4 Feb 2009 13:11:11

Highlights from Justice questions

Humfrey_malinsWoking MP Humfrey Malins (pictured right) was one of several Conservatives to make an important point at Justice questions yesterday:

"I must give the Minister a dreadful statistic. After 12 years of this Government, seven out of 10 young men released from the young offender custodial estate reoffend within 12 months and most reoffend 30 times within 12 months of release. What is he doing to stop that awful situation?

Mr. Hanson: Those figures are coming down, but I accept in part what the hon. Gentleman says. There is still a high level of reoffending by young people leaving those institutions. As I have said, support is needed in learning and skills, literacy and numeracy, employment and housing, and in tackling the drug and alcohol problems that people have, and last summer we introduced the youth crime action plan to try to tackle some of those issues early on in people’s criminal careers. The hon. Gentleman mentions 12 years of this Government, but the Conservatives’ proposals to cut further money from this budget would be unlikely to lead to a positive improvement in the level of activity at Lancaster Farms and Hindley in the north-west."

Shadow Minister David Burrowes shed some light on why reoffending rates may be so high:

"May I remind the Minister of another of the Government’s figures, which show that three quarters of those in young offenders institutions are dependent on drugs? Last year, why is it that only 100 young offenders from Lancaster Farms YOI started drug treatment? Does the Minister agree with the chief inspector of prisons’ view, published in her annual report last week, that it is remarkable that so little has been done to tackle the fourfold increase in alcohol-related problems in prisons?

Mr. Hanson: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that this Government have increased by a massive amount the resources devoted to overcoming those problems. Obviously, there is a lot of drug-related crime, which means that individuals who enter the system need greater levels of support. In the north-west alone three drug and alcohol programmes and two offending behaviour programmes are in operation. In particular, there is the CARAT scheme, which provides counselling, assessment, referral, advice and throughcare. It deals with self-esteem, drug programmes, sexual health, the supply of drugs, healthy eating, steroid abuse, stress management and relapse prevention. All those schemes are funded by Government resources that, unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman’s party has pledged to cut from our Department."

It seems likely that David Hanson (Minister of State at the Justice Department) is being disingenuous. Refusing to match future spending plans is not the same as cutting specific services. And as we saw later in the session, the department does not spend all its funding wisely.

Continue reading "Highlights from Justice questions" »

22 Jan 2009 12:24:29

Lord Lucas wants better regulation of bailiffs

Lord_lucas_3The economic climate is causing a great deal of distress to many Britons. It is imperative that the Government considers what specific pressures people may be under. Yesterday in the House of Lords Lord Lucas called on the Government to expedite the redrafting of regulations concerning bailiffs.

This follows the tragic case of Andy Miller, a 78-year-old man who died of a heart attack after being taken to a cashpoint by a bailiff to pay a £60 speeding fine. Please note that this is an ongoing matter, and so any detailed comment about it would be inappropriate.

Lord Lucas was absolutely right to raise this issue:

"To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in light of the death on 7 January of Mr Andy Miller, whether they will bring forward their draft bailiff regulations.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My Lords, the House will want to offer its condolences to Mr Miller’s family. My right honourable friend the Justice Secretary immediately ordered an urgent investigation into Mr Miller’s death. The Ministry of Justice has been working on the underlying draft regulations for the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007. Prior to implementation these far reaching reforms will require full public consultation and at least 12 months for careful preparation by the industry.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I join the Minister in extending condolences to Mr Miller’s family. We have been waiting for these draft regulations for rather a long time. They were promised for the summer, for October and for before Christmas, and still we do not have them. Life is getting very rough out there because people are getting short of money. Bailiffs are finding it harder to extract money and we are getting a lot of cases where a serious level of distress is being caused. These are vulnerable people to whom we owe a duty, which we can exercise through these regulations. Should we not get on with it?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, who in this field of enforcement has a well deserved reputation for being at the forefront of trying to improve things. Having said that, we want to move forward as fast as we can, but he will know that enforcement law in this area is complex, confusing and, frankly, difficult to understand. Since Royal Assent in 2007, we have commissioned and received a business case from the Security Industry Authority; we have commissioned and received a comprehensive assessment of bailiffs’ fee structures; and we have implemented the provisions of the Act on the registration of tribunal awards.

Bailiff law goes back, I am told, to 1267. It is found in common law and a number of statutes, many of which are centuries old. We need to get this right. If it takes a bit longer to get it right, that is better than doing it too soon."

10 Dec 2008 12:39:20

Why are so few community sentences being completed?

Philip_dunneLudlow MP Philip Dunne has produced some remarkable figures on community sentences, which the Government has not challenged:

"The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson), referred earlier to the introduction of high-visibility jackets last week for those serving community sentences. Will he now turn his attention to getting people who have been issued with community sentences to turn up to undertake them? For the last year for which information is available, 94,000 community sentences were issued but only 42,000 were completed. There is not much point in having high-visibility jackets if nobody is turning up to do the work.

Mr. Hanson: Enforcement is far better than it was 10 years ago, when the hon. Gentleman’s party was in office. Sometimes sentences are not completed because people are sentenced further and end up in jail on a longer sentence. I hope that the hon. Gentleman supports visibility and community involvement, and that he recognises that community sentences are a strong punishment and a strong deterrent that can sometimes help to prevent reoffending."

It is quite breathtaking that so many people seem to have such a casual attitude to a sentence. It's not voluntary community work! It would be interesting to know what proportion of incompleted sentences are not finished because of subsequent sentences, and how many people just don't bother to turn up.

Also, it's a pedantic point, but the Conservatives were not in power ten years ago!

10 Dec 2008 11:31:16

John Baron asks about consultation on new prisons

John_baronBillericay MP and Opposition Whip John Baron posed an important question yesterday about the building of new prisons:

"The Government have again refused my freedom of information request for a list of possible sites for the new titan prisons. The Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Malik), has written to me saying that the

    “release of the information you seek would inevitably lead to increased speculation...thereby affecting our ability to procure land for the sites eventually chosen at a reasonable market value”.

So I must ask the Secretary of State the following question: is that not a blatant admission that any subsequent consultation involving local residents will be a complete sham, given that the Government intend to buy the sites before informing local residents? What is he going to do to put that right?

Mr. Straw: I understand that in most, although not all, areas of the country there is concern whenever there are proposals for new prisons to be built; regardless of the size of the prison, that has been an almost eternal verity. I must say to the hon. Gentleman that his party is committed—on some days, at least—to increasing the prison population. Part of his party’s Front-Bench team says that it wants to increase it to 101,000, rather than to 96,000, as we have proposed. That will mean more prisons, and they have to be placed in individual constituencies.

On the hon. Gentleman’s specific issue, we have a duty to the taxpayer to protect the public purse, so we must provisionally identify sites. Typically, when the sites are identified an option is taken on them, subject to planning permission. Planning permission, and the consultation relating to it, is a very public and highly visible process. I hope that we shall not get into a situation where the Conservative party wills the end of an increase in the prison population but every time there is a proposal to will the means it opposes that increase in prison numbers."

A year ago Jack Straw announced that three Titan jails would be built to hold 2,500 inmates each. That is much bigger than any current prison in England or Wales (Wandsworth held 1,461 inmates this time last year).

Although London, the West Midlands and the North West are areas where demand for prison places exceeds supply (albeit not demand on the part of criminals!) experts have suggested that a large-scale prison would be a security risk in or around London. As an Essex MP, Mr Baron may well therefore be concerned that a Titan prison could be built in his constituency.

17 Jun 2008 07:55:53

Francis Maude targets Labour's dependence on trade union funding in Commons exchanges with Jack Straw

In the Commons yesterday Francis Maude MP clashed with Jack Straw MP on Government plans to restrict CCHQ funding of target seats between elections:

Maudefrancisonqt Francis Maude: "Does the Secretary of State not understand that it would be an atrocious abuse of power for the Government to force through restrictions on what parliamentary candidates can spend from money they have raised privately, while sitting MPs can spend ever-more taxpayers’ money on promoting themselves?"

Jack Straw: "Had he addressed himself to the available research—the much better research—by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, he would have seen, for example, that spending donations received in local Conservative parties and marginal seats averaged £19,600, compared with £6,500 and £7,700 in Labour and Liberal Democrat marginals. What we—and, I believe, the Liberal Democrats—wish to see, and what the Conservative party wished to see until last summer is sensible, non-partisan rules that we can come together and agree on. I hope that, even at this late stage, the Conservative party will think again."

Most of Mr Maude's brief response to Jack Straw focused on Labour's dependence on the trade unions and how this was blocking the possibilities for reform of political funding:

Trade union donations to Labour aren't voluntary: "Does he recall that he and Peter Watt—the then Labour general secretary—refused point blank even to discuss giving trade union members the right to a real choice in whether to pay the political levy? [Interruption.] Well, does the Secretary of State remember the revelation that a Lib Dem MP received a ballot paper for Labour’s leadership contest, having unwittingly become a Labour party member through a trade union? Will he not acknowledge that when trade unions routinely declare that 100 per cent. of their members—and in two cases, more than 100 per cent.—are paying the political levy, the idea that these are voluntary individual donations to Labour are laughable, especially when polling shows that fewer than half of union members even vote Labour, let alone want to support it financially?"

92% of Labour funds come from the unions: "Last year, we came close to an overall comprehensive agreement that could genuinely have started to repair the public’s trust in politics, and I say to the Justice Secretary that we can still achieve this. However, it would require Labour to accept that dependence on a small number of union bosses has to end. Sadly, it is hard to see that happening when 92 per cent. of Labour’s income comes from the unions, who even now are squaring up to demand their payback in the form of a Warwick agreement mark 2. It is precisely Labour’s dependence on these union bosses and the big donor culture that is preventing us from getting the reform that our politics so desperately needs."

More in Hansard.

Related Parliament link: Labour MP makes case for urgent legislation to stop Lord Ashcroft and CCHQ from funding target seats.

30 Apr 2008 15:24:00

Government delays releasing figures on early-release prisoners... nothing to do with tomorrow's election

Herbert_nick_mp This morning Nick Herbert MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, made a point of order about the Government's suspicious delay in publishing its figures for early-release prisoners:

"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.

30 Jan 2008 11:25:45

Why do criminals in police cells cost four times as much to feed as NHS patients?

Rosindell_andrew_2008 Andrew Rosindell MP: "Can the Secretary of State for Justice explain why a patient in an NHS hospital has only £3 a day spent on their food, yet a criminal locked up in a police cell has £12 a day spent on food? Will the Secretary of State enlighten us as to why the figure is four times more for a criminal in a cell?"

Jack Straw MP, Secretary of State for Justice: "As ever, the hon. Gentleman, who comes from the same great county as I do, asks an important question. The issue is an interesting one, and I shall revert to him and the House on the matter."

We've asked Andrew Rosindell to let us know when he gets a reply.

11 Jan 2008 08:55:34

Labour MP makes case for urgent legislation to stop Lord Ashcroft and CCHQ from funding target seats

Ex-Guardian journalist and Labour MP for the super marginal seat of Battersea was on the Today programme this morning.  As a member of Peter Hain's deputy leadership campaign, Martin Linton was there to explain how the Work & Pensions Secretary had failed to declare £103,000 of donations to that campaign.  You would think that Mr Linton wouldn't be keen to talk about party political funding but no.  Here are extracts from a speech he made in Westminster Hall on Tuesday about Lord Ashcroft's funding of the Conservative Party.  Mr Linton is the MP leading Labour backbench attempts to regulate the funding of political parties between elections.

The Tories are raising more money: "Overall, Tory associations have raised almost as much from individual donations since the last election as they did in the whole period between 2001 and 2005. On the much more important matter of donations to Conservative central office, which is at a far higher level, the Conservatives have already raised more since 2005—£15 million in individual donations, never mind other kinds—than they did between 2001 and 2005, when they raised £14.8 million."

The Tories are spending money earlier: "The truth is that many Conservative candidates are starting their campaigns now. In doing so, they are importing two of the least desirable characteristics of politics in the United States. We are spending a lot more money than we used to, and we are starting to spend it earlier, although we are nowhere near the obscene amounts spent in American politics yet. Spending has practically doubled in every US election this century. Bush spent $95 million on his primary campaign in 2000 and $269 million, nearly triple that, in 2004. Overall spending by all candidates on primaries, elections and conventions rose from $649 million in 2000 to just over $1 billion in 2004, and all the signs predict that it will rise even higher in 2008.  American politics, I readily confess, is now so distorted by big money that merely saying that we are not as bad as the Americans is not saying very much. Perhaps more alarming is the fact that candidates are following the American example by starting to campaign a couple of years before the election is remotely likely to occur. From all over the country, we hear reports that candidates are starting to deliver regular newsletters, not saying what they are doing—because, of course, they hold no position—but attacking the Government and the incumbent MP. That is exactly what we expect them to do during an election campaign, but they are starting two years early."

Ashcroft has funded seats successfully before: "As a freelance operation, Lord Ashcroft and two other donors channelled £1.3 million into marginal seats outside the Conservative campaign. Ashcroft was typically getting £20,000 or £40,000 cheques to candidates who met with his approval. We also know that it worked. Peter Bradley, who lost his seat in The Wrekin, has calculated that there was a higher swing in the seats that received that money than in other seats. We know that Lord Ashcroft agreed with that assessment because, although things were a bit gloomy at central office on the night of the last election, he was celebrating the fact that 25 of the 33 gains involved candidates to whom he had given money. We also know that he was planning to do the same next time, not as a freelancer outside the Conservative campaign, but as vice-chairman of the Conservative party, sitting in party headquarters and orchestrating things from there."

Labour incompetence made this possible: "Until 2000, it was impossible for candidates to campaign between elections without it counting towards their election expenses. We accidentally changed the law in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, so that candidates’ spending limits are switched on not by candidates themselves declaring themselves as candidates or starting to campaign, but by the dissolution. That was never intended; apparently there was a mix-up on the last day of the Bill’s debate in the House of Lords. Although the mix-up was unforgivable, I have never heard anyone take responsibility for it."

Labour must legislate against Ashcroft very quickly: "To have any beneficial effect, legislation to close the Ashcroft loophole must be on the statute book well before the next election—by summer, or by Christmas at the very latest—as the experience of the past few elections has shown us that candidates and parties tend to launch their campaigns in January of the year in which the election is held."

Related links: CCHQ highlights widespread abuse of parliamentary communications allowance by Labour MPs and  'Lord Ashcroft merely levels the playing field'

6 Dec 2007 08:10:09

Nick Herbert responds to Jack Straw's statement on prisons

Herbertnickspeaking "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.

Related link: Last week's ToryDiary on Nick Herbert's prison reform speech

9 Oct 2007 09:30:00

Nick Herbert targets Labour's "counterproductive" frenzy of law-making

Herbertnickspeaking "I hesitate to mention ICM’s poll in the News of the World yesterday. I appreciate that it may be in poor taste and that that poll had no impact at all, of course, on the Prime Minister's courageous decision not to call an early general election. However, that poll showed that 63 per cent. of voters in marginal seats think that the Government have done a bad job on law and order, and only 30 per cent. think that they have done a good job. More than half of Labour voters said that the Government had done a bad job. There have been 35 Bills, 3,000 offences have been created, but two thirds of voters say that the Government have done a bad job. Do Ministers by any chance think that those facts are related? Perhaps they should listen to the Law Society, which said in a briefing on the Bill that it

“strongly believes that the criminal justice system is suffering from ‘change fatigue’, and that new legislation, particularly that creating additional criminal offences or alternative ways of dealing with people who have re-offended, can be counterproductive if it unnecessarily results in the wastage of scarce resources”."

More from Hansard here.

9 Oct 2007 09:30:00

David Davies highlights the non-use of maximum sentences

Davies_david_2 "We have heard more about tough sentences and increased numbers of prisoners, but the reality is that what is important is never the maximum sentence but the sentencing guidelines given to magistrates and judges.

In 2005, for example, 5,957 people were convicted of having a knife in a public place, but only one of them was given the maximum sentence possible. In that same year, 5,689 were convicted of possessing a knife or sharp, bladed instrument unlawfully, but only two were given the maximum sentence. When it comes to drugs, about 7,000 people were convicted of possession with intent to supply cocaine, crack, heroin, ecstasy, LSD, methadone and other class A drugs. Of those 7,000 people convicted of intent to supply, only one—just one—received the maximum sentence. Many of them did not even receive custodial sentences. I recently attended a police raid on a known heroin dealer. A quantity of heroin was found, but the dealer was let off with a caution. For all the Government’s rhetoric, the reality has not been tough on crime or tough on the causes of crime."

More from Hansard here.