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

Debate between Lord McNally and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Monday 18th March 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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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.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I apologise for arriving late for the Minister’s introduction of this SI. We too support the SI as far as it goes, but I agreed with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, when in the first part of her speech she pointed out quite rightly that, on the one hand, here we are reducing prison sentences while, on the other hand, other legislation down the other end of the corridor is increasing prison sentences. Of course, we have the overarching problem of a Prison Service running at capacity while the Government are struggling to build new prisons. That overarching problem will confront whichever party is in government; I need to acknowledge that.

The central point is about support for prisoners as they come out of prison, so that we do not have a revolving door. As the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said, various charitable and voluntary organisations working with local authorities can properly support prisoners as they come out of prison. As we also know, the most difficult cohort is prisoners who are on relatively short sentences; they are the prisoners most likely to reoffend.

As the Minister knows, I myself am a sentencer. I do short sentences—that is part of our bread and butter within the magistrate system—and it is always with great regret that I give an offender a short custodial sentence, but the reality is that we have found ourselves in a position where we have no alternative. Very often those offenders have been on multiple community sentences beforehand, so we as sentencers feel we have no choice.

Judicial Pensions (Remediable Service etc.) (Amendment) Regulations 2023

Debate between Lord McNally and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Wednesday 10th January 2024

(6 months, 2 weeks ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy. I held his position in the Government between 2010 and 2013. I became Minister of State at Justice with the now noble Lord, Lord Clarke—Ken Clarke—as Lord Chancellor. One of our first visits was to go across Parliament Square to pay a courtesy call on the Supreme Court. He was, of course, in his element as a QC and a former Home Secretary, but I was filled with trepidation when soon after we arrived three Supreme Court judges bore down on me, clearly to seek some discussion on some high point of law—some difficult and abstruse point. I need not have worried: what they wanted to press me on was judicial pensions. There was some passion in that. I remember one of the first stages in the coalition Government, which probably ended up in the 2015 Act, was to try to address the various anomalies and uncertainties in judicial pensions, so it is with a sense of closure that I come this afternoon to support what the noble and learned Lord memorably described at an earlier stage as

“44 pages of the densest technical complexity one could imagine”.—[Official Report, 15/6/23; col. GC 375.]

Why am I not surprised that that should be the legislation dealing with judges’ pensions?

I am sure that we share with the Minister the hope that this is the final tweak to the regulations. In voicing our support from these Benches, I ask him how the regulations fit in with the more general objectives of judicial reform. Will we see a judiciary—particularly a senior judiciary—more diverse in social, gender, ethnic and educational background than hitherto has been the case? Does the Minister agree that it is important that our legal system should as much as possible reflect the society it serves? There is much to admire in the intellectual quality, integrity and independence of our judiciary. Its members are most certainly not “enemies of the people”, but they must not be seen as a Brahmin caste, separate from society as a whole.

The direction of travel in recent years has been slow but steady. I hope that a sensible and secure pension scheme will underpin the flexibility and social mobility necessary to retain confidence in and respect for our judiciary.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I too remember when the noble Lord, Lord McNally, had his time in office as a Minister of State.

Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD)
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The noble Lord was a lot of trouble.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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Well, one of my roles is to be a lot of trouble—although I will not be a lot of trouble in this particular debate.

The noble Lord spoke about the Supreme Court judges talking with passion about judicial pensions. As a lowly magistrate, I have sat in magistrates’ retiring rooms with district judges, and I can say that they talk with equal passion about judicial pensions—I have heard about it for a number of years. A number of them are of course part-time district judges, and the matter is of great importance to them.

The noble Lord said that he approaches this debate with “a sense of closure”. I think that everybody hopes for a sense of closure on this issue, so the first question that I put to the Minister is: are we right to think that this is the last time that we will hear about this issue? It would be interesting to hear his reflection on that.

Previously when I have taken part in these debates, I have had sitting behind me my noble friend Lord Davies of Brixton, who is an actuary and an expert on these matters. The particularly interesting question that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, raised was on how these pension reforms will fit in with the wider objectives for the judiciary as a whole in building diversity and flexibility and other desirable objectives, which will affect pension entitlements, one way or another. If the Minister could say something about this in the wider context, that would also be of interest.

I have a further question about the likely timetable for implementing this remedy. Is it already under way and when might it be complete? A final question is on whether any judges would need independent advice on whether they should accept these proposals. Is it their responsibility to get their own independent advice? I do not know how that works. Is there an expectation that judges should take independent advice before receiving these pensions?

Other than that, we clearly support the measures as far as they go. I look forward to the Minister’s response.