Criminal Justice Act 2003 (Suitability for Fixed Term Recall) Order 2024

Debate between Lord McNally and Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb
Monday 18th March 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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I can sort of see the rationale for this, but it is completely misguided. Every time the Government talk about tougher sentences and being tougher on crime and the causes of crime, they start packing out the prisons. Of course, there is now no capacity. This is a rather cynical move to clear out the prisoners so that we can pack other people in.

I have a much better idea, which I will come to in a moment, but I do not understand why the Government are wafting this statutory instrument through yet find it impossible to do something fairly fast for IPP prisoners. I would like an explanation from the Government.

Part of the problem is that we tend to send people who committed low-level drug abuse crimes to prison. I suggest a constructive way forward, which is that we automatically release anyone in prison for low-level drugs offences, because they are less dangerous to other people and really only dangerous to themselves. Please could we have some rationale about the prison system, which is crumbling with this Government and could be better?

Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD)
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My Lords, apparently it is my turn. In a way, this is a continuation of the Question put by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. The Minister knows the crisis in our prison system. That crisis has been made partly by legislation that we have passed in this House over the last decades.

I remember that, when I went into government with the noble Lord, Lord Clarke—Ken Clarke, who I still consider my friend—we had some ideas about reducing the prison population, which had then crept over 80,000, double what the noble Lord had experienced 20 years before when he was Home Secretary in the early 1990s. We sent a little package across to the No. 10 Politburo, but the message came back: “Not politically deliverable”. That has been the problem with Governments of all shades over the last 20 years: not being able or willing to try to bring down our prison population.

The noble Baroness is right that this is gesture politics, but it is a gesture in the right direction and therefore we support it. There is a concern that it is another example of central government moving responsibility to local government and local voluntary services, which then find themselves under pressure. If more probationers are in society and still needing supervision, will there be any more help for the voluntary services?

Apart from pointing out the ridiculous idea of putting in prison too many prisoners who do not need to be there and could be better managed in society, my argument, going back to the Question put by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, would be to look at the whole process of managing the way out for prisoners at the end of their sentences, which is expensive, difficult and almost impossible in an overcrowded prison. It came up in that Question—and the Minister indicated that it may already be happening—that some of the experience and wisdom of prison officers towards the end of their careers could be used in a management and mentoring role. Otherwise, we give this SI our support.