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8 Oct 2007 : Column 59

Orders of the Day

Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

5.39 pm

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Since 1997, crime has come down by a third and the chances of becoming a victim of crime are the lowest for 26 years. Many more offences have been brought to justice and the number of asylum seekers is at its lowest level since 1993, while removals are up by 10 per cent. Part of that achievement is down to increased investment in key public services: 20,000 additional prison places, 14,000 additional police officers, 16,000 community support officers and a 72 per cent. increase in probation spending. However, that increased investment has had to be accompanied by major changes in the environment in which law enforcement and criminal justice agencies and key parties such as local authorities operate. Reform of the youth justice system, partnerships with local authorities, streamlining immigration appeals, as well as the creation of specific criminal offences, all require detailed changes in the law.

While in other areas of public administration such as pensions, social security, health or education, Parliament and the public have long accepted that much of the primary legislation should be framework and enabling in nature with the detail contained in regulation, in this area, where we are dealing with critical issues concerning the safety of the public and the liberty of the individual, the detail itself has to be contained in the primary legislation.

In turn, that has meant, for as long as I have been in the House, that there have been many criminal justice and immigration Bills. I am told that this is the 39th since 1997, although if the Opposition wish to examine the record, they will see that numbers were previously above that level. I understand the concern, especially among practitioners, for less frequent changes in the law. The problem that we face—I do, and we all do—is to balance that requirement for stability against the need to ensure that the system and the substantive law are responsive to changing demands from the public and practitioners. One example from many is the revolution in technology and communications that we witness today. Virtually the whole Bill is explained by just such changing circumstances, as I shall set out now as I deal with key parts of the Bill.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Another reason for introducing legislation is to overcome anomalies that may already exist in respect of other legislation. For some considerable time, we have had an offence of incitement to racial hatred, and we now have an offence of incitement to religious hatred. Is it not now time that we had an offence of incitement to hatred on grounds of sexual orientation? The number of people facing homophobic attacks—both physical and verbal, and often directly associated with the vile propaganda of organisations such as the British National party—is now growing, not falling.

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Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend anticipates me, and I hope to ensure that he is satisfied with what I have to say.

Let us take part 6 of the Bill, which relates to the possession of extreme pornographic material. Ten years ago, the internet was in its infancy, Google was not even a word in the English language and possession of pornographic material was by proof of control of the physical material—silver oxide photographs on paper, celluloid film or video tape. Distribution, too, was by physical means. Now we have the internet, and along with the innumerable benefits that it brings have come significant risks to public protection. Information, photographs and videos can be shared instantaneously across the world, but so too can deeply offensive, violent and illegal pornography.

We believe that those who produce and publish this vile material in the UK are already covered by legislation, but we need the new offences created by part 6 for those who possess it, because the makers and distributors are very often operating across borders, from eastern Europe, the United States and elsewhere.

Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): Has the Secretary of State had the opportunity to meet Liz Longhurst from Reading, who has campaigned tirelessly for three years for precisely this measure to clamp down on extreme internet images, which she and many others are convinced directly led to the murder of her lovely daughter, Jane, in Brighton three years ago?

Mr. Straw: Thanks to my hon. Friend, I have indeed had an opportunity briefly to meet Mrs. Longhurst, and I would like to pay tribute to her on behalf of the whole House, and to express our sincere condolences for the grief that she and her family suffered as a result of this terrible murder of her daughter, Jane. I would also like to applaud the campaign that she has so skilfully and resolutely waged. I hope that the clauses in part 6 will at least go some way to meeting her concerns, although nothing, of course, can bring back her daughter or take away the grief that has been caused.

Another example of the changing environment is nuisance and disturbance in national health service premises. There is great concern among NHS staff about the wholly unwarranted upset, and very much worse, that they have been caused by the bad behaviour of some patients and members of the public. Indeed, I have read figures referring to 58,000 assaults of one kind or another on NHS staff in a single year, which obviously represents stress on the staff and great costs for the public, warranted by staff being off sick.

The nurses, doctors, porters and other staff who work in the health service deserve our respect and gratitude for what they do. They should never have to work under the spectre of intimidation, nor run the gauntlet of threats. That is why part 9 will make it an offence to cause nuisance or disturbance on NHS premises.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) (Lab): Can my right hon. Friend clarify whether that part of the Bill covers not just hospital premises, but GP surgeries, which may not necessarily be owned by the NHS? I have come across cases of GPs and their staff having to deal with some extremely difficult people who have been abusive and threatening.

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Mr. Straw: My recollection, having read the Bill very carefully, is that the definition of NHS premises does not extend to GP surgeries, but I am happy for my hon. Friend or other Members to ensure that the issue is examined in detail upstairs in Committee. I am grateful to him for raising it.

Sometimes, one limited innovation in the law works sufficiently well for there to be a wide demand, including from practitioners, for its extension. The Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 gave to the police the power to close crack houses, which has been used to the benefit of some 1,000 communities. However, I think we all have constituency examples of continued disturbance from other premises, which might be residential houses. There is particular difficulty where those houses are, for example, private rented homes beyond the control of local authorities or other social landlords, or in some cases owner-occupied homes.

Part 9 will amend that Act to cover premises associated with significant, persistent disorder or nuisance. That builds on experience in Scotland under a provision passed by the Scottish Parliament that has also worked well to ensure that excessive and persistent antisocial behaviour, which has a devastating impact on neighbours and the wider community, can be dealt with in such a way.

Alongside providing practitioners on the front line with the powers that they need, we also need to ensure that courts are applying appropriate sentences. We would be failing in our responsibility to society if we concentrated only on how we deal with offenders and did not focus on preventing offending behaviour in the first instance. Stopping young people being drawn into crime must be a priority, which is why part 1 will introduce a new community sentence—the youth rehabilitation order.

Helen Jones (Warrington, North) (Lab): The youth rehabilitation order will allow courts to impose drug treatment requirements, but it says nothing about alcohol. My right hon. Friend will be aware of the widespread concern in my constituency about alcohol fuelling crime, following the appalling murder of my constituent Mr. Garry Newlove, and will have heard the comments made by the chief constable after that murder. If alcohol is not to be covered by the drug treatment requirement, will my right hon. Friend undertake to reconsider the matter in Committee, so that, as well as trying to prevent under-age drinking, we can deal with it when it causes crime?

Mr. Straw: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue. If I may on this occasion, I shall express my condolences and those of the whole House to the family of Garry Newlove and his community over the grievous loss that they suffered in this terrible murder. I do understand the concern. As she may know, I was in the adjoining constituency of Warrington, South last Thursday to visit one of Her Majesty’s prisons, and I was asked by the local press about the matter. I shall ensure that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State considers her points carefully, and if possible, that we meet the concerns that she has identified.

If we are to protect society from violent and dangerous offenders, and to reduce offending, we need
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to consider carefully the balance between the use of prison, community penalties and fines. As I have indicated, we have provided 20,000 prison places since 1997, which is twice the rate of the previous Administration. We have also extended the use of effective and tough community penalties—

Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway) (Lab): Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw: In a moment.

We have increased investment in drug interventions tenfold, and increased investment in probation services by 72 per cent. Under this Government, judges and magistrates are sending more people to prison and for longer. The protection of the public is and will remain our primary concern, demonstrated perhaps no more clearly than by the fact that 60 per cent. more violent and serious offenders are in prison now than in 1997.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews: May I apologise for addressing my right hon. Friend as the Home Secretary? No gratuitous insult was intended. What powers under part 1 and the youth rehabilitation order are not available under one or other of the number of orders currently available to the Crown or magistrates court?

Mr. Straw: My hon. and learned Friend will no doubt wish to take a 100 lines to remind himself that I am now the Lord Chancellor. I am proud of my period as Home Secretary, too, during which I always enjoyed his full support. Additional coverage is available under the order specified in part 1, including in respect of residential and activity orders.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): I am most grateful to the Lord High Chancellor, as he likes to be called, for giving way. Before we get too far into the debate, will he confirm the way in which the 20,000 additional prison places, which he claims have been created since 1997, came about? A few thousand genuinely new prison places have been created, most of which are the result of contracts let by the previous Government. Will he also confirm that tonight 18,000 prisoners will double up in cells designed for one, and that 1,000 prisoners will treble up in such cells? The real reason that he can claim, as he does, to have provided 20,000 new places is that he is doubling and trebling up men in single cells.

Mr. Straw: There is no dubiety about where those additional places have come from. A large proportion are new, and it is not true that the majority of the contracts were signed and financed when we took office. That is simply incorrect. Some were in a programme, but we had to provide the money, and that has continued. We have continued the policy of the previous Administration of doubling and trebling in cells where possible. The difference, however, is that we have put internal sanitation into virtually all cells, whereas 10 years ago the condition of many prisons across the country, particularly local ones, was scandalous. I remind the hon. and learned Gentleman that when I became Home Secretary just 10 and a half years ago, a large number of places in police cells were being used.

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We may hear from the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) later about the need to increase the prison population. He has talked about prisoners serving their full terms “period”, and building as many places “as it takes”. I do not know whether he has spoken about that to his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier), who has called consistently for a reduction in the prison population since he came into the House, and made that point again at column 1459 on 11 July.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Straw: In a moment.

Prison is an essential component of the criminal justice system, but no one believes that it should be the only component. The punishment should fit the crime. If the offence warrants a community penalty or fine, a community penalty or fine should be handed down. Part 2 of the Bill introduces a range of measures to ensure proportionality in sentencing. There is clear evidence—it is counter-intuitive, but it is there—that suspended sentences are being used for summary-only, less serious offences, which might previously have attracted a community order. The idea of suspended sentences was that they should be used as an alternative to immediate custody, not as an alternative to community sentences. In our judgment, it is therefore right to confine the option of a suspended sentence order to more serious, indictable-only or either-way offences.

Philip Davies: Does the Secretary of State accept that it is blindingly obvious that the more criminals who are locked up in prison, the fewer criminals there are out on the streets committing crimes? Does he accept that for every 1,000 crimes committed in this country only 13 people go to prison, compared with more than 20 in Europe, and more than 100 in America, and that we have a very low prison population? Does he not recognise that many people in this country are sick to the back-teeth of prisoners being let out early, and want prisoners to serve the sentence handed down by the courts in full?

Mr. Straw: Would that that were the case. There is no doubt that the additional places that we have provided, and will continue to provide—at twice the rate of the Administration whom the hon. Gentleman supported —have contributed to the fact that, whereas between 1979 and 1997 crime doubled, since 1997 crime has gone down by at least 35 per cent. on whatever measure one wishes to use, including under the British crime survey. Similar reductions in violent crime have also taken place. I invite him to look at that study, which was done entirely independently.

David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Straw: No, I am answering an intervention from the hon. Gentleman’s colleague.

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The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) needs to examine two things. First, longer-term sentences work to reduce offending, but shorter-term sentences, which have always and will always exist, often have a fairly high reoffending rate, regardless of whether the sentence is 18 days longer or shorter. We are increasing the number of prison places. If he is saying that there should be no reduction for good behaviour, and no incentive for prisoners to behave themselves, and that we should return to the lunacy that the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) tried to put through the House between 1996 and 1997—he utterly failed and had to withdraw his own shambles—as the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs proposes, that would involve an increase of 60,000 places— [Interruption.] He says, “Hear, hear.” That is a further commitment. It would be at a cost of £8 billion in building costs and £2 billion in running costs. Let the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs spell out that that is now his party’s proposal.

Secondly, we should look at the experience in the United States. We have locked up about 145 per 100,000 people, which is the highest level in Europe. Proportionate to its population, the United States has five times that number locked up. The Opposition propose that this country should have 700 prisons and 400,000 people locked up, which is the consequence— [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs is now laughing. That is the consequence of praying in aid the example of the United States. The United States has 2.2 million people locked up. Has it cut violent crime? Has it reduced its murder rate? No, it is still four times that in this country. We have just had another example of a mass gun killing on the streets of an otherwise peaceful community in Wisconsin. The Opposition ought to think about that before they blather away on the issue.

In the case of recalls, offenders who breach the terms of their licence are recalled to prison and kept there for as long as they present a danger to the public. That will not change, but many of the 11,000 offenders who are now recalled to prison each year are not in that category. Part 2 of the Bill provides for non-dangerous offenders to be recalled for a fixed 28-day period.

A fourth example of the ever-changing circumstances to which we have to respond is contained in part 2 of the Bill. The criminal law is drafted with great care, but sometimes its specific wording can trap victims and sentencers alike into facing unintended and unacceptable consequences. Right hon. and hon. Members will remember the outcry caused by the Sweeney case last year. Sweeney’s was a truly horrific crime, but because of the sentencing rules, the learned judge in the case had to reduce the minimum term of 18 years to a sentence of just less than six years. No criticism can or should be made against the learned judge involved. He was applying the law in that case.

Some of the reduction was due to guidance on discounts for early guilty pleas, which has now been revised by the Sentencing Guidelines Council. However, there is a broader point on discounts in such exceptional cases, which we want to address in the Bill. We propose to give judges the discretion when they believe that the offence is sufficiently serious to set the sentence that they see fit and not to have to halve the determinate sentence. In addition to that, where
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offenders are re-sentenced to an indeterminate sentence following an appeal by the Attorney-General, they should not as of right benefit from any sentence discount. We have already abolished discounts in respect of murder cases, but the Bill extends that to all life and indeterminate sentences.

Mr. Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): In welcoming that return of a degree of judicial discretion, may I also remind the Lord Chancellor of another unintended consequence, which concerns indeterminate sentences for public protection? So large is the number of summary offences and relatively short-sentence offences involved that the Parole Board cannot possibly process the cases within the time limit required. Is that not another unintended consequence that needs to be put right?

Mr. Straw: I am concerned about that—I am coming before the right hon. Gentleman’s Select Committee tomorrow and shall no doubt be examined in detail about the operation. It is not satisfactory and has led to getting on for 400 tariff-expired IPP—imprisonment for public protection—prisoners still serving their sentences, while only 11 so far have been released. That is not acceptable. We are working hard to cut the number of tariff-expired prisoners in that situation.

In the past 10 years we have developed much better tools for dealing with sex offenders, not least with sex offender orders. We now wish to build on that experience. Part 8 of the Bill provides for violent offender orders, giving police another tool to manage the risks posed by the most dangerous and violent offenders. Those subject to such orders will be required to register with the police and will be subject to other prohibitions and restrictions. Breach of an order will be punishable by up to five years in prison.

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): My right hon. Friend seems to have jumped over part 4, in which I am particularly interested, which deals with the ombudsman. I do not see any reference to institutions for children or young people. Does he intend to make the ombudsman process open to children and young people in institutions or does he intend to strengthen the inspection or appeal regimes for young offenders?

Mr. Straw: That issue is not currently covered either by the ombudsman or by the statutory arrangements that we propose to put in place through the Bill. I am happy to consider the matter, but those arrangements are currently covered by other inspection and inquiry procedures.

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