Clause 15 - Guidance about independent domestic violence and sexual violence advisors

Part of Victims and Prisoners Bill – in the House of Commons at 11:15 am on 24 May 2024.

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Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Justice Committee 11:15, 24 May 2024

Madam Deputy Speaker, as we leave the House together, may I start by wishing you the very best for the future? I remember, as a keen young Opposition spokesman, being your shadow when you were Local Government Minister, and I could never have had a more charming or skilful opposite number. I learned a lot from that.

I see sitting behind me two of my oldest friends in politics: my hon. Friends the Members for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) and for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken). We have been around the block—literally—in various local government campaigns in London over many years. It is a certain irony that we have all decided to depart at the same time; that will probably be cause for a good lunch at some point. I have not forgotten that I owe the Minister one as well.

I pay tribute to the Minister for his approach. I totally agree with the shadow Minister, to whom I am also grateful—he has been a good friend in relation to this and to issues about the performing arts and music, which we have both championed in this place—as well as the SNP spokesman.

The Minister has been exemplary in his approach. We are fortunate in the team of Ministers that we currently have at the Ministry of Justice, including him and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor—although he is not here today, his name is on the amendments—who is a quite exceptional lawyer, a quite exceptional Lord Chancellor, a star in this Chamber and somebody whose integrity and commitment to the legal system will be long recognised.

These are improvements to the Bill—I am glad about that. May I also thank the Ministry of Justice officials? I have dealt with many of them over the years. I am sorry that they have had to put up with some of the things that the Justice Committee has lobbed at them over that time, but there has always been a great, constructive spirit. In that context, I particularly welcome the fact that the Government have taken on board a number of the Select Committee’s recommendations in relation to our pre-legislative scrutiny of what was then simply the Victims Bill and became the Victims and Prisoners Bill, as well as some, although not all, of our recommendations in relation to IPP prisoners; more on that in a moment.

The scrutiny of the Victims Bill was particularly led by Maria Eagle, who served as my deputy on the Committee before she was rightly recalled to the Opposition Front Bench. I thank her too for the support she gave me on the Committee and the particular work she did for her constituents and for a better and fairer approach for victims in these cases. I also congratulate Dame Diana Johnson, whom I first met when we were both elected to the London Assembly in 2000, for the exceptional work she has done in relation to infected blood. We can work cross-party on these matters and she has performed a great service.

In relation to some of the remaining parts of the Bill, I am glad the Government have moved on the matters set out here. The co-operation with the commissioner is good news and I think we all know that the duty of candour is valuable and to be welcomed; perhaps it could go further, but let us accept it is a step in the right direction.

The use of public protection and powers in relation to the recall of prisoners and the extension of home curfew are sensible measures. Home curfew is important. I will say it yet again, because I may not have another chance to do so: we need to be more intelligent as a society in the way we use imprisonment, which is expensive, and the way we use it at the moment is not always effective. Alternative tools in the sentencing box, including the use of home detention curfews, enable us to get a better approach to balancing punishment, which is legitimate, with rehabilitation, which is what we have to aim for if we are to reduce reoffending. If we want to reduce the number of victims of crime, we want to reduce reoffending. Home detention curfews and other measures are a valuable step towards doing that. They are by no means the whole answer, but any advance is to be welcomed.

I regret that in the wash-up we do not have the Sentencing Bill, because that would have taken many more valuable steps towards a more balanced and rational approach to sentencing policy. I hope whoever is in government after the general election will return to the issues in the Sentencing Bill, not least because many of them had cross-party support.

The campaign on IPP prisoners has attracted massive cross-party support both here and in the other House. Our Committee took compelling evidence on it, and in particular I want to thank those who championed it in the other place, including my good friend Lord Moylan, and Lord Blunkett. I wish the Government had gone further and introduced the resentencing exercise proposal put forward powerfully by Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the former Lord Chief Justice; I still think there is merit in that.

I would like to end by paying tribute to someone who, sadly, cannot hear the words because yesterday I was at Middle Temple for the memorial service to the late Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, one of the most exceptional men I have ever met. He was an exceptional lawyer, one of the last of the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary—the Law Lords—and one of the first of the Supreme Court. At an age when many would be putting their feet up, he was regularly in the House of Lords until a month before he died. He regularly championed the case of IPP prisoners, and coined the phrase

“stain on our criminal justice system”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 7 September 2017;
Vol. 783, c. 2074.]

Those were Simon’s words. He will be pleased, up wherever he is, to have heard the words from the Minister that there will be movement, but I hope that one day we will return to the Simon Brown memorial amendment, the resentencing exercise amendment. That exceptional person, who inspired me and many others, and his family will deserve that, because if it is possible to be both a lawyer and public figure and a great human being, Simon Brown epitomised that, and that is something we can perhaps all learn from.