» Friday, June 23, 2006

Prime Minister’s Speech/Prisons/Criminal Justice System

Asked about Sky’s recent reporting about 4000 extra prison places, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) told journalists that there had been an increase in the number of prison places in the last few years. If people looked at what the Prime Minister had said in his speech, he had said that the number of prison places had expanded by 19,000 since 1997, and equally, we were adding a further 1000 in the next year. Therefore, the prison population was going up, and it was an issue that we had to look at, and keep looking at.

Asked that we were not talking about an extra 4000, the PMOS said people should check with the Home Office for the precise situation.

We would look at the precise number of how many places were needed, but that was something the Home Office would deal with.

Asked if we were talking about thousands of places, the PMOS replied that we had already talked about thousands since 1997, and we were talking about increasing the population if necessary.

Asked if that was further to the 1000 mentioned, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had said exclusively that we had to look at whether we had to increase the prison population further. The PMOS said that he was not going to get into talking figures etc now, but it was obviously something that we had to keep under constant review.

Asked where was the money going to come from for this, and was the Treasury on board, the PMOS replied that in terms of the Treasury and the Home Office, they had the usual discussions. The PMOS said that the response had to be effective, and that was why the Prime Minister had said that the offender, and not the offence, at the centre. There was no point in putting a drug addict in prison if he came out the other side as just as much of a drug addict as before. That was not a saving to society. Rather, what was a saving to society was if a period of punishment was used as a period of rehabilitation; it was not either/or, but both. In the long run, if assets were recovered, and if the action on fraud that we were doing was taken, then real cost savings to society would be seen.

Asked if the PMOS was suggesting that by seizing assets of criminals, and by rehabilitating drug addicts, was the entire initiative self-financing, the PMOS replied that the question was a crude analysis. The PMOS said that there was a cost to society of having repeat drug offenders, and of having a situation where fraud cases were not properly dealt with. Therefore, there was an overall re-balancing process which we needed to carry out which in the end, would benefit society. In terms of the short term cost, it would have to be dealt with as part of normal business, but there was a long term benefit to society of doing so.

Asked for further information about the Prime Minister’s words regarding dysfunctional families and them being recognised almost as soon as they were born, the PMOS replied that in terms of dealing with problem families, there was a myriad of different ways in which that could be done. Part of what the Prime Minister was saying was that what was not done was sit back ten years and wait for a child to become a young offender. If there was a problem which families needed help and guidance with, such as truancy for example, then it was identified. Equally, if one member of a family was a school truant, then there was a likelihood that other members of the family would also be playing truant, unless that issue was dealt with. The PMOS said that there was not a magic bullet, but there were various ways of intervening early, and not waiting for the problem to become a situation where there was no alternative but to eventually send someone to prison.

Asked how could someone be stopped from playing truant before they’d started, the PMOS said by talking to parents, and giving parents responsibilities in terms of ensuring that their children were not truants. These were things that were already happening. If people were at the stage where they were dealing with the parent of an older child who was already a truant, then they were helped to ensure that their younger children did not become truants too.

Asked if there would be a new system of intervention of problem families when it came to pre-school children, and how would it work, the PMOS said that again, this was not a speech about detailed proposals, but rather, about setting the framework. What the PMOS was giving people was an example of how that framework could be implemented, and indeed, in some ways, it had already been doing so. In terms of how families could be helped, it was true that working with parents, setting boundaries, and by saying that by setting penalties for not working with those who were trying to rehabilitate them was already part of the system.

Asked if there would be a menu with a pricelist during John Reid’s announcement next month, the PMOS replied that the question was the wrong way to look at things. The right way was to ask: what was the cost already to society of not taking action in these cases, and then, how was action taken? Of course there would be proposal which would be costed, but the important point was how was action then taken to end that cost to society. The PMOS sad that if people started from the premise that there was nothing to be done about the situation, then a defeatist attitude was being taken which did not address not so much the expectations, but rather, the belief of people that the system should protect them from those who carried out crime. That was the important thing. It was not enough to say "sorry, we could not do it", as that was not what people wanted. If people looked at the experience in Bristol yesterday, people were not saying too much was being done, but rather, why was more not being done. They had a right to say that.

Asked if governments (past and present) had been too defeatist, the PMOS replied that he did not want to get into being pejorative about other governments in the past. The important thing was that this was a speech which addressed and analysed fundamentally the issues which we faced as a country in this area. If people objected to the conclusions and the solutions, then they had to also say what it was that they would do instead. People had to address the analysis. The PMOS said that this was not a knee jerk response, but rather, it was a thought-through analysis, building on that analysis, and explaining why we had done what we had done, and saying what would guide our actions in the future. If people were going to object, then they had to address the fundamental analysis.

Put that crime was falling, and one of the experts on the No10 website had suggested that one of the things that the Government should do was to go out and make the case to say that this was not a growing problem, but rather, one that was being dealt with, and would the Prime Minister do that, the PMOS replied that in all the number of times he had sat in the lobby room and said that crime was falling, the reception had never been "yes, you’re right", but rather, the reverse. So we did argue the case, repeatedly. Equally, however, we had to accept that if people lived on a housing estate and local crime was what made their lives hell, then it had to be dealt with. We had to accept that we had to analyse why that sort of crime had happened, and why crime rose so sharply in the second half of the 20th century, and come up with measures to deal with it. The Prime Minister’s analysis of it was that people did not accept that the rise in crime during the 2nd half of the 20th century was a given, and that we just had to live with it. The Prime Minister’s view was that the public wanted crime reduced as much as possible and if that meant changing the system, then the system must change to their expectations, not their expectations to what the system could deliver. It was what people wanted in their normal lives which should guide the system, and not the other way round.

Asked what would be said to those who saw a valedictory tone to the Prime Minister’s speech, and were these speeches farewell talks, the PMOS said that using people’s experiences to say what needed to be done in the future was what Prime Ministers should do, and did do. This speech was using his personal experience politically as well as being a barrister as well, with the experience of the people he met across the country to give a fundamental analysis of a problem, and to address that analysis to say what needed to be done. People should address the analysis, rather than putting rather superficial spins on it.

Asked that when the Prime Minister had talked about changing the mind set of the courts, was he talking about changing the processes as well, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister’s fourth point was about reforming the criminal justice system (CJS) just like reforming any other public service. The key point of that was that every offence was not treated in the same way, but rather, that the system was fitted to individual offences, but also to different needs. That was partly what had driven the move into summary justice in terms of fixed penalty notices etc. The Prime Minister did see a need for the system to reform in a much better way, as he did take the point that delays created disrespect to the system. That was why the Prime Minister had pointed out that uniquely in public services, people became more disillusioned with the CJS the more contact they had with it, and that was not true with other public services now.

Asked what would the Prime Minister then say to the accusations from one of the experts that they did not want to see more legislative hyperactivity, the PMOS replied that we completely respected the right of the experts to express a view, and that was why they were on the No10 website, as we genuinely wanted a debate on this. That expert had also said that we should not raise people’s expectations, but it was not a matter of raising expectations, as people, quite rightly, expected that they should be able to lead a life free of crime. We believed that therefore, that such a rise of crime in the second half of the 20th century had to be analysed, and not tell the public that they had to live with it, but rather, deal with it. The PMOS also said that if people objected to this analysis and its conclusions, then what did they think should happen instead?

Asked was there going to be lots of new legislation, the PMOS replied that John Reid would come forward with his proposals in July. Lord Falconer was looking again at his area on issues such as sentencing, but there were also issues such as deportation of foreigners that crossed between the Home Office and the DCA. There was a lot of work going on.

Asked if the Prime Minister was thinking about amending the Human Rights Act, the PMOS said that as the Prime Minister had said, we had to look at the interpretation of the Human Rights Act. The Prime Minister’s primary view was that it was very easy for people to use the Human Rights Act as a scapegoat, without actually thinking through what it meant. What that meant was that fundamentally, we had been signatories of the ECHR for 50 years, and that was translated into law in many different countries without the kinds of problems of interpretation that we had in this country. The fundamental problem was not the Human Rights Act, but rather, the mindset in which it was interpreted.

Asked who interpreted, the PMOS said that was what we had to analyse. Why did we have these problems?

Asked was it not the judges, the PMOS replied that without adding to the Sun’s campaign, what we had to analyse was precisely why we did have this problem, and that process of analysis was going on. The PMOS said that he was not going to pre-empt the outcome of it.

Asked if the Prime Minister was leaning away from it, the PMOS said that what the Prime Minister would do was to act on the basis of the analysis that was going on. People should take very clearly the Prime Minister’s warning that we should not just use the Human Rights Act as a scapegoat.

Asked if the Prime Minister foresaw any problems with on the one hand, putting more emphasis on the offender, rather than the offence, and at the same time, wanting to involve the victim more in that process, the PMOS said: no, because it was important that the courts and the people who carried out crime understood the true impact of crime. That was why it was important that the victims felt that they had a voice in the process. Again, there were a number of entry points for that, and again, it was something the system had to look at and take on board.

Put that some of the points in the Prime Minister’s speech were not new, so why would they now happen, the PMOS replied that whilst we had made a lot of progress on issues such as crime or asylum, we did have to recognise that we had not made enough. We also had to ask the question that lay underneath the daily headline, what was it that was the real cause of these problems? We had to be prepared to face up to the hard choices that that implied. The Prime Minister said that that was why people had to ask what was the priority; in the end, was it the accused, or was it the wider community? How, if that question was addressed, was it certain that miscarriages of justice did not occur, but also, how was it recognised that there was not the biggest miscarriage of justice of all which was that there was not a proper justice system which people had respect for.

Asked what sort of timeframe was the Prime Minister looking at in terms of turning any of this into action, the PMOS said that John Reid would come forward with his proposals before the summer recess. Lord Falconer would come forward with further proposals, perhaps nearer the autumn. This was not something that would allowed to gather dust, as it was something that was very high on the Prime Minister’s agenda, which was why he chose to make it the first of these speeches.

Briefing took place at 15:00 | Search for related news

1 Comment »

  1. Yeah, right. All talk and no trousers, as ever. This government has had 10 years to get to grips with law and order, as well as everything else, and has been, like every other government, a total unmitigated failure. This leads to one of 2 conclusions. Either all governments are crap – or all governments are following an agenda which has nothing to do with the good of the public of this country. Face it, if a government really wanted to sort out a problem, it could do it overnight. Governments can do anything – because they have all the authority they need, and the resources of the entire country to call on. And yet the only time things actually seem to go to plan is for war. At the very least, that shows it CAN be done. And yet they choose not to in everyday life, unless it is policies which cut down on civil liberties which are being talked about, and then there never seems to be a problem. I bet the ID Card scheme doesn’t run into the kind of problems the NHS computer system seems to be having, even though it will mean an even bigger IT system.

    Incidentally, and entirely apropos of nothing, did anyone else know that it’s supposedly against the rules to ask questions about the Bank of England in the House of Commons? Isn’t that strange…?! I wonder what it is about the Bank of England which one is not allowed to question, apart from the fact that it’s a private company?

    Comment by SmokeNMirrors — 25 Jun 2006 on 3:18 pm | Link

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