The Secretary of State was asked—
By making our prisons places of rehabilitation, we hope to reduce reoffending and thus, in due course, reduce the prison population.
I am sure that that is an aspiration with which we can all agree.
The independent review established by the Prison Reform Trust and chaired by Lord Laming found that up to 50% of all young people in custody had been in care at some point in their lives. What plans has the Secretary of State to reduce the number of looked-after children who end up in custody?
The right hon. Gentleman has made a characteristically acute point. A disproportionate number of those who find themselves in contact with the criminal justice system and subsequently in custody are children who have been in care. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education is introducing a series of reforms to enhance the quality of social work and ensure that looked-after children are better cared for, but we in the Ministry of Justice also have a responsibility. We will shortly be publishing our conclusions on the review of youth justice by Charlie Taylor, which will say more about how we can help some of our most troubled young people.
In 2002, there were only 46 Polish people in our prisons; today there are 983. Back then, there were only 50 prisoners from Romania; today there are 635. The same is true of many European Union countries, particularly those in eastern Europe.
If we want to reduce the prison population, would it not be a good idea to stop free movement of people—which has become rather more like free movement of criminals—into the United Kingdom, so that these criminals do not come into the UK in the first place before being sent to prison?
My hon. Friend has made a characteristically robust point. I am speaking from the Government Front Bench, and I must represent Government policy accurately, but I can remind Members that on 23 June people will have an opportunity to cast their votes, and pungent voices like that of my hon. Friend will, I am sure, weigh with them as they decide how to do so.
The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) has a point. The prisoner transfer arrangement with EU countries has been painfully slow—only 95 have been transferred—and at the end of the year Poland’s derogation will cease. Has the Secretary of State begun the process of looking at what will happen after that?
Absolutely. The Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee is right to remind us that prison transfer agreements have not always worked as they were originally envisaged, but my hon. Friend the prisons Minister has been working closely with the Home Office, and there are 50 Polish prisoners whom we hope to expedite when the derogation expires.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, in two respects. It would be wrong to set an arbitrary target, but we intend to ensure that all our policies work—not just our policies relating to rehabilitation and prisons, but some of the broader policies that were touched on by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) in respect of young people. If all those policies work and the Government’s broader life chances agenda is implemented in full, we should reduce offending, and also ensure that our society is fairer and more socially just.
Does the Secretary of State agree that one way of reducing the prison population would be to conduct a serious review of short-term sentencing? It provides no drug rehabilitation or educational programmes for prisoners who are shortly to be released, but simply sends them back into the system over and over again.
There is evidence that some short sentences do not have the rehabilitative effect that we all want to see. We want to ensure that all those who are sent into custody by the courts—and we respect their right to decide what sentence is appropriate for a crime —receive the support that they need in order not to offend again.
We want prisons to be places of rigorous education and high ambition. Dame Sally Coates’s review “Unlocking potential” was published last month, and we have accepted all its recommendations in principle. We will be giving control of education budgets to prison governors, so that they can choose their education providers and hold them to account for the service that they give.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We want an unremitting emphasis on rehabilitation. Reoffending has been too high for too long. That is why we are investing £1.3 billion over the next five years to transform the prison estate and give prisoners the help they need to turn their lives around.
The Coates review that the Minister referred to says that the employment prospects for those on short-term sentences are three times worse for women than for men, with only one in 10 women finding a job on release. What plans does he have to improve the prospects of employment for women?
My hon. Friend makes a characteristically perceptive point, and I think a large part of the answer is to encourage more employers to follow the example of Max Spielmann and Greggs, who have set up academies at HMPs New Hall and Drake Hall. Those academies provide work in prison and ongoing support after release, and if more employers did that with women in mind we would have more success in this area.
Giving control of the education budget to the governors of HMP Garth and HMP Wymott and holding them to account for the outcomes, as well as the introduction of personal learning plans in a consistent digital format that follows the prisoner around the estate, will absolutely drive improvement.
Does the Minister accept that, although these plans are welcome, they will not work without the right number of prison officers to ensure that prisoners are out of their cells and have continuity of learning? Since there are now 7,000 fewer prison officers than in 2010, how does he expect to implement these plans without more recruitment?
The hon. Lady is right to draw attention to the incredible work that our prison officers do day in, day out. I can tell her that since 1 January 2015 we have appointed 2,830 additional prison officers—a net increase of 530—and that the vacancy rate is now 2.5%, whereas at the start of last year it was 5.2%. We will carry on recruiting at this rate.
The Minister knows that we educate to rehabilitate and offer life-improving opportunities for those who find themselves in prison. The Minister is also seized of the information that we have shared previously about the impediment of the lack of provision of insurance for employers who want to offer opportunities when someone is released. Can the Minister update us on the progress he has made on removing that barrier to progress?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for continuing to raise this issue. A particularly shocking case was drawn to my attention the other day: the household insurance of a family had been raised by hundreds and hundreds of pounds because the father had gone to prison, which put huge pressure on the family’s budget. I continue to take up that issue and others with the Association of British Insurers.
The chief inspector’s report into HMP Wormwood Scrubs found that most prisoners had fewer than two hours a day out of their cells and were making very poor use of the educational facilities available. How far would the Minister say that is reflected across the prison estate?
We have fewer and fewer restricted regimes across the estate, but the whole thrust of what the Secretary of State and I are trying to do is increase the time out of cell and put education at the heart of the prison regime. I want prisoners to learn not only when they go to the education classrooms, but during their association periods and in their cells, so that we have a whole prison learning experience.
I praise and thank the Government for raising the profile of this issue. One thing that sometimes disrupts the education of prisoners is the loss of their records when they are transferred; that results in dislocation. Will the Minister outline what steps the Government propose to take to smooth the transition when a prisoner transfers, so that he or she can continue their education?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his characteristically gracious and thoughtful point. He might have heard me say a moment ago that we were bringing in a personal learning plan—the initials PLP will mean something to Labour Members. It will be introduced in a consistent digital format that will follow prisoners as they move around the prison estate.
Will the Minister tell me when he intends to meet the new Minister for Justice in Northern Ireland and when they will have an opportunity to discuss a range of issues including the Open University’s distance learning programme, which is an important rehabilitation and educational tool for prisoners and the wider society in Northern Ireland?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I know that she takes an ongoing and serious interest in these issues. The Secretary of State tells me that he has already written to the new Northern Ireland Justice Minister and issued an invitation to her. We will learn from and co-operate as fully as possible with the prison service in Northern Ireland.
EU Membership: Human Rights
3. What assessment he has made of the potential effect on the protection of human rights of UK citizens of the UK leaving the EU. (905386)
The Government’s assessment of fundamental rights is set out in their policy paper, “Rights and obligations of European Union membership”, which was published on 14 April.
I thank the Minister for his answer, but his Secretary of State wants to leave the EU and the Home Secretary wants to leave the European convention on human rights, so should we take it that when this Government are finished, the UK will no longer be party to any international human rights treaties? Is that really the message that the UK Government want to send to the rest of the world?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, but I think he probably knows by now that, in regard to the plans being worked up for the Bill of Rights, it is not the Government’s policy to withdraw from the convention. We have said that we cannot rule that out for ever and a day, but that is not our proposal now, and it is absolutely not the case that we would withdraw from a whole range of other international human rights treaties if we left the EU.
Does the Minister agree that if we stay in the European Union the real risk is that, rather than human rights policy being determined by this House and adjudicated on by British courts, it will be decided by the Brussels bureaucrats and the European Court of Justice, and that before we know it, prisoners will be given the right to vote?
My hon. Friend makes his powerful point in an eloquent way. There is a recognition across the House, on whichever side of the wider debate, that some of the laws that have come out of the EU have been damaging to civil liberties, whether involving the European arrest warrant and the injustice inflicted on my constituent Colin Dines, or the right to be forgotten, which has a muzzling effect on free speech. There are certainly areas of concern, on whichever side of the wider debate Members are.
Gender equality is recognised as a fundamental human right by the European Union, and a report from the TUC has identified 20 key areas in which European Union law has enhanced the rights of working women, often in the face of opposition from Tory Governments. How does the Minister propose to ensure that these hard-won employment rights are protected in the event of a Brexit?
I thank the hon. and learned Lady for her question. First, the vast majority of equal pay rights and women’s and workplace rights have been introduced by this House—by elected representatives accountable to the British people. I am surprised that she believes that the human rights and wider rights of our citizens and her constituents are better protected at EU level by bureaucrats and unaccountable politicians rather than by hon. Members in this House who are accountable to the British people.
As the Minister well knows, we did not get equal pay for work of equal value until the European Court intervened, and we have wide maternity rights only because of European directives. The Prime Minister’s former adviser Steve Hilton, who supports leaving the EU, said in 2011 that maternity leave should be abolished. Does the Minister wish to add his voice to that particular pungent voice? If not, which employment rights would he abolish in the event of a Brexit?
I thank the hon. and learned Lady for that, but I do not think that any of the factual assertions she has made are right. There is absolutely no plan such as that she suggests, and I do not support abolishing paternity rights; in fact, when I was a Back Bencher under the last Government and this point was raised, I was fully in favour of transferable parental leave. She is mistaken in what she says, but what is most striking is that the message she is sending to her constituents and the wider citizens of this country is that they should have no faith in her ability and that of the Scottish National party in this House to protect their rights.
The convention was agreed in the 1950s, Britain joined the EU in the ’70s and the Human Rights Act was agreed in the ’90s. Twenty years on, does the Minister agree that it is important that we revisit all these papers, because rights were not invented by pieces of paper? Instead we should have a British Bill of Rights.
My hon. Friend is right and makes an important point about the future direction of human rights laws in this country. We are party to the European convention on human rights, and that is a different and separate issue from the EU. Our regime is based around our membership of the European convention, and considerable legal uncertainty is created if the Luxembourg Court starts to interfere and create risks and wider uncertainty about which rules apply and how.
The Minister may wish this was not the case, but in fact the EU has provided and protected employment and human rights for part-time workers and working parents, with paid holidays, maximum working hours, measures to tackle discrimination at work, and time off to care for sick children. Does he think that those rights are worth protecting? Or does he agree with the billionaire stockbroker who is funding the Brexit campaign, Peter Hargreaves, who thinks we should leave the EU because
“we will be insecure again. And insecurity is fantastic”?
It is thunder and lightning but it does not provide much clarity on the issue; the bottom line is that the hon. Gentleman has little faith in Labour fearsomely defending workers’ rights. Whichever side someone is on in this House or in this debate, they should want to uphold the right of this House to make those finely balanced decisions on employment regulation and make sure that they are tailored to the precise needs of this country, not those of bureaucrats and other vested interests in Brussels.
EU Prisoner Transfer Directive
One hundred and two prisoners have so far been transferred from England and Wales under the EU prisoner transfer agreement. There were 4,111 EU nationals detained in prisons in England and Wales on 31 March 2016, with 2,967 serving an immediate custodial sentence. The transfer of prisoners from Scotland and Northern Ireland is a matter for the devolved authorities.
I was expecting a low number but the number of EU transferees back to their country of origin is absolutely pathetic. With the number of EU nationals in our prisons approaching 40% of the foreign national prisoner population, is this not just another example of the European Union, through its directives, promising us the earth but, in effect, giving the British people the square root of naff all?
The main mechanism by which we get foreign national offenders out of our jails, which we are very keen to do, is the early removal system, which transfers out about 1,800 a year. The European prisoner transfer agreement is therefore in addition to the early release scheme, but it may be helpful to my hon. Friend if I give him the figures. The transfer agreement was implemented only in 2013, and we got 19 out in 2014, 38 out in 2015 and 29 out in 2016, to date, with a roughly similar number awaiting transfer.
Is the identity of prisoners who are returned to their countries of origin registered with UK Visas and Immigration, so that when they attempt re-entry to the UK they can be identified? Even if that were the case, is it right that we could not prevent their re-entry unless we were to leave the EU?
Is it not the case, as the former Chancellor and Justice Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), put it, that if we left the European Union we would go back to a system of prisoner transfer where we had absolutely no ability to deport anybody to their country of origin unless we could persuade the Government of that country to accept them? Why would we risk losing that progress?
The hon. Lady is right in that if this country leaves the European Union, we will lose the compulsory prisoner transfer agreement that we currently have, and that will cause issues when it comes to trying to return the current EU prisoners in our prisons.
Does the Minister agree that rather than sniping from the sidelines on these issues, we should be playing our full part in co-ordinated international security frameworks such as the prisoner transfer agreement, the European arrest warrant, Eurojust—the body that leads judicial co-operation between member states—and the Schengen information system, as all of them ensure that our EU membership continues to help protect us against crime, terrorism and threats to our security—yet more reasons to vote to remain on 23 June? [Laughter.]
Order. I do not know what the source of merriment is among the little troika on the Back Benches—the hon. Members for Christchurch (Mr Chope), for Shipley (Philip Davies) and for Bury North (Mr Nuttall). I do not know whether some sort of powder has been applied to them, but they are in a very happy state.
This Government want to see as many compulsory prisoner transfer agreements as possible, because it is hard work trying to transfer all foreign nationals, of whatever nationality, out of prisons in England and Wales. Therefore, all compulsory transfer arrangements are useful. Currently, we have them with all members of the European Union, with the exception of Ireland and Bulgaria.
In the debate on the Queen’s Speech, the Government announced the creation of six early adopter reform prisons. The governors of those prisons will have unprecedented freedom to run their prisons and find better ways to rehabilitate offenders.
One thing we can do particularly effectively is ensure that prisons, whether reform prisons or others, have close and effective working relationships with the community rehabilitation companies that were instituted by my predecessor and are doing so much to ensure that all prisoners, whatever the length of their sentence, receive support on release.
Given that the Justice Secretary has already announced the six prisons that are to be reform prisons, but he has not yet announced the White Paper or indeed published the prison reform Bill, will he tell the House when he will do the latter, because at the moment he is putting the cart before the horse?
It is important that we give the governors of these prisons as much freedom as possible. It is also important that they are able now to explore some of the additional freedoms operationally without the need for legislation. In the autumn, we hope to publish a White Paper and the legislation alongside it.
It absolutely will. The effective team managing the National Offender Management Service under the superb public servant Michael Spurr has found an additional £10 million to help mitigate the effects of prisoner violence and to reduce violence overall. That money will go direct to the front line.
One area of reform should be to stop pregnant women having to give birth in prison. I know that the Government are committed to that, but can we consider carrying out a pilot study so that women do not have to give birth in front of unnamed guards?
The hon. Lady makes a vital point. We are looking at how female offenders are treated overall. One thing we need to do—I know that this is not a view universally held by all my hon. Friends on the Back Benches—is to think hard about how we can reduce the female population in prison, and treat women who are in custody more sensitively.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that reform prisons are an important part of a broader package of reform of penal and criminal justice policy, so that we not only make better use of the time of those who are in prison, but make sure that we reduce the total number of people going to prison by finding an effective and genuinely successful means of dealing with offending in the community?
The Chairman of the Select Committee on Justice is absolutely right. In the same way that the creation of NHS foundation trusts was not the only aspect of reform of the national health service, and the creation of academy schools was not the only aspect of reform of the education system, the creation of reform prisons is not a change in isolation. It is part of a broader change to the criminal justice system, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right that part of that is diverting people from custody when appropriate.
When developing reform prisons, will the Secretary of State take into account the experience of Feltham young offenders unit, which has become the first autism-accredited prison in the country? I led a cross-party visit by the all-party parliamentary group on autism to the prison yesterday, and saw how that was helping to reduce violence and assisting rehabilitation. Will the Secretary of State give me an assurance that each reform prison will work towards accreditation for autism and will eventually be able to achieve that accreditation before it begins to operate?
My right hon. Friend is a fantastic campaigner for individuals living with autism, and I will absolutely ensure that reform prisons and others learn from Feltham. A disproportionate number of people in custody live with various mental health and other problems, and many of them are on the autistic spectrum.
The Ministry of Justice and other Government Departments have clear rules and governance in place around the standards of conduct for current and former civil servants. All permanent civil servants are covered by the Cabinet Office guidelines on business appointment rules.
I am grateful to the Minister for his reply, but he will know that in March The Mail on Sunday uncovered evidence of former MOJ civil servants boasting of their links to Government while working for private firms to secure multimillion-pound contracts, both in Britain and abroad. What investigations have been made into those allegations, and will the Minister make a commitment to the House to publish in full any findings by the review?
There was an investigation after those reports in the press, but no impropriety was found. I am more than happy for the hon. Gentleman to meet my officials in the Department. If I can publish the review, I will—I understand that it was an internal inquiry—and if I cannot do so, I will explain why. If not, meetings will take place.
From later this month, Her Majesty’s prison and young offender institution Glen Parva will begin to accommodate adult prisoners. This change supports our aim to use the existing estate as effectively and efficiently as possible.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Will he tell me what the staff ratios are for young adults in Glen Parva, and what they are expected to be once adult prisoners come to the prison? If the answer is not readily available, will he give it to me in a letter by the end of next week?
Prisoner Release: Employment
One part of my job that most inspires me is meeting businesses and trade bodies to talk about the benefits of employing offenders on release. Following the Prime Minister’s announcement of changes to recruitment practices for the civil service, I am keen to encourage other employers to “ban the box” when recruiting too. This fits alongside our work to implement the recommendations of the Coates review and our announcement of six reform prisons.
I thank the Minister for his answer. The first Hampshire and Isle of Wight community rehabilitation company women’s centre opened in Havant in 2012, and part of its work involves helping to get women offenders into employment. Will the Minister join me in congratulating it on its work and will he support the continued employment of women offenders in the Havant area?
21. Is the Minister aware that there have been some excellent examples of major companies taking on prisoners and training them while they are still in prison? I think in particular of British Gas, which had a wonderful programme in Reading jail. Are there partnerships that we are currently encouraging? (905405)
Yes. I can tell the hon. Gentleman, who I know takes a serious interest in these issues, that there is a lot to be encouraged about. I am going around the country talking to employers, often taking them into prisons. I am particularly keen on the academy model, where employers come into prisons and train prisoners there. The prisoners then go out on day release to gain work experience in that business, and as they leave the prison gate they do so with a contract of employment and can go into work. That helps to secure their accommodation and to get their lives back on an even keel.
18. One problem faced by ex-offenders is not having a secure home to go to once they are released from prison, and as a result they cannot get a job. What further steps can my hon. Friend take to ensure that people leaving prison are leaving for a secure home and can then seek proper employment? (905402)
My hon. Friend is right to draw the link between accommodation and employment. If more prisoners were able to pay a deposit of perhaps the first month’s rent on leaving prison, that would help. By the same token, if we can get more offers of employment to prisoners as they come out, they will find it easier to secure accommodation.
Between now and 2020 the European Union is investing over £9 billion in the UK on skills training and support for those at risk of social exclusion. One example is here in London at Brixton prison: the Bad Boys bakery project, which trains inmates to become bakers and find work when they are released. As the Justice Secretary believes in giving inmates a second chance and has talked about the importance of such schemes, will he use his loaf and encourage people to vote remain on 23 June?
Like the hon. Lady, I am a huge fan of schemes such as the Bad Boys bakery, which I have visited in Brixton. I can still remember the smell of the delicious lemon cake wafting out of the bakery when I visited it. More seriously, when we see the purpose and engagement of prisoners when they are given a real opportunity to do work in prison that offers the prospect of a job on release, they do engage, and we need to see a lot more of that.
Human Rights Act
10. What progress he has made on proposals for reform of the Human Rights Act 1998. (905394)
We will bring forward our proposals for a British Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act. We have made good progress on the development of our plans, with input from practitioners, non-governmental organisations, academics and many others right across the UK. Our proposals will be announced in due course and we shall consult fully on them.
The Minister says that plans will be published in due course, but plans to repeal the Human Rights Act were announced in the Conservative manifestos in both 2010 and 2015 and in the Queen’s Speech in 2015 and 2016. Can he please explain why his Department has so far failed to publish any proposals or begin a consultation on those plans?
I appreciate that the hon. Lady is eager to engage in a detailed, substantive debate on human rights. Distinguished people in the Opposition, from Lord Irvine through to the current shadow Justice Secretary, have talked about the defects in the Human Rights Act. They have made compelling points and we intend to act on them. I look forward to debating the matter with the hon. Lady in due course.
Improving safety is a top priority and the governor at Her Majesty’s Prison Lewes has put plans in place to address safety issues, including the provision of additional training for staff to better support vulnerable prisoners. Nationally, a violence reduction taskforce has been created to support and challenge establishments with a high rate of violence. An additional £10 million has been allocated to those prisons facing the greatest safety challenges.
I am sure the Minister has seen the recent independent report which highlights significant security issues not just for inmates, but for prison officers. Will he give his assurance that he will look at the findings in that report and at its recommendations?
Yes, I can absolutely give my hon. Friend that assurance, and I believe that she is visiting the prison shortly. We will learn from every report. There is currently a police, coroner, and prisons and probation ombudsman report on a recent incident at HMP Lewes. We will learn from that, and we will continue to make improvements in this important area.
It is not just Lewes prison that has problems with violence. I have a constituent in Frankland prison whose mother is in daily fear that she will one day get a phone call to say that her son has been murdered in prison. What will the Minister do to help prisoners who live in daily fear for their lives because of prisoner-on-prisoner violence, with the consequent anguish caused to their families?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising this issue. The Secretary of State has said very clearly that reducing violence in our prisons is our top operational priority, and he has recently allocated an additional £10 million to this. She will know that a lot of the violence is caused by terrible new psychoactive substances such as Spice and Black Mamba coming into prisons. We have now made them illegal, thanks to the work of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Fire, Criminal Justice and Victims on the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, and that is a help. We will shortly be rolling out world-leading testing, which will also make a difference. I draw a very clear link between the drugs and the violence.
Employment Tribunal Fees
The review will report in due course, and it will assess how effective the introduction of employment tribunal fees has been in the achievement of the original objectives.
So we still await the official report from the Government, but it is obvious that tribunal fees have affected the number of cases being brought, especially by women. In 2013 there were 18,398; in 2015 there were just 6,423. Will the Minister elaborate on those figures? Will he also elaborate on the multiple cases brought by men? Were those men from the private sector or the public sector? Were they white-collar or blue-collar workers?
The assessment will look at the impact on protected characteristics, including the ones the hon. Lady mentioned. It is only fair and reasonable that those using tribunals make some contribution to the cost where they are able to. It is not right that the whole bill for employment tribunals, which is about £71 million per year, should be picked up by taxpayers, so we are looking to strike the right balance. There is, of course, a system of fee remissions to protect vulnerable workers, and we have taken steps to raise awareness of that scheme. We have also taken steps to encourage voluntary conciliation, which is a good way of settling disputes away from the tense, stressful and costly environment of a courtroom.
I received assurances from the Government that the post-implementation review of tribunal fees would be published last year. We now find ourselves six months beyond that deadline, and we are still waiting. Evidence suggests that tribunal fees do act as a barrier to justice and that they are compounding pregnancy and maternity discrimination. While we wait for the Government to get a move on, women continue to be discriminated against daily. When will the Minister finally publish the post-implementation review and scrap tribunal fees completely?
The hon. Lady makes some powerful points. We are going to publish the assessment shortly. It is also right to point out, though, that we are seeking to divert people away from costly and often acrimonious tribunal hearings. Fees are a part of that, as is pushing in the direction of conciliation. Although conciliation is not compulsory, I am sure she will be reassured to know that parties agree to participate in it in 75% of cases, and satisfaction levels are very high.
Does the Minister agree that employment tribunal fees have played an important part in reducing the threat of litigation that hangs over businesses, particularly small businesses? Does he agree that they have also played an important part in the resurgence of our economy and job creation?
My hon. Friend has a lot of experience of this issue, and he is absolutely right to look at its dual impact, particularly on small businesses. However, it is also right to say that this is not a binary, zero-sum game, and we attach huge importance to the fact that early conciliation has been used by more than 80,000 litigants in the first year, with over 80% of those participating reporting that they were satisfied with the outcome.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, but we also have to factor in the proportion of those who have been diverted into conciliation. In resolving disputes like this, alternative dispute settlement will often be the best outcome for resolving the dispute, but also, in particular, for claimants who would otherwise struggle to bear the costs.
Bill of Rights
14. When his Department plans to publish its consultation on a British Bill of Rights. (905398)
As I have already said, we are looking to report on the review in due course. It will assess how effective the introduction of the fees has been in achieving all the different objectives we laid out.
I thank the Minister for his answer. However, last week the Government amended the Investigatory Powers Bill to include a duty on public authorities to have regard to the requirements of the Human Rights Act. Does this mean that the Government’s plans to repeal the Human Rights Act have now been shelved?
No, we are absolutely resolute about replacing the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights, and we are working on those proposals. The hon. Lady will not have to wait long to be able to engage on the substance rather than some of the scare stories flying around in the media.
Personal Injury Law
The Government remain concerned about the number and cost of whiplash claims, particularly their impact on insurance premiums, and have announced robust new measures to tackle the problem. We will consult on the detail in due course, and the consultation will be accompanied by a thorough impact assessment.
How does the Minister respond to my constituents who have genuine concerns about the evidence base for the proposed reforms, and believe that they are unjust and will not deliver the right and proper compensation for people who were injured through negligence?
The Government’s proposed reforms will ensure that the current cost of £2 billion annually for whiplash claims should be reduced to £1 billion for the insurance industry. They will also ensure that the average person’s insurance premium should go down by up to £50.
In the UK, 80% of road traffic accidents generate a whiplash claim; in France, 3% of road traffic accidents generate a whiplash claim. In the UK, whiplash claims are increasing as accidents decrease; in France, it is the other way round. Insurance premiums in the UK are 50% higher, meaning that many young people cannot afford insurance. Will the Government act to get this sorted out?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. He is absolutely right to say that it is important, to benefit all our constituents, that we deal with this. The way to do so is through our proposed reforms, on which there will be a consultation in the not-too-distant future. That will ensure that premiums go down.
Sentencing guidelines are issued by the independent Sentencing Council for England and Wales. I understand that it has plans to consider the stalking guidelines next year.
The Minister has read the report by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) and me on the case for extending the maximum sentences for stalking. He will also have heard Lily Allen say last week of her stalker, “You can put him behind bars but he’ll be out soon and waiting there for his victim.” What can be done to assess the case for extending the maximum sentence for a few very dangerous stalkers who severely damage the lives of their victims?
I thank my hon. Friend, who makes his point in a particularly lyrical way. He knows that we are looking at a range of issues around sentencing. It is important that those are considered in the round to make sure that we better protect the public and improve reoffending levels. I read the excellent report produced by my hon. Friends on sentences for stalking, and we are giving it very serious consideration.
A number of distinguished figures were recognised in Her Majesty’s birthday honours list at the weekend, but one of them I took particular pleasure in seeing recognised—Mr Elroy Palmer, who works for the St Giles Trust. He is an ex-offender who now devotes his time to helping young people to avoid crime and make constructive use of their lives. Last year, Elroy spoke at the Conservative party conference, where he received a standing ovation. His testimony, his experience and his example show what can be achieved if an individual in custody decides to change their life. His life has changed immeasurably for the better, and he has changed the lives of others immeasurably for the better as well.
I add my congratulations to those recognised in the honours list last week. Is there any requirement on Her Majesty’s Government under article 2 of the European convention on human rights to initiate a new coroner’s inquest if there is any potential state involvement and if a further inquest is requested by the family member of the deceased?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue; he gave me notice that it was of concern to him and to many people in Northern Ireland. Our legislation provides that there must be an inquest in cases where there may have been state involvement in the death of any individual. In such cases, the coroner investigates not only who died, and where and when, but the broader circumstances of the death. This wider investigation ensures compliance with the European convention on human rights. There may be an inquiry, instead of an inquest, if the coroner’s investigation cannot ascertain all of those matters.
T2. Roughly 20% of prisoners have spent some time in care. I have met some young care leavers in my constituency and prison is often seen as an attractive option because it provides a roof over their heads and a hot meal each day. What measures are this Government taking to ensure that care leavers have better options in life than prison? (905374)
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that very important issue. The Government have asked Sir Martin Narey to review residential care for looked-after children, and some of his recommendations will touch on the criminal justice system. The care and supervision of young offenders in custody is not good enough, which is why the Government have asked Charlie Taylor, a former chief executive of the National College for Teaching and Leadership, to lead a review of the whole of the youth justice system, and that final report will be out shortly.
So far today we have asked the Secretary of State about the risks that Brexit poses to workers’ rights and human rights, to the European arrest warrant and the prisoner transfer directive, and even to his cherished prison reform programme, but we have had no answer from him on any of them. Are not the Government and the Opposition right to say that those who want to protect human rights, strengthen national security and make our country safer should vote remain on 23 June?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for speaking from the heart with such passion for the European Union. It is not a view that is universally shared, I have to say, by Labour voters, but I respect the way in which he put his case. I am speaking on behalf of the Government at this Dispatch Box, and the Government’s position is clear: some of us as Ministers have been given leave to depart from that position. I have done so outside this House, but I do not intend to dwell on the issue now.
Let me have one more try. The Justice Secretary is right to recognise that human rights and our membership of the EU are linked; it is just that we think that that is a good thing, and he thinks that it is a bad thing. Is not the choice on Thursday week between working with our closest neighbours to strengthen democracy and the rule of law, and his recipe for bleak isolationism, which has him, in the words of Lord Heseltine, marching
“to the drum of Farage, Trump and Le Pen”?
I entirely understand why the hon. Gentleman makes the case in the way that he does, and he does so with great force and fluency, as he always does. Whatever the decision of the British people on 23 June, I have confidence in them to ensure that workers’ rights and human rights, friendly co-operation and the principles of decency and fair treatment for all will be preserved come what may, because I have ultimate confidence in the British people and their elected representatives to defend our democracy and to safeguard decent values. I would not for a moment suggest that anyone in this House, whether they are advocating a remain vote or a leave vote, is anything other than someone who wants to uphold democracy and the rights that all of us have inherited.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this extremely serious point. He may know that mental health provision in prisons is provided by NHS England and by local health boards in Wales, and that it is based on locally assessed need. All prisons have procedures in place to identify, manage and support people with such health needs. We are, however, keen to give governors increased freedoms and flexibilities to be able to respond to the needs of their populations, and we are actively talking to Ministers in the Department of Health about this issue.
I do not deny what the right hon. Gentleman, a distinguished former prisons Minister, says. However, I repeat to the House that since 1 January 2015, we have appointed 2,830 extra prison officers, which is a net increase of 530 since the start of last year. I also point out that the average prison population in 2010 was 84,725, while, as of 3 June, it is 85,291, so it has in fact remained reasonably stable over the past six years.
T6. Hampshire’s new police and crime commissioner, Michael Lane, has put restorative justice at the heart of his agenda. Will the Minister join me in supporting that policy to ensure that victims of crime are never ignored in Havant or across Hampshire? (905379)
This is the first opportunity that I have had on the Floor of the House to congratulate Michael on his election. There were excellent results in the PCC elections around the country, particularly in relation to turnout. I was very conscious of the part that restorative justice played in the campaign. Restorative justice is an important component of helping victims, but we must make sure that victims want to be part of it and that it is not forced on them in any way.
As far as employment tribunals are concerned—as the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), said earlier—the review will be published shortly. It is a fact that a lot of people who would previously have gone to employment tribunals are now going to the ACAS conciliatory procedure. We will certainly make sure that all the issues referred to are covered in the review.
T8. At Justice Questions in March, I raised serious concerns about the systematic failure of the Solicitors Regulation Authority in relation to a case in my constituency. From my experience of dealing with this case, it has become clear that the self-governing SRA needs reform both to improve accountability and to restore public confidence. Will the Minister meet me to discuss this issue so that, together, we can bring forward proposals to ensure solicitors are regulated properly and independently? (905381)
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I think everyone in this House will have been utterly disgusted by the atrocity perpetrated in Orlando. It is clear from the choice of target that the hate in that killer’s heart was a prejudice—a homophobic prejudice—that I think everyone in this House would want to denounce. For that reason, I think he is absolutely right to say that we, too, need to be vigilant.
Let me first pay tribute to everyone who attended the vigil in Old Compton Street last night to show our solidarity with the victims of this atrocity. Let me also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who has been leading work to ensure that we can both anticipate any threats to the LGBTQ community in this country and review not just the operational but the legislative requirements to keep people safe.
It is a critical part of being British that we celebrate the right of people to live and love in different ways. For that reason, I think all of us would want to send our condolences and sympathies to the victims and that all of us would want to say, as a House, that we stand resolutely behind the vital importance of recognising and celebrating difference in our society.
Earlier this month, my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor expressed his frustration at our country’s inability to prevent the entry of foreign national criminals and even terror suspects. Can he tell the House how things will change when we leave the European Union?
I think it is well known that the current test for denial of entry for people coming from the EU is that they must pose a serious, genuine and present threat, which has obviously created difficulties over the years.
Last week the Public Accounts Committee published a report on the criminal justice system. One of our conclusions was:
“The criminal justice system is not good enough at supporting victims and witnesses.”
We also cited the fact that only 55% of witnesses, many of whom are of course victims as well, say that they would go through the process again. Does the Secretary of State agree with our conclusion?
Yes, I do. It has sometimes been the habit in the past for people to be greeted with a report from the National Audit Office or the Public Accounts Committee and attempt to suggest that it is an exercise in—well, there have been criticisms in the past. I certainly do not criticise the PAC or the NAO. The report is a welcome wake-up call. My right hon. Friend the victims Minister will bring forward a Green Paper with details on how we can better help victims and witnesses, but there is much that we need to do to improve the criminal justice system, and our judiciary get it.
I, too, attended the all-party group on autism’s visit to Feltham and was inspired by what the governor and his team are doing. Will the prisons Minister consider using the forthcoming prisons Bill to improve the life chances of the 5% of the prison population who are estimated to suffer with autism?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for showing serious interest in the issue. I was pleased that he was able to go to Feltham yesterday. I am not sure that we need to legislate; we need to spread the good practice from Feltham across the prison system, and I hope that the reform prison governors will be in the lead in doing that.
On 19 April, the Secretary of State said in a statement:
“It is hard to overstate the degree to which the EU is a constraint on ministers’ ability to do the things they were elected to do”.
Given that being able to constrain this Tory Government can only be a very good thing for the people of this country, what did he have in mind?
My view is that any Minister—Conservative, Labour or, who knows, Scottish National party in the future, perhaps as part of a coalition—should be accountable to the people of this country for the decisions that they make. When the European Court of Justice can rule in such a way that there is no recourse or appeal, our democracy is undermined. Our democracy is precious, and the European Court of Justice is no friend of it.
Next week the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe will appoint a new British judge to replace Judge Paul Mahoney upon his retirement. Does the Lord Chancellor agree that that makes this an appropriate moment for us to recognise Judge Mahoney and thank him for his work, and to recognise the contribution that British judges and lawyers have made to the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights throughout its existence?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Of course, the European convention on human rights was authored in large part by a British lawyer—a former Conservative Lord Chancellor, in fact. Whatever one thinks of the operations of the Court at different times, the rights contained in that convention are precious. I thank Judge Mahoney for his outstanding work, and I know that there are some brilliant lawyers who stand ready to replace him. I am sure that the Council of Europe will give careful thought, as ever, to ensuring that we have the right candidate in place to emulate Judge Mahoney’s outstanding work.
Constituents including the families of Jamie Still and of David and Dorothy Metcalf were dismayed after the report in the Telegraph that there would be an announcement on criminal driving in the Queen’s Speech turned out not to be correct. Will the Secretary of State give a clear assurance that the review will happen quickly and that we will finally get changes to give victims of criminal driving and their families better justice?
I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a close interest in this issue. Everything that we do on sentencing is informed by the need to protect the public and drive down reoffending. We will look at a range of proposals in due course with those twin objectives in mind, including the potential for prisoners to earn their release from custody. We are also looking at driving offences and, as with stalking, we will welcome any further ideas along the way.
The former Justice Secretary was warned that cuts in legal aid to domestic violence victims were “grossly unfair” and “harsh”. That is why the Court of Appeal shot them down. In response, the Government decided to do a survey, which had a very limited timeframe for being filled in. Do the Government think that that was a reasonable way to show that they take the situation seriously? Would it not be better to have a full, open, public and transparent consultation?
I say very gently to the hon. Lady that she is completely misinformed and wrong. Following that court judgment, the Government increased the time period for the production of evidence from two years to five years, and have allowed financial abuse to be taken into account. What is more, having made those immediate changes to the system, we are now engaging with the relevant stakeholders to bring in a better system that will be satisfactory to all concerned.
The Home Office has reportedly refused to disclose data on sexual violence towards detainees at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre because the information could damage the commercial interests of the company that runs the facility. Is the Minister able to assure the House that Ministry of Justice policy will not put profit before people in prisons?
The hon. Lady is understandably concerned about the fate of detainees. I stress that the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office work closely to ensure that detainees are well looked after. My understanding from the Home Secretary is that press reporting may have inadvertently led the hon. Lady to raise something that is not strictly the case. I will work with the Home Office in order to properly address her concerns.