With permission, Mr Speaker, and further to the written ministerial statement I laid in the House earlier today, I would like to make a statement.
Last autumn, the Government launched two consultations on far-reaching plans to reform punishment, rehabilitation and sentencing of offenders, and on legal aid in England and Wales. Today I have laid before Parliament the government’s responses to those consultations. I will also introduce the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill to give effect to the measures we are taking forward that require primary legislation.
Protecting the public from crime and punishing lawbreakers are the most fundamental responsibilities of the state towards its citizens. The sad truth is that after 13 years of government, over 20 criminal justice Bills, more than 3,000 new criminal offences and an explosion in the prison population, Labour left the system in crisis. Most of our prisoners spend their time behind bars idling in their cells, with ready access to drugs. A bigger scandal still is our reoffending rates, which are straightforwardly dreadful. Within a year of leaving jail, half of offenders will have been reconvicted of further offences. The same people cycle round the system endlessly, committing more crimes against more victims. The best way to reduce crime is to reduce reoffending, and that remains the central feature of our programme of radical reforms.
Prisons must be places of both punishment and reform. Today I can confirm that we plan to deliver a full working week across the prison estate. We will legislate to extend powers to use money earned by prisoners to support victims. We have never proposed that community sentences should replace prison sentences, but we will introduce tougher, properly enforced community punishments whereby offenders work longer hours, unpaid, at least four days a week.
Drug abuse lies behind much, if not most, criminality in this country. It is not acceptable that drugs are too readily available in prison. We are taking forward plans to reduce addiction across the prison estate by improving security and introducing drug-free wings in jails. We must tackle other root causes of criminality, particularly alcohol addiction, mental illness and a lack of skills, but we will ensure that we put taxpayers’ money only into rehabilitation programmes that actually work.
Public confidence in the criminal justice system is unacceptably low. That is why we want to take forward plans for a new offence, with a mandatory minimum prison sentence of six months, for adults who use a knife to threaten and endanger. We will also consult on proposals to criminalise squatting, and we will bring forward legislation to clarify the law on self-defence. In addition, I can confirm our intention to improve the use of remand and reduce the number of foreign national prisoners in our jails.
Discounts for early guilty pleas have been part of the criminal justice system for decades, for good reason, and we consulted on changes to that system. Personally, I was particularly impressed by the representations of the senior judiciary and other criminal justice experts who said that increasing the maximum discount on offer for a guilty plea at the earliest possible stage might result in the sentence served being too short in some serious cases. I was hoping to address that problem, and I considered doing so by introducing a greater degree of judicial discretion, but we could not make that work. We have therefore decided to retain the present system.
The consultation also produced strong opposition to the indeterminate sentencing framework. It was introduced by the last Government and sold as a way of protecting the public from a small number of the most dangerous offenders, but it has never worked as Parliament intended. It has created a flawed system in which thousands of offenders have already served their normal sentence or tariff, but no one can predict when or if they might ever be released. That is why, as the Prime Minister confirmed this morning, we are reviewing so-called indeterminate sentences of imprisonment for public protection, with a view to replacing them with a more sensible, tough system of long, determinate sentences. That will see judges handing down life sentences in a greater number of very serious cases, including mandatory life sentences for the most serious repeat offenders. Serious sexual and violent offenders will spend at least two thirds of their sentence in prison, rather than being released halfway through. We intend to return to the best aspects of the system before IPPs were introduced in 2005 by new Labour.
I turn to legal aid reform. We have much the most expensive system in the world, except for Northern Ireland, costing £39 per head of population. That compares with, for example, £8 per head in New Zealand, a country with a broadly similar legal system. The last Government consulted on the subject more than 30 times since 2006, and still left us with the mess that we now have to tackle. In some cases the system encourages people to bring issues before the courts when other solutions might be better. In others it enables people to pursue litigation that they would not contemplate were they paying for it out of their own pocket.
Following careful consideration of more than 5,000 responses, I am bringing forward proposals that I believe will ensure access to public funding in the cases that most require it, encourage early resolution of disputes instead of unnecessary conflict and ensure much better value for money for the taxpayer.
I can announce that we will retain legal aid in cases where people’s life or liberty is at stake, where they are at risk of serious physical harm or immediate loss of their home, or where their children may be taken into care. In response to consultation, that will include strengthened provision for victims of domestic violence and for children at risk of abuse or abduction, and the retention of legal aid for special educational needs cases.
Legal aid will no longer be routinely available for most private family law cases, clinical negligence, employment, immigration, some debt and housing issues, some education cases, and welfare benefits. It will also no longer be available for squatters resisting eviction.
We have also decided not to abolish, as we originally proposed, the current capital disregards for pensioners and for equity in the main home in assessing an applicant’s eligibility for legal aid. We will not now introduce a £100 contribution from capital for those assessed as having £1,000 or more disposable capital.
All that amounts to a balanced and sensible package of reforms of the kind that the Government were determined to achieve when we published our proposals and started to consult on them. Our plans mean a return to common sense in the justice system. On legal aid, the overall effect will be to achieve significant savings while protecting fundamental rights of access to justice. On sentencing, we will deliver punishment, protection and a renewed focus on breaking the cycle of crime and reoffending. I look forward to debating the proposals on Second Reading and during the Bill’s subsequent stages.
I thank the Justice Secretary for advance sight of his statement.
Our justice policy should be about protecting the public, punishing and reforming offenders, being on the side of the victim and bringing crime down. That underpinned our record in government, which led to a 43% fall in crime, reductions in reoffending and serious improvements in youth offending rates. However, the Government demonstrate that that is not what matters in their approach to crime and justice. Instead, it is about cutting cost, despite the impact it could have on communities across the country.
The Government have seen sense and taken heed of opposition to cost-driven proposals to reduce sentences by 50% on early guilty pleas. A coalition of victims, the judiciary, justice groups, the Sentencing Council and victims groups rightly questioned the motivation and effectiveness of that policy. Let us be clear: the policy had been agreed by the Cabinet. I asked the Justice Secretary during the Opposition day debate on sentencing whether the Prime Minister agreed with him. His response was:
“This was an entirely collectively agreed policy”.—[Official Report, 23 May 2011; Vol. 528, c. 672.]
It is therefore no good No. 10’s distancing itself from it. In oral questions last month, the Justice Secretary said that the policy would survive the consultation. Of course, some Government Members voted against our motion—although some had the sense not to—which opposed the proposal on 23 May.
Will the Justice Secretary outline why the Prime Minister ditched the proposal when the Government were so wedded to it only a matter of weeks ago? When was the decision made to change the Bill’s title from the Legal Aid and Sentencing Bill, as it was called up until late last week, to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and—I like this—Punishment of Offenders Bill? What did he hope to achieve by tinkering with the title?
We know from the impact assessment that was provided with the Green Paper that removing the option of remanding offenders in custody for certain cases could save £50 million and 1,300 prison places. I note that that proposal remains. Will the Justice Secretary outline the view of the Magistrates Association on the proposal and say whether he believes that the Police Federation and the Association of Chief Police Officers support the policy?
In the past 13 months, we have seen broken promises on minimum and maximum sentencing, prison building and knife crime. Today the Justice Secretary proposes a new offence of a mandatory custodial sentence for knife possession in aggravated circumstances, with a minimum sentence of six months. Even that proposal is less than that promised to the electorate in the Conservative manifesto, which stated that
“we will make it clear that anyone convicted of a knife crime can expect to face a prison sentence”.
That is still a broken promise, and tinkering with the Bill’s title will not change that.
On indeterminate sentences for public protection, I have consistently questioned the Justice Secretary on how he will ensure the safety of our communities when considering which offenders should be released and when. Again, the impact assessment helpfully tells us that financial savings will be “sizeable”. From that, it is obvious that the focus is saving money, not what is in the public’s best interests. Today we find that the Justice Secretary is to undertake an “urgent review” of IPPs with a view to replacing them. Will he explain to the House why he needs another review when he has had 13 months, a Green Paper and a consultation that he has consistently described as an opportunity to review IPPs?
How does the Justice Secretary reconcile losing thousands of front-line, experienced prison and probation staff with the desire to increase the numbers of offenders diverted into specialist drug, alcohol and mental health facilities, and how does he reconcile that with more prisoners working, because they will clearly need more supervision?
The legal aid proposals have been roundly criticised across the board as devastating social welfare law—[Interruption.] Has the Justice Secretary—[Interruption.]
Order. There was too much noise when the Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor addressed the House, and once again there is too much noise. Let me just say this to those who are making a persistent noise: stop it, or leave the Chamber, but do not for one moment suppose that making that noise you have the foggiest chance of being called to ask a question.
I am grateful, Mr Speaker.
As I was saying a moment ago, the proposals on legal aid have been roundly criticised across the board as devastating social welfare law. Has the Justice Secretary seriously considered the alternative funding options proposed by, for example, Justice for All? Does he accept that his changes will have a huge impact on the viability of many law centres, citizens advice bureaux and high street practices up and down the country that do an enormous amount to provide access to justice for some of our most deprived citizens? The Prime Minister claims that the whole point of a Green Paper is to listen and to be ready to change one’s mind, so why have the Government made no substantive changes to their proposals on social welfare legal aid?
This morning the Prime Minister said that savings that would have been made by the 50% sentence proposals will be found elsewhere in the Ministry of Justice budget. Can the Justice Secretary explain exactly where those savings will be made and when?
We are seeing cuts to the police and cuts to prison staff and probation trusts, but where is the strategy to cut crime? The Government’s policies on crime and justice are a shambles. We have always known that we cannot trust the Tories on the NHS, but now it seems that we cannot trust the Tories on law and order either.
Well, first of all I can confirm what the right hon. Gentleman says: the proposals that I presented for consultation and the Green Paper were the proposals of the Prime Minister, the whole Cabinet and I, and the proposals that I am putting forward today in response to the consultation and the comments that we invited are the responses of the Prime Minister, the whole Cabinet and I. Indeed, we had a discussion at Cabinet this morning. We run a collective Government.
I remind the right hon. Gentleman that we carried him with us on our Green Paper. His reaction to what the Prime Minister and I said at the time—it is all accessible in Hansard—was that this was a
“perfectly sensible vision for a sentencing policy, entirely in keeping with the emphasis on punishment and reform that Labour followed in government”.—[Official Report, 7 December 2010; Vol. 520, c. 171.]
We carried him with us then, and I have hopes that if he looks at the consultation and listens to the arguments, we will carry him with us again. If he wants to turn and change his mind, he is free to do so.
Early guilty pleas were a genuine attempt to help victims and witnesses, who are mightily relieved if they hear that the accused decides to plead guilty. Had they worked, they would have saved a very great deal of money and time for the police service and Crown Prosecution Service, as well as for prisons. I do not know quite what the right hon. Gentleman’s view on this is, but I paid particular regard to the legal opinions that I was getting from serious members of the judiciary and others. The arithmetic just went too far in some serious cases. A week or two ago, I said that I thought the proposal would survive, because I thought that by introducing some judicial discretion, I could solve the problem, but I could not. For that reason, the Government are sticking with the present system. That is what consultation is all about.
We have consulted on our remand proposals, and we are pushing on with them. Carrying on with a system whereby people are refused bail when everybody knows they will not be sent for a custodial sentence if they are convicted at their final appearance is simply not the best use of a very expensive place in our prison system. It is cheaper to put our prisoners in the Ritz—and many of them would like to be there—but while the public prefer them to be in prison, we will keep them in prison. Nevertheless, the remand proposals are, I think, extremely sensible.
The proposal on knife possession has been made to send a message about its seriousness. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman expressed an opinion on it, but I would advise him to support this perfectly sensible measure. On IPPs, which I have said we are minded to repeal and replace with a better version of what preceded them, I refer him to the consultation and the attacks on IPPs from sensible people. David Thomas QC, who writes the bible on sentencing so far as criminal law practitioners are concerned—his book on sentencing is the book for those practicing in the courts—described IPPs as an “unmitigated disaster”. We are carrying out a review to decide what will replace them by way of a strong system of determinate sentences that protects the public.
On legal aid, I could rapidly find a quotation from the right hon. Gentleman saying that if the Labour party was in government, it would be cutting legal aid. He has nothing to say on legal aid that challenges the case I made a moment ago. On citizens advice bureaux and other forms of general advice, I hope to be able to say something on Second Reading—I am making advances, but we will see how much we can come forward with. We think there are better ways of resolving problems, and I agree that CABs and other voluntary bodies sometimes provide better advice than adversarial lawyers.
In commenting on the probation service and other matters, the right hon. Gentleman asked where the savings are coming from. I have held protracted negotiations with the Chief Secretary to sort out my Department’s finances, in the light of some of the problems left behind. We have now resolved all those problems. Over this period we will be making £2 billion of savings a year on the total expenditure of my department, and we are looking elsewhere for another £100 million. We are not cutting any particular area but achieving efficiency, and half of that will come from administrative savings. If we have further policies to find the money we are not saving, I will come forward with them. I prefer to proceed with proper policies in joined-up writing upon which I have consulted, and got the approval of, my colleagues, and after that to come to the House. I am now considering how to ensure that the final touches to the major savings we are making in my Department can be achieved in the light of this consultation.
Although the Justice Committee will continue to have concerns about the extent of the legal aid changes, may I press the Justice Secretary on sentencing? Do his Cabinet colleagues recognise that we will protect our citizens from crime not by tough talk or favourable headlines, but by appropriate sentences geared to making offenders face up to what they have done and changing their behaviour? Sometimes resources are required to do that and should not be commandeered by the prison system.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. Talking tough is easy and most politicians do it; delivering tough is rather difficult, as the Labour party discovered only too often. I will not use the quotes I have used before—the right hon. Gentleman knows them perfectly well. I agree that prison is of course the right punishment for serious and violent offenders, who will keep being sent there for long sentences whenever that punishment is justified, so that they can make reparation. However, we also tackle crime by trying to reform them, getting more of them to go straight, reducing reoffending and finding other ways of stopping the accumulation of more victims and more crimes committed by people coming through the system. I think that that is accepted by my colleagues. We are giving up the remorseless and hugely expensive increases in the prison population, and looking for a more intelligent way of protecting the public, which is our principal priority.
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware—he certainly should be because I have told him a number of times—of the dire effect upon my constituents of the action he has taken already in attacking citizens advice bureaux, undermining legal aid and taking the wrecking ball to the South Manchester law centre? Is he further aware that what he has announced today will complete the process of making access to justice a prerogative of the rich?
I could answer each of those three things. Most of the cuts being made to citizens advice bureaux and so on are being made by local government; we are not the principal—[Interruption.] The Ministry of Justice is not the principal contributor to citizens advice bureaux. However, as I have already said, the Government as a whole will assist those who give quality, worthwhile advice of the kind required by the very many people who do not need legal aid and an adversarial lawyer, which is not the best way of proceeding.
We have debated court closures before. We inherited more than 100 underused buildings, which I am afraid we had to tackle and rationalise. Our package of legal aid reforms is tackling a system that has become bloated in recent years—a system that the right hon. Gentleman’s Government kept talking about reforming but never did, because an inability to take decisions about exactly what to do about an out-of-control Government was rather typical under the last Prime Minister. When we have finished what the right hon. Gentleman says are draconian reforms, we will still have by far the most expensive legal aid system in the world after I have made our so-called cuts.
Order. In the interests of maximising the number of contributors, I appeal to hon. and right hon. Members for short questions and short answers.
Does the Lord Chancellor agree that it was the last Labour Government who, having introduced IPPs, then changed the law for no other reason than to reduce the prison population? As for the thoroughly good idea that we now scrap IPPs, would we not thereby ensure that the public—the victims and, indeed, the offenders—were better protected and had greater justice?
I agree with my hon. Friend. I think that the reason the last Government introduced IPPs was that they were reducing the time of a sentence automatically served from three quarters to a half. They introduced what sounded like a tough measure, with these new indeterminate sentences. However, it immediately went wrong, and they introduced more legislation after two years to try to reduce the numbers. I regret to say that my first effort was to go in the same direction and reduce them even more. I hope that I have my hon. Friend’s support in saying that the best thing is to get rid of them and return to a sensible system of long, determinate sentencing.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman should be aware that part of the problem with his original proposals was his failure to establish the case for community sentences as an alternative to prison. In his statement he refers to new, tough community sentences. Can he describe what the characteristics of a tough community sentence might be?
I never advocated—nor did the Government —the replacement, as it were, of short prison sentences with community sentences. I have some very curious opponents in sections of the media, and this was one of the bees they got in their bonnet almost as soon as we started, but we never proposed that. Community sentences need to carry public confidence so that magistrates can consider them properly as an alternative to prison in suitable cases—they do now, but more would. What I have in mind with tougher sentences is better organised sentences, so that, for example, unpaid work—which is one of the best community-based punishments that one can impose—doing genuinely worthwhile things for the community should be better organised and better disciplined. It should not have to be fitted in on the odd day over several years; it should be better organised on the day and based round a pretty normal working pattern of so many hours each week when it is under way. There are plenty of things that we can do—that and making more use of curfews and tagging—to build up public confidence in community sentences, which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman and I both agree would be a good thing to do, but which we would also agree is lacking at the moment.
What on earth did my right hon. and learned Friend mean when he said that he would introduce drug-free wings in jails? Does he not understand that, for the public, that is an extraordinary statement? They believe that all parts of all jails should be drug-free. To them, this sums up the irretrievably soft attitude of our entire prison system. In particular, will he protect our people—vulnerable old people—from burglars, and promise the House today that all burglars of private dwelling houses will be put in prison?
On the first point, I share my hon. Friend’s amazement, as I am sure anyone would on their first introduction to the criminal justice system. The fact is, however, that drugs are very widely available in our prisons, and 9% of people who have taken heroin say that they first did so in prison, where they were introduced to the drug. I am sorry that I have had to refer to “introducing drug-free wings”, but that is what we are proposing to do, and we are going to address the problems of security and rehabilitation in order to do it.
Of course burglary is always a serious offence. It is actually one of those that are rising at the moment, although that has nothing to do with the sentence level. It is going up rather alarmingly compared with a year ago. I regard all burglary, but particularly household burglary, as a very serious offence. In the end, however, the punishment has to fit the particular crime. I shall consider what my hon. Friend has said, but I think that there should be a limit to the number of automatic sentences according to what it says on the label. Proper sentencing should be directed towards what we both agree is the first priority—namely, the proper protection of the public.
In view of the mistakes that the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s team have made in their policies relating to women, what risks does he see in making domestic violence a gateway to access to legal aid? Does he think that that will make people sceptical about victims’ claims of domestic violence?
We have defined domestic violence, and we are not sceptical at all. Indeed, I hope that the hon. Lady will be pleased that we have looked again at this matter and extended legal aid to cases of domestic violence more than we had originally proposed. I think that our policies towards women probably have her fairly wholehearted support. We have a particular policy towards women in prisons; indeed, we are following the policy of the previous Government and the recommendations of Lady Corston. At the moment, the number of women prisoners is going down; it is the number of adult males that is still rising slightly.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure the House that, in spite of the proposed changes, support for children will remain, and that legal aid will be available in cases of domestic violence, child abuse, child abduction and enforced child adoption, to ensure that children do not suffer?
To give a short answer, I agree with my hon. Friend that all of those are an important priority.
Just so that we can judge the Lord Chancellor’s performance, will he tell us how many fewer foreign national prisoners there will be in our jails in June 2012? Perhaps he could also tell us which new countries he expects to sign agreements with over the next 12 months. From experience, I think that he will find that that is not as easy as he thinks.
The right hon. Gentleman will be surprised to learn that there are 1,000 fewer foreign national prisoners now than there were when the previous Government left office. I agree with him that this is very difficult to achieve, although we are pursuing transfer of prisoner agreements, and the new transfer arrangements with the EU are coming into effect. We are also working with the UK Border Agency to try to improve its effectiveness in moving people promptly. We are working at this, and so far, we are doing 1,000 better than he did.
Harlow Welfare Rights and Advice and the citizens advice bureau are deeply concerned about the proposed centralised telephone service for all but emergency cases. Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure us that that will not add an unnecessary level of impersonal bureaucracy or prevent advice from reaching vulnerable people? Will he also look into the availability of legal aid in cases of criminal negligence, so that those who have been harmed can have access to justice?
I had better refer my hon. Friend to the consultation document. He has taken up this matter in the past, and we have readdressed the question after listening to his and other people’s recommendations. We have defined much more closely the use of the telephone advice system and concentrated on those areas in which we think that it is of value. When he looks at our response to the consultation in detail, I think he will find that we have gone in the direction that he would have wished.
I note that the Justice Secretary has said that legal aid will no longer be routinely available in clinical negligence cases. That will cause a huge problem: people will be denied justice and compensation after suffering injury or worse as a result of malpractice or clinical negligence. Will he explain his justification for that decision?
Well, 80% of clinical negligence cases are already undertaken on a no win, no fee basis. Only 20% by number are done using legal aid. That is why we think that no win, no fee is probably the better way forward, and also why we will implement Sir Rupert Jackson’s recommendations to ensure that the costs to all parties are kept down and in proportion. Far too often under the pre-Jackson rules, the health service has found itself paying out at least as much in legal costs as in compensation to victims. On the whole, negligence cases have moved steadily towards no win, no fee arrangements for those who cannot afford the fees. That gives wider access, because legal aid is restricted through a very tight means test.
Longer sentences on their own have clearly failed to cap reoffending. May I therefore urge the Lord Chancellor to press ahead with his radical and right-wing plan to get private companies into prisons to deliver serious rehabilitation that actually works?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, with whom I agree. Of course one of the things that we should address is the cost of running prisons. We all want to address the efficiency with which prisons are run, just as much as we wish to address who is sent there and how many we can accommodate. I am glad to say that we have carried out a very successful tendering exercise and saved a lot of money, and I hope also potentially improved the regimes in those prisons. We intend to do the same thing again. Personally, I have no ideological hang-up about whether the successful bidder is a public sector or private sector bidder: we want the best bidder and the best quality regime at the lowest cost. That has to go hand in hand with sentencing reform. This is exciting, but it is also a much better way of running a prison system.
Order. May I gently and in a jocular fashion say to the Secretary of State that he should not be like a cruise ship in rotation? The House wishes to hear him. He swivels around, but it is helpful if he faces the House; I would be obliged to him if he did so.
The Secretary of State has made much of his desire to have alternative dispute resolution, which he considers to be better—in family law, for example. Presumably, he is thinking of mediation. Has he made any realistic assessment of the costs and of on whom those costs would fall? Will they fall on individuals or will there be some cost to his Department, which might undermine the reductions he hopes to achieve in legal aid?
My apologies, Mr Speaker. Probably the problem with my political career is that I have not swivelled enough on occasions.
I believe mediation is a much better way of resolving all kinds of family and other disputes. The taxpayer will continue to pay for mediation; indeed, the mediators will be trained lawyers. Many people will take part in a much better process of resolving disputes. We are planning to increase the amount spent on mediation by £5 million, as the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) tells me, in order to make savings by reducing the amount of unnecessary adversarial litigation that we fund.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that mediation is no panacea and that it can fail badly in family cases where there is an imbalance in power?
My hon. Friend has much greater expertise on the practice of family law than I do, so I rely on her and listen to her opinions with great attention. I have discussed these matters with her before. We have to get the balance right. At the moment, the generosity of the legal aid system compared with other systems is bringing more things into adversarial litigation than would otherwise be the case. Expansion of mediation is the better way of proceeding, and I hope that my hon. Friend will contribute her expertise to our development of the mediation system.
The Secretary of State has spoken about the need for alternatives to the courts, so will he tell us what alternatives are available to victims of human rights abuses by multinationals, as in the Trafigura case, if the success fee on which many of those cases depend is no longer recoverable?
If, as I gather from her question, that case was conducted on a no win, no fee basis—I am not sure about that—as I announced a few weeks ago, such cases will become much cheaper for all parties as a result of the changes that we propose to make in the light of Sir Rupert Jackson’s recommendations. Legal aid will still be available in suitable cases concerning human rights. We are not resiling from those areas where the taxpayer needs to finance the small man against the state or the giant administration.
I welcome many aspects of the Justice Secretary’s announcement, including greater clarity on sentencing, measures to tackle drugs, and improvements in the original legal aid proposals. Will he confirm that the Government remain committed to restorative justice, which victims give a high satisfaction rating, to probation, which is key to the tackling of reoffending, and to the not-for-profit sector? Will he confirm that no further cuts will be made in the legal aid budget or the probation service, and that he will work hard to ensure that the not-for-profit sector receives additional funds to support its work?
We have recommended the extension of restorative justice from the start. The more I come across it, the clearer it is to me that it is very welcome to victims and can be made very successful. We are continuing unswervingly in that regard, and intend to make more use of the system.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of the probation service in tackling reoffending. We should perhaps try to make the probation service better where it needs improving, but we will not be able to improve reoffending rates if no one is supervising the offenders or their behaviour on licence. I have seen reports suggesting that we are going to fill the so-called gaps in our funding—which are pretty small in comparison with what we are saving overall—by cutting the probation service, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that it has not been singled out more than any other area. We are looking for efficiencies everywhere, but we are not bouncing away from one possibility in order to cut the probation service simply to save money.
Will the Lord Chancellor reconsider provision for citizens advice bureaux, given that last year my local CAB dealt with 14,000 of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people in my constituency?
Only 15% of CAB funding comes from my Department, and about 50% of CABs receive no legal aid funding at all. However, I agree with the hon. Lady about the value of good CABs. Their quality varies, but the best are very good. I am anxious for us to do what we can to strengthen CABs, as are my colleagues in other Departments: we are considering what we can do to help them across Government. I am doing my best, and we will settle on some support eventually. It will not be as much as the CABs want, but I think that we will be able to help.
I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on listening to the consultation and rowing back on some of the more damaging proposals. There is clearly much in the statement—although by no means all—that we can support. I understand, however, that the Government are proposing to make breaching suspended prison sentences punishable by a fine. Will my right hon. and learned Friend take this opportunity to make clear that only one punishment should be available to anyone who breaches a suspended prison sentence, namely being sent to prison?
I am grateful for the kind remarks with which my hon. Friend began his question. It seems that he agrees with a fair number of the judiciary on the proposal for a discount for early guilty pleas, and I hope that he is equally in line with the judiciary on such matters as the abolition of indeterminate sentences. We shall all begin to make some worthwhile progress on the whole field if we collaborate.
Those who breach suspended sentences are normally punished by having to serve the suspended sentence on top of any other sentence that has been imposed. However, all such cases require a little more flexibility. All that we are adding is the possibility of flexibility in some cases. Adding a fine might be preferable to making the total sentence far too long: it might be best to find some other way of dealing with an offender.
Parliament is, of course, entitled to specify sentences, but if we do that in too much detail we will fail to deliver justice, because we will not leave enough leeway and enough options for the judges and magistrates who sit and hear about all the facts of a particular case and all the circumstances of the offender.
Is the Justice Secretary now on probation, and does he anticipate time added on or early release?
I think that I have been on probation for the past few decades. Sooner or later I will get the hang of it, but I am working at it. I am not going to launch into a description of reports in the newspapers. I am sure that most of my colleagues envy my ability to get into the headlines, but the truth is rather far away from all that.
The Prime Minister and I, and the Cabinet, have developed these policies together. We have moved along together—[Laughter.] Yes, we have. We were saying the same things about policy 12 months ago, and we are saying the same things about policy today. What matters is whether the policy actually works. These proposals will be judged on whether in three or four years’ time people can see that we have sorted out the appalling mess in the criminal justice system that we inherited from Labour.
Reducing reoffending will require not only painstaking work in prisons, but working with reoffenders when they leave prison—actually at the prison gate and afterwards. Will my right hon. and learned Friend say a little more about the funding for that, and about how voluntary and community groups will be able to access it to support offenders when they leave prison and in the critical few weeks and months afterwards?
That is why we have proposals to improve rehabilitation and reduce reoffending by introducing a payment-by-results system. That will normally involve consortia of people coming together to rehabilitate prisoners, and payment will be based on the results they achieve. The first pilots are already in place: we have contracts in Peterborough and Doncaster, and others are about to start in Manchester and several other local authority areas. Ideally, they will involve, for example, a private sector body raising the capital with a voluntary body and a not-for-profit organisation; they can come together in a suitable consortium, first to start doing something about the offender when he is in prison and then following up on that and trying to make it far less likely that he will reoffend after he leaves prison. The payment-by-results approach to rehabilitation is one of the Government’s most significant innovations in this field, and it is making very good progress.
What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the availability of face-to-face welfare advice from advice agencies such as citizens advice bureaux and law centres in 2013 when the Welfare Reform Bill will come into effect at precisely the same time as welfare benefits are removed from scope?
I have already stated that I am not in a position today to say what we can do to support citizens advice bureaux and similar organisations providing advice in the legal field and other areas such as welfare. The Government are actively considering that, and I hope we will be in a position to make an announcement soon. Part of the problem is relevant to my field, but it extends into other areas such as welfare reform. The Government are conscious of the fact that we must do something to fill some of the unavoidable gaps that have been left at present, mainly by local authorities being forced to cut the grants they can give.
This Government inherited the most expensive criminal justice system per capita in the world. As £100 million is being spent on administering legal aid through the Legal Services Commission, and as there are three different departments of the National Offender Management Service all doing separate kinds of commissioning—not to mention the extremely high cost per prison place—may I suggest that there are many areas where savings can be found without cutting front-line services?
We are abolishing the Legal Services Commission. One of the most frequent complaints that I get about the system is the sheer bureaucracy, and it has had serious problems in the past. The Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly), tells me that we will save £8 million a year simply by bringing this in-house, as we are doing, but we intend to save quite a lot more on the administration of the system than that. It is hopeless, given our prime duty of protecting the public, if we waste money in that area and make it one of the most expensive and fast-growing areas of Government expenditure. We hope to make the system effective and targeted, and for it to do what we should be doing, which is protecting the public from crime and giving access to justice to the vulnerable.
Legal aid is a lifeline to those in need, often at a time of crisis in their lives. This Bill, and Government cuts to local government expenditure, will cut that lifeline to tens of thousands of citizens in Birmingham and threaten the future of our citizens advice bureaux and advice centres. Does the Secretary of State not accept that justice for the better-off alone is no justice at all?
That is just a very broad-brush defence of what the hon. Gentleman believes is the need to carry on paying £38 a head per taxpayer for the current legal aid system. Of course some legal aid is absolutely essential—crucial—to the liberties of our subjects and it is one of the standards of our society that we provide legal aid for people in extremis who would otherwise have no means of urging their cause. We have this grand, across-the-board system that finances what we can sometimes see is an inferior way of resolving disputes if we look for better methods of doing so. That will apply in Birmingham as elsewhere. The previous Government knew that the system had to be reformed; they simply could not make up their mind about what they were going to do to reform it. We are making some very well-considered proposals, which have been consulted on and thus modified to a certain extent, for getting the system back to a sensible size.
The Lord Chancellor said that he had been personally impressed by the representations of the senior judiciary. Given that they said it would not be right as a matter either of principle or of practice to go beyond the maximum discount of one third, who are the wishy-washy liberals who have induced this row and all the fuss and problems that we have witnessed in the press over the past few weeks?
We did have quite a lot of support and it was not all from wishy-washy liberals. We also had some opponents who opposed the policy for reasons that I completely disagreed with. I was impressed by the input I got from serious people in the criminal justice system who are all used to discounts for early guilty pleas. Anyone who has ever had anything to do with criminal justice knows that there has always been a discount for pleading guilty early. The public do not know that and they do not like it when they are first told it, but there are good reasons for it. However, a reduction by half proved to be too much and I could not find any other way of resolving the issue and getting over the undoubted difficulties, so if there are any bleeding-heart liberals left who still think we are going to have a reduction by half, I am sorry to disappoint them, but at least my hon. Friend and I are now agreed on where we are.
The Secretary of State will be aware that many prisoners have very poor levels of skills and limited work experience. Will he tell us how his plans for prisoner working will improve their employability prospects when they leave prison and what plans he has to link education with prisoner working?
I agree with all that the hon. Lady has said and we will try to produce programmes that deliver what she obviously hopes we will do. First, we have all the work experience in prison that we are going to provide. We will try to organise serious work as much as possible with the collaboration of outside businesses which, for social responsibility reasons, are often very attracted to getting involved in this area. The work inside prison should be more meaningful and more like the ordinary disciplines of working life outside. It should, with luck, add to the training and employability of those inside. Then we have to tie in with the Department for Work and Pensions’ Work programme and what it is doing to try to get people skills and employment outside. Having a job to go to greatly increases the chances that an offender might not offend again and have more victims—that they might start to go straight—so this is a very important area and we are proposing to make very significant changes in tackling that side of the problem.
Last year’s Conservative party manifesto stated:
“Many people feel that sentencing in Britain is dishonest and misleading.”
In order to start to restore the public’s trust and confidence in our justice system, if it is a good idea to introduce minimum prison sentences for certain knife crimes, why cannot we have such minimum sentences for other classes of crime?
The honesty in sentencing issue concerns the fact that it is not currently explained to people that sentences are likely to involve so much time in prison and a further amount outside on licence but subject to recall. We will see whether we can address that and make people understand more clearly what sentences actually imply. It was the previous Government, not us, who moved the amount of sentences being served from two thirds to half—a move that we intend to reverse in the cases of the most serious sexual offenders and violent criminals when we move away from imprisonment for public protection sentences to a more sensible system of determinate sentences.
I welcome this latest and expertly executed U-turn from the Government. Cannot the Justice Secretary see that this whole row, as well as the cuts to probation, the cuts to youth offending teams, the banned people being allowed to volunteer in classrooms and the failure to close all the loopholes on the monitoring of sex offenders together create a very ugly picture of the Government’s attitude to victims of crime?
I have done many U-turns in my time. They should be done with purpose and panache when we have to do them, but I do not think this is a U-turn at all—[Laughter.] No, I do not. Let me explain—[Laughter.]
Order. I think Opposition Front Benchers have taken some sort of tickling powder. I have been listening with bated breath to the Secretary of State for the best part of 20 years and I want to continue listening to him.
We are aiming at a package of radical reform of sentencing to make it more effective in protecting the public, and at the same time making a substantial contribution to reducing the country’s deficit, which is vital to our economic recovery. We consulted on what is a leviathan of a Bill, with a huge range of proposals. We have changed some of it and have come up with what we intended, which is actually a better balanced package of good reform of the sentencing system. It achieves the savings we wanted. When I want to exercise a U-turn in future I shall give the hon. Lady notice, but this is not such a manoeuvre.
The opportunistic shroud-waving of the Opposition obscures the fact that Labour never enacted the Prisoners’ Earnings Act 1996, which would have allowed victims to be compensated by the work of prisoners. Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm the welcome news for my constituents that vexatious, long drawn-out and costly taxpayer-funded immigration appeals are coming to an end?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for welcoming our moves on prisoners’ earnings and their use to support victims. I agree that we have too litigious a society, and we should not have a legal aid system that just contributes to it. Our legal aid reforms are much overdue and will get us back to looking at more sensible ways of upholding the rights of citizens and enabling them to settle their disputes.
Will not this U-turn on sentencing mean that some of the long-term savings planned by the Ministry of Justice will no longer be achievable? If that is the case, which other parts of the justice budget will be cut to compensate?
Roughly, the spending reductions we are making are from £9 billion a year to £7 billion a year. The discount for early guilty pleas was meant to contribute about £100 million of that. The move away from indeterminate sentences to a more sensible determinate sentence-based system will in the long run save quite a lot of money, because at the moment thousands of people are in prison and no one has the first idea when or if they will ever get out. Of course we have to readdress the issue, now that we have consulted; we have now settled the financial position with the Chief Secretary and will look for more efficiencies and savings. I am quite confident that we will find them, because so far we are making very good progress in making considerable reductions in the bloated expenditure that we inherited.
Does the Secretary of State agree with me and my previous experience, not only as a wishy-washy liberal but as a serving police officer, that one of the major barriers to rehabilitating offenders is the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974? Thirty-seven years is quite long enough to wait for a reform. When shall we see it?
I hope soon. I take on board the hon. Gentleman’s views, with which I have considerable sympathy. We take very seriously the workings of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and its impact on reoffending and rehabilitation, and policy is being finalised at the moment.
Will there be specific provision in the Bill on children and legal aid? In particular, will children in local authority care be able to access legal aid to challenge the local authority’s decisions?
Again, I am indebted to the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon. In response to the consultation, we changed the measure in the direction the hon. Lady would like, so the answer is yes.
I particularly welcome the plans to introduce a full working week across the prison estate, and the fact that the money earned by prisoners will go towards supporting victims. As a former RAF officer who was involved in convening courts martial, I wonder what opportunity my right hon. and learned Friend has had to look at the work ethic in the military corrective training centre in Colchester.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s welcome for our policy. Let no one underestimate: it is going to be difficult to extend the work ethic and a work programme throughout prisons. It will steadily be achieved and we are embarking on it. There are good examples in the Prison Service now—one or two, where a working week is in place for the prisoners. That needs to be rolled out throughout the estate. I will certainly take advantage of looking at the approach in the military prisons and their work-based ethic, which I understand to be the case, though I have not visited one for many years.
I am beginning to wonder whether it was a mistake to separate the Ministry of Justice from the Home Office, because we now seem to have one Ministry for arresting people and another for letting them go. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman wants to get rid of his reputation as a wishy-washy liberal, will he go the whole hog and rename his Bill the “Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (Hang ’em, Flog ’em and Birch ’em) Bill”. That might satisfy Members on the Conservative Benches.
I have to admit that I thought that was a rather extraordinary way of reorganising the Departments when it was first done, and so did the judges. They greatly resisted going into the Ministry of Justice because they could see that the vast explosion of expenditure on prisons would crowd out the budget for the courts. The Ministry of Justice is a bit like a nest with a cuckoo in it—[Interruption.] It is not me. The previous Government kept feeding the Prison Service—exploding the Prison Service—and then cutting expenditure on every other aspect of the Department’s activities as it was thrown out of the nest. We need to stabilise the prison population, get the costs under control, use it more effectively and have a more intelligent way of working with the rest of the Department to deliver things.
The long-term future of the Department will be looked at. In my experience, the reorganisation of Departments hardly ever achieves any worthwhile objectives, whatever the Prime Minister of the day thought he was achieving. Too much confusion is caused by moving them all around and it is best to stick with the structure that we have, but I would not have gone for the present structure in the first place, if I had had anything to do with it.
Even after these changes, we will be spending between four and 10 times as much on legal aid as other countries, some with similar jurisdictions to ours. Does this not imply that there is a structural issue in parts of our legal system, and is there not more that we could do to address this structural issue in the years ahead, in which case we would make real savings?
My hon. Friend talks common sense about where we are with the legal aid system. I still think it is important to have a legal aid system to enable vulnerable people and people at serious risk to protect their rights, even when they cannot afford a lawyer, but there are plenty of other things wrong with the justice system. We are bringing forward proposals to try to improve the efficiency of the courts. At present the courts provide a daunting experience to any member of the public who finds himself unlucky enough to have to go through any form of litigation. The delays, waste of time and cost are almost endemic in the system.
We are tackling the efficiency of the criminal justice system—that applies to the civil justice system just as much—to try to ensure that the whole legal process becomes part of the public service and is there to be used by people who have to use it, or have to do justice, with rather more efficiency and rather less daunting waste and inconvenience than is often the case at present. The costs must be brought down through large parts of the service.
The Lord Chancellor is a respected parliamentarian. It has become increasingly clear during the statement that he does not agree with the sentencing policy that the Prime Minister has foisted on him in relation to the reduction of sentences. Why does he not be honest, be true to himself, retain respect and tell the Prime Minister where to go?
The Prime Minister, other colleagues in the Government and I have all had perfectly reasonable discussions about the criminal justice system. We all presented a package of proposals for consultation and we are presenting the same package today in response to that consultation. This is a sensible way of running a Government. I realise that politics has become a branch of the celebrity culture, but the idea that what is really interesting is whether the Prime Minister and I are arguing or whether the Prime Minister and I are agreeing is largely obscuring what I think is an extremely positive package of proposals which, after consultation, is better fitted to meet the aspirations that we all had when we embarked on the policy in the first place.
It is a sad fact that half of adults leaving prison are reconvicted within a year of release, a legacy of the previous Government. I therefore welcome the proposal for a work programme for offenders in prisons. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that this should surely provide prisoners with a brighter future and prevent them from becoming a menace to society again, not least to the law-abiding citizens of Erewash?
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. The figure she repeats—one in two ex-offenders will be caught and convicted within a year of leaving prison—is truly extraordinary. I agree that proper change is needed. We need to protect the public from the worst of that, and where prisoners have the gumption to respond and try to get themselves out of their way of life and become honest citizens again, we should make more of them do so. I am sure that that would be appreciated in Erewash, as it would across the rest of the country.
The Secretary of State invited us to look at what the situation will be four years down the line. Does he not expect there to be a larger and more expensive prison population, with prisoners serving very long sentences for some of the offences for which he is increasing the tariff, and that there will be a large number of people denied access to legal aid, fewer advice services, fewer CABs and a lot of people very disgruntled that justice is not available to them because they are too poor?
I always believe that policy is best judged by results and that half the fuss that surrounds policy making completely fails to predict what will go right and wrong thereafter. I firmly believe—I am quite confident—this package of policies will not have the results that the hon. Gentleman fears, but we will both know in four years’ time. The whole purpose of the policies is to achieve the precise opposite of what he holds up as a possible outcome. We had to have radical reform, and it has to be carried forward in a business-like and sensible way to deliver a criminal justice system and access to civil justice of the kind we require.
My constituents will welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement today that serious sexual offenders, such as those recently convicted for rape and assault in Barton street and Eastgate street in Gloucester, will now serve two thirds of their sentence in jail, rather than half. They will also welcome the fact that illegal immigrants will no longer have access to taxpayer-funded legal aid. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that successful drug and alcohol rehabilitation programmes run by organisations such as the Nelson Trust near my constituency in Stroud have an important role to play in these new policies?
I agree with my hon. Friend. It is far more sensible to have an appropriate determinate sentence, and serious sexual and violent offenders—those serving longer sentences—should go back to having to serve two thirds before being eligible for release. Indeed, if the Parole Board thinks that they should not be released, they should probably serve their whole term. That is far superior to the lottery of the IPP that we have at the moment. I strongly agree that we must do something to encourage the many people in the voluntary sector who want to work with ex-offenders and can successfully help those who can be rehabilitated to get themselves out of a life of crime.
Parliamentarians on both sides of the House will welcome not only the Secretary of State’s statement, but the whole process. To be helpful to him, I wonder whether he could solve the economic problem overnight by sending the 11,000 foreign nationals incarcerated in prisons in England and Wales back home on a plane tomorrow and forget their human rights.
There are some measures in the consultation on the release of foreign national prisoners after they have served their tariff and conditional cautions for people who go away on the basis that we will not let them come back. Those are intended to reduce the rather ridiculous proportion of foreigners in the prison population. We are working with the UK Border Agency on the difficult problem of how to get people out of the country when they have no papers and the receiving country will not take them. My instincts are entirely those of my hon. Friend’s. It is quite absurd that 13% of the prison population are foreign nationals and we must work to get that figure down.
Order. I am keen to accommodate remaining Back Benchers, but I reiterate my ritual appeal for brevity.
On legal aid for medical negligence cases, can the Secretary of State reassure the House that he has made an assessment and we are not going to end up transferring additional costs to the NHS Litigation Authority?
Obviously, the NHS Litigation Authority has been involved in our consultation, but at the moment I see no reason why that should be the consequence at all. Indeed, I think—I hope—that the NHS will be spared some of the more speculative litigation that has taken place, whereby people really hope that somebody will pay a kind of settlement to avoid incurring the further costs of resisting the claim. In genuine cases, we have to ensure access to justice, of course, because clinical negligence claims are very important, and we think that the no win, no fee system, as modified, is the best way of doing so.
The Lord Chancellor said in his statement, “Public confidence in the criminal justice system is unacceptably low,” and sadly that is the case. Does he agree that only when sentencing policy more truly reflects public opinion will that confidence return?
Of course, and that is why I have stressed some of the measures that we are introducing today to try to send the right messages about serious violent and sexual crime and about knife crime. No sensible or civilised person in this country suggests anything other than serious punishment for crimes of that kind.
It is very difficult to win public confidence, because in the course of an ordinary life most people’s contact with the criminal justice system is very sporadic indeed, so most people do not know anything about indeterminate sentences, discounts for early guilty pleas or any of the things that we talk about here. I have a rather sad feeling that for as long as I can remember opinion polls have always said that people think sentences are too short and the criminal justice system is too lax, but, on sensible public opinion, we are their servants and we are trying to reassure them that the criminal justice system will, indeed, protect them, as it should do.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that time in prison should be time well spent and, therefore, that education and training, rather than just leaving prisoners to languish in their cells, is absolutely essential?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, who has expertise in that subject, and I am working very closely with my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department for Work and Pensions. What they are doing to improve the training and work opportunities of people in this country has to include ex-offenders, and we have to ensure that in parallel we do more to get our ex-offenders settled in work wherever the ex-offender is prepared to make the effort to get into honest employment.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and, in particular, the abolition of legal aid for squatters resisting eviction. Can he clarify how much was spent on that in the past 10 years?
No. I shall have to write to my hon. Friend with that information, but I am grateful for his welcome. I do not know whether anyone would oppose this, but it is plainly wrong to make legal aid ordinarily available to people who, by definition, are squatting in properties for which they do not have a legal claim.
Although I acknowledge the need for cuts to legal aid, may I share with the Secretary of State my concerns about local advice agencies, which sometimes provide essential local advice to the most vulnerable? Will he work closely with his ministerial colleagues to ensure that some provision is made for such agencies to continue?
I will take back to my ministerial colleagues the fact that several respected Members have made that point quite strongly in the course of these exchanges. We are discussing it, and we know that we have to respond to it. On the question of which Department will eventually announce the outcome, I am not quite sure, because several Departments are involved, but we are all seeking to find a solution to it.
The Howard League for Penal Reform’s recent report on short sentences makes it clear that one reason for the devastatingly high level of reoffending after sentences of under six months is a lack of adequate resettlement support for those leaving prison. In retaining shorter sentences, will the Secretary of State reassure me that more will be done to ensure that such prisoners are helped to have a useful and purposeful life after leaving prison?
I agree with my hon. Friend’s analysis. The reoffending rates are very bad for short-term offenders because they are often let out again without the follow-up that is given to more serious criminals. Of course, the problem is that one cannot simply extend the sentence. Short-term sentences remain suitable for some people. Indeed, some people do not really need help but would benefit from being put in prison—for example, uninsured drivers, about whom I was talking earlier today. People who are otherwise respectable and take no notice of the law by driving while uninsured will soon take notice if they are given a short prison sentence. They do not require rehabilitation when they are released; most will almost certainly not drive without insurance again. As for the others, we are where we are. Some people leave the magistrates no alternative because everything else has been tried and they keep offending. If we could get stronger community sentences and make them more magistrate-friendly, some of the people about whom my hon. Friend is concerned might be put on to a more constructive path that will help them to stop offending.
As a London MP, I warmly welcome my right hon. and learned Friend’s proposal to introduce mandatory sentences for adults who use a knife to threaten and endanger. He will know that many knife crimes are committed by younger offenders. May I implore him to send a similarly unambiguous message to those offenders?
I think the message from the whole House is that we disapprove of the carrying and using of knives. We keep striving to reverse what recently became, particularly in parts of London, almost a fashion for knife crime. I am sure that the offence that we are going to introduce will reinforce the message we are giving. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has also announced a whole package of measures on knife crime. The Government will take my hon. Friend’s advice in giving very high priority to this subject.
The Justice Secretary touched on the issue of clinical negligence, particularly in cases where litigation costs can often far exceed the actual sum insured. To echo the sentiment expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), can he give the House any guidance on measures that can be introduced to ensure an early resolution? The NHS Litigation Authority, trusts, GPs and consultants are often loth to admit liability, and that leads to undue costs and delayed and protracted negotiations.
A lot of that lies within the province of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. Many people in the health service realise that the key way to proceed is to settle claims and pay up promptly when someone has obviously made a mistake, while fighting resolutely cases brought by people who are acting speculatively. Many cases could be resolved by better complaints procedures or by attempts to discuss the matter. One of the things we are exploring is the early exchange of reports so that both sides know exactly what expert evidence is available to them and do not hold their own evidence back, because that paves the way to a resolution of the claim. I am sure that everyone in the NHS is as anxious as my hon. Friend and I are to see some progress on this. Perhaps making legal aid less available in this area will stop some people being quite so litigious and make them a little more constructive about how to sort out a proper remedy.
My right hon. and learned Friend’s statements about knife crime will be welcomed by my constituent, Yvonne Upton, who has been campaigning since she lost her son, Connor, to somebody who chose to carry a knife on a night out.
As regards drugs in prison, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that under the previous Government too many prisoners were on long-term methadone prescriptions and parked in state-induced dependency, and that getting those prisoners drug free with an abstinence programme is key to proper reform?
There are people with better clinical expertise on drug rehabilitation than I, but I share my hon. Friend’s instincts. We are seeking to make proper drug rehabilitation programmes work. There is obviously a danger that it sometimes becomes easier to maintain people on methadone, and that is going nowhere in some cases. I am sure that methadone has a place in all this, because people with more knowledge than I have insist that it does, but we are looking for proper rehabilitation wherever possible, with the aim of abstinence and making the person drug free.
I warmly welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to making our prisons more drug free. A constituent of mine has become addicted while in prison and is desperate to get off his addiction lest he be drawn into circles of crime on his release. Can my right hon. and learned Friend make a commitment to do more for such people who want to get clean and go straight?
I hope that we can do more. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health is looking at drug rehabilitation services generally for people who do not offend, as well as for people who get themselves into trouble with the law. This is a very important area. The majority of crime in this country is linked directly or indirectly to drug abuse of some kind. The majority of prisoners have indulged in the abuse of drugs shortly before their admission to prison. It is essential that we respond to my hon. Friend’s plea that such programmes are supported and made more effective.
My constituents will welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement that more life sentences will be available to judges when dealing with serious, repeat and violent offenders. What offences that will cover and, specifically, which repeat offences will eventually carry the life tariff?
I think there will be an automatic increase in the number of life sentences when we get rid of IPPs. When indeterminate sentences were introduced, some of the people who were given IPPs were in really dangerous categories and had been convicted of offences for which life imprisonment was already the maximum offence. When we change it, judges will put such people back on life sentences. The whole IPP experiment was a mistake. We have indeterminate sentences in this country—they are called life sentences. They are better managed and are the proper way to deal with the most serious offenders. I think that some of the most serious offenders who get IPPs now will in the future get life sentences, just as judges always gave them before.
Many of my constituents want reassurance that the victims of crime will be properly catered for in the new Bill. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the victims commissioner, and will he tell us a little about them?
I have very welcome conversations with the victims commissioner from time to time, and very much hope to involve her more closely than has been the case in the development of policy. Obviously, the concerns of victims should be at the heart of all that we do. I was told as I came in that the victims commissioner, Louise Casey, has just issued a statement about our announcements today. It is quite long and I will not read it all. [Hon. Members: “Go on!”] Well, I will read just the first sentence. She says that she sincerely welcomes
“the government’s response to the Green Paper consultation”
announced today. I will try to keep her support because it is extremely important that victims have confidence in what we are doing.
The transfer of foreign national prisoners is obviously not a simple issue. However, last year, Humberside police and East Riding of Yorkshire council brought to my attention the case of an EU national who had committed 33 crimes against the good people of Goole. We were told that deportation, if it did take place, could take up to two years. Surely it is completely and utterly unacceptable for any EU national to be in a British jail; they should be in their own countries in their own jails. Any EU nationals who are released from our jails should be deported immediately.
I am glad to say that there is an agreement on the transfer of prisoners within the European Union—[Interruption.] Yes, it was negotiated by the previous Government and it will come into force in November this year. Off the top of my head, only two countries, Ireland and Poland, have derogated from it and are delaying implementation. I look forward to the proper transfer of prisoners to all the other countries. It means that British criminals will be brought to our prisons to complete their sentences and that foreign prisoners will be returned elsewhere. We will see who benefits. It is obviously very sensible from every point of view.
We constantly consider with the UK Border Agency the quicker removal of prisoners who are due for deportation. I concede to the UKBA that deportation is not always as simple in individual cases as it is made to sound. It is difficult to get some countries to accept former prisoners, and it is, of course, difficult to get some people to go to other countries. Sometimes, their very identity or nationality is the subject of constant dispute.
Should not judges and magistrates be made aware of the success or otherwise of their individual sentencing decisions, by being kept informed of the reoffending rates of the offenders whom they send down?
There is a lot of work going on about the transparency of justice and the publication of local figures. We all need to know more detail about what is being done at local level and what the consequences are of the administration of justice in our localities. I am sure that all the best magistrates would welcome some feedback and more information about what is happening as a result of their sentencing policy.