proposal that tougher determinate sentences will be sought instead. Tim Godwin—as we all know, he was acting Metropolitan Police Commissioner until recently, and is now deputy commissioner and the criminal justice lead for the Association of Chief Police Officers—said he welcomed the review of IPP sentences and its focus on robust alternatives that will ensure the public is protected from the most serious offenders, as it is a source of frustration for victims and their families as to what a sentence actually means.
I cannot resist adding that the shadow Justice Secretary has suddenly taken up an extraordinarily far right position on this issue at the last moment. I have looked up what position he took, or at least what position Liberty took when he was its chairman in 2002, when indeterminate sentences were first introduced. At that time Liberty, under his chairmanship, denounced IPP sentences as
“a convoluted sleight of hand” which aids neither accessibility of law or transparency in the sentencing process. His successors at Liberty have not changed their mind. I said yesterday that tomorrow he would press an amendment that has mandatory sentences for 12-year-olds. Old Fabians must be spinning in their graves as the former chairman of the Fabian Society takes up a totally opportunist position.
What is wrong is that indeterminate sentences are unfair between prisoner and prisoner. The Parole Board has been given the task of trying to see whether a prisoner could prove that he is no longer a risk to the public. It is almost impossible for the prisoner to prove that, so it is something of a lottery and hardly any are released. We therefore face an impossible problem.
As I have said, IPP sentences are piling up, and they have been handed down at a rate of more than 800 a year even after the changes made in 2008. At the moment, more than 6,500 offenders are serving those sentences, of whom more than 3,000 have finished what the public regard as their sentence—the tariff for what they have done. If we do not do anything about it, the number of IPP sentences will pile up to 8,000 or 9,000 by 2015—10% of the entire prison population. Sometimes, their co-accused who committed the same crime and were given a determinate sentence were released long ago. That is unjust to the people in question and completely inconsistent with the policy of punishment, reform and rehabilitation, which has widespread support. Only Opposition Front Benchers are still in favour of a punishment that leaves a rather randomly selected group to languish indefinitely in prison, for their lifetime if necessary.
I will now take some interventions, and then go on as quickly as I can to describe the much better, more sensible and tough regime with which we are going to replace IPP sentences.
I actually agree with doing away with IPP sentences. It is costing about £70 million per annum to keep those who are beyond tariff in prison, so I welcome the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s announcement as far as it goes.
I am very grateful, and I really would be astonished if I had managed to make myself more radical than the right hon. Gentleman. No one ever regarded me as a liberal Home Secretary, but I am commending perfectly sensible, common-sense ideas.
Has the Secretary of State been listening to police officers such as the one in my constituency who has written to me to say that IPP sentences are working? He gives the case of an individual who set fire to a house, causing danger to others, who clearly presented a serious risk to the public. That police officer states:
“IPPs are a very useful tool for the Courts and I respectfully suggest that they should be retained and any issues with how they are implemented be looked at instead.”
That is a police officer serving on the front line.
I do not claim rank for Mr Godwin, but I quoted what he has said behalf of ACPO. Of course there are always dissenting views—I have never presented any proposal on anything that has had 100% approval—but the overwhelming majority of responses from those involved in the criminal justice system suggested that IPP sentences should be repealed. Those are not people who wish to be soft on crime, but they believe that IPP sentences have not worked as intended, as we have already heard in today’s exchanges, and need to be replaced. To reassure policemen, such as the one that the hon. Gentleman mentions, that a tough new regime will give them protection, I will spell out elements of the new regime.
Is not the fact of the matter that indeterminate sentences have a very low reoffending rate, and that most members of the public rather like the idea that people are not released from prison until it is safe? What will my right hon. and learned Friend do to ensure that people who are released go through all the necessary treatment and programmes to address their offending behaviour before they are released?
My hon. Friend’s last point is perfectly fair, and I am about to make some points that should reassure the great bulk of the public. Of course we must have in place a very effective method of dealing with all those who commit the worst sexual and violent offences. No one is suggesting that we do not need an effective regime for that.
For the very serious offenders, the ones who are among the worst of the likely inhabitants of Her Majesty’s prisons, there will be a new mandatory life sentence. That will apply in cases in which the offender has committed, on two consecutive occasions, two very serious sexual or violent offences, when each of which has been serious enough to merit a determinate sentence of 10 years or more.
I was criticised from the left in another place, and probably will be here, for introducing a new mandatory life sentence. We have only one at the moment, which is for murder, and everybody accepts it. As I have said, however, the new mandatory sentence is mainly intended to reassure those who, like my hon. Friend, are worried that the worst offenders might occasionally get out. We are talking about very serious offenders, most of whom would get a life sentence anyway if they had committed two offences meriting determinate sentences of 10 years or more. I do not think that many such people would avoid a life sentence, but as hon. Members can see, a life sentence in the new clause is subject to a caveat—the offender will receive a mandatory sentence unless their circumstances or the circumstances of the offence
“make it unjust to do so”.
The most important sentence for serious offenders will be discretionary life—the ordinary life sentence—which is already the maximum sentence for the most serious crimes in the calendar. That is the right penalty when the maximum penalty is life and the offence is serious enough. The British criminal justice system has always had that indeterminate sentence and I have never quite understood why it was thought necessary to create another one parallel to it. However, as I am now agreeing with those who introduced that sentence in the first place, I will not go into it.
My new clauses make no changes to discretionary life. Both I and those who advise me anticipate that once IPP sentences are no longer available, much more use will again be made of discretionary life sentences. The worst people will go back to having life sentences, which we know works perfectly effectively and well. They will be under licence for life if they are ever released, before which there will be a Parole Board process.
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain the practical difference between an offender who is given an IPP for, say, a minimum tariff of five years, who will then be released by the Parole Board on proof of meeting certain conditions, and someone who is given a discretionary life sentence with a tariff of five years who is released by the Parole Board on exactly the same conditions? What is the difference?
Well, there are differences in the regime, the sentence planning and so on, but not very many. I will go back to the point about the regime that we want to introduce for people with extended determinate sentences, but the right hon. Gentleman makes my point. What is wrong with saying that the courts should use the ordinary life sentence? They will use a life sentence when they judge that a case is so serious, and when future risk is so high, that it is the only proper sentence.
For other offenders, we are introducing a new extended determinate sentence. The offender will receive a custodial sentence plus a further long extended period of licence set by the court. Those will be quite long determinate sentences, and the offenders who receive them will serve at least two thirds of them. In serious cases, offenders must apply to the Parole Board for release, and the board may keep them inside until the end of the determinate sentence.
I shall just finish explaining this point and then answer questions.
The new sentence can be given for any sexual or violent offence, provided that the court thinks the offender presents a risk of causing serious harm through reoffending, and that the offence meets the four-year seriousness threshold that is currently in place for IPP sentences and extended sentences for public protection. The new sentence can also be given when the offender does not reach the four-year threshold, but has previously been convicted of an offence listed in proposed schedule 15B. I will cut out further detailed explanation, but that means that any offender who would previously have received an IPP will be eligible for the new sentence if he has not received either the mandatory life or the tougher, discretionary life sentence.
I very much agree with what my right hon. and learned Friend is trying to do, but he is writing what is the likely practice of the court into the statute book. He mentioned the Parole Board and new clause 34, which causes me concern. He appears to be giving to himself and the Executive the power to direct a court when dealing with existing IPP prisoners, because the Parole Board is regarded in law as a court, and he will give directions to it under new clause 34.
I shall come to the Parole Board before I conclude my remarks, but we are not taking away its power: nobody who previously had an IPP will be released, even at the two-thirds point, unless they have first satisfied the board.
The most obvious difference between life sentences, which will now be used more widely, and IPP sentences is that, in the case of life imprisonment, licences are for life and subject always to recall, whereas IPP sentences are not. However, as I said, criminals who complete an extended determinate sentence must then serve extended licence periods, during which time they will be closely monitored and returned to prison if necessary. The courts have the power to give up to an extra five years of licence for violent offenders and eight years for sexual offenders on top of their prison licence.
There are further protections. Some people believe—the Labour Front Bench team certainly affect to believe—that we are exposing people to risk by making this much overdue change. We are also introducing—not in the legislation, but I undertake to introduce them—compulsory intervention plans for dangerous offenders while they are in prison, so that they are supported to change their ways and not commit more crimes when they are eventually released. By the end of sentence, offenders should therefore have undergone interventions—made in a more certain and organised way than at present—to address their offending behaviour.
There is rightly concern that those currently serving IPP sentences should be supported in progressing through their sentences and achieving release on licence. However, we will be using our best efforts to improve the progression of these prisoners through sentence, including with improvements to assessment, sentence planning and delivery, and parole review processes. We continue to monitor outcomes to ensure further improvements in this area.
There are yet further protections available to the court. We do not believe that our proposed changes put the public at risk or weaken our risk-management regime. Most sexual or violent offenders sentenced to 12 months or more in custody will fall under the multi-agency public protection arrangements framework, which means that the relevant authorities will work together to co-ordinate assessments of risk and risk-management plans for the offender once they have been released on licence. Robust risk-management systems are now in place for a range of offenders. Court orders are also available to manage the risk of serious sexual and violent offenders who appear to present a risk at the end of their sentence. Violent offender orders and sex offending prevention orders place restrictions on these offenders, and if they breach those orders, they can be sent back to prison.
In the sentencing Green Paper, we raise the question of whether the Parole Board’s test for release in these cases is the right one, because only a tiny number of people ever emerge from prison at the moment—the rate is less than 5% a year—and we are acquiring people who are still in prison years after they finished the tariff that the judge imposed on them. This is a question that we will explore further. The amendments give the Secretary of State a power to change the release test used by the Parole Board, which is set in statute for IPP prisoners and for prisoners serving the new extended sentence. The power will be subject to the affirmative procedure.
We will consult carefully and see what happens to the Parole Board and the courts once we have made the present form of sentence extinct for former prisoners.
The trouble now is that someone who has finished his tariff has to stay in prison unless he can persuade the Parole Board that it is safe to let him out. [Interruption.] That is it; that can be difficult, sitting in a prison cell, although we are going to produce some management plans. On the other hand, if we are keeping someone in beyond their tariff, it is certainly arguable that we should have some positive reason for fearing that there is a risk that he is going to offend when he leaves. We have to reflect—we will consult on this—on whether we have been giving the Parole Board an almost impossible task. It is no good pretending that it can come to a scientifically certain conclusion in each case. None of us would like to say, if we met a range of prisoners, which were now reformed and which would offend again. The Parole Board gets it wrong now: some of those it releases offend again, while some of those in prison are never going to offend again, if we can actually get them out. We will consult on whether the current release tests for IPP sentences and the new extended indeterminate sentence ensure effective public protection while allowing everyone to be satisfied—as far as they can ever be satisfied in this world—that the offenders can now be safely managed in the community.
Some 40% of discretionary and mandatory lifers are post-tariff. They have to prove that it is safe to release them. Can the Secretary of State please explain what the difference is in substance between someone on a life sentence who has to satisfy the Parole Board that it is safe to release them and someone on an IPP?
Because the judge, in full knowledge of the circumstances of the offence and the offender, has decided that such a serious offender should get life imprisonment, it is—
It is not. What I think the right hon. Gentleman is saying—I will listen to him in a moment—is that he proposes to defend what is left of the last Government’s proposals, the author of which acknowledged quite early in my speech that they plainly needed to be changed. If I get the chance, I will listen to what Mr Straw is trying to argue, but he seems to be reassuring us that life sentences fulfil that requirement for the very worst people—that they are looked at carefully before being let out again—and those people will be on licence for life: once they start going in for aberrant behaviour, they can be recalled to prison and punished once more.
Apart from the very outlying people on the right and the left, I hope that I have satisfied everybody. It is high time that we reformed indeterminate sentences. Personally, I am amazed that they have survived judicial review and challenge in the courts thus far, but if something was not done, they would not survive very much further, which would lead to unfortunate consequences if a court suddenly started ordering us to release such prisoners and decided that they were being held unlawfully. I have recently described them as a “stain on the system”. I said that at a private meeting in the House of Lords—although it soon found its way into the press—but it is my opinion. What we are putting in place is protection for the public: far more rational, certain, determinate sentences, which is much more in line with how we think the British system should behave.
I will, of course, be followed in this debate by Sadiq Khan. I have already expressed my amazement at his position, and I have found some other quotations from him in my time. I cannot understand how he can match up to his present position. For example, when we both started in July last year, his leader—the current Leader of the Opposition—said:
“I don’t think we should try to out-right the right on crime,” and said that I was
“opening up an opportunity for us to redefine part of the debate about criminal justice.”
Only a few weeks ago, addressing the Howard League, the right hon. Member for Tooting said—in a lecture that I thought put him in a very convoluted position between his conscience and where he is at present—that
“our big challenge is to communicate that punishment and reform can and should go hand-in-hand…To deliver this calls for an honest debate”.
The right hon. Gentleman, the shadow Justice Secretary, is a radical lawyer from south London—he is more radical than I am—and he is trying to “out-right” me in what is an absurd and hopeless case. What we are putting in place is an altogether rational and sensible system.
I thank the Justice Secretary.
“Public safety remains our primary concern and indeterminate sentences will always be appropriate for the most serious crimes”— not my words, although I agree with them entirely, but those of this Government’s Green Paper, “Breaking the Cycle”, which was published in December 2010. How things have changed in just 11 months: instead of what was said then, at the last minute—and after interference from No. 10 Downing street—there was suddenly no mention of indeterminate sentences when the Bill was published in June, more than four months ago. At the last possible moment—at one minute to midnight—we are presented with new clauses that propose the total abolition of indeterminate sentences.
That is compounded by the ludicrous timetabling of today’s proceedings, whereby, because of the earlier ministerial statement and the knife that will halt proceedings on the new clauses at 6 pm, we are left with only 73 minutes in which to debate them for the first time. This is no way to go about passing legislation that is supposed to protect the public from some of the most serious and violent offenders. Why are the Government scared of debate? The Justice Secretary should be ashamed.
Of course, responsibility for these new clauses and the consequences that will flow from them lies not with the Justice Secretary; it can be placed firmly at the door of No. 10. From what we can see, the Justice Secretary is no longer in charge of his own Department. Back in
June, it was the Prime Minister—without the Justice Secretary being present—who presented the Government’s justice policy. I have a huge amount of respect for the Justice Secretary, but I am afraid he has become the mere puppet of a Prime Minister who appears no longer to have confidence in his abilities. I might be the shadow Justice Secretary, but he is a shadow of his former self.
The new clauses appear to have been conjured up, but it is not just their timetabling that is rushed. Their incoherence smacks of rushed drafting as well. They have had no pre-legislative scrutiny. The proposals did not form part of the Second Reading debate, and they were not debated at all in Committee. Now, we have less than half an hour in which to discuss them on the Floor of the House on Report, which rides roughshod over public concerns.
The right hon. Gentleman seems to be using his time to complain about not having enough time. Before he develops any conspiracy theories, may I make my position clear? I have spoken out against indeterminate sentences in the House before. The Green Paper proposed to restrict them, and I explained why. The announcement in June was made after the most careful discussion with the Prime Minister. We both agreed it, and the idea that I have been forced into accepting the abolition of indeterminate sentences is complete nonsense. The consultation process encouraged me to believe that serious people in the justice system were prepared to go for total abolition, and I leapt at the opportunity, as should the right hon. Gentleman, as a former chairman of Justice and of the Fabian Society. I cannot imagine where he thinks he is taking the labour movement to.
Not for the first time, the Government will have to leave it to colleagues from all parties and none in the other place to perform the scrutiny that this Bill deserves. The Justice Secretary is presenting us today with a blueprint that will risk more crime, more victims, and more serious and dangerous offenders being out on the streets. It is as simple as that, and he knows it. No amount of smoke and mirrors can disguise the fact that, by abolishing indeterminate sentences, he is risking the safety of communities in each and every constituency.
“Many dangerous criminals will be released, including repeat offenders, regardless of the risk they pose to the public.”
Those are not my words, but those of Nick Herbert, now the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, back in 2008, when he was commenting on the changes to indeterminate sentences that we made when we were in government. We made changes to them, but this Government are now proposing to abolish them altogether. What happened to the party that believed in law and order?
I spent a few minutes this morning finding recent cases in which judges had given an indeterminate sentence to a convicted offender to protect the public. I will not give the names of the offenders or the victims, as I do not want to cause the victims further distress. A South
Wales police press release from September this year bears the heading “Indeterminate prison sentence for convicted rapist”.
It goes on:
“A Cynon Valley man described as a ‘dangerous individual’ has been given an indeterminate sentence for the rape of two women and wounding of another…D, who the judge described as a dangerous individual, will not be considered for parole for six years. D’s victims have released the following…statement: ‘Our lives will never be the same after the trauma D has put us through. We were physically, mentally, financially and emotionally abused and controlled by him. We are satisfied with the court’s decision to give him an indeterminate sentence and relieved that no-one else will suffer like we have.’”
In this October’s online version of the Birmingham Mail was the headline, “Teenager jailed for stab attacks on father and son in West Heath”. The article stated:
“A teenager has been given an indeterminate sentence for stabbing a father and son while they tried to protect a ‘petrified’ youngster who sought refuge in their Birmingham home…Judge William Davis QC said: ‘You stabbed both the householder and his son causing both of them significant injury. It is a very serious offence because two people were attacked on their own door step and one of them left perilously close to death.’ The judge said he believed J to be a ‘dangerous young man’. After sentencing”,
the victim said,
“I am extremely pleased the judge recognised the seriousness of the offence. It shows the public that carrying knives will not be accepted in society today.”
This month’s North-West Evening Mailcontained the headline, “Caustic soda brute loses appeal against sentence”, and continued:
“A ‘dangerous and manipulative’ thug, who scarred a teenager for life by pouring caustic soda on her face, has been told by top judges he deserved his indefinite jail term…On Thursday G challenged his indefinite jail terms, with his lawyers also arguing the minimum five years he was ordered to serve before applying for parole was ‘excessive’. But his appeal was thrown out by judges sitting at London’s Criminal Appeal Court, who described G as a ‘very dangerous man’ who should not be released from prison until the Parole Board considers it safe to do so…Sentencing him, the crown court judge said he was a ‘controlling, manipulative, emotionless and uncaring man’ who was a danger to women…The appeal judge”,
Mr Justice Spencer,
“said: ‘The judge was quite correct to conclude that the appellant should not be released until the Parole Board deems it safe for him to be released.’”
Can the right hon. Gentleman think of any good reason why, given the remarks he has provided about the sentences, that the perpetrators would not have been given a life sentence? Normally, people like that would get a life sentence. Since there have been IPP sentences, some people have got them, but in the cases the right hon. Gentleman describes, judges will go back to the normal practice of giving a life sentence.
They will not. The right hon. and learned Gentleman’s proposals require there to have been a first offence, and the schedule provides for sentences of 10 or more years. The person found guilty will have to have come back for a second offence and be found guilty of an offence that also requires a sentence of 10 or more years. In all these cases—the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows this—the Government will have taken away from the judge who has heard all the evidence and knows the facts of the case the power to give the IPP sentence.
There is no qualification for a life sentence. People can be sent down for a life sentence for their first offence if it is serious enough and demonstrates the danger posed to the public. We are not introducing any qualifications at all to the power to give life imprisonment.
I could not have demolished the arguments better than the right hon. and learned Gentleman just has. He makes the exact point for me. Under the proposals we are presented with today, our judges will be stripped of the power to prevent the most serious criminals from being released and going on to be a danger to society. We can imagine a scenario—and an horrific one at that—of someone committing a serious and violent assault being caught, charged and found guilty. Under the Government’s new proposals, I accept that they might receive an extended determinate sentence and be eligible for release after two thirds of their sentence, should the Parole Board be satisfied. However, even if the Parole Board were not satisfied after two thirds of the sentence had elapsed, there would be nothing to prevent release at the end of the full sentence handed down by the judge. Dangerous individuals would be released at the end of their extended determinate sentence irrespective of whether they posed a risk to the public. Under the new proposals, judges will be able to do absolutely nothing about that. They will be powerless to deprive the offender further of his liberty in order to keep the public safe. I should be happy for the Justice Secretary to intervene on that point, but he apparently does not wish to do so.
The right hon. Gentleman clearly did not understand my question. He gave some dreadful descriptions of dreadful cases, featuring what—when the full circumstances are known—are clearly some of the worst examples of violence and sexual offences that could be found. The point is, however, that such people will receive life sentences, because such sentences are available to the court, and they will not be released until someone is satisfied that they are no longer as great a risk as they were. They will be subject to licence for the rest of their lives, and it will be possible to recall them if they start behaving in any sort of threatening way. The life sentence fills the gap that the right hon. Gentleman claims I am creating. We are not changing the position at all.
I realise that the Justice Secretary has not practised law recently, but if a judge could deliver a life sentence for such offences now, he or she would do so. It is because judges have the power under the IPP sentence to deliver indeterminate sentences to protect the public that they deliver those sentences. I am afraid that the Justice Secretary is not right.
A critical weapon will be absent from a judge’s arsenal, preventing that judge from handing down the most appropriate sentence. The judge will simply not be able to sentence the offender with the condition that only when the authorities are satisfied that he is not a risk to society will he be released. I know that that will free up prison places and save the Government money, but taking risks with public safety is plain wrong, which is why we will oppose new clause 30.
Public safety will also be compromised by the proposed “two strikes and you’re out” sentences. That is a great media soundbite and a sure-fire way of making the
Government seem tougher than they really are, and it is precisely the kind of thinking that lies behind the inclusion of the words “punishment of offenders” in the Bill, but policies relating to public safety cannot be determined by a public relations strategy.
We do not have to scratch very far beneath the surface to see that the Government’s plans are riddled with problems. Not only are they a rehash of failed Conservative policy from the 1990s, but they introduce a worrying amount of risk—risk that will undermine public safety. Through their “two strikes” policy, the Government absolve themselves totally of any responsibility to identify the serious, violent offenders who are most likely to reoffend. That should be done at the time when the first sentence is handed down for the commission of a heinous crime. It was for the purposes of precisely this scenario that the previous Government created indeterminate sentences, but this Government are making no effort to protect the public from those who are most likely to commit further serious and violent crime following their release. They will address the problem only once the offender has committed a second crime.
The right hon. Gentleman has cited cases, and appalling cases at that, in which he feels that an indeterminate sentence is appropriate. Can he give any examples of cases in which he thinks that an indeterminate sentence has not led to justice—in which people have been locked up for many years, perhaps longer than they should have been?
I shall come to the challenges posed by IPP sentencing. I accept that criticisms could be made about cases of people who should perhaps have been released and have not been. The hon. Gentleman has made a fair point. However, I do not think that the Government should risk the possibility that their policy will create countless additional victims, pain and misery that could be prevented if they took seriously their responsibility to keep the public safe. It should also be noted that the threshold for the handing down of a mandatory life sentence for the second offence is higher than that required for an indeterminate sentence. As a result, there is a risk that some of the most dangerous and serious criminals will not even be covered by the “two strikes” proposals. All that points to the need for some kind of indeterminate sentence that judges could use only in the most serious circumstances.
The 2008 reforms helped to deal with some of the problems that were inherent in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, and I pay tribute, as did the Justice Secretary, to the work of my right hon. Friend Mr Straw for the work that he did at that time. If the Government think that further reform is required, they can take many positive lessons from Northern Ireland’s successful introduction of indeterminate custodial sentences. I know that the Justice Secretary has corresponded with Northern Ireland colleagues, and has had discussions with my right hon. Friends the Members for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins) and for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) on this very matter. He has said nothing, however, about why he believes the Northern Ireland experience does not contain lessons for England and Wales; instead, he simply dismissed that possibility out of hand.
I am on record as saying that I want IPP sentences to be reformed so that they work as originally envisaged. I am happy to work on a cross-party basis to achieve that, so that IPP sentences protect the public from the most serious violent reoffenders. What I am not willing to do is play hard and fast with public safety.
I have also previously said that we need to look at the backlog of prisoners who have served their minimum tariff but are still in prison. That involves addressing the shortage of suitable courses and programmes to support those on indeterminate sentences. This problem has been exacerbated by the cut of about 25% in the Justice budget. One thing I will not support, however, is any watering down of due process before release of those who have served their minimum tariff. Instead, this Government have decided that indeterminate sentences should be discarded lock, stock and barrel, and there is now no mention at all of how they will deal with the backlog.
It is accepted that the Government’s plans will involve an even greater role for the already over-stretched Parole Board on release decisions and increased amounts of licensing, and I foresee serious problems ahead. There will be more call on the already over-stretched programmes and courses to support the rehabilitation of serious and violent offenders. The Justice Secretary must be clear with the House if, as a result of his bungled last-minute sentencing proposals, the extra resources required by the Parole Board and the prison service in order for them to be effective will not be forthcoming. If that is the case, he must explain how he expects the service to deliver more with the same budget.
All this is happening at the same time as the prison population is at crisis point, with more overcrowding, fewer programmes to support rehabilitation, and less power to the judges. The Justice Secretary’s claims that his reforms would “restore public confidence” and bring “common sense to sentencing” are laughable. How does he believe that abolishing indeterminate sentences, and replacing them with extended determinate sentences and “two strikes” sentences, will provide greater clarity? Perhaps he might also wish to explain to the public why he feels that it is “common sense” to restrict the power of judges to prevent the most serious and violent criminals most at risk of reoffending from being released from prison.
Nor do the Justice Secretary’s proposals seem to chime with his desire, which I share, to increase the amount of discretion on offer to judges. A judge’s role is to make a judgment, within certain parameters, based on the facts of the case, not simply to do as the Justice Secretary of the day instructs. Last week when appearing before the Home Affairs Committee the Justice Secretary reiterated his opposition to moving towards more mandatory sentences, yet just a week later we are presented with increased mandatory life sentences and the removal of the option of a judge handing down an indeterminate sentence if the circumstances permit.
I urge the House to reject new clause 30. We should leave IPP sentences on the statute book so that judges can continue to give indeterminate sentences to protect the public in appropriate cases.
Unlike the Front Benchers, I will try to keep my speech brief so as to allow other Members to contribute.
The Government are making a serious mistake by getting rid of indeterminate sentences, and I believe the decision will come back to bite them on the bottom. The vast majority of people serving indeterminate sentences have committed crimes such as manslaughter, other homicide and attempted homicide, other violence against the person, rape, other sexual offences, robbery and arson. Why on earth would we want a Government who think it is perfectly acceptable to let those people out of prison before they are deemed safe to be released out among the public?
The shadow Secretary of State has hit the nail on the head. The Secretary of State started off in his post by saying that the most important thing for him was reducing reoffending. Well, we are talking about the crown jewel in the criminal justice system for dealing with reoffending. [Interruption.] I know that the Liberal Democrats do not believe that—they are soft on crime so I would not expect them to accept it. By the end of last year, 206 people who had served indeterminate sentences had been released from prison and 30% of them had committed more than 15 previous offences. Many of these people were not just dangerous offenders, but persistent offenders. How many of those 206 had committed another offence by the end of last year? The answer is just 11, or about 5%. The Secretary of State would give his right arm for reoffending rates of that order across the criminal justice system, so why on earth does someone who is supposedly committed to reducing the reoffending rate want to scrap the best-performing part of the criminal justice system on reoffending? This beggars belief. It comes back to the point that his real motive is not about reducing reoffending or protecting the public; it is about reducing the prison population. That is the only thing that he has ever been interested in, and this measure is all the proof we ever needed that that is his only motivation. It is absolutely appalling that a Government supposedly dominated by the Conservative party—the party of law and order—could be letting dangerous offenders out of prison before they are deemed safe to be released.
I wish to give a couple of examples of the people we are talking about from my local area of Bradford. Toffozul Ali was a convicted killer who was locked up indefinitely for a sudden and sustained knife attack in Bradford. Ali shook hands with his victim, Darren Jones, before stabbing him from behind, causing wounds to his arm, chest and knee. Ali already had a conviction for manslaughter for stabbing an Asian man to death when he was only 16, and he was branded a public danger and sentenced to an IPP. This Government seem to think it is fine that he can be released from prison before he is deemed safe to be released from prison—it is an absolute disgrace. Martin Ellerton was locked up indefinitely for stabbing his father to death, and he confessed to a six-year crime spree involving more than 630 offences of burglary and theft. These are the types of people we are talking about. The Secretary of State seems more concerned with their rights than with those of the people in places such as Shipley, who want to be protected from these people.
Stephen Ayre was a convicted killer who abducted and raped a 10-year-old boy in my constituency when he was unnecessarily released from prison. The father of that boy has gone through the trauma of that to call publicly for the Secretary of State to rethink his proposals on indeterminate sentences, saying:
“I would not wish what we’ve been through on anyone. The system failed my son six years ago. But Ken Clarke’s changes will only make things worse.”
I guarantee that people will be released from prison who otherwise would not have been and I guarantee that those people will go on to commit serious offences. What will the people who voted for this measure think about that, given that they will have created unnecessary victims of crime?
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that the new proposals mean that it is possible for somebody to receive an extended determinate sentence, to go on no courses or programmes, to sit in their cell for the duration of the sentence and still be released at the end of their determinate sentence?
I have a lot of sympathy with what the shadow Secretary of State says. The point is that, at the moment, these people are released only when they are deemed safe to be released. Under a determinate sentence—irrespective of whether or not people are safe to be released, whether or not they have gone through the programmes they need to go through to address their offending behaviour and whether or not they have behaved well in prison—they will be released back out to the public. That is an absolute disgrace, as is debating this issue in just 73 minutes, with 30 minutes for speeches by Back Benchers. I will give up at that point to make room for other people, but the Secretary of State should be ashamed of himself as this will measure create further unnecessary victims of crime.
I apologise for diverting the House to a rather different part of the debate, but my new clause 3, which I am pleased has support from Members across the House, is extremely important to a group of victims and their families—those for whom disability has been the motivation for murder or other violent crimes against disabled people. My new clause would apply the same minimum tariff in cases of murder in which disability has been a motivating factor as currently applies in similar cases with a sexual, racial or religious motivation. It would also shift the application of the aggravating feature of disability from being a matter of the victim being seen as vulnerable to a matter of the victim being at greater risk of harm, thereby firmly placing the obligation on the perpetrator.
I am delighted to support this new clause. Does the hon. Lady agree that although this might seem like an obtuse issue to hon. Members in the Chamber it is attracting great attention outside within the disabled community? Does she also agree that there will be utter incomprehension if we fail to make progress on this issue, which should be a simple matter of human dignity and equality?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right and he has raised this issue in the House and with the Lord Chancellor before. Many disability organisations and the families of victims of such crimes have contacted him and me to express their very deep concerns. I am particularly indebted to the Disability Hate Crime network, to Katherine Quarmby, an independent journalist, and to the Royal Association for Disability Rights. I am also especially indebted to Christine Oliver, the sister of Keith Philpott, who was a learning disabled victim of murder, for taking the time to talk to me about her family’s experience in relation to my bringing the new clause before the House.
I am sorry to intervene but, for the benefit of the debate on the other subject, may I assure the hon. Lady on behalf of the Government that we agree with her and my hon. Friend Paul Maynard? I am advised that the new clause is defective in its drafting—I can tell her why—and I can assure her that we will table amendments in the other House to give effect to what she is asking for. We also propose to cover the transgender issue. I think that will help us to get on with the debate.
Kate Green must be delighted that so brief and concise a speech has produced so immediate, thorough and satisfactory a response. I welcome what the Government are doing about this.
I want to be brief so I shall resist the temptation to go into the extraordinary intellectual journey that Sadiq Khan seems to have undertaken. I shall also resist the temptation to go into the habit of the previous Government of releasing people from prison at any moment when the jails seemed to be rather full without any reference to sentence planning or, for that matter, to the annual criminal justice Bill to which new clauses were always added on Report as far as I can recall—a practice I rather deplore because, as in this case, it denies us the opportunity to give new clauses proper scrutiny. I want to make it quite clear that the continuance of what I regard as a blot on the system—the use of indeterminate sentences—is something that I do not support. I therefore welcome the Lord Chancellor’s action to remove such sentences from our system, and I believe that view is widely shared in the criminal justice system.
People are concerned about the possibility of serious criminals re-entering society and committing other very serious offences, but how can they conclude that the best thing to do with such people is to put them in prison without our having any idea how long they might stay there? Surely, it is better to have a much clearer idea that they will be in prison for a long time and that if they are ever released, it will be under licence for life. I do not see why it should be preferable for the public to be told, “Well, we’ve put the chap in prison, but we’re not really sure when he’ll come out and a board that you know very little about will decide whether it’s safe.” I think most members of the public would be quite suspicious of that and would rather hear that there was a clear and long sentence. I am suspicious of mandatory sentences, but as a means of giving reassurance on how the courts might be expected to behave in the sort of cases we are discussing, the mandatory sentence we are discussing can be justified, especially as it is very carefully worded with appropriate provision for justice.
However, all this is only part of the story. None of it is any use unless we have proper sentence planning and proper offender management. Proper sentence planning is virtually impossible under the indeterminate sentences for public protection system, especially for those on shorter terms. People have not been completing the courses that they need to have completed to satisfy the parole board that they could be released. That system is untenable. We need effective sentence planning—and more determinate sentences are a better way of achieving that. We need proper offender management for offenders who are eventually going to leave prison. The Justice Committee has regularly stressed that the concept of offender management needs to include proper control. It should not be a system in which people are handed from one agency to another without a continuous process of supervision.
The trouble with the procedure in the new clause is that we do not have the opportunity to probe the details by tabling a probing amendment. I asked the Lord Chancellor earlier about new clause 34. I think that it is well intentioned in that it is an attempt to deal with existing indeterminate public protection prisoners, but I am bound to question it because it gives to the Executive the power to direct the Parole Board on what should be done with an individual. That is a direction to a court—there have been court cases that have ruled that the Parole Board must be regarded as a court. So it is an odd way of proceeding and one that we might have amended in Committee had we been able to consider the measure. If there is an opportunity, I hope that I can hear a little more about why the measure has been introduced as a new clause tonight.
I endorse the remarks of my right hon. Friend Sadiq Khan and Philip Davies. The hon. Member for Shipley, addressing the Lord Chancellor and his hon. Friends, said that the measure would lead to a number of dangerous offenders coming out of prison before it was correct to let them out. That, of course, is one of the key drivers of this policy. It is not about prison reform. The whole purpose of the measures put before the House last December was to cut the prison population by 6,500. The Lord Chancellor then ran into huge difficulties because he could not get his own side, our side or the judges to accept the 50% tariff for an early guilty plea and many other changes. I do not know the number exactly, but I do know that The Times quoted a Ministry of Justice spokesperson last Friday as saying that the changes would lead to a cut in the prison population of 2,500.
The Secretary of State seemed to want to have it both ways. He damned the concept of the indeterminate sentence for public protection and suggested that it was a stain on the system. He also tried to reassure the House and the public by saying, “Don’t worry, we are going to do exactly the same thing, but it is going to be called a mandatory life sentence.”
May I correct the right hon. Gentleman? The impact statement will show the Bill as amended. Other things being equal, with no changes in the crime level—which depends far more on how long a recession we have, the levels of youth unemployment, how successful we are in dealing with drugs and how far we get with prison reform—the Bill will reduce the prison population by 2,300. The measure we are now debating will have no effect on the prison population in the period to 2015. The reduction in the prison population is achieved by measures already discussed and approved in the Standing Committee.
It would have been helpful to have the impact statement before the House today rather than tomorrow. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying—picking up the point made by the hon. Member for Shipley—that no prisoner who cannot be released until he has proved that he is not a danger to the public will not be released in the future, what on earth are these convoluted changes for?
The original design of the legislation in 2003 was unsatisfactory because it led in some cases to tariffs that were ludicrously short—in one case, 27 days. That was never the intention of my right hon. Friend Mr Blunkett and it was causing a major problem. I, with the approval of the House, sought to change the law. It is worth Government Members remembering, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting pointed out, that we got no assistance whatever from the Conservative Opposition at the time. Their complaint was that we were going soft by introducing this change. It was absolutely extraordinary. I do not remember Mr Clarke, now the Lord Chancellor, standing up either in the House or outside suggesting that there was an alternative. We made that change and, interestingly and wholly contrary to what was said, it has led to a stabilisation of the numbers on indeterminate public protection sentences. According to the Lord Chancellor’s statistical bulletin, in the most recent year the number of such sentences rose by only 3% over the previous year and the number of those receiving IPP sentences was 958 for the year ending March 2011, compared to one short of 1,000 for the year ending March 2010. The changes that were introduced are working.
Yes, it is right that we should look in more detail at the Northern Ireland experience to see what other changes can be made, but it is entirely wrong for the Secretary of State to try to set up a new system that will lead either to the release of dangerous people who are serious and persistent offenders, thousands of whom are in prison for violent offences and sexual offences—in the main—or make no difference at all.
If the hon. and learned Gentleman will excuse me, I will not.
The Lord Chancellor has been anxious to please the whole prison reform lobby—people who, bluntly, do not speak for the public, and rarely speak for the victims either in my experience, but even they will not be satisfied. Meanwhile, the public and innocent victims will be put at risk.
Order. May we have brevity? We want to hear as many speakers as possible.
I declare an interest as a former barrister and a former criminal prosecutor, who has worked on several murder trials.
I assure my hon. Friend Philip Davies that I am not soft on crime, but I support the Government in their reform of this untenable, shocking and wrong system. With great respect to Mr Straw, he should hang his head in shame for being party to the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, both of which were useless pieces of legislation that introduced something that the Prison Reform Trust, the Institute for Criminal Policy Research, the Nuffield Foundation and the criminal justice joint inspectorate described as
“one of the least carefully planned and implemented pieces of legislation in the history of British sentencing.”
The flip-flops of the shadow Justice Secretary would put a kangaroo to shame. It is entirely right to reform a system that was underfunded, worked poorly and is manifestly wrong in the circumstances of a 21st-century country. I will speak only briefly but I remind the right hon. Member for Blackburn of the comments in the House of Lords on the 2003 and 2008 Acts, when the Lords addressed IPPs in the cases of the Crown v. James and the Crown v. Lee. In a decision that effectively lambasted the then Secretary of State, Lord Hope of Craighead said:
“There is no doubt that the Secretary of State failed deplorably in the public law duty…He failed to provide the systems and resources that prisoners serving those sentences needed to demonstrate to the Parole Board by the time of the expiry of their tariff periods…that it was no longer necessary for the protection of the public that they should remain in detention.”
I have made it clear that I am not soft on crime, as others have suggested. The debate has sadly been too short, but the new clause should certainly be supported by the House.
I share the concerns expressed by hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House, but I am grateful to the Lord Chancellor for the meeting he and his ministerial colleague held with my right hon. Friend Mr Blunkett and I. I am also grateful for the Lord Chancellor’s assurance earlier that he would still be thinking hard about the provisions as they go from this place to the House of Lords.
I want again to assert briefly that the Northern Ireland experience was instructive, and if the Lord Chancellor was prepared to reflect on it, it would strengthen the flawed prospectus he has given us. The experience in Northern Ireland was based on a tragic case involving Trevor Hamilton, who murdered Attracta Harron when she was on her way home from mass in December 2003. My right hon. Friend Mr Hanson remembers the case well because he dealt with the issues too. Hamilton had been released at the halfway point of a seven-year sentence for rape, indecent assault and threats to kill. The public were outraged that such a dangerous individual could be released with no control whatever by the public authorities.
The framework in Northern Ireland is based on two key principles. The first is absolute judicial discretion, with no presumptions about previous offences, such as there were in the 2003 Act—so complete judicial discretion. Secondly, judges have to go through a very clear process. Does the offence justify a life sentence? If it does, that is what the offender gets. If it does not, the judge must consider an extended sentence, which can give some degree of control over the release date, but the offender must eventually be released at the end of the extended custodial period. If that is not sufficient for public protection, only then can the judge give an indeterminate sentence.
The result is instructive. The Northern Ireland Justice Minister, David Ford, has sent us a report, for which I commend him—the report should be put in the Library. There has been no significant change in the number of life sentence prisoners. There have been 68 extended sentences and eight indeterminate sentences in three and a half years. That system is in control and it offers the public protection.
There are real risks with what the Lord Chancellor is proposing. If he is right and judges suddenly start to impose more life sentences, he will simply have replaced one problem with what he described as the original problem. He will have replaced indeterminate sentences with life sentences, which will bring all the issues relating to resources and parole that he faces currently. The most serious thing is that under his proposals all dangerous offenders not given a life sentence will have a definite date for release, which is a risk too far for this or any Government to take. It will leave a gap, bridged in Northern Ireland by the indeterminate sentence not as a first or a second option but as a complementary third option.
I am glad that the Lord Chancellor is listening. I hope he heeds that lesson and that when he takes his legislation to the other place he will make further amendments.
I am in favour of the Government’s decision to scrap IPP sentences in this instance. Liberty, among others, has said that IPPs could be a back-door measure to introduce life sentences for a huge range of offences. They were intended to be given only sparingly but of course they have been used far more frequently than expected. In March 2011, there were 6,550 IPP prisoners, half of whom served 240 days beyond their tariff, at a cost to the Exchequer of about £68 million. That is quite apart from the whole question of whether they were being held unlawfully, which worries many of us.
As it stands, the IPP regime has been a costly mistake. Furthermore, the indefinite legal limbo created by IPP sentences has in many instances undermined rehabilitation, leaving prisoners and their families uncertain when, if ever, release will be granted. Like the Lord Chancellor, I wonder why those sentences have not been challenged in the courts. I have campaigned on the matter for a long time. In February, I introduced a ten-minute rule Bill seeking the abolition of IPP sentences, so I am pleased about the Government’s decision.
New clause 32 would mean that prisoners serving an extended sentence of at least four years in custody, who have a prior conviction for one in a list of serious offences, will be required to serve two thirds of their sentence, instead of being considered for release at the halfway point. I argued for such a provision when I introduced my Bill, so I am pleased that it has been introduced. However, like Sir Alan Beith, I have concerns about new clause 34. I have grave concerns about interference in individual parole decisions. That proposal must be looked at in the other place. We do not have time to debate it properly today and I am sure that many Members, whatever their views, would have appreciated a sensible timetable.
I shall correspond with the right hon. Gentleman and Sir Alan Beith. The new clause was tabled at my request so that we can contemplate changing the test for release by statutory instrument. I shall explore whether it gives rise to the problems described. I certainly have no intention at the moment of intervening in individual cases and making judgments about IPP prisoners.
That is certainly reassuring, but had we had a decent amount of time to discuss the proposals we could have probed them earlier. There is also some confusion about new clause 33, which will no doubt be picked up in the other place.
I know that I have done nothing for my street credibility, and even less for the Lord Chancellor’s, but I believe that the IPP system has been brought into disrepute. It is only right that we do away with it, and to that extent I agree with what the Government seek to do.
I shall be brief. I support the Government’s amendments. We need a system that does not try to predict risk, but sentences according to the seriousness of the offence. Paul Goggins made some very interesting points that deserve consideration, but now is the time for change. The current system is not sustainable. We are not dealing with the risk that these people pose and a system of determinate long sentences would be a far better service to the victims of crime, who are too often left in the dark about what happens in cases—
Debate interrupted (Programme Order,
The House divided: