Victims and Prisoners Bill Debate

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Department: Ministry of Justice
Lord Garnier Portrait Lord Garnier (Con)
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I am most grateful to my noble friend. I will have to check tomorrow morning the Hansard report of where I had got to in my speech; I have a suspicion I was in the middle of a sentence in which I was just about to say exactly what my noble friend said—but I am grateful to him, because he was able to say it so much more eloquently than I would have done.

We are in the position with criminal justice and sentencing that we were in the first decade of the 20th century with Dreadnought building. If the Germans have five, we must have six. If we have six, they must have 10. If they have 10, we must have 15, and so on —and guess what? You get 1914.

Here, we are dealing with adult, mature politicians who take instructions from editors and proprietors. Yet, if they bothered to ask the public—and occasionally the press do ask the public—they would find that the public are not nearly as keen on longer sentences or on IPPs as they might think. Had they been braver and bolder—as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, would have us be—perhaps we would not have arrived at where we are.

I regret that I have spoken for far too long in Committee, but over the last 25 years this issue has really annoyed me. I am so grateful to the Prison Reform Trust, of which I too am a trustee, for its assistance in trying to restrain my enthusiasm and, at times, my anger about this subject and for providing me with the information and the assistance which I hope have to some extent informed this debate. There is not a single amendment on the Order Paper this evening which does not deserve the gravest consideration of this Committee and the urgent action of this Government.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, it was a real privilege to witness that exchange and I think we are getting to the heart of why we are all here and are so passionate about this. I have a couple of short clarifications, because at this point by the time I get to my amendment on re-sentencing there really will be nothing else to say; I am rewriting my speech rapidly every time everyone speaks.

When I first heard about the indefinite sentences that were associated with IPPs—when they first came out in that arms race to prove how tough we could be on law on order—I was horrified. I was delighted when the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, abolished them; I thought that was it, because I was not in Parliament and not following. I went into prisons as part of work I was doing with an educational project called Debating Matters Beyond Bars which encouraged prisoners to debate and could not believe it when I discovered that, despite the sentences being abolished, there were still IPP prisoners.

In fact, I told the prisoners in my own characteristic way that they were wrong and that IPPs had been abolished and could not still exist. So I was determined once I got in here to at least discover what on earth had gone wrong. I cannot bear it, now we are tackling the issue, that, even though the sentences have been abolished, they will still exist when we have finished dealing with this Bill. It seems abhorrent.

I wanted particularly to back up the mentoring proposals from the noble Baroness, Lady Blower. If you talk to any families of IPP prisoners, or IPP prisoners themselves, they know that they have been destroyed and damaged by this sentencing regime. They are not gung-ho about it. They do not just say, “Release us, we’ll be fine”. What they would really gain from is mentoring. It is the kind of creative solution that would help us support the re-sentencing amendments. This is the kind of support that people will need.

It was hard not to shed a tear at the very moving speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, who said that many of the people whose mental health was suffering had been destroyed by IPPs. But we should also note that it could well be that their mental health is not permanently damaged by the ongoing psychological uncertainty, anxiety, torture and so on. We need a combination of the mentoring scheme and a recognition of the fact that the sentencing is, to be crude, literally driving people mad—and the sanest person would go mad. You do not necessarily need medication; you need compassionate, grown-up intervention and support. In that sense, I support all the amendments in this group and all the others, but I really think that, for want of a better phrase, we have to be the grown-ups in the room now and try and sort this out.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, I particularly support the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, although I support all of them. I also thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, for remembering Lord Lloyd of Berwick in this debate. I recall him very well, indefatigably picking up this baton.

Many of us were alarmed when prisoners were added to victims in this Bill, but this amendment is absolutely with the grain of the first part of the Bill. We talked about ISVAs, IDVAs, child trafficking and guardians, and I recently heard about victim navigators who work as supporters and mentors to victims of modern slavery and human trafficking. We are all accepting the notion that, in slightly different ways, the criminal justice system does not do well by its victims—as has been said, IPP prisoners are victims—and that this needs addressing with a range of support measures. It is very much the direction of travel and I hope that this notion can be pursued.

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This is the most important point, which the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, very fairly started with. I share his look of regret that we are dealing with this very difficult problem. The purpose of Amendment 161, as the Government understand it, is to make it easier to release the remaining cohort, but by definition this cohort is the most difficult of all to manage: they have been up before the Parole Board many times, some as many as 10 times, and many three, four, five or six times. The Parole Board has never so far been satisfied that they are safe to release, so making it easier to release those—
Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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Unlike other prisoners, they may have been up before the Parole Board many times, but this is long after their tariff has ended and the sentence originally given was handed out to them. That is quite a distinction from other prisoners. The suggestion that they are a particularly difficult group to manage because they keep going before the Parole Board slightly misses why they have become a difficult or different group. The main thing is that they would have been released if they were any other group of prisoners, yet they have to go to the Parole Board to say that they are safe and risk-free maybe five or six years after their tariff has ended. That is why people see the burden of proof being in the direction it is in. They also have to fulfil a range of courses and so on, which people are not convinced will even indicate that they are safe anyway, but we will get on to that. To the suggestion that we do not understand why anyone is raising this, it is because the set of circumstances for these prisoners is very different. That is why we are all here talking about it.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, I entirely understand the point that the noble Baroness is making, which effectively encapsulates the problem that we are up against: how do we protect the safety of the public on the one hand and, on the other, deal with the outstanding problem? I think the Government’s point is that to make it easier to release those prisoners who are potentially most likely to cause harm is counterintuitive and unacceptable from the point of view of public safety.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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I did not suggest that they were more likely to cause harm. The argument is whether we accept that they are deemed dangerous and therefore cannot be let out through the Parole Board, because what deems them dangerous is a set of hoops that they have to go through and that do not necessarily indicate that they are dangerous. That is one of the difficulties with this. It is doublethink and double-talk.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, as I have tried to say, the whole purpose of the action plan is to create a framework in which this cohort, properly managed, could progress to safe release, with sentence plans, psychological support, support from psychology services and other support towards a safe release. That is a better route than tinkering with the release test. I will not say it is exactly a legal quibble, but it is a bit of a legalism to be fiddling with the release test.