Lee Anderson contributions to the Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill 2019-21

Tue 11th February 2020 Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill (Commons Chamber)
2nd reading: House of Commons
3 interactions (293 words)

Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
(2nd reading: House of Commons)
Lee Anderson Excerpts
Tuesday 11th February 2020

(6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Bill Main Page
Ministry of Justice
Laura Trott Portrait Laura Trott (Sevenoaks) (Con) - Hansard

First, I add my name to the chorus of tributes to Marie McCourt and her family and to Opposition Members who have campaigned for the measure heartily and brilliantly for a number of years.

I welcome the Government’s Bill as part of an overall move to restore faith in the system, and to keep people who are a risk to the public behind bars. We should be in absolutely no doubt that people who refuse to acknowledge where bodies are, or where their victims are, are trying to replay the crime to the families over and over again. It is clear from the speeches that we have heard that that is something that the Parole Board should take into account.

That is possible only because we are talking about extended determinate sentences. The Parole Board is involved with people on those sentences, not with those on standard determinate sentences. There is a universal belief about the importance of remorse in those cases. When standard determinate sentences are used—for example, in rape cases—remorse cannot be taken into account. That ties into conversations that we have had about delegated legislation and other Bills, so I add my name to that of my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) in urging that the measure should be extended to other cases.

Time is short, so I shall make three brief points. First, I should like reassurance that offences under clause 2 with regard to indecent images should not ever fall under standard determinate sentences. We have discussed serious offences that are subject to such sentences, and I should be grateful for reassurance from the Minister that that will not be the case. Secondly, on the duty for the Parole Board to take this into account, as numerous pieces of testimony have shown today, the Parole Board is not always as efficient in doing that as it should be. It would be useful if the Department monitored the impact of the Bill on sentencing and the extension of sentences as a result of its introduction. Things that people have been asked to look at do not always translate, so I add my name to those of many other Members in urging that we make sure that that happens.

Finally, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), who is no longer in his place, said, courts do not take this into account in sentencing as much as they could. It is not necessarily the case that the Bill should address that, but the more that we can do to encourage that and put pressure on courts to do so, the better. No one can argue that people who commit these terrible crimes should not be in prison for a very long time, and the sentences that we have discussed are, in my view, and that of many members of the public, nowhere near long enough. The idea that people who have committed these heinous crimes are walking the streets with no notice for the victims’ families grieves me furiously, as I am sure it does many hon. Members, so reassurance on that would be helpful.

Lee Anderson Portrait Lee Anderson (Ashfield) (Con) - Hansard
11 Feb 2020, 3:45 p.m.

I have two sons and I cannot imagine life without them, let alone losing one to a murderer. When Helen McCourt was murdered in 1988 her family lost a beautiful young lady with her whole life ahead of her. It is impossible to understand the pain that they must have felt all those years ago, but of course, the pain has not stopped, because the cruelty continues. It is indeed cruel not to allow grieving families the opportunity to lay their loved ones to rest. This cruelty must be dealt with.

Helen’s law will mean that the Parole Board must consider this cruelty when reviewing an offender’s suitability for release. A murderer who refuses to reveal the location of a victim’s body is not suitable for release. Parole Board guidance makes it clear that offenders who withhold information may still pose a risk to the public and could therefore be denied parole. Helen’s law will, however, make it a legal requirement for the Parole Board to consider the withholding of information when deciding whether an offender should be released.

Helen’s law follows the tireless campaigning of Marie McCourt, Helen’s mother. I want to praise the bravery and tenacity of Helen’s mum, who through a terrible tragedy has managed to bring about these much-needed changes. Murderers who refuse to disclose where their victims are located only prolong the suffering of innocent families and deny them a proper burial. This legislation will mean that families will not have to endure a lifetime of suffering and not knowing where their loved ones’ remains are. It is said that time is a great healer, but not in cases like this. The only thing that can help to start healing the wounds is to support victims’ families through this Bill.

Bambos Charalambous Portrait Bambos Charalambous - Hansard
11 Feb 2020, 3:46 p.m.

With the leave of the House, it has been heartening to hear so many thoughtful and passionate contributions to this debate from across the House. One thing that is very clear is the universal support for the Bill to pass through its next stages and become law.

I wish to pick up on some of the points raised in the debate. The hon. Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) gave a moving account of his constituent and her suffering. The facts of that case are very similar to those in the case of Helen McCourt. My hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) spoke with great passion in a brilliant speech that encapsulated the spirit and essence of why we are here today. The hon. Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) shared her insightful experience of her dealings with the Parole Board and explained why there is a need to reform it. That may be outside the terms of this Bill, but it is also an issue that we take into account.

My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) spoke with genuine passion about the need to learn from experience and the need for change and why the Bill also encapsulates the abuse of children and the unspeakable and unimaginable pain and suffering when victims are not identified. The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne) talked about the need for closure, his experience at the twin towers at ground zero and the people who are unable to find closure, and why this Bill is so important to find closure. The hon. Member for Bury North (James Daly) spoke about his experience as a criminal lawyer and the need for public protection and rehabilitation. Again, these are areas that need to be impactive.

The hon. Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) spoke about the need for the Bill to be extended to other areas, which was also touched on by the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Laura Trott). That may be an issue that we can come to in Committee, but these are important issues that we need to consider. The hon. Member for Ashfield (Lee Anderson) talked about the cruelty that continues if the location of the body is not disclosed. That is the enduring suffering that the families of the victims who are unable to get closure have to experience.

I hope the Minister considers the important points raised in this debate. There is an issue about the Parole Board, the need for communication, the need for regular updates and transparency about the workings of the board. The Bill is right and we need to make sure it passes through all its stages. Knowing where a victim’s remains have been disposed of, or the identity of children who are the subject of indecent images, and not disclosing the information must surely be an indication as to whether a prisoner has truly shown remorse or not. The victims must be properly supported and must be put at the heart of our justice system.

Serious concerns have been raised in the debate, particularly about the transparency of the Parole Board’s decisions, the lack of information communicated to the victims and the lack of support they are given throughout the parole process. However, as has been stated by Members, the Bill is an example of what can be achieved through cross-party co-operation. I very much hope that it is put on to the statute book as soon as possible. Labour will certainly be voting for the Bill today on Second Reading. I very much look forward to taking part in the Committee stage and Third Reading.