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Departmental Spending

Volume 605: debated on Tuesday 26 January 2016

We are determined to help eliminate the budget deficit and deliver better justice, which is why we are cutting 15% from the Ministry of Justice budget over the spending review, but finding £1.3 billion to overhaul the prison estate so that we drive down reoffending and ensure that my hon. Friend’s constituents get better value for money and better bang for their buck out of the justice system.

The Ministry of Justice has faced spending cuts as deep, or deeper, than any other Department in Whitehall, and yet, despite the occasional criticism and row, I am not sure whether the public has noted any discernible reduction in the service provided by the Department. Will my hon. Friend summon in the Secretaries of State for Health, Work and Pensions, International Development and Defence and give them a verbal tongue lashing about how we can emulate the private sector and create more wealth, goods, enterprise, deregulation and lower taxation and still provide better services?

I thank my hon. Friend for his insightful remarks. As a former Public Accounts Committee Chairman, he will appreciate that we have already slimmed back-office by £600 million so that we can extend rehabilitation to the 45,000 offenders on short sentences, where we have some of the highest reoffending. Now we are cutting the admin budget by 50%, but investing £700 million to modernise our courts. It shows that, whether we are talking about delays at courts or the offenders passing through them, we can drive efficiencies and deliver a more effective system.

Given the Secretary of State’s U-turns on things such as the criminal court charge and the ban on books being sent to prisoners, may I gently suggest that a good way of saving money would be to avoid such mistakes in the first place and listen to the Labour party?

With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, given the litany of mistakes, errors and systemic failings that we have had to clear up over the past five years and will continue to do over the next five years, we might just reject that particular piece of counsel.

One important area in which both service can be enhanced and value for money achieved is through greater efficiency both in the courts estate and the courts system. Is my hon. Friend satisfied that the Ministry has sufficient in-house capacity to deal adequately with major issues such as court restructuring, where negotiations have to take place at high commercial contractual levels, or will he bring in outside expertise where necessary?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have already explained some of the back-office savings that we are making not only to deliver better value to the taxpayer but to find the savings to reinvest. He is right to say that, where we need to engage with the private sector—or the voluntary sector for that matter—to take advantage of their ingenuity and innovation, we will do so.

Figures released yesterday by the Department show that more Ministry of Justice staff received bonuses last year than the previous year, and that the average size of bonus increased by more than 7%. Considering that the whole public sector has had a 1% pay rise cap, is this not a case of one rule for one and a different rule for another?

No. I am afraid that that is not fair or reasonable to any of our hard-working public servants. There are strict rules and parameters on bonuses within the 1% pay cap and the guidance on that, but it is important, notwithstanding the savings that we have to make, especially in bureaucracy, back office and head- quarters, that we recognise outstanding performance.

We are the only country in the world that uses taxpayers’ revenue to pay lawyers to sue our own soldiers as they return from active duty. Is that an area of saving that the Minister might consider?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we need a balanced approach to access to justice. I will answer some specific questions about the military claims later, but he is right to say that we need to look at the rules on legal aid, and that is what we are already doing and will continue to pursue.

Talking of value for money, how much has the miscalculation of divorce settlements cost so far? The 2,200 closed cases will require specialist legal advice and negotiation to correct. Who is going to pay for that—the taxpayer or the people his Department has so badly let down? On the back of it, the legal press has dubbed the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara), the Minister for cock-ups. We disapprove of this scapegoating. Does not the whole ministerial team deserve that title?

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman disagrees with scapegoating. When we make mistakes, we recognise them. We have written to all the people affected, and we will make sure that it does not happen again.