Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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2nd reading & 2nd reading - Day 2
Tuesday 16th March 2021

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 View all Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 Debates Read Hansard Text
Robert Buckland Portrait The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Robert Buckland)
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As the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) said, it is an honour to close this debate and to follow other right hon. and hon. Members. This two-day debate has been an opportunity, first of all, for all of us to pay tribute to the memory of Sarah Everard, her loved ones and the wider community, who have expressed their shock, revulsion and anger at what has happened and at the wider issues, too.

When we talk about safety, each and every one of us has a responsibility. When women all too often feel unsafe, it is the wrong response to say to them, “Stay indoors. Don’t go out alone.” Instead of questioning the victim, we have to deal with the perpetrator. When I think about how far we have come, I sharply remind myself of how far we still have to go. I look around this House and think of colleagues from all parties—some of whom are no longer here—with whom I have had the honour to work on a cross-party basis on issues such as stalking, child abuse and coercive control. I am proud of that work, and I know that they are, too. The Domestic Abuse Bill, which is coming to the end of its progress through both Houses, has in many ways been Parliament at its very best.

The events of last week have no doubt acted as a catalyst. Society is speaking. The response to the reopened call for evidence on the Home Office’s violence against women and girls strategy has now received more than 120,000 submissions in just three days. Society is speaking, and it is for all of us to be up to the level of events.

The Bill, on which I have worked for many months—from well before the sentencing White Paper that I published in September last year—is not just the fulfilment of a manifesto commitment, important though that is; it lies at the very heart of the mission of this Government. It is another milestone along the road to creating a higher degree of public protection for victims of crime—and that very much includes women and girls. I had hoped—in fact, I believed—that we were going to be able to work with Members across this House not on the principle of the Bill but perhaps on the detail. Imagine my disappointment to hear that the Labour party has decided to oppose the Bill on Second Reading.

Let us remind ourselves of what Second Reading is all about: it is not about the detail of the Bill—whether it can be amended, improved, honed, polished or added to, as we have seen with the Domestic Abuse Bill—but about the principle. With the greatest of respect to Opposition Members, what beggars belief is that they think that now is the time to turn unity into bitterness and partnership into strife—[Interruption.] I can tell the right hon. Member for Tottenham that I am afraid that is what I have been hearing across the House. It is as if, somehow, we have descended into two nations once again, speaking past each other and not engaging in the way that we did on the Domestic Abuse Bill. To say that I am perplexed and disappointed is an understatement.

But then I read today’s Order Paper, and sadly all seems to be revealed, because we have not one reasoned amendment—we will vote on the one moved by the right hon. Member for Tottenham—but two from the Labour party. The Front-Bench amendment, which has a few names attached to it, makes a brief reference to the law on protest but, on analysis, does not really offer any solid reasons that are differences in principle in respect of Second Reading. The other reasoned amendment, which has been signed by 42 Labour party Members, offers much more direct resistance. It is clear that in principle those signatories are very much opposed to the Bill. There, frankly, lies the heart of the dilemma for the right hon. Gentleman and the Labour party: they are trapped between parts of their party that oppose, in principle, sensible, reasoned, proportionate measures that develop the law in a mature way, and the vast majority of the public, who want us to work together in the national interest. I am afraid that it looks as if party interests are being put before the national interest. It gives me no pleasure at all to say that, but I am afraid that that is what it looks like—not just to those on the Government side of the House, but to the country.

Let us look at what we did on the Domestic Abuse Bill. By working together, we moved mountains.

David Lammy Portrait Mr Lammy
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Will the Secretary of State give way?

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland
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No, I will not give way to the right hon. Gentleman. I do not think I can do justice to the number of inaccuracies, generalisations and false assertions—inadvertent assertions, I will concede—that were made by him and, I am afraid, by other Opposition Members. They are concocting—

David Lammy Portrait Mr Lammy
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Will the Secretary of State give way?

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland
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No, I will not give way.

Opposition Members are concocting synthetic arguments in objection that just do not stand the closest scrutiny. They are inadvertently—I will say “inadvertently”, because I will give them, of course, that courtesy—misstating some of the key provisions of this Bill.

Let us start with the juxtaposition pf sentencing for rape and criminal damage. The starting point for the lowest category of the offence of rape, as set out by the Independent Sentencing Council, is five years. With aggravating factors and different categories of offending, rape offenders will receive, and very often do receive, substantially longer sentences, leading up to those for campaigns of rape, where sentences of in excess of 20 years, or even life sentences, will be imposed, because the maximum penalty for rape is life imprisonment.

David Lammy Portrait Mr Lammy
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Will the Secretary of State give way?

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland
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No, I will not give way.

In this Bill, we are making sure that those who commit offences such as rape spend more of their time in prison. We are ending Labour’s automatic halfway release provisions for people who receive sentences of over four years for offences such as rape and section 18 grievous bodily harm, and we are making sure that they serve two thirds of their term of imprisonment.

Turning to criminal damage, the relevant Act is now 50 years old, and for those 50 years the statutory maximum has been 10 years where the value of the damage is over £5,000. The changes in relation to criminal damage of memorials simply remove the previous restriction on the mode of trial and allow the full range of those powers to be used up to that maximum. We are simply giving the courts greater discretion as to how they sentence such offenders, taking into account the emotional and community impact of those offences.

We had, I thought, cross-party support on these measures. Indeed, back in the summer, the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) publicly backed our proposals. He said that he would work to support such efforts in Parliament. Now he is opposed. Why? Why the change? What is going on here? I will tell Members what is going on.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab)
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Will the Secretary of State give way?

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland
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No, I will not give way. I will explain what is going on, and then I will let the right hon. Gentleman in.

I would suggest that what has happened here is the result of a conflation with the covid regulations and their interaction with the right to protest, which the Labour party did not oppose—it voted in favour of those on occasions or did not oppose them. They have conflated those arguments with measures in the Bill that long predate what happened on the weekend—those regrettable scenes that we all saw and were upset and appalled by. They are now conflating those issues with the issues relating to this Bill. There is no relation between the two, and I would love to hear an explanation from the right hon. Gentleman.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds
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I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. Last year, the Government spoke about additional protection for war memorials. We all understand the value of war memorials. What we did not agree to, and I have never agreed to, is locking up people for 10 years for damaging all memorials, including those of slave traders. That just sums up everything that is wrong with the Government’s approach. They could have worked with us. They did not. They have created division.

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland
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It is a very nice try from the right hon. Gentleman, for whom I have the utmost respect, but it does not cut the ice. We know what has happened here. It is a party in panic that is weaving, twisting and wobbling because its internal management problems are far more important than the public interest. That is the truth. Here we are, at the end of a two-day debate, with the Labour party, which I concede has a proud record in supporting the police and maintaining law and order, now voting against measures to strengthen sentencing for rapists, burglars, drug dealers, sex abusers, killer drivers. All of that is being opposed by the Labour party. Let me tell Labour Members the price of that for their party.

Peter Kyle Portrait Peter Kyle
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Will the Secretary of State give way?

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland
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No, I am not going to give way.

Much has been said about the excellent campaigns run by Labour Members. I pay tribute to the hon. Members for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock), for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer) and for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), with whom I have worked very well over the years on issues relating to child abuse. Imagine the impossible position that those doughty campaigners have been put in by their Front Benchers. They are now having to vote against the very measures that they campaigned for so assiduously. That is a terrible predicament for them to be put in. It is a disgrace, and the Labour Front Benchers should hang their heads in shame.

There have been in this debate many constructive and important contributions, and I want to in the minutes that I have left—

Wes Streeting Portrait Wes Streeting
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Unlike yours.

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland
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They don’t like it when the truth is explained to them. They think that they have the moral high ground on all these issues. Well, I can tell you that there is no monopoly on morality in this place.

Before I deal with the excellent contributions from Members across the House, may I deal with the canard about “annoyance”? Much has been made about the somehow strange use of a word that is seen as a massive infringement on the civil liberties of men and women across this country, yet a brief perusal of the Law Commission’s report of 2015 tells us that the law has developed for centuries with phrases like “annoyance”. It is a part of the common law on public nuisance. The members of the Law Commission—they were all very good members; there was Lord Justice Lloyd Jones as he then was, and Professor David Ormerod, who is well known as an excellent academic in these fields—recommended that the law needed to be codified. The law had been restated with reference to the use of the word “annoyance” by none other than the late and noble Lord Bingham when he was in the House of Lords. He set out the law very clearly. Clause 59 amounts to no more than a reiteration of the excellent work of the Law Commission. To say anything else is, frankly, once again a confection, a concoction and a twisting of the reality.

I want to deal with the question of abuse in a position of trust. I pay particular tribute—I think all hon. Members will agree with me—to the outstanding work of my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch). It has been a pleasure to see her back here. She spoke earlier. I think she has now gone home, but we all wish her well. She has, with great tenacity, campaigned to make sure that we make these provisions a reality.

I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham). He asked a particular question about driving instructors. He will see in the Bill that there will be provision, by way of statutory instrument, to allow an amendment of the law to extend to further categories of occupation. It is important that there is a clear evidence base. We are dealing with young people who are transitioning to adulthood—they are 16 and 17 years of age—and it is quite clear that the evidence on sports coaches and religious leaders, sadly, did point to a need to change the law. I pay tribute to my hon. Friends and to my noble Friend Baroness Grey-Thompson for their excellent work.

On causing death by dangerous driving and causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) deserves our thanks and praise for pressing her Bill. I know she has welcomed the provisions. In the context of memorials, I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Bracknell (James Sunderland) and for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) for pressing their case with extreme prejudice and alacrity and for succeeding on the provision.

The Home Office parts of the Bill were outlined very well by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary yesterday. In summary, I would say that important public health duties are being extended in relation to serious violence. I have long held the view that it is only by bringing together the local agencies that we truly get ahead of the trends in serious violence and in prevention, which is of course nine tenths of what we need to be doing.

The Chair of the Justice Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), made a weighty contribution to the debate, rightly pointing to the extra investment in alternatives to custody. At the heart of the approach I am taking as Lord Chancellor is enhancing and improving community sentencing. It has long been clear to me that we need to make sure that sentencers have a proper choice of robust community alternatives.

Wes Streeting Portrait Wes Streeting
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I asked whether the Lord Chancellor could explain to my community why someone who was in a position of trust—deputy manager of a care home—who peddled kids to deal drugs across the country got a prison sentence of only four years. What is he going to do about that?

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland
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The hon. Gentleman knows that matters dealt with in court are matters for the independent judiciary, but I will look at the case, because it is vital that we make sure that those who are involved in organised crime and abuse—that is what that case sounds like to me—are properly dealt with, and that the wider issues are addressed. I share his concern.

Peter Kyle Portrait Peter Kyle
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Will the Lord Chancellor give way?

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland
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Not at the moment.

I am particularly pleased to thank my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (James Gray), who represented the family of Ellie Gould, the murder victim of whose case I think everyone in this House is fully aware. It is important to take on board the points he made about domestic homicide. I have spoken elsewhere about the importance of getting the balance right when it comes to the categories of murder. I committed to a review—I did that last week—and I will bring before the House further information on the content of that important review.

In the minutes left, I am pleased to commend to the House a radical new approach to the way in which we deal with young people—children—who are incarcerated in the secure estate. The days of locking them up and forgetting about them absolutely have to end; we all agree on that. That is why the measures to clarify the legal framework surrounding new secure schools will allow a complete change in the way in which we deal with, support, rehabilitate and educate children in our care. Schools with security will have education, wellbeing and purposeful activity at their very heart. As ever, I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Rob Butler) for his constructive suggestions and his work as a member of the Justice Committee.

Let me outline on the record the important provisions in the Bill relating to unauthorised encampments. Many right hon. and hon. Members have raised the issue. It is a real concern for many of our constituents.

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con)
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The pages of the Bucks Free Press attest to the sheer scale of the costs to our green spaces and our communities of unauthorised encampments. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that on this issue and on protests, the Opposition are refusing to engage with legitimate limits on both freedoms?

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland
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My hon. Friend puts it very well. This is all about balancing the rights of Traveller communities to use authorised encampments and to enjoy the lifestyle that they have chosen, and the rights of householders not to have their local communities despoiled. That is what we are seeking to do. The Bill, in my strong submission, allows that balance to be maintained and enhanced.

The Bill is part of our wider approach to making the criminal justice system smarter, and to keeping our streets safe from the worst criminals, while giving offenders opportunities to turn their life around. We can rebalance the justice system. We can restore faith in it, which has sadly been in decline for too long. The Bill is a welcome step forward, and I commend it to the House.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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Order. We require social distancing in the Chamber at all times, please.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

--- Later in debate ---
19:00

Division 238

Ayes: 225


Labour: 197
Liberal Democrat: 11
Democratic Unionist Party: 8
Independent: 4
Plaid Cymru: 3
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 2
Alliance: 1
Green Party: 1

Noes: 359


Conservative: 359

The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.
--- Later in debate ---
19:10

Division 239

Ayes: 359


Conservative: 359

Noes: 263


Labour: 196
Scottish National Party: 47
Liberal Democrat: 11
Independent: 4
Plaid Cymru: 3
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 2
Alliance: 1
Green Party: 1