By Tim Montgomerie
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As reported widely in today's written and broadcast media a new Tory-led group has been formed to support equal marriage. You can read more about 'Freedom to Marry' on its website.
I should declare an interest. Some months ago I made a conservative case for gay marriage on this website and I've joined the group as one of its supporters. The other initial supporters are listed below:
As media outlets have noted the support of evangelical Christians Alistair Burt and Desmond Swayne as well as the Catholic Cabinet minister Patrick McLoughlin is an indication of the group's broad base. More high-profile supporters will be announced in the coming days and weeks.
By Matthew Barrett
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Yesterday in Parliament, Richard Bacon, a Conservative backbencher, tried to introduce a Bill which would repeal the Human Rights Act 1998. One of Mr Bacon's lines of argument was that the legal requirement for Ministers to amend legislation - without a vote in Parliament - in order to comply with European human rights legislation - is "fundamentally undemocratic":
"Under section 10, a Minister of the Crown may make such amendments to primary legislation as are considered necessary to enable the incompatibility to be removed by the simple expedient of making an order. In effect, because the accepted practice is that the United Kingdom observes its international obligations, a supranational court can impose its will against ours. In my view this is fundamentally undemocratic."
Mr Bacon also compellingly argued that the controversial social issues that judges often like to get involved in should be decided by "elected representatives and not by unelected judges":
"[T]here is no point in belonging to a club if one is not prepared to obey its rules. The solution is therefore not to defy judgments of the Court, but rather to remove the power of the Court over us. ... Judges do not have access to a tablet of stone not available to the rest of us which enables them to discern what our people need better than we can possibly do as their elected, fallible, corrigible representatives. There is no set of values that are so universally agreed that we can appeal to them as a useful final arbiter. In the end they will always be shown up as either uselessly vague or controversially specific. Questions of major social policy, whether on abortion, capital punishment, the right to bear firearms or workers rights, should ultimately be decided by elected representatives and not by unelected judges."
By Paul Goodman
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The four in question, as above, were Peter Luff, Tim Loughton, Cheryl Gillan and Nick Herbert.
My report on their views of how British government now works - and to what degree it requires overhauling - can be read on the Conservative Intelligence website.
By Matthew Barrett
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One of the two biggest political stories today, the summit to consider the next European budget, is opaque. We cannot know what is happening behind closed doors. However, we can know what Tory MPs have made of the other big political story today: the Government's attempt to deal with the European court's ruling that Britain must give at least some prisoners the vote. Here are some of the best contributions of Tory MPs to the debate in the media surrounding prison voting.
Nick Herbert, the former Minister of State for Police and Criminal Justice, wrote about leaving the jurisidiction of the European Court of Human Rights for ConservativeHome this morning. He also appeared on the Today programme this morning, and said:
"I think it’s doubtful that this will comply with what the European Court of Human Rights wants, and it seems as if the Government is effectively just playing for time. And ironically one of the three options that the Government is going to put down today, which is that we retain the blanket ban, is something that it’s unlikely ministers will be able to either to advocate or vote for because it’s a breach of the ministerial code to advocate breaking the law, even though the Prime Minister himself said that there was no way this Government was going to give prisoners the vote and that it make him feel physically sick to even contemplate the idea."
Gavin Barwell, Conservative MP for Croydon Central, is this week's ConservativeHome Diarist. Follow Gavin on Twitter.
House of Lords reform
Much of my week has been spent on the contentious issue of House of Lords reform. Back in July, I was appointed to a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament that was tasked with scrutinising the Government’s draft House of Lords Reform Bill. Since then, we have considered a huge amount of evidence from proponents and opponents of reform and from various constitutional experts (self-appointed or otherwise), and on Monday and Wednesday we had the first two of three meetings where votes are cast to agree the exact wording of the report.
Being a member of this Committee has been one of the most interesting things I have done in my nearly two years in Parliament. As the recent discussions on ConservativeHome illustrated, House of Lords reform is an emotive issue that divides our party. The same is true of the Labour Party and even the Liberal Democrats to a lesser extent, so the divisions on the Committee are not along party lines and we have seen some unusual alliances!
Whatever one’s views on the issue of principle - whether those who have a hand in making the law ought to be elected - if the Government does decide to proceed, it is important that it does so in a way that doesn’t undermine the primacy of the House of Commons nor the relationship between an MP and his constituents, and doesn’t significantly increase the cost of politics. The Committee will make some sensible suggestions as to how the Government could improve its proposals and I hope our deliberations will result in changes that will make the proposals more palatable to ConservativeHome readers.
The Queen comes to Parliament
On Tuesday, I had a brief and welcome interlude from the arcane details of House of Lords reform when Her Majesty came to Westminster Hall to receive addresses from both Houses of Parliament and to see the Diamond Jubilee window, a gift paid for by MPs and Peers from all political parties. The window was the idea of my colleague Michael Ellis. His ennoblement is surely only a matter of time…
When Her Majesty ascended to the throne, Winston Churchill was still Prime Minister. In a period of profound changes to our country, she has been a symbol of continuity and her record of public service is one that stands as an example to all of us.
A Budget that rewards work
At 11.30 on Wednesday morning, I rushed from the Joint Committee meeting to grab a seat for Prime Minister’s Questions and the Budget that followed it. PMQs was a rather tepid affair - Ed Miliband clearly felt he couldn’t ask about the Health & Social Care Bill again, and that’s the only topic he really feels comfortable with, so he opted for some non-partisan questions about Afghanistan and some worthy questions about the Riot Damages Act.
The Chancellor delivered the Budget with real confidence - he is one Minister who has grown in stature in office. It was good to see that in the independent Office for Budget Responsibility’s forecasts of growth, the number of people claiming unemployment-related benefits and borrowing had all improved slightly since the Autumn Statement.
By Joseph Willits
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In a speech at the Police Superintendents Conference in Warwickshire yesterday, Nick Herbert, the Policing and Criminal Justice Minister, pledged radical reforms to "bring justice into the 21st century" and implement justice from within communities themselves.
Herbert's message represented a significant toughening of the Government's message on criminal justice, an area which has come under scrutiny in the recent past. In his address, Herbert laboured a message of "swift justice" and "sure justice, where the consequences of offending are swiftly brought home to the criminal, is effective justice".
Following on from the riots, Herbert stressed how imperative it was to learn from them, and how the justice system was forced to react to unforeseen events. During the disturbances, we saw courtrooms and magistrates working through the night and on weekends, and in future could do so again.
By Jonathan Isaby
Yesterday was Yvette Cooper's first outing in the Commons as the new shadow home secretary after her husband, Ed Balls, was shifted from the job to replace Alan Johnson as shadow chancellor.
Here are the questions she raised at Home Office Questions:
Yvette Cooper: The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice said that there is no link between the number of police officers and the level of crime. However, the Birmingham Mail has reported that some parts of Birmingham have already seen a recruitment freeze, a cut in the number of officers in the neighbourhood team and a significant increase in the number of burglaries in the past nine months. The local police, who are being put in a very difficult position by the Government, have said that they are struggling to fight crime in the area as a result. Does he still stand by his claim or will he admit, to the police and the public, that he has got it wrong?
Nick Herbert: May I first welcome the right hon. Lady to her post? I look forward to debating these issues with her, although I hope she will not follow the poor example of her successor- [Laughter.] I mean her predecessor. I hope that she will not follow his poor example by partially quoting Government Members. I did not say that there was no link, and she should know that. Instead, I should point out something said by somebody with whom I believe she has regular conversations: that this was a tighter environment for police spending, and would be under any Government. That was what the new shadow Chancellor said to the Home Affairs Committee on 22 November 2010, when he was shadow Home Secretary.
Yvette Cooper: I shall ask the Home Secretary about the counter-terrorism review. On Thursday, the Minister for Immigration had to be dragged to the House to tell us Government policy on pre-trial detention. He told us that emergency legislation would be kept on hand in the Library of the House. The old powers lapse at midnight, yet as of half an hour ago, there was still no draft emergency legislation in the Library. On Sunday, the Deputy Prime Minister told the media that control orders were being abolished and at lunch time today, the BBC-not this House-was briefed that the new measures would include tagging and overnight residence requirements and would look a lot like control orders. This is a chaotic, shambolic and cavalier process. Where is the draft legislation? Will the Home Secretary now tell us what is happening with the legislation and with control orders, and will she take the opportunity to apologise for this shambolic process on such an important issue?
Theresa May: First, may I welcome the right hon. Lady to her new post as shadow Home Secretary? I am sure that she will enjoy the post. She is the third shadow Home Secretary I have faced in my nine months as Home Secretary. For her sake, I hope that she stays longer in the role than her predecessors have. The right hon. Lady makes a point about process and refers to the 28-day pre-charge detention issue. May I say to her that the previous shadow Home Secretary clearly supported the Government on taking pre-charge detention down from 28 days to 14 days? Earlier today, the shadow Home Secretary was unfortunately unable to answer the question whether she supported 14 days' pre-charge detention. If she is interested in chaos, she should look at sorting out her own policy.
Cooper took another bite of the cherry via point of order at 3.30pm:
"This Chamber was told on Thursday that the draft emergency legislation would be placed in the Library of the House. The matter was raised in an urgent question and on a point of order from my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Mr Sutcliffe), yet it is not there. The BBC has been told that the counter-terrorism review is now complete. What can you do to assist the House and to get the Home Secretary to give a statement to the House this afternoon, not on Wednesday, on the counter-terrorism review and the location of the emergency draft legislation before the old powers run out at midnight tonight?"
Theresa May replied thus:
"I am grateful for the opportunity to do so. We will place draft emergency legislation in the Library of the House- [Hon. Members: "When?"] We did not say that it would be placed in the Library before the current legislation lapsed. Emergency legislation is available for the use of this House in the intervening period, if necessary, and that is section 25 of the Terrorism Act 2006. The correct legal process for reducing the period from 28 days to 14 days is to allow the existing legislation to lapse because that was the sunset clause put in the legislation by the last Labour Government."
No killer blows from either side on this occasion, but it will be fascinating to see how the Cooper v May encounters develop.
Nick Herbert MP, Police Reform Minister, knocked Ed Balls for six yesterday in the House of Commons. He attacked Labour for misrepresenting the proposals, inconsistencies in their arguments and for a fundamental distrust of the people. The full extract from Mr Herbert's contribution is pasted below.
The Shadow Home Secretary's arguments against our proposals for police and crime commissioners are deeply unconvincing and he keeps getting things wrong. He attacked our statement on police funding today and got the numbers wrong. Last week, he said that the inspectorate of constabulary's figures were "corrupt and erroneous", but was then forced to retract those words. Today, he told the House that police and crime commissioners would have the power "to direct" policing, but that is simply wrong. Chief constables will retain control and direction of their forces, as it says in clause 2, which he should read. We are determined to protect the operational independence of chief constables. Police and crime commissioners will be able to set the policing plan with the agreement of the chief constable but they will not direct policing and nor should they.
The shadow Home Secretary said that the commissioners will be elected solely to run policing, but that will not be their sole job. They will be police and crime commissioners with wider powers and devolved budgets from the Home Office to fight crime and engage in crime prevention with the local community. If the right hon. Gentleman has such a good case, why does he need to invent objections to the Bill? He continues to assert that the commissioners will appoint political advisers, but we have repeatedly made it clear that we will not allow that. We do not want to politicise policing and we do not want spin in policing. We will not take any lectures about political advisers and spin from the friend of McBride and Whelan.
Ed Balls: I do not want to get into personal invective or to drag the important issue of policing down to the gutter. I have been told by a number of people who attended the meeting of the Association of Police Authorities at which the Minister spoke that he said that, if he were elected as a police and crime commissioner, the first decision he would take would be to appoint a political adviser. Was everyone else at that meeting mistaken or has he forgotten attending the event and saying those things?
Nick Herbert: The right hon. Gentleman is wrong and our intention is clear-we keep repeating it: we do not want political advisers and we have legislated for that in the Bill.
The Labour party complains about the cost of the commissioners and that complaint was repeated by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe). We have made it quite clear that commissioners must cost no more than the police authorities they replace. Yes, there will be the cost of holding the elections once every four years-an average £12.5 million a year. That is less than 0.1% of police spend, and the money will not come from force budgets anyway.
Ed Balls: Will the Minister give way?
Nick Herbert: Labour's manifesto at the last election proposed referendums five times over-on AV, on reform of the other place, on mayors, on further powers for the Welsh Assembly and on the euro. Did Labour Members advance arguments against those democratic pledges on the grounds that they would cost money? Of course not. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Mr Burley) pointed out, of course there is a cost to running elections. Police authorities do not have that cost because they are not democratic. That is exactly what we want to fix.
Hazel Blears: Will the Minister give way?
Shadow DEFRA Secretary Nick Herbert has accused the Government of failing to stand up for British farmers in Europe. He had an exchange with the Secretary of State, Hilary Benn, in the House of Commons during oral questions yesterday:
"What confidence can we have in the Government’s ability to fight Britain’s corner on CAP reform? Why did not Britain fight harder against the absurd and costly proposals for electronic sheep tagging? The Secretary of State left it to Hungary to put the issue on the agenda at a recent Agriculture Council. He says that the current labelling rules on food are nonsense and need to change, but he will not introduce a compulsory scheme to stop British consumers being misled and our farmers being let down. When will the Government stand up for Britain’s interests in Europe?
Hilary Benn: The hon. Gentleman should look back at what has happened on the electronic identification of sheep. We were the first country to raise the matter in the Council—I did it. He refers to the subsequent discussion in the Agriculture Council, at which my right hon. Friend the Minister of State was present. I am glad to say that we showed leadership in arguing that the cost of what was agreed in 2003 outweighs the benefits, which now flow. The UK has led the way in trying to get changes in the scheme’s implementation because I recognise the burden that it will place on sheep farmers. If it had not been for our efforts, we would be in an even more difficult position. As the hon. Gentlemen knows only too well, to change the regulation, we need sufficient member states to share the view that the British Government have expressed for some time.
Nick Herbert: Frankly, Britain’s farmers will be dismayed that the Secretary of State thinks that he got a good deal for them on sheep tagging. The proposal is absurd, costly and unnecessary. He said earlier that the CAP health check was a useful step forward, but at the time he said that it was a missed opportunity. He certainly missed an opportunity by failing to send a Minister to a crucial summit when the proposals were first discussed. French and German Ministers were there, but not ours. He complains about the pesticides directive now, but when it was voted through Britain abstained. Ministerial hand wringing does nothing to help British farmers. If he cannot do better to defend British interests, is not it time to stand aside and make way for a Government who will?
Hilary Benn: That has been a rather familiar theme this week. The hon. Gentleman raises the pesticides directive, but no European Union country has done more to argue against it than the United Kingdom. We did the impact assessment, through the pesticides safety directorate. We have been leading the fight against the pesticides directive. In the end, it went to the European Parliament, because although there are bits of the directive that we agree with, the bit that we do not agree with is the total uncertainty about what pesticides will be available to treat, for example, diseases that affect wheat. There are bits that represent progress and bits that do not. The Government’s view on the bits that do not represent progress has been clear: we will not vote for that part of the directive, because we should not be asked to sign up to proposals in Europe when, frankly, nobody can say what they will mean in practice for farmers who are using pesticides to try to grow more food."
Mr Herbert later issued a press release:
"From absurd plans to electronically tag sheep to country of origin food labelling the Government has failed to stand up for British interests in Europe. Our farmers and consumers need Ministers to fight the British corner in Brussels but recent years have been a tale of feebleness and missed opportunities."
With Congleton MP Ann Winterton in the chair, Westminster Hall hosted a debate entitled "Investigating the Oceans" yesterday. The now defunct Science and Technology Committee published a report with the same name back in 2007. Eighteen months later, MPs were back for a progress report from ministers!
Shadow DEFRA Secretary Nick Herbert spoke for the Conservatives:
"We face an unprecedented crisis in the marine life in our seas and oceans. Research predicts that the world will run out of seafood species that it can fish by 2048 and that the associated loss of marine biodiversity will destroy the ocean’s natural ability to adapt and self-repair. A strong science base is therefore essential if we are to respond to the challenges to our marine ecosystems.
It is possible to identify five key challenges to the marine environment. First, and perhaps the most significant, is climate change and its impact on sea levels. The world’s oceans absorb more than one quarter of the carbon dioxide that the human race generates, and half of that is absorbed in the Southern ocean alone, so oceans and marine systems play a key role both in the debate that we must have about climate change, and in regulating climate systems. There is a danger that meltwater could interrupt the oceans’ natural currents and a particular concern that the gulf stream could slow down or even shut down, meaning less heat for north-west Europe and, therefore, harsher winters.
The second key challenge is fishing in our seas and oceans. Some 70 to 80 per cent. of the world’s marine fish stocks are fully exploited, over-exploited, depleted or recovering from depletion, and 15 of the world’s 17 largest fisheries are so heavily exploited that their reproductive cycles cannot guarantee continued captures. Demand for fish next year is expected to reach 110 million tonnes, which will outstrip supply. The global crisis is mirrored in our waters. We need to reconnect fisheries domestically, in the European Union and internationally with environmental interests, to ensure that fishing can be conducted in a sustainable way.
At DEFRA questions yesterday Macclesfield's Sir Nicholas Winterton was rightly troubled about the infrequent collection of rubbish:
"I am concerned about the service that local authorities give to residents. Increasingly, under councils of every political colour, there is anger and criticism about how local authorities are operating refuse collection, not least regarding the move from a once-a-week to a fortnightly collection. In many cases, the size of wheelie bins has been reduced. When will local authorities take account of the interests of those paying them their wages rather than seek to meet—I say this although I do support recycling—some unacceptable regulations, many of which come from Europe?
Jane Kennedy: It is obviously a matter for local authorities to determine how local household waste is managed, how it is collected and how much recycling is performed. I have already described the improvements across England in respect of the proportion of household waste recycled. If the hon. Gentleman’s local authority is behaving in a way that he disapproves of, let me tell him that in my experience, because of the importance to every household of dealing with waste, this is one of the most highly political issues. It is therefore very important for local authorities to be aware of what their communities are saying."
I agree with Sir Nicholas wholeheartedly. Recycling can be a very good thing, but some waste has to be disposed of differently, and it is not hygenic for rubbish to sit in a bin for nearly two weeks. There are times when I wonder what I pay my council tax for. I wouldn't be sorry to see a central directive that bins had to be collected on a weekly basis.
Nick Herbert, the new Shadow Secretary of State, pressed the Government on landfill:
"The Minister told me this week that in all but two English regions, landfill capacity would run out in less than seven years’ time. We urgently need a better strategy to increase recycling rates further and develop markets to use waste as a resource for materials and energy in particular. Last month, however, the National Audit Office said that DEFRA had responded too slowly to the landfill directive, with the result that waste infrastructure projects were being delayed. Can the Minister explain why a Department that is meant to be leading on environmental protection takes years to act?
Jane Kennedy: As I said earlier, the recycling rate in England was 7.5 per cent. in 1997 and is now 34.5 per cent. A huge amount of work has been done. We expect the combined impact of our policies in the waste strategy that I described earlier to be a reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions of at least 9.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year by 2020 as a result of waste management. What would be the impact on targets of that nature of the cuts that the hon. Gentleman would be forced to make in any departmental programme of this kind? When in government one makes decisions that have a big impact, and the decisions that we have made have brought about a sea change in household attitudes to recycling."
What would you do to improve the disposal of rubbish? (No jokes about getting rid of the Government!)
The end of half-term brings with it a new edition of Hansard and written answers. Herewith some that grabbed my attention.
The answer that leapt out at me was to Shadow Home Affairs Minister David Ruffley. Staggeringly, the Government doesn't seem to know by how many police officers the country is short:
"Mr. Ruffley: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many police officer vacancies at all ranks there were in (a) the Metropolitan Police Force and (b) all other forces in 2007-08. 
I suppose now that Eric Pickles is Party Chairman he won't table so many questions. That's a shame. He asked a good one about The Man's power to rifle through our bins:
"To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) what powers waste collection authorities have to enter premises in relation to suspected breaches of waste regulations; and what powers they have to (a) measure and (b) photograph household waste; 
Jane Kennedy: Section 92A of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (EPA) gives local authorities powers to serve a litter clearing notice on any open land, requiring the occupier, or failing that, the owner, to clear litter from that land. If the notice is not complied with, they can enter the land, clean up and then reclaim their costs.
Section 59 of the EPA allows waste regulation authorities and waste collection authorities to serve a notice on the occupier or owner of land to require the removal of controlled waste unlawfully and knowingly deposited. Where a person fails to meet these requirements, the local authority or the Environment Agency may clear the waste and seek to recover the costs.
It is intended that joint waste authorities should have the same powers as are currently available to local authorities when they are carrying out those functions which joint waste authorities may take over."
Unfortunately, very few MPs were present for much of what went on.
Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve, who is on fire at the moment, spoke very persuasively.
"On the substance of what the Home Secretary had to say, although I can welcome some aspects of her speech, there are many others that I cannot, because the Government’s record on home affairs and justice is not a happy one and is at variance with the aspirations set out in the Queen’s Speech.
The Government have presided over the virtual doubling of violent crime since they were elected, while their incessant red tape and regulation have tied the hands of the police. Indeed, some announcements that are now being made on the subject are merely rolling back red tape and bureaucracy that the Government previously introduced.
The thirst for headlines and the inflation of ineffective bureaucracy and legislative hyperactivity distract the Government and successive Home Secretaries from the real job at hand: getting more police on the street with the single imperative of cutting crime, and a dedicated border police force to reverse our current vulnerability, which has seen the street value of cocaine and heroin slashed by almost half, while estimates show that the numbers of young women and girls trafficked into prostitution have quadrupled."
Shadow Secretary of State for Justice Nick Herbert wound up for the Tories, and also spoke with great verve.
"Yesterday we saw the Lord Chancellor, in all his finery, skilfully walking backwards, which he did most expertly. That was entirely appropriate, because retreat has been the story of the Prime Minister’s programme on constitutional renewal.
“national debate...founded on the conviction that the best answer to disengagement from our democracy is to strengthen our democracy.”—[ Official Report, 3 July 2007; Vol. 462, c. 819.]
Constitutional change was not peripheral to the Government’s agenda; it was central to their programme—“founded on...conviction”. That conviction cannot have been very profound, because just 18 months later, the constitutional agenda has all but disappeared. It has become clear that the Prime Minister had no great vision of a new settlement, just the immediate political challenge of dissociating himself from his predecessor."
Good stuff from the Conservatives - but why were so few MPs present?
"On the last morning of every month the Ministry of Justice publishes details of how many prisoners have been released early the previous month.
This morning the Ministry of Justice published every set of data scheduled to be released – EXCEPT the early release figures. Given that this was due to show that over 4,000 violent prisoners / almost 25,000 prisoners had been released early onto our streets, will you invite the Justice Secretary to reassure the House that these figures will be published immediately and that this was not a shabby attempt to bury bad news on the eve of the local elections?"
The Speaker did not permit Straw to reply, but this afternoon the figures have suddenly been published after all! Mr Herbert gave us this statement:
"The Government's failed attempt to deal with overcrowding has now seen more than 23,000 prisoners released early, including almost 4,500 violent offenders, and the rate of increase is accelerating. By ignoring every warning and failing to provide enough jail capacity, they have put the public at risk and undermined confidence in the criminal justice system. No wonder Ministers tried to delay publishing these figures this morning in a desperate bid to prevent voters from seeing the latest evidence of Labour's incompetence."
It's worth noting that over 2000 of the prisoners released early were from London prisons. By delaying publication until 2.22pm the Government may have sought to prevent the Evening Standard et al from running the figures. If Nick Herbert hadn't thought to raise the issue in the Commons, they may well have tried to delay it even more.
"At present 17,000 prisoners are doubling up in cells—twice as many as when the Government came to power. Will the Government’s proposals reduce that overcrowding, and will the Secretary of State reject Carter’s recommendation that there is scope for increasing levels of overcrowding? The Secretary of State says that he is actively looking at securing a prison ship. Why did the Government sell off their prison ship at a loss, if a new one is to be purchased?
...Is he sure that Lord Carter’s recommendation to build large titan prisons is right? Would it not be better to build smaller, local prisons where offenders could be closer to their families to aid rehabilitation? Is it not clear that although there will be some increase in capacity, the Government are choosing to release more prisoners early and water down sentences to moderate demand?
We Conservatives believe that sentences should fit the crime, not jail capacity. Will not any proposal to fetter the discretion of judges and magistrates to hand down sentences as they see fit cause the gravest concern?
...The Secretary of State proposes greater use of community sentences as an alternative to prison, but prison is already largely reserved for serious, violent and persistent offenders. Is it not the case that 70 per cent. of prisoners released have 10 previous convictions? Prison is already the last resort, when community sentences have failed. Some 40 per cent. of unpaid work requirements for male offenders are not even completed. How can the public have confidence in community penalties as an alternative to prison when the sanctions are so weak and unenforced?
...The Secretary of State’s statement said almost nothing about improving the rehabilitation of offenders. What do the Government plan to do about the fact that prisoners still spend fewer than four hours a day engaged in purposeful activity? Any Government’s first duty is to protect the public. How can the Government claim to have done so, given that they have released 11,000 offenders early on to our streets in just four months?"
More from Hansard here.