Alex Chalk is Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, and is MP for Cheltenham.
Earlier this week, the King set out the legislative programme for the forthcoming and final parliamentary session before the next election. What was laid out was an ambitious and long-term vision for our country, which illustrated how it is the Conservative Party that is best placed to deliver the change that the country needs, and the British people expect.
We are taking the necessary measures to protect and grow our economy by safeguarding our energy independence to secure jobs and make us more resilient, harnessing the benefits of Brexit through improved trading partnerships, and modernising our approach to regulation to give the world’s biggest tech firms a platform to grow and compete right here in the UK.
And we are strengthening society as well as the economy, because as Conservatives we know that these must go hand in hand. This means protecting the health of our young people, safeguarding our local football clubs for the long-term, supporting renters and leaseholders and standing up to antisemitism, the importance of which could not be clearer right now.
But the very heart of our agenda are our plans to keep the British people safe. Protecting the public and delivering for victims is not just my priority as Justice Secretary, but the most important responsibility of the entire government, and our legislative plans go further than ever to deliver justice and increase the confidence of victims.
Having spoken to too many families who have been destroyed by brutal crimes against their loved ones and further insulted when their perpetrators have refused to show up in the dock to face the consequences of their actions, I am delighted that we will soon be legislating to give judges the power to order offenders to court and punish those who refuse.
And in the aftermath of such shocking crimes as those committed against Zara Aleena and Sabina Nessa, we are going to be extending the use of Whole Life Orders. Under our plans those who kill with sexual or sadistic conduct can now expect judges to hand down Whole Life Orders in all but the most exceptional circumstances. Under this government, life will mean life.
Under laws passed by Labour which we inherited in 2010, the vast majority of convicted rapists would walk out of prison after serving just half of their sentence. A ten-year sentence would only mean five years in prison. We changed this in recent years to push that release point to two thirds for the most serious offenders – but now we are going further to legislate to ensure that rapists serve the entirety of their custodial term behind bars. When a judge hands down a 10-year custodial term it will mean just that — 10 years in prison – the justice that the British people expect.
As a party and a government, we are clear that our priority must be to lock up the most dangerous offenders for longer. The Labour Party have tried to talk a tough game on law and order – but voters would be right in thinking their actions utterly fail to match their words.
It was a Labour government who introduced the automatic halfway release point in the first place for longer-sentenced serious offenders, and they opposed us at every turn when we reversed this – voting against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act which ended automatic halfway release at every opportunity. Despite their rhetoric, colleagues should not hold their breath for them to back our new sentencing or criminal justice bills. And don’t forget they campaigned to block planes full of foreign national offenders from taking off.
While we take action to ensure the worst offenders are in prison for longer, we are also working to cut reoffending and break the cycle of low-level crime that too many are caught up in. We are introducing a presumption to suspend short prison sentences as evidence shows that those on prison sentences for less than twelve months are far more likely to reoffend than those who get sentences in the community, even for comparable crimes. And now technology allows us to impose seriously strict conditions for suspended sentences – including tough curfews, alcohol bans and restrictions on movement. We can make sure that offenders go to their workplaces and stay there so they repay their debt to society without sliding back into a life of crime.
This is the right, evidence-driven long-term approach to bring down crime. For too long governments have been focused on the short-term, instead taking the long-term decisions necessary to ensure a brighter future. The tough choices we are making, to lock up the worst offenders for longer and to rehabilitate the redeemable, are the right ones to protect the public in the long term. We are determined to implement the change this country needs that will safeguard our nation for generations to come.