Skip to main content


Volume 553: debated on Tuesday 13 November 2012

The Secretary of State was asked—

Restorative Justice

The Government intend to publish a framework for restorative justice that will improve the victim’s awareness and access to restorative justice. We have also introduced legislation to put restorative justice on to a statutory footing for the first time.

I am delighted to see a statutory basis for restorative justice. The Minister is, I hope, aware of the experiments in police-organised restorative justice conferences for victims of serious crime—a study carried out by criminologists from the university of Cambridge from 2001 to 2005—which showed that more than £10 of the costs of crime could be saved for every pound spent on this process. Will he ensure that ring-fenced funding is available for restorative justice, as well as the statutory basis?

I am happy to assure my hon. Friend that we are already investing more than £1.5 million to help build capacity in dealing with restorative justice throughout the criminal justice system and, in particular, for pre-sentence restorative justice, which is what his question refers to. I am also delighted to report that over 18,000 police officers have received training in restorative justice techniques. This is contributing to the greater success of our restorative justice measures.

Will my right hon. Friend come and visit Swindon, where we are piloting neighbourhood justice panels, involving the community in making decisions about wrongdoers and having a real sense of control for the first time in relation to crimes that affect a large number of people in my community?

I would be delighted to visit my hon. Friend. It is always life-enhancing to go to Swindon—I speak as a fan of Reading football club. He is right that pilots have found that restorative justice is associated with an estimated 14% reduction in the frequency of reoffending and, perhaps even more importantly, that 85% of victims who participate in restorative justice are satisfied with the experience. Since we want to put victims at the heart of the criminal justice system, that is an extremely encouraging result.

Victim Compensation

2. If he will bring forward proposals to ensure that victims of crime receive compensation from those who committed the crime. (127907)

Courts have the power to require offenders to pay compensation to their victims for any injury, loss or damage caused by the offence. Courts also have robust powers to recover unpaid compensation orders and other financial penalties.

Does the Minister agree that there should be a presumption in favour of the victims of crime receiving compensation from offenders? Will she be issuing any guidance to the courts to ensure that that happens?

The Government are committed to ensuring that as many victims as possible receive compensation from offenders. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 places a new duty on courts to consider imposing compensation in any case where the victim has suffered injury, loss or damage. Issuing guidance to courts is a matter for the independent Sentencing Council, not for the Government, but the council’s guidelines already draw the courts’ attention to their powers to impose compensation.

To what extent is this form of compensation a substitute for the criminal injuries compensation scheme, which has been cut to ribbons by the order laid in July this year?

Criminal injuries compensation is state-funded compensation. This is offender-funded compensation; it is completely different.

Would the Minister be open to fresh thinking on this? If, for example, prisoners were given the opportunity to work, earn and keep money for themselves and their families, perhaps they could pay back some of that money to the victims of their crime and also pay tax on it, which would be of benefit to the public, as well as having a rehabilitative effect.

On 11 October 2011, when Louise Casey, the first victims commissioner, resigned, the former Lord Chancellor said that he was urgently considering the future of the role. Thirteen months on—yesterday, in fact—was the closing date for applications to be Ms Casey’s 10-day-a-month replacement. What signal does it send to victims that this Government first doubt the need for a commissioner, then delay appointing one for more than a year, and finally make it a half-hearted, part-time job?

For a long time, victims have felt completely unsupported by the criminal justice system, and it is my job, as victims Minister, to try and put that right. I am glad to have the opportunity to do so. We are raising money for victims through the victims surcharge and the Prisoners’ Earnings Act 1996, and we are giving victims a louder voice through the appointment of a victims’ commissioner. I look forward to making that appointment, and meeting and working with the commissioner.

Community Sentences

The Government are determined to ensure that community sentences deliver punishment, rehabilitation and reparation. We are legislating to require courts to include a punitive element in every community order, as the public would expect, and to enable the electronic tracking of offenders.

I hope that Justice Ministers will not go soft on introducing an element of shame and real punishment in these new community penalties. I am told that under community payback offenders might wear a yellow vest with the words “community payback” on the back, and that these can be removed if the probation staff think it appropriate. What we need are community punishments where offenders are in the community with orange dayglo boiler suits with the word “offender” on the back to inculcate some sense of shame and to make these tough sentences, not the soft ones we have had up until now.

I have a good deal of sympathy with my hon. Friend. When I have seen community payback in the community, it has been evident that those carrying it out are offenders. They are easily identifiable. That is partly for the reasons he gives, but it is also to ensure that people in the community understand that work is being done to repair some of the damage that these offenders have done in the communities where they are working.

I have seen work done in my constituency as part of community sentences tackling projects that would otherwise not have been done, thus benefiting communities and, in particular, reinforcing the merits of work. Does my hon. Friend have any plans to extend the element of work in community sentences?

As I said, we will ensure that, whenever a community order is passed, the sentencer will impose at least one element of punishment. That is what the public would expect. One element of punishment could be community work of the sort my hon. Friend described. It is important that there is a good channel of communication between the community and the organisations within it, and the probation service and those administering community payback in order to ensure that the work is done where people want it done.

Tamworth police, led by Chief Inspector Coxhead, are clear about the potential power of community sentencing and restorative justice, so may I echo my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) in calling on those on the Treasury Bench to implement with full speed neighbourhood resolution panels, so that communities themselves feel that they have a hand in community sentencing?

I am disappointed not to receive an invitation to Tamworth. None the less, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is important that we move forward with the work being done in Staffordshire and elsewhere with neighbourhood justice panels. We want to see what work can be done by and in communities to ensure that low-level offences are dealt with appropriately. The broader point about restorative justice is also right. This is an important innovation, and we can get a great deal out of it—mostly for victims, although there are reoffending benefits as well.

Can my hon. Friend assure me that community orders will continue to address the problems that have caused—or at least contributed to—offending behaviour in the first place, such as drug abuse, alcoholism and mental health problems?

Yes, I can. We are saying that there should be an element of punishment in every community order, unless there are exceptional circumstances, but that does not prevent a sentencer from passing whatever other measures in the order they believe appropriate for the purposes of rehabilitation. My hon. Friend is right to identify some of those, but there are of course many more. This is all about reducing reoffending. That is partly about punishment, but it is also about ensuring that someone does not go right back to the same cycle of offending.

Work in the community is obviously a valuable element of punishment, but it is quite a crowded field, with various voluntary youth organisations and the unemployed also jostling for that work. What other specific types of punishment does the Minister have in mind? Will he give us a flavour of what will happen?

It is first worth pointing out that we have toughened up the work requirement, so we will now expect people sentenced to community payback to go and do it very soon afterwards. We expect them to do it for four days a week and we expect them to do it properly. If they do not, they will have breached the order and there will be consequences. The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is that there will be other elements to a community order which can properly be seen as punitive, whether it is a restriction on movement, an exclusion order from certain places or a financial penalty. There is a range of options available to the court, but we think—and I think his constituents would think—that each order should include a punitive element.

The Minister has talked about potential breaches if—as we would probably expect—an increased number of orders are made. What risk assessment has his Department carried out to determine the likely percentage of breaches, and what would be the impact on the Prison Service of having to find additional places?

It does not follow automatically that if someone breaches an order, the penalty would be a period of imprisonment, although that is possible. I think the right thing is to say to people: “If you receive a period of unpaid work as a punishment, we expect you to do it and to do it properly. If you don’t do it properly, you will find yourself back in court, and you may find yourself going to prison.” That is absolutely the right approach.

I welcome much of what the Minister has said this morning, and I am sure there will be support for it in all parts of the Chamber. The key to effective community sentences is also proper supervision. How will he address the legitimate concern, which many people have, that increasing the use of community sentences at the same time as making cuts in probation could lead to less effective community sentences, with offenders being neither properly reformed nor punished?

The right hon. Gentleman will know that we are looking at ways in which we can deliver a better probation service, more rehabilitation for offenders across the board and better outcomes, because this is the key. It is not just about the processes we go through; it is about the outcomes we achieve. We are seeking to reward those who provide rehabilitative services in a way that also reduces reoffending. Doing that will help the offender and the wider community. It is also, incidentally, a good deal for the taxpayer.


The Prime Minister has restated our determination to apply an intelligent approach to reducing reoffending. By 2015, I intend to apply payment by results to the majority of rehabilitation work conducted with offenders in the community. In addition, the National Offender Management Service published its commissioning intentions for the coming financial year on 1 November, clearly stating our commitment to evidence-informed commissioning.

As the House heard earlier, the Ministry of Justice’s own survey has revealed that restorative justice can reduce reoffending by as much as 14%. These methods are being effectively used by probation and prison services in Durham, which has one of the lowest reoffending rates in the north-east. What further steps will the Secretary of State take to ensure that this evidence-based approach is supported and has the necessary resources to be effective?

We are looking to allow for the greater use of restorative justice in the criminal justice system—for example, by allowing an element of restorative justice between a verdict and the sentence in court, to establish whether that can have an impact on the sentence that would otherwise be passed and the likelihood of the offender to reoffend. I would commend all those who are using restorative justice. It is a common-sense early intervention in the criminal justice system and there is no doubt that it is having an impact on offending rates.

When the Secretary of State is developing his evidence-based policy, will he look at the Ministry of Justice’s own figures, which show that the longer people spend in prison, the less likely they are to reoffend, and that the lowest reoffending rate for any sentence handed down by the courts is for indeterminate sentences for public protection?

May I say clearly to my hon. Friend that I share his view? I think prison is a very important part of the criminal justice system, I believe that offenders should serve a prison sentence appropriate for the crime they have committed and I have given a clear commitment that there will be no strategy under my leadership of the Ministry of Justice to reduce the number of prison places artificially. I want to see the right people going to prison in the first place.

The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) spookily teed that up rather nicely for me. We all want to see policies based on evidence. The evidence tells us that the most effective means of protecting the public from convicted sex offenders is to keep them behind bars for as long as it takes to stop them being a threat. The Government took away so-called indeterminate sentences. It was a dangerous mistake and we said so at the time. When will the Secretary of State put that right and protect our citizens?

We have introduced longer determinate sentences to deal with the most serious offenders and, unlike the previous Government, we have introduced a “two strikes and you’re out rule” for the worst sex offenders, to ensure that if they offend for a second time, they will go to jail for the rest of their lives.

Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme

The criminal injuries compensation scheme 2012 was approved by the House yesterday. Having already been approved by the other place, it now has the approval of Parliament and will be implemented by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority on 27 November this year.

Given that the scheme will no longer pay out for criminal injuries such as a broken jaw, and that the awards for more serious injuries are not being increased, will the Minister confirm that the spin is just not true and that the changes represent a cut of £50 million for innocent victims?

Absolutely not. The aim is to provide proper compensation for those who have suffered serious criminal injuries. When the injuries are less serious, prompt, practical victim service provision will be provided, which is what victims say that they need. In addition to that, up to £50 million will be provided for victims from the victim surcharge.

In the consultation on the cuts to the criminal injuries compensation scheme, the Ministry of Justice promised to protect payments to the most vulnerable and seriously injured victims of crime. Why, then, will the most severe cuts affecting compensation for loss of earnings fall on more than 1,000 of the most seriously injured victims of crime and on the dependants of murder victims? Have not the innocent victims of crime suffered enough?

We are of course concerned about all victims. The scheme provides some payment in recognition of loss of earnings, but it was never designed to compensate for a full lifetime’s loss of earnings. Eligible applicants will receive a clear, predictable sum that will supplement other amounts that they may receive from other sources, such as state benefits. Our changes to the scheme should also allow victims to receive payments in a much speedier manner.

Do not the changes confirm the important principle that, although the state is not liable for compensating for the criminal actions of others, it has a particular responsibility for the victims of serious crime, to ensure that they do not have to wait months or even years for compensation from an unsustainable scheme?

Yes, I agree completely with my hon. Friend. Our reforms have put the criminal injuries compensation scheme on to a sustainable footing, which will enable future generations of victims to benefit.

Will the Minister tell the House what consultations on the matter of the reform of the criminal injuries compensation scheme were held with the devolved Administrations?

We talked to them as a matter of routine. I will write to the hon. Gentleman with further details.

Having butchered the criminal injuries compensation scheme by £50 million, starving blameless victims of financial redress, will the Minister tell us when we will see the details of the hastily cobbled-together hardship fund? Will she also tell us whether the fund will be topped up when those in hardship exceed the mere 700 or so whom the scheme is likely to cover, instead of the 30,000 who will lose out as a result of these changes?

I am not going to take any lessons from a party that put this country in the most awful financial difficulties—[Interruption.] Absolutely not. The current system is not sustainable or sensible, and it needs to be simplified. As I have already said, the new victim surcharge will raise up to £50 million for victims services.

Prisoner Privileges

It is really important that we ensure that the public have confidence in the prison system, and it is crucial that they are assured that any privileges earned in prison are gained through hard work and appropriate behaviour. In the light of this, the Prisons Minister and I have immediately moved to start a review of the policy around the incentives scheme for prisoners. We need to be confident that the system of incentives has credibility with the public. There are important operational reasons for the original policy, but we need to be clear that the incentives are pitched at the right level.

Many of my constituents feel that some of the privileges provided in our prisons are far too soft on the inmates. How is my right hon. Friend preparing to reverse the tradition whereby many of our prison inmates have been left to pass their time in an enforced situation in which they are completely idle most of the day, with little or no meaningful activity?

First, I am quite prepared to make changes to the incentive regime in our prisons if it proves necessary to do so. I am absolutely clear that prisons should be places that rehabilitate, not places to which people have any desire to go back. It is equally important, however, that we have within our prisons proper processes to ensure that prisoners are trained and given work experience. One of the achievements of the current Government over the last few months is that we have seen a steady increase, under the stewardship of the previous Secretary of State, which the current ministerial team is now taking on, in the number of hours worked by prisoners in our prisons. That has got to be right.


By 2015, I intend to apply payment by results to the majority of rehabilitation work conducted with offenders in the community. Providers will be commissioned to rehabilitate offenders, and those who are successful at reducing reoffending will be rewarded. I will announce detailed proposals shortly.

Studies such as the recent report from the Prison Reform Trust show that women have higher rates of reoffending. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on plans to divert women from custody in the first place, particularly those with short sentences?

I do agree. One of the first prisons I visited was Holloway. I saw at first hand the very different challenge we face with women offenders. One of the earliest steps I took was to separate ministerial responsibility for men and women in our prisons, asking the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) to take on the role of Minister with responsibility for women in prisons, and to look at whether we are getting the regime right and how we should adapt it to reflect the very different challenges we face with women in our prisons.

EU Justice and Home Affairs Directives

9. What consideration the Government has given to the UK opting out en masse from EU Justice and Home Affairs directives. (127918)

As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced to this House on 15 October, the Government are currently minded to opt out of the measures included in the 2014 decision en bloc, and to consider which measures it is in our national interest to rejoin. This is a complex issue, and we are considering carefully the individual merits of each measure, continuing to work with law enforcement and criminal justice partners to do so. We are committed to a vote in both Houses before we finalise our decision.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Will he tell me whether he is considering undertaking international co-operation on EU justice and home affairs rather than simply looking at the option of opting back in to specific EU directives?

I give my hon. Friend that assurance. It is absolutely clear that we can work with international partners effectively in fighting crime, as we do with non-EU allies around the world, without necessarily handing over sovereignty over these measures to the European Court of Justice. We are looking very carefully at where there is good reason to opt back in and it is in the national interest to do so, but we will not take those decisions lightly.

Yes. [Interruption.] I am fully awake, thank you.

The Members behind the Secretary of State are determined to break with so much to do with European law and Europe as a whole. Does the right hon. Gentleman not recognise that the European convention on human rights, the European Court of Human Rights and all the advantages that have been given to people who would otherwise be denied human rights across Europe are very important, and that we should dedicate ourselves to supporting that principle even though at times a European court, just like a UK court, can make decisions that are inconvenient and are seen to be unhelpful to national Governments? That is the whole principle of the independence of the judicial system.

The European convention on human rights was written in the 1950s by Conservatives at a time when Stalin was in power in Russia and people were being sent to the gulags without trial. What has happened over 40 or 50 years is that the judgments around the human rights framework have moved a long way from the original intentions of the authors of the convention. That is why it is my strong belief that change has to happen.

Employment and Support Allowance Appeals

10. What progress he has made in encouraging tribunal judges to supply feedback to Department for Work and Pensions decision-makers on the reasons for successful employment and support allowance appeals. (127920)

The provision of feedback on tribunals’ decisions is a matter for the judiciary, but new arrangements were introduced in July. They were agreed by the chamber president and the Department for Work and Pensions, and allow judges to select reasons for their decisions from an agreed list.

At the weekend, I spoke to a constituent who was making her second appeal in a year. She was told that there would not be a decision for four months, although the number of tribunal members appointed in Scotland has doubled in the last year. Does her experience not illustrate the huge importance of ensuring that proper reasons for decisions are given to DWP decision-makers, so that the decisions are right in the first place? That would be better than the provision of a drop-down menu or a very limited selection of reasons.

Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service is working closely with the DWP to improve the quality of the original decisions and also the reconsideration process, so that only appropriate appeals reach the tribunal. As for waiting times, dealing with matters in a timely fashion is of course very important. I am pleased to announce that the waiting time between the receipt of an appeal to disposal has fallen from 22 weeks to 19.3 weeks, and that in Scotland it is down to 12.6 weeks.

Foreign National Prisoners

11. How many foreign national prisoners were repatriated to their home country to serve their custodial sentence in 2011. (127921)

The simple answer is “Not nearly enough.” In 2011, 32 foreign national prisoners and one British national were sent to other countries to serve their sentences. The number of prisoners being repatriated is still unacceptably small, as it has been for a number of years under both Governments. I am not satisfied with that, and I am determined to push the numbers up, but the House should be aware that this is a difficult issue. We need the collaboration of other countries, and we are working hard to secure it.

What a dismal record. Back in November 2010, the Prime Minister said that he would “personally” lead a new drive to remove foreign prisoners. Given that the number repatriated in 2011 was just a third of the number in Labour’s last year in government, is this not yet another illustration of a Prime Minister who over-promises but under-delivers?

I will not take any lectures from a party that was responsible for the levels of immigration to this country that we have seen over the past decade. There are now fewer foreign nationals in our prisons than was the case under Labour. I intend to continue the drive both to deport people when they have finished their sentences, and to deport them through prisoner transfer agreements as soon as we possibly can.

Will my right hon. Friend make it a departmental priority to negotiate compulsory prisoner transfer agreements with Commonwealth member countries, especially Nigeria and Jamaica, which seem to be the source of most of the foreign national offenders in our prisons?

I can give my hon. Friend an absolute assurance to that effect. The prisons Minister—my hon. Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright)—and I have met our Jamaican counterparts during the last few weeks. We are focusing our efforts to negotiate compulsory transfer agreements on the countries where the problem is greatest. Of course, what we inherited from the previous Government were voluntary agreements, which, as we all know, have a limited effect.


We fully recognise the importance of training and education in improving an offender’s chances of employment and thereby reducing reoffending. That is central to the reforms set out in the joint Ministry of Justice and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills strategy “Making Prisons Work”. My officials are also working with the Department for Work and Pensions to provide enhanced employment support via the Work programme.

I have three prisons in my constituency—[Hon. Members: “Well done!”] Yes! They work very closely together, and have an excellent record of effective education and training. Will my right hon. Friend agree to visit Sheppey to see for himself the good work that is being done to reduce reoffending?

I pay tribute to all the staff who work in the three prisons in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I should be delighted to visit Sheppey in the next few months and see, with him, the work that is being done. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s constituents—not just those who work in the Prison Service, but those who provide it with support services. What Sheppey is doing for the criminal justice system is enormously important.

Training for work and cutting back on drug use are two proven ways of reducing reoffending. Will the Secretary of State therefore comment on the independent monitoring board report on HMP Risley, showing that, because of Government cuts, training is being cut back and illegal drug use is increasing, thereby undermining officers’ past good work? That is likely to impose a further cost on the community if offending goes up as a result.

It is simply not the case that we are seeing the kind of problems the hon. Lady mentions across the prison system. The reality is that we have no choice but to deal with the financial challenges left behind by the previous Government. The trick is delivering a more effective system for less money, and that is what we are doing.

Short Sentences

16. What steps he plans to take to reduce the number of offenders serving repeated short sentences. (127927)

We recognise that those sentenced to short custodial sentences have high reoffending rates and we are looking to see how best to deliver rehabilitation for this group. By the end of 2015 we intend to apply the payment-by-results approach right across our rehabilitation work with offenders, so that fewer of them, including those who have been sentenced to short terms, return to prison.

One of the concerns in the wider community is that people get into a cycle of offending, prison and then reoffending. One problem is that the courts are so slow in processing their cases that they cannot be punished in time and be kept inside when they deserve imprisonment. What is the Minister going to do about reducing the time it takes the courts to process reoffenders, and what will he do, too, about extending their sentences?

We are keen to see greater efficiencies throughout the criminal justice system, which will assist in addressing the problem my hon. Friend describes. The other issue, of course, is that those sentenced to very short terms—12 months or shorter—have very little assistance or intervention when their period of custodial imprisonment has ended. There is no period of licence, and we want to look at ways in which we can ensure that people in that group, who do offend at very high rates, receive the intervention they need to reduce their reoffending rates.

Whiplash (Compensation)

17. Whether he has made a comparative assessment of the number of claims for compensation for whiplash injuries in courts in (a) the UK, (b) France and (c) Germany. (127928)

We have not conducted comparative assessments, but we know that whiplash claims are higher in England and Wales than elsewhere. The increase in whiplash claims at a time when there are fewer reported road traffic accidents is unacceptable. The Government will consult shortly on measures to tackle the cost of whiplash claims.

The very high level of claims in the UK pushes up insurance premiums for ordinary people by hundreds of pounds a year. In Germany, two medical opinions are required before claims go forward. Are we considering introducing that here, and what other measures are we considering to sort out this industry?

The Government are committed to finding ways of tackling fraudulent whiplash claims. We are about to consult on increasing the small claims threshold for personal injury claims arising from road traffic accidents from £1,000 to £5,000. We are also about to consult on the creation of independent medical panels, which could improve diagnosis, transparency, consistency and identification in respect of exaggerated injuries.

Youth Offending

Reducing the number of young people in the criminal justice system continues to be a priority for this Government, and a range of work is going on to prevent youth offending. Youth offending teams play a key role, and cross-Government initiatives such as the troubled families programme, the liaison and diversion programme and the ending gang and youth violence programme demonstrate a co-ordinated approach to this issue.

The Minister will know that members of the Justice Committee were told on a recent visit to YOI Hindley that breaches frequently occur when young people are released from custody and return to their community, from which they are often excluded by order of the court. That, of course, negatively hits reoffending figures, and the same circle continues to be drawn. Will the Minister work with colleagues across Government to make sure that young offenders leaving the secure estate have far better resettlement plans, as that is one sure-fire way to reduce reoffending?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point, and I look forward to receiving the Select Committee report on this matter, which we are expecting shortly. I am happy to assure my hon. Friend that we are working not only with other Departments, including the Department for Communities and Local Government, but with the Youth Justice Board to ensure that young people have access to suitable accommodation on release from custody. The YJB is also working to improve resettlement on release from custody by encouraging local services to work more collaboratively to ensure that young people have suitable accommodation, which is an essential step in stopping them reoffending.

Under Labour, the number of first-time offenders fell by a third. Does the Minister believe it is realistic to think that that trend can continue when the cuts to local authorities are as deep as they are? He says he has a co-ordinated approach, but what is happening in practice?

I am happy to tell the hon. Lady that I do not need to project that things are carrying on in the right direction—they are carrying on in the right direction. In the past year, the number of first-time entrants to the youth justice system has fallen by 20%, from 45,900 to 36,700. I am grateful to her for giving me the chance to give those figures to the House.

Corporate Offences

19. What progress he has made in tackling corporate offences of fraud, bribery and money laundering. (127930)

The coalition has a clear commitment to tackling corporate offending: we implemented the Bribery Act 2010 from July 2011; we published the “Fighting Fraud Together” strategy, which is led by the National Fraud Authority; we established the Economic Crime Command in 2011, as part of the National Crime Agency; and we introduced provisions on deferred prosecution agreements in England and Wales in the Crime and Courts Bill.

Clearly the infrastructure is in place for prosecuting these offences. Will my right hon. Friend work closely with the Serious Fraud Office to ensure that prosecutions are brought against corporate bodies when offences have been committed?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, but of course the SFO acts independently of Government. As I said, the Government take all forms of economic crime seriously and what we can do is provide the SFO and other prosecutorial bodies with the tools they need to carry out their roles. That is why, for example, we introduced clauses to provide for the deferred prosecution agreements, which we think will be a valuable tool. They have tough requirements, such as a financial penalty, reparation for victims and repayments of profits. That kind of practical tool in the hands of the prosecutors will make us much more effective at fighting economic crime.

We are ahead of schedule, but the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M Morris) is in his place and we can safely proceed to topical questions.

Topical Questions

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would just like to say a few words about the Abu Qatada case. I strongly support the comments that the Home Secretary made yesterday, and would indicate to the House that my Department will do everything it can to support the Home Office in its efforts to get Abu Qatada deported. All of us believe that the law should not operate in this way, and this case underlines my view that there is a real need for major changes to the way in which the European human rights framework operates.

May I refer the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) back to the answer she gave a few moments ago in response to the hon. Member for Warrington South (David Mowat)? Given the importance of this to victims of workplace accidents and industrial diseases, will the Minister meet a small delegation of Labour MPs to receive representations on the implications of the proposal to amend the ceiling on small claims compensation?

T3. Is it not rather counter-intuitive, given the Secretary of State’s excellent views, to be closing rather than opening prisons? Why then are the Government consulting on closing Lincoln prison, which, as far as I know, has caused no trouble to the community since Eamon de Valera escaped from it during the first world war, and which provides 400 jobs, and humanely and safely locks our local villains away? (127933)

First, let me explain the context to my hon. Friend. We are in the middle of a programme of new for old in the Prison Service; we are bringing on stream new capacity as well as closing down old capacity, as part of a drive to bring down the overall cost of running the Prison Service by making the unit cost of each place cheaper. We are looking at a number of options, and no decisions have been taken on Lincoln prison. There is no proposal to close it, and I can assure him that I will personally be looking carefully at this issue, as I am well aware of the geographical circumstances of Lincoln, particularly the lack of good transport to other locations in the prison system.

The Justice Secretary referred to the Abu Qatada case. We have also recently heard the ruling of Reading county court, which held that a same-sex couple had been discriminated against by a bed and breakfast owner who refused to let them stay in her B and B. Will the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice join me in welcoming that ruling?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I never comment on individual cases, but I voted for the law behind that case and stand by the decision I took at the time to vote for it.

Three minutes ago, the Justice Secretary commented on a case from yesterday. Three minutes later, he is unwilling to comment on a case from three weeks ago. He looks uncomfortable—does he think that he was wrong when, as shadow Home Secretary, he said:

“B and Bs should be able to turn away gay couples”?

Will he now apologise for those comments and commend the Equality Act 2010, which is doing so much to tackle discrimination in this country?

I was not aware that I was accountable to the House for Opposition roles, but I will say again to the right hon. Gentleman that I voted for the law as it stands and I stand by that decision.

T4. Does my right hon. Friend have plans to use the opportunities provided by new technology in tracking offenders? (127934)

Yes, we do. It will be important to consider the opportunities that GPS-based technology, in particular, gives us in the monitoring of offenders not just to enforce elements of a community order, such as an exclusion order, but to act as a deterrent for those offenders who might be minded to reoffend.

T2. The Association of Child Abuse Lawyers has expressed great concern about drastic changes to the rules on legal costs that are due in April next year. They believe that those changes could have serious implications for the victims of childhood abuse. Is the Secretary of State aware of those concerns and what does he propose to do about them, especially in view of recent events? (127932)

It is nice to get a serious question from the Opposition. These are sensitive issues and we have had to take difficult decisions about the legal aid system. We have the most expensive legal aid system in Europe and, given the financial challenges we inherited, no change was not an option. We will, of course, continue to review the impact of the changes we have made to ensure that there are no unintended consequences. I will not be afraid to reconsider some of those issues if it proves that what we have done has created a major problem.

T5. Will the Secretary of State urgently review the proposed changes to the Bail Act 1976 contained in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012? In some cases, magistrates will be forced to free defendants who they know will fail to surrender, will commit further offences while on bail and, in some cases, will go on to intimidate witnesses? To make matters worse, as the 2012 Act stands, if those offenders breach their bail conditions, the magistrates’ hands will be tied and they will have no choice but to rebail them. Is this not a ridiculous state of affairs? (127936)

The one point on which I will take issue with my hon. Friend is the fact that he talks about magistrates “knowing” that someone will commit an offence in the future. It is reasonably well established in British law that people are innocent until they are proved guilty—

To suggest, as the shadow Justice Secretary is doing from a sedentary position, that he, or a magistrate, knows who will commit a crime in the future seems to me to be an absolute breach of all the traditions of our justice system. Of course, if an offender goes on to commit another offence while on bail, including intimidation of a witness, that offence will be considered in its own right. If it could attract a sentence of imprisonment, the option of remand is still open to magistrates. I think we should stick by the basic tenets of justice.

In his response to my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods) on the question of payment by results and reoffending, the Secretary of State talked about the importance of evidence. Will he share with the House his assessment of the reasons behind the failure of the Mayor of London’s Project Heron at Feltham?

Of course I am not responsible for the Mayor of London’s projects. On the question of our whole approach to the rehabilitation of offenders and the introduction of payment by results, the nature of payment by results means that we provide incentives to providers to deliver what works best. There is constant pressure in a payment- by-results system to find best practice and apply it in a way that delivers best results for offenders and for the taxpayer.

T6. The social impact bond from Peterborough prison to reduce reoffending was launched just over a year ago. Full results will only be available after year four. What assessment has the Secretary of State made so far of the effects of the work done? Has it reduced reoffending? (127937)

We have not yet done the assessment—the detailed work—but I think there are good grounds for believing that good work has been done, and I will provide more information in due course.

The lessons from the Qatada case are that it is quite difficult to deport people to jurisdictions that do not adhere to, as a basis, the UN convention on torture, for example. What is the Department doing to encourage jurisdictions outside Europe to sign up to a higher standard of international law, so that there is a greater sense of parallel of the rights of justice in this country, in Europe and in other parts of the world?

Of course, it is the role of Britain and other democratic nations to encourage non-democratic countries around the world to adopt democratic principles, the rule of law and a proper fair, independent judiciary. But I have to say that I do not believe it was ever the intention of those who created the human rights framework to which we are currently subject that people who have an avowed intent to do damage to this country should be able to use human rights laws to prevent their deportation back to their country of origin.

T7. Does the Secretary of State believe that the election of police and crime commissioners on Thursday will help restore public confidence in the way that offences are dealt with in local communities? (127938)

I agree with my hon. Friend, not least because although they are police and crime commissioners, people may have focused too much on the policing aspect. The crime reduction aspect is at the heart of what these new elected bodies will do, and crime prevention and some of the things that we have been discussing earlier this morning, such as restorative justice, will play a very important part in each locality in improving the criminal justice system and improving public confidence in the criminal justice system. The PCCs will play a significant part in that.

Harassment, threatening behaviour and bullying on social media are all increasing. What training has the Department put in place to enable probation officers, magistrates, judges and the court services to deal with that?

The hon. Lady is right that it is an increasing problem, and we will want to ensure that all those who have responsibility in this area understand it, and understand the reach of it. Of course, she will be aware that it is a problem that has, sadly, found its way into prisons also, so we want to ensure that we do everything we can to stamp it out, as she says.

T8. I wonder whether the Secretary of State might update the House on discussions he has had with the Home Office about deporting foreign national prisoners straight away when they complete their sentence in the UK. (127940)

We have regular contacts at both ministerial and official level and, of course, we now have the benefit of the presence of the former Immigration Minister, who brings knowledge of both sides of that challenge to our team. We intend to continue to work as hard as we can to secure the deportation of offenders after their sentences, as well as to transfer prisoners when we can during their sentences.

Has the Secretary of State any concerns that the provisions in the criminal injuries compensation scheme voted on by the House last night in terms of sex abuse victims aged between 13 and 15 are a dangerous and dubious legislative signal to be sent by this Parliament as its first legislative signal in the wake of the scandal concerning Jimmy Savile?

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but would point out that our reforms have led to no changes to the 2008 scheme in respect of certain sexual abuse issues. Further guidance has been given on other particular matters. Victims coming forward in the Jimmy Savile case should certainly be able to make applications for compensation.

When innocent people can be framed on social media sites will the Government consider, with some urgency, looking at a certain part of the libel laws? Innocent people do not deserve to be named; they certainly do not deserve to be put through the grilling that certain people have faced. Would the Secretary of State and the Government look at that as a matter of urgency?

I am as concerned as anybody about what has taken place over the last two weeks. It is utterly wrong that anybody should have their name blackened inappropriately and falsely on any form of social media. Of course, the laws of libel apply equally to what is published on a Facebook or Twitter page as they do to what appears in printed form, so those who are damaged in that way have full legal redress to try and get proper justice done.

What discussions are taking place between Ministers and officials in the Ministry of Justice and those in the Department for Work and Pensions in anticipation of the further burden that will be put on the tribunals service when the new personal independence payment comes in next year, because experience shows that the level of appeals resulting from benefit changes is very high?

We will continue to do everything we can to improve the process in both Departments. I am absolutely clear that we want to get the appeals process right, both in the tribunals service and in Jobcentre Plus, where we have introduced a mandatory reconsideration process. Ultimately, the reason we are doing all that is that there are large numbers of people out there who can return to work and make a better lot of their lives, which we want to help them to do, but unless we have a reassessment process, we will never find those people to deliver that help to.

Does the prisons Minister realise that staff at HM Prison Northumberland, who have successfully merged two prisons and earned a positive report from the inspector, are sickened and infuriated that the public sector bid will not go through to the final market testing round because of promises from private sector providers that the Department might lack the capacity to verify?

I understand the disappointment that will be felt by those who put in the public sector bid at HM Prison Northumberland but, as I have explained to my right hon. Friend, the difficulty is that the difference between the public sector bid and those we are taking forward to the next round of the competition was substantial, and it would not have been responsible to ignore that gap. However, I also say to him that this is a two-stage process. It will be important that the Government are satisfied that those who go through to the next round of the competition have the capacity to deliver what they say they can deliver, and we will look carefully at the bids in that context.

When my constituent Michael Dye was killed following a single blow at a football match between Wales and England last year, his family expected justice, but when they got to court the sentence that was given came as a complete surprise to them. What more can be done to ensure that the families of victims of crime have a better awareness of the likely sentence the perpetrators will receive in court?

I have a huge amount of sympathy for a family in that appalling situation. I have sat down and talked with many families who have lost loved ones as a result of violent crime and absolutely accept that our criminal justice system often does not seem responsive enough to their needs, does not explain enough to them what is happening and does not give them details of the process, even to the extent that an offender who has been convicted of a violent crime can be back on the streets without the victims knowing about it. That is why one of the first things I did as Secretary of State was appoint the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), as victims Minister so that there is someone in Government who is a champion for that cause and who will work with the next victims’ commissioner to ensure that we have a system that is as responsive as we can possibly make it.

My understanding is that the Law Society and the Family Law Bar Association have come out in opposition to the fixing of a time limit for courts to conclude care cases, so will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to remind family lawyers, and indeed judges, that the implementation of a 26-week time limit remains a core policy objective and that lawyers should be preparing now to meet those targets?

I can assure my hon. Friend that we have made no changes to the plans. We always listen carefully to outside bodies, but no changes have been made and we are not considering making any.

In view of the Qatada decision, has the Secretary of State considered requiring courts to take into account the likely cost to the public purse of their bail decisions, particularly in serious and high-risk cases?

In view of what the Secretary of State has rightly said about the case of Abu Qatada, a prominent supporter of al-Qaeda, will he say a word or two about an opponent of al-Qaeda, namely the special forces sergeant who has been sentenced to an 18-month term of military detention for having kept a pistol that was presented to him in gratitude for his services by the Iraqi special forces? I realise that court martial procedures might be outside my right hon. Friend’s immediate area of responsibility, but will he reflect public concern over that very serious matter?

I am aware of the public concern. My hon. Friend will understand that I cannot comment about an individual case, and of course courts-martial fall under the remit of the Ministry of Defence. However, I would always hope that common sense will lie at the heart of every judicial decision in this country.

Will the Minister give an indication of the cut-off date for claims under the criminal injuries compensation scheme? Victims of crime and their representatives need to know that date. Will it be Friday 23 November? Will it be Monday 26 November?

Does the Minister have an assessment of how curfew orders have been working since their hours and length were increased last year?

I will have to check to be certain, but I think that the changes made by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 have not yet come into force. However, my hon. Friend puts his finger on the opportunity for us to have available not only more hours spent under curfew but curfew orders that last for a longer time. In addition to new technology that will enable us better to monitor offenders, this can be a very effective means of keeping track of those who have committed offences.

Does the Lord Chancellor recall that in the reign of Henry VIII it was made high treason to take an appeal outside this kingdom? Has not the time come for this Parliament once more to legislate to prohibit appeals to foreign courts and to prohibit the judgments of foreign courts leading our judiciary?

I know that my hon. Friend has strong views on these matters. While I may not agree with every word he says, he will know that I have some sympathy with his frustration about international courts and the rulings that they make. That is why I am very clear that, in relation to the European Court of Human Rights, further reform is necessary.

My constituent Jermaine Sheerin and his family are suffering a cycle of despair since he was convicted and received an indeterminate public protection sentence in 2007. He remains in prison, and sometimes in hospital, at risk of suicide. The Government have said that IPP sentences are wrong, so why are people who are currently serving them left in limbo?

It is difficult for me to comment on the individual case, because that is a matter for the probation authorities. We have put in place a package of longer sentences for more serious offenders. In relation to those who are still in prison on an indeterminate sentence, they will of course have to submit to the procedures that were law at the time. It is particularly important for us to know that they are safe to be released before they are released.

Stafford prison was built in 1794 and is one of the cheapest prisons in the country to run. Will my hon. Friend visit Stafford with builders of new prisons to see how it is done?

I am sure that those responsible for the building of prisons will always understand that they have more to learn. We all want to learn whatever lessons we can from the excellent construction of Victorian prisons, in particular, as I have discovered in my time touring the estate.

In London, a third of people sent to prison for criminal offences are foreign nationals, yet we have the scandalous position whereby they can apply for British citizenship, while no attempt is made for them to serve their sentences in their countries of origin. What is my hon. Friend doing to remedy this, particularly given that many of those who are finally freed after their prison sentences are then free to come and go?

I do not think it is fair to say that nothing is being done about ensuring that foreign national offenders leave the country. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier, we are making considerable efforts to negotiate compulsory prison transfer agreements so that these prisoners do not have the choice of staying in this country. We are also working as closely as we can with the Home Office to ensure that people who have completed sentences leave this country as soon as possible.