Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office

Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill

Desmond Swayne Excerpts
Committee stage & 3rd reading & 3rd reading: House of Commons & Committee: 1st sitting & Committee: 1st sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 3rd March 2020

(4 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Act 2020 View all Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Committee of the whole House Amendments as at 3 March 2020 - large print version - (3 Mar 2020)
Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I am very grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. He powerfully expresses the importance for the families of victims of knowing where the body of their loved one is. When prisoners, including Stuart Campbell, refuse to disclose the whereabouts of a body, it simply adds to the anguish that the families suffer. In the case that the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) mentioned, the individual has been charged but not yet convicted. If that individual is convicted and imprisoned, and the Parole Board comes to consider his release in the future, it will be bound by the provisions of this Bill to take into account the non-disclosure when deciding whether or not to release them.

Having met Marie McCourt, who is Helen McCourt’s mother, the Lord Chancellor and I have heard at first hand just how distressing it is when a prisoner refuses to disclose the whereabouts of the victim’s body. I would like once again to pay particular tribute to Marie McCourt for the campaigning that she has bravely undertaken over these past 32 years since the murder of her daughter Helen.

Related to this is the question of the non-disclosure of the identity of child victims of indecent imagery. I notice that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) is in his place. He has been speaking out for his constituents whose children were victims of Vanessa George, the nursery school teacher who so cruelly abused the very young, very tiny children in her care, and then refused to disclose the identity of her young victims, thereby adding to the distress of the parents, the families and the victims themselves. I again pay tribute to him for the campaigning that he has undertaken on this topic.

Desmond Swayne Portrait Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)
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How often are the circumstances set out in amendment 1 under new subsection (1)(a)(i) and (ii) actually likely to occur? A life sentence for photographic offences—is that actually likely to happen often?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) has turned to the particulars of the Bill, because I would now like to address those.

There are two substantive clauses in this Bill. Clause 1 relates to life sentences handed down for murder, manslaughter or indecent images. It is worth mentioning, in response to my right hon. Friend’s intervention, that amendment 1 adds into the provisions of this Bill sentences of imprisonment for public protection, which can also be handed down for making indecent images. Clause 2 covers the slightly broader type of sentence—namely, extended determinate sentences, whether they are handed down for manslaughter or the failure to disclose the subject of an indecent image. He is quite right to point out that in cases where there has been a failure to disclose the victim of an indecent image, it is more likely that there will be an extended determinate sentence than a life sentence. Indeed, in the case of Vanessa George, the sentence handed down was an extended determinate sentence, so that would have been caught by clause 2 rather than by clause 1.[Official Report, 4 May 2020, Vol. 675, c. 6MC.]

The two clauses taken together cover the range of sentences that might be handed down—life sentences and imprisonment for public protection under amendment 1, and extended determinate sentences under clause 2. The substance of these two clauses ensures that when the Parole Board considers release and comes to make its decision about dangerousness and public protection, the requirement to take into account non-disclosure, and the reasons, in its view, for that non-disclosure is put on a statutory—a legal—footing. That is enshrined in new section 28A(1)(a) and (b) in clause 1(1) . This means that at no point in the future can the Parole Board ever decide to vary its guidelines to disregard these matters. It will also very much focus the mind of the Parole Board, and send a message to it, that this House—this Parliament—takes non-disclosure very, very seriously and expects that to be fully reflected in release decisions.

I notice that the hon. Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) is now in his place. I would like to repeat the tribute I paid earlier to his and his constituent Marie McCourt’s campaigning on this topic over very many years. It is a testament to his perseverance through what has been a turbulent period in British politics that this Bill is now here in Committee. Without his work, this would certainly not have happened.

Amendment 2 to clause 1 is a technical, consequential amendment—a subsequent provision just to make sure that amendment 1 works technically.

I hope that I have explained the operative provisions of this Bill, which will place on a statutory footing the obligation on the Parole Board to consider non-disclosure of victims’ whereabouts or non-disclosure of the identity of a child victim of indecent images. I think the whole House, and indeed all our constituents, will very strongly welcome that. I commend the amendments and the clauses to the Committee.