Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office

Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill

Luke Pollard 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 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.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op)
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I rise in support of the amendments that the Minister has just set out to this very important Bill.

The crimes that Vanessa George committed against the babies and toddlers in the constituency I represent at Little Ted’s nursery were simply disgusting. They will be abhorred by any right-minded person. It does not need a partisan label—a party political badge—to know that this is a good piece of natural justice: a law that should be supported by everyone of all parties.

I set out the particular case around Vanessa George on Second Reading, but on behalf of the families—those who were able to come forward—I want to thank the Minister and his ministerial colleagues for the way they have brought forward this campaign. It would be very easy for a Government to ignore a campaign by an Opposition MP, and I am grateful to Ministers for not doing that but instead looking at the victims and the severity of the crimes involved, and acting accordingly by doing what is right.

Vanessa George still shows no remorse for the crimes that she committed and no remorse for the fact that she still refuses to name the children she abused. We do not know how many children at Little Ted’s nursery she did abuse, because she has not told anyone. We know how many children were there, and we have a good idea about which children might have been exposed to her cruel and evil crimes. Those children are now fast-emerging young people who are coming to terms with their place in the world and the way that they feel. The crimes that were committed against them by Vanessa George as children will have long-lasting psychological, and in some cases physical, consequences for them in future. A child not knowing whether they were a victim themselves not only deprives the families of the peace of mind of knowing but deprives that child of the help and support they might otherwise have been able to access. Uncertainty is a prison that those children and their families will be in for quite some time.

The right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) raised an issue in relation to life sentences. The families do not mind what the sentence is. Anyone who declines to name the children they abuse should not be eligible for early release. In particular, on the question whether a life sentence is passed down for an offence of taking an indecent image of a child or a relevant offence of making an indecent pseudo image of a child, I would be grateful if the Minister could set out whether that also applies to contemporaneous charges. In many cases, it is very unlikely that a life sentence would be passed down just for taking those images, but it might be passed down for the indecent images and the acts of abuse themselves, so would that collection of charges fall under the description in amendment 1 under new subsection 28B (1)(a)(i) and (ii)?