Chris Philp debates involving the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities during the 2019 Parliament

Wed 12th Feb 2020
Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill
Commons Chamber

3rd reading: House of Commons & Committee: 1st sitting: House of Commons & 3rd reading & 3rd reading: House of Commons & Committee: 1st sitting & Committee: 1st sitting: House of Commons & Committee stage & 3rd reading
Tue 28th Jan 2020

Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill

Chris Philp Excerpts
3rd reading: House of Commons & Committee: 1st sitting: House of Commons & 3rd reading & Committee: 1st sitting & Committee stage
Wednesday 12th February 2020

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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William Cash Portrait Sir William Cash
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That is an extremely good question on which I have already given an indication. Being a realist, I know perfectly well that this is not a Bill to which an amendment is going to be passed—certainly not today—but I did say that the House of Lords, which is where the Bill is going, is full of lawyers, some of whom I will disagree with and have disagreed with for as many years as I have been in the House, but there are others who will take a different view.

I am interested to hear the views of the House of Lords on the question of my proposal to amend clause 1. The wording of clause 1 currently refers to an offence “within subsection (2)” and a sentence imposed

“whether before or after this section comes into force”,

at which point I propose to insert the words

“and notwithstanding the Human Rights Act 1998”.

The effect of that would be to put a complete bar on the use of the Human Rights Act, by interpretation of the courts, in any attempt, whether it is regarded as misguided or is a matter of culture—there is currently a load of culture in the courts relating to human rights questions that have built up over the whole of my lifetime in the law.

I am deeply concerned that we could allow legislation to go through that could be interpreted in a way that would result in human life being lost and public safety being infringed. That is my concern. [Interruption.] I see the Minister looking at me either apprehensively or with anticipation; I am not sure which it is and I do not really care. What I am saying is that I want certainty. I know that if the words “notwithstanding the Human Rights Act” are brought into the Bill, the effect will be to exclude completely, for reasons that I am about to give, any attempt by the courts to modify the effect that the Bill otherwise would have.

I have other concerns about the Bill that I have already made clear. I do not think that offenders should be considered for release after half or two thirds of their sentence. I have a lot of sympathy for what my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) proposes in amendment 1; he says it should be nine tenths. I do not know whether he will address that point later.

The bottom line is that we should not allow this situation if we can avoid it—and we can avoid it, because we are the Houses of Parliament, and as a result of Brexit, we have just regained an awful lot of our sovereignty. This is more a matter of the European convention on human rights than of the charter of fundamental rights—or, for that matter, of Brexit—but the amendment is an indication of the House’s determination to use our sovereignty to make law that will guarantee that we do not face people losing their life, or public safety being undermined.

If we do not include in the Bill the words that I propose in my amendment 3, I believe—as I said before with respect to the Lee Rigby case—that it is not a matter of if such a thing happens again; it is a matter of when. I concede that this is emergency legislation; that is why I support it, but it requires a full, thorough review, perhaps by the Justice Committee, to ensure that we deal with the issue properly and fully.

I applaud the Government for bringing in this Bill on an emergency basis, but I criticise the fact that the Bill does not go far enough. The Minister is, if I might say so, not a lawyer; he can only have received his information from others who are. He is taking a bit of a punt in saying that the words

“and notwithstanding the Human Rights Act 1998”

are not needed. He does not know that. I say that with not only respect, but knowledge and certainty. It is very difficult even for lawyers to be sure what the impact would be of allowing the Bill through without excluding the Human Rights Act 1998 from it.

Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Philp)
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I thank the hon. Member for giving way, despite my non-lawyer background. I am of course interested in what he says, and have been listening extremely carefully, as he has seen. How does he think his amendment would operate? In particular, does he think it would in any way disapply our ECHR treaty obligations? Even if we passed his “notwithstanding” amendment, could applicants not still go directly to the European Court in Strasbourg? We cannot disapply that route through this amendment.

William Cash Portrait Sir William Cash
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I notice that the Minister is reading very carefully from the notes with which he has been provided, and I agree with the sentiment behind them, but I am putting the case in a different way. We are talking about serious questions of human life, and every step should be taken to preserve it. I was originally minded to use the amendment to exclude the European convention on human rights, too. I describe amendment 3 as a probing amendment, but I want proper consideration of it, not just someone saying, “I don’t think the wording would achieve the total effect that the hon. Gentleman would wish it to.”

The risk to human life is serious; we have to take every step to ensure no repetition of the instances of murder and terrorism that we have witnessed, and which, in recent times, from Lee Rigby onwards, have become more and more prevalent. We know that people are prepared to take such steps; it may be that some of them are mentally disturbed. Perhaps people do not think that these things will happen again, but as I said in debate on another counter-terrorism Bill four or five years ago, the question is not whether we have another Lee Rigby, but when. We have had one after another, at regular intervals. They are becoming more and more imminent, and more and more serious. I doubt whether this Bill, however worthy its objectives, will deal with the problem in the manner in which I am setting out and which is necessary.

--- Later in debate ---
Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I would like to respond briefly to some of the points made in Committee, as well as speaking in support of clauses 1 to 10 and schedules 1 and 2 standing part of the Bill. Perhaps I could start with the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) concerning his proposed “notwithstanding” amendment. I repeat the point I made earlier, which the shadow Minister also made, that the Government have received categorical advice that these proposals are article 7 compliant. Of course there may well be challenges, and I cannot guarantee what the outcome of any litigation might be, but we are confident that the proposals are compliant.

My hon. Friend said that nothing less than certainty would do in cases of public safety, and I entirely understand that sentiment. Perhaps this would best be debated at another time, but I wonder whether his amendment as written would have the effect that he intends, because I do not think that simply writing a “notwithstanding” clause into a piece of primary legislation would abrogate our obligations under a treaty that we have entered into or preclude an applicant or litigant going directly to the European Court of Human Rights—they might go straight to Strasbourg—even if we could somehow prevent the use of the English and Welsh courts. I do not think the amendment as drafted would actually have the legal effect intended. However, my hon. Friend has, as always, raised some interesting constitutional questions, and I am sure they will be debated in the other place in due course. In our manifesto, we said that we would have a think about the operation of the Human Rights Act 1998 and some of the issues that he referred to in his speech. There will be plenty of opportunities in due course to consider at greater length the issues that he raised. I am grateful for his undertaking not to press his amendment to a vote today, but the whole House has certainly heard what he had to say and will carefully reflect on it.

My right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) gave me, in his words, a prod. Let me confirm that I am duly prodded on the questions of longer sentences for serious terrorist offenders and of their serving more of their sentence in prison. As a number of Members have said, is our intention to bring forward a counter-terrorism, sentencing and release Bill in the relatively near future. It is also the Government’s intention to define a cohort of the most serious terrorist offenders and to seek a minimum sentence of 14 years for those serious offenders and ensure that all of the sentence handed down by the judge is served in prison. I think that that will respond to the point that my right hon. Friend was making.

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) (Con)
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I am grateful to the Minister for those indications about sentencing. Does he agree that the review needs to consider all terrorist offences, including relatively minor ones—such as offences under sections 57 and 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000 relating to possession of materials—that might in and of themselves not attract a particularly long sentence? Given that they are responsible for almost half of all terrorist sentences handed out, does he agree that they need to be considered as part of the review?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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We will consider all terrorist offenders as part of the review. Of course, the sentencing provisions I just described would not be appropriate for all terror offenders—just the most serious—but I assure my hon. Friend that we will be considering the totality of terror offending. Of course, the Streatham offender had committed one of the offences that my hon. Friend just described—possession of terrorist material—so we must be mindful that even when someone commits an offence that, on the face of it, is at the less serious end of the offending spectrum, they can none the less go on to do quite serious things. The Government are extremely mindful of that.

John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes
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There are two points to be made in respect of what the Minister has just said. First, the vast majority of people convicted under terrorism legislation are sentenced to between one and 20 years. Now, he is talking about “the most serious”. What does he mean by “the most serious”? Secondly, a large number of people are convicted for terrorism-related offences under non-terrorism legislation—hundreds, actually, over the years. Will they be included in these considerations?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. In relation to the second part of it, terrorist-related offences do form part of this Bill. Part 2 of proposed new schedule 19ZA to the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which is found in schedule 1 to this Bill, covers terrorist-related offences under the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 and lists the various direct offences, including manslaughter, culpable homicide and kidnapping, that are terrorist-related offences. Such offences are, therefore, in the scope of this Bill, and we will carefully consider the implications for the counter-terrorism Bill that we will bring forward in due course.

Turning to the level of the severity of offending, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), we will review all types of offending, so the whole spectrum will be in scope. As for how we define that “most serious” cohort, the Government are currently thinking quite carefully about the definition. I do not want to give my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) a definition today, because that will be a matter for the counter-terrorism Bill, but we are thinking about question extremely carefully, and the House will be able to debate it fully in due course.

The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), asked about a review of the effectiveness of the deradicalisation agenda. I agree that the review is critical, and several Members raised it on Second Reading. We are setting up a new counter-terrorism programmes and interventions centre within the prisons and probation service that will look specifically at the de-radicalisation problem. We intend to publish further research and reports in the usual way, and I expect full scrutiny from Members. As my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings said in his speech, we will fully embrace scrutiny of that description, and I would be surprised—my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) is not in his place—if the Justice Committee did not look at this area in due course. I accept the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings that proper and deep scrutiny of this area is needed, because the de-radicalisation question is so important.

Lisa Cameron Portrait Dr Cameron
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The Minister is making some good points. Is there any scope to look at additional types of charges that could be laid against those who actively radicalise others in prison?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I thank the hon. Lady for her important intervention. The radicalisation of one prisoner by another is a deeply invidious phenomenon, and she is right to highlight it. The normal offences that would apply to any member of the public, including things like incitement to racial hatred, would apply to prisoners just as much. I encourage the authorities to use those laws where applicable regardless of whether the person doing the inciting, which is a criminal offence in itself, is in prison.

The hon. Member for St Albans (Daisy Cooper), in the same vein as the hon. Member for Torfaen, talked about the need to scrutinise the effect of this legislation after it has passed. Once again, I accept the thrust of what she says. It is important that we keep the effect of legislation under review, particularly where it is passed in such a necessarily expeditious fashion. I would expect the Justice Committee to take an interest in this, and the House will have a chance to take a great interest when we come to debate the counter-terrorism Bill in a few months’ time. There will then be a lot more time available for us to debate these matters and, indeed, to review the operation of this Bill, which by then will have been in effect for a few months.

In terms of an independent review that goes beyond Parliament’s Committees and, indeed, this House—as my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings said in reply to an intervention by the hon. Member for St Albans—I expect that Jonathan Hall, QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, will be conducting independent reviews of exactly the kind the hon. Member for St Albans described.

I think that covers many of the points raised on the various amendments and new clauses. On the substance of the Bill, it is worth briefly highlighting that clause 1 specifies the release provisions we have been talking about and the two thirds release point for prisoners in England and Wales, at which point the Parole Board’s discretion will be applied.

Clause 1 also references schedule 1, which specifies the kinds of offences that are in scope. Part 1 of proposed new schedule 19ZA to the Criminal Justice Act 2003 defines the terrorist offences that are in scope, and part 2 defines the offences that may be determined to have a terrorist connection.

Clause 2 disapplies some historical transitional provisions dating back to the Criminal Justice Act 2003. Those are essentially technical amendments to make sure this legislation works in a way that is consistent with the Act.

Clauses 3 and 4 apply these provisions to Scotland. We are keen to make sure that the public in Scotland are protected as much as the public in England and Wales. In that context, I am grateful to the hon. Member for East Lothian (Kenny MacAskill) for his supportive remarks. I hope I can infer from his remarks that our colleagues in the Scottish Government in Holyrood are supportive of the proposals.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s confirmation that the Scottish Government support these provisions.

Clause 5 relates to the setting of licence conditions. Clause 6 makes further consequential amendments relating to transitional cases. Clause 7 makes further consequential amendments that apply to England and Wales. Clause 8 makes transitional provisions in relation to offenders in Scotland and, again, clause 9 makes further consequential amendments that apply to Scotland.

Finally, clause 10 specifies the Bill’s territorial extent and commencement. It is worth saying that commencement will be upon Royal Assent, and we therefore hope the Bill takes effect from 27 February, which is important from the perspective of the release of certain dangerous offenders.

I hope that covers the clauses and schedules, and that they will stand part of the Bill.

William Cash Portrait Sir William Cash
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As I have already made clear, I am happy to ask leave to withdraw the amendment with the restrictions and conditions that I have already imposed with regard to the House of Lords.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clauses 1 to 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedules 1 and 2 agreed to.

The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair.

Bill reported, without amendment.

Third Reading

Criminal Law

Chris Philp Excerpts
Tuesday 28th January 2020

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Philp)
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I beg to move,

That the draft Release of Prisoners (Alteration of Relevant Proportion of Sentence) Order 2019, which was laid before this House on 14 October 2019, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker
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With this we shall consider the following motion:

That the draft Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 (Consequential Amendment) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 14 October 2019, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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It has been 47 days since the general election, and these measures deliver on a crucial manifesto commitment. Taken together, they will ensure that the most serious violent and sexual offenders spend two thirds of their sentence in jail, rather than half their sentence, as is currently the case. By making this change, we both protect the public and ensure that justice is better done. We protect the public because while someone is in prison they cannot commit any further offences, and we will be increasing the length of time they spend in prison. Secondly, this change will build public confidence in the justice system in general and the sentencing regime in particular.

Desmond Swayne Portrait Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)
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Would the public’s confidence not be served if prisoners served the sentence that was delivered in court, rather than this fabrication whereby the sentence is announced and everybody works out on the back of a fag packet what it actually in means for the sentence that will be served? Why go for two thirds, up from a half—why not have the sentence that was delivered in court by a judge served?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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There are provisions, which I shall explain in a moment, to make sure that many of the most dangerous offenders serve all of their sentence in jail, but for many offenders the sentence has two parts: the part served in jail and the part supervised on licence following their release from jail. Together, those two parts make up the sentence. Moving the release point to two thirds for the category of offences we are talking about will make sure that more of an offender’s sentence is served in jail and less of it is supervised under licence. For certain categories of serious offender, as my right hon. Friend mentions, there is a legitimate public expectation that more than half the sentence will be served in prison, rather than automatic release happening at the halfway point. As the Minister responsible for sentencing, I get quite a lot of correspondence from the public and from victims of crime asking why some very serious violent and sexual offenders are released at the halfway point, which is what currently happens.

Let me be clear what this debate will not cover. The regulations do not cover serious terrorist offenders, who will be dealt with separately in a piece of primary legislation that we intend to bring forward shortly to honour a manifesto commitment. Nor will we cover the wider issues to do with sentencing, which we will consider via a sentencing White Paper and sentencing Bill later this year.

Tom Tugendhat Portrait Tom Tugendhat (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con)
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I am grateful to the Minister for setting out the timetable that he sees going forward. He knows that I have been campaigning hard for Tony’s law and longer sentences, in honour of Tony Hudgell, a child who was brutally attacked by both of his birth parents and left with severe injuries. When does the Minister think his legislative programme might get to that?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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Victims who feel that a sentence is unduly lenient currently have a 28-day period following sentencing to apply under the unduly lenient sentencing scheme to the Attorney General, who can then make a reference to the Court of Appeal. On a review of sentencing more generally, which may well include the tragic case to which my hon. Friend referred, the sentencing White Paper that will come forward a little later this year, followed by a sentencing Bill, will provide my hon. Friend and other colleagues with an opportunity to raise issues that go beyond the matters we are considering today. I will of course listen carefully to this debate, in which colleagues from all parties may raise issues that can feed into the sentencing White Paper.

One topic that the sentencing White Paper will certainly deal with, although we are not dealing with it today, is short custodial sentences, which are not particularly effective at stopping reoffending. The White Paper will address that, and in particular it will make proposals to do more to treat the causes of offending behaviour, particularly drug and alcohol addiction and mental health problems, which are often the cause of high-volume repeat offending. Short custodial sentences do not deal effectively with that cohort of offenders, but that is not the topic of the regulations; it is a matter we will come to in the forthcoming White Paper and sentencing Bill.

Julian Lewis Portrait Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)
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I am grateful to the Minister for giving way again. May I offer a refinement on the suggestion made by my constituency neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne)? We understand why one wants to give prisoners who are serving a sentence an incentive to behave well in jail, but that could be achieved without this upset of the public perception that someone is getting a longer sentence than they are really getting. Prisoners could be given the sentence that they are going to serve, with the expectation that if they misbehave, it can be extended by a certain amount, rather than their being given a sentence that they can reduce by a certain amount if they behave themselves in prison. That would avoid the perception among the public that the Government are trying to con them into believing that the sentences being imposed are more severe than we all know them to be in reality.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention. I should make it clear—I will explain this in a bit more detail in a moment—that the standard determinate sentences under discussion today have an automatic release point. The current release point, at 50% of the sentence, is not contingent on good behaviour; it is automatic. We are proposing to remove that automatic release point to two thirds as a first step, but, of course, there are other things that we could do in the area that he has just mentioned. Examining and investigating the clarity of sentencing decisions and how the public understand them are certainly matters that the sentencing White Paper and sentencing Bill can properly look at, and I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising that.

What today’s regulations do is to take a very specific area where we can act quickly and immediately, rather than waiting for the larger and wider piece of work to be done later in the year. Of course, as part of that piece of work, we might well choose to go further than is the case today, but here is an area where we can act quickly and decisively and deliver on a critical manifesto commitment just 47 days after the general election.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)
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During the election period, when I was delivering leaflets, a young lady caught up with me and talked to me about her experience at the hands of somebody who had treated her absolutely heinously. She was with her friend, who was a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart), and it was her father who was the perpetrator. He was given a sentence of 18 years for those heinous crimes. The two felt that justice had been done until they found out that he would serve only half of that sentence. They told me that that had contributed to them feeling that justice had not been done. The Minister wrote to me very sympathetically when I took up the case. I absolutely support these changes, but can we can have some solidarity in this place for people who do not feel that justice has been served because they have watched their perpetrator serve only half of their sentence?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I thank my hon. Friend for raising that case once again. I completely agree with the sentiment that he expresses. When a perpetrator of a serious offence automatically gets released only halfway through their sentence, victims very often feel that justice has not been done. Today’s regulations are a small first step in addressing the wider problem to which he refers. We can and we will return to the wider question and see whether we can go further via the White Paper and sentencing Bill later this year. This is very much a first step in the direction that my hon. Friend and other hon. Members have mentioned.

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) (Con)
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I understand entirely the logic behind these proposals, but what analysis has been made of the impact on the prison population and how many further places, if any, will be required?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I would expect nothing less from my hon. Friend than a forensic and detailed question. In fact, I do have those figures. Perhaps it would be worth going through the details of how this scheme will operate and the consequential impact on the prison population and other matters. In answering his question, let me start by defining exactly what offences are in the scope of today’s regulations. We are talking about the offences appearing in parts 1 and 2 of schedule 15 to the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which could attract a life sentence. They include offences such as rape and grievous bodily harm with intent. Currently, there are three types of sentence that might be handed down for those offences. The first, which is for the most serious offences, is a life sentence with a tariff—the tariff is the minimum amount the offender will serve, after which they are eligible for release by the Parole Board at its discretion. The second type of sentence—the next most serious—is for offenders deemed by the judge to be dangerous. That is called an extended determinate sentence. For those offences, the prisoner is eligible for release after two thirds of their sentence, subject to Parole Board discretion. After release and after their prison sentence, they are subject to an extended period on licence.

The third type of sentence—the type that we are going to talk about today—is a standard determinate sentence, for which somebody is eligible for automatic release at the halfway point, with no involvement from the Parole Board. Those are the sentences that most concern the Government, and on which we are acting today.

Let me turn to the numbers. In 2018, just under 6,000—5,862 to be precise—sentences were handed down that met the criteria I have just laid out. Some people online have suggested that, mostly, these are extended determinate sentences and that today’s regulations will therefore make very little difference. That is categorically untrue. Of those 5,862 sentences, only 90 were life sentences and 243 were extended determinate sentences, but 4,735—81% of those sentences—were standard determinate sentences with automatic release at the halfway point. The vast majority of those sentences for very serious crimes had automatic release after only half the sentence. Some 84% of rape convictions had a standard determinate sentence. That means that 84% of incarcerated rapists were eligible for automatic release at the halfway point. We take the view that that is simply not right.

Daisy Cooper Portrait Daisy Cooper (St Albans) (LD)
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The Minister has outlined that this applies to rapists, and to those accused and found guilty of grievous bodily harm.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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GBH with intent.

Daisy Cooper Portrait Daisy Cooper
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Yes, GBH with intent—so we are talking about incredibly violent criminals. But the Government’s own assessment of these proposed laws says that they could increase prison overcrowding, introduce significant costs and lead to increased prisoner violence. The gravest risk, however, is that prisoners spend more of their sentence in prison and less time on release with a licence, which could actually lead to an increased risk of reoffending. Although we are all sympathetic to the victims of crime, who may feel like justice has not been done, we absolutely must not introduce an increased risk of violence and reoffending after offenders finish their term. Instead of talking tough on crime, will the Government follow the evidence and do what is necessary to prevent crime and reduce reoffending?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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Ensuring that this cohort of prisoners stays in prison for a bit longer does serve the public interest and public safety, because they cannot commit further offences while they are in prison. Under these measures, they will still spend a third of their sentence on licence. Of course, there is an opportunity for people to take part in rehabilitative activity while they are in prison. There will be an impact on the prison population, which I will outline in a moment, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) asked the same question. We are making provisions to ensure that places are available so that meaningful rehabilitative work can take place, but this is about preventing crime by ensuring that serious offenders are in prison for a bit longer, and ensuring that victims’ rights are respected by making sure that the time served in prison better reflects the sentence handed down by the judge.

Gareth Johnson Portrait Gareth Johnson (Dartford) (Con)
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The Minister is being generous in giving way. I welcome today’s announcement because it injects an element of honesty into our sentencing system, and reduces confusion and frustration among victims. Will he be absolutely categoric that this is part of a process and not an event in itself—that is, will we see further occasions where such measures will be rolled out so that there can be more justice for the victims of crime?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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My hon. Friend has been a tireless campaigner for victims’ rights and ensuring that justice is done. I can give him the assurance he is asking for. This is just a first step. The sentencing White Paper and Bill later this year will have the scope to go further and take wider action across the sentencing field. I look forward to working with him and other colleagues in this area.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
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Will the Minister give way?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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How can I resist an intervention from the hon. Lady?

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
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I am grateful to the Minister.

It is important that victims get justice, and that it is seen that justice has been done, but the Liberal Democrats worry about the language that is being used, because there is not enough emphasis on rehabilitation. Will the Minister come forward to point out how effective rehabilitation is actually going to work—in addition to tougher sentences, if that has to be the case?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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The hon. Lady makes a fair point. Sentencing and more time in prison for serious offenders is very important, for the reasons that other Members have outlined, but rehabilitation is important as well. She will be aware that private community rehabilitation companies did some of that work, and that it is now being brought back in-house to be provided by the National Probation Service. She will be heartened to hear that the probation service and the Prison Service will be receiving significantly extra money in the next financial year, much of which will specifically address the matter of rehabilitation.

Let me outline in more detail exactly what this first step entails. I have defined a cohort of offenders and a cohort of offences. For standard determinate sentence offenders, we intend to apply the later release measure, in order to increase the amount of the sentence served from half to two thirds, where the sentence passed down is seven years or more. That applies to about one third of the 4,735 standard determinate sentences that I referred to earlier, so this measure will apply to 1,450 offenders per year, based on the 2018 figures. To be clear, of the 1,450 offenders affected directly by this measure, 30% were convicted of rape, and a further 30% were convicted of causing grievous bodily harm with intent—very serious assault. We will make sure that those rapists and serious violent offenders spend two thirds, not half, of their sentence in prison.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham asked about the prison population. These measures will start to bite in about three and a half years’ time, because any sentence in the categories that I have described handed down from 1 April this year onwards will have the later released provision applied, so it will take 50% of three and a half years, minus time on remand—just under three and a half years—for these measures to start affecting the prison population. The impact assessment, which I see that the hon. Member for St Albans (Daisy Cooper) has in her hand, shows that as a result of this measure, by March 2024, there will be an uplift in the prison population of 50, but by 2030, there will be 2,000 extra prisoners in the prison estate.

The Government are already taking action to increase the prison estate—action that will include accommodating the extra 2,000 prisoners that this measure will create. We are building 3,500 additional prison places at Glen Parva, Wellingborough and Stocken, and in the 2019 spending review, just a few months ago, the Government committed to building a further 10,000 new prison places. The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer), is working hard on planning for those extra 10,000 places. In fact—this is very timely—she is at this very moment arriving in the Chamber. She has clearly been busily working on those extra 10,000 places as we have been speaking.

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis (Banbury) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Of course, what really matters to victims is that there is not reoffending, and that we are able to rehabilitate prisoners while they are in prison. The Minister was talking about rapists. Can he assure me that Horizon and Kaizen, the new sex offender training programmes—although they are no longer called that—are actually effective, and that we will have sufficient numbers of staff to deliver them to the new prisoners who will be spending longer inside?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

As always, my hon. Friend raises an extremely pertinent point. I can confirm that these programmes will be a focus both for Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service and, of course, for Ministers at the Ministry of Justice. As I said, the Prison Service and the probation service will see significant increases in funding next year as a consequence of the 2019 spending review settlement, and material amounts of that funding will be applied to the programmes that we are providing.

In addition to the extra 10,000 prison places that my hon. Friend the Minister has been working on, we are spending an extra £100 million on prison security, and in the next financial year alone—the one due to start in a few months—we will spend an extra £156 million on prison maintenance. That is on top of the extra 4,581 prison officers who were recruited between October 2016 and September 2019. The Government are acutely conscious that the increase of 2,000 in the prison population needs to be catered for. Plans are in hand to do that, as well as to ensure that appropriate levels of resource are dedicated to rehabilitating those extra prisoners.

Kate Green Portrait Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I apologise for coming in late, Mr Deputy Speaker; I was at another meeting. What assessment has been made of the likely rates of reoffending among the prisoners who will be released after longer custodial sentences? There is a quite widespread view among penal campaigners that longer custodial sentences will not be as effective at rehabilitation as rehabilitation in the community. In looking at the long-term need for prison places, what assessment have the Government made of reoffending rates among these particular individuals?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

Of course, the longer that is spent in prison, the more opportunity there is to deliver rehabilitative services. If we look at reoffending rates in general, they are worse for people serving short prison sentences, which is why I mentioned the importance of focusing on treatment of mental health and addiction problems as an alternative to short custodial sentences. We do not have precise reoffending figures for the cohort we are discussing today, but for broadly these kinds of offenders serving sentences of four to 10 years, that is the closest proxy I have been able to find. The one-year reoffending rate is about 20% at present, but of course we would like to do more work to reduce that.

The second statutory instrument before the House is a technical one, designed to ensure that consecutive sentences are dealt with in the same way as the non-consecutive sentences that I have described. These measures deliver a manifesto commitment in just 47 days and show that this is a Government who will act, not delay, and who will build public confidence in the justice system and protect the public. I commend these measures to the House.

--- Later in debate ---
Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

This has been a full and, at times, moving debate. I have been particularly grateful for the contributions by the many Members from the new 2019 intake. Their contributions have been impressive, well-informed and moving, and I look forward to hearing many more such contributions in the weeks, months and indeed years ahead.

I wish to touch briefly on some of the points that have been raised. The hon. Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) both drew attention to making sure that the resources are available so that the extra people in prison can be properly accommodated and rehabilitated. Let me repeat the assurance I gave that the extra investment, a total of £2.75 billion, is designed to do exactly that. We are talking about 10,000 extra prison places, over and above the 3,500 currently under construction, as well as extra money for prison refurbishment and prison security.

My hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) made an extremely powerful point, as did the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), who is not in her place, about the importance of victims in this entire debate. We are doing this as much for victims as for anything else. They have suffered terribly at the hands of offenders and expect the perpetrator to spend more of their sentence in prison. My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison) spoke movingly about her own tragic experience of a family member who was a victim of a very serious crime, and the terrible circumstance she described is exactly why we are bringing forward this statutory instrument. My hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Dean Russell) made a similar point about the importance of victims in this whole debate. Opposition Members asked, “Why are you bringing this forward? What is the rationale?” The speeches we have heard this afternoon about the impact that early release has on the victims of these terrible crimes—often crimes of rape and, in some cases, even manslaughter—powerfully make the case for this statutory instrument. However, as I said and as many Members have mentioned, it is only the first step. The White Paper we will be publishing, followed by a sentencing Bill, provides an opportunity to go further and broader.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (James Daly), who clearly has a lot of experience in this area, touched on tackling the causes of some kinds of offending. I very much want to see us do more to treat issues such as drug addiction, alcohol addiction and mental health problems, which are often the causes of some kinds of low-level repeat offending. As an alternative to short prison sentences, treatment is essential.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Laura Trott) made an interesting and important point about whether extended determinate sentences should be more widely applied. The figures I gave earlier showed that few serious offences currently attract EDSs—for example, 84% of rapes get a standard determinate sentence with an automatic release point—so that is exactly the kind of question we should consider as part of the sentencing White Paper and the debate that will follow. I strongly urge my hon. Friend to take that point forward. I have listened to it, but I urge her to make it again and to make representations during the White Paper process.

My hon. Friends the Members for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami) and for Ashfield (Lee Anderson) made some important points about prevention. My hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Claire Coutinho) made some equally important points about the importance of preventing criminal offences by incarcerating serious criminals for a little longer.

My hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean) made a critical overarching point: that by fulfilling this manifesto commitment so quickly, after just 47 days, we are demonstrating that we are on the side of law-abiding citizens and believe in keeping our promises.

Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Tom Hunt) made an intervention about a manslaughter case in which a 14-year sentence was handed down. If I have understood the case history correctly, the case that he described—a 14-year sentence for manslaughter with an automatic release at halfway—is exactly within the scope of this statutory instrument. By passing this SI, we can ensure that the terrible circumstances that he so eloquently and powerfully described will not happen again.

We have heard some extremely compelling speeches this afternoon. Members have spoken on behalf of victims, whose voice it is so important that we hear in the House. The measures that we are about to pass are simply the first step in part of a wider process to make sure that we not only protect the public but respect the rights and concerns of victims. I strongly commend the order and regulations to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That the draft Release of Prisoners (Alteration of Relevant Proportion of Sentence) Order 2019, which was laid before this House on 14 October 2019, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved.

Resolved,

That the draft Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 (Consequential Amendment) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 14 October 2019, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved.—(Tom Pursglove.)

Assisted Dying Law

Chris Philp Excerpts
Thursday 23rd January 2020

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Philp)
- Hansard - -

It is, as always, a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. I congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine) on securing the debate on such an important and profound topic so early in the new Parliament, and on the sincerity and compassion of her speech, which I know everybody here will have listened to very carefully indeed.

Whatever one’s personal view on this issue, there is no question but that Members on both sides of the argument hold strong and powerful views, which we heard expressed today with great sincerity and compassion. I thank everybody who took part in the debate. I particularly thank the new Members, who spoke with such thoughtfulness and conviction, as well as the more experienced Members, who offered their views as well, which are equally important. The debate has been an example of Parliament at its best, as we weighed up these deep and profound questions—weighing up, on one side of the argument, the sanctity of life, against, on the other side, the principle of personal choice. Few topics are deeper or more profound than those.

It may be worth my laying out the legal background to the question before us, which has not really been touched on; it is probably worth reminding ourselves of the current legal landscape. The current law on assisted suicide in England and Wales is governed by section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961, which gives a blanket criminalisation of the offence, including by “encouraging or assisting” suicide. There are no exemptions from that in statute. In Northern Ireland, there are similar statutory provisions. In Scotland, there is no statutory criminalisation of assisted suicide, but it is prosecuted as a culpable homicide, so the effect in Scottish law is, broadly speaking, the same. The law as it currently stands across all parts of the United Kingdom is that assisting or even encouraging somebody to commit suicide is a criminal offence.

The application of the law, and prosecutions for anyone suspected of assisting or encouraging suicide, is subject to prosecution policy—whether the Crown Prosecution Service in England and Wales, or the Procurator Fiscal Service in Scotland, decide to prosecute. In making a prosecution decision, with this offence as with any other, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Director of Public Prosecutions apply two tests. One is an evidential test: is there evidence that the offence has been committed? Secondly, there is a public interest test: does it serve the public interest to pursue a prosecution?

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Is it not the case that there are about 150 of those type of cases, but that only three are actually being prosecuted for the sinister motive that could lie behind some of them?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

I was about to come on to precisely the figures that the hon. Gentleman refers to. Before I do, it is worth reminding the House of the current prosecution policy. It was set out substantively in February 2010 and revised somewhat in 2014. Clause 43 of those Crown Prosecution Service guidelines sets out a number of conditions that will make it more likely that a prosecution serves the public interest.

However, clause 45 lays out six conditions that will make a prosecution less likely, including: first, that the person who has died reached a voluntary, clear and settled decision; secondly, that the accused was motivated by compassion; thirdly, that the nature of the assistance or encouragement was minor; fourthly, that the accused had tried to dissuade the person dying from pursuing that course of action; and fifthly, that the matter had been properly reported to the police. If those conditions are met, the Director of Public Prosecutions would be less likely to bring a prosecution—not completely unlikely, but less likely. The judgment as to whether a prosecution serves the public interest is an independent question for the Crown Prosecution Service, or the Procurator Fiscal Service in Scotland.

John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister is actually setting out—I was going to deal with this in my speech had I had longer to contribute—that the existing circumstances, far from being rigid, are very flexible. The guidance exercised and the discretion used allow a good deal of latitude in the circumstances he describes. That is a good case for not changing the law.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

I will come on to the Government’s position of neutrality in a moment.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Before he does, will he give way?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

I will in a moment. I seek simply to set out, for the House’s benefit, a factual description of the current circumstances. I will first respond to the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes), before coming to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell).

As with any offence, there is a measure of CPS discretion as to whether the prosecution serves the public interest, but of course somebody who is in the unfortunate circumstances that we have been discussing today does not have any certainty, because they cannot be certain how the Director of Public Prosecutions will exercise their discretion.

Let me just go through the numbers, before I respond to the intervention by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield; I think that it is worth my setting out some facts and some numbers for the House’s benefit. Between April 2009 and July 2019, the police referred 152 cases related to this issue to the Crown Prosecution Service in England and Wales; I regret that I do not have the figures for Scotland. Of those 152 cases, 104 cases were not proceeded with by the CPS; 29 cases were withdrawn by the police; three cases were prosecuted successfully; one case was prosecuted unsuccessfully, which is to say that it went to court but the jury acquitted; three cases remain outstanding; and eight cases led to prosecutions for a different criminal offence. So, just as a matter of fact—I am not expressing an opinion, but simply stating a fact—only three of those 252 cases, as the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) said earlier, resulted in a successful prosecution.

Now I will of course give way to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield.

--- Later in debate ---
Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will my hon. Friend the Minister give way again just before he resumes?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

I will certainly take another intervention from my hon. Friend.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very grateful. Does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that there is a difference between assisted dying and committing suicide? If I was faced with a terminal illness that I did not want to go through, I would happily choose for my life to be ended through the relevant medical procedures. However, I would not want to commit suicide, because I would not want my children to think that their father had committed suicide; I would not want them to live with that. So I think there is a complete difference between these two different ways of someone ending their life.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

I thank both my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield and my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) for their very thoughtful interventions.

Perhaps I might just turn to the question of end-of-life care, hospice care and palliative care. Many Members on both sides of the argument, and indeed the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain), have referred to the importance of these types of care. I think that one thing we can all agree on is that, regardless of our position on the question of assisted dying or assisted suicide, proper provision of hospice and palliative care is essential; belief in the importance of palliative care is unaffected by and unrelated to one’s position on assisted dying. So it is very important that we ensure that those provisions are properly in place.

I am pleased to report that in 2015 the UK was ranked top out of 40 countries in terms of what is called a quality of death index, which is based on palliative service provision, access to opioids for pain relief and a national strategic approach. Very few countries have levels of integration of palliative care within wider health services similar to ours, so the UK leads the world in the quality of palliative care and end-of-life care.

In 2016 the Government brought forward the end-of-life care choice commitment. We have set out plans to improve patient choice significantly, by ensuring that more adults and children can die in the place of their choice, be it at home, in a hospice, or in hospital. End-of-life care is a key priority for the NHS, and in its long-term plan we have set out key actions to improve the care of people at the end of their life, including a £4.5 billion new investment to fund expanded community teams, which will provide rapid targeted support to those with the greatest need, including those at the end of life. Hospices are vital, and as recently as last August the Prime Minister announced £25 million of additional funding for hospices and palliative care. So Members should be in no doubt at all that, first, the United Kingdom leads the world in the quality of its palliative and end-of-life care, and, secondly, that the Government are completely committed to supporting those services.

I have tried to lay out in a factual way what the current legal, prosecutorial and palliative care landscape is. The reason that I have tried to do that in a factual way is that, as the shadow Minister has already said, it is quite right that in matters of profound personal conscience, such as this one, the Government do not take a view. The Government are neutral in the debate on this issue and have no policy position on it. Although all of us, including me, have our own personal views about this issue, the Government’s position is that it is for Parliament to decide great issues of conscience, including this one.

A number of Members have asked for a review or a call for evidence. The Government do not have any plans at the moment to initiate any review or call for evidence; our view is that it is for Parliament to act in this space. But of course it is open to Committees of the House, including Select Committees, to initiate reviews, calls for evidence and investigations, if they see fit to do so.

Of course, it is also for Parliament to initiate legislation, if it sees fit to do so. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield mentioned the private Member’s Bill ballot. The last vote on this issue took place, as some Members have already said, in September 2015. The Bill proposed was defeated, but, of course, since then we have had two general elections and the composition of Parliament has changed. However, it is the Government’s position that it is for Parliament to decide on this great issue of conscience; it is not for the Government to lead in this area.

I reiterate how important and moving the speeches today have been, on both sides of the argument. I think this debate is an example of Parliament at its finest, dealing with these great issues of life and death, and weighing the sanctity of life against personal liberty and personal choice.

There are no easy answers to these questions, but I can think of no better way of resolving them than via a measured debate and a parliamentary decision. We have certainly seen a fine example of that in today’s debate, and I again thank and commend the hon. Member for Edinburgh West for her speech and for securing this debate.

Graham Brady Portrait Sir Graham Brady (in the Chair)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the hon. Member for Edinburgh West to wind up the debate.

Commission on Justice in Wales

Chris Philp Excerpts
Wednesday 22nd January 2020

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Philp)
- Hansard - -

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I add my congratulations to those from the shadow Minister for the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts)—I hope I pronounced that correctly—on securing today’s important debate. I thank the hon. Members for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), for Islwyn (Chris Evans) and for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin) and the SNP Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for East Lothin (Kenny MacAskill), for their eloquent contributions to today’s debate.

Chris Bryant Portrait Chris Bryant
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

You pronounced Cardiff North right.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

That is good. Clearly, I need some lessons in Welsh pronunciation. The right hon. Member who moved today’s motion made a case for what essentially amounts to the full devolution of justice functions to Wales in line with the recommendations of the report that Lord Thomas recently published. I respectfully disagree with her conclusion that the wholesale devolution of justice to Wales would be in the interests of Wales for, broadly speaking, two or three different reasons.

I will start with the right hon. Lady’s argument that there should be congruence between the Parliament of Wales and the justice jurisdiction of Wales so that the justice system matches the laws. That argument—to avoid the “jagged edge” that Lord Thomas refers to in his report—is not wholly valid, because many or most laws that apply in Wales are reserved matters that have been legislated on in this Parliament. In fact, if we look at the laws that have been passed in the 11 years since 2008, the Welsh Parliament has passed 62 new laws and this Parliament has passed 600, the vast majority of which also apply to Wales. Looking at the law on reserved matters, legal principles such as criminal responsibility, incapacity, mental elements of offences, criminal liability, sentencing, the law relating to homicide, sexual offences and offences against the person—the very fabric of the legal system—are all reserved matters where England and Wales law applies.

Devolving justice in the context of a body of law where the majority of it applies to England and Wales would actually exacerbate or worsen the jagged edge problem the right hon. Lady referred to, because it would then apply to these reserved matters, which are far larger in number than the matters that have been legislated for separately at the Welsh level. Indeed, it would be further exacerbated because the Thomas report, interestingly, does not recommend that the legal profession, its regulation and its qualifications be separated, but instead that they remain the same. If we were to devolve justice to Wales, we would have a further incongruity in that we would have a single legal profession with the same qualifications across two different systems. That would be a further exacerbating jagged edge.

Some Members speaking today have referred to the interface between justice and other devolved matters, in particular education and health. I put the question to a senior official working in the Ministry of Justice’s Welsh department who deals with day-to-day justice matters. Their view was that whether justice was devolved or not would make no real difference to the interface between justice and education and health. Whether education and health were being run in Wales and talking to an England and Wales MOJ or a Welsh MOJ, that interface between Departments would still exist, whether the MOJ sat under an England and Wales umbrella or a Wales-only umbrella.

Liz Saville Roberts Portrait Liz Saville Roberts
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

At the same time, the probation service in Wales has been specifically set up to reflect the fact that education, health and housing are different in Wales in relation to probation. We have not been able to do justice to this report in the time we have had, but my one specific ask, if I may press the Minister, is when will his Department respond in full to the recommendations of this report? I understand that it has already been indicated that it will. When will that occur, and will the Department respond to all the recommendations in turn?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

I was going to come to that point at the very end, but I will answer it now, since the right hon. Lady has raised it. This report was commissioned by the Welsh Government, by the previous First Minister of Wales. It was not commissioned by the UK Government, so there is not an intention to produce a full and formal response to the Thomas report.

However, we are of course going to discuss in detail with the Welsh Government in Cardiff the issues that it raises, to see where we can constructively improve our working relationships across some of them. The right hon. Lady has touched on a couple of those already. We want to improve the level of co-operation we have with the Welsh Government. We want to ensure that, where there is joint working and an interface with, for example, the health system, which many Members have mentioned, that interface works as well as it can, and that we are co-operating and reflecting some of the unique circumstances in Wales. Those conversations will certainly happen, and we will approach them with a constructive and an open mind.

As I said a moment ago, however, I am afraid we do not agree with the conclusion that we should wholly devolve justice and create a Welsh jurisdiction. One reason for that is the second point I was about to come on to before the intervention: cost. The Thomas report does not talk about the cost at all; perhaps the reason is that there is a very significant cost.

The Silk commission, which reported a few years ago—I think in 2014—did cost the establishment of a separate Welsh jurisdiction. It estimated, adjusting for changes that have happened since, that the extra incremental cost of creating a separate jurisdiction would be about £100 million a year. That is £100 million that could be spent on more probation officers, more police and all the things we have been talking about, and we do not feel that the imposition of that extra cost is at all justified.

For example, we would have to replicate the Ministry of Justice’s functions at the Welsh level. Wales does not have a women’s prison, which itself is an issue, or a category A prison. All those issues would have to be addressed. The MOJ is currently hugely upgrading its IT systems, and there are obviously economies of scale. If a Welsh Ministry of Justice had to do that itself, it would be extremely expensive. We do not believe that that cost of £100 million a year can be justified.

Thirdly, and perhaps unusually, I concur quite strongly with some of the analysis offered by the hon. Member for Rhondda, who asked us to concentrate on outcomes and how our systems work in practice, and on improving those rather than endlessly talking about process and arguing about where powers get exercised. In many ways, it is slightly sterile to argue over who holds the pen and exactly where a power is exercised. Our collective energy, ingenuity, creativity and everything else are better directed at trying to improve the services that are being delivered, so I embrace the point that he made.

Chris Bryant Portrait Chris Bryant
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

While the Minister is embracing my views, I wonder whether he will look at the issue that has been experienced in Cardiff jail, where there has been a really good programme screening new prisoners arriving in the prison for brain injury. That is an area where there is a clear overlap between the health service, which will be working with the individuals, and the Ministry of Justice. I know that that programme has been extended, but I wonder whether we could keep it running on a permanent basis. It is a simple fact that if people do not get the proper neuro-rehabilitation for a brain injury, the likelihood is that they will end up reoffending.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

I am glad the hon. Gentleman mentions Cardiff Prison, which had a fairly positive inspector’s report last July. The programme that he is describing is not one I am hugely familiar with, because my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State is the Prisons Minister. However, it sounds like an extremely worthwhile programme. I know that, in general, the Government are keen to encourage closer work between the justice system and the health service, in order to treat health conditions where they exist, and that programme sounds exactly like the kind of programme that should be continued. I undertake to raise it with my hon. and learned Friend, and I will urge her to consider extending the pilot indefinitely, because it sounds like exactly the kind of thing we should be doing. I will make representations along those lines.

Devolution in itself is no panacea; it does not automatically solve problems. For example, that has obviously been well documented in education, where per capita spending in Wales is much higher than in England, that educational outcomes in Wales are none the less worse than in England. So the idea that devolving something somehow automatically makes it better does not necessarily hold up.

I turn now to the tragic death of Conner Marshall, which was mentioned earlier. Of course, we extend our heartfelt condolences to his family. There were failings in the probation service, which have already been referred to. Therefore, it is right and appropriate that Wales was the first part of England and Wales to have the community rehabilitation companies wound down and wholly replaced by the National Probation Service. It is very welcome that Wales has seen that happen first. Clearly, the Conner Marshall case underlines why that move was so important, and I am glad that we made it.

More generally on the question of resources in the probation system, substantially more money will go into the probation system in the next financial year. Across England and Wales, we will also recruit 800 more probation officers, many of whom, of course, will go to Wales.

The issue of imprisonment rates was raised. The rate of imprisonment for offenders in Wales is very similar to that in England. It is fractionally higher in Wales—it is about 6.5% in England and 6.85% in Wales. So, as I say, the rates are very similar.

Regarding sentencing policy and the implications for the prison population, the Government’s approach is that we want to see very serious offenders, including terrorist offenders, receiving longer sentences and serving more of those sentences in prison. In fact, that is the purpose of the statutory instrument being laid today, which moves back the automatic release point for standard determinate sentences for serious sexual and violent offences that qualify for a life sentence, and where the sentence is over seven years, from halfway to two-thirds of the way through the sentence.

We want to see the most serious criminals serving longer sentences and serving them in prison. However, for less serious offences, and in particular where there is a health problem associated with such offenders, which the hon. Member for Islwyn mentioned earlier, I want—as the Minister with responsibility for sentencing—to see a greater emphasis on treatment, which is the point the hon. Member for Rhondda made a moment ago. I would like to see more community sentence treatment requirement orders being made, so that people who have a mental health problem, a drug addiction problem or an alcohol addiction problem receive treatment for that health problem, rather than serving a short custodial sentence, because the evidence is that short custodial sentences are not very effective.

We will address that area through the sentencing review and the sentencing White Paper, which we will publish a little later this year, and then through the sentencing Bill, which will be introduced subsequently. It is an area where there is more work that we can do to treat the causes of offending, particularly where they are health-related, rather than imposing short custodial sentences.

The issue of court closures was raised. As in England, there have been court closures in Wales, as we try to run the court system more efficiently and effectively. The utilisation of the courts in Wales prior to the start of this programme, which was about nine years ago, was 54%. That is extremely low. The utilisation rate in Wales is now 67%, which is clearly higher.

Regarding attendance in court, which was mentioned, there is no evidence that the rate of attendance at court by defendants or witnesses has declined as a consequence of the programme. In fact, in terms of disposing of cases, in Welsh magistrates courts—where the vast majority of criminal cases in Wales are heard—78% of cases are dealt with in less than six weeks. The equivalent figure for England is 68%, so the Welsh magistrates courts are 10% more effective at quickly dealing with cases that come before them than their English equivalents.

Even after the closure programme that was referred to, 97% of the Welsh population can get to their nearest magistrates court in less than two hours, which is comparable to the equivalent figure in England. The digitisation process is well under way to allow people to access court services digitally. Making civil money claims, probate applications, uncontested divorce applications and entering minor pleas can now all be done online.

We do not concur with the Thomas report’s principal conclusion that justice should be wholly devolved, but we will work closely with the Welsh Government to ensure justice policies are aligned and to take into consideration distinct Welsh needs. For example, the recent transfer of probation services in Wales to the National Probation Service is a clear example of distinct justice policy in Wales, which can be achieved under the current settlement. Joint Ministry of Justice and Welsh Government blueprints on youth justice and female offenders were published last year—a successful example of co-development of strategies across the devolution boundary. Welsh prisons perform well when compared with their counterparts in England, and Welsh law firms benefit from being part of a world-renowned justice system. The justice landscape in Wales is faring well.

That said, we absolutely agree that the administration of justice in Wales requires regular review to ensure the needs of Wales are being met. In addition to ensuring that justice policies are designed with Wales in mind, we regularly evaluate the wider arrangements to ensure they are fit for purpose. Hon. Members will be aware that, during the passage of the Wales Act 2017, the Government committed to undertake a regular review of justice in Wales. An advisory committee was established in 2018, comprising the judiciary, the legal profession, legal regulators, operational deliver arms, and members of the Welsh and UK Governments. The committee published a report in July last year, which made a number of recommendations about the justice system in Wales, particularly around accessibility of law and the management of divergence. We are taking those recommendations forward.

The Welsh Government’s decision to commission Lord Thomas to undertake a review was founded on their belief that there was

“unfinished business from the Silk Commission”.

On the contrary, the decision by the Silk commission that Wales should continue to be part of the single jurisdiction was reached after careful consideration of the merits for and against devolution, and it is our firm view that the current settlement works best for Wales.