Robert's Weekly Swindon Advertiser Article - 10th February 2016

Many of you may have read the recent Adver article about my work as Solicitor General, and only last week I met members of the Christ Church Breakfast Club to talk about the role and how I work on my Ministerial tasks as well as doing my constituency casework and dealing with local issues.  In short, I am kept very busy.  This week, I will be conducting two cases in the Court of Appeal where I am seeking a review of sentences for a terrorism offence and for a large firearms and ammunition supply conspiracy.  It is vitally important that all sentences fully reflect the seriousness of the crime, the need for punishment and also the need for public protection in some cases.

Having said that, I have long believed that our Prison system should do better.  The number of adult and young offenders who commit more crimes after their release from jail sentences remains far too high.  Victims of crime deserve better, which is why I was very pleased that the Prime Minister made a major speech on this issue on Monday.  This is the first time a PM has directly addressed the issue for twenty years. 

Sadly, there will be a cohort of prisoners who are dangerous and whose continued imprisonment remains necessary for our protection, hence my work in helping to ensure that unduly lenient sentences are increased.   There is a significant number of prisoners,, however, who are capable of rehabilitation, so the need for better education and a prison regime that deals with violence, drug taking and mental health problems is clear.  I welcome the creation of six new “reform prisons”, where Governors will exercise real control over their operation and budgets.

When I was a member of the Commons Justice Select Committee, we looked at the issue of how to integrate prisons and probation services more effectively.  This was important in order to reduce the rate at which released prisoners re-offended.  The way in which prisoners are “churned” through the system means that any attempt at education or skills development becomes very difficult.  The new proposals offer the opportunity of a different approach that I believe will help deal with the problem of re-offending.

The misuse of mobile phones in prisons is a real problem which I have spoken about in Parliament, so measures to block phone signals to prisons are absolutely necessary.  We have already passed new laws the it easier to confiscate and destroy mobiles being illegally used in prisons but it is good to see that further measures will be taken so that this scourge can be stamped out.

The issue of foreign criminals in our prisons is a serious one.  We have deported thousands of foreign inmates already but measures that will speed up the process and that will ensure that the nationality of criminals is declared and identified at an early stage in proceedings will help increase this number.  The Prime Minister’s announcements have been welcomed by a wide range of opinion, and I strongly support them.

Every day, I continue to deal with local casework and local issues, whether it be traffic issues in Old Town or GP services across our area.   After the frustrating and disappointing decision by the Planning Inspector to grant the Berkeley Farm application in Wroughton, I have been speaking with Swindon Borough Council and have made my concerns known to my colleague Brandon Lewis MP, the Planning Minister, because this result could seriously affect the Borough’s new Local Plan and the developing Wroughton Neighbourhood Plan.  The Council is considering whether or not to make an application for judicial review, and are taking legal advice.  This is the right thing to do, and if the Council decides to make an application for permission to seek a judicial review, I will fully support it.

As ever, please do not hesitate to contact me if you have a local or national issue that you would like to raise at one of my regular surgeries.  Please get in touch with my office if you would like to book an appointment (01793 533393).