Ian Murray – 2020 Speech on Constitutional Law

Below is the text of the speech made by Ian Murray, the Labour MP for Edinburgh South, in the House of Commons on 19 May 2020.

I thank the Minister for his warm welcome at the Dispatch Box. I would rather that we were debating the debacle of Scottish football today, given his experience, which I am sure would be more amenable to our constituents. Perhaps we will get to one of those debates in future when we are back to normal.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) and I appreciate the Minister’s warm welcome and his words about my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd), who had a very serious bout of coronavirus. He is now out of hospital and I have spoken to him. You will be pleased to hear, Mr Deputy Speaker, that he has not lost any of his dry wit and sense of humour. We look forward to him being back in this place as quickly as possible.

I also thank the Minister’s wife. I had not realised that she was a serving police officer. I thank her and her colleagues for all that they are doing to keep us safe during the crisis, and not just during the crisis; police and other support staff keep us safe at all times, across not just Scotland but the rest of the UK.

We will work constructively with the Minister, his team and the Secretary of State when they agree with us and we will be a ferocious Opposition when they do not. We will work genuinely constructively when it is in the interest of the people of Scotland, but we will certainly scrutinise and hold both Governments to account for their decisions, because that is what they get paid for.

There is no disagreement this afternoon with regard to the order, which facilitates the retribution orders that the Scottish Government have put in place. It is disappointing that it has taken a bit of time to get here, but there is no better time than now to reassess how we punish those who assault our police officers physically, mentally or, as the Minister said in his opening remarks, by spitting during the coronavirus pandemic. It is time to get the legislation in place.

Retribution orders are useful tools for punishment and deterrence, and the fund that is developed is there for victims in the police service, and other associated people within the police, to seek retribution and have support. It is right for them to get that. We wish only that we did not have to have that kind of support for our police personnel, but we do, and we hope that it will reduce over the years.

It is also important, at this time, to look at the people who might be given a retribution order and how the legislation might affect them. There has been a massive increase in the uptake of universal credit. The unemployment figures released today are not a surprise, but will be a concern to us all. For people in receipt of a retribution order, this order will allow the retribution order to be deducted from their benefits.​

I have big questions to ask the Minister with regard to that. How will he ensure the affordability of those orders for benefit claimants, particularly when people are stretched, so that they will not be made destitute by them? Figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions last year revealed that a quarter of a million people across the UK had been sanctioned on universal credit, and 5% of those had been sanctioned for longer than six months.

Can we be sure that any deductions from benefits will be taken into account if someone is sanctioned, in order for them and their families not to be put into destitution? That does not in any way dilute the seriousness of why they were given a retribution order, but it is important that it does not put families into destitution. How can the Minister and the Secretary of State ensure that any changes in legislation at the Scottish Government level are analysed and assessed on the basis of how the order will now work, if people are having deductions from their benefits and pay?

As I said, we do not disagree with the order. Ultimately, compensation for the victims of any crime goes further than its simple monetary value, particularly for crimes of assault on police officers. It can be of great significance as a real recognition of the crime that has been committed against the victim, as well as acknowledging the suffering as a result of any offence. Therefore, this is a necessary statutory instrument that will allow the justice system to work for victims by allowing them to see that the perpetrator’s actions have serious consequences, and will play an important role in victims’ recovery. We are therefore happy to support the order.