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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 487: debated on Tuesday 3 February 2009

Justice

The Secretary of State was asked—

Young Offenders (North-West)

1. What assessment he has made of the availability of rehabilitation schemes to young offenders in the north-west. (253521)

It is a core objective of the Government to improve rehabilitation schemes for young offenders with the aim of cutting crime and changing lives. We keep that under constant review.

I thank the Minister for his reply. One of the major contributions to reducing reoffending, especially among young men such as the ones held in Lancaster Farms in my constituency, is the use of residential outdoor courses, often supported by the YMCA. What will the Department do to encourage more use of those to help those young men rebuild their lives after their offences?

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, and it is important that we provide a range of activities to give people some experience outside the criminal environment and to try to change their lives by acquiring positive skills. He will know that throughout the north-west we have undertaken work with the Prince’s Trust and the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme. In the last three years in the north-west alone, 332 awards have been made by the Duke of Edinburgh scheme. That partnership is important and will continue.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, as well as providing support for young people with substance abuse problems and mental health issues, Blackpool youth offending team is working with Blackpool council to identify suitable accommodation for young offenders? A homeless young offender is much less likely to be rehabilitated than one with a home. Will my right hon. Friend therefore try to ensure that suitable accommodation is available?

Indeed, my hon. Friend makes an important point. When people return to the community from a young offenders institution or other form of such accommodation, they need help and support not only with education and training but with housing. I am meeting the Housing Minister tomorrow to discuss that very issue.

One of the best things for young people in young offenders institutions is purposeful activity. It has been reported that at Lancaster Farms young offenders spend an average of only 9.7 hours a week on education or team activities, and 2.2 hours on sport or physical activity. Will the Minister look again at the level of activity of young people in those institutions and ensure that they undertake purposeful activities?

I will certainly look at that. There is a wide range of learning and skills provision—including work experience, the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme, and Prince’s Trust and other high-intensity work—going on in those centres. In relation to Lancaster Farms, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace), we are establishing links with Lancaster probation service and Lancaster and Morecambe college to try to get people into employment when they leave the institution.

I must give the Minister a dreadful statistic. After 12 years of this Government, seven out of 10 young men released from the young offender custodial estate reoffend within 12 months and most reoffend 30 times within 12 months of release. What is he doing to stop that awful situation?

Those figures are coming down, but I accept in part what the hon. Gentleman says—there is still a high level of reoffending by young people leaving those institutions. As I have said, support is needed in learning and skills, literacy and numeracy, employment and housing, and in tackling the drug and alcohol problems that people have, and last summer we introduced the youth crime action plan to try to tackle some of those issues early on in people’s criminal careers. The hon. Gentleman mentions 12 years of this Government, but the Conservatives’ proposals to cut further money from this budget would be unlikely to lead to a positive improvement in activity at Lancaster Farms and Hindley in the north-west.

May I ask the distinguished Minister, for whom I have a very high regard—[Interruption.] May I ask how widely schemes such as the Duke of Edinburgh awards—a fantastic scheme that does a great deal for the rehabilitation of young offenders—are available in north-west England, an area that includes my constituency?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question, and who am I to ignore the great cheers that he received from his hon. Friends? If we are engaged in a mutual love-in, I may say that I have a great respect for him and his work as a member of the Speaker’s Panel and in this House. There were 332 awards made by the Duke of Edinburgh scheme in the last three years. Those young people have gone through the system, improved their lives and benefited from those awards. I want to see more of that, and that is why the partnerships with the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme and the Prince’s Trust are important in the north-west and throughout England and Wales.

May I remind the Minister of another of the Government’s figures, which show that three quarters of those in young offenders institutions are dependent on drugs? Why did only 100 young offenders from Lancaster Farms YOI start drug treatment last year? Does the Minister agree with the chief inspector of prisons’ view, published in her annual report last week, that it is remarkable that so little has been done to tackle the fourfold increase in alcohol-related problems in prisons?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that this Government have increased by a massive amount the resources devoted to overcoming those problems. Obviously, there is a lot of drug-related crime, which means that individuals who enter the system need greater support. In the north-west alone, three drug and alcohol programmes and two offending behaviour programmes are in operation. In particular, there is the CARAT scheme, which provides counselling, assessment, referral, advice and throughcare. It deals with self-esteem, drug programmes, sexual health, the supply of drugs, healthy eating, steroid abuse, stress management and relapse prevention. All those schemes are funded by Government resources that, unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman’s party has pledged to cut from our Department.

Coroners’ Courts

Under proposals in the Coroners and Justice Bill, which is at present before the House, a Secretary of State wishing to proceed to a non-jury inquest with a High Court judge in the circumstances specified would have to be satisfied that no other measures would be adequate to prevent the matter from becoming public. Those other measures would include rule 17 of the Coroners Rules 1984, which allows for a judicial decision by the coroner to exclude the public from an inquest in the interests of national security. That and other safeguards proposed in the Bill are likely to mean that the number of non-jury inquests sought by a Secretary of State would be no more than one or two a year.

It is the national security aspect that worries me. Does the Secretary of State recall the tragic events revealed by the inquest into the death of Lance Corporal Hull, who died under US friendly fire, and how the US wanted to ensure that the cockpit video of that event was restricted to the coroner only and withheld from the press and public? It was subsequently made public only on account of its being leaked to The Sun. Does the Secretary of State agree that inquests in closed session must be absolutely the exception rather than the rule? Would he also say that embarrassment to the Government of the day or to our allies is not a sufficient reason for closed inquests?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s last point— embarrassment is in no sense a criterion. I also agree that the use of non-jury inquests or proceedings in camera should be kept to an absolute minimum, and that is our aim.

The Justice Secretary knows well that the whole purpose of the coroners’ courts was to bring transparency to bear on the circumstances surrounding a death. Many of us still do not appreciate his argument that we cannot use public interest immunity certificates instead of having proceedings in camera. Proceedings in camera will undoubtedly lead to a great deal of bad will and people will be suspicious of what goes on.

Proceedings can already take place in camera. The issue is whether one would have a more comprehensive article 2 inquiry before a High Court judge without a jury. I accept that it is obviously far better, if at all possible, for all the proceedings of an inquest to be in public. The duty will be on the Secretary of State, if he or she wishes to obtain one of these certificates, to show that there are no other practical alternatives available. As I explained on Second Reading last Monday, the analogy with a public interest immunity certificate process falls down because if a PII certificate is refused by the trial judge, the prosecution can simply withdraw the prosecution. What triggers an inquest is not the discretion of a prosecution but the fact of a death, and it is that issue which the House must address.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Bill applies to Northern Ireland? Would he agree that it is very important that provisions to allow inquests to be held in camera remain in that part of the United Kingdom?

I accept, of course, that there are exceptional circumstances in which inquests would have to be held in private. However, I do not understand why the Government link those circumstances to those where there would be no jury. The Government have asked for suggestions, so have they considered the possibility of security vetting inquest juries in the same way that juries can be vetted in criminal trials for espionage and terrorism? That procedure has been in place since at least 1989.

We are certainly open to examining other alternatives, as I have made clear. I think that the House now accepts that there is a problem that cannot be dealt with simply by PII certificates. I am therefore open to considering the alternatives, although I think that there are some practical problems because we are dealing with extreme circumstances in which there is a very severe risk, not of damage or embarrassment to the Government but of an individual—a covert human intelligence source, say—being killed. That is why it has been judged that such matters should not go to the jury. In a criminal trial, even when some of it is held in camera with a jury that has effectively been vetted, the operation of PII certificates means that part of such evidence will not be disclosed to the jury.

One way or another, we have to face up to the fact that, if we want full article 2 inquiries, part of the evidence must be safely excluded from the jury. The issue is not whether that should be so but how best to do it, and of course I accept that it should be done in a way that properly commands public confidence.

When he leaves the Chamber, will the Justice Secretary double-check on the reply that he gave to the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), who is Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee? I think that the hon. Gentleman was correct to say that the Coroners and Justice Bill extends to Northern Ireland, and that is buttressed by the fact that last week we had very powerful representations by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission about the Bill, particularly in relation to legacy issues. With the greatest respect to the Justice Secretary, I think that he is wrong.

If I am wrong, I shall of course correct the record. I have just been passed a note saying that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has said that he will not use the provisions in the Bill, and that they will not apply to legacy cases.

Does the Secretary of State accept that, if the new law had been in place, the inquests into the killing of Juan Charles de Menezes or the RAF Nimrod disaster would have been held in secret? Does he agree that, if that had happened, it would have caused outrage among the relatives of the deceased and that there would have been widespread public condemnation? Does he accept that, by pursuing the clauses in the Bill for the sake of one or two inquests a year, he is putting at risk public confidence and trust in the entire coronial system? Why will he not therefore listen to the voices of reason on the Opposition Benches?

I do not believe that either the de Menezes case or the Nimrod case would have been subject to the process that is proposed in the Bill. Those inquests self-evidently took place satisfactorily, without the need for such a system. As I have said already, in deciding whether to seek a certificate under the Bill, a Secretary of State would have to show that no other measures would be adequate to prevent the material concerned from being made public, so I simply do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says.

However, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that at present there are two inquests that cannot proceed because the arrangements made in the de Menezes and Nimrod cases are not regarded as satisfactory. The choice before the House is whether to have inquests—albeit conducted under the proposals in the Bill, or variations of them—or not to have inquests at all. I repeat to the House that I do not regard the proposals as copyright. We are happy to consider other alternatives, but the House has to face the fact that there needs to be additional provision that is currently not in the law, because otherwise some bereaved relatives will go without an inquest at all.

Custody Licence Scheme

I have made it clear to the House that I will withdraw the ECL scheme as soon as we have sufficient capacity in the prison system to do so. We have been undertaking the fastest ever capacity programme, and 2,700 more prison places became operational in 2008, on time and on budget. A further 2,300 prison places are planned for this year, 2009. Court cells have not been used since the end of February last year, and police cells have not been used since 23 September.

When the scheme was announced by the Lord Chancellor’s predecessor in June 2007, he described it as a temporary measure. Since then, some 47,500 prisoners have been released early, of whom more than 950 have offended while on licence; those offences include three murders and two rapes. In the circumstances, did not the Secretary of State agree that when his colleague Lord Bach said last month that

“it is not entirely a satisfactory scheme”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 January 2009; Vol. 706, c. 1555]

he was guilty of the greatest understatement imaginable? Is it not, in fact, a positively dangerous scheme, and when does he propose to end it?

Personally, I would take out the adverb: it is not a satisfactory scheme. However, it is better than the alternative, and far better, in terms of seeking to manage the prison population to capacity, than the devices to which the Conservative Administration whom the hon. Gentleman supported used to resort. At one stage, the Conservative Administration had 3,500 prisoners packed into police cells in wholly unsatisfactory circumstances. Over a couple of months, a previous Conservative Home Secretary released 3,500 prisoners, including some who, because of the severity of their sentences, would be quite beyond the current categories eligible for an end of custody licence.

But would not the abolition of the custody licence scheme put added pressure on the prison population? The Secretary of State has made it clear that he has provided more places, and more are planned in prisons. What effect would a cut to his Department’s budget have on those plans?

It is quite clear that if the Conservatives were to follow through on their plans for formula cuts in criminal justice Departments, as proposed by the shadow Chancellor, prison provision would be subject to severe cuts.

Order. We have had anti-Conservative party propaganda from two Ministers, and we will call it a day at that. Ministers will answer the questions that are put to them.

I did not hear anywhere in the Secretary of State’s reply the answer to the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones). Given that the scheme was supposed to be temporary, will it, or will it not, continue indefinitely?

No, it will not continue indefinitely. It is not a satisfactory scheme; no one has ever suggested that it was. It is, however, better than the alternatives that the Conservative Administration used, just for the record. It certainly will not be continued indefinitely, and I will seek to end it as soon as I judge that we have sufficient capacity. That is why we have been increasing the capacity of the Prison Service far faster than previous Administrations have done.

As there have been three murders, two rapes and many more serious offences committed by criminals who were released early under the Government’s end of custody licence scheme, will the Secretary of State tell the House what assessment he has made of the likely number of such offences that will be committed by such offenders who will be released under the scheme in 2009?

First, may I congratulate the hon. and learned Gentleman on his first appearance in Justice questions? Secondly, the reoffending rate under the scheme has been pretty consistent. I am sure that he has the extrapolations written on his pad and will give them a wide audience in a moment. Thirdly, of course it is a matter of great regret and deep concern whenever there is reoffending from prison, but in quite a number of those cases, particularly in the serious cases, there is evidence to suggest that the offence would have been committed in any event. That was certainly the view of the trial judge in one of the worst cases, that of the Andrew Mournian murder.

I thank the Secretary of State for his welcome, but he cannot escape the fact that the offences, including murder, were committed by people who were released early under his scheme. That says volumes about the Government’s assessment of the need to protect the public. Is it not his intention to institutionalise, not end, early release through proposals in the Coroners and Justice Bill that will require sentencing to be conditioned by the cost of the sentence? That will make sure that, in future, Government expediency is placed in front of criminal justice.

The hon. and learned Gentleman has a very short memory—I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, but my comments are relevant to the Conservatives’ suggestion that only we have faced this problem. Other Administrations have had to resort to such measures. Some 3,000 prisoners were released between July and August 1987. As for the hon. and learned Gentleman’s key question, if he wishes to table amendments to the Coroners and Justice Bill, we look forward to considering them. I have made it clear that there is no prospect whatsoever, nor is it Government policy, that at the point of sentencing, sentencers should have to take into account the resource costs of what they are proposing. That is not in the Bill, nor is it Government policy.

Mental Health Tribunals

5. What recent discussions he has had with the chief executive of the Tribunals Service on the operation of mental health tribunals. (253525)

The chief executive of the Tribunals Service has regular meetings with Ministers to discuss the service and its performance, including that of mental health tribunals.

Mental health tribunals are important for dispensing justice, but a constituent queries with me their ability also to operate impartially. If patients agree that they are psychotic, they are so judged. If they disagree, they are said to have no insight into their condition and are found to be psychotic. What consideration have the Government given to reviewing the whole process to address concerns that patients subject to a tribunal do not have guaranteed access to specialist legal advice, and that the panel composition militates against objective assessment of the facts of each case?

I am concerned about the example that my hon. Friend gives. If he wishes to come to see me to discuss it, I will be more than happy to do so. There are, however, two things that I would say to him. There is legal representation available for mental health proceedings at the first-tier tribunal, and there is also legal aid available at the upper tribunal. There are about 1,100 members of the tribunal, and they are split more or less evenly across the three disciplines that they are meant to represent.

Coroners’ Courts

6. What recent assessment he has made of access to coroners’ court services in small towns and rural areas; and if he will make a statement. (253526)

We intend to review current coroner boundaries in consultation with local authorities as part of implementing the Coroners and Justice Bill, which is before Parliament. The review will take full account of local needs.

I am sure the Minister agrees that public access to a coroner is important for justice. Does he agree that we must retain at least a part-time coroner on the Isle of Wight?

I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman has said. I can assure him that as part of the review, there are no plans to do away with the presence of a coroner on the Isle of Wight.

It is the number of rural coroners that is being cut from 112 currently sitting in 140 places to about 60. It is particularly they who are looking into military deaths, which may or may not be those that become secret proceedings in the future. The Secretary of State has gone to great lengths to say that only one or two a year would be heard in camera. Will the Minister give the House an example of one or two cases in recent years that were heard in public but which, under the new Act, would now be heard in secret?

May I assure the hon. Gentleman that, in relation to the review, we are fully committed to making sure that local access to the coroner service is retained. If we move to larger coroner jurisdictions, that does not mean the end of part-time coroners, and it does not mean that anyone in a rural area or anyone else will be denied access to the coroner services that they receive at present.

Already, the office of coroner for the county of Powys has been amalgamated with that of the coroner for Bridgend and the valleys. There is a feeling in Wales, and following on from the Coroners and Justice Bill, that there will be an over-centralisation of the service in Wales. Given the sensitivity that inquests often give rise to, will the Minister confirm that the issues raised by hon. Members, particularly that of rurality, will be looked into before the implementation of the Act?

I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. It is fundamental, as I said, that people should continue to have access to the coroner service locally. We understand that that has particular resonance in rural areas. No changes will be made without full consultation with everybody concerned, including hon. Members of the House.

Helpfully, the Secretary of State has responded on the needs of families of deceased people when there is an inquest. Will his Department continue, with the Department for Work and Pensions, to make sure that the information on costs and allowances available to the families of those who have died becomes as easily available through a coroner’s office as it is through a registrar of deaths?

Stephen Ayre

Andrew Bridges, the chief inspector of probation, has already examined the serious case review into the case; it was conducted by the West Yorkshire strategic management board for multi-agency public protection arrangements, or MAPPA. I had discussions with Mr. Bridges yesterday and he confirmed that the shortcomings in practice were properly evident in the review. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice has asked Mr. Bridges for an assessment, based on two inspections, of the quality of the supervision of offenders such as Mr. Ayre by the area MAPPA system. Mr. Bridges is completing that assessment.

As the Minister will know, Stephen Ayre was a convicted murderer who was let out of prison and who, three years ago, after repeated mistakes by the probation service, raped and abducted a 10-year-old boy in my constituency. The Secretary of State talks a lot about how he will put the victims at the centre of his Department. However, despite having met the father of the victim, he still refuses to release the internal report into the case—even to the family, let alone the public. As the Secretary of State knows, the parents cannot feel that they can get over what happened to their son until they have seen the full report. If the right hon. Gentleman will not release the full report to the family, the least that he could do is ask the chief inspector of probation to produce a report and put it in the public domain to help the family get over that appalling incident.

We all accept that it was an appalling episode. The purpose of any review is to identify faults. The chief inspector of probation is clear that the faults have been identified. Indeed, the overview report was presented to the young victim’s father.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Secretary of State has taken a personal interest; he met the victim’s father on 18 June 2008. A number of things flowed from that: expedited support and counselling for the victim; an overview report to be prepared by the West Yorkshire MAPPA and shared with the victim’s father; and the inspection by staff from the National Offender Management Service public protection unit of a sample of cases in west Yorkshire to ensure that they are being well managed. More generally, my right hon. Friend decided that from December 2008, in respect of all MAPPA serious case reviews, we will share an overview report with the victim and the victim’s family.

The hon. Gentleman is wrong to suggest that victims are not at the centre of this Administration. In 2008, there were 4 million fewer victims of crime compared with 1998, and we have significantly increased investment thresholds to support victims. That speaks volumes about our commitment to victims and to putting them at the centre of the criminal justice system.

Sentences (Multiple Rape)

8. What recent guidance the Sentencing Advisory Panel has issued on sentences for those convicted of multiple rape; and if he will make a statement. (253528)

In April 2007, the independent Sentencing Guidelines Council published definitive guidelines on the Sexual Offences Act 2003. That included a guideline on the offence of rape, including when it is carried out by more than one offender and including multiple offences carried out by the same offender. The Sentencing Guidelines Council took the Sentencing Advisory Panel’s advice into consideration when it formulated the guidance.

Two weeks ago, six men were sentenced for multiple rape. They gang-raped a 16-year-old girl with learning difficulties and for that they received between six and nine years—of course, they will serve only half that time. I notice that the Minister did not give me a straightforward answer. As far as I can ascertain from the SAP guidelines, the starting point for multiple rape is eight years in prison. Why, then, were those men given six, seven or eight years, and why were the aggravating factors, which are clearly shown in the SAP guidance, not taken into account? I am thinking of the age of the victim, the fact that she was raped on several occasions and the grievous attack with caustic soda that was carried out on her afterwards. Will the Minister support my recent letter to the Solicitor-General asking that the case be reviewed so that those men are given the sentence that they deserve?

As the hon. Gentleman suggests in a roundabout way, the Attorney-General has the power to refer back to the courts sentences that she believes to be overly lenient. She is considering this at present. I cannot say more to him about this case, although I accept what he said about its seriousness.

But is not the problem for many victims of rape the fact that in the UK we still have an average conviction rate of 6 per cent. and that many victims of this heinous crime do not see their offender brought to justice? What action are my hon. Friend’s Department and other Departments taking to ensure that offenders in the crime of rape are brought to justice?

My hon. Friend is correct to suggest that the number of complaints to the police about rape that result in prosecution is quite small. However, that is often because those who have been victimised do not feel able to go through with the prosecution. The current statistics are that 37 per cent. of all cases prosecuted as rape result in a conviction for rape, that 59 per cent. of cases prosecuted as rape result in a conviction for rape or another offence, and that 97 per cent. of those so convicted have a custodial sentence imposed. This is the highest conviction rate for 10 years.

I accept, however, that we need to do more in supporting victims and those who complain of these terrible crimes through what can be the terrible ordeal of going through the criminal justice system. We have extended the support available to women—and men, of course, who can also be subjected to this terrible offence—by providing sexual assault referral centres across England and Wales, more access to support, and a better understanding among prosecutors and police about how to deal with the victims of these offences. That is showing an increase in conviction rates, as indicated in the statistics.

The provisions of the Coroners and Justice Bill include replacing the Sentencing Advisory Panel with a sentencing council that will have mandatory powers. However, the circumstances and levels of criminality vary enormously from case to case, and judges use their discretion to ensure that the appropriate sentence is given in the light of their experience and knowledge. Do the Justice Secretary and the Minister agree that the independence of the judiciary is an important part of our constitution and that it should not be eroded by a quango?

I agree with that absolutely. That is in fact Government policy. The new sentencing council will not in any way fetter the individual decisions of sentencers, whether they be judges or magistrates, in the work that they do in our courts. It will have a judicial majority and will be chaired by a judge. I believe that that independence, vital to our system, will be guaranteed; it is certainly Government policy that it ought to be.

Departmental Funding Settlement

9. What services and policy initiatives will be affected by the funding settlement reached for his Department for 2009 to 2011. (253529)

On 19 January, I published to Parliament the Ministry of Justice’s corporate plan. The plan is based on my Department’s four strategic objectives and sets out what we aim to achieve, how, and with what resources. Further details of the financial allocations are given in chapter 6 of the plan.

Last year, the Secretary of State’s permanent secretary, Suma Chakrabarti, told to the Justice Committee that by December the Department would have a much better idea of what cuts it needed to make to live within its means. One assumes that that will result in some cuts in front-line services. Perhaps the Secretary of State could help the House by giving some indication of where those cuts are going to fall. Could he give me an undertaking that one of the cuts will not be the closure of the probation service office in Banbury, because that would be a very retrograde step for offender management in the north of Oxfordshire?

The corporate plan makes it clear that we are indeed seeking some reductions and savings—that is on the record before Parliament—including a 5 per cent. real-terms reduction in our administration budget. However, we are seeking to do that principally by taking out back-office functions, by cutting down on what I think the House would regard as unnecessary spending, and by reducing the use of agency and contract staff. The whole purpose of this—the same is true, for example, overall in the National Offender Management Service—is to do our very best to ensure that front-line services are properly protected. There are always better ways of delivering front-line services. If the performance of the probation services are compared area to area and within areas, it is clear that there is not necessarily a connection between inputs in terms of resources and their outputs in terms of caseload and reductions in reoffending.

I listened carefully to what the Secretary of State had to say about potential cuts to the probation service. Can he reassure the House that the probation service will not suffer cuts that would limit its capacity to monitor and maintain community service orders? In West Mercia, initial indications show that as many as 42 probation officers could be at risk.

We do not believe that that is the case. There will be a requirement on probation services, and others, to reduce their administrative costs and to look at new ways of working. For example, they might produce briefer reports for courts and so on. We have actually put extra money into the front-line delivery of high-end community penalties. The whole purpose of that is to make the system more efficient and more effective.

How much worse will resource problems be as a result of the alarming state of some of the Department’s IT projects? Will some have to be abandoned or cut in order to stay within limits?

It really is pushing it to say that the Secretary of State has IT plans if we bear in mind that the National Audit Office criticised his Department for trebling the cost—to £690 million—of the C-NOMIS IT project. It is also true that the Government have spent £50 million on accommodating prisoners in police stations and court cells, £131 million on doing up the Secretary of State’s offices, and £27 million on external consultants in the past year. Instead of wasting that money, those millions would have been better spent on not introducing the core day, which leads to the locking up of prisoners between lunchtime on Friday and breakfast time on Mondays, on dealing with prisoner overcrowding and with prisoner rehabilitation and on encouraging purposeful activity and education in prisons.

I do not mind taking lectures from some parts of the House about our budget, but it does not lie well in the mouth of the hon. and learned Gentleman or those in his party to criticise the savings that we have to make, because their only response is to say that they would cut even more. That is the straightforward reality; they would cut at least £100 million from the Ministry of Justice’s budget.

Sentences (Violent Crime)

10. Whether his Department takes steps to inform the public of sentences handed down to people convicted of violent crime. (253531)

The outcomes of criminal justice cases are provided free of charge to local newspapers, which play a key role in providing information to their communities. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already announced that he intends to publish the final outcome of criminal court hearings on a public-facing website.

That will be welcome news for the victims of crime, but does the Minister agree that if there is to be any potential deterrent effect for those who may commit such crimes, they need to see that information. I cannot imagine that many of them will go online to see what their sentence may be. Will the Minister consider using a poster campaign, or taking out adverts in national newspapers, so that perpetrators know that they will be caught, and know what the consequences will be for their own lives?

My hon. Friend has offered a helpful and constructive suggestion, and we shall certainly look at it. I have seen national advertising campaigns in London on gun and knife crime, for example, that are very effective. In my area of Lewisham, the safer neighbourhood team included information in its quarterly newsletter to residents on people who were caught and convicted, and on the resulting sentences. We should consider matters as widely as possible to ensure that everyone, victims and offenders, is aware of the real cost of crime.

Shop Theft

11. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for the Home Department on guidelines to prevent re-offending by those convicted of shop theft. (253532)

As a matter of course, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General and I consider the guidelines and offer comments when they are subject to consultation. The guideline on theft makes it clear that a fine should be the starting point for an opportunistic theft from a shop, for example, but that custody is the appropriate starting point for those involved in gang-related shop theft. Following discussions with the hon. Lady and representatives of the retail industry and the police, revised guidance on the use of fixed penalty notices for shop theft are due to be issued shortly. We accept that there are plainly instances of the guidance not being followed, and that penalty notices for disorder are not appropriate for repeat offences or, normally, if the value of the property involved exceeds £100.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that full reply. I know that he recently met the Magistrates Association, which is deeply concerned about fines being imposed for a shop theft that might be fuelling a drug or drink habit. Will he use his good offices to intervene in the issuing of guidelines, to ensure that that set of circumstances will be met and that there will be a referral to court where appropriate?

Yes, and I commend the hon. Lady for her work on this matter and the way in which she has drawn it to the attention of the House and me. I recently met the Magistrates Association and the association of chairs of benches of magistrates—[Hon. Members: “Chairs of benches?”] Well, they were the chairmen of benches, some of whom were female.

The guidance is clear, stating at paragraph 6.21, that PND disposal for shop theft

“may not be appropriate for those who are known to be substance misusers.”

There are two issues here. The first is whether the guidance should be changed, and we do intend to change it. The second, whatever the guidance, is ensuring that the police follow it properly and that there is a proper audit of what they are doing.

Topical Questions

I am pleased to tell the House that this morning, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), announced further progress building on the implementation of the Corston report recommendations on women within the criminal justice system. Some £15.5 million of new money will be spent over two years on additional services in the community for women, with the aim of cutting their reoffending and reducing the need to imprison women convicted of less serious offences.

That is very welcome, but when innocent people are wrongly imprisoned, it is a traumatic experience that can scar them for life. When they are released, they often receive little support other than a helpline, which is welcome but not sufficient. Will the Minister meet me, a cross-party delegation of Members and Paddy Hill and Gerry Conlon of the Miscarriages of Justice Organisation, to consider their proposal for a refuge that will give such people the residential, in-depth support that they need and deserve?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s comments. Of course, I and my ministerial colleagues will happily meet him, because how individuals are reintegrated back into society, particularly when they have been proved innocent, is an important issue.

T2. The Public Administration Committee has called for a mandatory register of lobbying activity by professional lobbyists, companies and pressure groups. I believe that there needs to be a legal duty to register in order to prevent lobbyists from claiming that they have a duty of confidentiality to their shareholders or clients. Will the Secretary of State consider legislating to create such a register in the forthcoming constitutional renewal Bill? (253547)

My hon. Friend will accept that the principal responsibility for the regulation of this House, as with the other place, lies with the House itself and not with Government. We look forward to recommendations from the Standards and Privileges Committee. It goes without saying that should there be a proposal for such changes that commands widespread support across the House, we shall consider it.

T7. Last year, the Secretary of State and I exchanged letters about the historic failings at Leeds magistrates court. He made it clear that all the answers that the public demanded would be provided. That has not happened and there is genuine consternation among the legal community in Leeds that the matter was tackled by scapegoating one individual. Some of the key answers to the problem, including what was meant by the fabrication of court outcomes and the number of convicted criminals who have not been followed up, have not been given to the people of Leeds. When will those answers be given? (253552)

Let me make it clear that the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), who was the Minister responsible, and I did a huge amount of work on what happened in Leeds, which was a scandal. It arose when West Yorkshire magistrates courts committee ran the magistrates court service in Leeds; central Government had no direct responsibility whatsoever. It has fallen to us to sort out the mess that the lack of proper leadership, control and management by the magistrates courts committee and the officials in that system created. We have been trying to sort out the problem. Of course, I am happy to discuss with the hon. Gentleman any further information that should be released. I cannot comment on the disciplinary process, but the responsibility for a scandalous situation must rest where it began—in Leeds.

T3. Is not it simply unacceptable for tax exiles to bankroll political parties? Will the Secretary of State support the amendments that I have tabled to the Political Parties and Elections Bill to make the practice unlawful? (253548)

T8. Recent events have shown the clear and urgent need to clean up our political system, so I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State say that he will consider introducing measures that command widespread support. May I therefore urge him to include in the constitutional renewal Bill a provision that has widespread support and for which the House has already voted—that for an elected House of Lords? (253553)

The House has indeed already voted on that proposal, as it has on the proposal for an 80 per cent. elected House of Lords. We have moved to a substantial cross-party consensus, as the White Paper, which I published last July, shows. Although we can introduce some measures in the remainder of this Parliament, conducting a full-blooded, root-and-branch reform of the House of Lords at this stage would be pushing it without full support from all parties.

T4. The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 came into force only in November. Although I acknowledge that it is still early days, has the Secretary of State made any assessment of its effectiveness and progress? (253549)

My hon. Friend makes the fair point that the Act is very young. We will keep a close eye on it and monitor its success. Eleven cases have been considered under it since November, including that of a 16-year-old and, of course, that of the doctor who was returned from Bangladesh. Even in a short time, the Act has already been successful in ensuring that those who are vulnerable and coerced into a marriage against their will are given the protection of the law.

T9. The Justice Secretary is answerable to the House for party funding. An investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and the Electoral Commission has already found the right hon. Gentleman to have broken his own law, and he is currently under investigation by the Electoral Commission for perhaps taking an impermissible donation. Given that he is in charge of trying to reform party donations and Parliament, would not being found guilty a second time undermine his credibility? Should he not seriously consider his position? (253554)

The hon. Gentleman has made two complaints against me. In the first case, there was a breach, but the Standards and Privileges Committee found it to be wholly inadvertent, and I apologised for it. If he is proceeding with the second, that will be the subject of investigation in the normal way.

T5. Does the Secretary of State share my pleasure at the public comments of the new Director of Public Prosecutions about the possibility of having more openness in the criminal justice system, by letting in the TV cameras in more circumstances than we currently allow? Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should let in the TV cameras to open up the criminal justice system to a wider audience? (253550)

I of course commend the new director’s policy of greater openness. However, there are slightly complicated issues when it comes to having cameras in trial courts. The proceedings of the Law Lords at the point of judgment are already televised and the proceedings of the supreme court, when it starts across the road in October, will also be televised. However, the House would wish to consider long and hard before going down the route of some but not all American states and televising court proceedings. That could cause many more problems than it would seek to solve.

T10. In an earlier answer, to my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh), the Justice Secretary accepted that sometimes the sentencing guidelines were not being followed in cases of shop theft. Does he feel that they are being adequately followed for burglary? We have recently seen a rise in the number of burglaries, which is not a minor offence but a serious one that causes a great deal of pain and disruption. Is there any more that he can do to try to reduce its incidence in that respect? (253555)

I say two things on burglary. One is that the decline in burglary over the past 12 years has been dramatic—it has gone down by, I think, more than 40 per cent. That has been a great success on the part of the police and the local authorities—we claim some credit for it, too—and a very important change in making people’s dwelling houses far less vulnerable. Secondly, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, recently led the Court of Appeal criminal division to issue what amounts to very strong guidance to sentencers on burglary, particularly burglary of a dwelling. I think that we will see a toughening up of sentencing for burglary, and quite appropriately, too.

T6. The Government have put an enormous effort into speeding up judicial processes and strengthening the rights of victims. In respect of consumer protection legislation, does the Secretary of State think that there is a greater role for local authority trading standards authorities to play in mediating between consumers who feel aggrieved by a supplier of goods and services? Would that not be a way of keeping more cases out of court and of moving more quickly towards the speedy resolution of disputes? (253551)

There is great merit in the suggestion that my hon. Friend makes and I will certainly consider it, along with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

May I draw the Secretary of State’s attention to Question 19 and ask whether he will allow Bournemouth’s court cells to be used by Bournemouth’s police to detain suspected offenders? The police cells and the court cells are part of the same building. More police cells are being built, but unfortunately they currently get full—for example on a Friday night—and the police have to drive those who have been arrested all the way to Weymouth. There seems to be a lot of red tape, so I would be grateful if the Secretary of State looked into that.

I hope that I can offer the hon. Gentleman a helpful answer. Dorset police force has been given permission to use the cells at Bournemouth magistrates court at weekends during peak summer months, pending the completion of its custody suite. The points that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned are valid, and the cells in Bournemouth will have a greater call on them than is normal, particularly during the summer.

I doubt that it will have any particular effect. As my hon. Friend knows, the reclassification has led to a proposal that for a first offence, a penalty notice would be issued, consistent with the guidelines for penalty notices.

Why does the Secretary of State’s Department refuse to engage with local communities when deciding on new locations for bail hostels?

The Department and ClearSprings do engage with local councils. I have been very clear that since June last year, we have had to have discussions with the local council, the local police and the local probation board. From all such properties throughout England and Wales, roughly 7 per cent. of houses have attracted complaints from local councils or other organisations or individuals to date. The scheme is working quite successfully throughout the country, although in some small instances there will be difficulties.

Will the Justice Secretary reflect on the fact that, when a Prime Minister parachutes somebody into the House of Lords simply because he requires that person to be a Minister, it seems absurd and unfair to ordinary citizens that that person should remain a Member of Parliament in perpetuity? Surely those Ministers should cease to be Members of the House of Lords when, after 12 months, they give up? There is a precedent for this, because the bishops are not there for life—they are there only for the duration of their time as a diocesan bishop—and the same applies to the Law Lords. If my right hon. Friend agrees about this, can we incorporate the appropriate measures into this great legislative reform, when we get round to it?

It goes without saying that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s appointments of Ministers who have then been promoted to the House of Lords have involved people who can make a continuing contribution to the other place—

For many years to come. However, there is much in my hon. Friend’s point, and it was considered at some length by the joint cross-party group on House of Lords reform, which I chaired. I am quite sure that it will be an issue when—not if—this House finally considers the whole issue of House of Lords reform.

Given how few Government Bills have been programmed for this Session, will the Lord Chancellor proceed to introduce legislation if those on the Conservative Front Bench confirm their agreement to replacing an unelected second Chamber with an elected second Chamber?

If the hon. Gentleman looked around him, he would see that what he is proposing is a hypothesis that is unlikely to turn into a reality.

Will the Lord High Chancellor go very cautiously on that one? Will he also accept that, in the Bill introduced into the other place by Lord Steel, a number of anomalies in the present House—which is a very good House—are addressed? Will he support Lord Steel’s Bill, as the Chairman of the Public Administration Committee has commended?

I accept that a number of discrete proposals in the Bill are certainly worthy of support across the House. As the hon. Gentleman knows, however, the reason all three parties in this House have been reluctant to support Lord Steel’s Bill is the high suspicion that his real purpose was to kick any greater reform of the House of Lords into touch. Many of us think that some of his proposed changes are necessary, but that they are by no means a sufficient part of a major reform of the Lords.