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Justice

Volume 539: debated on Tuesday 31 January 2012

The Secretary of State was asked—

Community Projects (Kettering)

1. How many offenders served part or all of their sentence working on community projects in Kettering constituency in 2011; and for which organisations work was carried out. (92471)

Four hundred and five offenders completed all or some of their compulsory unpaid work or community payback in Kettering last year. Twelve organisations benefited, including the local wildlife trust, St Mary’s church, Mind and the British Heart Foundation.

It is clearly beneficial for offenders and the local community for offenders to do constructive work in the community, but will my right hon. Friend agree to visit Kettering with me to see some of those offenders in action so that we can really see whether they are putting their backs to the wheel and doing this work properly?

I am happy to accept my hon. Friend’s invitation to visit Kettering and to see a scheme with him. It is important that community sentences are punitive and that they are properly enforced. We are increasing the maximum length of curfew requirements and making community payback more rigorous and demanding. We want to go further by seeing a clear punitive element in every sentence, and we are consulting about that.

Order. This question is about Kettering, from which Carshalton and Wallington and Manchester are a long way away.

Law Centres

The Ministry of Justice does not provide direct support for law centres. However, law centres are able to bid for contracts issued by the Legal Services Commission to provide legal services in specified areas of law and will continue to be able to do so in the future.

My Department is also working closely with the Cabinet Office to support the cross-Government review into the funding of the not-for-profit sector announced on 21 November last year.

I thank the Minister for that reply, but what would he say to my local law centre in Nottingham, which, as a result of his legal aid changes, says it will no longer be able to offer specialist advice to people experiencing problems at work, with debts or with benefits? When our local citizens advice bureau is already hugely overstretched, does that not mean that hundreds of people—particularly vulnerable people—will be unable to get the advice they need and will be denied access to justice?

Specifically, legal aid will be provided for a lot of debt advice after our changes. We are reducing our spend on legal aid, and law centres will be affected by that, but the Government recognise and highly value the important role of not-for-profit organisations such as law centres. That is why we launched a £107 million transition fund last year and the £20 million advice services fund this year. It is why the Cabinet Office has also announced a review of not-for-profit advice centres, which is a welcome and important development.

Is it not an assumption behind the Government’s reforms that the availability of advice needs to replace a great deal of litigation? If that is to be achieved, is it not necessary to ensure that there is a long-term, not merely a short-term, solution to some of the funding problems of law centres and citizens advice bureaux?

My right hon. Friend makes an important point. We are changing the way funding works and looking for alternatives to be taken up. However, we appreciate that, in the meantime, while the reorganisations are happening, there is a need to support law centres, which is why we are looking at transitional provisions to ease that passage.

Writing in yesterday’s Daily Mail, Matthew Elliott, the chief executive of the TaxPayers Alliance, pointed out that:

“advice costing £80 to deal with a housing problem can save thousands for councils who are legally required to house homeless families…cutting £10.5m for legal aid in clinical negligence cases will cause knock-on costs to the NHS of £28.5m.”

He says:

“Almost everyone who has looked at these particular cuts”—

even Norman Tebbit—

“thinks that too many of them will end up costing taxpayers more than they save.”

Is he right?

No, he is not right. The figures have been repeated by the Law Society. The point is that legal help is not the same as legal aid. We certainly appreciate the strong need for legal help so that problems can be dealt with early, and that is why we are very supportive of not-for-profit organisations.

European Court of Human Rights

The United Kingdom has made reform of the Court the top priority for our current chairmanship of the Council of Europe. Our aim is to secure agreement on a package of reform measures. We have been talking to many member states and to key figures in the Court and the Council of Europe, and we are reasonably confident that we can gain agreement.

I am extremely grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for that answer. He will have seen that the Prime Minister rightly condemned the Court’s decision effectively blocking the deportation of Abu Qatada despite the assurances that the United Kingdom obtained from Jordan. How long does he expect this reform process to take, and what steps are being taken now to ensure that the Court does not torpedo decisions of the UK courts in a way that undermines rather than supports human rights?

My hon. and learned Friend is at least as good a lawyer as I am—and practised more recently too—and will know that cases are often more complicated than they appear. We actually won the Abu Qatada case on the question of the assurances that we got about his possible torture. Irritatingly, we then lost it on a separate issue about whether prosecution evidence against him had been obtained by torture. Obviously, the Government, led by the Home Secretary and advised by the Attorney-General, are considering what to do next to take the case further. The reform does not turn on one case. However, one of the key reforms that we are urging is that the Strasbourg Court should not just be regarded as a court of appeal after the full process has been gone through in this country’s courts and issues of human rights have been properly considered. The issue that my hon. Friend raises is at the heart of the case that we are arguing with our colleagues in the Council of Europe.

Does the Justice Secretary agree that much of the media speculation and attacks on the European Court of Human Rights are damaging to the interests of many people all over Europe who are suffering serious human rights abuses? This country, which prides itself on having a Human Rights Act, should support the European convention and the Court, and recognise that it is in everybody’s interest that we protect human rights in this country, as well as in Hungary, Russia or wherever else they are under threat.

This country is a great advocate of human rights throughout the world, and should continue to be so. The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and I have confirmed in recent speeches at Strasbourg our commitment to the European convention on human rights and our desire to see human rights maintained all the way from this country to the Russian Federation, which is the furthest-east member. However, we seek to strengthen the Court by making it operate properly. It should concentrate on the important cases and those that raise serious issues of principle obtaining to the convention. At the moment, it has 150,000 cases in arrears. It takes years to get them heard, and it sometimes gives judgments despite the whole issue having been properly considered by national institutions and national courts.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend be visiting judges in the European Court of Human Rights to explain the agenda for the British chairmanship of the Council of Europe? When our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister visited Strasbourg—very successfully—last Wednesday and gave a brilliant speech, delegates expressed concern that he did not have time to visit the Court itself.

First, I am delighted that my hon. Friend and I agree that the Prime Minister gave a brilliant speech in Strasbourg last week. It went down very well there. Yes, I meet judges. As I mentioned in an earlier answer, I hold discussions with judges. There is widespread acceptance in Strasbourg of the need for reform, so long as people are satisfied that we will continue to uphold the convention and we regard the Court as the right forum in which to consider serious issues of principle in all 47 member states. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was unable to meet judges, but I am sure that I can facilitate the opportunity for him to do so, if he or the judges wish it. However, the Foreign Secretary, the Attorney-General and I are in touch with the judges and our opposite numbers in all the relevant countries.

May I ask the Justice Secretary for a short answer to a straightforward question? Does he share the apparent view of the Prime Minister and many of his Back Benchers that if the Government cannot persuade the other 46 Council of Europe members to reform the European Court of Human Rights, as set out last week, the UK should withdraw from the European convention on human rights?

The Prime Minister has never expressed that view to me or publicly, so far as I am aware, and if he did, I would not agree with it.

Foreign National Prisoners

The Government are committed to removing more foreign national offenders at the earliest opportunity. Last week I met the European Union Commission, and the Justice Secretary met European Union Justice Ministers, to impress upon them the importance of member states implementing the new European Union prisoner transfer agreement promptly. We continue to negotiate prisoner transfer agreements with countries outside the European Union. We are also examining our offender management processes here in the United Kingdom, which will help to identify how more foreign national offenders can be transferred to their home countries.

Is not the reality that the number of foreign prisoners being removed is actually dropping, and that although we signed an agreement with Jamaica in 2007, Jamaica has still not got round to ratifying and acting on it? When is the Minister going to get a grip of the situation?

I regret that we are having to deal with the inheritance of the legal instruments that were negotiated and presented to us by the last Administration. The Jamaican prisoner transfer agreement is an example of that. Even if the Jamaican Parliament passed the legislation to implement and ratify that agreement—which is beyond the control of this Government, I might gently point out—it would still require the consent of the Jamaican prisoners in our prisons to go home under that agreement. That would not be forthcoming, so we need a rather more effective piece of negotiation, which is all part of the strategy that we are putting in place with the 20 countries from which the largest number of foreign national offenders in our prisons originate, to get some proper, joined-up governmental attention on this issue.

When the sentencing judge orders an individual to be deported, why can that judge not make a finding of fact as to their nationality, so that, as of that moment, the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice can make it clear to the high commission or embassy concerned that that prisoner will be returned to that country at the conclusion of their sentence?

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for that suggestion, which is certainly one that I will be taking up in our ongoing examination and review, so that we improve the current, unsatisfactory state of affairs with foreign national offenders as quickly as we legally can.

May I remind the Minister that it was the last, Labour Government who negotiated the groundbreaking EU prisoner transfer agreement, which came into force last December, to transfer foreign European prisoners back to their countries during their sentence? We have had lots of tough talk from the Minister and the Government, but what progress have the Government made on ensuring that the EU agreement is implemented across all EU states?

One of the reasons why I was visiting the European Union Commission on Friday and speaking to the official responsible for implementation of the agreement was to help deliver that. It is just a slight pity that in the negotiations undertaken by the last Administration, they managed to give Poland a five-year delay and Ireland a complete opt-out.

In designing prisoner transfer agreements, will the Minister ensure that the legitimate expectations of the victims of crime in this country are satisfied? Too often we find them fearful that their natural desire for retributive justice is going unfulfilled.

That is an important part of any consideration about the transfer of prisoners, and one that I certainly give attention to in considering applications that are made to me.

As the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) said, the process for removal should begin at the time of sentence. That was one of the recommendations of the Select Committee on Home Affairs in our last report. At the moment, the whole process starts far too late. We need better liaison between the UK Border Agency and the prison authorities.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman and to his Select Committee for its work in this area. He will know just how multi-faceted this all is, and I am grateful for the continuing attention of his Committee. The points he makes are entirely reasonable and I will be following them up.

Free Legal Advice

The Ministry of Justice is responsible for legally-aided advice services through its relationship with the Legal Services Commission. This is publicly funded legal advice, rather than “free” legal advice. “Free”, or pro bono, legal advice is not within the scope of the Ministry’s ambit. Legally aided lawyers do not act for free; they act for money and are paid for by the taxpayer, so it is important that we get value for money for the taxpayer.

I am grateful to the Minister for his visit last year to the excellent advice service at Community Links that is used by my constituents. Is he aware that funding cuts mean that that service will stop providing all welfare benefits advice next year, shortly before the massive upheaval that will follow the introduction of universal credit? Is not that a recipe for disaster?

The legal aid scope changes will not come in until April 2013, but that is indeed something that is on the horizon. I have visited the right hon. Gentleman’s local law centre, and it is a very good organisation. As I said to him the last time he asked about this issue, changes are going to have to take place, and that is why we are looking to put in place transitional arrangements.

The legal aid budget amounts to a spend of £39 per person in the UK, while it is nearer to £5 in Spain, France and Germany. Does the Minister agree that the present position in the UK is wholly unsustainable, and that savings have to be made in the light of the financial circumstances that we inherited from Labour?

Savings do have to be made. A similar comparison can be made with a Commonwealth country such as New Zealand, where the figure is about £18 per head. We must ensure that the scarce resources are spent as well as possible, and that people do not go to court when they do not need to do so.

Victim Support

Yesterday, in a statement to the House, I launched a consultation on far-reaching proposals on the support provided to victims and witnesses of crime.

The prisoner who murdered the husband of my constituent, Helen Hill, is coming to end of his tariff and is currently undergoing day release. The exclusion zone that my constituent has asked to be applied to the murderer has been ignored. If the Government are serious about giving full rights to the victims of crime, should they not ensure that victims’ wishes on exclusion zones are adhered to?

We are very serious about ensuring that the system works correctly. Victims should be given information—in this case, about the possibility of the offender being released—and consulted on their views. There are arrangements, through the probation service, for liaising with the victim. Of course, I cannot guarantee that the victim will always agree with the decisions that are taken, but they should be taken while keeping in mind the interests of the victim and, in this case, above all, the need to protect her. I will happily check on what has happened in this case, but I would say to the hon. Gentleman that we are trying to improve the present system to make it live up to his expectation that full regard will be given to victims’ interests.

Victims often feel that their rights are taken less seriously by the system than those of the perpetrator. What measures are the Government taking to ensure that victims, especially those of violent rape, and their families are financially compensated and supported following the often life-shattering traumas that they have experienced?

I announced yesterday that we were making changes to the compensation scheme, but we are making no changes whatever to the compensation for victims of rape and sexual offences at any level of the tariff. We accept that it is important to compensate those victims, and we are trying to strengthen the support that we give to the victims of sexual offences. We are also supporting outside bodies that give support to such victims. I think that my hon. Friend will find that nothing I said yesterday remotely reduces our commitment to the victims of rape and sexual offences, and that, since we have been in office, we have been steadily improving the services that we provide.

Given that 61% of victims feel that the justice system is ineffective, and that the victims code will not be placed on a statutory basis, how will the rights of victims be properly protected by this Government?

I do not think that 51% of victims have a factual basis for saying that. I share the hon. Lady’s concern, however, that whenever questions are asked, if they are asked in the right way, we get that kind of answer. We have to get across to the public that the system does indeed punish offenders properly and attempt to reform them, and that we are steadily attempting to improve the support that we give to victims. It is extremely important that the criminal justice system should give the highest regard to victims, because protecting and giving justice to them and their families is one of the principal aims of the service.

Will the implementation of the Government’s welcome victims strategy ensure that convicted offenders take personal responsibility for their crimes and make reparations to victims? Will it also, once and for all, take out of circulation the dreadful term “victimless crime”?

I share my hon. Friend’s view of the significance of this issue so that, wherever possible, criminals should make reparation for their crime and compensation should be paid to the victim. We are looking to take further action to reinforce the need for courts to try to make a compensation order whenever possible, and we are looking at ways of steadily improving how we collect the money from compensation orders when they are made. We are seeing steady improvement, but we need to go further.

The Secretary of State may be aware of the tragic case of my constituent, Clare Wood, who was murdered by a violent partner. It turned out that he had a huge history of domestic violence against other women. Will the Secretary of State support amendments to the Bill in the other place to ensure that victims like Clare can in future know about the history of their violent partners and make an informed decision on whether to continue in the relationship?

That is a familiar subject, which I believe is being reviewed by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. The right of women to know whether their partner or intended husband has a long history of domestic violence sounds like a worthwhile cause. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend will be looking to the practical issues that would be involved in introducing an effective system.

In opposition, we often made reference to the terrible effect on victims of crime of the fact that they thought the perpetrators had been sentenced to a certain term of imprisonment only to find them being released half way through it. Will the Secretary of State update the House on what progress we have made towards honesty in sentencing?

These conventions got worse when our opponents were in office. I say that before the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) starts attacking me. I, too, have expressed views in the past about honesty in sentencing. What happens currently is that for most sentences, half the term is served in prison; beyond that, prisoners become eligible for release, but they are on licence and liable to recall for the full term of their sentence if they do not adhere to it. There are measures in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, currently in the other place, that address the penalties to be imposed for various offences. In place of indeterminate sentences for public protection, for example, we are going back to how sentences used to be so that people will have long determinate sentences, and will normally serve two thirds of it before they are released. That is at least a step in the right direction for my hon. Friend.

It is fair to say that, until she left her post in early October last year, the Victims’ Commissioner was a bit of a thorn in the side of this Government and this Justice Secretary in particular. The consultation paper on victims and witnesses, which was published yesterday, was completely silent on the future of that important post. Will the Justice Secretary reassure the House that he will not abolish this important advocate for victims and witnesses? When will the post be filled?

First, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I got on excellently with Louise Casey when she served in that role; it is a pity that she went away to carry out another even more important role in dealing with problem families. That can be checked with Louise Casey, but I would be surprised if she did not confirm my view. She made a contribution to policy. We are looking at this post again, and as I reminded the right hon. Gentleman the last time he raised the fact that we were still considering it, the last Government legislated for it in about 2004 and then took five years before they appointed anybody. There is a variety of views—from those responsible for victim support and others—on the best way to give proper force to victims’ views in government. We are considering those views before we make any announcement.

Prison Officer Training

7. What steps he is taking to encourage the inclusion of peer mentoring in prisons as part of the training of prison officers. (92479)

Prison officer training aims to give officers an awareness of the benefits of peer mentoring currently provided by voluntary sector and faith organisations, such as the Shannon Trust’s toe-by-toe reading plan and the Samaritan-trained listener scheme. Our rehabilitation policy will encourage and facilitate mentoring for offenders by ex-offenders and other members of the public, as all parts of the justice system focus more on outcomes than inputs. The early payment-by-results pilots at Doncaster and Peterborough prisons both use peer mentoring, and the experience of these and all other pilots will guide future training and practice.

Does the Minister believe that the expansion of private provision in prisons and the payment-by-results scheme will lead to more peer mentoring and better prison officer training, and that rehabilitation rates will improve as a result?

Yes, but the payment-by-results scheme is not limited to private sector prisons. We are piloting it in two public sector prisons as well. The National Offender Management Service is to contribute £1.4 million to eight voluntary sector organisations to help with mentoring, and is also involved in a Europe-funded project that is assessing the relative benefits of mentoring by peers and non-peers.

Will the Minister consider the effectiveness of training when it comes to security issues? Will he look into how on earth Bilal Zaheer Ahmad, who is serving 12 years in prison and was described as

“a viper in our midst”

by the judge who jailed him under the Terrorism Act 2000, managed to send a six-page letter from his Belmarsh cell that advised potential terrorists on the best way to outwit our police and security services? Will this latest lapse be investigated by the Justice Secretary?

Following the tragic deaths of two teenagers at young offenders institutions in the last week, will the Minister examine the role of peer mentoring in helping people to detect those who are at risk of self-harm or suicide?

Of course our condolences go out to the families in question. However, I understand that this is the first time such a thing has happened on the under-18s estate since 2007, and the fact that there have been two tragic incidents in close succession does not mean that we should not recognise the good record that has been maintained in the intervening years. Every effort will be made to learn all the lessons from what has happened during the four different types of inquiry that will take place into each of the deaths.

Probation Service

10. What steps he plans to take to maintain public safety when implementing his plans for the future of the Probation Service. (92482)

12. What steps he plans to take to maintain public safety when implementing his plans for the future of the Probation Service. (92484)

13. What steps he plans to take to maintain public safety when implementing his plans for the future of the Probation Service. (92485)

15. What recent steps he has taken to review the work of the Probation Service; and what his policy is on the reform of the service. (92487)

Public safety will always be of paramount importance when we are considering the way in which probation services are delivered. We are working on proposals to deliver more effective and efficient probation services, and will present them for consultation shortly.

How does the Secretary of State plan to help the probation service to deal with the increased risk to the public, given his proposal for the abolition of indeterminate sentences for public protection?

We debated that at great length in the House. IPPs were regarded by most people in the field of criminal justice as a complete disaster when they were approved in the last Parliament, and our proposed reform of them was strongly welcomed by most who practised in that field. We are replacing them with tough determinate sentences, of which people will serve two thirds before they are eligible for release. Even then, they will not be released unless the Parole Board is satisfied that they have completed their sentences. We were acquiring an impossible system before that, under which thousands of people were accumulating in prison with no real prospect of a rational basis for their release.

No one enjoys listening to the Secretary of State more than I do, and I have been doing so for more than two decades, but we have a lot to get through, so economy is of the essence.

There is a real fear both inside and outside the House that introducing a payment-by-results approach to our Probation Service risks denying adequate rehabilitation support to those with the most complex needs. What will the Secretary of State do to mitigate that risk?

I think that it is key to public service to concentrate on what we are delivering that is of value to the people we are trying to serve. Focusing our resources on programmes that succeed in reducing the reoffending rate, thereby reforming former offenders and ensuring that they do not create future victims of crime, will help us to ensure that we secure value for money, and will also stimulate innovation and best practice. I think it very reactionary to suggest that we should abandon the payment-by-results approach.

As the Secretary of State will know, when probation is seen to fail and ex-offenders reoffend, it is often because the various organisations involved have failed to work together. What steps will he take to ensure that the marketisation of probation services, with many different providers potentially doing different things, does not lead to more fragmentation and more tragedies?

I agree. We normally need people to co-operate quite closely to achieve successful outcomes if we are trying to reform offenders. Those who are trying to attract funds by achieving successful results in their programmes will, I hope, enter into collaborative arrangements with other providers. It must be a good thing that we are contemplating the possibility of bringing in more voluntary, charitable, private sector providers alongside the probation service and deciding where to channel most of our money on the basis of the success they achieve.

I recently met Steve Hemming, chief executive of Humberside probation trust. He is due to retire in April after 30 years of long, loyal and patient service to the trust, but he is concerned that his patience might be about to run out. When will the Government publish their long-awaited probation review?

First, may I pay tribute to the retiring chief executive of the hon. Gentleman’s probation trust? There are many dedicated people in the probation service doing very valuable jobs on behalf of the public they serve. I am glad our consultation document is so eagerly awaited; we have been taking some time over it as we are trying to get it right, but we shall produce it soon.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the probation service has substantially been financially protected when taking into account the overall demands on the budget of the Justice Ministry?

I am not sure whether that is right, but I shall check. What my hon. Friend may have noticed is that this year we cut some other services’ budgets more sharply than we cut that of the probation service, but that is because the previous Government had been cutting the probation service budget pretty sharply, once they finally woke up to the fact that we were in a credit crunch and a financial crisis. They hit the probation service first.

In the last year for which I have figures for the Department, 6,600 criminals deemed high or very high risk by the probation service were serving community sentences. Does my right hon. and learned Friend think public safety would be better improved if some—or, indeed, most—of those people were in prison?

Sentencing guidelines should ensure that those who deserve to go to prison because of the severity of their offence, and those who need to go to prison in order to protect the public properly, do go to prison. Those who get community sentences are graded according to risk. More attention must be paid to those who are near the risk threshold of needing to go to prison rather than those who pose quite a low risk of reoffending. With respect however, I think my hon. Friend is slightly misinterpreting what is called the risk assessment for people on community sentences. People who should go to prison should be sent to prison by the courts, and they are.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is ridiculous that unaccountable managers in the National Offender Management Service can undo all the good work done by probation officers by putting an ex-offender back in prison purely for having been a conscientious employee who was kept on late at work?

If those are the facts of the case, I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. He is obviously concerned about this case, and if he thinks something has gone badly wrong, I know him well enough to share his concern. I have had a word with the prisons Minister about this case, and we will investigate the facts and come back to him. The events as described obviously should not happen; that is not how the system is supposed to work.

I have listened to the Secretary of State’s responses on indeterminate sentences for public protection and payments by results and he is clearly feeling very optimistic. While we all like someone with a sunny disposition, when considering public protection issues it is also important to plan for failure. Does the Secretary of State plan to monitor the financial help given to providers of probation services in the community so that we avoid a criminal justice equivalent of Southern Cross?

When people provide services, of course it is necessary before giving them the contract to do one’s best to check on their financial health, but this issue has moved beyond arguments about whether a provider should be from the voluntary sector or a for-profit or not-for-profit provider. I wish to maximise the service given to the public by those who provide community-based sentences in this country, and we need to encourage innovation and best practice wherever we can.

Prison Places

14. What arrangements his Department has put in place to deal with any future shortfall in prison places. (92486)

On Friday 27 January, the prison population was 87,668 against a capacity of 89,399 places, providing headroom of 1,731 places, so there are sufficient places for those being remanded and sentenced to custody. We will keep the prison population under careful review to ensure that there is always sufficient capacity to accommodate all those committed to custody by the courts.

I thank the Secretary of State for that response. I understand that possible shortfalls are predicted in particular regions as opposed to on a national level. The Minister will know that maintaining family links during a period of imprisonment is a critical factor in reducing reoffending on release. Will he assure the House that steps will be taken to ensure that prisoners are kept as close to their family and their place of origin as possible?

In many cases, a high priority is given to trying to house prisoners in places where they are reasonably in contact with their family and home. Of course, the more pressure the service comes under, the more difficult it is to maintain that, but I am sure it remains an objective of those who allocate prisoners to the correct prison once they receive their sentence.

Legal Aid

16. What assessment his Department has made of the effect on women of his proposed changes to legal aid. (92488)

The Government published an equality impact assessment alongside their response to the consultation, which set out the best assessment of the effects on women of the proposed changes to legal aid. This recognised the potential for the reforms to have an impact on women alongside those with other protected characteristics. We have taken the view that any such impacts would be justified in the light of the policy objectives, especially in the context of reducing the deficit.

The Minister knows that the courts are already in crisis due to a shortage of court and judge time. Will he accept that the removal of legal aid will encourage more and more women to provide their own defence, which will add to the crisis of delays and will mean further delay for children, bringing hardship to families and children?

There is no shortage of court time or judge time. I simply do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says.

I understand why my hon. Friend is bringing forward the changes, but is he aware of the perverse consequences on new entrants to the Bar, particularly women, given the opportunities in relation to being mobile and entering a legal profession in which one or one’s family have not been involved? Doors are being slammed in women’s faces.

Certainly, as far as solicitors are concerned, the number of entries to the profession by women is now greater than by men. I believe the same is the case for barristers, but I will check and come back to my hon. Friend.

Greater Manchester Intensive Alternative to Custody Project

18. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the Greater Manchester intensive alternative to custody project in reducing reoffending and the use of short-term prison sentences. (92490)

We are currently considering the feasibility of an evaluation of intensive alternative to custody projects by comparing reoffending rates with those for similar offenders receiving custodial sentences.

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. As he knows, the Manchester project is aimed at 18 to 25-year-olds who would otherwise go to prison. Those offenders have a reoffending rate of 18%, whereas the rate for offenders of a similar age who go to prison, which costs 10 times more, is 58%. Will he bear that evidence in mind and, as a Minister who believes in payment by results, make sure that funding goes to such projects as a priority?

I accept the force of the right hon. Gentleman’s comments and I have visited those responsible for running the scheme in Manchester as he knows—indeed, I think it was at his instigation. It is important that we evaluate these projects properly, and our general position is that we want to have more punitive community sentences, which are effective and combine rehabilitation with a punitive element. If possible, we want such schemes to be mainstreamed so that they can be taken beyond their pilots.

Thank you Mr Speaker, and indeed it is. If we are to increase public confidence in more intensive forms of community sentencing, we clearly need to link them, as we have just heard, to evidence showing how they reduce reoffending. In the commendable analysis of the pilot in Manchester published in July 2011 by the Ministry of Justice, the difficulty of calculating reoffending statistics is made clear. Will the Minister reassure me that he will do all he can to square this circle so that we can persuade members of the public that this is the way forward?

Yes, my hon. Friend makes a good point. There have been difficulties, which is why we are assessing the feasibility of evaluation. We need the data for the reasons he gives: it is important that the public know how effective the disposals are and, in the future, that will be important for proposals on payment by results. Where they are successful and reduce reoffending, which we have had great difficulty delivering through short-term custodial sentences, such measures should be considered.

Conditional Fee Arrangements

19. What assessment he has made of the effect of his reforms to conditional fee arrangements on people's ability to pursue civil cases against newspapers and other media organisations. (92491)

The Government are reforming the operation of conditional fee agreements through the provisions of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill. The relevant impact assessments are published on the Ministry of Justice website. We believe that meritorious claims, including against media organisations, will still be able to secure representation under CFAs.

Victims of phone hacking are absolutely clear that they would not have been able to take their cases forward were it not for no win, no fee arrangements being available; nor would the critical mass of cases been built up to break the scandal open. Why are the Minister and the Government on the side of powerful media moguls against vulnerable victims?

Quite the opposite: in fact, the high and disproportionate costs in the present system hinder access to justice and can lead to a chilling effect on journalism and academic and scientific debate. In the Naomi Campbell case, the European Court of Human Rights found the existing CFA arrangements with recoverability in that case to be contrary to article 10 of the convention.

Topical Questions

May I update the House on the progress the Government have made toward implementing their proposals for payment by results, which I was defending a few moments ago? We have recently identified two probation trusts, one in Wales and the Staffordshire and West Midlands probation trust, to develop the community payment by results approach to probation services. We already have two well-established pilots in privately managed prisons and we hope to develop more; further pilots are being developed in public sector prisons. We are seeking proposals from the market for additional innovative contracts. We have selected a national framework of providers to support this work, which will assist us in meeting our commitment to roll out the principles of payment by results throughout the criminal justice system.

I hope the Secretary of State agrees with me that it is disgraceful that criminals who have created victims of crime are compensated under the criminal injuries compensation scheme. How much have criminals received over the past 10 years?

It is £75 million in the past 10 years, I think, and about 20,000 offenders have been compensated—I am remembering the brief for my statement yesterday. It is plainly insupportable that one week someone can commit a crime at his victims’ expense, and within a very short time claim that the taxpayer should compensate him because someone has committed a crime against him. We are bringing that to an end.

Last week, there were two tragic deaths of young people in custody: Jake Hardy, a 17-year-old held at Hindley, and 15-year-old Alex Kelly, a prisoner at Cookham Wood. Although, rightly, there will be investigations and inquests, urgent questions need to be answered. Had mental health assessments been undertaken? Were the boys receiving treatment? Had there been any fighting involving these children? Were any forms of restraint used? Will the Secretary of State make urgent inquiries into the circumstances of the deaths to address concerns that this may be a new systemic problem, and inform the House?

Yes. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that four separate types of inquiry are to be conducted. Later today I will meet the chairman and chief executive of the Youth Justice Board and discuss those cases.

T2. Following the horrific murder of my constituent Kynan Eldridge, I wonder whether the Minister can assure the House and Kynan’s family that the perpetrators of such crimes, if they are foreign nationals, will be deported after their sentence ends? What work is he doing to ensure that that happens? (92497)

My hon. Friend will have heard the exchanges earlier about foreign-national offenders. We are doing everything that we can to improve the legal situation, so that we have more powers to deport people and can improve the administrative process through proper co-operation between the UK Border Agency and the National Offender Management Service.

T4. Last month, Welsh Women’s Aid surveyed 324 victims of domestic violence who were receiving specialist support, and it found that 46% of them would not be eligible for legal aid if the Government’s proposals were carried out. Why will the Government not listen to the evidence, which plainly points to the fact that many victims of domestic violence will be denied access to justice? (92499)

We have had the Welsh report and are looking at it, but we dispute the figures in it. As I have said on many occasions, when it comes to legal aid, we are concentrating our efforts on helping to deal with domestic violence, and that will be the case following our reforms.

T3. Do Ministers share my concerns about the unacceptable burdens placed on small businesses by ambulance-chasing lawyers, who pursue those businesses for spurious claims when they have no right to do so? (92498)

The Government are taking firm, significant steps to address the burgeoning claims market, which, as my hon. Friend says, particularly encourages low-value claims against businesses and others—claims for which we all end up paying. That is why we are reforming no win, no fee conditional fee agreements and banning referral fees, and why we are countering illegal text advertising and consulting on banning inducement advertising.

T6. I thank the Secretary of State for saying, following my earlier question, that he would look at the case that I mentioned, but will he examine, or get his Department to examine, whether there is consistency among parole boards and prison governors when it comes to licence conditions relating to exclusion zones? There is nothing worse than a family bumping into the murderer of a loved one in the street, or in the locality. Will he look at the consistency of parole boards’ and governors’ decisions? (92501)

I will certainly look at that, because I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there should be consistency. That is why we have exclusion zones—precisely to make sure that the victims of a criminal do not find that they accidentally bump into him again, or even worse, are pestered by him when he is released from prison. We all take cases of the kind that he raises very seriously, and we will look into this one.

T5. Devon Rape Crisis was launched last November and has already helped many victims of sexual violence across Devon, but it and Rape Crisis England and Wales are calling for changes to make it easier to identify the number of victims of crimes that are sexually motivated. Will the Secretary of State meet Rape Crisis and me to discuss how we can make such crimes more easily identifiable, and to hear about the excellent work of Rape Crisis? (92500)

My hon. Friend has raised an important issue, and I would be very pleased to meet her and colleagues from Rape Crisis to look at the linkages, and at the proper examination and analysis of data in this area. It is important that we continue to improve our knowledge.

T7. Will the Secretary of State explain how he thinks that axing 1,000 posts at the Crown Prosecution Service will help him to bring more criminals to justice? (92502)

I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General has ensured that, in making changes to the budget and staffing of the Crown Prosecution Service, he is not reducing the quality of service that it provides. These things are not best measured by whether a body has ever-expanding payrolls or budgets; that tended to be the approach of the former Government, in which the hon. Gentleman served. We are trying to produce better value for money, in order to cope with the appalling financial crisis that we inherited from our predecessors.

T8. The trade unions directly benefit from current no win, no fee arrangements, earning huge amounts via their legal arms through inflated success fees. What assessment has the Minister made of the amount of success fees paid to trade unions, particularly in personal injury cases? (92503)

Unfortunately, the trade unions did not provide their lawyers’ success fee details, or their referral fee income details, to the consultation. However, given that they have received more than £550,000 in donations from personal injury lawyers, it seems that the unions’ lawyers are not entirely disinterested in the outcome of our attempt to rein in the compensation culture.

How is it that an individual on remand for murder can hang himself while in custody? Will the Secretary of State hold an urgent inquiry?

Of course, in all these cases there are immediate operational inquiries, and then there are proper coroners’ inquiries. In all such cases, there will then be an inquiry by the prisons and probation ombudsman. These matters are taken extremely seriously. The number of self-inflicted deaths in custody has been falling, but there have been a number of tragic cases recently. Of course, we will look at all this extremely seriously.

T9. This splendid Conservative-led coalition Government have done much in the fight against human trafficking. The poor women who are victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation and who are then rescued go into the national referral mechanism, but what happens to them after 45 days? Are they thrown out if they do not qualify? (92504)

No, I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend that that is certainly not the case. There is an ongoing process of assessment and support during the 45-day period, after which victims continue to receive support as necessary in Salvation Army outreach centres or from mainstream services. We are determined to improve the service provided to victims of these appalling crimes and have protected funding in order to do so.

T10. Residents and organisations in my constituency will welcome the Government’s decision to update the law relating to scrap metal. When will the necessary amendments to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill be brought forward? (92505)

I share my hon. Friend’s concern to see the Government move on this matter as quickly as possible. I assure him that we are working carefully with colleagues on the drafting and hope to be able to table amendments to the Bill, which is currently before the House of Lords, as soon as possible.

Many innocent victims of crime feel isolated and dissatisfied at the end of the justice process. Will the Secretary of State assure me that protection of, and justice for, the victim will be fundamental to the reformed criminal justice system?

I hope that I can assure the hon. Gentleman and that he will have the opportunity to study the consultation document I published yesterday. I concede that there has been a steady process of improvement over the years, compared with the situation not too long ago, when victims were regarded simply as people who had to come to court if they were needed, but we still have not gone far enough. We must ensure that the experience of being in court does not add to a victim’s suffering, that all proper support is given to those who have been badly and lastingly affected by what has happened to them and that there is a proper system of compensation. The object of the criminal justice service must be to give proper service to the victims of crime.

It has come to light that barrister David Friesner recently defended a fraudster, despite having just been convicted for stealing £81,000. We had an absurd situation in which a criminal was representing a criminal, which brings the legal system into disrepute. Will the Minister look into the actions of the Bar Standards Board and consider mandatory suspension for those guilty of serious crimes?

Order. My firm impression is that this matter is currently sub judice and, if I am correct in that surmise, I know that the Minister will exercise his customary lawyerly caution, and it might well be that silence is the best policy.

I shall indeed be cautious, Mr Speaker, but I can say that I certainly agree with and understand my hon. Friend’s concerns. This is a regulatory matter, rather than a legislative loophole, but we are in contact with the BSB about it.

Will the Minister recognise the effectiveness of multi-agency working, which is usually led by the probation service? I recently visited the Huddersfield probation office and was surprised by how effective such working is in cutting the levels of crime and reoffending.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to draw the House’s attention to the benefits of more effective integrated offender management, which is another way of expressing the multi-agency working to which he draws attention. This good practice is widening across the whole system and, I am delighted to say, becoming the norm.

One in four girls, some as young as 13, are hit by their boyfriend. What action will the Minister take to tackle violence among children?

Tackling domestic violence is an absolute priority of this Government, and we are co-ordinating action with the Home Office. Indeed, my hon. Friend appeared in a debate that was held in Westminster Hall only a few days ago, and she will have seen the full picture at that time.

In the Ministry of Justice’s own impact assessment of the cuts to civil legal aid, there are 15 statements that the Ministry does not have evidence for the savings and 30 admissions that the savings are based on speculation. Should not the Secretary of State listen to Citizens Advice and King’s college London, which can demonstrate that the cuts will cost the taxpayer more than they will save?

We have seen the King’s college figures, and we do not agree with them. The fact of the matter is that we have published full impact assessments, and we stand by them.

More than half of male prisoners and almost three quarters of female prisoners have no qualifications at all. What efforts are being made, through the training of prison officers, to raise awareness of the importance and availability of prison education in our prisons?

We have recently re-let the offender learning and skills contracts, which are funded through the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. That is about £157 million worth of education which is being put into skilling-up offenders, not least so that they can then take part in our work in prisons strategy and we can get much more effective and economic use of prisoner time in prison—with enormous benefits for them on release.

Is the Secretary of State aware that yesterday the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission registered profound concerns about the “Justice and Security” Green Paper’s proposals on closed material proceedings? Will he accept that moving to provide for secret trials and secret inquests has acute implications in the context of Northern Ireland, not least its impact on transitional justice and on the efforts to deal with the legacy of the past?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are consulting on those proposals in relation to that difficult subject. All I can say is that I certainly appreciate its special significance for Northern Ireland and the situation in Northern Ireland, and we will pay the most careful regard to the submissions that we receive from all those interested in Northern Ireland before we come to our conclusions.

Throughout the 18 months to the end of September 2011, consistently more than half of appeal cases relating to employment and support allowance took longer than six months to be decided by the Courts and Tribunals Service, meaning that more than twice as many people as the service’s own target are waiting that long. What action is the Minister taking to ensure that they receive their decisions in good time?

The service is under pressure because of an increase in appeals, but I am very pleased to say that in five of the past six months more appeals have gone out the door than have come in.

Last week I met the family of Jake Hardy, a 17-year-old with learning difficulties who died last week after hanging himself in Hindley young offenders institute. The family tell me that Hindley was aware that Jake had been a victim of systematic bullying, was of low mental capacity and had self-harmed earlier in the week, yet it declined to place him on suicide watch. What steps will the Minister take to ensure that the full facts of the case emerge, and what will he do to prevent another family from feeling the grief felt by the Hardys?

Order. Again, I rather suspect—I am not a lawyer, and I say that as a matter of some very considerable pride, but as far as I am aware—the question is likely to be sub judice. I do not criticise the hon. Gentleman, but I exhort the Minister to be characteristically cautious in his response.

I am grateful, Mr Speaker. The case has been referred to several times in the course of today’s questions, and I do not have anything more to add to the answer that I have given. The hon. Gentleman knows that I am seeing the chairman and the chief executive of the Youth Justice Board later on today, and the case will of course be on the agenda for our discussions.