By Jonathan Isaby
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Yesterday saw two Opposition debates relating to law and order, which included speeches highly critical of the Government from two (unrelated) Conservative backbenchers by the name of Davies.
The first debate was on a simple Labour motion stating "that this House opposes changing the maximum discount for custodial sentences to up to 50% for those who plead guilty."
"As a Government Member I do not particularly enjoy voting in favour of Opposition day motions. However, the Justice Secretary’s recent proposals are simply unacceptable to the majority of my constituents and the British public as a whole… It is astonishing that some of our hon. Friends, who were happy to enter the election promising to send more criminals to prison, and to put in place longer sentences and honesty in sentences, are now advocating sending fewer people to prison for a shorter time. I did not tell that to my constituents when I stood in the election."
"The Secretary of State made it clear that as a result of the proposal fewer people would be in prison. That is the whole purpose of the measure. My hon. Friend ought to reflect on the fact that this is an arbitrary proposal, because there is absolutely no evidence suggesting that more people will plead guilty as a result. If that does not happen, will the Secretary of State return to the House in a few months suggesting a three-quarters discount for pleading guilty in order to get a few more convictions? Where will it end? Why not scrap prison sentences altogether? This is a slippery slope. It is ludicrous and not based in evidence."
"People keep telling me that Scandinavian countries are marvellous when it comes to these things, so I went to Denmark to see at first hand what they did. One thing that never seems to come out is that in Denmark, people are not automatically released halfway through their sentences. They are released only if they behave well; and in fact, 30% of prisoners in Danish prisons serve their full sentences because they are not deemed safe to release from prison early. Those are the things that the Secretary of State should be looking at, not trying to have people serve lower sentences in the first place. Indeed, it is his proposals that are causing the British public to lose confidence in the British criminal justice system and in this place."
"These proposals have to go. I very much fear that if the Secretary of State does not listen to the widespread opposition to these plans, then for us to restore our reputation as a party of law and order, he will have to go as well."
There then followed a debate led by shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper attacking the Government's reduction in funding to the police.
"In many ways, I am sorry to have to make this speech—it is not even a very well-prepared one—but I have to tell the Home Secretary that I am deeply concerned about some of the directions we are taking. I have a view that might be unfashionable, Home Secretary, which is that burglars, rapists, murderers, people who commit acts of violence of any sought and people who sell drugs—there is a family in Monmouthshire selling ketamine to young children in school—need to be taken off the streets and sent to prison. They should not be released early from their prison sentences, and they do not deserve 50% off their sentences, which is why for the first time ever, I think, I was unable to follow the Home Secretary into the Lobby earlier tonight. I regret that very much. But, Home Secretary, I will not be part of any Government who want to let people out of prison. I do not think the Labour party did a good job on law and order, but when I hear colleagues say that it banged up more people than we will, I start to question what I am doing here."
"If it comes down to money, there is a difference between me and Opposition Members. I would like more money put into the police force and the Prison Service so that we can look after our people properly. The first priority of any Government should be the defence of the realm and the rule of law. Where I differ from Opposition Members, however, is that I would say to the Home Secretary—even though it is not her decision—that I cannot understand why we are pouring into the third world money that is being spent on Mercedes Benz by dodgy dictators in Africa, while having to cut funding to the police and prison services here, resulting in our people being not as safe as they ought to be.
"Let us be honest about this. If we are going to reduce funding to the police force, there will be a cut in service. There is no point trying to pretend otherwise, no matter what reforms we make. I offer the Home Secretary a serious suggestion. I have noticed that on many occasions the police have to waste a lot of money providing translation facilities for people who claim not to speak English. I have actually arrested people who were able to tell me in perfect English that they were not responsible for whatever they were doing—usually bag thefts and such things. They have an amazing level of English, but take them back to the police station and suddenly it has all gone and a translator has to be found at £50 an hour—and no doubt the translator follows them all the way through the court process as well. On rare and happy occasions, these people actually go to prison. When that happens, though, we have to spend money housing in our prisons people who are often illegal immigrants—that involves a certain expense, although not as much as the figures often quoted suggest—and afterwards we have to spend money trying to deport them if their countries will take them. The Home Secretary should take some of the money that is meant for the third world in the third world, and use it on people from the third world who are over here breaking the law—not all of them are, of course, but some of them do."