House of Commons
Tuesday 11 November 2014
The House met at Twelve noon
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before Questions
Buckinghamshire County Council (Filming on Highways) Bill [Lords]
Bill read the Third time and passed, without amendment.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Prison Transfers (Assessments)
1. What steps he is taking to ensure that prisoners who have been convicted of a crime of violence are assessed before being transferred from secure accommodation to an open prison. (905984)
Progression to an open prison is never automatic; all prisoners undergo regular, mandatory assessments of their risk of escape or abscond, and the risk of harm to the public, and only those assessed as having an acceptable level of risk for lower security conditions can be allocated to an open prison.
I thank the Minister for that response, but there is another thing that I am concerned about. Sabul Miah recently absconded from Stanford Hill open prison in my constituency, causing a great deal of upset to the family of the man he was imprisoned for viciously attacking, particularly given that the first they heard of it was when they were contacted by a national newspaper. Would it not be possible for the families of victims of violent crime to be notified immediately by the Prison Service when the perpetrator of the crime either is released from prison or absconds?
I recognise the seriousness of the issue that my hon. Friend correctly raises. The offender absconded on 23 October. The victim liaison unit was informed of the abscond the next day and tried to contact the one victim who was on the victim contact scheme. They tried her mobile phone number several times but were unable to leave a voicemail. They had not been provided with an e-mail address so sent a letter at the end of that day. The offender was recaptured a week later and sentenced. However, I recognise the seriousness of what my hon. Friend says, and we will make every effort to ensure that victims are informed as soon as possible.[Official Report, 3 December 2014, Vol. 589, c. 3MC.]
I answered a parliamentary question on this matter, so the hon. Gentleman probably knows the answer to his question. Regrettably, keys are lost from time to time. The largest loss was by G4S, so there was no cost to the taxpayer, but it is obviously regrettable and we do not want it to happen. We investigate fully and will try to minimise it as much as possible.
I understand the point my hon. Friend makes, but perhaps that is the standard advice given by the police on all occasions. I can tell him, however, that absconds and escapes have fallen by 80% over the past decade, so we have got better at this, but of course we will try to ensure that no one escapes or absconds.
We are undertaking more detailed risk assessments than there were in the past, but my hon. Friend raises an important point. Members should be aware that the number of people sent to prison for violent offences has increased by 40% over the past decade. However, I have seen very good violence reduction programmes in our prisons and am looking to spread those as widely as possible.
2. What recent progress he has made on his courts reform programme. (905985)
Since the Secretary of State’s written ministerial statement on 28 March this year, the programme team has been developing the detailed plans required to deliver the programme over the next five years, as well as working to identify the areas where we can make early progress.
I have lost count of the number of times I have raised with the Minister and his predecessors the wholly inadequate state of Sunderland’s court buildings and the need for a decision. Plans to rebuild the court complex have been on hold since 2010. Will the Minister now acknowledge to staff, to magistrates and to victims that they should not expect a decision this side of the election?
The hon. Lady is aware that I had a meeting with her, along with her colleague, the hon. Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott), and she has corresponded with me. She talks about having said the same thing over and over again. I have to say to her, over and over again, that there is a courts reform programme and the proposals for the Farringdon road site that she mentions are part of the mix. As we speak, no firm decision has been taken.
Is it not the case that the rationalisation of the Courts Service by this Government has led to a faster, more effective and more efficient system? Therefore, is it not incumbent on us to move forward with further rationalisation as soon as possible, and would the Minister care to comment on the timing?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who, of course, speaks with considerable knowledge on these matters. We are working apace to try to ensure that our courts are fit for the 21st century in that we have expeditious handing of judicial matters where there is proper protection for victims, defendants, and, indeed, lawyers.
When victims have their day in court, far too many have to go through a traumatic experience that leaves them feeling like they are on trial themselves. That is one of the reasons Labour Members have been calling for a victims law. When I last raised this from the Dispatch Box, the Justice Secretary dismissed us as “always talking about laws”. Now that the Government have rushed out their own plans for a victims law, will the Minister tell the House when it will be published and explain what prompted his change of heart?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have done more for victims than his party’s Government did in 13 years. We are making sure that victims, who are often very vulnerable, have proper treatment and are looked after carefully. We have brought in measures that allow victims to have a say in court, which was certainly not the case before. We are bringing up the courts to be fit for the 21st century, which Labour failed to do in its 13 years. That will mean a better experience for victims, as some of the most vulnerable people who attend courts.
Investigations into misuse of public money are complete, with £179.4 million reclaimed from the well-publicised settlements with two of the Department’s major suppliers. Taxpayers can be assured that the work has not stopped there. A 12-month programme of diligent and detailed assurance across all major contracts held has uncovered no other further misuse of public money.
The Secretary of State has inserted unprecedented clauses into privatised probation services guaranteeing a decade of lost profits should a future Government walk away from these contracts. How much will the taxpayer have to pay the likes of Working Links, Sodexo, Interserve and Mitie in those circumstances?
That is a complete misunderstanding of the way in which government works. I simply refer the hon. Gentleman back to the contracts for the flexible new deal set in place under the previous Government, which contained standard penalty clauses for the termination of contracts. We have followed the same principles set out then by the Treasury in establishing these new contracts.
We are closely monitoring the performance of the national probation service and the community rehabilitation companies as we implement our reforms. Over recent years, probation trusts have improved their performance. That is a tribute to the hard work of probation staff at all levels. None the less, rates of reoffending overall remain unacceptably high. Our Transforming Rehabilitation reforms will tackle reoffending, which blights societies and costs the economy too much.
Many of my constituents who work in the probation service have written to me to share their concerns about
“the mounting chaos linked to the IT systems, the potential risks to the public, the reduced contacts with offenders and the increase in sentencing without reports.”
They want to know why
“the Government has abolished an award winning, highly effective Probation Service in Durham…and replaced it with a hugely inferior, largely privatised service”
“is putting the public at risk and failing to rehabilitate offenders.”
I would hope that the hon. Lady would pay tribute to the probation staff and voluntary sector organisations that have come together in her area to bid for the contract to take on the CRC, because they are committed and believe that they can do a better job in bringing down reoffending in the future. I am delighted by the outcome of the bidding process in her area, and I hope that, when we reach the point of contracts and the new arrangements are put in place, the expertise of all of those organisations will transform our work in tackling reoffending in the hon. Lady’s county.
I certainly welcome the prevalence of mutual organisations among the list of preferred bidders in our part of the country. What care is the Secretary of State taking in this process to ensure that their partners in those bids give them a genuine role as mutuals in providing those services and do not allow them to become bid candy in their proposals?
Let us be absolutely clear and put it on the record that it would be wholly and utterly unacceptable for any voluntary sector bidder involved in the preferred bidder status to be treated as bid candy. I am delighted that we have some really strong partnerships between the private and voluntary sectors. I have stood in this House on more than one occasion and said that I want to see those strong partnerships. They are not prime/sub relationships; they are partnerships at the top table. This is something of which we as a coalition should be proud. It is about the voluntary and private sectors working together in a way that I believe will make a real difference.
Argoed in my constituency was rocked over the weekend by a particularly gruesome and horrific murder, and I am sure the whole House will join me in extending sympathies to the family of Cerys Yemm, the young girl who lost her life. The Ministry of Justice has launched an immediate investigation into why her killer committed such a serious offence within 30 days of being released. However, reports yesterday said that he could not get a prescription for his paranoid schizophrenia, he was not met at the prison gate and he was referred to a local bed and breakfast, where this horrific murder took place. Does the Secretary of State agree with the need for an urgent investigation into how mental health is treated in prisons and the monitoring of prisoners after they are released?
Let us be clear that we all think that what took place was an horrendous incident. I offer my sincere condolences to the family of the victim. I also offer my sympathy to the hon. Gentleman as the local Member of Parliament dealing with this difficult situation. Of course, a serious further offence review is looking at what took place and it would be wrong of me to prejudge its outcome, but it is already clear to me that lessons will need to be learned and that we may need to make modifications to the way the system works in order to try to make sure that nothing as horrendous as this can ever happen again.
I would also like to take this opportunity to pass on our condolences to the family of Cerys and the community in Argoed.
On the Transforming Rehabilitation contracts, Sodexo won more contracts to deliver more services than any other bidder. Sodexo is run by the wife of the chief inspector of probation. Does the Secretary of State see that as a conflict of interest in any way and what does he intend to do about it?
We are, of course, at the preferred bidder stage. Clearly, the issue is under discussion and it will need to be addressed. I will give further information to the House in due course. We should also remember that people in public life are sometimes married to other people in public life. Simply put, I hope that the Ministry of Justice, were it to fall under the leadership of a Labour Government, would not be disadvantaged by the fact that the putative Home Secretary is married to the putative Chancellor of the Exchequer. We have to consider these things very carefully and deal with them in a mature and sensible way, and we will seek to do that.
Mesothelioma (Compensation Claims)
13. What steps his Department is taking to ensure that the compensation claims of mesothelioma sufferers are handled fairly. (905997)
We continue to work with stakeholders to see how we can improve the claims process for these tragic cases.
Mesothelioma is an horrific industrial disease and its victims deserve much better than the shameful way in which they have been treated by this Government, with their botched consultations, prevarications and delays. Will the Minister, on behalf of the Lord Chancellor, confirm that he will not waste any more taxpayers’ money in further appealing the recent damning judicial review ruling made against his Department?
We will certainly consider the way forward on that, but I will take no lectures from the hon. Gentleman on what we have done. This Government are putting provisions into the Deregulation Bill that will enable Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to provide information to legal representatives without a court order. We are liaising with the national cancer registration service and others to allow expedited access to medical notes. We also introduced the Mesothelioma Act 2014, which again benefits sufferers and victims. I will not take any lectures from him on that front.
In the High Court case on the Government’s mesothelioma review, Mr Justice Davis ruled:
“No reasonable Lord Chancellor faced with the duty imposed on him by section 48 of the Act would have considered that the exercise in fact…fulfilled that duty.”
Will the Minister update the House on the Department’s response to that ruling?
The chair of the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK has said that the Lord Chancellor’s plans for addressing the issues facing mesothelioma victims were
“rooted in a culture of secret deals with insurers and flawed consultations which excluded the victims of asbestos.”
Is it not time that the Lord Chancellor honoured the promise he made in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 and stopped treating mesothelioma sufferers in this contemptible way?
Clearly, the hon. Lady did not listen to what I said either. Let me be clear: we are talking about people who are suffering from a very horrific and tragic disease, and this Government are committed to ensuring that victims and sufferers have the best possible way of going through the process, particularly in getting compensation.
As far as insurance companies are concerned, the hon. Lady will be aware that when we had a consultation in July, the submissions by victims and groups such as the one she mentioned stated that they did not like the proposals that were angled towards insurance companies. We listened to those people and did not go ahead with the proposals that the insurance companies would have preferred. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims took through the Mesothelioma Bill earlier this year, which is of benefit to all the sufferers.
It is not that Opposition Members are not listening, but that the Minister is not answering this question. Most civilised people would not have to be told that it is wrong to cut compensation for people suffering in great pain from a terrible disease that will kill them in a matter of months. Parliament told him not to do it, victims told him not to do it, the Justice Committee told him not to do it, and so did the High Court, but this Minister is trying to do just that to protect the profits of the insurance industry. Why do the Government always take the side of the strong against the weak?
Again, I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman did not listen to what I said earlier. [Interruption.] I am answering the question; it would help if the hon. Gentleman listened to the answer. As I said, we had a consultation in July, and we put forward proposals. We listened to people who made submissions —we listened hard—and we did not go ahead with proposals that would have been of benefit to the insurers. Which bit of that does he have a problem with?
Access to Justice
The Government’s reform programme to promote access to justice aims to deliver a simpler justice system that is more accessible to the public. It aims to limit the scope for inappropriate litigation and the involvement of lawyers in issues that do not need legal input, and to support people in resolving their disputes through simpler, more informal remedies.
The Minister will know that since this Government took the axe to legal aid, the number of litigants in person has been on the rise, clogging up the courts, costing time and costing money. How many more people defended themselves in court in the first six months of this year compared with the same period in 2010?
The hon. Lady will be aware that there have always been litigants in person, even before the legal aid reductions. The Government are putting in place measures to assist those people. Moreover, judges are working with us to ensure that they are assisted. We will continue to monitor the position and give assistance to people who are acting as litigants in person.
18. A retired Welsh judge told BBC Wales last month that cuts to legal aid in the family court meant rising numbers of couples representing themselves, more contested hearings and longer delays in resolving cases, which“must be damaging to the child”.What consideration are the Government giving to the extent to which the system is working in the best interests of children? (906002)
I remind the hon. Lady that the manifesto on which she stood at the last election referred in chapter 5, page 5 to legal aid cuts that would be made if Labour got into government. Perhaps she would like to ask the Opposition Front Benchers whether they intend to reverse the cuts that we have made.
The Minister will be aware that we disagree with the scale of the civil and criminal legal aid cuts that his Government have made. Has he read the serious recent criticism from a senior judge, Sir James Munby; a retired judge, Sir John Royce, about whom my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) asked a simple question; and Emma Scott, the director of the Rights for Women charity? They have all expressed concern about the impact of the Government’s cuts. Is the Minister aware of their concerns and will he meet them? They are apolitical, serious experts who are genuinely worried about the impact of his cuts.
The right hon. Gentleman asks whether I have read certain things. Has he read The Law Society Gazette of 24 September, following the Labour conference? The heading was, “Labour will not reverse legal aid cuts—Slaughter”. The reporter states:
“Labour’s legal aid spokesman has warned that the party cannot reverse the cuts of the current government if it comes to power next year.”
It goes on to say—I will be brief, Mr Speaker—that
“in a packed meeting organised by Justice Alliance UK in Manchester…Slaughter said he could not commit to re-establishing legal aid.”
It quotes the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) as saying:
“We’re not going to get in a Tardis and go back to before”.
Employment and Support Allowance Appeals
As part of the implementation, which commenced in March 2014, we will look carefully at the effects of the provision of summary reasons by judges in the social security and child support tribunal. The Department for Work and Pensions will provide feedback to the judiciary on the way in which summary reasons have been used. The Government have no plans to conduct a formal evaluation.
In the report by the Work and Pensions Committee on employment and support allowance in July last year, we pointed out that there was little point in having summary reasons if they were not used to drive better decisions and, ultimately, to reduce the number of appeals. Surely having a proper evaluation on a clear time scale would be the best way to ensure that that is happening.
As I have said to the hon. Lady on at least two occasions, the provision of summary reasons is having a positive impact. The Department for Work and Pensions is working with the judiciary and the quality of the decisions that it is producing is much better than before, which is leading to fewer cases going to appeal.
20. Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to review—I understand that the Ministry of Justice was reviewing this matter—the length of time that tribunals are taking to reach decisions on personal independence payments? The amount of time that is being taken is causing great distress for each constituent concerned. I am sure that they would welcome news of a review and evaluation of the length of time that is being taken for appeals. (906004)
Certainly. One of the issues at hand is that we are dealing effectively with the backlog of cases that existed before. As a consequence, the average time that is taken is being reduced. We are dealing expeditiously with new cases and trying to deal with the backlog.
The relevant offences under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 were amended by new sections 2A and 4A, which came into force on 25 November 2012. Sadly, it is too early for there to be meaningful trends. As soon as the trends are indicated to us, we will present that information to the House.
I thank the Minister for that reply. My constituent, John Clough, has sponsored a petition, which so far has attracted more than 120,000 signatures, calling on the Home Office to establish a stalkers register. How can my right hon. Friend ensure that more stalkers are convicted and their victims protected?
Being stalked must be an horrendous experience for anybody, and it is important that we look carefully at the legislation and keep the issue under review. In 2013-14, 743 prosecutions were commenced under the new legislation. We agree across the House that stalking is an abhorrent offence, and we should do everything we can to prevent it and prosecute those who perpetrate it.
Recalls to Prison
Between 1 April and 30 June 2014—the latest period for which data are available—there were a total of 4,216 licence recalls. Of those, 42% were fixed-term recalls.
Most people around the country believe and expect that when a criminal is released from prison early, if they commit another offence before the end of their original sentence they will be sent back to prison for at least the full duration of that original sentence. As the Minister has confirmed, however, 42% of recalls are just 28-day fixed-term recalls. In the first nine months of last year, 1,260 burglars were given 28-day fixed-term recalls, instead of serving the full length of their original sentence. Will the Minister revisit that scandal, which alarms many of our constituents and puts them at unnecessary risk of becoming victims of crime?
My hon. Friend has taken a long-standing and serious interest in this issue. Fixed-term recalls can be used only when the offender does not pose a risk of serious harm to the public. When recall prisoners are assessed to pose a risk of serious harm to the public, they are given standard recalls to serve the remainder of their sentence in prison, and will be released earlier only if it is safe to do so. Under the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, offenders who do not comply with their licence and are highly likely to commit further breaches if released are deemed unsuitable for fixed-term recall. We therefore have measures either in place or in the pipeline to exclude high-risk and prolific offenders from fixed-term recalls.
As the hon. Lady will know, this Government are the first ever to have addressed the question of humanist weddings in England and Wales. Following the passage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, the Government are honouring their commitment to hold a review. That review finished in September, and more than 1,900 people responded. We will honour our commitment to produce a report following that review by the end of the year.
It is ironic that humanists, who have been celebrating same-sex weddings for three decades, are the one group that has not yet achieved equality through the recent Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. Will the Minister make a firm commitment that before the general election he will lay the necessary orders to ensure full equality, so that people can have a humanist celebration without also having to hold a civil ceremony?
The Government have legislated for same-sex marriages and were the first Government ever to address that question. I cannot anticipate the announcement at the end of the review. We are currently assessing the many responses to the consultation, as the hon. Lady would expect. We are committed to producing the report, and after that I will be happy to go into details of what the Government plan to do next.
An immensely strong case was made for humanist marriages during the passage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. On that occasion, the Government chose to duck the issue, but the question is not just on same-sex marriages but humanist marriages overall. The example of Scotland, where more than a third of marriages are conducted by humanists, is overwhelming. Can we please get on with this before the end of this Administration?
The hon. Gentleman is correct to say that in Scotland humanist weddings are permitted, and that has been the case since 2005. The Scottish system is entirely different from that in England and Wales because it is based on who officiates, rather than the place where the marriage takes place. It will be a major change in our law to go down that road. As I said, I will report to the House before the end of the year.
May I add my voice to those from both sides of the House urging my right hon. Friend to make progress on this issue? Humanist celebrations are not only successful in Scotland, as there are humanist ceremonies for births and deaths in England and Wales as well. He will be aware that there are already exceptions in marriage law for Jews and Quakers, so there is no real reason not to go ahead.
My hon. Friend is right that Jews and Quakers receive particular consideration, and I am also aware that—according to the figures we have—between 600 and 800 people conduct humanist weddings every year, although they are not legally valid. I understand the importance of the issue and I was fully supportive of the legislation when it went through the House. I undertake to give a full report to the House with a proposal on how we should move forward before the end of the year.
European Convention on Human Rights
It is indeed the policy of the coalition Government to remain a party to the European convention.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s answer. Given that the European convention on human rights was drafted by British lawyers, championed by Winston Churchill and has been instrumental in the protection of the rights of our armed forces overseas, does he agree that the interests of the British people will be best served by reforming the convention rather than taking cheap political shots and trying to get rid of it?
My hon. Friend may find that we disagree on this issue. I stand four-square by the rights that we signed up to in 1948: I do not stand by the way in which courts have evolved the jurisprudence since then into areas that are a long way from the original intentions of those 1948 authors. I personally believe—but it would be a matter for a future Government—that we need major change in that area.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the recommendations by a Committee of this House on a draft Bill were wide-ranging and posed an interesting question about how one would manage a process of giving votes to those serving the last few months of their sentence, given that not all sentences are determinate. That is a matter that continues to be under the consideration of the Government, and he will be aware that the Council of Europe indicated recently that it would not seek to return to the issue until September next year.
Social Media Offences
The Government take seriously the offences on the statute book that cover threatening behaviour online, which includes abhorrent imagery that people do not want to see.
We live in a world of constantly changing technology, and it is hard to keep up. In view of that, what steps is the Minister taking to ensure that we take the battle to the hate tweeters, the trolls and the people who make threats and make other people’s lives hell?
We would all agree—and the law agrees—that the offence is the same whether face to face in public or on the internet. That is right and proper. The Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, which is being considered by the other place, will amend the Malicious Communications Act 1988 to provide a maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment. That is the sort of thing we are doing, and people should listen and stop this abhorrent activity.
Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill
We want to encourage participation in activities which benefit others, but people can be deterred from getting involved by worries about risk and liability. The Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill, currently before Parliament, will require the civil courts to consider whether a person has been acting for the benefit of society or intervening in an emergency if he or she is sued in negligence or for breach of statutory duty.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The Bill will send a powerful message to the public that if they are acting selflessly in an emergency to help somebody in danger and something goes wrong, the courts will always consider the context of their actions if they are sued in negligence or for breach of statutory duty.
Cost of Legal Representation
The Legal Aid Agency does not record whether offences were committed while the offender was in custody, as that is not relevant to assessing eligibility for legal aid. In the magistrates courts relatively minor criminal offences are generally unlikely to pass the interests of justice test.
Will my hon. Friend reassure me and my constituents, many of whom work in the prisons, that changes made under this Government mean that inmates can no longer get legal aid for frivolous or vexatious causes, such as arguments over damaged property or the condition of their cells?
I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. Earlier in this Parliament we reformed civil legal aid so that only the most serious compensation cases are in scope—for example, where there has been abuse of a child or a vulnerable adult, a sexual assault or a significant breach of human rights. Civil legal aid applications, including for exceptional funding, are subject to a merits test, as well as a means test. From 2 December last year, treatment matters, including prison conditions, were removed from the scope of criminal legal aid for prison law.
Today we stand together to remember all those who have lost their lives serving our country. The 100th anniversary of the start of the first world war is a hugely poignant reminder of the sacrifice made by so many of our service personnel who have given their lives in defence of our freedoms and security over the past century. I am sure the whole House will join me in echoing those sentiments. Among the many who lost their lives were members of the Prison Service, courts staff and staff of many other parts of my Department and its predecessors. I wish to pay tribute to their courage and remember their sacrifice. The Ministry of Justice is proud of those members of staff who have served and continue to serve with our reserve forces.
I associate myself with my right hon. Friend’s tribute to those in the Prison Service and the Courts Service who served and still serve in our armed forces.
I am sure my right hon. Friend is aware of the many people on probation who are placed in my constituency. What measures is the Department taking to ensure that they have sufficient connection to my area and that the impact on the local community is understood?
I understand my hon. Friend’s concerns. Under the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms, there will be a much closer link between a prisoner, their place of detention, the area into which they are released and the plans for supporting them after they leave prison. Should they need or wish to move to a different area, they will need consent from the probation service and their local probation officer to do so. My hope and belief is that this will lead to much better post-prison support, and in particular post-prison support close to their natural home, rather than the kind of issues that my hon. Friend has experienced.
The independent chief inspector of prisons appointed by the previous Government is well respected by prison governors, prisoners, experts, the wider community and on both sides of the House. As the Justice Secretary will be aware, he is not afraid to make critical reports. At a time of huge turmoil in the probation service, with massive problems throughout the country, why does the right hon. Gentleman think that the newly appointed chief inspector of probation, who has links to six of the 21 preferred bidders, has been so silent?
May I put it on record that I regard the current chief inspector of probation as a man of the highest integrity and of great professional expertise who has started to make a positive contribution to the probation arena. I recognise the issue raised earlier by the hon. Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman). I indicated that I would make further comments to the House in due course. We are only at the stage of preferred bidders. As I said earlier, there are many people in public life who are married to other people in public life. We should be extremely careful before we start to damn them because of that situation, or we risk losing some extremely able people from our public life.
The chief inspector of probation has done a detailed piece of work on the Transforming Rehabilitation programme, and that report will be published shortly. He has highlighted a number of areas we are addressing. The report will set out in detail some issues, many of which preceded the current reforms and go back many years, on how to improve performance on probation. As I said to the House recently, I have asked the chief inspector and all inspectors to come to my office immediately and tell me if they identify anything in the reforms that gives cause for concern about public safety. They have not done so.
The offence of using a mobile phone while driving is very serious and should be dealt with effectively by the courts. It is an area where the Government are giving active consideration to strengthening the penalties, as part of our driving sentences review. It is wholly unacceptable in our society, and the courts should deal with it appropriately.
I stand foursquare behind our proposed reforms of judicial review. Let me give the hon. Gentleman an example of proposals disagreed with in the other place—when they come back here, I will invite this House to restate its support for them. I believe that if somebody brings a judicial review, the court and the judge have a right to know who they are and who is supporting them. I do not personally regard that as terribly controversial. I am surprised that the House of Lords decided to vote against it. It is an example of the kind of change to our judicial review laws that I believe is necessary and we will proceed with it.
T5. Last month saw the introduction of a fixed fee for whiplash injury reports, reducing the costs to insurers from several hundreds of pounds to just £180. Has the Minister made an assessment of the impact of this on spurious claims? (905977)
The introduction of fixed costs for medical reports is just one element, albeit an important one, in the Government’s whiplash reform programme. We have undertaken a detailed impact assessment of the programme, which we intend to publish very soon.
A lot of work is being done in this area. It will be very joined up and we will make an announcement shortly. I think the police and crime commissioners really get this now. It is really important that chief constables and PCCs do get it and that is something we are working on very closely. I am happy to work closely with the hon. Lady if she would like to do so.
T8. Drugs are a growing scourge in our prisons. Altcourse prison in my constituency was recently criticised by Her Majesty’s inspector of prisons for not making the necessary links between drug gangs and violence. Does the Minister agree with the right hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) who said:“If anyone is soft on drugs it’s my Conservative colleagues”? (905980)
We take drugs in prisons extremely seriously. We do our very best to make sure that they are not there. We have mandatory drug testing and the results have actually come down. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there are new psychoactive substances, and we have to make sure we are working with our scientific partners to have appropriate testing for them. We are also looking to make sure that tramadol is not abused in prisons.
T7. Yesterday Edward Graham, a retired serviceman, was sentenced by court martial to 13 years after being found guilty of 23 counts of sexual abuse against children. It is my understanding that he will be held in a civilian prison and that the appeal will by heard by a civilian court. What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that all future cases that do not involve matters only of military discipline are always tried in a civilian court, where the process is open to press and public scrutiny? (905979)
T9. Official figures show that courts in the black country spend more than half their time dealing with people already convicted on 10 occasions. I think that decent, law-abiding people in Dudley will be appalled at that and will want a zero-tolerance approach adopted so that these people can be locked up and kept off the streets. At the same time as the courts are full of such people, magistrates in Dudley tell me that some offenders, including those accused of assault, robbery, domestic violence and even sexual assault and rape, are being dealt with by these so-called out-of-court disposals. (905981)
I hope, then, that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that under this Government offenders are going to jail for longer, that more people are going to jail and that in the short term we have reduced the use of the simple caution—it is no longer available, other than in exceptional circumstances, for more serious offences and repeat offences. I hope he will also support the trial we announced last week for replacing the simple caution with a suspended prosecution. These are things being done under this Government that were not done under the last one.
T10. The rate of self-harm in women’s prisons is much higher than in men’s prisons. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that women in prison have access to mental health care so that they can tackle the problems they face? (905982)
It is true that the rate of self-harm is far too high in our prisons and is traditionally higher among women than men. I can reassure my hon. Friend a little, however: between 2004 and 2010, the number of incidents was over 10,000 a year, but that has come down significantly in the last three years to fewer than 6,000 last year. However, this issue is clearly linked to mental health, and the Deputy Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and I have made it clear that we want mental health services to be as good in prisons as in the rest of the country and as good as all other NHS services and that we want to identify mental health issues when people first enter the criminal justice system, so that, ideally, they can be diverted from prison, not sent to prison.
In a recent court case where a child was being considered for adoption, it was reported that the president of the family division described it as “profoundly disturbing” that the parents did not qualify for legal aid and could not afford legal aid representation. Given the lifelong nature of adoption, will the Secretary of State look again at the issue of legal aid funding for these kinds of cases?
We are in regular dialogue with the judiciary—indeed, I have had a meeting with Sir James Munby—but we have had to take some tough decisions on legal aid. At some £2 billion a year, it was the most expensive legal aid budget in the world, and even after the reductions, it will remain one of the most generous in the world.
My constituents believe that the emphasis on human rights is leading to an excessively light touch when dealing with unauthorised Traveller encampments. Does my right hon. Friend agree that to enjoy the benefits of human rights, individuals should also acknowledge their responsibilities to abide by the law?
I absolutely agree. I cannot offer my hon. Friend change under this Government, but my intention is that a future Conservative Government would include in our proposed Bill of Rights a specific limitation to stop people claiming article 8 rights and overriding the law of the land that applies to the rest of us. That should not happen.
The Secretary of State will be aware that former Fenton magistrates court—now Fenton town hall building again—is currently occupied by protesters concerned about the memorials inside it and the building itself. In the past, he has kindly stood at the Dispatch Box and confirmed that the memorials would be protected by covenants if the building was sold, but my constituents are concerned that a developer might simply ignore those and demolish the building anyway, resulting in the loss for ever of these memorials, which are priceless and incredibly important to the people of Fenton. Will he meet me and a delegation of local residents to discuss this matter and, I hope, put their minds at rest, and to talk about the future of the building itself?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue and I can give him an assurance that my office has been in touch with people locally this morning. My main concern is that the protesters are safe and secure and that they have proper food, water, heating and other provisions. I am more than happy to agree to a meeting with the hon. Gentleman and the people who are very passionate about this issue.
I am a firm believer in the independence of the judiciary, but will my right hon. Friend look into the case of a constituent who was charged and sentenced under court martial? He is firmly of the view, as his superiors can apparently confirm, that he was not given adequate legal representation at any stage of the case. Will my right hon. Friend assist in at least reviewing the process and the natural justice of this case?
Following on from the earlier question about mesothelioma, more than 2,000 Harland and Wolff workers received compensation of £30,000 before privatisation in 1989. On 25 July 2012, it was announced that through the Bill that was to become the Mesothelioma Act 2014 there would be a compensation settlement of between £115,000 and £123,000. What steps will the Minister take to ensure that Harland and Wolff workers in Northern Ireland receive comparative and fair compensation?
It is crucial that the sufferers of this horrible disease get the full compensation they are due. We are working closely with victims groups and various other groups, as I mentioned earlier, to ensure that the process is as simple and easy as possible and that the compensation that is rightfully due to them and others is received as quickly as possible.
May I first commend my hon. Friend for persistently and regularly raising this issue? He is right to do so and I have no doubt that he will go on doing so. I can tell him that this Government, unlike the last, have removed more than 22,000 foreign national offenders. Their numbers doubled under the previous Government, but we are bringing their numbers down. Specifically, I can tell my hon. Friend that at the end of September there were 10,319 foreign national offenders in prison, fewer than the 11,153 in May 2010. The figure is down 515 from that in the answer I gave him in September’s oral questions.
On 19 September, Mr Justice Burnett ruled in the High Court that the consultation on criminal legal aid was so unfair as to amount to illegality. The entire criminal justice system is in chaos. What is the Lord Chancellor doing about it?
I do not have the figures to hand, but as an ex-firefighter who used to go to many of these incidents I know the distraction caused by using a mobile phone. It is not only illegal but it kills people—the people using the phone and others—and we should all decry anybody who uses a mobile phone while driving.
Last month the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), called on the Government to launch a full review of family law and justice for children. Has he since been sat on by the Lord Chancellor or can he now stand up at the Dispatch Box and formally announce his review?
I have not been sat on and I work collaboratively with all my colleagues in the Department. We are committed not only to talking about these things but to doing things. Last month, we introduced a whole set of new provisions that give support to people in the family courts. We have added legal aid for people going to mediation and now for the first mediation. We are reviewing what further steps we can take, and there will be further announcements in due course.
Is the Secretary of State aware of the expert legal opinion published by the Freedom Association, stating that signing up to the European arrest warrant would render worthless and completely redundant the Government’s opposition to a European Public Prosecutor’s Office? While he is at it, will he tell us when we can have a vote on the European arrest warrant, in place of the farce and shambles we saw yesterday?
Following the replies to my hon. Friends the Members for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) and for Shipley (Philip Davies), does the Lord Chancellor agree that if the European Court of Justice interpreted the rule governing the European arrest warrant in unwelcome ways, which this House would be unable to remedy, the British people would be more likely to vote to leave the European Union in a future in/out referendum, and that they would get the chance to do so only if a Conservative Government were elected next year?
That is, of course, the salient point. Many people here are deeply concerned about the current nature of our relationship with the European Union and want to see it change. That change, of course, can come about only with a Conservative Government, because for reasons that remain inexplicable to me, the Labour party seems to believe that things are fine as they are.
Talking of European matters, does the Minister share my concern that 75% of the British people consider European human rights to be a charter for criminals and the undeserving? Is it not time we reformed it to restore trust in the human rights ideal?
I very much share my hon. Friend’s view and concerns. In my view, this needs to change. Unfortunately, neither of the other two major parties in this place agrees with us. I thus hope that we will have a majority Conservative Government after the next election to deliver the change that the public want so much.
To ask the Home Secretary to make a statement on the Wanless review.
In July I told the House that the Home Office permanent secretary had commissioned Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam, QC, to conduct a review of two existing independent reviews into how the Home Office had acted—or failed to act—on information it had received in the 1980s about child abuse. The full report by Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam, QC, has been published today. A copy has been placed in the House Library, and I want to place on the record my gratitude for their thorough work.
In terms of the first review considered by Wanless and Whittam, which was about the extent to which the Home Office acted on the “Dickens dossier”, they say that
“we found nothing to support a concern that files had been deliberately or systematically removed or destroyed to cover up organised child abuse”.
In terms of the second review considered by Wanless and Whittam, which was about whether the Paedophile Information Exchange ever received any funding from the Home Office, they say they
“have seen no evidence to suggest PIE was ever funded by the Home Office because of sympathy for its aims”.
Wanless and Whittam have made three sets of recommendations for the Home Office, all of which relate to the way the Department deals with sensitive allegations, how officials pass such information on to the police and how the details are properly recorded. The permanent secretary has accepted all three sets of recommendations.
I want to make sure that we leave no stone unturned when it comes to the work Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam have undertaken. So I have written to them today to seek further reassurance that the police and prosecutors acted appropriately upon receiving information relating to the “Dickens dossier” or related matters from the Home Office. I have also asked them for a similar assurance about any such information that was passed to the Security Service, if any such information was indeed passed to it.
I should also make it clear that the Wanless and Whittam work is about how the Home Office responded to information relating to the “Dickens dossier”, how the police acted on any information passed their way and, because of concerns expressed by many people, including Members of this House, how the Security Service responded. Their work does not relate to wider allegations about child abuse or the failure of institutions—including the police, prosecutors, security and intelligence agencies, and Government Departments—because those are matters for the inquiry panel that I have established, whose work is now under way.
Many people who have made allegations relating to child abuse and the failure of the authorities to prevent abuse have been ignored for far too long. Some have even been written off and traduced as conspiracy theorists. I want to make it absolutely clear that no one with any information about child abuse should be ignored, no one should be written off or dismissed, and no one should be left to themselves. If we want to get to the bottom of what has been going on in our country for too long, we need to come together, work together, and listen to what survivors and witnesses have to say. That goes for all of us who are in positions of responsibility: the police, prosecutors, Government officials, Members of Parliament, public servants in a range of institutions, and people beyond those categories.
The Home Office permanent secretary commissioned Wanless and Whittam to establish what the Department did and did not know, and does and does not know. Their work shows that the original reviews did not cover anything up, but neither do they prove or disprove that the Home Office acted appropriately in the 1980s. Likewise, they do not prove or disprove that public money ever found its way to the Paedophile Information Exchange. That is no fault of Peter Wanless or Richard Whittam; they have been investigating old files, many of which seem no longer to exist. I know that that is a cause of frustration for everyone, but it is not the only aspect of this case. As several Members have pointed out previously, there are other allegations, other lines of inquiry and other possible evidence that need to be considered.
The right place for consideration of these matters—apart from live criminal allegations, which should be dealt with by the police—is the panel inquiry into child abuse that I have established. That inquiry will be comprehensive: the panel will look at institutions in this country, gain access to all relevant paperwork and take evidence from survivors and witnesses, so that we can expose what has been going on. It may take time, and I know that we have slipped twice in our attempts to get this right, but I am determined that we will succeed in doing so, and I know that the whole House shares my determination.
I thank the Home Secretary for her response. As she will know, we supported her statement last week in which she told the House that she was delaying publication of the Wanless review because she wanted us to be able to scrutinise it properly. I put the urgent question today to call her to the House so that Members could do exactly that. It is unfortunate that the review was published only just before Peter Wanless appeared before the Select Committee. Given that there have been so many allegations of cover-ups and secrecy, I urge the Home Secretary to go the extra mile in keeping the House informed and making proper scrutiny possible. Everyone in the Chamber abhors the terrible abuse of children, both in the past and today. Survivors need support and justice, and children need protection right now.
The Home Secretary is right to thank Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam, QC, for their detailed work, which will need further consideration. We note their key conclusions: that they have found no evidence of systematic cover-ups, but that it is not possible to say that that never happened, because the information that is available remains very limited, and too little is still known about what happened and why. The Home Secretary is also right to accept their recommendations, and to ask further questions about the role of the police, prosecutors and the security services. Let me, however, ask her the following questions. The first concerns the remit of the review, which was narrow. It was a review of a review, which concluded in some areas that matters were not within the authors’ terms of reference. Has the Home Secretary asked them whether they came across any matters that should be further investigated, although those matters were outside their terms?
Secondly, can the Home Secretary clarify exactly how historic allegations about cover-ups are now being investigated? She referred to the work of the panel, but she will have heard, for example, the comments of journalist Don Hale, who says that he had a file of allegations from Barbara Castle, but it was removed by the police after threats and an approach from Cyril Smith. These are immensely serious allegations, so can the Home Secretary tell the House who is investigating them now—the police, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, this Wanless review, or the national overarching inquiry that has not yet started—because they must be investigated by someone? We presume that the police will be investigating specific allegations of abuse, but can the Home Secretary clarify who will be investigating specific allegations of cover-ups? Will that be the police or the inquiry, and if it is the inquiry, will it have the full investigative powers it needs?
Finally, the Home Secretary will be aware of concern from police forces across the country about the lack of resources they have for investigating both historical and current abuse cases. Will she tell us whether she believes the police and prosecutors currently have enough resources in place to properly investigate these terrible crimes?
There are still clearly so many unanswered questions and the Home Secretary is right that the whole House will unite in its determination to get to the truth. Survivors of abuse, and all of us, need to know that we now have the most effective possible system in place to pursue truth and justice and protect our children for the future.
The right hon. Lady is absolutely right: I did want this report to be published separately today. I thought it was appropriate to do so, rather than publishing it on the same day that I was making the statement about the panel inquiry, so that there are opportunities for this House to look at the document, which has been put in the Library. I recognise that hon. Members at this point will not necessarily have been able to look at the inquiry report as fully as I have, but obviously that opportunity will be open to them.
The right hon. Lady said the review terms of reference were too narrow. I disagree. The review was set up to give the public confidence that the reviews that had been commissioned by the permanent secretary were rigorous and fair, and the review confirms that they were. Unfortunately, of course, it does not prove or disprove that the Home Office acted appropriately in the 1980s, but, as I said, that is not the only aspect of this case, and we should not give up now.
The right hon. Lady asked about the historical allegations and how they were being dealt with. A number of historical allegations are already being dealt with and are under police investigation. For example, there is Operation Pallial in north Wales and there are also all the Operation Yewtree investigations around the Jimmy Savile case, and, indeed, we have seen some historical allegations against individuals being brought to court already and some people being prosecuted as a result of that work.
In relation to the specific question about Don Hale and the comments he made, I did not hear his whole interview on the Radio 4 “Today” programme this morning, but I recognise the allegations he has made, so my office has been in discussions with the Metropolitan police today and the Metropolitan police have agreed that they will now look into those allegations.
The right hon. Lady referred to investigating cover-ups. The point about the panel inquiry is that it will be looking at what the institutions did: it will look at what happened and ask, for example, why was it that children in care homes were abused to the extent that they were; why was it that allegations were not properly dealt with; and why was it that institutions—bodies of government, of the state—that were there and should have been protecting people, and investigating and properly dealing with allegations of criminality, did not do so? Sadly, obviously as we have seen in relation to the Rotherham inquiry and the work in Greater Manchester, some of these issues still pertain today. So that is what the inquiry will look at. Of course if it uncovers anything that relates to criminal activity that has taken place, it will be appropriate for that to be properly investigated by the police. I have said before that I am discussing the question of resources in relation to this, and I have already had a conversation with the national policing lead about these matters.
I want to confirm two further things. Some people have expressed concern about what evidence can be given to these inquiries in relation to the former officials who had signed the Official Secrets Act. I am very clear that the Official Secrets Act should not get in the way of anybody giving evidence to the panel inquiry or bringing forward any evidence that they have that is relevant to this issue. If anyone who knows something is worried about the Official Secrets Act, they should come forward and speak out.
Also, in their report Wanless and Whittam found that there was no inappropriate behaviour or cover-up when the Home Office recently reviewed these matters. However, as I said, that does not prove or disprove allegations about the Home Office in the 1980s. Their verdict is “case not proved”, rather than “not guilty”. I cannot stand here and say that the Home Office was not involved in a cover-up during the 1980s. There might have been a cover-up, and that is why we have set up the inquiry into child abuse. We are determined to get to the truth.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s determination to leave no stone unturned in addressing the deficiencies of the Home Office’s record keeping in the period between 1979 and 1999. Will she give me an assurance that the recommendations of the report have now been adopted, that child abuse allegations received by the Home Office are being marked as significant, that a record is being kept of what is passed on to the police and that there is a procedure for following up what happens after that?
As I said earlier, the permanent secretary has accepted all the recommendations, and they are being put into place at the moment to ensure that the systems record information appropriately in the way that Wanless and Whittam have recommended, so that it will be possible to follow through any matters that are passed to the police to ensure that they are being properly recorded and dealt with.
Mr Wanless and Mr Whittam gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee this morning. We gave the Home Secretary the opportunity to appear before us, before they came to see us, but she declined to do so. In my seven years as Chairman of the Committee, such occurrences have been extremely rare. It is important that Ministers should submit themselves to proper scrutiny by Select Committees on issues of this importance. Perhaps the only way to achieve that is to table an urgent question, and we will consider doing that in the future. When Mr Wanless and Mr Whittam gave evidence, they said that it was the Home Office’s shambolic record keeping over 30 years that had led them to believe that they could not rule out the possibility of a cover-up. The Home Secretary has said that she is writing to them with further information. When will she do so? Further to the point made by the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison), we want the new system set out in recommendation 2 to start today. Can this be done, please?
I would not normally reveal the interaction between myself and the Home Affairs Committee in relation to an appearance, but as the right hon. Gentleman has made reference to it, I think I should clarify the matter for the House. I am happy to appear in front of the Committee on these matters, but I did not feel that it was appropriate to do so before the report had been published. I would have been asked questions that it would not have been appropriate for me to answer, given that I had not yet made the report public. However, I look forward to receiving an invitation to appear on a separate date.
The right hon. Gentleman is right on the issue of record keeping, and the matter is being addressed in the Home Office. We want to ensure that this is done as quickly as possible, but we also want to ensure that the system that is being put in place will work, that it will be sustainable over time, and that everyone who is working in it understands it and deals with it appropriately. That is not something that can be done at the click of one’s fingers. It takes a little time.
When we heard from Wanless and Whittam at the Home Affairs Committee this morning, they told us that their report had been submitted to the Home Secretary on 15 October. They also told us that they had wanted it to come out as quickly as possible and did not know why it had not been published until today. They said that the timing of its publication had been nothing to do with them. The Home Secretary has a track record of delaying reports that she is concerned about. Why did it take so long to bring this one out?
The hon. Gentleman is assiduous in attending the Chamber when matters relating to Home Affairs are being discussed. I made it clear then that I did not want to publish this report on the same day as the statement, and that I wanted to publish it later. I said that I would publish it this week, and I have kept that commitment to the House. Also, when I receive a report it is important that I read and consider it. As a result of having done so, I asked a number of questions of officials. That has resulted—this answers part of the question asked by the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz)—in my writing today to Peter Wanless to indicate that I would like him and Richard Whittam to give a reassurance about the extent to which they were able to reassure themselves that the police had dealt appropriately with matters that were handed over to them. The reason I have done that is simple: I do not want a situation where people simply say, “The Home Office can absolve itself of responsibility because it handed things to the police.” We want to make sure that those allegations were dealt with appropriately, and I think it is entirely right that I have written to them for reassurance on that.
This morning, our Committee heard from the victims groups, which expressed reservations about some members of the panel for the overarching inquiry and suggested three names for the chair. Two of them, Nelson Mandela and Theresa May are obviously not possibilities—[Interruption.] Sorry, I mean Madam Theresa—[Laughter.] Mother Teresa! But they did suggest one sensible name, Michael Mansfield. Will the Home Secretary assure me that she will give full consideration to what the victims groups are saying about who should be chairing the panel and that she will re-examine its members?
I had a sense of déjà vu then, because when I was a councillor in the London borough of Merton the then leader of the Labour group sometimes used to call me Mother Theresa. The hon. Lady did raise a serious point, because we need to ensure that the panel of inquiry and its chairman have the confidence of survivors and victims, so that they can have confidence in the outcome of the panel’s work. The name she mentioned has been raised by others, but so have a number of other names. Hon. Members are making proposals, as are survivors groups and individual survivors. The Home Office is collating all the names that are being suggested as a possible chairman and, appropriately, we will look into those individuals in due course. I hope that this will not take too long, but we will need to do the necessary work to bring a further name forward.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s commitment to implement the report’s recommendations swiftly. However, in evidence today, Wanless and Whittam were clear that these recommendations have relevance across government. Will she today commit to impressing on her Cabinet colleagues the importance of these recommendations for every Department, so that survivors of child abuse can have confidence that wherever an allegation of child abuse is made to government it will be acted on swiftly and appropriately?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point and I am very happy to commit to doing that. I will be writing to the Cabinet Secretary to ensure that all Departments and agencies co-operate fully with the child abuse panel inquiry, and I am very happy to put in that letter as well my hon. Friend’s suggestion that the Wanless and Whittam recommendations on record keeping should be applied across the whole of government.
Don Hale was given a huge number of Home Office minutes by Barbara Castle that directly related to allegations of child abuse by prominent people, including many prominent MPs. Those minutes were seized virtually straight away by three special branch officers. Why is it appropriate that the Metropolitan police should now be investigating this, rather than inviting those special branch officers to the inquiry in order to give their explanation of why they were instructed to take those files and where they took them?
The hon. Gentleman has raised points that I think are relevant, but they are separate points in relation to what evidence can be given to the inquiry. It would be entirely open to the inquiry, if it chose to do so, to ask Don Hale, and indeed others involved in this, to come before the inquiry to give evidence to it. That is not a matter for me; it will be a matter for the inquiry panel to decide whether it wishes to pursue that course of action. Having been made aware of the allegations that Don Hale had made this morning, I felt that it was right that there should be a police investigation into this, which is why the Metropolitan police will be looking into it.
I wish to ask the Home Secretary about the security services. It is my understanding that, in the 1980s and at other times, copies may have been made of files that have been established by this review as now missing from the Home Office. Those copies may have been taken by the security services. Will she ensure that further inquiries are made to establish that there are not copies of these old files somewhere else? As a member of the Home Affairs Committee, may I confirm that the Home Secretary is a very regular attendee, whereas her shadow has not been once in the time that I have been in the House?
I understand that in their work, Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam did investigate whether files were held by a number of other Government Departments and agencies. I have in my letter to them today made it clear that I would like further reassurance on the role of the Security Service. I trust that they will be able to look into that further and report back to me.
Greater Manchester police admit that they failed to pursue perpetrators of child sex grooming gangs despite allegations being made to them about those gangs over a decade or a more. Our admirable friend the shadow Home Secretary has pressed the issue about the lack of police resources, so will the Home Secretary now say more about providing those resources, because Greater Manchester police will need them to investigate the levels of current and historical sex abuse that we have had in that city?
I will repeat what I said in response to the shadow Home Secretary. I have spoken with the national policing lead on this matter, who is looking at all the investigations that are taking place in forces across the country, and on what is needed to ensure that those investigations can be undertaken. One issue that has clearly emerged from the Rotherham report and from the work that the shadow Home Secretary did in relation to Greater Manchester police and the issues around child sexual exploitation was not about resources but about an attitude which did not believe or listen to the victims and was not prepared to investigate their cases. We must change that attitude of mind and change that culture.
In the interests of clarity, may I ask the Home Secretary on what date she instructed her permanent secretary to check and order the preservation of each and every file containing documents relating to any allegations of abuse, so that the independent panel has access to them? Destroying any documents would be against section 29 of the Data Protection Act, which should protect them in the interests of justice.
On Friday, given the discussion that was going on in the media about this report, I raised a point of order in the House. Although I welcome the detail that the Home Secretary has given us today, I remain somewhat confused as to why she did not choose proactively to make a statement to the House. There are issues of confidence and assurance that concern both victims and Members from all parts of the House. Will the Home Secretary reassure us that she will take a proactive approach in coming to this House with information on these serious issues?
I have come to this House on a number of occasions to deal with these matters and to talk about the work that the Government have put in place in relation to these very serious allegations—be it in response to the Rotherham inquiry or to the child abuse inquiry panel that the Government have established. It is absolutely my intention that the work that has been put in place by this Government will get to the truth. Survivors of child abuse will have the opportunity to put their case and to see a thorough consideration of these issues so that we can identify what went wrong, why they were not protected by the very institutions that should have protected them and what further lessons we need to learn for the future. I will undertake to update the House on a regular basis, when it is possible to do so.
The independent panel will be conducting its work independently. It is not for me to determine when it may make public statements about the work that it is doing. One issue that I wish to raise with it is exactly this question about how it can ensure that people are aware of the work that it is doing while it is doing it, so that people can have confidence in it and see what is being done.
The Wanless report has been published and the Home Secretary and others have confidence in it. Has she considered appointing either Peter Wanless or Richard Whittam, or indeed both, as chairman or co-chairman of the independent panel inquiry?
Will the Home Secretary confirm whether the Wanless review looked at the situation in Wales? Did it consider the role of North Wales police and the work of the Wales Office at that time? I tabled an early-day motion in 2012, just before the Waterhouse review was set up, which made it clear that
“the police have lost the confidence of the public by their apparent failure properly to investigate the full extent of the paedophile activity in North Wales; and similarly that the Crown Prosecution Service has inexplicably failed to prosecute on a number of occasions despite clear evidence and a large number of allegations”
North Wales police lost documents, photographs and statements. Who is looking into that?
In answer to the right hon. Lady’s specific question on the Wanless and Whittam review, it looked at information held in the Home Office—what information it had and how it dealt with it. If the information in those files related to Wales, or anywhere else in the United Kingdom, of course it would be within the review. The purpose of the review was to look at how the Home Office handled that information. I can assure her that the independent panel inquiry’s terms of reference explicitly state that the inquiry will cover England and Wales, so matters relating to child abuse that might have taken place in institutions in Wales will be covered.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the establishment and publication of this review are an important step in ensuring that institutions up and down our country take seriously their duty to protect children from abuse, and to learn any lessons from their failures, because one of the most shocking aspects of this story over the past few months has been how those institutions let children down, and let them down terribly?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. It is shocking that we have seen bodies of the state—institutions, Government Departments and agencies—that should have been protecting children failing to do so. That is clear from the historical cases of child abuse we have seen, which were not followed through or considered properly. Sadly, it is also what we have seen from the more recent cases in Rotherham and Greater Manchester. Indeed, there are other cases currently being taken forward by police investigating child sexual exploitation in these matters. It is essential that we recognise that there are still problems, which is why it is important that the inquiry finds out what went wrong and identifies the lessons we now need to learn and what we need to put in place to ensure that we stop that in future.
Although many of the files may no longer exist, it has been suggested that there are plenty of officials, or at least retired officials, still around who are fully conversant with their content. Were any of them interviewed as part of the Wanless review? If not, in the interests of getting to the bottom of this, does the Home Secretary think that it might be an idea to interview them now?
It was open to Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam to interview any individuals they felt it was appropriate to interview. For example, they interviewed the former official who had indicated that he had information relating to money going to the Paedophile Information Exchange. It is also open to any official who has information or knows of something that happened in relation to these matters to come forward and give evidence to the panel inquiry. As I said earlier, I am very clear that the Official Secrets Act should not prevent anybody from bringing such evidence forward.
Clearly the evidence emerging from both Rotherham and Manchester shows the systemic failure of public services to treat allegations of child sexual abuse seriously. Will my right hon. Friend now reiterate the view that anyone who has any evidence whatsoever of child sexual abuse, or who has been the victim of child sexual abuse, should come forward so that these allegations can be thoroughly investigated and their minds can be put to rest?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point about the extent to which children have been failed, both in the past and more recently, as we have seen from the cases he mentioned. I am very clear that anybody who has any evidence should come forward. I want people to feel confident that they can come forward in the knowledge that the intention of the inquiry we have set up is to get to the truth. If there were cover-ups among Government Departments or others in relation to these matters in the past, that should be exposed and we should ensure that that cannot happen in future.
My question takes that one step further. Will the Home Secretary ensure that the overarching inquiry into child abuse, when up and running, will examine the role of Whitehall and its authorities, because that is a critical question for many people?
Yes, it absolutely will. As I have said, the inquiry will be comprehensive when it comes to the institutions it looks at. It will look at state and non-state institutions, because there have clearly been failures not only in state-run care homes, for example, but in other areas of life, such as the Church. The review will be comprehensive.
The Home Secretary has rightly pointed out that the report identifies no clear evidence of cover-up, but I want to draw her attention to a reference it makes to a letter that the then Home Secretary wrote in reply to Mr Dickens on 20 March 1984. It states that a dossier of letters provided by Mr Dickens was passed to the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and that, as the review states,
“in the view of the DPP, two could form the basis for enquiries by the police and have been passed to the appropriate authorities.”
If that is true, it is very hard to understand how there can be no evidence of those letters. That is exactly the kind of loose end that the inquiry will have to resolve if it is to have any credibility at all with victims and the wider public.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. It is precisely those sorts of issues that have led people to query what has happened, question the attitude taken to these matters and ask the very question he raises about why there do not seem to have been any prosecutions off the back of it. Wanless and Whittam were specifically asked to look at how the police and prosecuting authorities dealt with any reference that had been made from the Home Office because, as I said earlier, in my view it is not good enough for the Home Office to say, “Well, we’ve reviewed what the Home Office did.” We need to know what happened to the evidence that the Home Office passed on. It is in looking at what further action was taken that I have gone back to Wanless and Whittam in the letter I sent them today.
I welcome the fact that the Home Secretary remains so hungry to find the truth about this situation. I am a little puzzled, because the period of the review stretches from 1979 to 1999 yet there is such a heavy dependence on paper-based records, even though the use of computing within public administration would have been widespread for a good deal of that period. Why is that the case?
I am afraid that Governments spend a lot of time working with paper-based methods. Indeed, much of the material available to Government is still paper-based, rather than in digital form. Obviously, increasingly the balance is changing, but the records kept at that time were almost invariably in paper form. Indeed, many records are still kept in paper form.
Does the Home Secretary have any lessons from this inquiry with which to reassure people about the wider inquiry, given the apparent absence of good record keeping in the past? How will people be kept on board so that they have trust in the process, rather than awaiting something and then, at the end, crying, “No, that can’t be right”?
The hon. Lady makes an important point. It will be for the inquiry panel to determine how it is going to report, how frequently it will report, and in what form it will report the work that it does. My personal view is that because of the nature of these issues, the comprehensive nature of its work, and the need for confidence in it that she mentioned, I would like it to report to people on a fairly regular basis so that it can show what it is doing. Indeed, there may be a benefit to that, because if it reports on a piece of work that it has done on, say, identifying a certain set of institutions, that may trigger other people to come forward with further evidence. This will be a matter for the inquiry panel, but I have made clear my view that they should be doing it regularly.
The Wanless review continually highlights the fact that in the 1980s data relating to parliamentary questions and information about constituents submitted by MPs to Ministers were retained for only two years. What is the position now? Following on from the question by my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Duncan Hames), would it not make sense to store these data digitally so that they are available for future generations?
If I may, I will write to my hon. Friend about the current procedures that are followed by Government Departments in relation to retention of records. The length of time for which a document is kept is determined by its status. There have been a number of models for this across the intervening years. I fully accept that maintaining material in digital fashion is the way forward. However, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Duncan Hames), the Government still—how can I put it?—like the paper form and are still, in many cases, keeping the material available to them in that form, but they are moving towards more digitisation.
The Home Secretary will be aware of the sickening case of the Crown Prosecution Service supporting the charges against Eleanor de Freitas of false allegations of rape that resulted in her suicide. What assurances can the Home Secretary give to victims of public figures who abused them that the CPS will not pursue counter-claims against them that might lead to deterrence or, indeed, their suicide?
I will not comment on the individual case that the hon. Gentleman has raised. I am very clear, and it is very clear in the request that I will put to the Cabinet Secretary, that Government Departments and agencies—all aspects of Government—should be working to help the inquiry to get to the truth and to ensure, in doing so, that any evidence is available to it. The Crown Prosecution Service is an independent body in relation to decisions that it takes about prosecutions. Certainly, the message we will be sending from the Government is that in matters relating to the inquiry we want Government Departments to come forward with the information they have to ensure that we can get at the truth.
I very much welcome the approach that the Home Secretary is taking, and I understand why she wants to be absolutely sure that the systems that are in place are going to work. Will she confirm that the recommendation that a record is made of what happens to something that is passed to the police will be put in place as soon as possible, without waiting for the full inquiry?
May I return to the question by my fellow Birmingham MP, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe)? We have clearly lost a lot of paper files, and only one official who would have been expected to know what went on, even in the absence of files, has voluntarily come forward to give information. Would it not therefore be appropriate to have a more systematic scroll through those who might have known, and rather than wait for them to come forward, to ask them proactively?
As I said to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe), Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam were open to decide how to do the work of the review; it was for them to determine how best they could ensure that they were doing their job thoroughly, as I believe they did. As for whether there are officials who would, or should, come forward to give evidence to the inquiry panel, that is a separate question. I am very clear that any former official who has any information should feel able to come forward and not feel that the Official Secrets Act will get in the way of their doing so. It is important that we hear all the evidence that is available.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I want to inform the House that telephone calls between prisoners and their constituency Members of Parliament, or MPs’ offices, may have been recorded, and in some cases listened to, by prison staff. The issue stretches back to 2006 and primarily relates to the period prior to autumn 2012, when this Government made changes to tighten up the system. This is a serious matter, and I would like to start by apologising to the House on behalf of my Department for any interception of communications between a prisoner and their constituency MP. I want to set out the steps I am taking to address it, which will include an independent investigation by the chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick. The issue was first brought to my attention on 5 November, and having asked for urgent work to establish the basic facts, I have come to the House to make a statement at the earliest opportunity.
I will first explain how telephone calls in prisons are managed. Prisoners’ ability to phone and talk to family members, friends and others is an important part of the Prison Service’s work to help prisoners in maintaining family and other ties that support their rehabilitation. However, in facilitating such phone calls it is important to ensure that safeguards are in place to make sure that prisoners do not abuse the system—for example, by contacting victims or by continuing their criminality while still in prison. All public sector prisons and youth offender institutions, as well as the majority of private sector prisons in England and Wales, have operated the same PIN—personal identification number—phone system for the past 10 years. Prisoners are issued with a PIN to activate the system and informed that all calls are, by default, recorded and may be listened to by prison staff. This is set out in a communications compact, introduced in 2008, which prisoners are required to read and sign. The compact is clear that the prisoner must advise prison staff of their legal and other confidential numbers to stop these numbers being recorded. That is because the PIN phone system requires an action from staff to override the default setting that all calls will be recorded. Prior to 2012, provided that prisoners did not present a specific risk, they could contact any telephone number that had not been proactively barred from their PIN account. For example, the telephone number of their victim would most likely have been barred. In 2012, this Government implemented greater control over those whom prisoners were allowed to contact, limiting them to specifically identified phone numbers. As part of that process, prisoners supply the legal and otherwise confidential telephone numbers that they wish to contact. Prison staff are then required to carry out checks that the number is indeed a genuine number that should not be recorded or monitored, so that confidentiality is respected but not abused.
Let me turn in more detail to the issues that were brought to my attention late last week, which will rightly concern this House. The prison rules and policy are clear that communication between prisoners and hon. Members must be treated as confidential where the prisoner is a constituent of theirs. As a result of an inquiry—an unrelated inquiry—from a serving prisoner, and following a rapid internal investigation, the National Offender Management Service has identified instances since 2006, when detailed audit records start, where calls between prisoners and MPs’ constituency and parliamentary offices have been set to record. In a small number of cases, those calls have been recorded and listened to by prison staff.
From the initial investigation, NOMS has identified 32 current Members of this House whose calls, or those of their offices, appear to have been both recorded and listened to. For 18 of these MPs, it appears that the prisoner did not list the number as confidential and therefore the action was not taken to prevent recording. As these calls were not marked as confidential, some would also have been subject to the random listening that is completed on all non-confidential calls.
In a further 15 cases, Members appear to have been identified correctly on the system as MPs, but due to a potential failure in the administrative process the required action was not taken by prison staff, so the calls were recorded and appear to have been listened to. One Member falls under both categories.
We are not yet in a position to confirm the details surrounding each occurrence, and that requires further investigation. I have, however, been able to establish that the most recent call recorded was to the constituency office of my colleague, the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes). The prisoner in question spoke to a member of the constituency office, rather than to the right hon. Gentleman, to inquire about the progress of some constituency correspondence.
In each case, it is important to understand whether the prisoners were speaking to an MP directly rather than to their office, and whether that MP was their constituency MP. Those are relevant questions if we are to get to the bottom of what has gone on.
I must say that I have seen nothing to suggest that there has been an intentional strategy of the Prison Service listening in to calls between prisoners and individual Members of Parliament. Indeed, given that the calls of one of my predecessors—the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw)—were, as I told him earlier, being recorded and listened to at a time when he was the Secretary of State, the issue appears to have arisen by accident rather than by design.
That is not, however, to detract from the fact that confidential phone calls between Members of this House and their constituents in prison may have been recorded and monitored. That is unacceptable and I want to ensure that we have taken every reasonable step to protect the confidentiality of communications between prisoners and their constituency MPs.
It has also been brought to my attention that, in a similar way, there have been a small number of cases over the past few years where a call between a prisoner and a lawyer was accidentally recorded. Although those cases have been dealt with individually with the prisoner at the time, I want to be confident that the safeguards for all confidential calls are satisfactory.
I have therefore asked the chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick, to conduct an independent investigation, which will, first, assure me by the end of this month that the necessary safeguards are now in place, and secondly, by early 2015, report in full on the facts and make further recommendations. I will make a further statement to the House once Nick Hardwick has reported to me.
I want to close by reassuring the House that significant improvements were made to the system in autumn 2012, and that since then we have identified only one instance where an individual clearly identified on the system as an MP has had their or their office’s calls recorded and listened to. But there is more that can be done. On the PIN phone system, the main switchboard number for the Houses of Parliament is listed as confidential. As an interim measure, pending the outcome of Nick Hardwick’s review, I have asked that all MPs’ office numbers—as listed on the parliamentary website—and constituency office telephone numbers be marked as confidential. All phone calls from prisoners to those numbers cannot for now be recorded or monitored. The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), who has responsibility for prisons, will write to all Members asking them to provide any further numbers that should be registered in that way.
I will also write individually to all Members where we have particular concerns that their conversations may have been monitored, and I intend to place a list of those MPs in the Library of the House. Before doing so, I want to inform those affected and give them an opportunity to agree. I hope to conclude that by the end of this week.
The relationship that exists between MPs and our constituents is crucial and must be protected. That is why I have acted at pace to bring these issues to the House’s attention and have taken immediate steps to ensure our confidentiality is respected. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Justice Secretary for advance sight of his statement, the contents of which are truly shocking. What he has outlined is a very serious breach of confidentiality involving MPs and their constituents. I welcome the speed of his response and today’s statement after first hearing about this issue only six days ago. I also thank him for his phone call to me this morning.
The ability of a Member of Parliament to maintain confidential channels of communication with his or her constituents is fundamental to their role as a Member of this House. Interception of MPs’ telephone calls has been governed by the Wilson doctrine since the 1960s, which, as the Justice Secretary has said, is made clear in prison rules and policy, so any breaches of confidentiality must be taken very seriously indeed.
Many of us will deal on a regular basis with constituents in prison—I remind the House that many of them have not been found guilty of any crime—as part of our duties as good constituency MPs. Often, our staff speak to prisoners on our behalf, as they do in other casework. I am sure that I am not alone in being shocked in hearing today’s news that some of those conversations have been listened in to and recorded.
That is why it is important, as the Justice Secretary has said, that we get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible, find out the extent to which it was taking place, and put in place a system that prevents a repeat in the future. I welcome the inquiry to be led by the chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick.
I have a number of questions for the Justice Secretary. If he cannot answer some of them, I hope that either he or the chief inspector of prisons will respond in the near future.
Does this issue in any way contravene the Wilson doctrine on intercepting the telephone calls of MPs? In how many prisons has it taken place? The Justice Secretary referred to the PIN phone system in public sector prisons. What about private prisons? Will Nick Hardwick’s inquiry look into private prisons as well?
Is there any evidence that any of the information gained from the calls was fed up to senior officials in NOMS or passed on to any third parties? Can the Justice Secretary confirm that all remaining recordings and any transcripts have been destroyed, and that those that have not will be destroyed?
The Justice Secretary mentioned 32 current MPs. What about ex-Members of Parliament? Have they been informed that their conversations may well have been recorded and listened in to?
The Justice Secretary also mentioned the one incidence of a phone call between a prisoner and their solicitor being listened in to. As part of the inquiry, will Nick Hardwick look into whether other communications between prisoners and their lawyers may have been listened in to and recorded?
Is there any evidence that there has been any interference with postal correspondence between MPs and constituents or between prisoners and their legal representatives—the so-called rule 39A correspondence? The Justice Secretary rightly referred to the improvement of the audit trail post-2006. Can anything be done with regard to issues before 2006?
In conclusion, the Justice Secretary rightly reminded us why it is important for prisoners to be able to talk to family members, friends and others. He also rightly reminded us that, in facilitating prisoner phone calls, it is important that safeguards are in place, to ensure that prisoners do not abuse the system by, for example, contacting victims or continuing their involvement in criminality while still in prison. Of course, Members on both sides of the House agree with that. Today’s revelations are a worrying development and it is really important that we get to the bottom of what the Justice Secretary has revealed.
I thank the shadow Secretary of State for the measured way in which he has responded to the issue. Let me answer his questions in turn. The Wilson doctrine applies to intercept activity, so the routine monitoring of calls of this kind, while not within the prison rules, is not covered by the Wilson doctrine.
I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman an answer on the number of prisons. We have been able to identify the number of calls and MPs, but that has been done through telephone records, so I do not yet have information on the origins of the calls and the number of prisons. I expect we will see more information about that as the inquiry progresses.
I have as yet seen no evidence that information was passed on to anyone else. I do not believe that this was part of a concerted attempt to monitor; it was simply part of the routine checking of the process to make sure that nothing untoward was going on. Clearly, however, that is something I will ask Nick Hardwick to confirm.
I believe that all recordings have been destroyed—they are kept for only a limited period—but I assure the right hon. Gentleman that if any have survived, which I do not believe to be the case, they certainly will be destroyed.
Work relating to ex-Members of Parliament has not been done, but I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we will ask that question and notify them. Until now, it has been a question of cross-referencing current Members of Parliament in order to identify issues.
On solicitors, I have asked Nick Hardwick to look at the full range of confidential calls. The reality is that occasionally mistakes will be made in a large organisation dealing with such issues. The total number of calls handled by the Prison Service over this period is about 16 million, so I will be up front with the House and say that occasionally mistakes will be made. I want Nick Hardwick to make sure that we have every possible safeguard in place to make sure that this cannot happen as a matter of routine.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about rule 39 mail. I do not have any evidence that such mail has been inappropriately intercepted. We keep rule 39 under regular surveillance and review. Although it is of paramount importance that it remains a conduit for prisoners to receive confidential material from their solicitors and to send such material to them, he will know that there have equally been suggestions over the years that rule 39 has been abused. I try to make sure that we continue to monitor it properly and respect its confidentiality, but governors are instructed to look at it if they have reason to believe—they must have such a reason—that rule 39 is being misused.
On the audit trail before 2006, we have looked at this practice from 2006. It may predate 2006, but the work that has been done with BT simply covered the period from 2006 onwards.
I share the right hon. Gentleman’s concern: in all aspects of what we do, it should be possible to have confidential conversations with constituents. Something has clearly gone wrong, and I need to rectify it. It goes back over many years, but it needs to be rectified now, and I assure the House that it will be.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on his statement and, of course, the Department on putting him in a position to make the statement so speedily after the information was made available to him. However, the key point is that no actions appear to have followed cases of monitoring, and that there was no strategy in the Department of overseeing MPs’ conversations. In reality, this is not perhaps a hugely important issue, provided it can be confirmed that no action was taken as a result of calls being monitored in the normal way. Such calls will not be monitored under the new system, and we should all be grateful to him for the extra casework that we will get.
My hon. Friend is right. I see no evidence that this practice was part of an attempt to gain and pass on pieces of information. It is a very large and complicated system, with a very large number of people. My first impression is that this practice was the result of a series of errors, but that does not make it acceptable. I will of course ask Nick Hardwick to confirm that it was the result of a series of errors, and to make sure that it does not happen again.
The Secretary of State was generous enough to offer an apology to the House for what happened between 2006 and 2012. That was very generous, not least because he was not in his current office at any time in that period. I was in his office for three of those six years, and I feel that it is appropriate for me to offer an apology for what happened on my watch.
On that matter, I have checked—I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving me prior information—and five or six calls were made to my office while I was Justice Secretary. I think that I had an alibi at all material times: I was not on the end of the call because I was in the House or in the Ministry of Justice. It looks as though all the calls were made to my staff, not to me, and that the prisoner did not identify themselves as a serving prisoner. That underlines the fact that the practice is almost certainly due to inadvertence.
My final point is that the right hon. Gentleman and the House will recall that in 2008, following the disclosure in The Sunday Times that a conversation between my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) and a prisoner had been recorded in a prison, I set up an inquiry under Sir Christopher Rose, a former very senior Court of Appeal judge. He found that inadvertence not conspiracy had led to that happening. May I suggest that Sir Christopher Rose’s report is drawn to Nick Hardwick’s attention for any lessons that could be followed through on?
The right hon. Gentleman is enormously gracious to offer a personal apology, and I thank him for that.
The right hon. Gentleman is right. In relation to his own situation, he highlighted the fact that the practice concerned a discussion between a prisoner and a member of his staff. I venture to suspect that we will find over the course of the investigation that a large proportion of the calls were with members of staff rather than with Members of Parliament. None the less, it is important that such calls can be made without the sense that someone is listening in.
With regard to the right hon. Gentleman’s comments on the earlier report, I have had a quick read of it since I spoke to him on the phone. I will, indeed, pass it on to Nick Hardwick. It is important that we ensure that any lessons to be learned are learned.
Confidentiality is clearly very important. I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for coming to the House so promptly. That is a model for others to follow. May I press the Secretary of State on two specific points? He said in his statement that, since 2012, there has been a case “where an individual clearly identified on the system as an MP has had their...calls recorded and listened to.” I would be grateful if he explained how that happened, and why it did not trigger any sort of alert. He also said that there have been “a small number” of cases in which conversations with lawyers had been recorded. How big is that small number?
I am only aware of a handful of cases over the years. When such cases arise, they are dealt with individually, with an apology and an explanation given to the prisoner involved. In terms of numbers, I am not aware that that is comparable to the issue we are dealing with today. It is however a concern, because such cases do arise.
The truth is that we all make mistakes. I do not yet have a detailed answer on the case of the Member of Parliament, but I suspect that it was a simple mistake by a member of staff who did not realise that they should not do what they did. However, we need to understand why and how this happened in both those circumstances, and we need to make sure that appropriate guidelines or measures are in place to ensure that they do not happen again.
The statement is headed, “Prison Communications”. Is the Secretary of State aware that there is a good deal of concern—in my view, justified concern—that the intelligence services are intercepting communications between lawyers and their clients. We know that there is an acute threat of terrorism and we have no illusions about that, but does he accept that such communications between lawyers and their clients should remain confidential and that what has happened should not occur again?
Rule 39 mail is very clearly covered by privilege, and it should remain so. As I have indicated, we have a remit to look at rule 39 mail only if we have good reason to believe that it is being misused. That matter is at the discretion of prison governors, but a concerted series of measures to intercept communications relating to an individual would almost certainly be subject to a ministerial warrant. As the hon. Gentleman knows, Security Service activity is subject to ministerial warrants, and rightly so.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s characteristically robust response. Will he confirm that breaches also took place under the previous Government, and that they were widespread? Does he agree that that underlines how important it is for both sides of the House to get behind the steps he is taking to address the issue?