Victims and Prisoners Bill Debate

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Department: Ministry of Justice
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.

Lord Bishop of Leicester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Leicester
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My Lords, I support this group of amendments and it is a pleasure to follow noble Lords and benefit from their considerable wisdom—I am in awe of the learning and wisdom on display this evening. I do not want to repeat a lot of what has been said, so I will keep my speech very short.

I have one or two reflections on Amendments 165 and 166, to which my right reverend friend the Bishop of Gloucester has added her name. She is a regular visitor to prisons across the country and supports the network of chaplains in our prisons who have direct evidence in relation to the mental health of prisoners.

As others have said, we know that many IPP prisoners are stuck in the system and that appropriate psychiatric care in the community is not in place to manage their high-support needs. IPP prisoners suffer greater mental distress and disorders than the wider prison population and, in many cases, it can be said that the sentence itself is the cause of the distress. It disrupts relationships and inspires hopelessness, anxiety, despair and alienation.

I welcome the changes proposed through this Bill, but, for the sake of the prisoners in question and the wider community, we need to ensure that they are getting the appropriate aftercare that they are entitled to and that it is extended in the way proposed in Amendment 166.