Speech

PM’s press conference on sentencing reforms

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

A transcript of the press conference given by Prime Minister David Cameron on sentencing reforms in London on 21 June 2011.

Prime Minister

This is a very proud day for me.  I’m looking forward to welcoming Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, to Downing Street for a lunch to celebrate the Duke’s 90th birthday today.  I know everyone in the room will want to send him their very best wishes and to pay tribute to the decades of service that he’s given to our country.

This morning I want to explain how we’re reforming the broken criminal justice system to fight crime and improve punishment.  Before I go into details, let me just put this in context.  I want to make one thing very clear.  My mission is to make sure that families can feel safe in their homes and they can walk the streets freely and without fear.  Our policies are about making sure that is the case.  We want the police to focus on local people’s concerns and priorities, so we’re going to make them accountable to the public and we want prisons to be places of punishment with a purpose.  So instead of prisoners sitting in their cells we will require them to work hard and reform themselves.

The system today is failing and badly needs reform.  Each prison place costs nearly £45,000 a year, but half of prisoners reoffend within a year of leaving.  Half of them are on drugs.  Over 10% are foreigners, many of whom shouldn’t be here at all.  And prisoners are often in their cells for 23 hours a day, not doing anything valuable or anything to reform themselves.  So we inherited a hugely expensive system that doesn’t work.  Let me be clear.  We will always pay the costs necessary to protect the public and to punish criminals and we will not reduce the prison population by cutting prison sentences.  We must do it by making prison work.

For me, there should be three clear principles.  First, our whole approach needs to be built around the recognition that the first duty of government is to protect the public and ensure that those who play by the rules are kept safe.

Second, serious and dangerous offenders must go to jail and stay there for a long time, while community sentences must be clearly punitive, making greater use of elements such as curfews and travel bans and we must be tougher on confiscating the assets of criminals as well.

Third, breaking the cycle of reoffending needs to be right at the heart of the criminal justice system.  This requires a completely new approach.  It means a much tougher view of prison as a real place of punishment and reform with a proper focus on addressing the causes of offending, so when prisoners are released they are much less likely to offend again.  And it means those who run prisons or community sentences should be paid according to their success in reducing reoffending at every stage of the criminal justice system, from sentences in the community to prisons and probation.  Anyone who thinks that action to reduce reoffending is somehow going soft on crime could not be more wrong.  Whether people feel safe on the streets is a direct result of how good we are at stopping reoffending.  And whether it’s safe to let serious offenders out of prison will depend crucially on how good we are at addressing their potential to reoffend.  Protecting the public, properly punishing serious offenders and cutting reoffending, that is how we plan to transform the criminal justice system.

The legislative proposals that Ken Clarke is setting out today are one part of that approach.  They include a tough package to fight crime, putting the system on the side of the victim.  So, first, tough action on knife crime, which has been the cause of so many tragedies in our communities.  Even after all these tragedies far too many people still think they can go out armed with a knife.  We need to send the clearest possible message that this simply has to change.  So we will introduce, for the first time in legislation, a compulsory jail term for anyone threatening someone with a knife.

Second, anyone who’s had squatters in their property will know how incredibly difficult it is to get them out, so we are proposing and will briefly consult on a criminal offence of squatting, to be introduced in this forthcoming Bill.

Third, the public have rightly been outraged by some prosecutions of home owners defending their property from criminals.  So we’ll put beyond doubt that home owners and small shop keepers who use reasonable force to defend themselves or their properties will not be prosecuted.

Alongside the Bill we’re publishing our response to the consultation on sentencing which we published last December.  Discounts for early guilty pleas have been part of the criminal justice system for some time and it’s quite right that this should be so.  They can help to speed up justice and can mean that victims do not have to relive their ordeal in the court room.

In the Green Paper we consulted on a proposal to increase the current discount available for an early guilty plea at the earliest possible stage to 50%.  For the most serious crimes we have concluded this would certainly not be right.  The sentence served would depart far too much from the sentence handed down by the judge and this is simply not acceptable.  We also looked at whether the 50% discount could only be applied to less serious crimes, but again we reached the same conclusion: the sentence would be too lenient, the wrong message would be sent out to the criminal and it would erode public confidence in the system.  What’s more, in reaching our conclusions we considered the strong views expressed by serious people working in the criminal justice system that 50% was just too high and that we needed to find better ways of speeding up the process for victims and witnesses and for the police and the courts.  So there will be no change to the current position on early guilty pleas for any category of case.  The money that would have been saved through this proposal will be saved through greater efficiency in other parts of the Ministry of Justice budget.

The consultation also raised significant concerns about the effectiveness of indeterminate sentences - so-called ‘IPPs’ - introduced by the last government.  We have inherited a system that is unclear, inconsistent and uncertain.  Unclear because actually a large proportion of the public don’t really know what indeterminate sentences are or how they work.  Inconsistent because they can mean that two people who commit the same crime can end up getting very different punishments.  And uncertain because victims and their families don’t have any certainty about the sentence that will be served or when their assailants will be let out.  So we’re going to review the existing system urgently with a view to replacing it with an alternative that is clear, tough and better understood by the public.  Let me set out what this alternative would involve.

First, there’d be a greater number of life sentences, including mandatory life sentences for the most serious repeat offenders.  I think life sentences are well understood and liked by the public.

Second, instead of serious sexual and violent offenders being released half way through their sentence, we propose they should spend at least two-thirds of that sentence in prison and that such offenders should never again be released early without the parole board being satisfied that it’s safe to let this happen.

Third, we also propose there should be compulsory programmes for dangerous offenders while they’re in prison to make them change their ways and not commit more crimes when they are eventually released.  And we will re-examine the parole board arrangements for the rehabilitation of those with indeterminate sentences to ensure that real work is done to reform offenders while they’re in prison.

Now, the review I’m announcing today will assess these changes and consider how such a new sentencing framework would allow us to replace the existing regime.  We’ll come forward with legislation in the autumn.  In the meantime, indeterminate sentences will continue to be available to the courts as they are now.  And let me be clear.  The changes we propose will need to maintain or strengthen the protection of the public so they can have full confidence in the system.  This is a non-negotiable red line for me and for this government.  The public need to know that dangerous criminals will be locked up for a very long time.  I’m determined that they will be.

Before I take your questions, let me just say this.  I’ve always believed the following: in a civilised society people give up their right to seek vengeance or act violently when they are done wrong to in return to protection from the state, and if this order is to be maintained it is absolutely vital that the public have confidence in the system the state puts in place.  Public confidence isn’t a side issue in this debate; it is the issue and that’s what our reforms are about: returning confidence to the system, making sure the police answer to the public’s priorities, making sure justice is done and seen to be done, and making sure offenders are reformed, so we do everything possible to cut the levels of crime and reoffending in our country.

Thank you for listening.  I’m very happy to take some questions.

Question

Thank you very much, Prime Minister.  You may feel that it’s terrific to be a government that consults and listens and all the rest of it, but presumably you’d like sometimes to get it right first time.  Your administration has made a series of unforced errors on issues that people really care about.  Do you bear some responsibility for that?

Prime Minister

I bear responsibility for everything the government does.  That is what the Prime Minister does.  But I don’t really accept what lies behind your question.  We produced a consultation paper, a Green Paper on sentencing.  We’ve listened to views about it and we’ve now come up with a very tough and robust set of changes to the criminal justice system.

But I think people looking at this government more broadly, even our harshest critics I think would say this government has an incredibly clear view about what is necessary in terms of reducing the deficit, getting the economy going, getting Britain back on track, bold and longstanding reforms to thinks like public sector pensions and public sector pay, hugely radical programme in terms of reforming welfare, areas that previous governments haven’t touched.  Hugely bold reforms to education, where we’ve already created more academy schools in 12 months than the last government did in 12 years.  So I don’t really accept the idea that this government isn’t extremely strong, resolute and determined.  It is, it’s seen as such and it will go on being seen like that.

But I think it’s right when you’re making policies and when you’re delivering changes if you consult, if you listen, if you think you can improve on your plans.  The weak thing to do is just to keep ploughing on and say, ‘I can’t possibly change, because I might have a difficult time at a press conference.’  The tough, strong thing to do is say, ‘Yes, we can make these plans better’.  Well, let’s do that and that’s exactly what we’ve done in this case; I think a much more robust set of plans than were in the Green Paper.  And it’s also what we did in the case of the health service, where I think it was right to get back on board the reform of the NHS a whole series of people who ought to support reform, who work in the NHS, who support the NHS, and that’s what we’ve done.  Absolutely the right thing and I don’t for one minute think that somehow it is weak to listen and then to act.  It’s a sign of strength and confidence.

Question

Prime Minister, why did you get the sentencing policy so wrong in the first place, or is it all Ken Clarke’s fault?

Prime Minister

The whole government produced a Green Paper, and a Green Paper with ideas in it for trying to reform a broken system.  I think you do have to sort of stand back and say: what are we dealing with here?  We are dealing here with a prison system where each place costs £45,000, half of all prisoners reoffend within a year, half of them are on drugs, 10% are foreigners, and a court system that doesn’t work very well, where you do have 10,000 cases getting to court where at the last minute the offender pleads guilty.  So, there’s all sort of inefficiencies and bad arrangements in the system that we need to change.  The Green Paper was about trying to address some of those.

The idea of a greater sentence discount - it was right to put that forward, to see whether that might bring forward more early guilty pleas.  I think the proof during the process of consultation was that actually the 50% reduction was far too much about cutting the level of sentencing rather than speeding up the court process.  As an idea, it failed, and it rightly failed.  It wasn’t just condemned by a number of victims, but also a number of people involved in sentencing, including judges, who didn’t think it was the right approach.  The right thing for the government to do is say: right, okay, we are not going to go ahead with that.  We will actually save the money in a different way.  We will press ahead with trying to make sure the court processes work better and we will also produce a range of measures that will actually mean we get a tougher response to crime.

I think that’s the right thing to do.  There would be no point in having - why would you have Green Papers or White Papers if you never listened to anything anybody said after you had published them?  I think we have gone through a good process.  I think we now have a good set of reforms, and we can take those forward in the Bill published today.

Question

Was it the judges that changed your mind, or the papers?

Prime Minister

What changed my mind was actually looking at the figures that showed that too much of the reduction in terms of the 50% - that was really about reducing sentences, including sentences for some dangerous offenders, rather than speeding up the court process.  If you like, I think the real clarification that comes through what I am saying today, compared with where we were in the Green Paper, is I think as a country we have got to cut the growing costs of the prison system.  We have got to stop this massive acceleration in prisoner numbers.  But the right way to do that is to reform prison and make it work better, not to cut sentences, particularly sentences for dangerous offenders.  That is a very clear statement about what the government wants to do.  We have arrived at that through a good process: publishing proposals, listening to what people have to say, and then coming to a conclusion as a government.  I think that’s, funnily enough, what governments ought to do.

Question

Thank you, Prime Minister.  I hear what you say, that you were consulting, but Ken Clarke clearly told the Commons this policy was likely to survive.  Therefore, do you not agree that U-turning too often, caving in in the face of some bad newspaper headlines, is a sign of weak government, indecisive government, and the public will take that conclusion from all of this?

Prime Minister

I don’t accept that for a moment.  I think if you look at what this government is doing in terms of a very bold, multi-year plan to reduce the deficit, you look at what the government is doing in terms of reforming long-term problems that the country faces, like the cost of public sector pensions, if you look at the very swift action we took, reducing the budget deficit in-year in 2010, look at the welfare reforms going through Parliament, look at what we are doing expanding the number of academies, look at what we are doing at reforming the criminal justice system.  People’s criticism of this government, actually when you go out on the streets, is very often: you are trying to do too many things, you are trying to do them too quickly, or you are too obsessed by the deficit.

Actually, people don’t tend to come up to me and talk about U-turns.  They talk about, ‘You’re taking on a lot.’  We are taking on a lot.  We need to as a government, but I do not make any apology for listening as you go along, and making sure you are getting things right.  Where you can improve them, and where you can make them better - as I say, it’s a sign of strength to say: I am going to make this better.  I am going to make that change.  I don’t mind if people say, ‘That’s not what you originally proposed,’ or ‘You’ve made a change.’  Being strong is about being prepared to admit you didn’t get everything right the first time, but you are going to improve it and make it better.  That’s exactly what we are doing with this.  I think that’s the right process to follow.  If you think of putting it the other way round, if you heard of a way to make your policy better, but you did nothing about it, that’s not strength, that’s not leadership.  That is actually living in fear of being criticised.  We must never do that.

Question

Is the lesson that you’re taking from the experience of the last few months, when you have looked again at these policies, that essentially, you have given your members of your Cabinet too much freedom and you need to be more on top of what’s happening inside your government?  Is that a conclusion you are drawing?

Prime Minister

I don’t think it’s that so much.  The way I put it is this.  If you remember what this government inherited and what we had to do, as we came into office, we needed to put in place very rapid deficit reduction measures and cost savings right across Whitehall.  We had to make a number of very difficult decisions and very difficult calls, right at the beginning.  I am absolutely convinced that was the right thing to do.  You look at your television screens today, you see what is happening in a country like Greece; the reason that we’ve got such low interest rates and we have economic confidence in Britain’s plans to pay its way out of debt, is because we took those steps.

Inevitably, when you take that many steps that quickly, you are building up for yourself a whole series of things you have got to do: reforming legal aid over here; making the police more efficient over there; making sure that local government can deliver more for less.  We have set ourselves a huge number of challenges, and I think the impressive thing is we are meeting those challenges, but as we go along, we make sure we are meeting them absolutely in the right way.  Now, the money that won’t be saved from the sentencing reform, £130 million, we will be able to save in other parts of the Ministry of Justice, not least because it’s an £8 billion budget, and we have a four-year programme of savings in that budget.  That is the right thing to do.

So, of course, if you are trying to do as many things as this government, because of the economic situation you inherited, you are always going to have a series of difficult policy choices as you go forward.  The question is: do you make the right choices?  I think today is another example where we have made the right choice.  Let’s make sure our system is more affordable by reforming prison and making it work better, not by cutting sentences to dangerous and violent offenders.  That would be the wrong thing to do, and we are making the right decision.

Question

Two questions on protection.  Really important point you made on reasonable force, defending your home and property.  How is that different to the law as it is at the moment, because we currently have reasonable force?  Also, on personal protection, last Tuesday, that oaf of a consultant disrespected, to my mind, the office of Prime Minister.  What on earth was he thinking?  I know you cannot criticise his professionalism, but will you tell us that he was ultimately professional, and if you don’t we will draw our own conclusions?

Prime Minister

Firstly, on reasonable force, what the law will do will put beyond doubt not just the issue of reasonable force, but reasonable force in defending your home or your premises.  That is what is new and being put into the law properly for the first time.

As for the consultant, I have been visiting hospitals for a few years, and this was the first time this had happened.  Obviously, for some reason, the consultant hadn’t been told a visit was taking place, and he was, quite fairly, concerned about levels of hygiene - not amongst the politicians; we had all wiped our hands and rolled up our sleeves.  I think he was a bit more worried about some of the people who were filming us.

The great thing was, I turned to the patient, a charming man, and his daughter was there, and I turned to the daughter and said, ‘I’m very sorry about this.  This has never happened before.’  She said, ‘I thought that was all part of the act.’  She thought we had laid on some exquisite drama, including a consultant in a bow tie in a state of high excitement.

Question

Probation services are going to play an important part of your efforts to stop reoffending.  Have you explicitly agreed that none of the extra cuts will hit the probation service, or will they be included in the search for savings?

Prime Minister

We haven’t made that agreement.  Obviously the probation service is a part of the Ministry of Justice’s bill.  The proposed efficiencies in the probation services are less at the moment than the efficiencies we are making, for instance, to the police service.  As I say, there is a £8 billion budget that the Ministry of Justice have, and I think if you are looking for what has actually changed in this, I think the key change is this: that we want to make savings through making the services, including prison, more efficient and more effective, and cut reoffending rates.  We are not going to save money by cutting sentences.  That is the key change that comes out of this consultation and this process.

I think it is a very important thing, and I think the public will be right behind that.  They know that prison could be more efficient and effective.  They know that the police do a fantastic job, but actually there are efficiencies we can make in terms of making sure civilians are doing jobs that frontline officers should be out on the streets, and all the rest of it.  They understand those points, and I want to take the public with us as we go through this process of making our services more efficient.  But we are not proposing to save money by cutting prison sentences.  That is the key point.

Question

Several of the things you have announced this morning, Prime Minister, are going to add to the Ministry of Justice’s costs: the mandatory sentences for threatening with a knife, for instance; the decision to no longer allow 50% remission for violence and sexual offenders.  That will add to the costs in addition to the savings from efficiencies that you’ve told Ken Clarke to go and find to cover the 50% discount scheme.  And isn’t this a huge kick in the teeth for a minister who came along and gave you a very generous settlement at a very early stage in the spending round and now you’ve made him go away and find more savings?

Prime Minister

No, I mean Ken and I have had some very good discussions about this.  We had a very good discussion at Cabinet this morning.  Ken knows more than many ministers about how possible it is to reform public services and get value for money - that’s exactly what he’s doing in his department.  I mean for instance there was the recent market testing of one prison on the prison estate and the savings that can be had, even if actually the existing operator continues to run it, can yield very great savings for his department.  Ken is happy with the proposals that we’re both publishing this morning, that he’ll be explaining to the House of Commons this afternoon as the right way forward.  And as I say, it’s an £8 billion budget and it’s possible to make these savings without cutting the sentences particularly for the most dangerous offenders.

Question

Will legal aid be cut?

Prime Minister

You’ll see in the Bill that’s published there’s big plans for reducing the cost of legal aid.  We do have the most generous system anywhere in the world for legal aid in the United Kingdom and I think that it’s right that we make these savings.  We’re not proposing further savings on top of what has already been announced but there are other large parts of the budget that Ken will be addressing.

Question

A couple of questions.  Damilola Taylor’s father, Richard Taylor, has this morning asked for you to sack Ken Clarke.  He said ‘Ken Clarke does not know what is going on in the streets; he does not know what criminality is about.’  What is your message to him?  And secondly, have you now dropped your manifesto commitment to imprison anyone who commits a knife offence?

Prime Minister

Well, first of all on the knife crime, I think this is a good measure.  I think what I’ve always wanted to see is greater certainty and a clear message sent out about knife crime and I think this proposal that anyone caught threatening someone with a knife goes to prison on a mandatory sentence is a really helpful step forward. I think the criminal justice system does have a role in sending these sorts of signals so I think that is a step forward; it’s better than the status quo, it’s an improvement.  Of course one would often like to do more in these things but I think it is a very good step forward for the system and for having safe and peaceful streets and sending that message out particularly to young people and to gangs.

I have every respect for Richard Taylor, a man I have met with several times.  Everyone knows not just how he’s suffered as a father but also how much he has put back into wanting to make Britain a safer and better place and I’ve huge respect for him.  I don’t agree with him about Ken Clarke.  I think Ken is an extremely effective minister.  He’s a very tough Secretary of State who’s got a hugely difficult job to do in trying to deliver more for less through his department.  He’s making great steps forward to do that.  Like me he’s quite robust and prepared enough to put forward proposals, to listen to what people say and then to come up with something better.  I think that is a strength in politics, not a weakness, and it’s certainly something that Ken has no problems doing.

Question

I wondered if you could clarify your comments on the radio yesterday that you can’t go as far as you’d like to in controlling immigration because you’re in a coalition.  Did this mean that you’ve abandoned your hope of bringing figures down to below the figures of the 1980s, and if you can’t control it to the extent that you would like to what does that mean for community cohesion?

Prime Minister

I think we have a very good coalition policy on immigration, which we are delivering and it is tough immigration control and it includes a cap on immigration that we’re delivering and I’m very positive about what we’re doing.  I don’t want to go into detail about every discussion we have in Cabinet or quad meetings where one party will want a bit more of this, and another party will want a bit more of that.  But the point I was making - I’m very personally keen and attached to this issue.  It’s something that I want to see solved by this government.  It’s an issue that I would like to see drop off the political agenda because I think when the public see proper immigration control in place they will stop worrying about that issue and they will turn their concerns to other issues and we can get back to the situation frankly that we had in the 1980s where it wasn’t an issue, it wasn’t a front-ranked political issue because immigration was at a reasonable level.  But I’m very satisfied with the coalition policy that we’re delivering and it’s agreed cross party.  Damian Green’s doing a fantastic job as the minister.  I think he’s one of the unsung heroes who’s in his department beavering away, making sure we close off a number of different routes that have been abused over recent years and I’m sure he’s going to have more to say in the weeks to come.

Question

On the euro issue, do you think that Britain would suffer if Greece was forced to leave the euro?

Prime Minister

I think that Britain suffers when the eurozone struggles.  I mean, 40% of our exports go to eurozone countries.  Our interest is in a healthy eurozone, a stable eurozone, a eurozone that addresses its problems and I think we should be clear that turbulence in the eurozone is not good for Britain and the consequences of severe turbulence could be bad for Britain.  I think everybody who’s studied this knows that.

The point about Greece that the Chancellor and I have both made is that we were not involved in the first bailout of Greece.  We don’t believe the European Financial Mechanism should be used in any way, for a number of reasons.  First of all, we weren’t involved in the initial bailout; we shouldn’t be involved in subsequent bailouts.  Second of all, this has been discussed at a eurozone level, not at a level of the 27, so I think it would be quite wrong now to bring Britain into this bailout. That’s why I said very clearly last night that of course we have a role as a member of the IMF, of course we wish the Greek government well, but I don’t want to see the European Financial Mechanism involved in bailing out Greece because I don’t think Britain should be participating in that bailout and we’ve set that down pretty clearly.

Question

I spoke to President Barroso yesterday who told me that Greece should never be allowed to go bankrupt, or any country, and that it would be more disastrous than the Lehman Brothers crash.  Do you agree with that?

Prime Minister

As I’ve said, I think turbulence in the eurozone is bad for Britain.  Countries struggling in the eurozone is bad for Britain.  I think it is wrong to speculate about another country, another partner country in the European Union; I don’t propose to do that.  I think I’ve set that out very clearly.  We are prepared to play our part to help the eurozone to become healthier, but not prepared to take part in this in terms of the Greek situation because we don’t believe the European Financial Mechanism should be used.  And indeed we have actually bought an end to the use of the Financial Mechanism from 2013, through the negotiations that I held in the European Council.

Question

Considering the theme of Greece, are you confident that the British banking system will be able to withstand any consequences of the flow from what’s happening in Greece?  And a question your City minister refused to answer yesterday, do you think the eurozone can survive?

Prime Minister

First of all on the eurozone, look, I was passionately opposed to Britain joining the Eurozone.  I’m very clear that as long as I’m Prime Minister there’s no prospect of us even contemplating joining the euro.  I’ve always believed that a country the size of Britain, with our economy and our situation, it’s much better if you have your own currency, are able to set your own interest rates because sometimes different countries in Europe need different interest rates and different circumstances.  That’s the reason for staying outside.  What I would say though is that the countries that joined the euro have an enormous amount invested in it and do not want to, and will not let it, fail.  They see it as an absolutely key part now of their national interests and identities and I wouldn’t doubt their resolve in any way.  I just happen to think that it’s not right for Britain to join for the reasons that I gave.

In terms of the British banks, look, the British banks have done a huge amount to strengthen their capital ratios and their situation.  I think everyone accepts that.  Clearly all banks across Europe need to make the same sorts of considerations and calculations to make sure they’re as robust as they can possibly be.

Question

Thank you very much.  Back in opposition when you were detoxifying the Tory brand, you gave a speech that was reported as the ‘hug a hoodie’ speech.  Today you’re -

Prime Minister

I never used those three words.  If anyone can find them -

Question

‘Show a little love’ was the spirit of the thing.

Prime Minister

I’m all for showing love.

Question

And here you are today with a much harder message on punishment.  Which is the real you?

Prime Minister

If I go back to that speech, I can almost quote it word for word.  What I said in that speech was that when people cross the line and break the law, I want an incredibly tough response because I think the state has to do the right job so that the public have confidence that if you break the law, if you smash up someone’s home, if you destroy public property, if you’re a burglar or a robber or a mugger or a knife criminal, I want to see a really robust response from the state, from the police, from the courts.  Whether it’s a community punishment or whether it’s a prison sentence, you’ve got to have public confidence in what happens.  But what I went on to say in that speech is inside the pale, inside the line, before you’ve crossed it, yes we should be recognising that there are too many young people that grow up without the love of a father, without the sense of family, without the sense of community.

It is true, as Iain Duncan Smith was talking at Cabinet today, that 1% of our children are in care and yet they make up 30% of the prison population.  Now clearly there is a problem of a lack of love, of a lack of parenting.  The state is being a bad parent and our children effectively are ending up in prison.  So I’ve never seen any contradiction between the idea of talking about the importance of the love a family needs to give to its children and the love that a community needs to give to children and bringing up children, and having a very tough response to crime when crimes are committed. I think that is what I would say a modern compassionate Conservative should believe in and that is absolutely what I stand for.

Question

The First Minister has made clear he wants two questions on the ballot paper in the forthcoming independence referendum, the second one being about extra powers for Holyrood as an insurance policy.  He’s also made clear that Scots will have to wait at least three years before the referendum takes place.  Is it right that Scots have to face two questions on a ballot paper and is it right they should have to wait three, if not four, years?  Is it possible you might consider short-circuiting this process?

Prime Minister

Well, what I worry about is that the government of Scotland is going to be too much about how to bring about the right circumstances for his referendum and whether he wants two questions or four questions or six questions or whatever, rather than actually trying to do the right thing by people in Scotland.  Now, I genuinely believe in the Respect agenda.  I respect the mandate that Alex Salmond has as First Minister.  The government here in Westminster will work with him and talk with him about how we can amend the Scotland Bill, how we can make sure everyone benefits from the policies of the UK government and the two governments work well together.  But what I won’t have is just an endless situation where this isn’t about the health and wealth and wellbeing of people in Scotland, it’s just about trying to get to a referendum situation to satisfy his needs.  That’s not right at all.

So, I’ve always said that if the Scottish Parliament votes to have an independence referendum, that’s a vote that we’d have to respect and we’d have to allow that and enable that to happen.  I don’t believe in Scottish independence, I believe in the United Kingdom. I want to keep the United Kingdom together and I’m not going to play a game with Alex Salmond about the how’s and when’s and wherefores.  I think he should get on delivering good government to people in Scotland and working with the Westminster government to make sure we join with him in that endeavour, but I’m not going to play games over independence.

Question

In recent days, some very senior military figures, the commander in chief of the air and the head of the navy, have questioned openly how long we can go on in Libya.  What’s your expectation of how long this conflict will last and how much should taxpayers be prepared to pay to complete the mission?

Prime Minister

There are moments where I wake up and read the newspapers and think, ‘Well, look, I tell you what, you do the fighting and I’ll do the talking,’ but generally speaking, when I spoke to the CDS and spoke to the First Sea Lord, they are absolutely clear that we are able to keep up this mission for as long as is necessary and that time is on our side, not on Gaddafi’s side.  We are allied to some of the richest and most powerful and most militarily capable countries in the world.  We have the backing of the UN, the backing of NATO, the backing of many Arab League countries; we have the Libyan people on our side.  Time is on our side, and we will keep going with this and the pressure is turning up all the time.  I think you can see that with the desertions from Gaddafi’s regime.  You can see it with the pressure he’s under in the west of the country where pockets of resistance that I think people assumed would be snuffed out are growing and growing in strength and challenging his authority.

So I’m absolutely confident that we can keep this pressure up, we can maintain this mission for as long as is necessary.  Our allies are equally staunch.  We’re growing in strength in terms of the Transitional National Council in Benghazi and we’ll keep working with them to make sure we bring this to a happy conclusion, and I’m very content of the support that I’m getting from Britain’s military.  They’re performing magnificently.  I went myself to go and see the RAF pilots and crews in Gioia del Colle in Southern Italy and, I have to say, I found the state of their morale and their enthusiasm for the job they’ve been asked to do extremely high, because they know that right is on their side and time is on their side and the British government and the British military is on their side too.

Question

Why are the top brass expressing their views repeatedly and so publicly?

Prime Minister

Well, all I can say is what they say to me and we have National Security Councils on Libya on a very regular basis.  I chaired one yesterday and the Chief of Defence Intelligence and the Chief of Defence Staff were there, and were hugely enthusiastic about what we’re doing and about our abilities to bring this to a conclusion.

Question

Prime Minister, the NHS Bill is going to come back to committee in the House of Commons.  It looks like it’s going to be set down for just 10 days’ debate.  Do you think that you risk all that goodwill you’ve tried to garner in recent weeks with the amendments by suggesting there isn’t enough time for those amendments to be considered in the House?  And a slight corollary, which is you’ve said it’s a sign of strength to reconsider policy.  Isn’t it a sign of strength for you to reconsider the ministerial make-up of your government and can we look forward, at non-Cabinet level, to a reshuffle this summer and with Crispin Blunt maybe not having much fuel in his tank?

Prime Minister

You love reshuffles, and I’m sorry I’ve disappointed you so far and plan to continue disappointing you for a while yet.  10 days.  I don’t want to misquote the Monty Python sketch, but when we were in opposition we used to dream of 10 days to debate a government bill.  I mean, I remember sitting on Standing - if that makes sense - sitting in a Standing Committee looking at criminal justice legislation where whole parts of the bill would just go rushing through because the guillotines had fallen.  I think 10 days is actually a significant amount of time.  We’ve recommitted this bill, so it goes back into the committee stage.  It then has a report stage.  I think I’m right in saying we’re going to have two days on report stage.  I don’t remember two-day report stages.  Maybe it’s all gone in a haze of times gone by.  I don’t remember us having two-day report stages for many bills.

I think what you see in George Young is a genuine parliamentary reformer and parliamentarian who wants to give the House of Commons proper time to consider the legislation and I think, frankly, we don’t really get any credit for that.  You know, we’ve got elected select committees and select committee chairmen.  We’ve got the backbench committee making sure the House of Commons has more control over its timetable and I think very generous in the allotment of time for debates and, as I say, two-day report stages, so I think it will be well aired and well discussed and I think it will get a warm welcome.

Question

You talk about longer prison sentences, harder work and reform in prison.  It sounds expensive and it sounds like the chain gang as well.

Prime Minister

That’s not what I’m proposing, but I do think community sentences - don’t worry, I’m not about to announce chain gangs if everyone was about to have a heart attack, but there is a serious point here.  If the public can see that community sentences are strong and meaningful and are actually putting back into the community, they will have confidence in them as alternatives to short prison sentences and also, crucially, the sentencers, magistrates’ courts, crown courts, will see there is an alternative to the short prison sentence, which is expensive and often doesn’t work because there’s not much you can do with someone in prison for a short amount of time.  So I do want to see community sentences that have an element of punishment in them where the public can see, ‘Yes, this person is getting their just deserts, I feel confident so therefore I don’t feel they have to go to prison.’ I don’t think we have enough of that at the moment.  In some cases it’s working better but I’d like to see more of that.

Question

The Welsh government is requesting power over energy policy, particularly in planning.  Is this something that you’re minded to do?  And also there’s the question of legal jurisdiction for Wales and devolution of criminal justice powers.  Would this be a good time to look at that?  And is there any hope of reform of the Barnett Formula in the lifetime of this Parliament?

Prime Minister

Well, first of all, we’ve just had a referendum.  On the Respect agenda, I think people are pleasantly surprised that a new government with a packed agenda and a huge amount to do has already held that referendum, carried out the referendum, a positive result for those who wanted legislative devolution, and that is going ahead, and so I think the first thing is to make sure that works properly.  But, as with all these issues, we will look at a case-by-case issue where, under the Respect agenda, where if the devolved administrations want greater power we’ll have a look at those arguments and if they can be done in a way that is good for Wales and right for the United Kingdom we can go ahead, but we’ll look at the case on a case by case basis.

As for Barnett, this is a hugely complicated and difficult issue.  We made some particular promises about a Calman-like process for Wales and we will be putting forward proposals for how to start that ball rolling and to start that process.

Thank you all very much for coming.  It’s good to see you all, but as I’ve got my very exciting lunch guest I’m going to have to ask you all to leave.  Thank you very much indeed.