Thank you, Mrs Osborne. I am grateful for the opportunity to bring this debate to the House today.
One of the starkest examples of how politically correct this country has become is the issue of women in the justice system and, more specifically for this debate, women in prisons and in courts. About 5% of the prison population at any one time in recent history has been female. The other 95% has been male, yet much time, effort, concentration and brow-beating has taken place over the very small number of women in prison. There are countless groups and organisations calling for the number to be reduced. Far too many politicians—male as well as female—are willing to trot out politically correct nonsense on the subject, repeating facts that do not bear any scrutiny at all, and there are far too many calls for something to be done about a problem that, by anybody’s standards, is hard to see exists based on the actual evidence.
Let us imagine that the male population in prison represented just 5% of the total and that women made up the remaining 95%. Would there be an outcry on behalf of the men at the expense of the women? Of course not. There is absolutely no chance on earth that that would happen, so why is there all this concern over 5% of the prison population? How can normally thoughtful, intelligent people have taken such leave of their senses over the issue? The answer is simple. It is all about being politically correct, and not many people in public life like to challenge it, but I do, Mrs Osborne, and today I want to take the opportunity to scotch some myths about all types of sentencing for women. I want to bust five particular myths.
There is an old political maxim that if someone tells a lie often enough, people will believe that it is true. I can only conclude that has happened in this case. I heard the lie that women are more likely to be sent to prison than men and that they are treated much more harshly by the courts, and I was taken in by it. I presumed it was true, because I had heard it so often, and I thought it was an absolute outrage. I was so outraged by the inequality in sentencing that I decided to do some research into it. As many people know, I spend a lot of time researching matters to do with prisons, sentencing and justice, and I wanted to get to the bottom of why women were being treated so badly.
Imagine my surprise when, having looked at all the evidence, I found it was not the case that women are treated more harshly by the courts. The unequivocal evidence is that the courts treat women far more favourably than men when it comes to sentencing. I want to expose five myths today.
The first myth is simple: women are very likely to be sent to prison and are more likely than men to be given a custodial sentence. That is simply untrue. Everyone I have spoken to who is involved with the justice system confirms anecdotally that it is not the case, but let us not just take their word for it. Let us look at the facts. I asked the Library to provide evidence that more women than men were being sent to prison, as I had been told. Not only did it not provide that information, but it confirmed that the exact opposite is true. The Library stated:
“The published statistics show that a higher proportion of men are given a sentence of immediate custody than women, irrespective of age of offender (juveniles, young adults or adult) and type of court (magistrates or Crown). This has been the case in each year between 1999 and 2009...For each offence group, a higher proportion of males are sentenced to custody than females...In 2009 58% of male offenders who entered a guilty plea for an indictable offence were given an immediate custodial sentence compared to only 34% of women.”