Amendment 15

Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill - Committee (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 26th January 2021.

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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede:

Moved by Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

15: After Clause 31, insert the following new Clause—“Parole Board (1) The Secretary of State must, within three years of this Act being passed, lay before Parliament a report on whether the removal of the Parole Board from considering certain types of terrorist offences leads to bad behaviour in prisons.(2) A Minister of the Crown must make an oral statement in the House of Commons on his or her plan to address any issues identified in the report no later than three months after it has been laid before Parliament.”

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

My Lords, I will be very brief on this amendment. The two previous groups have been groups of substance, and serious questions have been asked about the way forward. The amendment in my name would create provisions for a review of whether the removal of the Parole Board from considering certain types of terrorist offences leads to bad behaviour. That is a central point in many ways in the last two groups, but it has also been mentioned as an issue in many of the amendments that we have discussed today. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, to our House. It is brave of him to start his parliamentary career in your Lordships’ House by going up against so many noble and learned Lords. It is going to be absolutely fascinating watching that.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, for bringing this amendment. I wish I had signed it, because it is very good. It is about whether we want to rehabilitate prisoners and bring them back into society or just want them to rot away and hope they disappear.

I am sure noble Lords will know that the new independent reviewer of Prevent has been announced. It is William Shawcross, whom I do not know at all. As somebody who is a critic of Prevent—I have seen the good and the bad in it—I would say that the optics are not good. Having a white man from Eton and Oxford is possibly not the message that this Government should be sending out when you have critics of a programme that could have been fantastic.

I saw one case of a Prevent programme—in Birmingham, I think—where a young man had been recovered, or rehabilitated, from a radical programme. He had been a right-wing activist, but he responded to being found a job and a house. I am not saying it is always this easy, but rehabilitation was based on taking him out of poverty and deprivation. That is something that we do not see enough of.

However, to return to the amendment, it would require the Government to review the situation and report to Parliament, and I support it very strongly.

Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Crossbench

My Lords, the town of Tredegar is noted for its town clock, which was erected, or at least its plinth was, as a result of funds collected at a bazaar. I believe that information to be correct—and from my position in my home I think I can see the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, nodding in agreement with those facts. The Tredegar clock is always regarded as a symbol of the stability of the town—a town that has been through thick and thin, having been a place where coal was mined and steel manufactured.

The Parole Board has become one of the pillars of our prison system, and the board is seen as being as reliable as that town clock as it has developed over the years. I therefore join the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, in being really rather determined to persuade Ministers that they should take another look at the role of the Parole Board in the sentencing and licence provisions provided for by this important Bill, which I support in principle, as someone who believes that the sentences for terrorism should be long but subject to a proper, just and reasonable form of review that gives reasons if it finds against a prisoner.

I am happy to support the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, not for its content but for the principle that it raises, and I invite the Minister to reflect accordingly.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, I apologise for any inconvenience caused by my noble friend Lady Hamwee and me not speaking in the last group, where our names were included in the speakers’ list in error.

The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, addresses the serious question of the impact on prisoners who have no prospect of being released early or of being released at all, something that the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, spoke about in an earlier group, as did my noble friend Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames.

Some indication of the potential impact comes from a report in the Times, dated 20 January 2021, on inmates at the only remaining isolation unit for extremist prisoners in Her Majesty’s Prison Frankland. These isolation units were designed to keep the most dangerous ideological prisoners away from the general prison population so that they could not radicalise vulnerable inmates, as other noble Lords have mentioned in today’s debate. One of those units was mothballed before it was opened, another is empty, and the one at Frankland houses five prisoners out of a capacity of eight. There are currently about 200 terrorist prisoners in the UK.

According to the Times, a report by the independent monitoring board at the prison says that inmates in the unit have become more entrenched in their views, that they are refusing to co-operate or to engage in activities and programmes—except for the gym—and that they are distinguished from other prisoners by a lack of progression. They display antagonism and hostility to staff, with one of the prisoners responsible for a serious assault on a prison officer in the centre.

Locking people up with no incentive to behave or co-operate is likely to be counterproductive, and the Times report supports that assertion. We support the amendment.

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

My Lords, this amendment would require the Government to report on whether the removal of Parole Board consideration of certain prisoners’ release impacts their behaviour in prison. We return once again to the quite proper desire of the Committee for objective data to allow proper evaluation of the usefulness of measures. The point is an important one, but the Government do not think that a review and a report such as the amendment proposes would be practical or beneficial at this time. I will set out why in brief terms.

To carry out such an exercise would require there to be clearly defined factors influencing prisoner behaviour in custody, against which one could evaluate the distinct impact of the prospect of Parole Board consideration in a sentence. Such an evaluation method is simply not feasible. It would be impossible to measure the behavioural effect of a prisoner sentenced under provisions in this Bill expecting a future Parole Board hearing, compared to a counterfactual in which the Parole Board would consider the case. The amendment goes further, implying that the removal of Parole Board referral for some cases could impact on prisoner behaviour more widely. This would be even more impracticable to assess.

The policy intent across these measures is clear; the sentences available to the courts for terrorism offences should be proportionate to the gravity of these crimes and provide confidence for victims and the public. In some cases, this will mean that terrorist offenders spend longer in custody before release. To provide some reassurance further to what we have given from the Dispatch Box this afternoon about what will be done in that additional time in custody, I will make two remarks.

First, there is the hard work of prison staff with prisoners in their care, whatever their sentence or release arrangements. As your Lordships will have gathered, we deploy specialist counterterrorism staff to work with terrorist offenders, and we are recruiting more of these officers than ever before through the counterterrorism step up programme.

Secondly, the new counterterrorism assessment and rehabilitation centre, which your Lordships have heard about from the Dispatch Box, will drive the development, innovation and evidence-based delivery of our rehabilitative interventions. The centre will transform our capability to intervene effectively with terrorist offenders, including those sentenced under this Bill and those who will be released automatically. The Bill will be scrutinised in the usual way, including a statutory review after three years.

I now turn to contributions from Members in this short, but hopefully valuable, debate. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb; she succeeded in doing from her Benches what I was unable to do from the Dispatch Box earlier in answer to a direct request, by identifying Mr Shawcross in his new post. I hope the noble Baroness will accept my further assurances as to the seriousness with which the Government take the points she raised.

The noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, in an elegant allusion to the values of the town clock at Tredegar, drew our attention to the important work of the Parole Board. We on this side share the noble Lord’s high estimation of the Parole Board. I promise, on behalf of myself and my noble friend and colleague, that we will reflect carefully on the observations made by the noble Lord and by others in the course of debate.

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, drew to our attention the report in the Times. I have already addressed the Committee on the work being carried out in the prison estate on rehabilitation and disengagement—the deradicalisation work to which both of us, speaking from the Dispatch Box, have made mention. I assure the Committee that I will consider what has been said in the report in the Times to which the noble Lord referred and will check that against the information I have already provided to the Committee.

In the light of the points made and the breadth of the Government’s agenda in this area, I hope the noble Lord will agree to withdraw his amendment, but I say that with the following qualification. The noble Lord has indicated the nature of the report which he seeks. I have indicated why we do not consider it to be practicable or feasible. If he wishes to have us reconsider that view, in particular by drawing to our attention any matters that he does not think we have considered, then he can accept our assurance that he may contact us at any time. None the less, I hope that the noble Lord will, at this stage, agree to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice) 6:30 pm, 26th January 2021

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate. First, turning to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, as a fellow layman I thought she gave a good summary of rehabilitation. I see rehabilitation as three things: to have something to do with your time, so either a job or education; to have a roof over your head; and to have stable relationships. Stable relationships are very important in all our lives. The problem we may be dealing with regarding this particular category of prisoners is stable relationships which are not conducive to people not reoffending. Nevertheless, I appreciated the noble Baroness’s contribution.

Both the noble Lords, Lord Carlile and Lord Paddick, spoke about the principles of some sort of review. The Times article that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, referred to reminded me of two or three visits I have made to prison gyms over the years. Absolutely invariably, I have been told by the officers who manage the prison gyms that there is never any trouble in a prison gym. That is because the prisoners know that that would be the first privilege they would lose, which they do not want to lose. So prison gyms, from what I have been told, are trouble-free areas.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, gave quite a lengthy answer to my amendment. He described it as potentially counterfactual and impractical. I will have to read properly what he said. However, he slightly mitigated his view on the amendment by saying that he was happy to consider any further submissions I might make. I therefore know there is a potential open door for a later-stage amendment, and with that in mind, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 15 withdrawn.

House resumed.

House adjourned at 6.35 pm.