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Justice

Volume 535: debated on Tuesday 8 November 2011

The Secretary of State was asked—

Legal Aid (Social Welfare)

1. What assessment his Department has made of the potential effects on other Government Departments of his planned reductions to legal aid for social welfare law. (78951)

4. What assessment his Department has made of the potential effects on other Government Departments of his planned reductions to legal aid for social welfare law. (78955)

The impact assessment published alongside the Government’s response to consultation lays out the best estimates of the costs and benefits of the legal aid reforms. Ultimately, costs to other Departments will be driven by behavioural responses to the changes, and these are very difficult to predict with any real accuracy.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Is it his Government’s view that it is acceptable for a whole swathe of the population to have no access to justice in the area of social welfare law?

We are not denying access to justice for anybody, but obviously a huge swathe of the population find it expensive to obtain justice and we have to ask ourselves for which people the taxpayer should pay for access to justice. We have concentrated on the most important issues, in which there is a general public interest in having people represented. It is wrong to represent changes in the way we pay lawyers and the amount that we pay as if we are somehow barring people from access to their legal rights.

Does the Lord Chancellor not feel that the cut in the civil legal aid budget, which will clearly have a detrimental impact on the citizens advice bureau and law centre network, will hinder the notion of the big society?

Legal aid is not the principal source of public funding support for citizens advice bureaux, and legal aid changes will not take effect until 2013. Those and other voluntary bodies are taking a big hit from the reduction of local authority and other grants. For that reason, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has already announced £27 million of continued funding for citizens advice bureaux, and we have set up a transitional fund for the voluntary sector to manage the transition to a tighter funding environment. We have £20 million set aside this year to support voluntary bodies through their present difficulties, which are mainly because of local government cuts.

I very much welcome the Government’s commitment to the extra funding for welfare and benefits advice, but will my right hon. and learned Friend update us on what progress he has made with the Cabinet Office about the allocation of those funds?

My hon. Friend has rightly been chasing me on this subject, and with her I have approached the Cabinet Office. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, hopes to make an announcement shortly about the distribution of the money. As the sort of people we are talking about need the general advice offered by such voluntary bodies, I very much hope that he will soon make an announcement on behalf of the Government.

Is it not clear that what most people will need with these changes is well-supported advice services, a user-friendly tribunal system, and Government Departments that give people what they are entitled to in the first place?

Yes, I entirely agree. That is what I hope we can deliver. The number of mistakes made by bodies that distribute funds, which result in appeals to tribunal, is obviously far too high.

Last week the Secretary of State confirmed that he was taking legal aid away from brain-damaged children and disabled people unlawfully denied benefits. In answer to questions from my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith), the Minister with responsibility for legal aid, the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly), admitted that the Department of Health pays up to £183 an hour for legal advice, Work and Pensions pays £201 an hour and Communities and Local Government pays £288 an hour. Some of those well-paid Government lawyers will be up against our unrepresented constituents, especially on appeal. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman think that that is fair?

Most of those do not get legal aid now, and most personal injury cases are not brought using legal aid. They are brought using no win, no fee arrangements. As the hon. Gentleman knows, in the new proposals for how no win, no fee ought to work, we have made special arrangements for particularly difficult cases and the insurance of the costs of medical reports.

Young Offender Institutions

2. What steps he is taking to ensure the provision of adequate legal advice in young offender institutions. (78952)

The training requirement to carry out the Prison Service order requiring legal services officers to be available in every prison, including young offender institutions, could not be delivered. In future, governors will be required to give prisoners information on how to access legal advice as part of their induction into custody. The Prison Service order will be promulgated before the end of the year. Juvenile offender institutions have discrete advocacy services available for prisoners under 18 years old.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Last year a study of 25 young offender institutions and 300 requests for legal help from young people showed that 80% of those struggling to access legal advice were from a black and ethnic minority background, and 9% were female, which is disproportionate when compared with the general population. What plan do the Government have to tackle that?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing that to my attention. We will examine the new arrangements for induction into custody and the advocacy services available to make sure that any suggested discrimination that is happening will not be allowed to recur.

Will the Minister agree to meet me and other interested groups to discuss the issue? The only way to combat the high level of discrimination is to be able to discuss it with those concerned.

Freedom of Information

This month we extended the Freedom of Information Act to a further three bodies—the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Financial Ombudsman Service and UCAS. Additionally, we intend to extend the Act to over 100 more organisations through the Protection of Freedoms Bill. We have also begun consultations with more than 200 further bodies about their possible inclusion. Next year we plan to consult 2,000 housing associations and the housing ombudsman.

I thank the Minister for his response and for the progress made by his Department. As he knows, Network Rail is responsible for spending billions of pounds of public money each year. Will he ensure that that organisation is brought within the scope of the Freedom of Information Act?

The Government are committed to making Network Rail more accountable to its customers, and believe that there is a strong case for its inclusion in the FOI.

Community organisations often have a great deal of trouble getting information out of local councils via the Freedom of Information Act. What plans does the Minister have to make the Act as currently drawn, with the organisations currently included, work better?

If the hon. Lady has problems to be addressed, she should write to the Ministry of Justice and we will take them up.

Victim Support

5. What steps his Department is taking to provide support for victims; and if he will make a statement. (78956)

In the current financial year the Ministry of Justice is providing funding of approximately £50 million to voluntary sector organisations that support victims of crime. Before Christmas we intend to launch a consultation on proposals that will ensure that victims of crime are supported in the best way possible.

Too many victims of crime in my constituency feel that their rights are put behind those of criminals. Will my right hon. and learned Friend please share with me what measures he proposes to take to correct that sense of injustice?

Apart from continuing to give support to victims organisations, as I said, we are about to implement the Prisoners Earnings Act 1996, which will see up to £1 million taken from prisoners’ wages going into victims’ services. We have given Victim Support its three-year grant for the first time. It has never had such assured support—£38 million a year. We have honoured our coalition commitment to place rape support centres on a secure financial footing, giving them long-term funding, and we are about to open four more.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the most important thing for victims is the prevention of further offences and reoffending, since what victims want is to know that they are not going to become a victim a further time after a bad experience?

I entirely agree with that. It is a point on which we are putting very heavy emphasis in all our policies on crime, punishment and rehabilitation.

Does the Secretary of State agree that restorative justice can be key in helping victims, both in their hearing an apology from the offender, and in some cases hearing an explanation as to why the crime was committed?

Again, I agree entirely. We find that of the victims who agree to take part—they must agree to take part—about 85% express satisfaction with the process. It gives victims some feeling that someone has apologised and that they are getting some redress.

Can the Lord Chancellor imagine a more needy victim than a child brain-damaged at birth whose parents are unable to sue for its financial security?

It is not true that they are unable to sue. We have a dispute about how much the lawyers should be paid in the event of a successful claim, which is an important matter, but I do not accept the assertion that none of these actions will be brought unless we leave the present no win, no fee arrangements completely untouched.

On 12 October the Prime Minister announced that he had appointed Louise Casey to a new job. The Secretary of State has had at least a month to arrange for a new victims commissioner to take up his or her role. A month on, not only is no one in post, but the position has not been advertised and the Government have not said what plans they have. Victims charities and organisations and the Opposition have urged the Government to move swiftly, so who is it to be? Sadly, we have seen empty words on victims’ rights, and in this case we also have an empty post.

I am extremely grateful to Louise Casey for the work she did and the discussions I had with her while she was in office. I find the hon. Gentleman’s question amazing. The post of victims commissioner was created by Act of Parliament in 2004, but the previous Government failed to appoint anyone for five years and a fresh statute was introduced to revise the post in 2009. Louise Casey was appointed in early 2010. We are reconsidering—again—the basis on which we make the appointment, but to be accused of tardiness by someone who was in the last Parliament is positively farcical.

Reoffending

Based on a survey of nearly 1,500 adult prisoners, we found a number of factors associated with reoffending on release: negative childhood experiences; poor educational backgrounds; low employment prospects; and poor health prospects, including drug usage. Research has also shown that criminal history, age and gender are strong predictors of future reoffending.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Almost half of all serving prisoners have very basic literacy and numeracy skills. What steps is he taking to transform the literacy training that offenders receive in prison?

I agree with my hon. Friend about the problem. The majority of prisoners do not have the necessary reading and writing skills to do most jobs in the labour market on release. That is why assessing literacy and numeracy skills is a priority in prisons and why those with a need are offered classroom-based courses and individualised support, but there is also a role for the third sector, with organisations such as Toe By Toe providing mentoring for prisoners and by prisoners to help them learn reading skills.

The Minister has not mentioned young people, and high numbers of them continue to reoffend. What strategy is in place to give them guidance and support so that they do not reoffend when they come out of prison or young offenders institutions?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that reoffending rates by younger people are particularly high and that that is where we need to focus attention. The guidance he mentions is particularly effective when it comes in the form of mentoring, which can be provided by third sector organisations, and we have seen some very effective examples of that. It is a question not only of statutory supervision and support, but of what others can bring.

May I urge the Minister to take an even closer look at the voluntary sector’s work in that area, especially the charity KeepOut, which I have recently become aware of? It is a crime diversion scheme delivered by teams of serving prisoners that aims to steer young people away from the conveyor belt to a criminal life and represents a positive step for many prisoners on their rehabilitation journey.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to the work of organisations such as KeepOut that provide exactly the type of mentoring service I was talking about, helping those who are or have been prisoners to dissuade young offenders from pursuing a life of crime.

I have listened to the Minister’s answers. We were promised a rehabilitation revolution, but unfortunately the chief inspector of prisons can find no evidence of it. In the interests of looking at outcomes, can the Minister let us know when we can expect to see this decline in reoffending and by exactly how much it will decline?

I think that the whole House agrees that reoffending rates are too high. They have been persistently high, and we need to tackle that issue. That is why the rehabilitation revolution is important, and I am sorry that the hon. Lady does not appear to support it. We have particular proposals on payment by results, and we are now seeing them extended throughout public sector and private sector prisons, where we will ensure that we pay for what works and incentivise providers to reduce reoffending. We are determined to reduce reoffending by using innovative means, not the familiar means that Labour always proposes, which involve simply spending more public money.

Prison Population

The latest projections of the prison population in England and Wales, published last week, modelled three scenarios. These track, as is the usual practice, the impact of three different sentencing trends on custodial convictions. By the end of June 2017, the prison population is projected to be 83,100 on the lower projection, 88,900 on the medium projection and 94,800 on the higher projection.

The prison population is at a record high, and some 60% of the prison population have speech, language and communication needs. How will the Justice Secretary address communication disability as part of his rehabilitation revolution?

I am sorry, but I missed the second point. Is the point of the question communication disability? [Interruption.] Prison projections are very difficult to make, and that is why we have the equivalent of the fan-shaped projections that the Bank of England produces on inflation forecasts. It has always been the same with prison forecasts.

The future prison population will depend on all kinds of things beyond the control of the Government, but the prison estate is well placed to meet the demand. Eventually it will all depend on whether we have long and protracted youth unemployment, how far the recession has retracted, and how successful we are with our rehabilitation revolution, workplace reform, skills training, education reform and so on. The Prison Service is there to meet the demand, but we expect the demand to be reasonably stable.

I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend is aware of the importance of the construction of the Featherstone 2 prison, which is currently being built in my constituency, but can he assure the House that he will do all he can to encourage G4S, the operator, to employ people locally, so that we have not just the disadvantages of a prison being built, but some of the advantages?

Featherstone 2 is one of two new prisons that we have coming on stream in 2012, and I am sure that it will provide a very valuable source of local employment when it opens, as it is quite a large prison. It will also, of course, contribute to our battle against crime and to the need to punish serious criminals.

I know the Justice Secretary does not like being reminded of this, and that is clearly why I am going to do so. He had a target to reduce the prison population by 3,000 by 2015, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) helped to remind the House, it is now 87,747, which is about 3,000 more than when the right hon. and learned Gentleman became Justice Secretary. As a consequence of this Government’s policies, which projection does he believe will be the case? Will the prison population in May 2015 be the same, more or less than it was in May 2010?

It is simply not the case that I have ever had a target for prisons, because as I have just explained it is not within the control of Ministers. That is why Ministers in the previous Government used to produce these various scenarios. I do not have a target. We make an estimate of the effect that legislative changes will have on the future prison population, and as the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill that the House has just passed will, other things being equal, which they never are, reduce the prison population by about 2,600.

We have a complacent Justice Secretary who, one third of the way through this Parliament, has no idea whether the prison population will go up, down or stay the same. He has cut our prison building programme, cut capital investment in prisons, he is cutting probation officers and cutting prison officer numbers. Is he surprised that the chief inspector of prisons has seen no evidence of a rehabilitation revolution and thinks that there should be a rocket up this Justice Secretary’s backside?

The future level of crime depends on a huge number of variables, which are not within the control of any Government or Minister. What one does is to make sure that one does not exacerbate any problems, and that one accommodates those who come in. I am trying to establish in prisons a more intelligent regime that will achieve some improvements in reoffending rates for those who have to be punished by going to prison. If any of my predecessors ever gave an exact forecast of the prison population, two or three out, that predecessor was in my opinion an idiot. I do remember, however, that the previous Government so miscalculated things that they had to let 80,000 people out of prison, short of their sentence, because prisons were bulging at the seams and they had nowhere to accommodate them.

Reoffending

We are supporting local areas to develop integrated approaches to managing offenders and testing payment-by-results arrangements for providers working with short-sentenced prisoners.

Around 4,000 women are in British prisons, most of whom are serving short-term sentences. Does the Minister agree that community women offender projects can provide a very real alternative to custody?

I suspect there is a consensus across the House about that issue. It is worth reflecting on the fact that, 15 years ago, there were only 1,800 women in prison. The Prison Reform Trust has pointed out that:

“During one year more than 11,000 women are imprisoned and almost 18,000 children are separated from their mothers.”

Some women need to go to prison, and it is important that custody remains available. However, we are focusing on developing suitable, intensive community sentences that can prevent such a flow into the custodial system wherever possible.

Is the Minister aware that stalking is a pernicious crime that often attracts short sentences? Those sentences are no good at all if the quality of the treatment for stalking is not up to a good standard; those people are free to go back and stalk usually the very women they were stalking before.

That is an example of the fact that prison plainly plays an important role in relation to both punishing and incapacitating offenders. It must also play a role in the rehabilitation of offenders. The system has too often failed in that third role, including for the most serious crimes.

The way to stop foreign national prisoners who serve a sentence of a year or less from reoffending is to return them from whence they came to their country of origin. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that that is being done on each and every occasion?

I know my hon. Friend’s long-standing interest in that issue. It is absolutely right that those prisoners who have served a prison sentence should expect to be returned to their country of origin. We are returning more than 5,000 a year, and we will continue to make every effort to do so.

The hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) is right about women prisoners. Under the previous Government, an inter-ministerial group was set up to try to implement the recommendations of the Corston report. Will the Minister describe what efforts he is making to maintain that work in Government?

We do seek to maintain it. The focus must be on developing suitable community sentences that can satisfy the courts, address the causes of reoffending and also be sufficiently punitive. It is important that the public have confidence in such sentences, so that we can ensure there is a satisfactory alternative for women who do not need to be sent to prison. The absence of satisfactory alternatives in the past has been part of the problem.

Probation Officers

We have already taken steps such as reducing the number of targets and revising national standards to increase the time spent face to face with offenders. The Ministry is taking forward the offender engagement programme of work further to cut red tape and give probation officers back their professional discretion.

In July, the Justice Committee found that, under the previous Government, just 25% of probation service staff time was spent with offenders. I welcome the fact that, in Cambridgeshire, that figure has improved to more than 60%, but I urge the Government to take further steps, given that that has a crucial role in tackling reoffending.

I am delighted to hear of that excellent performance in Cambridgeshire. That is evidence of the good practice now flowing from freeing probation officers from the highly prescriptive target setting and performance management that led to that 24% figure. That is what happens when 60 pages of national standards are reduced to three, and professionals are supported with decent guidance and allowed to get on with doing the job to the best of their ability in the public interest.

Ministers have already acknowledged that probation officers will have to spend more time monitoring dangerous offenders on licence in the community as a result of introducing the new extended determinate sentence. What estimates has the Minister made of the additional costs of this extra supervision?

It will be some time before prisoners are being released from the sentence framework that we have just introduced, because those sentences apply to people who receive sentences of more than six years’ imprisonment, and the extended sentences will be many years ahead, so we have not yet done a detailed assessment.

Knife Crime

Sentencing guidelines provide that the starting point for an adult convicted of knife possession is a custodial sentence. Where immediate custody is given, the average sentence length increased between June 2010 and June 2011. We are creating new offences so that those who carry a knife in a public place or school, and go on to threaten and cause immediate risk of serious physical harm to another, can expect to face at least a minimum custodial sentence.

Constituents in Burton will applaud the statements just made about sentences for the type of crime that is covered today on the front page of the Burton Mail, in which a young man was frogmarched to a cash point and forced to hand over money at knifepoint. They want to see that kind of tough sentencing as a deterrent. Will the Secretary of State back the Burton Mail campaign to make Burton a knife-free zone and to prevent these kinds of activities happening again?

If the newspaper report is accurate, then whoever carried out that crime committed quite a number of criminal offences, most of which carry very serious penalties, so I hope that the local courts deal with it with appropriate seriousness, having obviously considered all the circumstances. We are sending out, we hope, a strong message that we will not tolerate the use of knives. Threatening with a knife and putting someone in fear of injury is a very serious matter. I wish my hon. Friend every success in working with his constituents to try to reduce the scourge of knife crime in Burton.

Indeterminate Sentences

12. What steps his Department is taking in respect of prisoners serving indeterminate sentences who have completed their minimum tariff. (78963)

Tariff-expired indeterminate sentence prisoners will be released from custody only if the independent Parole Board is satisfied that they may be safely managed in the community. We are seeking to identify further improvements to the progression of those prisoners through effective sentence planning, which will require the engagement of the offenders themselves.

As I understand it, under the Lord Chancellor’s proposals a judge will be required to hand down a mandatory life sentence the second time someone is convicted of using a nuclear weapon. Allowing for all the Lord Chancellor’s wisdom and guile, would it not be an awful lot smarter to hold someone indefinitely the first time they committed that offence?

Certainly, the Government take a serious view of the use of a nuclear weapon; I hope that not too much of that breaks out in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. We discussed these proposals in the House only last week, and we achieved the House’s approval for them. There is an indeterminate sentence called a life sentence, which is the best and most established form of indeterminate sentence. Having got rid of the failed indeterminate sentences for public protection, we expect that quite a lot of people will get life sentences who hitherto would have been given the rather unsatisfactory IPPs.

Will the Secretary of State consider the problem of pre-release of prisoners where insufficient preparation is made for training or, particularly, for somewhere to live or some kind of community support? That means, in turn, that they either stay longer in prison or are released into the community, where they are inadequately supervised and end up back in a whole regime of crime.

We are looking at that problem very seriously, and we hope to produce a substantial improvement on the present situation. In particular, I am working with colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions to try to ensure that offenders leaving prison can have instant access to the work programmes that we are developing for other people seeking work. Enabling people to get back into employment is one of the best ways of improving the chances that they will not offend again.

Payment by Results

13. What assessment he has made of the effects on reoffending rates of his policy of payment by results to companies. (78964)

The first results against which payment will be made in the two pilots at Her Majesty’s prisons Peterborough and Doncaster will be available in 2014. I am visiting Peterborough prison on Friday to make my initial assessment of the ONE service. I will look in particular at the methodology and evidence from case studies as it is too early for statistical data to be available.

The Minister may be aware of a case close to my constituency in which a paedophile was allowed out from a secure health unit on unescorted day release, only to commit a crime against a 10-year-old constituent of mine. I support the Minister’s plans to make improvements when these companies get things correct, but what plans does he have to deal with such companies when they get it wrong?

As my hon. Friend has made clear, that case involved a patient who was detained under mental health legislation, under which unescorted leave requires the approval of the Secretary of State, a risk assessment and a recommendation from a responsible clinician. There are no proposals for companies to make such decisions.

The Minister talks about payment by results for companies. It is clear that in his review of probation and payment by results next year, there is significant uncertainty about the role of smaller probation trusts. Bedfordshire probation trust is one of the smallest but best performing trusts. Can he give an assurance that its role will be upheld in any subsequent review?

The hon. Gentleman needs to understand that we are piloting payment by results in six ways in 20 different pilots to see what is the most effective way of delivering it. It might be by putting the responsibility on probation trusts, prisons, local authorities or chiefs of police. We are looking at all those things and will see what is the most effective way to take payment by results forward in the interests of us all.

Rehabilitation

We have started piloting payment-by-results models to drive what works and drug recovery wings. We are supporting the piloting and roll-out of mental health liaison and diversion services in police custody and courts. We are also developing plans to make prisons places of hard work.

Would not the task of the employment and work programmes to which my right hon. Friend has referred be improved if prisoners actually worked while in prison? Is it not the case that far too few prisoners are given the opportunity to work in prison workshops for a full working week? Would that not be of benefit to prisoners and their victims?

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. The Government are committed to ensuring that prisons are places of work and restoration. We are focused on a programme to ensure that, wherever possible, we introduce work into prisons. There are problems with the physical estate, but we are determined to make that happen wherever we can.

Parc young offenders institution in my constituency had a report from the chief inspector of prisons recently that revealed that 60% of the 64 inmates were admitted with drug-related problems, that 25% had alcohol-related problems and that 89% had truanted from school repeatedly. What steps are we taking to ensure that rehabilitation is a real possibility in private sector prisons?

Rehabilitation is important, whether in a public or private sector prison. The movement to payment by results will ensure that providers are focused on what they need to do to reduce reoffending. Ensuring that offenders get off drugs and deal with their alcohol problems is an important part of that. That is one reason why we are piloting drug recovery wings in prisons. We will maintain our focus on those areas.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the work that has been done to introduce work for prisoners. However, my constituents and I are concerned that local companies that are full of honest, hard-working people may lose contracts to prisoners, who are effectively subsidised by taxpayers’ money. Will he assure me that that will not be the case?

I appreciate my hon. Friend’s concern. We will design the schemes in a way that ensures that that does not happen. However, we must not lose sight of the importance of ensuring that prisons are places where offenders are not simply idle, but where they are rehabilitated and introduced to the world of work and responsibility.

One factor that means that prisoners are less likely to be rehabilitated on coming out of prison is the lack of access to housing. Many prisoners are released with just a cash voucher and no chance of anywhere to live. What is the Minister doing about that scandal?

I agree with the hon. Lady that that is one of the very important factors that determine reoffending. That is why it is important that we have a concerted effort to ensure that on their release, prisoners, and particularly short-term prisoners who are not the subject of statutory supervision or support, receive the necessary support and entitlement to services. That can be done through the integrated offender management programmes that we are supporting, and also through the payment-by-results schemes that we are piloting, which the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt) described.

Lay Magistrates

15. When he next expects to meet the Magistrates Association to discuss the recruitment and retention of lay magistrates. (78968)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that lay magistrates are feeling a bit unloved at the moment? They feel somewhat squeezed between the police increasingly allocating non-court disposals at one end and deputy circuit judges doing rather more work at the other end, and there are court closures and bench mergers. There has been no recruitment to the Oxfordshire bench for several years now. What can he do to ensure that lay magistrates feel appreciated?

I will heed my hon. Friend’s warning, but I think we probably all agree that the lay magistracy is one of the distinctive strengths of our justice system. It certainly makes a very valuable contribution, and I am glad to say that it is a popular form of volunteering. We obviously have to appoint strictly on merit, but we recruit more than 1,000 new magistrates every year and magistrates dispose of about 95% of the criminal justice work that goes through our system. I will take on board his points, and I hope that we can encourage people in Oxfordshire to carry on the essential work that they are doing for the good of the community.

Restorative Justice

We are committed to delivering more restorative justice across the system, ensuring that more victims have a chance to explain the impact of crime upon them and that offenders face up to the consequences. Many areas already use restorative approaches, and we are considering how we can increase capacity to enable local areas to provide more effective responses to crime and disorder.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that response. Both the youth offending team and the police in Swindon are using restorative justice procedures to very good effect, particularly in the sentencing process and as an alternative to prosecution. What specific plans does he have to support that invaluable work?

I agree with my hon. Friend about the value of that work, which can both provide enhanced victim satisfaction—victims are otherwise too often an afterthought in the process—and reduce reoffending rates. That was why the coalition agreement committed us to introducing neighbourhood resolution panels, which we intend to take forward. We have invited expressions of interest and had good interest in them, and we will set up pilots in the new year.

What steps will the Minister take to support restorative justice programmes in prisons, such as that offered by the Prison Fellowship’s “Sycamore Tree” programme?

It is important that we support restorative justice as a principle that applies across the criminal justice system, not just in any one part of it. The idea that offenders should make amends and, when victims want it, be required to confront their victims, is good, and where such schemes are successful we want to see them extended.

Corporate Manslaughter

17. What assessment he has made of the level of support available to families of people who have been victims of corporate manslaughter; and if he will make a statement. (78970)

In England and Wales, victims of corporate manslaughter are eligible to receive the same support as victims of homicide from the national homicide service, which provides tailored and intensive one-to-one support to bereaved families for as long as they need it. Support for victims of crime in Scotland is a devolved matter.

I am very grateful to the Minister for that answer. My constituents Dorothy and Douglas Wright recently received an apology from the Director of Public Prosecutions following the failure to take corporate manslaughter action when their son Mark died. They did not get access to such a service, and their experience is that families of those who die in such circumstances do not get such access. Will the Minister consider that issue?

Of course, this is a devolved matter for the hon. Lady’s constituents in Scotland, but I am quite happy to consider the development of the whole doctrine of corporate manslaughter. It is very important that the families of those who may be corporate manslaughter victims receive the necessary support, even if a prosecution cannot be successfully secured. That means that Victim Support needs to be notified that there is a requirement of support, which is sometimes not completely clear when someone dies in circumstances that might or might not lead to an investigation or successful prosecution for corporate manslaughter. However, I am very happy to consider the matter.

Overseas Terrorism

The issue of compensation for victims of terrorism overseas is being considered alongside the Government’s review of victims’ services and compensation, at the conclusion of which we will publish a consultation document. We plan to make an announcement on victims of terrorism overseas at the same time as we launch the consultation, which we intend will be before Christmas.

Déjà vu, Mr Speaker: on 28 June, when my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) asked a question on compensation for victims of overseas terrorism, the Minister replied:

“In the coming weeks we intend to launch a public consultation on victims services”—[Official Report, 28 June 2011; Vol. 530, c. 749.]

Nineteen weeks down the road, we are still waiting for it. Will the Minister please tell me this: will he put the victims first and forget about his petty differences with the Opposition?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I have no petty differences with the Opposition. There are a number of difficult issues to resolve, but the delay is absolutely in the interests of victims, as we identify greater resources so that we can wrestle with the wretched situation that we inherited from the criminal injuries compensation scheme, which was £750 million in debt. We must sort those things out, and once we have done so, we will be able to come forward with a satisfactory policy for victims of crime.

May I say to the Minister that this is an inherited matter that has now lasted for 18 months? There is an obligation on the Government to sort it out soon. Can he give a commitment that victims will get their answer before the end of this calendar year?

Topical Questions

Yesterday, the UK took over the chairmanship of the Council of Europe. Our key priority is reform of the European Court of Human Rights, for which there is widespread support. We are pressing for consensus among all 47 member states on a package of reforms that will make the Court more effective. The Court is struggling under a growing backlog of almost 160,000 cases, which is undermining its authority. The aim will be for the Court to concentrate on the most serious issues of alleged failure to comply with the convention by a member state. The primary duty of compliance with the convention in individual cases should rest with democratic Parliaments and national courts.

Teesside suffers from arguably the worst coroner service in the country, with families now waiting an average of 43 weeks for a verdict. How is the coroner service held accountable, and what can the Minister do to ensure that my constituents get the service they deserve?

Ultimately, coroners are independent judicial appointments, and as such, complaints must be made through the judicial appointments service. Having said that, I have been in contact with people in Teesside and I shall continue to take an interest in this matter.

One cannot help but notice the good mood that the Justice Secretary is in today, which I am sure has nothing to do with the spot of bother the Home Secretary is in. May I ask him a question on a similar issue—foreign prisoners? He will be aware that in 2007, the Labour Government negotiated with the EU a prisoner transfer agreement, which comes into force next month, which will mean that no prisoner consent is required, and that the other country must comply with a request for a transfer. The Prime Minister promised the repatriation of thousands of foreign prisoners by personally taking charge of negotiations with individual countries. We all know that he likes to keep his promises, so can the Justice Secretary tell us how many new prisoner transfer agreements have been successfully negotiated with individual countries in the past 18 months, and how many foreign prisoners does he expect to be repatriated this year?

First, I want to put the right hon. Gentleman’s mind at rest: I agree with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in her handling of the current problems, so it is just my usual bonhomie; there is no particular cause for it today. It is true that this important transfer of prisoners agreement is about to come into force, and it will make a difference to our problem with foreign prisoners, although, of course, there are derogations to some important countries, such as Poland and Ireland, where it will not come into effect for a few years. The right hon. Gentleman hits on a serious problem, though: we need to find a way of reducing the foreign prisoner population. At the moment, we have only one international bilateral agreement near to conclusion, but we are continuing to work on it, because foreign prisoners take up more than 10% of places in our prison system.

T3. At Swaleside prison in my constituency, the Kainos Community programme has an 87% success rate in reducing reoffending by inmates taking part in the scheme. Will my hon. Friend acknowledge this success, and extend the scheme across the prison estate? (78978)

I have seen the Kainos scheme in other prisons, and I am looking forward to visiting my hon. Friend’s constituency to see it work at first hand. Of course, we will want to learn the lessons and apply them, so that we can begin to achieve those kinds of reoffending rates—if they are as described—on a sustainable basis.

May I encourage Ministers to face the House, so that we get the full force of their eloquence head-on?

T5. According to a written question that I asked the Minister earlier this year, in 2009 the disciplinary punishment of additional days for bad behaviour in prisons was imposed on 11,550 occasions. What steps are being taken to improve discipline and behaviour in prisons? (78980)

There is a zero-tolerance policy for any violence in prison towards staff, visitors or other prisoners. In addition, one should not underestimate the importance of our proposals on work in prisons. If we can put in place a much more useful prison regime under which far more prisoners are engaged in useful work, it will aid the delivery of discipline in our prisons.

T4. Could I ask whether the Secretary of State will identify the amount of savings he will make in his planned reductions for legal aid in social welfare law and identify the amount of knock-on cuts to the Scottish budget through the Barnett formula? Could he confirm that, if there are cuts, the Scottish Parliament does not have to follow the savage cuts in welfare law legal aid? (78979)

We debated all this last week. We are still spending £50 million on legal aid for welfare law, even as we have revised and cut it back, and cut out areas where, frankly, legal assistance is not necessary, appropriate or justified. Our proposals affect England and Wales only, and the provision of legal aid in Scotland is not a matter for me.

T9. Do the Government agree that magistrates are a vital and integral part of the justice system, and that they must be supported and encouraged to play a part in neighbourhood justice? (78984)

Yes, we do. As we develop our proposals, including for the neighbourhood resolution panels that I described earlier, we want to consider what role magistrates may play in that. They are, as my right hon. and learned Friend said, an important lay resource, and we should think of new ways to make use of them.

T6. How does the Secretary of State plan to fill the nearly £280 million gap in social welfare law in respect of the provision of crucial advice and support on housing, debt and employment issues to some of the poorest people in our country, given that there is little to no evidence that the voluntary and charitable sectors will be able to back-fill that gap? The £20 million referred to does not seem to go far enough. (78981)

First, it is important to appreciate that we are keeping £50 million of legal aid in social welfare law for the most urgent and vulnerable people who need it. We need to appreciate that, at the moment, legal aid is often used as a sticking plaster for matters that should properly be dealt with under general advice from citizens advice bureaux.

T10. After the riots in the summer, courts such as Cannock magistrates court in my constituency sat late and ensured that the surge in work was dealt with smoothly and efficiently. These late-night sittings have been widely regarded as a huge success, not least by those magistrates who have full-time jobs that require them to work during office hours. What plans does the Secretary of State’s Department have to roll out these evening court sittings on a permanent basis? (78985)

The work done after the riots is a tribute to the public spiritedness of all who sat on the bench—all the court staff, probation staff, police and duty defence solicitors. There was a widespread feeling that people should do their bit to restore order, and I am glad to say that the courts rose to the challenge. Normally, on an ordinary day, we do not have a shortage of court space, so there is no general need to have night or evening sittings. We can certainly improve the efficiency with which the more straightforward cases are dealt with. They can be brought on at an ordinary hour more quickly than they sometimes are now. We are working on that. It was a tribute to the court service and everybody who works in it that they all worked as well as they did.

T7. I wrote to the Justice Secretary six weeks ago on behalf of my constituent Gary Thrall, but have not yet had an answer. May I ask him again to look at this case and at the fact that 16 months on from a vicious knife attack, Gary has yet to receive a final settlement from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority or to be advised of the likely time scale for the settlement, which is preventing the family from moving on? (78982)

I will, of course, investigate the case that the hon. Lady brings to my attention. I will get in touch with her directly.

According to figures from the Department, 10% of all crimes are committed by people on bail and 20% of burglaries are committed by people on bail. When the provisions in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill come into effect, which will make it harder for courts to remand people in custody, what estimate has the Department made of the number of crimes that will be committed by people on bail then?

The changes we are making are to get rid of the anomaly whereby bail can be refused to someone who is charged with an offence in circumstances where it is quite obvious that they are not going to be sent to prison, even if they are found guilty. It is a reform that should have been made a long time ago. Serious offences are sometimes committed by people on bail, and we have committed ourselves to introducing a right of appeal when someone is given bail in the Crown court. There have been bad cases where serious offences have been committed. We hope to introduce an amendment in the other place that would allow the Crown Prosecution Service to challenge the granting of bail in the Crown court when a potentially dangerous prisoner is involved.

T8. Constituents of mine with serious health conditions who have been turned down for employment and support allowance are still having to wait up to nine months for a tribunal appeal hearing. With more than 40% of them being successful on appeal, what is the Minister going to do to end this unacceptable wait? (78983)

This is relevant to a number of Departments. We are working with them to ensure that the procedures are such that better determinations are made at the outset so that we get fewer appeals. This is taking up a significant amount of my time. The hon. Lady makes an important point.

When a magistrates court is forced to close, does my hon. Friend agree that every effort and flexibility needs to be shown to accommodate those magistrates in alternative courts?

Yes, and they are. So far as I know, no magistrates have been forced to resign because of any court closure. They are normally encouraged to join the successor court, although some take the opportunity to resign at that point for their own reasons.

The Secretary of State will no doubt share my respect for those who carry out pro bono work, which makes a big impact in my communities and throughout the UK. What does he make of the assertion that cutbacks are going to have to be made in pro bono services because of the cuts to overall provision?

One of my constituents who was witness to a burglary and theft in the local area has made me aware that the youth defendant who pleaded guilty on two counts was required as part of his rehabilitation order to spend three weeks at summer arts college. Does the Minister believe that it is time to review some elements of the community sentencing framework?

We are going to look at the community sentencing framework, as I announced to the House last week. We are absolutely clear that the whole framework has to carry public confidence that there will be effective punishment in the community, while at the same time delivering effective rehabilitation. A sentence that protects the public and delivers restoration to the victim is a key part of our consideration.

We have an excellent community legal advice centre in Hull. What are the Minister’s views on the future funding of CLACs and community legal advice networks?

These will have to be looked at in the context of all not-for-profit organisations—citizens advice bureaux and so forth. If the hon. Lady wishes to discuss her particular concerns relating to her particular CLAC, I would be happy to discuss them with her.

Following the publication of the Norgrove report, will my hon. Friend reassure anxious fathers in my constituency, including Mr Colin Riches, and will he make every effort to ensure that parents have equal access to children?

We have every intention of ensuring that both parents have a meaningful relationship with their children, and we will look carefully at the Norgrove report in order to develop a Government approach to the matter.

The convictions of three world-class cricketers last week shows that even cricket is not immune from corruption. In his role as the Government’s anti-corruption chief, will the Secretary of State look into the problem of corruption in international sporting bodies such as FIFA, and see what Britain can do to drive corruption out of international sport? There has also been controversy involving the Olympics and Formula 1.

I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern, but the issue of corruption in sport is primarily the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport. I know that he is working with his European Union opposite numbers on specific measures to tackle it, and I am following his progress very closely. The recent convictions show that there are problems that need to be tackled in the interests of everyone who believes in the value of sport—but honest sport—to a community.

The Government are committed to ensuring that women are not sent to prison in disproportionately high numbers. May we have an update on the Corston report?

The Government support the objectives of the Corston report, as did our predecessor, and as we did in opposition. There are only one or two elements of it that we are unable to deliver, such as the recommendation for more smaller custodial units. As was made clear in the exchanges that followed the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), one of our main priorities is to make progress on the Corston agenda and to learn some of its lessons in how to deal with not just women prisoners, but all prisoners.

The Money Advice Service has sacked 100 front-line staff in order to spend more money on publicity. Does the Secretary of State now regret removing nearly all debt advice from the scope of legal aid, and what cross-departmental discussions is he having about the future of such advice?

I am very sorry to hear what the hon. Lady has said, but I am not sure whether the issue is the responsibility of my Department; it may be the responsibility of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. However, I will certainly check, because it is extremely important for advice to be available at what is a difficult time for many people. Advice on debt is, unfortunately, one of the things that many people require—not only foreign Governments, but a fair number of our own citizens.

A few months ago, the Minister said that the backlog of appeals on social security matters would be resolved through the employment of more people. That was before the summer, but the waiting times seem to be as long as ever. Why is that?

There is still a significant number of appeals, but the number is now being stabilised and the delays are being reduced.

Given that probation trusts are experiencing major cuts in their budgets, can the Minister explain how he expects them to do more for less?

Probation trusts have been relatively well protected given the current environment. The additional cuts are at least 13% less than the overall cut in the Ministry of Justice budget, which shows that we are making the protection of the front line a priority in order to ensure that services are delivered effectively. However, like everyone else, probation trusts will have to make their contribution to rescuing our nation’s economy from the wretched mess in which it was left by the last Administration.

Order. I apologise to colleagues. I should be happy to allow these exchanges to continue all day if there were time, but there is not.