Minimum term order for serious terrorism offenders: England and Wales

Part of Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 2nd July 2020.

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Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice) 11:30 am, 2nd July 2020

The hon. Lady is right up to a point, but some of the people under discussion will not have been responsible for killing people. A lot of them are covered by the charge of plotting, and there is the new range of terrorist offences. The crimes to which she refers are already covered by legislation. People who commit such terrible crimes are already subject to a life sentence, so in this particular situation we are talking about a different category of people.

I was saying that we need to understand what these changes mean for offenders, the Prison Service and society. For example, does the necessary amount of specialist prison provision required to incarcerate these offenders actually exist? That is not just about the number of prison places; it is about having the expertise available to manage and engage these offenders. We heard a lot of evidence from Mark Fairhurst about the need for proper provision and the fact that, at the moment, we have only one centre to deal with these particular terrorists. We are supposed to have three such centres, but we do not yet know when the Government will come forward and tell us when the new centres will be up and running.

What are the Minister’s proposals for housing younger offenders? Again, we need the prison places, but we also need the support services. Do they already exist, or is he proposing to develop more of them? If he is going to develop more of them, when will they be available? Even in the next two or three years, based on the Minister’s numbers, perhaps 20 or 30 young people will need specialist accommodation. They need specialist support services. Where are those services coming from? They do not exist at the moment, as I hope that the Minister will acknowledge, so will he ensure that they will in future so that we can for and deal with these people appropriately? We must not have a situation in which younger offenders—albeit among the most serious ones, as described by the hon. Lady—end up in the adult prison system because there is nowhere else for them to go.

I would welcome a specific comment on the issue when the Minister responds. I know that he has some tidying-up amendments for later in the development of the Bill, but I want to understand specifically what will happen with younger offenders and whether it is possible that some of them will end up in the adult estate.

It should be clear to the Minister why he should not be shy about commissioning analysis better to understand the issues that we face. Everyone talks about the importance of data and making decisions based on evidence. The amendment provides the Minister with an opportunity to do just that, and the Opposition are pleased to offer the Minister our assistance.

Also, if the Minister had the analysis, it would be easy for him to demonstrate to the House that he had got his decisions right. When he faced challenges from the Opposition on the success or failure of his new measures, he would have the analysis at his fingertips. I know that, financially, the Justice Department is skint. It has suffered heavy cuts disproportionate to those for other Departments during the past 10 years or so, and we have seen the results of that. The latest figures show that the number of criminal cases yet to reach the courts has now exceeded half a million, with hundreds of thousands more tribunal cases also outstanding. Perhaps it is the lack of resources that has meant that the Lord Chancellor cannot crack on and plan Nightingale courts to go alongside the Nightingale hospitals—the money to do so simply is not available. He did write to me yesterday, telling me that some additional money will be available. But it is a very small amount of money compared with the challenge that the system faces. This Minister’s accepting the amendment might result in the use of some resources, but the right action in this respect could save considerable sums in the longer term, and as I have made clear, the Justice Department really needs the resources.

Our ask is simple. We believe that there are real benefits for the Government in carrying out the analysis described in the amendment. Let us have in Parliament the evidence suggesting that these measures are a necessity and actually keep the public safe. I hope that the Minister will take these points and accept that longer sentences do not necessarily reduce the risk of reoffending. Several of our witnesses made that clear and even suggested that minimum sentences may in fact be counterproductive. The Minister might be reluctant to adopt the amendment—I will be surprised if he is not—but I look to him to come up with answers to the real issues that it covers.