Debates between Robert Buckland and Sir Robert Neill

There have been 20 exchanges between Robert Buckland and Sir Robert Neill

1 Tue 22nd September 2020 Oral Answers to Questions
Ministry of Justice
3 interactions (288 words)
2 Wed 16th September 2020 Sentencing White Paper
Ministry of Justice
3 interactions (579 words)
3 Wed 2nd September 2020 Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Bill [Lords]
Ministry of Justice
9 interactions (1,190 words)
4 Tue 9th June 2020 Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill
Ministry of Justice
11 interactions (2,329 words)
5 Mon 8th June 2020 Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill [Lords]
Ministry of Justice
5 interactions (266 words)
6 Mon 27th April 2020 Oral Answers to Questions
Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
2 interactions (255 words)
7 Wed 12th February 2020 Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill
Ministry of Justice
9 interactions (555 words)
8 Tue 11th February 2020 Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill
Ministry of Justice
7 interactions (2,030 words)
9 Mon 3rd February 2020 Streatham Incident
Ministry of Justice
2 interactions (173 words)
10 Tue 14th January 2020 Oral Answers to Questions
Ministry of Justice
3 interactions (272 words)
11 Tue 8th October 2019 Oral Answers to Questions
Ministry of Justice
6 interactions (135 words)
12 Wed 2nd October 2019 Domestic Abuse Bill
Ministry of Justice
3 interactions (174 words)
13 Tue 11th June 2019 Imprisonment for Public Protection
Ministry of Justice
3 interactions (1,231 words)
14 Wed 5th June 2019 Rehabilitation of Offenders
Ministry of Justice
12 interactions (3,298 words)
15 Tue 4th June 2019 Oral Answers to Questions
Ministry of Justice
3 interactions (234 words)
16 Tue 9th April 2019 Section 1 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019
Attorney General
3 interactions (287 words)
17 Thu 29th November 2018 Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Advice
Attorney General
3 interactions (217 words)
18 Wed 15th November 2017 European Union (Withdrawal) Bill
Attorney General
7 interactions (1,041 words)
19 Tue 14th November 2017 European Union (Withdrawal) Bill
Ministry of Justice
9 interactions (1,648 words)
20 Thu 29th June 2017 Oral Answers to Questions
Attorney General
3 interactions (225 words)

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Robert Buckland and Sir Robert Neill
Tuesday 22nd September 2020

(4 days, 6 hours ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ministry of Justice
Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Hansard

I thank the hon. Lady for her kind remarks. The issue is very straightforward. If we are in a position where the EU has acted in material breach of its own treaty obligations, meaning that acts to the active prejudice of the United Kingdom are being occasioned, then we will act.

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con) - Hansard

I also wish the Lord Chancellor a happy birthday. I calculate that I have known him for about half his life. Throughout that time, I have never had the slightest doubt as to his integrity and his commitment to the rule of law. Does he accept that the important changes that the Government accepted in the course of the Committee stage yesterday would not have happened without some pressure from the Back Benches, and without his very close personal and direct involvement in making changes to the Bill and to the test that the Government will apply. That was precisely because he, I and many others are committed to the rule of law. Ad hominem attacks to the contrary are unworthy and unjustified.

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Hansard

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend. He is right to remind us that personal attacks are no substitute for real debate. What he has done, and what I have sought to do, is, at all times, to make sure that we find a way through these problems. Brexit has thrown up unprecedented challenges to a Government in peacetime. I never pretended that it was going to be anything other than a difficult road. He shares that view and, through his constructive work and the work that I and others have done, this House has a lock on these matters, and, indeed, I think the way is much clearer and much more satisfactory.

Sentencing White Paper

Debate between Robert Buckland and Sir Robert Neill
Wednesday 16th September 2020

(1 week, 3 days ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ministry of Justice
Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Parliament Live - Hansard

It was all going so well, and then the right hon. Gentleman had to spoil it with an ill-judged, ill-timed and wholly inappropriate intervention. May I remind him that as a practitioner, for years I had to endure a Labour Government that passed with incontinence criminal justice Act after criminal justice Act, creating the chaos with sentencing reform that I am now having to deal with? With the greatest respect to him, I will take no lectures about a Labour Government who made automatic early release at the halfway term the norm for so many sentences. That is the wrong that we are righting now as a result of the reforms that we will introduce.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for how he has sensibly engaged with the important issues about the rehabilitation of offenders. I am particularly pleased by the warm welcome for the work we will do on neurodivergent conditions and disorders. That has been a long-standing passion and commitment of mine. Autism and ADHD are real conditions that affect thousands of people in our country. I have had personal experience in the criminal justice system of representing people with those conditions, and I think we can do better. That is why we will take action on that.

I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman about the cross-Government work on offender employment. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, who is deeply committed to increasing the number of offenders in work. We are working on plans and a cross-Government strategy. The committee is chaired by the Prime Minister, which exemplifies the Government’s deep and fundamental dedication to this bold agenda.

I welcome the other comments that the right hon. Gentleman has made, and it is in that spirit of constructive engagement that I am sure we will work together to make sense of criminal justice after years of failure, mainly by the Government of which he was a member.

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard

I warmly congratulate the Lord Chancellor on an excellent and very well-balanced statement, which shows his own experience as a practitioner in these matters. A number of the themes that the White Paper addresses are ones that the Justice Select Committee has picked up on a number of occasions. I look forward to progress being made on those. I particularly welcome the recognition that protection of the public and rehabilitation of those who can be rehabilitated are not mutually exclusive. However, will he also use the opportunity of the White Paper to engender a wider debate across society as a whole about the purpose of sentencing, and the purposes of imprisonment and community sentences, to give both the public and sentencers greater confidence in the suite of measures available and create a broader-based, better-informed understanding of the complexities of the tasks that people in the justice system grapple with day to day?

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Parliament Live - Hansard

I am grateful to the Chairman of the Justice Committee. We all know his long and deep knowledge of the system as a practitioner. He is right to remind us of the purposes of sentencing. He will see in the White Paper a lot of reference to public protection issues—protecting the public from harm, but also protecting the public from crime. The two go together, and one is served, I would submit, by effective prison sentences, while the second is served by rehabilitation through the community options that can make such a difference with the right support.

Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Bill [Lords]

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
Debate between Robert Buckland and Sir Robert Neill
Wednesday 2nd September 2020

(3 weeks, 3 days ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ministry of Justice
Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Hansard

I share my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm and sense of impatience about the pace of change in fora such as the Council of Europe. I just need to caution him on this basis. When it comes to the use of the powers that we anticipate under this Bill, we are talking about a narrowly defined type of agreement—practical, detailed but important changes that will lead to the sort of improvements that I referred to in responding to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood). I am sure that as he hears not just my contribution but the one made in winding up by the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), he will be even clearer about the particular role that this Bill will play in the incorporation of international law.

That is very important, because concerns were raised in the other place that somehow this was a Trojan horse or an invitation to open the floodgates, to allow for the incorporation of major swathes of international treaty law into domestic legislation with minimal scrutiny. Nothing could be further from the case.

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con) - Hansard

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Hansard

I give way to my hon. Friend the Chair of the Justice Committee.

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill - Hansard

I know that we will move on to the question of what is not in the Bill and what might be later, but before the Lord Chancellor leaves the issue of improving our access to international legal agreements, he has not yet mentioned our application to accede to the Lugano convention, which many regard as critical, it being markedly superior in a number of respects to those listed on the face of the Bill. There is a concern that the Commission is currently recommending against Britain joining the convention, even though the European Free Trade Association members of that convention support it. What is the position on that? Will he assure us that the Government regard this as one of the highest priorities in our ongoing negotiations? It should not be allowed to be hijacked and held as a hostage to fortune in other negotiations.

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Hansard

I can assure my hon. Friend that not only do the Government place a very high premium upon the importance of accession to Lugano, but I personally have vested my own time in direct discussions with counterparts at the Commission and other member states of the EU. In fact, in Zagreb, at the final Justice and Home Affairs Council, I took the opportunity to discuss this at length with several other member states and, indeed, the then newly appointed Commissioner for Justice, and we had a very productive discussion.

My view and that of Her Majesty’s Government is very straightforward: the application for Lugano is a discrete matter. It is separate from the negotiations that are ongoing with regard to a future free trade agreement, and it should be treated as a separate matter. The time for ideology has gone. This is a time for us all to remember that the interests of the citizens that member states serve are paramount, and the interests of ensuring that civil judgments are enforced as swiftly as possible are clear. I call upon all interested parties to put those priorities first, and then hopefully we will see a swifter conclusion to the negotiations, but I welcome the warm support we have had from EFTA countries both prior and subsequent to our application.

Break in Debate

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Hansard
2 Sep 2020, 12:09 a.m.

Indeed it has made some very trenchant comments about CRAG, and that is precisely why it is important that that Committee does its work on improving and enhancing the procedure. I welcome its work and we will actively engage and ensure that that is so.

The most pressing need for the delegated power is to implement what we hope to see—namely, the Lugano convention, which we have already discussed. As I have said, we still do not know the outcome of our application. It is being considered by the contracting parties to the convention, including the EU. It currently underpins our private international law relationship with Switzerland, Norway and Iceland, but could also be used to underpin our relationship with the EU after the end of the transition period. It would provide valuable certainty on cross-border recognition and the enforcement of civil and commercial judgments, as well as clarity on which country’s courts may hear a dispute.

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill - Hansard

I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend’s commitment to joining Lugano. It is important for all the reasons he has set out. There was compelling evidence given to the Justice Committee over a number of years about the importance of this. Also, is it not important that we join so that we can then, as one of the convention parties, seek to influence the development of the convention—for example, to avoid a race to the bottom in jurisdictional terms in dealing with the threat, as it is sometimes called, of the Italian torpedo? We cannot deal with the Italian torpedo until we are in Lugano to sort it out, so is that not all the more reason to reflect on putting this on the face of the Bill? Perhaps nothing would be lost by doing that.

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Hansard
2 Sep 2020, midnight

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The Italian torpedo is not a reference to the successful naval action by the Royal Navy against the forces of fascist Italy in the second world war. This is a particular device taken by parties who issue proceedings in a jurisdiction that they know will not accept control over the particular proceedings. It is, in other words, a massive delaying tactic that can cause real obstruction to the course of justice and to the resolution of important disputes, and that is why he is right to say that Lugano would be very much a beginning when it comes to the development and refinement of that type of important co-operation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) asked why we do not mention Lugano. Well, there is an obvious argument that I should have addressed, which is that, as we have not yet been able to join it, it would perhaps be premature for us to refer to it directly on the face of the Bill, as opposed to the Hague conventions, which we have joined. Regrettably, there will not be time to bring forward further primary legislation before the end of the year, should our application be approved within the next few months. Therefore, for that sad but practical reason, it would be right not to pass anticipatory legislation but rather to await the outcome of the negotiation and then to allow the use of the delegated power.

The power could also be used to implement other agreements. I have talked about mediation, and in particular the 2019 Singapore convention on mediation and 2019 Hague judgments convention. We have not yet taken a formal decision on either of those, but of course I am happy to talk more about those conventions with hon. Members during the passage of this Bill and, indeed, in the future as we decide on our final approach to these instruments.

Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
Debate between Robert Buckland and Sir Robert Neill
Tuesday 9th June 2020

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ministry of Justice
Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Hansard
9 Jun 2020, 12:05 a.m.

I am sure the right hon. Lady will understand that it would be a little invidious of me to go into individual cases, but she will know from her long experience of this issue, and control orders previously, that TPIMs and control orders are complex and resource-intensive mechanisms that require a high degree of planning and continued monitoring, so decisions made to apply for them are never entered into lightly. By returning the position on the standard of proof to the one that existed some years ago, the Bill creates a more flexible means of monitoring, rather than a system that does, and did, require a higher standard of proof. It is not my wish or the wish of the Government to see an overdependence on TPIMs to the exclusion of other types of disposal.

It is still very much the Government’s view that prosecution and conviction is absolutely our priority, but experience has shown that the judicious use of this type of measure is not only lawful and proportionate but necessary when we cannot meet the high standard of proof that the right hon. Lady knows exists in criminal prosecution. It is my view that although TPIMs have never been the complete solution to the problem, they are an invaluable additional tool that the security services and all of us need when it comes to managing this complex problem. The right hon. Lady will be reassured that according to the latest published figures the number of TPIMs in force is currently five. I do not believe that the changes we bring in will act as any incentive or artificial stimulus to a sudden change in the way that the measures are used.

Forgive me, Madam Deputy Speaker, if I dwell at length on the point made the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee. I have noticed, certainly from my time as a Law Officer, that from the middle part of this decade we saw a welcome increase in the number of prosecutions, particularly of returning foreign fighters. That showed that where we put the resources and the will into investigation we can make the prosecutorial system work well. Maintaining that focus, but then adapting, refining and modernising the system as we are doing in this Bill, strikes the right balance in terms of the need to protect the public and to adhere to those principles of liberty, the individual and the rule of law that all of us in this House share.

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con) - Hansard

rose—

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Hansard

I will give way to the Chairman of the Justice Committee.

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill - Hansard

I have a lot of sympathy with the point that my right hon. and learned Friend makes about the value that TPIMs can have as part of the armoury, so to speak, in dealing with these matters. May I draw him back to the point about the change in the burden of proof? The increase in the burden of proof to the current standard was specifically in response to a recommendation from the then independent reviewer, Lord Anderson. The current independent reviewer, Mr Hall QC, has made no such recommendation to reduce the burden proof, as is proposed here. That is a striking difference. What we are trying to get to is this: what is it that triggers this change in the burden of proof without some evidence, either by way of recommendation or some hard fact to demonstrate it?

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Hansard

I absolutely accept and understand the motivation behind my hon. Friend’s intervention, and he makes such a recommendation not just as Chair of the Select Committee, but as a guardian of the principles of the rule of law, which, after all, is what we, as a nation, are trying to defend against those who would kill, shoot and bomb their way into power and influence. He can be reassured that this—if you like—reversion to the previous standard of proof is all about making sure that we have as agile a tool as possible, bearing in mind the rapidly changing nature of the terrorist threat that we face. It is vital that we make sure that, when applications for TPIMs are made, they can be done not only in such a way that there is clearly an evidential basis and those grounds exist, but in a way that means they can be effective and as rapidly implemented as possible. The focus of the TPIM and the number of people on it will change, adapt and evolve according to the constant and the changing nature of the threats.

Break in Debate

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill - Hansard

That is very generous—characteristically so—of the right hon. Gentleman. This is something that, as he rightly observes, has nothing to do with party. Any of us who has lived in any of our great cities has lived with the reality of that risk from time to time. That is why, to return to my point, we must try to get the detail right as well as the broad thrust.

There is much in the Bill that I support, and I shall certainly support it on Second Reading. I think we all accept that, precisely because of the particular nature of Islamist terrorism, the threat of which we now have to confront—the way it seems to warp an ideology even more particularly and more deep-rootedly than many other political motivations—it requires particular care in its handling.

There is no doubt—we have seen it in some of the cases that have been referred to, and it is well established by those who have researched these matters—that those who have been attracted to that ideology frequently present as particularly manipulative and are sometimes adept, as the Lord Chancellor has observed in previous debates, at hiding their motivations for a considerable time. It is therefore is all the harder for the authorities to make an assessment about when it is safe for them to be released, so it is not at all unreasonable that we should have particular types of regimes for sentencing, rehabilitation and release to deal with the particular types of threat that can arise from this particular class of offending.

That said, there are legitimate concerns, which must be raised, about whether we are still getting this right. I do not think any Government have ever got it wholly right. We always have to learn as we go along, as greater awareness and understanding become apparent. That is no criticism of anyone in this context.

I agree with the point that the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) made about the work of Ian Acheson. Mr Acheson’s report was most important and significant and, I think, extremely valuable. He gave compelling evidence to the Justice Committee at the time he brought it out. I have always regarded it as a matter of regret that that report was not more fully implemented. Much of it was, but I still think that there may be bits that we ought to look at.

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Hansard

I am extremely grateful to the Chair of the Justice Committee for giving way. He is helping to develop the debate in an extremely productive way. I can assure him that I have engaged regularly with Ian Acheson, whose work I respect hugely. Eight of those 11 recommendations were carried out. There was one in particular, with regard to Friday prayers, that we did not think was necessary. However, things have moved on considerably in the four years since that important report. I speak with the benefit of having been into some of these institutions, of engaging weekly with members of JEXU and of getting frontline information that gives me a higher degree of confidence that there is indeed a plan, a strategy and an approach that is yielding benefits. There is more to do, but there is far more out there than perhaps is fully appreciated.

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill - Hansard
9 Jun 2020, 12:07 a.m.

I am grateful to the Lord Chancellor for that intervention. I know that he takes this immensely seriously on a personal level as well as an official level. We ought to be prepared to engage with all expertise in this field. He is right to keep things under review, and I hope that he will continue to use the expertise of Mr Acheson and others who worked with him on that report to inform our best practice.

I visited a young offenders institution where a young girl who had been suborned into this dreadful ideology was being held on remand. She was no doubt going to receive a very substantial sentence, such was the gravity of the matters in which she had become involved, but because of her age, it was inevitable that at some point she would have to be released. Having a means of doing that safely is profoundly important, but I accept also that it is profoundly difficult because it is well established that the pre-indicators that we find in relation to general criminality are often not available to be picked up in this type of case. So I totally understand where the Government are coming from in that regard. That is why, as I said, I do not have a problem with the basic thrust of the changes to the regime that the Bill proposes.

The other point, which has been picked up in the debate by Members on both sides of the House and in interventions, is that the whole purpose of our standing up against terrorism, from whatever source it comes, is to protect our basic values as a society, which are underpinned, perhaps more fundamentally than almost anything else, by a commitment to the rule of law. Anything that seeks to drive us away from that, or inadvertently causes us to move away from that, ironically serves in its own insidious way to assist the terrorist cause rather than our own. I do not think for one second that any Government—none of the Governments who have had to confront this going back to the time I was talking about when I was a young man—have ever sought to do that deliberately.

We have to be particularly alert to that risk, and that is why I hope that when we look at the detail of the Bill we will take on board the need to ensure that we continue safeguards in this regard. That is one reason why it was a good thing that we appointed an independent reviewer of terrorism in the first place. I am a great believer in independent inspectorates, be they of the Prison Service, probation, the Crown Prosecution Service or education services. The same applies to the desirability of having a robust independent reviewer, and we have always had those in the shape of distinguished lawyers. That is why I have a concern about the burden of proof in relation to terrorism prevention and investigation measures. The initial changes were driven, as has been pointed out and I said in my intervention, in response to specific recommendations from the independent reviewer.

The current independent reviewer, Mr Jonathan Hall, QC, supports and endorses a number of changes that the Bill makes, and I think that is powerful evidence in the Lord Chancellor’s favour in relation to many elements of the Bill. But that actually makes it all the more striking that the change to the burden of proof in relation to TPIMs does not arise from anything that the independent reviewer has sought, or anything that the independent reviewer has advocated. His silence on that point, as opposed to other areas where I would suggest that he has given valuable external support to the Government’s position, is therefore striking, and that is why we must be particularly careful about how we deal with this matter. It is a little bit like putting the other side to proof, if I can put it that way.

There may well be a good reason for that, and I am sure that the Lord Chancellor would not reinforce the proposal unless he genuinely believed there was, but I think we have to be able to set a reason before the public as well. I accept that there are pressures in terms of resource and the amount of time it takes to bring forward one of these measures. I accept, too, that the Lord Chancellor observes that it is therefore not done lightly. That is all perfectly fair, but if we are going to make that change—after all, I was a junior member of the coalition Government who made the change in the opposite direction, away from control orders, as has already been observed—we ought always to be able to do it on the basis of the clearest evidence. With every respect, I am not quite sure that we have yet got the clarity of evidence that I would like to see to satisfy me on that point.

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Hansard

I am grateful to the Chairman of the Select Committee for his indulgence. I was talking about the need for flexibility. That is why we are making the change. I served on the Committee that considered the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Bill in 2011, and I followed the developments in the law very carefully, but it is right that we act on the advice and support of the security services and all those involved in the monitoring of offenders, and it is because of that need for flexibility that we judge it right to make the change now. I hope that that is clear.

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill - Hansard
9 Jun 2020, 4:29 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor makes the point very clearly, and I fully understand that, but I do just juxtapose it with the observation by Mr Hall, QC, in his note dated 2 June, in which he says:

“In these circumstances it is not clear why there is any need to change the law in the manner proposed. Steps to reduce the resource burden of obtaining TPIMs are already in hand. The courts have not found that the current approach is wrong.”

There may be an argument for flexibility, but we cannot say that it comes from the independent reviewer, so I wonder where it does come from.

Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill [Lords]

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
(Money resolution: House of Commons)
(Programme motion: House of Commons)
Debate between Robert Buckland and Sir Robert Neill
Monday 8th June 2020

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ministry of Justice
Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Hansard

I could not put it better myself, and the hon. Gentleman makes his point with characteristic force.

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con) - Hansard

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Hansard

I give way to the Chairman of the Justice Committee.

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill - Hansard

I am grateful to the Lord Chancellor, and I support the Bill. Is it not an important argument, which I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) will take on board, that it is clear from research by practitioners and academics that the requirement to allege fault does nothing to protect the institution of marriage or alter the divorce rate or the breakdown rate? That is exactly why it is right to look through the right end of the telescope, not the wrong one.

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Hansard

My hon. Friend will recall his Court of Appeal appearances, where the tribunal might have said, “Mr Neill, that’s your best point. You needn’t go any further.” He makes an important point on the issue of blame; it does not help anybody when it comes to these issues.

The clear purpose of the Bill is to reduce conflict, because conflict does not help when it comes to the legal end of a marriage. That can only be to the advantage of divorcing couples and their children, because children’s best interests are most clearly served by the reduction of conflict and the co-operation of divorcing parents who work together to ensure that they co-parent effectively. The Bill will help couples to focus on a more constructive way of collaborating in making future arrangements that are best for their family—in essence, looking forward rather than backward.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Robert Buckland and Sir Robert Neill
Monday 27th April 2020

(5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Sir Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con) [V] - Hansard

I know that all members of the Select Committee will wish to associate themselves with the Secretary of State’s tribute to prison staff and their work.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that although the rates of infection are mercifully much lower than expected and anticipated—we are glad of that—very great strain is none the less being placed particularly upon overcrowded, older and Victorian and local prisons, which are frequently carrying far more prisoners than they were intended for? Will he confirm that the Government will use all measures, including, where appropriate, targeted early release, to meet our legal responsibilities in domestic and European law to protect the welfare of prisoners in the state’s custody and that of staff employed to carry out their duties in safeguarding those prisoners?

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Hansard

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, the Chair of the Select Committee, for pointing out the vital importance of maintaining HMPPS’s current approach of making sure we do not end up with explosive outbreaks of covid-19 on the estate. He is right to point out the early release scheme. It is but a part of a co-ordinated strategy that has included the compartmentalisation of prisoners to prevent the seeding and feeding of the infection, and that, together with the increased capacity we are developing at pace, plus a reduction in the overall number of prisoners in the estate, has helped us reach a position where, while we are not out of the woods, we are coping and dealing well with the threat of covid-19.

Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
(2nd reading: House of Commons)
Debate between Robert Buckland and Sir Robert Neill
Wednesday 12th February 2020

(7 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ministry of Justice
Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Hansard

I believe that the declaration that I make on the front of the Bill speaks for itself—

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con) - Hansard
12 Feb 2020, 12:56 p.m.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Hansard
12 Feb 2020, 12:57 p.m.

Well, I have not finished developing the point yet, but I will of course give way to my eager hon. Friend, the Chair of the Justice Committee, in time.

This is a Bill on which I have made the following statement:

“In my view the provisions of the…Bill are compatible with the Convention rights.”

I take the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne). I am not going to anticipate litigation in domestic courts or in Strasbourg, but I will repeat for the benefit of the record that it is my firm view that this Bill does not engage the provisions of article 7 of the European convention on human rights, because it relates to the way in which the sentence is administered, not a change in the nature of the penalty itself. I am grateful to him for allowing me to say that at this point.

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill - Hansard

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for giving way, because this is an important point. Will he confirm that, in coming to that conclusion and making that certification, he has taken the advice of senior Treasury counsel, and also that the case law has made it quite clear that the administration of a sentence is not part of the penalty? Finally, will he confirm that even were there to be successful litigation—which I do not believe will be the case—it would result only in a declaration of incompatibility, and could not strike down primary legislation?

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Hansard
12 Feb 2020, 12:58 p.m.

My hon. Friend is right to remind the House that there is no power to strike down the primary legislation. I am afraid that I will not indulge him in a direct answer as to the nature of advice that may or may not have been tendered, and he knows the reasons why. However, I reassure him that all the proper mechanisms have been employed and engaged in the preparation of the Bill, and that on the basis of all the information received, I was able—with high certainty—to make the declaration on the frontispiece.

Break in Debate

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Hansard
12 Feb 2020, 1:22 p.m.

My hon. Friend will be glad to know that not only has it been taken into account, but I have read it. It is a 2013 authority from the Strasbourg Court that relates to a particular set of circumstances involving the Kingdom of Spain. There have been subsequent cases both before that court and, indeed, domestically. In summary, we are satisfied, on the basis of all the information we have, that the provisions of article 7 are not engaged in this respect.

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill - Hansard
12 Feb 2020, 1:22 p.m.

My right hon. and learned Friend is making a most compelling case for this legislation. For the sake of completeness, I am sure he will also have read and taken into account the subsequent cases in the Strasbourg Court of Abedin in the United Kingdom in 2016 and of the Supreme Court in Docherty in 2017—both subsequent to del Río Prada—which it seems to me support the Government’s contention.

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Hansard
12 Feb 2020, 1:22 p.m.

I say to my hon. Friend, as I am sure he has heard many times in court, that his submissions find great force with the Government and we are persuaded by them.

Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
(2nd reading: House of Commons)
Debate between Robert Buckland and Sir Robert Neill
Tuesday 11th February 2020

(7 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ministry of Justice
Robert Buckland Portrait The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Robert Buckland) - Hansard
11 Feb 2020, 2:26 p.m.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This is a short Bill—it consists of just three clauses—but its importance cannot be underestimated. It responds directly to real-life issues that we know have caused, and continue to cause, immense distress to the families of victims of serious crimes.

Despite its full and proper title, this is a Bill that we have all come to know as Helen’s law. Helen’s mother, Marie McCourt, has long campaigned for this change to the law. I want to take the opportunity—and I am sure that the whole House will want to join me—to pay tribute to her bravery, her determination and her tenacity. It is in large part thanks to her that we have reached this point at all.

Let me tell the House something about the case with which we are dealing. Helen McCourt was a 22-year-old insurance clerk from the village of Billinge, near St Helens in Merseyside. On the evening of 9 February 1988, just over 32 years ago, Helen disappeared while on her way home from work. The following year, Ian Simms was convicted of her murder and ordered to serve a minimum of 16 years in prison as part of his mandatory life sentence, but he has never revealed where Helen’s body is, and, despite extensive searches, her remains have never been found, which has compounded the misery and the grief of the McCourt family.

I have had the pleasure of meeting Mrs McCourt and her family on several occasions, often in the company of the hon. Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn). Their dignity in the face of such unimaginable distress is something quite astonishing. All they want is the opportunity to lay their dear daughter to rest.

We have all lost people who are dear to us. We all know the closure and comfort that can arise from laying a loved one to rest. When we take into account the horrific circumstances of Helen’s death, a proper burial and an opportunity to say goodbye must take on a wholly different dynamic for the McCourt family and others in their position. The campaign has resulted in this legislation. We have responded to the issues raised by it to identify a solution that works within the existing sentencing, release and Parole Board framework to ensure that a failure on the part of a prisoner to disclose such vital information is rightly and properly taken into account as part of the risk assessment of the prisoner before any release. It is the least we can do to support the victims of such horrendous crime, and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary—who is present in the Chamber to lend her consistent support to victims, their families and those who have suffered as a result of criminality—for the close partnership working that we have in Government to deal with this important agenda.

I shall now deal with the clauses in the Bill. Clause 1 will amend the release provisions that apply to life sentences for murder and manslaughter in order to place a statutory obligation on the Parole Board to consider a non-disclosure of information about a victim’s remains when making a public protection decision—that is, a decision to release—about such a prisoner. In order for the Bill’s provisions to apply, the Parole Board must not know the location of a victim’s remains, and the board must believe that the prisoner has information about this that he or she has not disclosed to it. This is the essence of the prisoner’s non-disclosure, and it is this that must be taken into account by the board when assessing whether a prisoner can safely be released on licence.

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con) - Hansard

My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right to say that the Bill is morally necessary and the right thing to do. Does he agree that this is really no more than an extension by analogy of the way in which remorse will be taken into account in sentencing, in that those who admit guilt and give full assistance to the police are regarded as more likely to have accepted their guilt? That is true in relation to the approach of the Parole Board too, and this is therefore just a simple extension of the fact that someone who has done their best to accept what they did, even in the most awful of crimes, may be less of a threat to the public in the future than somebody who makes a blanket and wilful denial and is therefore likely to be much less reformed and much less safe to let loose.

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Hansard
11 Feb 2020, 2:40 p.m.

My hon. Friend, the Chair of the Select Committee on Justice, like me, has much experience in the criminal justice system. He will know that deciding whether remorse is real or feigned is sometimes a difficult judgment for a court to make. He makes his point very well.

I think it is right for me to deal at this stage with the concept of whether we should have gone further and introduced a rule of “no body, no release”. Tempting though that might be—and I listened carefully to the arguments—there is a danger that if we proceed too far along that path, we could inadvertently create an artificial incentive for people to mislead the authorities and to feign co-operation or remorse. Of course, in another context, we see the dangers that are inherent in what I have described as superficial compliance with the authorities. There is a fine balance to be maintained, but I think that the Bill as presented maintains it in a way that is clear, that increases public confidence in the system and that makes it abundantly plain to those who are charged with the responsibility of assessing risk that, in the view of this House, this issue is of particular public interest and public importance when it comes to the assessment that is to be made.

I was dealing with the essence of the non-disclosure, and I would add that the Parole Board must in particular take account of what, in its view, are the reasons for the non-disclosure. This subjective approach will allow the board to differentiate between circumstances in which, for example, the non-disclosure is due to a prisoner’s mental illness, and cases in which a prisoner makes a deliberate decision not to say where a victim’s remains are located. This subjective approach is fundamental to the proper functioning of the Bill. It ensures that the non-disclosure and the reasons for it—in other words, the failure by the prisoner to say what they did with the victim’s remains—are fully taken into account by the board when it comes to decision making. It is then for the Parole Board, as an independent body, to decide what bearing such information has on the risk that a prisoner may present and whether that risk can be managed safely in their community. It reflects the established practice of the Parole Board, as included in its guidance to panel members in 2017, but it goes a step further in placing a legal duty to take a non-disclosure into account. This, as I have already mentioned, is part of our intention to provide a greater degree of reassurance to victims’ families by formally setting out the guidance in law.

I turn now to the second part of the Bill, which deals with the non-disclosure of different types of information by offenders. This has been prompted by the horrific case of Vanessa George. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) in his place. Vanessa George was recently released by the Parole Board after serving 10 years in prison, following conviction for multiple counts of sexual abuse against children at the Plymouth nursery where she worked. She also photographed the abuse of those children in her care and sent the images to other paedophiles. This was a horrific case, which those of us who had young children at the time, me included, remember all too graphically. Vanessa George’s crimes have caused widespread revulsion. Her abuse of the trust placed in her by the families of the children she was meant to care for and protect is shocking. Their pain has been compounded by the fact that the children she photographed cannot be identified from the images, and that she has refused to disclose their identities to the authorities. All the families involved have been left in a truly terrible limbo, not knowing whether their child has been a victim.

Again, we are seeking to respond by stipulating in law that such appalling circumstances must be fully taken into account by the Parole Board when making any decisions on the release of such an offender. Clause 2 of the Bill will amend the release provisions that apply to an extended determinate sentence that has been imposed for the offence of taking or making indecent photographs of children and, as in clause 1, we will place a statutory obligation on the Parole Board to consider the non-disclosure of information about the identity of a child or children featured in such images when the board makes a public protection decision, including one to release the prisoner. The provision will apply when the Parole Board does not know the identity of the child or children in such an image but believes that the prisoner is in a position to disclose it and has chosen not to do so. It is this non-disclosure and the reasons for it, in the view of the Parole Board, that must be taken into account before any release decision is made.

Break in Debate

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Hansard
11 Feb 2020, 2:41 p.m.

My hon. Friend speaks with much experience as a counsel who has prosecuted and defended in cases involving serious offences. He is absolutely right to remind us that it is the function of sentencing either to reflect remorse and give credit for a plea of guilty, which is a mitigating factor, or to reflect an aggravating factor such as the complete non-co-operation that we sometimes see from offenders in this position. Indeed, he knows that that is properly reflected in the sentencing guidelines where applicable, and that in offences of this nature, the court uses schedule 21 as a starting point when it comes to the gradations of seriousness in the offence of murder. This allows judges to move up, as well as down, from that starting point.

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill - Hansard

My right hon. and learned Friend makes a fair point. Is not that reinforced by the fact that the sentencing judge in the Vanessa George case specifically referred to the gravity—“indecency”, I think his phrase was—of her non-disclosure? Is it not only logical that the Parole Board should be able to take equal regard when considering release?

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Hansard

My hon. Friend is quite right. Indeed, that was an aggravating factor that was specifically taken into account by the sentencing judge.

I was drawing a comparison with clause 1. As with clause 1, the provision is already standard Parole Board practice in that panels routinely take such circumstances into account as part of their decision making, but I believe that the issue of non-disclosure of vital information is of such importance—and causes such distress to families and victims—that it must be addressed in statute.

This is a narrow Bill, but it has wide implications. It ensures that a failure or refusal to disclose specific information on the whereabouts of a victim’s body or the identity of child victims of indecent images is always taken into account by the Parole Board. A murder such as that of Helen McCourt and the depraved crimes of Vanessa George are not things that people can easily move on from, but the ability to lay a loved one to rest or to find out for certain whether children were abused may offer the families and young victims themselves an opportunity to find at least some closure and to address the long-lasting effects of such horrific crimes. I very much hope that the Bill will attract support on both sides of the House and can enter the statute book as soon as possible. The acute distress that such cases cause cannot and should not be overlooked.

Streatham Incident

Debate between Robert Buckland and Sir Robert Neill
Monday 3rd February 2020

(7 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ministry of Justice
Sir Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con) - Hansard
3 Feb 2020, 5:27 p.m.

I welcome the Lord Chancellor’s approach to this, because most of us recognise that the exceptional nature of this threat may require exceptional measures. However, can he help us as to precisely which rehabilitation measures the perpetrator of this attack was subject to while in prison? Will he consider again the remaining aspects of the Acheson review regarding much more assertive management of these particularly complex and dangerous prisoners within the system, from the start of their sentence?

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Hansard
3 Feb 2020, 5:28 p.m.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, the Chair of the Select Committee on Justice. It would perhaps be wrong of me to go into specific detail as to the regimen that applied in prison to this offender. I would make the general observation that the terrorist cohort is complex and difficult to assess, and if there is not engagement by individuals with the programmes on offer, the assessment of risk becomes a much more complicated exercise. I simply say that bearing in mind the exceptional nature of the terrorist cohort, exceptional approaches are needed.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Robert Buckland and Sir Robert Neill
Tuesday 14th January 2020

(8 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ministry of Justice
Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Hansard
14 Jan 2020, 12:10 p.m.

I am very much aware of the important devolution aspect of this issue. It is about more than devolution, of course—the Scottish legal and judicial system was never devolved because it was always separate, and even when we did not have a Scottish Parliament, it had a separate legislative framework that was legislated for in this House. I fully understand the balance that needs to be kept and I take on board the hon. Member’s comments.

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con) - Hansard
14 Jan 2020, 12:10 p.m.

It is a pleasure to see you back in the Chair in this Parliament, Mr Speaker. I very much welcome what the Lord Chancellor said about the independence of the judiciary. That is fundamental to this country’s international reputation and we should set at rest any suggestion that that should ever be compromised. Given the wide-ranging nature of the commission, will he also consider that it may be beneficial to have, serving as members of the commission, experienced former members of the judiciary who have the integrity and independence of thought that would increase public respect and regard for the outcome that we all wish to see?

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Hansard
14 Jan 2020, 12:10 p.m.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his recent honour, which is thoroughly deserved after a lifetime in public service, both here and in other elected Assemblies. His suggestions are well made. I am already having a number of discussions with ministerial colleagues and thinking very deeply about the range of expertise and individuals that we need, and the diversity of that panel, so that we make sure that the commission, or the committee, is in the best possible place to gather evidence and come up with measured, sensible reforms.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Robert Buckland and Sir Robert Neill
Tuesday 8th October 2019

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ministry of Justice
Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Hansard
8 Oct 2019, 11:58 a.m.

I think that everybody—whichever part of Government or our country they might come from—will probably be aware of my public pronouncements about this matter. I will keep saying it again and again and again, as long as it is necessary to do so.

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con) - Hansard

Consistent with the Lord Chancellor’s speech at the opening of legal year, will he confirm that there is no place for political involvement in the appointment of judges and no question but that the rulings of the courts must be observed by all?

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Hansard

I am more than happy to confirm all those points, made so ably by the Chair of the Justice Committee.

Break in Debate

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con) - Hansard
8 Oct 2019, 12:31 p.m.

Will the Lord Chancellor confirm that the Government have no plans to change the right to trial by jury in serious criminal cases?

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Hansard

I am happy to confirm that.

Domestic Abuse Bill

Debate between Robert Buckland and Sir Robert Neill
Wednesday 2nd October 2019

(12 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ministry of Justice
Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Hansard
2 Oct 2019, 1:24 p.m.

I give way to the Chair of the Select Committee on Justice.

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con) - Hansard
2 Oct 2019, 1:24 p.m.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for giving way. I, too, have seen examples like the one that he quoted, and I particularly welcome the provisions in clause 75 relating to the prohibition of cross-examination by the abusive party. As the Bill goes forward, will he and his colleagues particularly bear in mind the legitimate improvements proposed by the Law Society and others in this field? They include a proposal for the proper remuneration of, and a proper system for instructing, the representatives instructed to carry out the cross-examination, in the interests of justice. Will he also consider whether examination in chief could be included in certain circumstances—for example, when the alleged abusive party seeks to call the child of the relationship in support of their case? That, too, can cause real distress.

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Hansard
2 Oct 2019, 1:25 p.m.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to talk about his experience, the issues that we can tease out in Committee and how far we need to go.

Imprisonment for Public Protection

Debate between Robert Buckland and Sir Robert Neill
Tuesday 11th June 2019

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Ministry of Justice
Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Hansard
11 Jun 2019, 3:33 p.m.

My hon. Friend has considerable experience of criminal practice, and he has dealt with many cases of great seriousness. He is right to draw to my attention the specific case of his constituent. We can deal with this problem in other ways, and I will outline those to the House as I develop my remarks. Indeed, I hope specifically to answer the queries that have properly been raised by right hon. and hon. Members.

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Robert Neill - Hansard
11 Jun 2019, 3:33 p.m.

May I supplement the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk)? The Minister refers to the difficulties of putting oneself in the position of the sentencing judge, but no one is likely to have been better placed to understand those difficulties than the former Lord Chief Justice, when he made his observations in the course of a judgment in the Court of Appeal. We know that there are circumstances—for example, when a sentence is reviewed for other reasons—when the court will, for reasons of good public policy, embark on that difficult exercise. Although this issue must be borne in mind, there is precedent for demonstrating that it is not an insuperable obstacle.

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Hansard
11 Jun 2019, 3:19 p.m.

I agree that in the appellant procedure there will often be that check and balance, but this is slightly different. This would be a change in the law and legal framework to alter the position from the one that applied when the offender was sentenced, to the position now. Whether we like it or not that is a departure, and we must be careful to avoid setting inadvertent precedents.

We must be able fully to reflect on the assessment of risk that was made by the learned judge at the time of sentencing. In other words, how does a court properly assess the length of a determinate sentence—that, presumably, is the aim of right hon. and hon. Members—and decide whether or not to take the further step of imposing a life sentence, which might be appropriate in some very serious cases? I do not pretend that these issues are easy, but neither is it a matter that the Government should do nothing about. Other measures we are taking are already yielding significant results, not just in reducing the number of prisoners held under this regime, but by ensuring that more eligible prisoners can be considered as quickly as possible.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), Chair of the Justice Committee, mentioned the remarks of the then Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, who spoke not just about changing the statutory provision, but about changing the test for release, which is important. I think he would concede that the test for the release of prisoners held under this sort of regime must be as consistent as possible, bearing in mind the different classes of prisoners who are held in custody either on minimum terms or subject to parole.

We must take great care not to create too many different tests that could mean that one group of prisoners could be treated in a different or more favourable way than another group. I do not say that the argument has no merit, but there are difficulties in creating potential inconsistencies. It is beholden on me, both as a lawyer and now in this position of great responsibility, to ensure that the unforeseen consequences that occurred with this policy making do not repeat themselves thanks to any change we may make.

Let me develop the point about the ways we can best support prisoners to show that they can safely be released—that is the solution that stares us in the face regarding so many people in that position. As the hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) laid out well, ensuring public protection from violent and sexual crime must be paramount, and our continuing efforts to rehabilitate prisoners subject to this regime are bearing fruit. We have seen a dramatic fall in the IPP prison population over the past years, and the figures cited by the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves), and others, are correct. It is a dramatic fall, although I accept that there is still a significant cohort, and we must also not forget that a number of IPP prisoners have been recalled—I will come to that in a moment. However, progress is being made in the right direction.

In January 2016, more than three years ago, a joint HM Prison and Probation Service and Parole Board action plan was drawn up to deal with IPPs. Initially it was primarily focused on improving the efficiency of the parole process, because at that time there was a significant backlog in listing oral hearings for IPP and life-sentence prisoners. As a result of receiving additional resources and changing some of its processes, the Parole Board and the public protection casework section of the Ministry of Justice made progress, and their combined effect was to eliminate that backlog. Simply having a more efficient system resulted in a significant improvement to the pace with which IPP prisoners were released. Following those improvements, the plan was expanded to include a greater focus on those prisoners who, even with a much more efficient parole system, needed additional support to reduce their own risk and secure a release decision from the board.

What was done? A central case file review, by senior psychologists, of IPP prisoners who had not made the anticipated progress achieved considerable success. Out of 1,365 completed reviews, 233 prisoners in these most challenging cases achieved release, with a further 401 achieving a progressive move to open conditions. We have put in place enhanced case management for the most complex cases, so that a multidisciplinary team can work together to remove barriers to progression.

The joint IPP action plan has also overseen further improvements to the process and, perhaps most significantly, we have opened three new progression regimes, building on the success and the outstanding reputation of the first such regime, which was established at Warren Hill. Those sites operate a staged regime of increasing freedom and responsibility, allowing evidence to build on offenders’ ability to manage their own risks. The rate of release from a progression regime is higher than the average release rate across all Parole Board hearings, which is something that, I think, all right hon. and hon. Members will welcome.

As comprehensive as the plan and the opportunities it provides to IPP prisoners is, the decision actively to engage with efforts that promote rehabilitation, and so demonstrate that there can be safe release back into the community, must ultimately be for each individual prisoner. In my view, that is why Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service change programme, in delivering a new offender management model, is fundamental, not only for IPP prisoners but for all offenders. With increased staffing, and the introduction of the key worker role in all prisons, staff will be better equipped, and given more time, to work with individuals who may not be engaging in the way they need to do to reduce their risk.

We are aware that some prisoners may well have become demoralised, with no fixed date of release and the prospect of a further parole hearing currently not holding much hope for them. Here, the key worker will need to get alongside the prisoner and build hope from the foundation of a strong relationship, encouraging them to grasp the opportunities that are available.

Rehabilitation of Offenders

Debate between Robert Buckland and Sir Robert Neill
Wednesday 5th June 2019

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ministry of Justice
Robert Buckland Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Robert Buckland) - Hansard
5 Jun 2019, 2:20 p.m.

I beg to move,

That the draft Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (Exceptions) Order 1975 (Amendment) (England and Wales) Order 2019, which was laid before this House on 1 April, be approved.

The purpose of this draft instrument is to include inquiries established under the Inquiries Act 2005 as “excepted proceedings” in the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975. That will enable those types of inquiry to consider the spent convictions of individuals. This legislative change was requested initially by Sir John Mitting, chair of the undercover policing inquiry, and I will pause now to pay tribute to his predecessor as chair, the late Sir Christopher Pitchford. Sir Christopher was a distinguished member of the Bar, a High Court judge and Lord Justice of Appeal, who sadly died in the middle of this inquiry. He is much missed by all of us who knew and respected him as an outstanding lawyer of his generation.

Sir John stepped into the breach and is conducting this lengthy and serious inquiry. The reason for the request he has made is that information on individuals’ spent convictions is important for the purposes of the terms of reference of the inquiry.

The inquiry is examining undercover police operations conducted by English and Welsh police forces from 1968 onwards, including whether the police were justified in launching undercover operations against a group. To give full consideration to this, the inquiry needs to be able to consider the convictions of members of the groups; however, given the historical nature of the inquiry, many of these convictions will be spent, and therefore not disclosable under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.

The statutory instrument will give Sir John’s inquiry the ability to consider spent convictions. The change is vital for the inquiry to successfully fulfil its remit, and hon. Members will be aware that there is a high and appropriate level of public interest in this inquiry. Although the undercover policing inquiry is a particularly clear case of an inquiry where spent convictions are relevant, the amendment will allow any inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005 to admit evidence of spent convictions and cautions, but—this is important—limited only to where that is necessary to fulfil the terms of reference of that inquiry. It is likely that other inquiries may in future need to consider spent criminal records.

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Jun 2019, 2:20 p.m.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, and I appreciate his reassurance that the test is of necessity. Can he assure me that the same approach is intended to be taken by the chairman of the inquiry, as, for example, will be taken by a judge in determining the test of necessity and also relevance to the topic matter of an inquiry? Relevance is the normal test in court. Can he assure us that necessity will include that as well?

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Hansard
5 Jun 2019, 2:20 p.m.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is the Chair of the Justice Committee and a barrister of long standing at the criminal Bar. He is absolutely right to talk about the test of relevance. It is not the purport of any inquiry ambit or the function of any inquiry chair to adopt a floodgates approach to the disclosure and use of spent convictions. In the other place, the noble Baroness Barran put it very well when she set out to their lordships a flowchart of the way in which a particular decision about the use of spent convictions would be taken. She said:

“The first question is: does the individual have spent convictions, yes or no? If the answer is yes, are they relevant? Will they be treated anonymously? If they apply for anonymity, will that be agreed to? Further, even if it is not anonymous, is the hearing held in private or in public? If it is held in private, could the information then be published?”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 May 2019; Vol. 797, c. 1792.]

I thought that that was a clear exposition of the framework within which a decision maker would carry out their function when it comes to spent convictions. In other words, that is the sort of filter that I think meets the concerns not only of Members in the other place but of Members in this House.

I was talking about future inquiries, and was saying it is likely that other inquiries may need to consider spent criminal records, as these can be key to determining whether authorities have acted reasonably in assessing and responding to risk. The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 affords offenders protection from having to disclose their convictions and cautions, once those convictions and cautions have become what is termed “spent” under the Act. That is the point at which the offender has become rehabilitated. The exceptions order to that Act lists activities or categories of jobs where those protections are lifted so that offenders, if asked, need to disclose their spent convictions.

The primary rationale behind the exceptions order is that there are certain jobs—positions of public trust, for example, or those involving unsupervised work with children—where more complete or relevant disclosure of an individual’s criminal record may be appropriate to mitigate risks to public safety. The exceptions order is not limited to employment purposes, although that is its primary use. The amendment proposed here is not employment-related, but related only to the consideration of evidence of spent convictions and cautions in inquiries that are caused to be held under the Inquiries Act 2005.

Break in Debate

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Hansard
5 Jun 2019, 2:28 p.m.

I am looking again at paragraph 7.6, and I think its purpose is to illustrate other examples of inquiries that have been set up pursuant to the Inquiries Act 2005. I will go on to explain that, because that does not cover every public inquiry. I will give the House a few examples as I develop my argument. In this case, the ongoing independent inquiry into child sexual abuse is used as an example of a 2005 Act statutory inquiry that may need to consider criminal records in the course of its deliberations. It is therefore a useful illustration of another inquiry that was set up because there was a strong public interest to be served and one would benefit from not having to undergo what would otherwise be a rather cumbersome and lengthy process of looking at the admission of evidence on a case-by-case basis.

As we know, the independent inquiry is taking considerable time, and it would be in the wider public interest for its work to be sped up in this way.

The hon. Member for Stroud (Dr Drew) talked about the register; as he knows, sex offenders are required to sign that on conviction. That public document is recorded and kept just as a conviction would be. From memory, how long an offender has to stay on the register will depend on the seriousness of the offence. Some very serious child sexual offences will, of course, rightly require life registration, so the matter will remain on public record.

The hon. Gentleman was a Member when that Act was passed; he might have a better institutional memory than mine when it comes to the debates that led up to that. My experience of it was as a practitioner and recorder, having to make sure that defendants complied with the requirement. The sex offenders register is not a court order but a statutory obligation that follows automatically on conviction.

I come back to the exceptions order, whose primary use is for employment purposes. The amendment that we are discussing is not, of course, employment related: it relates only to the consideration of evidence of spent convictions in inquiries caused to be held under the Inquiries Act 2005. Although a number of judicial proceedings are exempt from the protections of disclosure—in those proceedings, there is no restriction on considering or basing conclusions on spent conviction information—inquiries made under the 2005 Act are not currently exempt.

Examples of proceedings that are exempt include circumstances ranging from solicitor and police disciplinary proceedings, to proceedings relating to taxi driver and security licences. We feel that the work of inquiries set up under the 2005 Act is necessarily of such public interest and importance that they must have the ability to consider all the evidence relevant to their work. To extend that ability to these inquiries, we must amend the exceptions order.

The draft instrument is necessary to amend the order to enable inquiries caused to be held under the 2005 Act to admit and consider evidence of convictions and cautions that have become spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, where it is necessary to fulfil the terms of reference of that inquiry; the word “relevance” again comes very much into play.

We recognise the importance of the 1974 Act, which offers vital protections to people with convictions. We improved those protections in 2014, reducing the amount of time that most people with convictions had to wait before their convictions became spent. As I mentioned in responding to the intervention made by the right hon. Member for Delyn (David Hanson), we are considering proposals for further reform to the 1974 Act following the recommendations made by various reviews in recent years, including those carried out by the Justice Committee, on which the right hon. Gentleman serves.

There are demanding criteria for inclusion on the exceptions order. Our proposed inclusion would be the first addition to the order in three years. As I said, the amendment proposed here is not about employment; it relates only to the consideration of evidence of spent convictions and cautions in judicial proceedings—namely, before inquiries caused to be held under the Inquiries Act 2005.

Understandably, their lordships raised concerns in the other place about granting all inquiries the right to consider spent convictions and the effect that would have on individual rights. I want to make it crystal clear that we have proposed to extend this power only to a limited number of inquiries; as I said, we are talking only about inquiries set up under the 2005 Act, so non-statutory inquiries, such as both the Butler and Chilcot inquiries on the Iraq war, would not be covered by this legislation.

This legislation applies only to inquiries where considering spent convictions is necessary to fulfil their terms of reference. An inquiry’s terms of reference are set by the Minister, in consultation with the chairman of the inquiry. That provides an element of individual consideration of whether the exception should apply to each inquiry that ensures that this will not apply indiscriminately. Frankly, considering spent convictions will not be necessary for the vast majority of inquiries. In other words, the measure already has a limited application.

Our view is that sufficient safeguards are in place to ensure that individual rights—the issue that concerned their lordships—are preserved as far as is necessary. Under section 1 of the Inquiries Act 2005, inquiries are caused to be held by a Minister when particular events have caused, or are capable of causing, public concern, or there is public concern that particular events have occurred. As such, inquiries by design are held only where they are in the public interest, so any limited interference with an offender’s article 8 right to private life under the European convention on human rights would be necessary and proportionate.

Article 8 enshrines the right to respect for private life, but that is a qualified right. Subsection (2) provides that there shall be no interference with that right except such as is in accordance with the law and necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety, or the economic wellbeing of the country, or else for the prevention of disorder or crime, the protection of health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. Section 19 of the 2005 Act has specific regard to these rights, in as far as they ought be protected, but it does so in a way that enables the inquiry to fulfil its terms of reference and consider matters necessary in the public interest. In that way, the 2005 Act directly reflects the qualified nature of the right to privacy.

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Robert Neill - Hansard

The Minister is being most generous, but will he help me? He asserts, in terms, that if the inquiry is set up under the Act, it automatically triggers some of the exemptions to article 8. What is the remedy, however, if a person who is to be called as a witness by the inquiry is aggrieved and wishes to challenge the finding of the inquiry chair to admit the evidence of a spent conviction? Would there be a judicial review in the ordinary way?

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Hansard

There would be a judicial review. That point was considered carefully in the other place. I readily accept and deal full on with the potentially onerous nature of having to bring a judicial review to challenge proceedings. But as I have said, the filter system that any chair would have to operate is considerable. There are safeguards and guarantees in respect of anonymity and publication that provide the sort of safeguard that, if misapplied, would quickly and obviously attract criticism when a higher court came to scrutinise the decision process.

Break in Debate

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Robert Neill - Hansard
5 Jun 2019, 3 p.m.

That is precisely right. Someone summoned to give evidence to a statutory inquiry would be obliged to come forward. With all due respect, it seems to me that it is a false point that should not weigh on us.

The second point is that even when people are summoned there is still a safeguard. It seems to me that the safeguard of the application of the test of relevance, in what is after all an inquisitorial process, as opposed to the criminal, adversarial one, is proper and appropriate. I am concerned about the potential cost of somebody having to seek a judicial review, because that process is lengthy and difficult.

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Jun 2019, 3 p.m.

One of the great functions of this debate is to tease out some of the issues. Before public inquiries are published, is there not a Maxwellisation process whereby individuals who might be referred to in a way that is potentially adverse to their interests are notified? Is that not another safeguard?

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Robert Neill - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Jun 2019, 3:03 p.m.

It is indeed; my hon. and learned Friend anticipates the point I was about to move on to. A series of steps and procedures have to be gone through in relation to a statutory inquiry, and that puts the person concerned on clear notice that the issue may become relevant and may be raised. They then have the opportunity to make representations before the chair of the inquiry. Should the ruling go against them, there is then the fall-back position of a judicial review.

Out a sense of fairness, and taking an approach of equality of arms, if someone is summoned to give evidence before a statutory inquiry and it is likely that a spent conviction is going to be considered as being admissible and argument is going to take place on those grounds, that person, if they are not otherwise legally represented already, ought to have the ability to be legally represented. I urge my hon. and learned Friend to consider, where appropriate, with those in his Department who deal with matters of legal aid, that that person, if they are not represented either as part of a class or group or because of their own means, should have access to legal aid to argue before the inquiry whether the spent conviction should be admitted. It involves a very small sum of money because in practice it is likely to happen only on a limited number of occasions.

That would be an appropriate additional safeguard from the point of view of equality of arms. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will take that point away. Subject to that request, it seems to me that the safeguards are met. It is better to deal with this matter with one piece of legislation rather than to come back on an ad hoc basis.

I hope that this discussion also reminds us all of the advantage of having legally qualified inquiry chairs. Non-statutory inquiries that do not have legally qualified chairs have sometimes spiralled out of control because the chairs are not adept at dealing with, for example, the admissibility of evidence or case management generally, in the same way as a judge is able to. Perhaps that lesson can be taken away, too, but that should not stand in the way of our supporting a useful and proportionate statutory instrument, having weighed up all the pros and cons, as we have in this debate.

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Jun 2019, 3:03 p.m.

This might not have been the longest of debates, but I very much hope that those listening, particularly in the other place, will abandon their usual criticism of our House, because it has been a wide-ranging debate. It has included not only contributions from the Opposition Front Bencher—I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) for her warm words; we served together on the Justice Committee for a lengthy period and her background in law is well known—but important contributions in interventions from the right hon. Member for Delyn (David Hanson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), and the contribution and speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), the Chair of the Justice Committee.

Through the debate we have dealt with and, I hope, laid to rest some of the objections that have been raised. On the objection that somehow the prospect of the potential disclosure of spent convictions in the limited circumstances described might deter people from coming forward, it has been pointed out that witnesses can be and are summonsed under the 2005 Act inquiry process, so the question of their not choosing to come forward becomes somewhat more academic.

On the issue of challenge, I have already set out the five-stage test that the chair of an inquiry would apply before admitting into evidence and then publishing the details of spent convictions. Under the Maxwellisation process, before publication the chair and the inquiry secretariat will invite representations from people who might be referred to in a way that is adverse to their personal interest, and those people will then be able to make full representations before final publication. That is yet another check and balance in the inquiry system.

Let me say a few words of slight dissent from what my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst said about always needing a former judge, perhaps, or someone who is legally qualified as chair. I pray in aid the independent inquiry into child abuse, which Professor Alexis Jay is chairing expertly. Of course, she enjoys the support of highly qualified lawyers: the counsel to that inquiry, Brian Altman QC, and his team are there to help to make sure that the inquiry keeps very much to the course of relevance, and they look carefully at how proceedings are conducted. Of course, those proceedings are ongoing, so I shall say no more about them out of respect for the independence of that important inquiry and its work.

The Government are absolutely committed not only to maintaining the protections in the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 but to looking into proposals for strengthening it. I look forward to engaging warmly with right hon. and hon. Members on that work. There is a strong case for adding the type of inquiry we have discussed to the exceptions order. An ad hoc approach would not be appropriate. I submit that the strong public interest that would be served by the proposal, the narrow nature of the extension, the checks and balances that will exist to protect the interests of those affected and the wider public interest should all drive the House to the conclusion that this draft statutory instrument should indeed be approved, and I commend it to the House.

Question put.

The House proceeded to a Division.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Robert Buckland and Sir Robert Neill
Tuesday 4th June 2019

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ministry of Justice
Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Parliament Live - Hansard
4 Jun 2019, 2:35 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important and sensitive point. I should add that the prison chaplaincy service provides invaluable support for many prison officers who are struggling. I will meet him about this issue. The current figures record deaths in service. Clearly, the issue of mental health and people taking their own lives has to be addressed.

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
4 Jun 2019, 2:35 p.m.

May I start by welcoming my hon. and learned Friend to his post? I think this is the first question time that he has taken in his new role.

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that it is not only important that we pay the highest tribute to the dedication and professionalism of the men and women of our Prison Service, but recognise that the pressures that they face come in no small measure from the difficulty of establishing secure regimes and stability within our prisons? Will he take on board the recommendations of the Justice Committee—in particular, our suggestion for a workforce strategy across the whole of the Prison Service?

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland - Parliament Live - Hansard
4 Jun 2019, 2:35 p.m.

My hon. Friend raises an important point. I pay tribute to the work of his Committee. We have seen welcome increases in the number of prison officers, and that will help with stability. Retention rates are very important. I will certainly study very carefully the recommendations of his Committee, and work with him and other Members to make sure that we achieve our common goal.

Section 1 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019

Debate between Robert Buckland and Sir Robert Neill
Tuesday 9th April 2019

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Attorney General
Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard

As the hon. Gentleman knows, negotiations will carry on in the Council tomorrow, and I think it would be idle speculation for me to try and anticipate what might be agreed. Some people take offence at the word nebulous; I do not. [Interruption.] I really do not. What I have tried to do, at all stages of this process, is to find a way forward and to seek a solution. It is in all our hands, and I say that in a spirit of friendship and co-operation to all hon. Members.

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con) - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 3:47 p.m.

It seems to me that the Solicitor General is simply giving the House a reality check as to the position that we have been put into by Members who voted in various ways. But is not the situation in law that, although it might be necessary to participate in elections—which neither he nor I nor, I think, most of us want—as a matter of law, the outgoing European Parliament exists until the moment that the new Parliament is created, and therefore there are certain things that could take place, such as ratification of any agreement, until the point that the new Parliament meets; also, the argument that British presence might impugn the new Parliament would not exist if we have left by that time?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 3:48 p.m.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I think he is absolutely right about the way in which the European Parliament is constituted. It is due, I think, to rise on 18 April, but it does not cease to exist—it does not dissolve in the way that we do. That is important in terms of ratification, because section 13 of the withdrawal Act that we passed obviously includes that requirement as well.

Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Advice

Debate between Robert Buckland and Sir Robert Neill
Thursday 29th November 2018

(1 year, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Attorney General
Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard
29 Nov 2018, 10:40 a.m.

I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman did not listen to the answer I gave. The Attorney General will be here on the next sitting day. He will make a statement and answer questions. Then the hon. Gentleman and other right hon. and hon. Members can form a judgment on whether the motion that was carried by this House has been satisfied. My argument is that the Attorney General will meet the spirit and intention of the motion passed, but preserve the important constitutional convention relating to Law Officers’ advice.

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
29 Nov 2018, 10:40 a.m.

The right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), the shadow Secretary of State, said during his speech:

“I wanted the Government to see the good sense in putting the legal position before the House, for all the exceptional reasons that have been set out”.—[Official Report, 13 November 2018; Vol. 649, c. 194.]

Accepting that, is that not precisely what the Attorney General intends to do and will be able to do on Monday?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard
29 Nov 2018, 10:40 a.m.

My hon. Friend, the Chair of the Justice Committee, is absolutely right. The right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) is more familiar than most with the position of the Law Officers and their role within the constitution. I would have expected him to do better.

European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

(Committee: 2nd sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Robert Buckland and Sir Robert Neill
Wednesday 15th November 2017

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Attorney General
Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 3:16 p.m.

I am sorry. I need to press on.

Clause 3 converts the text of direct EU legislation, as it operates at the moment immediately before we leave the EU, into our domestic law. Such existing EU law is currently given legal effect in our law via section 2(1) of the 1972 Act. Without clause 3, those laws would no longer have effect in domestic law when we leave and repeal the 1972 Act. Again, that would leave holes within our domestic law. More specifically, the clause converts EU regulations, as well as certain decisions and tertiary legislation, into domestic law. It also converts adaptations to instruments made for the EEA. The clause is necessary to ensure that we fully keep existing EU laws in force within the UK.

In general, these instruments, or parts of them, will be converted only if they are already in force before exit day, meaning that an EU regulation set to come into force six months after we leave will not be converted into UK law. However, some EU instruments will be in force but will apply only in a staggered way over time, with different parts applying at different times. In those circumstances, only those parts that are stated to apply before exit day will be converted.

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con) - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 3:18 p.m.

I might be anticipating the Minister’s later remarks, but does that not leave us with a possible loophole when we have participated in the preparation of measures that have not yet come into force and we might regard as thoroughly desirable, but we cannot by any means bring them into force?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 3:18 p.m.

I will deal briefly with my hon. Friend’s amendment 356. As I was saying, we have some examples here, such as the EU’s fluorinated greenhouse gases regulations, which are stated as applying from 1 January 2015. They include prohibitions on placing certain substances on the market from specific dates, several of which fall after exit day. With respect, however, his amendment could create further confusion, because there needs to be one standard cut-off point at which the snapshot of law is taken, and that is why exit day should apply. When it comes to measures affected by the cut-off point, we will do whatever is necessary before exit day to provide certainty for business, including by bringing forward further legislation, if required, to cater for those particular situations. If I may return to develop—

Break in Debate

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 3:46 p.m.

I will not give way any further.

It is our policy that we will not be a member of the EEA or the single market after we leave the EU, so introducing an obligation to produce a report on membership of the EEA, as new clauses 9 and 23 seek to do, is simply unnecessary.

I will now try to deal fairly with the Scottish National party amendments 200 and 201, which the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) spoke to. While we do not accept that the amendments are necessary, I welcome the chance to set out clearly the meaning of clause 2. Amendments 200 and 201 seek to provide clarity on precisely what is meant by “passed” in the context of the clause. Some have questioned the effect of clause 2 in relation to an Act that may have been passed by the Scottish Parliament, but which has not yet received Royal Assent when the clause is commenced.

We do not believe that there is an ambiguity. Clause 2(2) states that “EU-derived domestic legislation” is an enactment. As enactments can only mean something that has received Royal Assent, an Act of Scottish Parliament that has only been passed cannot fall within this definition, and it would therefore not be categorised as EU-derived domestic legislation for the purposes of the Bill. The reference to “passed” in clause 2 is therefore a reference to the purpose for which the enactment was passed, not the fact of whether it was passed. I hope I have been able to shed light on that area for the hon. Gentleman, and I invite him to withdraw the amendment.

Turning now to Plaid Cymru’s amendment 87, which is in the name of the hon. Member for Arfon, we do not accept the premise that lies behind the change. In trying to circumvent the provisions of clause 11, the amendment pays no heed to the common approaches that are established by EU law or to the crucial consideration that we—the UK Government and the devolved Administrations—must give to where they may or may not be needed in future. What is more, it undermines our aim to provide people with maximum certainty over the laws that will apply on exit day. The amendment would also be practically unable to achieve its underlying aim. The enactments that it takes out of retained EU law would also be taken outside the scope of the powers that this Bill confers on the devolved Administrations to allow them to prepare them for exit day. It would hamper their ability to address the deficiencies that will arise, and it would leave it likely that the laws would remain broken on the day of exit.

The process of making the statute book work for exit day is a joint endeavour between the different Governments and legislatures of the whole United Kingdom. This is an important project that entails a significant workload before exit day, which is why we are actively engaging with the devolved Administrations to build up a shared understanding of where corrections to the statute book would be needed. On that basis, I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn.

I hope I have dealt with the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), the Chair of the Select Committee on Justice.

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Robert Neill - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 12:46 p.m.

When the Minister talks about bringing forward a package on Report, do I take it that the amendment in my name and in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) is intended to be in that package?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 3:50 p.m.

I am always happy to engage with my hon. Friend and with my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond). I know the spirit in which they tabled the amendment, and I look forward to the dialogue to come.

I commend clauses 2 and 3 to the House.

European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

(Committee: 1st sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Robert Buckland and Sir Robert Neill
Tuesday 14th November 2017

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ministry of Justice
Sir Robert Neill Portrait Robert Neill - Hansard

That is absolutely right, and it is critical. With respect to the Minister of State, that is why I do not think the financial services sector will take much comfort from his rather high-level dismissal of these proposals earlier.

Let me just say what these two amendments, in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), seek to do. They seek to give a general interpretive tool to assist the transposition process. We all accept that that has to happen in that domestication into the statute book. They would interfere with the powers to make regulations conferred by clause 7, but they would reduce the need for regulations. I should have thought that it was preferable not to have to operate by regulation if we could avoid it. If we have a known and established interpretive code, that will save the need to make lots of regulations under clause 7. However, it would also, as the Minister rightly observed, provide a backstop, and that would deal with gaps that are identified but that are not picked up in the transposition process. That is what subsections (A1) and (A2) of amendment 357 would achieve.

These changes draw on rules of interpretation that, as I indicated in my intervention earlier, were proposed by the International Regulatory Strategy Group. That body is co-sponsored by the City of London corporation and TheCityUK, and I am indebted to the Remembrancer’s Office of the City of London corporation for the drafting of these amendments—it takes the credit for the ingenuity.

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard

I absolutely take the spirit in which these amendments are made, and I am grateful to the Remembrancer’s Office, but does my hon. Friend not agree that we need to be cautious? He thinks that this general interpretive approach will, of itself, amend deficiencies, but does the fact not remain that we would still have to amend deficiencies in legislation, even with these otherwise helpful-looking provisions?

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Robert Neill - Hansard
14 Nov 2017, 9:49 p.m.

I do not disagree with the Solicitor General about that, but I suggest that it is not an either/or scenario. I very much hope that he will indicate that he is prepared to continue working with me and the authors of the amendments to take this forward. I see that he nods his assent, and I am sure that we can find a constructive means of doing so.

Let me explain why this is important. The first of the rules, in subsection (A3), would confine the territorial scope of the retained EU law to the UK. That would put it on the same territorial footing as domestic law, therefore ensuring that as a general principle, retained EU law would no longer enable or require people or businesses in the UK to do, or to stop doing, something in an EU country. It is perfectly logical from that point of view.

The second rule would ensure that reference to a member state in an EU law that has been domesticated was taken, post Brexit, as a reference to the UK. That would ensure that domesticated EU law would in fact fully apply in the domestic sphere, removing any ambiguity on that point. That will be necessary in a large number of instances to avoid the situation in which the UK will, in effect, be treated as a third country for the purposes of its own laws where retained EU law is currently framed by reference to the whole EU. That would be an absurdity, and we are seeking to remove that risk.

The third rule, in subsection (A5), would transfer all the functions exercised by EU bodies to the Secretary of State. I take the Minister’s point that not all those will necessarily be exercised by the Secretary of State. It is not prescriptive in that way—it need not be, and we can talk about that—but it would deal with the many instances where such functions are transferred to an appropriate Secretary of State as well as providing, again, a legislative backstop to cater for circumstances where the alternative arrangements had not been put in place in time, so that there is no cliff edge in that regard.

The fourth rule deals with the many situations where domestic authorities are required, either outright or as a precondition, to exercise their own functions to deal with EU bodies or authorities in member states. What does that mean in practice? It covers, for instance, cases where the UK body has to notify, consult or get the approval of an EU body before taking a particular course of action.

Break in Debate

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Robert Neill - Hansard
14 Nov 2017, 9:52 p.m.

That is entirely right. That rule would preserve the flexibility to co-operate with European partners and to trade into the European markets—regulatory equivalence will be critical to achieving that—and it would do so without the risk of facing any inappropriate legal constraints on the UK’s own operations once we have left.

I am not suggesting that the answer to everything is in this amendment. It is tabled in the spirit of wanting to work with the Government as we move forward, but it does go a long way towards delivering, in a relatively simple manner, the objective of having a functioning statute book on exit day.

Amendment 358 deals with what those who worked on this perceive as a potential gap concerning the interpretation of domesticated EU law. Clause 6(3), as has already been observed, will preserve the effect of case law laid down before exit day. Clause (6)(2) will provide discretion, and we have talked a lot about taking that into account. I listened with interest to the speech by the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) regarding her amendment on that point. Again, this amendment does not provide the whole answer, but it raises serious issues that need to be looked at, and I hope that Ministers will do so.

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard
14 Nov 2017, 9:53 p.m.

For the sake of clarity, I think that my hon. Friend will find that schedule 8(25) contains enough scope for other documents of the type that he mentions to be considered by the courts. I hope that I have given him enough reassurance on that point.

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Robert Neill - Hansard
14 Nov 2017, 9:59 p.m.

I am grateful to the Solicitor General for that clarification. Perhaps he could confirm that he is happy to meet me and we can discuss that. [Interruption.] He says that he is of course happy to do so. I am grateful to him for that very constructive response, and characteristically so. That will enable us to deal with things like negotiating texts, which we sometimes know of as the travaux préparatoires within the EU context. [Interruption.] Again, the Solicitor General confirms that that is the sort of thing that we can discuss.

Why is that important to the International Regulatory Strategy Group, and why is the group central to this? Its membership includes virtually all the significant representative institutions of the London financial community: the stock exchange, the Association for Financial Markets in Europe, the Association of British Insurers, the British Bankers Association, the City of London corporation and major commercial organisations such as Credit Suisse, Aviva, Allen & Overy, Allianz, Fidelity, HSBC and Lloyds. The list includes all the key underpinners of the City’s operation.

We need to take those important matters into account, and I am grateful to the Solicitor General for his willingness to meet and discuss them. I commend to him and other Ministers the observation made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) about the Francovich cases. It clearly cannot be the Government’s intention to remove people’s opportunity to seek remedies for wrongs that were done prior to our departure. My right hon. Friend raises a critical issue, and it is important to get this right.

I hope that Ministers will observe that the guidance in clause 6(2) is clearly not sufficient to meet the concerns of our senior judiciary and that they have said as much. When Lord Neuberger, a distinguished President of the Supreme Court, says that, ironically, the discretion is so wide that it puts judges at a degree of risk of political attack, he has to be taken seriously. Several right hon. and hon. Members have praised the quality of our judiciary, and I totally agree with them. We ought to listen very carefully when our judiciary say that, as a matter of protection against malicious attack of the sort that they have suffered in the past, they look to Parliament to safeguard their ability to function independently in cases that are quite politicised.

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard
14 Nov 2017, 9:56 p.m.

I am listening with care to my hon. Friend. Will he accept from me that there is another danger, namely that by using too many prescriptive words in the Bill, we could fetter the discretion of the courts in a way that they would find equally unacceptable? There is a balance to be struck here.

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Robert Neill - Hansard
14 Nov 2017, 9:59 p.m.

There is, and that is why it is all the more important—perhaps unusually so—for Government to talk quietly with the judiciary to find out what they are saying. They cannot compromise their independence, but those of us who are in touch with them want to make sure that the Government understand the root of their concerns. I am sure that there is a constructive way forward on that.

I know that the Solicitor General will be aware of the problem, because it was referred to in the Justice Committee’s report in the last Parliament. I also draw his attention to the concerns raised by Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the recently retired Lord Chief Justice, in the evidence that he gave only a couple of days before he retired from that post. He gave a pretty clear steer on the sort of thing that could be helpful and posited various types of language. I hope that the Solicitor General accepts that we need to look further at the matter, and I hope that we can do that constructively as we take the Bill forward.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Robert Buckland and Sir Robert Neill
Thursday 29th June 2017

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Attorney General
Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard
29 Jun 2017, 10:31 a.m.

Again, the hon. Lady asks a general question about the merits of particular cases. If indeed there are grounds—for example, a judicial review procedure might be appropriate in particular cases—that application can be made. The important point in the context of this question is whether we can do more for families and bereaved relatives. I think we can, and the precedent set by the horrific events at Grenfell will allow us all to learn important lessons: that families have to be put first.

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con) - Hansard
29 Jun 2017, 10:31 a.m.

Can the Solicitor General help us on the practicalities? What discussions has he had with the Bar Council and the Law Society as to how an independent advocate or advocates might be identified; what levels of remuneration will be available, so as to ensure that there is proper equality of arms in representation; and by what means families will be able to give proper and fully discreet instructions?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard
29 Jun 2017, 10:31 a.m.

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. It is vital that we get these details right as we develop the policy. It is clear, certainly to the Government, that having quality advocacy so that the right documents are obtained and a proper challenge is made at all stages of the process is important, and it is what we seek to achieve. Therefore, fulfilling article 6 has to be at the heart of this.