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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.