Amendment 12

Part of Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill - Report – in the House of Lords at 2:45 pm on 3rd March 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Justice) 2:45 pm, 3rd March 2021

My Lords, Amendment 12 echoes the amendment calling for a review which we proposed in Committee. The purpose of the amendment is to enable the noble and learned Lord—or another Minister—to update the House on the Government’s proposals for reviewing the impact of the first 31 sections of this Act, as it will then be. During my speech in Committee, I spent some time setting out in detail why we contend that the review called for by our amendment is necessary. I will not trespass for long on the House’s time this afternoon.

My noble friend Lady Hamwee will speak to Amendment 13, in the name of my noble friend Lord Paddick, about polygraphs. We broadly support Amendment 24 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Amendment 25 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb.

We are concerned, first, to ensure that the Government keep under review and report on the impact on prisoners of longer terms of imprisonment and consequently proportionately shorter periods on licence. To answer a point made in Committee on behalf of the Government, in our view it is not premature to ask for such a review at an early stage. It is not necessary to await the release of such prisoners in many years to come before reviewing the working of this part of the Bill. The impact of very long sentences on, for example, prisoners’ behaviour in prison—a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede—their prospects of rehabilitation and their continued contact with their families and friends outside prison can be assessed from an early stage.

We are also concerned to consider the effect on other prisoners of having serious terrorist offenders in their midst. It is of great importance to avoid the risk that the most serious offenders are seen as some kind of kingpins within prisons to be looked up to and emulated. If our prisons become terrorist training grounds, the effect of long sentences will have been utterly counterproductive.

We considered with members of the Joint Extremism Unit, at the drop-in session that I mentioned a little earlier, a number of issues concerning the development and use of separation units for terrorist offenders within prisons. These were recommended by the Acheson review in 2016—a recommendation which was accepted by the Government but which as yet has not been by any means fully implemented. Such units have the clear advantage of keeping serious terrorist offenders separate from other prisoners. However, they also have a number of disadvantages that we need to consider and learn to cope with, such as the difficulty of organising and maintaining sufficient association for these prisoners to enable them to live something like normal in-prison social lives. Another disadvantage is often substantial geographical separation from prisoners’ homes and families, which increases the risk that they become socially isolated to the extent that they are at greater risk of reoffending. Then, of course, the intense use of resources in running such facilities must be considered. Nevertheless, it seemed to those running these separation units that they were obviously worthwhile, and we broadly agree. However, it is important to keep their use and success under review and to take all steps possible to avoid the radicalisation of non-terrorist criminals, which remains a dangerous risk within the prison estate. It is important and helpful that the independent reviewer, Jonathan Hall, is to include this topic in his annual review.

These and other issues raised in this group and more widely fully warrant a programme of review. We are firm advocates of a system that involves the Government in a commitment to report to Parliament within a defined timescale on the results of all such reviews as its undertaking.

The Bill has given many the impression that the Government have made a decision to deal with serious terrorism by resorting simply to even tougher sentencing, but with too little consideration given to some of the more unpalatable consequences of that approach. I and my colleagues on our Benches do not believe that that impression gives the whole picture. From discussions we have had with Ministers and officials, it is quite clear that they are all determined to do the best they can to cope with an increasing number of convicted terrorists in our prisons—a number that will increase even further as the result of the Bill. However, that process can be greatly assisted by a transparent process of reviewing both the successes and the failures that follow changes of the importance of those included in the Bill. I beg to move.