House of Commons
Tuesday 1 November 2016
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Last week’s violence statistics show the very serious issues we have in our prisons, including a 43% rise in the number of attacks on officers. This is unacceptable, and I am determined to tackle it. I have already announced an investment of £14 million in 10 of our most challenging prisons, and I shall say more with the launch of our White Paper shortly.
Order. Just before we take the question, I am very pleased to announce that today we are joined by Lobsang Sangay, the Sikyong or Prime Minister of the Tibetan Government in exile. It is a pleasure and a privilege, Sir, to welcome you to the House of Commons.
What an honour that is, Mr Speaker.
We welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to prison reform, but those sitting on the Justice Select Committee are very concerned about the recent statistics that she mentioned, not just in relation to the safety of prison workers, but in respect of vulnerable prisoners. What steps is she going to take to improve assessment and screening, so that those people can be identified at the beginning of their sentence?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am extremely concerned about the level of self-harm, which is particularly high in the women’s estate. We know that the first 24 hours are absolutely vital, and we are already taking steps to provide vulnerable prisoners with immediate mental health support. Next year, we will bring out a strategy on women offenders.
Given the level of violence in Lewes prison over the weekend, will the Secretary of State update the House on what progress has been made to secure the prison, and what steps are being taken to increase staffing levels to prevent this from happening again?
The incident at HMP Lewes has been resolved and the prison remains secure with no threat to the public. The prisons Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), spoke to the governor, Jim Bourke, offering support for him and all his staff. We are going to make sure that we have sufficient staff in that prison. I shall have more to say about staffing when we launch the White Paper.
The number of front-line prison officers has fallen by over 30% under this Government, and the Secretary of State’s own Department’s statistics show a correlation between those cuts and increased levels of violence in prisons. Does the right hon. Lady now accept that what she has announced goes no way towards solving these problems and that there needs to be a thorough investigation so that we can have the safe levels of staffing required in our prisons?
I have acknowledged that we have a serious issue. I think we have to recognise that there have been a number of causes. The prison and probation ombudsman said that the emergence of dangerous psychoactive substances was a game changer for prison security. We are taking measures to put in place proper testing for that, which we announced in September. I acknowledge that there is an issue with staffing, which is why I have already taken steps in 10 of the most challenging prisons to increase staffing levels, and why we are due to do more in the White Paper.
In addition to the staffing cuts mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones), there is the problem of prison officer retention. The 400 by which the right hon. Lady has said she is going to increase staff numbers are being lost because of the number of people who are leaving. Experienced staff are leaving, and experienced prisoners are now running prisons.
The right hon. Gentleman is right that we need to make sure that, as well as recruiting prison officers, we are also retaining our fantastic prison officers. At every prison I visit, I meet fantastic people who have come into the service to turn people’s lives around. I want to encourage more people to become prison officers, which is why we launched a programme to bring former armed service personnel into the service. We will announce more about recruitment shortly.
As part of taking those important steps, will the Secretary of State revisit and act upon the Select Committee’s recommendation that we should be able transparently to measure the performance of the National Offender Management Service by publishing and making available the key data on indicators of disorder; staffing and turnover, and the reasons for turnover; its performance ratings, including those for individual prisons; and activity—the amount of time each prisoner is out of cell or in cell, and what they are doing?
The Select Committee Chairman is absolutely right that we need clear and transparent data and metrics to be able to understand what is happening in our prison system. I will outline more detail on that issue when we launch the White Paper.
Suicides in prisons are at record levels, and self-harm and violence are soaring. The situation in women’s prisons is worse than it was a decade ago. The Government’s own statistics show that the rate of deaths in England and Wales has risen to almost one a day—a record high of 324 in the last 12 months. Does the Secretary of State recognise that cutting staff and prison budgets while the number of people behind bars grows unchecked has created a toxic mix of violence, death and human misery?
I agree with the hon. Lady that we need to act on those very problematic statistics, and in particular to deal with the high levels of self-harm and suicide. One of the 10 prisons to which we have given additional money for staffing is a women’s prison. We are looking more widely at how we can ensure that women offenders are given the support that they need, because many come into prison with mental health issues and many have suffered abuse in the past. I want to ensure that those offenders have the support that will enable them to turn their lives around.
I hear what the Secretary of State has to say about funding for the 10 prisons, but Pentonville, where only last week there was a stabbing and two people were injured, is not one of them, and the events that took place at Lewes prison at the weekend also underlined the problem of prison understaffing. John Attard, of the Prison Governors Association, has written that we need
“more than the….400 extra officers in just 10 prisons.”
Will the Secretary of State listen to what is being said by that association, and by the Prison Officers Association, about the Ministry’s failings in respect of prison staffing?
I agree with the hon. Lady that violence and levels of suicide are serious issues, and I am determined to address them. That is my No. 1 priority. I have made an immediate start in 10 of the most challenging prisons, and I will be outlining more in the White Paper. Let me, at this point, express my sincere condolences to the family of Jamal Mahmoud, who unfortunately died in Pentonville.
We all need to recognise that these are serious issues, which have numerous causes including the rise in psychoactive substances. It will take time to turn the situation around—it takes months to train prison officers —but we have developed and will be launching a comprehensive strategy. I want our prisons to be places of safety but also places of reform, where we address reoffending and make our society as a whole safer.
I am extremely grateful to the Secretary of State. I call Fiona Mactaggart.
Deaths in Custody Suites
G4S has not operated court custody suites in England and Wales since 2011.
Very vulnerable people are held in custody suites, and many have committed suicide. That translates into the presence of such people in prisons, where, as the Secretary of State has just acknowledged, there have been more deaths in custody than there have been for many years. More women are killing themselves than at any time since the Corston report. When we know what has gone wrong from the reports of coroners’ courts or the Corston report, which have given us real advice on what ought to happen, why is it not happening? Has the Minister read those coroners’ reports?
Order. We really do need to make progress. This is very slow.
All deaths in custody are a tragedy. They are fully investigated by the independent prisons and probation ombudsman and are subject to coroners’ inquests. As the Secretary of State pointed out, a number of women in prison have been victims of crime themselves and are incredibly vulnerable members of society. As well as modernising the women’s prison estate, we are looking into diversion tactics to ensure that those women do not end up in the criminal justice system in the first place.
Which country in the world has the fewest deaths in custody, and what lessons are we learning from that country?
I am afraid I cannot name the country with the fewest deaths in custody, but what I can say is that we in this country work to create decent and humane prisons, and we are a signatory to the relevant United Nations protocols. As the Secretary of State has rightly pointed out, the rise in the number of deaths in custody is too high, and for that reason we shall shortly be publishing a safety and reform plan in our White Paper.
I share my right hon. Friend’s concerns about what has happened at HMP Chelmsford. I can confirm that it is one of the 10 prisons for which we are training up additional officers. This will provide a 30% increase in officer numbers to help tackle the scourges of bullying and drug abuse.
I welcome that answer. It is crucial that more is done to eliminate bullying in the prison. On drug abuse, can the Secretary of State confirm whether sniffer dogs are being used on a regular basis on not only the prison inmates but all types of people entering and leaving prison?
I can confirm that that is happening. We have trained 300 sniffer dogs to be able to detect new dangerous psychoactive substances, and that testing was being rolled out across the prison estate in September. [Interruption.]
Order. I say very gently to the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Richard Arkless) that I am sure his constituency has many magnificent merits but it is a long way from Chelmsford.
Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act
The coalition Government promised to review parts 1 and 2 of the Act and we remain committed to undertaking that review.
We are grateful to the Minister for that reply, but I think he may want to take question 15 with question 4.
I would be very happy to do that, Mr Speaker.
It is very good of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Minister to be willing to do what he asked me for permission to do; that is extraordinarily gracious of him.
I thank the Minister for his answer to my question, but a TUC report of this October raised concerns that the Act is a barrier to access to justice for victims of domestic violence. The regulations concerning the provision of evidence of domestic violence are restrictive and narrow and have led to a 16% drop in applications and a 17% drop in applications granted. Is it not time the Secretary of State admitted that the Act is denying access to justice for thousands and must be amended?
It is of course important that legal aid is available for victims of domestic violence, particularly those seeking protective injunctions. On the evidence requirements, in April we more than doubled the time limit on evidence from two to five years, and we have introduced a provision that allows the Legal Aid Agency to grant legal aid if it is satisfied that an application demonstrates financial abuse. This is important and it has been varied in the light of experience over the last two or three years, and we will continue to monitor it.
Access to justice and legal aid are pillars of the welfare state, yet almost one third of legal aid areas in England and Wales have one or no housing advice providers, including the legal aid area covering my constituency. One provider is not enough, so what steps will the Government take to ensure there are at least two providers for each area?
It is important to recognise that housing cases where a person’s home is at risk fall within the scope of legal aid. The Law Society has raised concerns, as the hon. Gentleman will know. There are a lot of these cases in some parts of the country, but very few in other parts. What we have done is, through the Legal Aid Agency, taken active steps to ensure that there is adequate provision of housing advice around the country.
On the point about one or two providers, there are some places where one firm is providing a range of offices and functions across a number of clients, and other areas where the circumstances only really require that there should be something like a telephone hotline, which there is. The provision that is being made is what is needed.
There seem to be conflicting reports on the Government’s position on raising the cost bar for personal injury claims from £1,000 to £5,000. I would be grateful to hear what the Government’s position is.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that important point. The Government have been looking at this issue. I do not think we have made a formal announcement on it yet, and therefore I will write to him giving him the absolute latest position.
What assessment has the Minister made of the recent report by Amnesty International, which has found that insufficient resources for legal aid are creating a two-tier judicial system?
It is important that legal aid is available in the most serious cases, such as those in which life or liberty is involved, a person’s home is at risk, domestic violence is involved, or children are being taken away from their families. That is the legal aid provision that we have here. The hon. Lady claims that that is a two-tier system, but we claim that it is one that is targeted on need.
I should declare an indirect interest, in that my wife is a legal aid solicitor and part-time judge. The previous Lord Chancellor promised a review of LASPO. The legislation has not worked. It is a complete and utter shambles, and it urgently needs a review. When will it be properly reviewed?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, a promise was made that the Act would be reviewed within three years and five years of implementation—[Interruption.] Yes, within the period starting at three years and going up to five years. That period has just started, and an announcement will be made in due course.
Exceptional case funding was introduced as part of LASPO with the aim of ensuring that out-of-scope cases with exceptional circumstances would have access to legal aid. Between 2013 and 2016, 4,032 applications were made but, due to the stringency of the criteria, a staggering 3,081 of those applications were not granted. Will the Minister commit to broadening the criteria for exceptional case funding to allow more people to become eligible for this safety net and to increase access to justice for those who need it most?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. The number of cases being applied for and granted is rising, but there is also the question of ensuring that people who might need this funding are aware of it. That is an important part of the picture. Exceptional needs funding is a vital part of the picture and we will certainly keep it under review. If she wants to raise a detailed point with me about how it is operating, I would be more than happy either to discuss it with her or to enter into correspondence about it.
Human Rights Act
We will set out our proposals for a Bill of Rights in due course. We will consult fully on our proposals.
This question is to be taken with No. 7. There is something missing from the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s briefing today.
I am so sorry, Mr Speaker. Perhaps with your leave I could also answer question 7 in the same way.
We are no closer to a timeframe, a plan or a common theme in regard to how the Human Rights Act is to be replaced. Earlier this year, Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, said that the
“repeatedly delayed launch of the consultation process”
“creating an atmosphere of anxiety and concern in civil society and within the devolved administrations”.
Will the Minister tell us exactly when the consultation on this matter will be brought forward?
The Government were elected with a mandate to reform and modernise the UK human rights framework, and there are good reasons for that. We have a proud tradition in respect of human rights. The Government are also considering the overall constitutional landscape and how this will fit it following Brexit, but this is something that we are committed to.
The Council of Europe commissioner for human rights has also said of the consultation on the Human Rights Act:
“My impression is that the debate over the HRA in Westminster is not a true reflection of concerns outside England”.
Does the Minister appreciate that there is no support in Scotland for the plans, and that the impact of any attempt to repeal the Act would be to provoke a constitutional crisis?
The issue of human rights is important in all parts of the United Kingdom, and we accept that. We will fully engage with the devolved Administrations on this question. Many people feel that there is a need for a British jurisprudence to emerge on the European convention on human rights and a need to assert certain ancient rights that we have in Britain, such as that relating to jury trial.
I welcome that statement from my right hon. and learned Friend, but I urge him to look particularly hard at the military aspects. The efforts of those who currently risk their lives for us on operations are being overshadowed by what is going on with IHAT—the Iraq Historic Allegations Team—and the pursuit of human rights cases under British law by people who were our enemies.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. He will be aware of the announcement about derogation. Previously, there have been occasions when industrial-scale allegations could be made, many of which were later proved to be false, but that will change once the derogation process is in place.
It has been reported that 28 terrorists have used the Human Rights Act to avoid deportation—no doubt using legal aid as well. Is it not time to scrap the Act and to start thinking less about the human rights of terrorists and foreign-born criminals and more about the human rights of law-abiding members of the British public?
The House will be aware that there are concerns among the British public about the barriers to the deportation of criminals that should not have been there. There is also a need for British conditions and British jurisprudence in this area, something which the Conservative party has been calling for over many years and which the Government are alive to.
Justice System: Women
Crime is falling and fewer women are entering the justice system, and the female prison population is now consistently under 4,000. Women who commit crimes are often some of the most vulnerable in our society, which is why we are developing a strategy for women to be set out in the new year. We want to see fewer women in custody and to promote a greater focus on early intervention, diversion and multi-agency approaches to ensure that the justice system can take proper account of the specific needs of women.
There are many victims of domestic violence within the justice system with multiple complex needs—mostly women. What are the Government doing to address the concerns of Women’s Aid about the perverse impact of gender-neutral commissioning cutting women-only specialist services?
I am committed to ensuring that victims of crime get the support they need. Specialist services for victims of domestic abuse are commissioned both locally by police and crime commissioners and nationally. It is important that a range of provisions are in place to meet the diverse needs of domestic abuse victims. The Government’s new strategy on ending violence against women and girls sets out an ambition that by the end of this Parliament all victims of abuse will get the support they need. We have pledged increased funding of £80 million for that between now and 2020.
Some 82% of women who are sentenced to prison are convicted of non-violent crimes. Is it not about time that the Government had a cross-Department agenda that focuses on early intervention, so that we avoid locking women up?
I am aware of the complex problems often exhibited by women offenders—mental health and substance misuse problems—and I am actively engaged with other Departments to bring forward such a strategy in the new year.
Both boys and girls have to wear uniforms at school. Both men and women have to wear uniforms in the workplace. However, convicted men have to wear uniforms in prison while convicted women do not. Does the Minister agree with that? If so, what does the word “equality” mean to him?
My hon. Friend has a rich track record in this area. Women are twice as likely to report experiences of abuse as a child. They are more likely than men to be primary or sole carers of their children. They are more likely to display mental health problems and, indeed, class A drug use. It is important that we have a gender-specific approach for women and if that involves different uniforms, so be it.
At the last Justice questions in September, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), said that he was not going to “make any commitments” about what he or the Department were going to do to provide adequate support to the thousands of people in our prisons with mental health conditions, including so many women. The latest figures show another increase in suicide in our prisons. Since the new Secretary of State took office, one person takes their own life every three days—the highest level in 25 years. Is the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice ashamed of the figures? Will he now commit to ensure that paying for crime in this country will never mean paying with one’s life?
I recall answering the hon. Lady’s question at the last Justice Question Time, and my point was that the cause of this is very complex. I am very much aware of the suicide list, and we know that we have had an increase in the number of suicides this year, particularly in the women’s system. One case in the north-east, that of Michelle Barnes, is particularly shocking. The hon. Lady can be assured that I am looking closely at it, but there have been others. In dealing with this, I am not only trying to work on a women’s strategy that can be brought forward in the new year, but looking at offender mental health across the entire prisons system.
Will the Minister commit to work with devolved Governments to ensure funding for third sector organisations such as the North Wales Women’s Centre, which supports women in the criminal justice system as an alternative to prison?
I have already met Claire Sugden, Northern Ireland’s Justice Minister, and I intend to meet Justice Ministers from the other devolved regions. I am very happy to discuss those issues with them.
The continued cuts to legal aid funding mean that there is a rising number of litigants in person. Many women have to face their abusive partner in court, with no assistance on how to navigate the complexities of the law. More needs to be done to protect women during the legal process. What steps is the Minister taking to increase legal assistance for women and ensure that justice can truly be done?
Women do need additional support, not just in going through the legal process, but in housing and on many different issues, before, during and after their time in prison. I have already visited the Pause project in Hackney, where I was struck by how effective its approach has been in helping these vulnerable women. On the specific questions, we are working on this, but I would be happy to write to the hon. Lady with a more detailed response.
Access to Justice
The Government’s reform programme is intended to deliver a simpler, fairer justice system that works for everyone. We are reforming our courts to make them more modern, open, swift and accountable. Since January 2015, we have invested £3.5 million to provide more support to litigants in person.
The Government have utterly undermined access to justice for EU citizens and other migrants with their incredible 500% increase in immigration tribunal fees. Will the Minister at least closely monitor the drastic impact that that ridiculous increase is going to have and respond accordingly when everything the Government were warned about during their consultation actually comes to pass?
The Government take a markedly different view from the hon. Gentleman about this. The fact is that these tribunals cost money and there are people making applications to them who are not in the category of needing help with fees. Where people need help with fees, we of course have a remissions scheme, but where they do not need help, how can it be wrong that they should pay for the costs of the system? It is only right that they do so.
Lord Justice Briggs has prepared a report that has been not only revolutionary, but extremely helpful in the modernisation process, and I pay tribute to his work. We do intend to introduce a new online procedure for lower-value civil money claims. This procedure will be a mix of new technology, conciliation and judicial resolution, and will provide a simple dispute resolution process. We intend also to create a new rules committee to design the simpler rules this will require.
The Minister says that the Government take a “markedly different” view on tribunal fees from my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald). However, when the Justice Committee published its review of court and tribunal fees earlier this year, its excellent chairperson, the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill)—a Government Back Bencher—stated:
“Where there is conflict between the objectives of achieving full cost recovery and preserving access to justice, the latter must prevail.”
Does the Minister agree with that statement?
Yes, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) for the work that he does, chairing the Committee so ably. There is no question but that we do need a mitigation system, as we have for fees, but having said that I welcome the Justice Committee’s report, which goes into a wide range of issues and we will respond to it shortly.
Employment tribunal fees are an additional pressure on people who have been relieved of their employment in inappropriate circumstances, and they create a very real restriction on access to justice for those who are vulnerable. The group Maternity Action has said that, since the introduction of employment tribunal fees, there has been a 40% drop in claims for pregnancy-related detriment or dismissal. Why do the Government not follow the example of the Scottish Government and commit to scrapping employment tribunal fees?
The principle should be that if someone cannot pay and mitigation is required, then there should be a system of mitigation of fees. If someone is able to pay, given that this costs the country a huge amount of money, why should they not make a contribution if they are using these facilities?
In our country, it is a cornerstone of access to justice that there should be equality of arms in court. I was therefore shocked last week to hear the Minister of State for Courts and Justice tell us in an Adjournment debate on the Birmingham pub bombings that only
“an element of equality of arms”—[Official Report, 26 October 2016; Vol. 616, c. 400.]—
is necessary. Will the Minister come to the Dispatch Box and either reassure us that this was a mere slip of his well-trained legal tongue, or, alternatively, admit that his Government are reducing, not defending, access to justice?
That is a bit rich when, at that debate, I was able to announce that the families had got a legal aid certificate through the Legal Aid Agency. The hon. Gentleman is now talking semantics. I was saying that the element that was needed of equality of arms was being met in accordance with the rules of the agency. When it comes to Labour politicians talking about cuts and concerns about legal aid, it is worth remembering why it was necessary to make those cuts—it was because of the mismanagement of the economy, which the Government inherited in 2010.
On the subject of that Adjournment debate of last Wednesday, Lynn Bennett died—[Interruption.] I will not give it up. Lynn Bennett died aged 18 in the Birmingham pub bombings in 1974. Her father, Stanley Bennett, and her sister, Claire Luckman, are still searching for the truth. On principle, they refuse to fill in means-testing forms for legal aid representation in the inquest into Lynn’s death. They believe that the state is forcing them effectively to beg for access to justice. Will the Justice Secretary today agree to go back to the Home Secretary and ask her to reconsider this, so that Stanley and Claire can have access to justice on behalf of Lynn?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Legal Aid Agency, which is independent, has considered two applications for legal aid. One has been granted, and on the other, as was pointed out in the debate, a way has been described and set out in which it would be possible for those families to have legal aid, too. There is no question but that the families can be, and will be, represented. I accept that the Birmingham pub bombings were the most dreadful incident of a generation. I said in the debate that I remembered, as a young student, the powerful effect on the whole country of the worst bombing incident since the second world war, in which 21 people died and 222 were injured. All our thoughts in this House are with the families, their loved ones, and those who had their lives affected. On how we deal with these very difficult inquests in a very special category of cases, I made it clear in the debate that the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice are working on that matter, looking at the precedents of what happened with Hillsborough and waiting for Bishop James Jones’s report. We will also look at all the matters that were discussed in that debate.
Released Offenders: Employment
We know that getting prisoners into employment is key to reducing reoffending. While there are some excellent initiatives in the Prison Service, there is still no coherent system that links work inside with education and training, and employment opportunities on the outside. That is why I will be bringing forward a plan, early in the new year, to boost offender employment.
Despite undergoing training in prison, some offenders are still struggling to secure employment on their release, as highlighted recently by one of my constituents. What more is being done, and can be done, to ensure that the qualifications undertaken by inmates while in prison are both relevant and acceptable to potential employers?
My hon. Friend describes a situation that is all too familiar in our Prison Service where prisoners undertake courses in prison that bear no relation to the outside world or the ability to get a job. In our White Paper, which will be published shortly, we will be saying how we can improve that education system—we have already accepted the reforms announced by Dame Sally Coates in her review—and how we can help governors work with prisoners in the local labour market to boost employment for inmates.
There is a well-established link between unemployment and reoffending, and we are now five years on from the Government’s rehabilitation revolution. Will the Minister let us know whether the latest reoffending statistics show an increase or a decrease in reoffending rates?
It is still the case, as it has been for decades in the UK, that roughly a third of people who leave our prison system reoffend. The hon. Lady mentions the Government’s record. I do not recollect the last Labour Government ever talking about rehabilitation and reform in our prisons. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will introduce plans that will give governors real power on the frontline, so that they can act as the ringmasters working locally to deliver real reform.
Will the Minister agree to visit Jobs, Friends & Houses, which not only gets ex-offenders into construction jobs, but helps to find them somewhere to live, gets them off drugs and provides them with a supportive group of friends. That is such a good project; I am hoping to set it up in Bedfordshire as well.
My hon. Friend the former Minister mentions an excellent scheme that I definitely support, along with a number of other schemes that are going on in the Prison Service and with some great employers such as Timpson’s, Greggs and Halfords. In our employment strategy, we will make sure that that works throughout the system, rather than having a few bright spots here and there.
An important follow-on to that is the impediment that insurance premiums caused for employers who wished to engage somebody who had left prison. The former Minister, the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), was seized of the issue and pursuing good work in that regard. Will the Minister give an update on the progress with insurers and continue the hon. Gentleman’s good work?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there are a number of barriers for employers in taking ex-offenders—some around trust, some around stigma—and some real hard issues such as insurance. We will be looking at all those issues and reducing those barriers, so that employers are incentivised to take on ex-offenders. Interestingly, those who do so, such as Timpson’s, say that some of their most loyal employees are those who have come out of the prison system. We want that to continue.
The issue is not just autistic offenders. We know that many people in the youth justice system, as well as in the prison population as a whole, have special educational needs and low levels of literacy. A key step that the Government have taken is moving the relevant education budgets from the Department for Education to the Ministry of Justice. We will be delegating those budgets to prison governors, so that they can spend appropriately on the needs of each prisoner to help them to get the right education so they can get employment.
I have had no such discussions on this issue. Prisons are a devolved matter and responsibility for HMP Maghaberry lies with the Northern Ireland Department of Justice.
I was hoping that we would not hear about devolved matters now that we are all pulling together more as a Union. This is a vital matter and we must move on. Will the Minister discuss with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Justice Minister how we achieve a level playing field, change the present system and, more importantly, make sure that there are no on-the-run letters in the system?
The hon. Gentleman refers to on-the-run letters, which is a vital issue. This is normally an issue for the Northern Ireland Office, and as the previous Secretary of State for Northern Ireland set out in her statement to the Commons in 2014, the so-called on-the-run administrative scheme established by the previous Labour Government is at an end.
Criminal Driving Offences
The Government are very much aware of the concerns expressed about sentencing for driving offences. We are committed to making sure that the courts have sufficient powers to deal with driving offences appropriately and proportionately. We will consult by the end of the year on those offences and penalties.
Members across the House have supported families who have lost family members to the most reckless criminal driving. Members have also had to support such families through the reality of being failed by our justice system. The Department announced a review two and a half years ago, which should have concluded by now. Three Secretaries of State later, we are told again that there will be consultation this year. It is not good enough. Can the Minister give the House a clear date when the review will finally be published and there will be more justice for victims of criminal driving?
I am aware that a constituent of the hon. Gentleman was recently knocked down and killed by a driver over the drink-drive limit, and I offer my deepest condolences to the family of that constituent. Parliament sets the maximum penalties for road traffic offences, and we intend to consult by the end of the year on driving offences and penalties for the most serious cases that result in death or serious injury.
I welcome the Minister’s comments, but will he reassure me that part of the review will consider whether greater use can be made of the charge of manslaughter, so that those who have behaved so recklessly and caused someone’s death get the same type of penalty for doing that with their car as they would if they had done it with anything else?
The Crown Prosecution Service can and will charge a person with manslaughter where the evidence supports that charge, it is in the public interest to do so and there is a reasonable prospect of a conviction. In many driving cases, however, the offending behaviour, which may be highly irresponsible, does not suggest that the vehicle was intentionally used as a weapon to kill or commit grievous bodily harm or that the standard of driving was grossly negligent.
Pardons for Gay and Bisexual Men (Northern Ireland)
I am aware that Lord Lexden has tabled amendments seeking to extend to Northern Ireland the provisions tabled by Lord Sharkey in respect of England and Wales on this issue. Northern Ireland has legislative powers over matters relating to justice and policing. This is a devolved matter.
Given the unique equality legislation in Northern Ireland, does the Minister see a problem in any attempt to introduce such a measure in the Province?
If legislation is to be introduced extending the Turing pardon and a disregard process to Northern Ireland, that is a decision for the Northern Ireland Assembly to take. Were the provisions to be extended to Northern Ireland, a legislative consent motion would, by convention, be required.
Leaving the EU: Departmental Responsibilities
The Ministry of Justice is leading work on future arrangements with the EU for civil, family and commercial law. We are also working closely with the Home Office on EU criminal justice measures. I am determined to make sure that UK legal services, which contribute £26 billion a year to our economy, continue to thrive once we leave the EU.
Official figures show that between 2010 and 2015 the UK made 1,424 requests to EU members under the European arrest warrant, as a result of which 916 successful arrests were made. Will access to the system continue when the UK leaves the EU?
As I have said, the Home Office is leading on criminal justice matters. We are working very closely with the Home Office, and we want to preserve those beneficial policies where we can deal with criminal and civil justice matters, so that we can make sure that we have the best possible legal services in the world.
English law—particularly English commercial law—is respected around the world for its quality. Will the Secretary of State confirm that her Department will use Brexit as an opportunity to spread its use around the world, working with our international law firms?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend, who has a background in commercial law in one of the top City firms. I had a roundtable with the magic circle and the silver circle to talk about how we can promote those legal areas, as well as all the practices right through the UK, including those practising in Scots law. We have a big opportunity to promote this more widely, and we are using the GREAT campaign as a vehicle to do that.
First, I would like to express my deepest sympathy for the family and friends of Jamal Mahmoud, who, sadly, died at HMP Pentonville on 18 October. We need to address the major issue of violence in our prisons, and that is why I have been conducting a comprehensive review of the system. I will shortly be launching a White Paper on how I plan to transform prisons into places of safety and reform. I have announced immediate investment of £14 million to increase staffing levels in 10 of the most challenging prisons.
I thank the Minister for that, but may I change the subject slightly, to domestic violence? Incidents are sharply up, successful Crown Prosecution Service prosecutions are up, which is good, but references to the CPS are, puzzlingly, down. What is the Minister’s take on this anomaly, and do we need some positive feedback from the courts to the police?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. We have put in extra measures—particularly the law on coercive behaviour, which has been very important. What I am determined to do is make sure our courts system treats vulnerable witnesses and victims as well as possible to encourage more people to come forward.
A very pithy question. The new threat from drones is a game-changer, not just for prisons but for other parts of the Government. That is why I am working with Ministers across the Government to engage with drone manufacturers to find a solution to this problem. I am keeping a close eye on what is happening internationally, particularly in Holland, where eagles are used to stop drones. I am sure that we will find a solution in the UK that will take off.
The Government are intent on delivering on their historic manifesto commitment to grant a pardon to all those convicted under archaic gay laws. The Scottish Government have announced their plans, but I note that, even in those plans, they are talking about a disregard process in just the same way as the UK Government. Our disregard process will ensure that people who are guilty of crimes that are still a crime do not accidentally get pardoned. That is absolutely right: to have an appropriate safeguard, we do not right a wrong by creating another injustice.
I noted—I am sure colleagues did—that the prince of pithiness was about to leave the Chamber, and I think it ought to be noted.
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. We want to make sure that vulnerable witnesses, including children, who have to go in front of an open court at the moment, testify and be cross-examined can be cross-examined in advance—pre-trial and pre-recorded. This is much less intimidating, and I think that it will encourage more victims to come forward.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made it absolutely clear why she has made that decision. It is very important that people have access to justice and we have a country that works for everyone.
Our armed forces make huge sacrifices, and plainly no current or former serving member should face unwarranted investigation. However, where there are credible serious allegations of criminal behaviour, they must be investigated; I think that everyone in the military world understands that. It is important to make rapid progress with the Iraq Historic Allegation Team’s caseload. The team expects the caseload to have reduced from the original 3,300 cases to about 250 by early January.
Plans to rebuild Sunderland’s courts complex have been on hold since 2010. Despite raising this issue on numerous occasions with the Courts and Justice Minister’s predecessors, we still have not had a decision. Will the current Minister meet me and my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) as a matter of priority to see whether we can make any progress?
My right hon. and learned Friend will be extremely happy to meet the hon. Lady.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are working very closely with the Department for Education, and we will shortly produce our paper on youth offenders, which will talk about how we intervene earlier before people end up with custodial sentences.
My constituent, Mrs Fleeting, tragically lost her son, Robert, when he was serving honourably on an English base. The family cannot gain closure, as there is no automatic inquest by jury, and they are understandably distraught. Will the Minister meet Mrs Fleeting and me to discuss the case and access to justice for the late Robert Fleeting?
Yes, I would be more than happy to meet the hon. Lady and her constituent.
Care applications are made only when a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm. The rise in care applications requires a cross-system response, and we are working closely with a range of partners to establish its causes and mitigate its operational impacts. Conflict during divorce is often focused on children and the division of assets. Mediation can be a quicker alternative to court, and legal aid is available to eligible parties.
Recognising the significant flexibility recently given to the governor of Ranby prison in employment and rehabilitation matters, may I propose that the Prisons Minister and I conduct a joint visit to maximise local and national support for that reform?
With trepidation, I accept the hon. Gentleman’s invitation to a joint visit to Ranby. I am grateful that he appreciates the reform. Giving prison governors real power can make a difference.
We learn a lot more about the opinions of the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) on a vast miscellany of matters—of that he can rest assured.
The Justice Secretary will be aware that in the past couple of years considerable progress has been made in allowing UK lawyers to practise in India. Will she update the House on progress so far, particularly given that the Prime Minister will be visiting India in the next few days?
I commend my hon. Friend for his work as a Minister in the Department to promote legal links with India; I am pleased to say that those are being taken forward. The Prime Minister will visit India this month to pave the way for UK lawyers to practise there, helping to improve our international business and trade. English law is a massive asset that we can leverage for wider business negotiation.
How many of the inquest reports on self-inflicted deaths in custody has the Minister read, and what actions has he taken as a result of the recommendations of inquests that have caused real distress to families?
Every death in custody is a tragic event. As the Minister with responsibility for prisons—I have been in the role for four months—I take every one of them seriously. I look at all the reports and I sign many of the responses to those reports where, for example, the independent monitoring board is involved. We have plans to make sure that we deliver on them.
Does the Secretary of State agree that we need bold reform to cut reoffending and that that must mean giving prison governors the powers and the accountability to innovate, especially when it comes to skills training and drugs rehabilitation in the prisons that they run?
My hon. Friend is nothing but bold. I absolutely agree with him that we need to change the way we are doing things, because the fact is that we have had a persistently high reoffending rate. Almost half the people in prison will reoffend within a year, and that is not acceptable. We need to give governors the power to turn lives around, to get people off drugs and to get them into work.
The Ministry’s review into the care and management of transgender offenders was due to be concluded in the spring, but almost a year since the review was first announced, a report is yet to be published. Can the Secretary of State update the House today on when we can expect to see that report?
The Government are firmly committed to ensuring that transgender offenders are treated fairly, lawfully and decently and that their rights are respected. A Ministry of Justice-led review of the care and management of transgender offenders concluded that treating offenders in the gender with which they identify is the most effective starting point for safety and reducing reoffending, where an assessment of all known risks can be considered alongside the offender’s views.
Mary—not her real name—a constituent of mine, went to Benidorm on a hen do. Her drink was spiked by a British man known to one of the group, and then she was raped by the man. It is now six months since the offence, and the Spanish police seem no closer to taking the case seriously. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the ability to bring to trial in this country a case involving a sexual offence against a Briton overseas is vital for justice when the country in which the offence occurred does not take it seriously?
Yes, I do agree. The Istanbul convention, which the UK signed in June 2012, requires ratifying states to assume jurisdiction over offences of this sort when committed by our nationals overseas. But we need to make changes to primary legislation to introduce this, because the existing law applies only where the rape involves a person under 18 years of age.
Will Ministers update the House on progress with the Missing Persons Guardianship Bill? It is of great interest to my constituents Mr and Mrs Lawrence; they are the parents of Claudia, who went missing seven long years ago.
I will write to my hon. Friend, because this is a subject on which we will be saying something shortly.
The illicit use of mobile phones in prisons is a pernicious issue that must be tackled. Will the Secretary of State update the House on what more the Government are doing to make sure that we use a technology solution to deal with that?
My hon. Friend is right. Technology is the problem here, and we believe that technology is the answer. We are working very closely with mobile network operators to develop a solution to stop the illegal use of mobile phones in our prisons.
Finally, the Chair of the Select Committee on Justice, Mr Robert Neill.
Does the Secretary of State share my concern at the 40% increase in suicides in 2015-16 among offenders undergoing supervision in the community? Will she therefore expedite the Department’s review of the effectiveness of the transforming rehabilitation programme?
I thank the Committee Chairman for his question, and I share his concern about this issue. We recognise that there are benefits from the transforming rehabilitation programme: for example, 45,000 people with sentences of less than a year who previously were not being supervised are now being supervised. However, the Minister is conducting a review, as we do with all new legislation, to check how it is working. That is one of the aspects that he will be looking at.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if she will make a statement on the process she went through and the papers she considered before reaching her decision not to proceed with an inquiry into the events at Orgreave in June 1984.
The Home Secretary announced her decision in a written ministerial statement yesterday, in which she explained her main reasons for deciding against instigating either a statutory inquiry into or an independent review of the events at Orgreave coking plant. She has also written to the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign setting out the detailed reasons for her decision, and she answered a number of questions in the House yesterday in response to an oral parliamentary question on this subject.
In determining whether to establish a statutory inquiry or other review, the Home Secretary considered a number of factors, reviewed a wide range of documents and spoke to members of the campaign. She came to the view that neither an inquiry nor a review was required to allay public concern at this stage, more than 30 years after the events in question. In so doing, she noted the following factors. Despite the forceful accounts and arguments provided by the campaigners about the effect that these events had on them, ultimately there were no deaths or wrongful convictions. In addition, the policing landscape and the wider criminal justice system have changed fundamentally since 1984, with significant changes in the oversight of policing at every level, including major reforms to criminal procedure, changes to public order policing and practice, stronger external scrutiny and greater local accountability. There are few lessons to be learned from a review of the events and practices of three decades ago. This is a very important consideration when looking at the necessity for an inquiry or independent review.
Taking these considerations into account, we do not believe that establishing any kind of inquiry is required in the wider public interest or for any other reason.
The now Prime Minister invited Orgreave campaigners to submit a bid for an inquiry and she entered Downing Street talking about fighting burning injustices, so the House will understand why so many people feel bitterly betrayed today. Orgreave is one of the most divisive events in British social history. Given that there is evidence of unlawful conduct by the police in relation to it, is it not simply staggering that the Home Secretary has brushed aside an inquiry as not necessary? Is it not even more revealing that she was not prepared to come to this House today to justify her decision?
I want to focus very specifically on her decision-making process, and I expect direct answers from the Minister. Before making her decision, did the Home Secretary recall files held by South Yorkshire police and review them personally? I am told they never left Sheffield. Is that true? Did she consider in detail the new testimony that has emerged from police officers, particularly in relation to police statements? Did she review all relevant Cabinet papers, such as the minutes—stamped “SECRET” —of the meeting between Margaret Thatcher and Leon Brittan, in which the then Home Secretary said he wanted
“to increase the rate of prosecutions”
of miners? If the Home Secretary did not do each and every one of these crucial things, will not many people conclude that the decision-making process was incomplete and therefore unsound?
Yesterday, the Home Secretary promised to release the operational order. Will the Minister make sure that that happens immediately? She also dismissed the link with Hillsborough. In doing so, is she dismissing the words of Margaret Aspinall, who believes that if the police had been properly held to account for their misdeeds in 1985, the Hillsborough cover-up may never have happened? Are we to conclude that from now on, under this Home Secretary, all manner of misdeeds will be left uninvestigated as long as there are “no deaths”?
The Minister attended a positive meeting with campaigners in early September. We left the meeting with the clear impression that it was not a question of whether there would be an inquiry, but of what form the inquiry would take. Indeed, the next day The Times reported on its front page that Whitehall sources had said there would be an inquiry. Did the Home Secretary or her advisers authorise this briefing, and what changed after it was given? In retrospect, does the Minister now concede that it was utterly cruel to give those campaigners false hope in that way?
Yesterday, we were hit with a bombshell, but today we dust ourselves down and we give notice to this Government that we will never give up this fight.
The right hon. Gentleman will know full well from the meeting with campaigners that he came to, and I was also at, that we were very clear, as the Home Secretary has been throughout the process, that she would make a decision by the end of October and would take into account a wide range of factors. She considered a number of factors when making her decision. She reviewed a wide range of documents, carefully considered the arguments contained in the campaign’s submission and spoke to the campaign leaders and supporters, as she did yesterday, when she personally spoke to Barbara Jackson and to the right hon. Gentleman, among others, and I spoke to the police and crime commissioner.
The right hon. Gentleman commented on the links with Hillsborough. I know he will be aware that work is still ongoing on Hillsborough, with the Independent Police Complaints Commission still looking at the issues, and there could still be criminal proceedings.
When the right hon. Gentleman looks at the decision he should remember that, as the Home Secretary rightly pointed out yesterday, we fully appreciate that we disagree on this, but that does not mean that the Home Secretary’s decision is wrong.
I very much support the Home Secretary’s decision. Unlike most of the people bleating on the Labour Benches, I actually lived in South Yorkshire in a mining community during the time of the miners strike and saw at first hand the bullying and intimidation from the miners that went on. People who did not contribute to the strike fund had their windows done in.
These people were trying to bring down the democratically elected Government of the time. They lost, and they need to get over it. Anyone only has to look at the TV pictures—[Interruption.]
Order. I recognise that this is a subject that arouses very strong feeling, but the House knows me well enough by now to know that I will facilitate the fullest possible questioning on the matter from Members in all parts of the House. However, I ought to be able to say without fear of contradiction that the hon. Member for Shipley will be heard.
People only have to look at the TV footage of the event to see the violence that the miners were carrying out against police officers. Will the Minister explain why, if this matter is so important to Labour Members, in the 13 years they were in government they did absolutely nothing about it?
My hon. Friend makes an impassioned point. I would not for a moment want to put words in the mouth of the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) from the Dispatch Box. I am sure he will be able to explain the actions he took or did not take during that period. For us, this has not been a political decision. The Home Secretary said yesterday that it is about looking at what is right in terms of the wider public interest and in the light of the substantial changes to and reforms of the police service there have been. All of us, across the House, should get behind the continued driving through of future reforms of the police service through the Policing and Crime Bill.
We on the Labour Benches have noted that the Home Secretary has not bothered to come before the House on this occasion to explain her decision.
Most people in this House remember the miners strike, and what happened at Orgreave was totemic. Most people in the House also remember what Lord Stockton—Harold Macmillan—said in his maiden speech in the House of Lords about the miners strike:
“it breaks my heart to see what is happening in our country today. A terrible strike…by the best men in the world. They beat the Kaiser’s army and they beat Hitler’s army. They never gave in.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 13 November 1984; Vol. 457, c. 240.]
Does the Minister understand that the Home Secretary’s decision is a slap in the face to the best men in the world and their friends and supporters? Does he understand that the Orgreave campaigners feel that they have been led up the garden path by the Home Secretary? And does he understand that the Home Secretary’s proposition is that because there were no deaths and no convictions—and the cases only collapsed because the collusion by South Yorkshire police officers was revealed—injustice must stand? The Opposition say to Ministers that we will not let this issue go and that injustice will not be allowed to stand.
The hon. Lady was here yesterday when the Home Secretary was here, having already made a written ministerial statement, to answer questions on this matter during oral questions. I am here today because this issue forms part of the portfolio I cover for the Home Office.
The Government have stood up and brought forward inquiries before. We have not been afraid to address matters to correct the wrongs of the past. We have had to consider the wider public interest, which includes what lessons need to be learned and how we change police behaviour based on what happened 30 years ago. Bear in mind that since that time we have had not only the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 but a range of other reforms, not least the delivery of local accountability through police and crime commissioners and changes in police practice. Looking at what lessons could be learned, what the benefits would be and what outcomes we are looking for from a public inquiry, the Home Secretary’s decision, although the hon. Lady disagrees with it, is absolutely right.
I would just make a further point to the hon. Lady. In looking at the wider public interest, the Home Office considers a wide range of matters, including differences with previous cases where there were a substantial number of tragic deaths. In this case there were none and there were no convictions, so what we are looking at with a public inquiry is whether other lessons could be learned. As I said yesterday, if the hon. Lady looks at the changes in police practice over 30 years, she will see there would be no benefit from proceeding with a public inquiry.
Some of us did not read accounts of the miners strike in The Guardian, with the benefit of living in London. Some of us—as I was, reporting for Central Television—were there on a daily basis. I totally agree with the Home Secretary’s very sensible decision. If we were to have an inquiry, does my right hon. Friend agree that it might be into the funding and activities of the National Union of Mineworkers, which on an almost daily basis bussed thousands of their members into the county of Nottinghamshire to not only bring down a democratically elected Government, but to thwart the democratic decision of the Nottinghamshire miners to work?
My right hon. Friend highlights the very strong feelings on all sides about Orgreave. We totally understand that. The Home Secretary outlined that here yesterday and in the meeting with Orgreave campaigners that I and other MPs also attended. As the Home Secretary outlined yesterday, we appreciate that the campaigners will be disappointed with the decision she has made, but we have to make a decision about what is in the wider public interest, and an inquiry is not.
I listened very carefully to what the Home Secretary had to say yesterday, but, as has already been indicated, her argument that there were no wrongful convictions does not hold water when one realises that the cases collapsed when a decent lawyer revealed collusion on the part of the police.
The absence of deaths at Orgreave is also a red herring. Is not the real issue here as follows: when the redactions to the June 2015 IPCC report were revealed, they showed striking similarities between the personnel and the alleged practices of South Yorkshire police at Orgreave and Hillsborough? Of course, we all now know what went on to happen at Hillsborough. Did the Home Secretary not feel that the striking similarities between personnel and practices at Orgreave and Hillsborough alone justified an independent inquiry, even as an opportunity to increase public trust in the police?
Moreover, there is a very important issue raised by Orgreave, which is the alleged political interference by the then UK Government in operational policing. If there was political interference from the Government in operational policing, it would be a deeply troubling matter and one of huge constitutional significance. Did the Home Secretary give this grave accusation consideration as part of the process leading to her decision yesterday?
The hon. and learned Lady addresses issues relating to the investigation. The IPCC has said that, should further evidence emerge of any impropriety by an officer, retired or otherwise, it would look at it. I met the chairman of the IPCC yesterday afternoon. She confirmed again that if new evidence came forward it would look at it. Furthermore, the report published by the IPPC was redacted on legal advice because it contained passages relating to the then ongoing Hillsborough inquiry. I refer back to my comments of a short while ago: investigations are still going on into Hillsborough and criminal proceedings may well come out of them. The IPCC is involved in those investigations.
It is disappointing that the Labour party seems to want to divide our society once again. Labour Members would do well to remember that the miners in South Derbyshire, North West Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire wanted to work and bore the full brunt of secondary picketing. Does the Minister agree it is important that the new chief constable of South Yorkshire police, who was only appointed in the summer, has a chance to bed into his position and start to rebuild his relationships with the local community?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point, a variation of which was raised yesterday by another hon. Friend. I spoke to the police and crime commissioner of South Yorkshire yesterday, so I know that the force is determined to build a new relationship with the people of South Yorkshire. There is new leadership and new membership in that police force, and I said that I was looking forward to working with them to develop a new approach from what existed some 30 years ago. They acknowledge that they have a piece of work to do to rebuild engagement with the community, and we will stand with them in support.
I find it painful that Members are rehashing discredited, 30-year-old smears, which does nothing for community cohesion. Both the Home Secretary yesterday and the Minister now seem to be saying that we are not having this inquiry because nobody died. Is that the new bar that this Government are levying on justice?
No, and with all due respect, I think the hon. Lady is using an unfortunate interpretation of what I said. I have been clear, as was the Home Secretary yesterday, that there is a wide range of issues surrounding the public interest in having an inquiry. There were no wrongful convictions, and there were no deaths, but a key question is—I stress it again—what lessons are we looking to learn from an incident that happened 30 years ago? In the period from the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 right through to the Policing and Crime Bill that is going through the House today, there has been a substantial and dramatic change in the system and structure of policing in this country. Things are very different today, so there is no wider public interest in having an inquiry at this time.
Does the Minister agree that we are in danger of running away with the concept that all police at the time were bad and all the striking miners were good? I still remember Arthur Scargill refusing to condemn picket line violence. I remember the murder of the taxi driver, David Wilkie; and I remember the relentless use of the word “scab” to describe anybody who simply wanted to go to work. Should we not get a sense of proportion here?
My hon. Friend makes a strong point. I fully recognise that there are very strong feelings on all sides of the debate. Some families feel very strongly about it, and I and others met them in September this year. I absolutely understand the strength of their feeling and why they feel as they do, but we have to look at the wider public interest. The hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) refers from a sedentary position to other issues around South Yorkshire, but they are separate issues. This is a decision specifically about Orgreave, not the wider issues for South Yorkshire. We may disagree with it, but the Home Secretary has made the decision—the right decision—that there is no benefit from having a public inquiry on this issue.
The Minister’s statement today reflects what the Home Secretary said in her written ministerial statement yesterday, which is that somehow there can be no inquiry because South Yorkshire policing has moved on. I have to tell the right hon. Gentleman that this is a new principle of truth and justice—that it can be denied, in the face of serious allegations, because of the dubious claim that lessons have been learned. That is why families and communities in South Yorkshire feel that they have been sold down the river by this Government—and this cannot stand.
As I said earlier, this has to be looked at in the context of this particular case. Under this Government, the Prime Minister and Home Secretary have stood up to take on independent reviews and inquiries over a range of very difficult issues over the last six years, looking at what happened in the past. Despite what Opposition Members might wish to make of it, this is not a political decision; it is a decision based on looking at the particular case of Orgreave and at what is in the wider public interest. As I have outlined, a public inquiry will not serve that interest.
Does the Minister agree that far and away the worst atrocity in those terrible events was the murder of the taxi driver, David Wilkie? Is my right hon. Friend as amazed as I am that his death has not been mentioned once by Opposition Members? Does he agree that if we are to have a public inquiry, it should be into what the former leader of the Labour party called the lies, the violence and the lack of a ballot by those strike-breakers?
My hon. Friend highlights the strength of feeling that exists on all sides of the debate about the activities that happened many years ago. On the point he raised about what would happen if there were a public inquiry, there will not be one. The decision of the Home Secretary and the Government is that the wider public interest is not served by having an Orgreave inquiry.
Why is it that 31 years is too long for an inquiry, yet 31 years is not too long for this Government to carry on hiding the Cabinet papers on the strike and to refuse to release them? Why is it so long, when we know that the Thatcher Government were going to close 75 pits and not 20? The truth is that this nasty party has now become the nasty Government, who are more concerned about preserving the Thatcher legacy than they are fighting for truth and justice.
Again, the hon. Gentleman misinterprets what I have said this afternoon. What I have said very clearly is that the decision not to have a public inquiry is based on looking at the wider public interest. Included in that are the facts that there were no wrongful convictions and no deaths and, importantly, that police structure and behaviour has changed. This was seen partly under the last Labour Government, but predominantly under this Government. I ask the hon. Gentleman to support and join us in carrying out the further work to continue those reforms and to work with the South Yorkshire police to improve their relationship with people as we go forward. I have spoken to the police and crime commissioner of South Yorkshire, and I know that he is very keen to be transparent and to deliver more. He has employed an archivist to try to ensure that South Yorkshire police get all the archives they can. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will want to engage with that.
The synthetic indignation from Labour Members cannot mask the fact that in 13 years of a Labour Government, the issue of Orgreave was completely neglected and forgotten. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, notwithstanding the absence of an inquiry—I concur wholeheartedly with the Home Secretary’s decision—the clear and necessary changes in governance and mind-set required within the South Yorkshire police will continue and be delivered?
My hon. Friend makes a good and important point. It is very important that we continue to reform the police service for the future. Some reforms are outlined in the Policing and Crime Bill, and there are others that the former Home Secretary, now our Prime Minister, has taken on, and that the Home Secretary is determined to deliver. It is part of the task of changing how the police work from how they used to work some 30 years ago. I spoke to Dr Alan Billings, the police and crime commissioner for South Yorkshire yesterday afternoon. I am determined to work with him and his chief constable to make sure that they get a good relationship with the people of South Yorkshire in the future. We want to ensure that the police service delivers on the work that the police do every single day—policing by consent.
I have represented Orgreave in this House since 1983. I well remember the events of the miners strike at that time. I called for a public inquiry to review the policing of the miners strike in 1985—and it was denied at that time as it has been denied now. The Minister says that the IPCC is still looking at these issues, but he must know that the IPCC deals with serving police officers. If they are still serving in South Yorkshire, they would have been about 16 at the time, so this is not an answer to the problem. He says that the Home Secretary is looking at the papers, but we need an independent individual to look at them. If we cannot have a full public inquiry, we should surely be able to have someone of an independent nature to look at what happened to see if any lessons can be learned from the policing of the miners strike in 1984-85.
I think the fact that the IPCC is involved in work on Hillsborough that could lead to criminal proceedings shows that it is prepared to deal with these issues appropriately. After all, it is an independent organisation. As I said earlier, I met its chair yesterday, and he confirmed again—as the IPCC has already confirmed publicly—that if new evidence appears, it will look at that evidence. I assume from the right hon. Gentleman’s comments that he will fully support the work that we are doing to reform and update the IPCC to ensure that officers who have left the police force can still be involved in investigations and prosecuted by the organisation.
I was a serving police officer at the time, and I well remember the situation as described by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). Does the Minister agree that policing has moved on significantly in the last few decades, that there are sufficient safeguards against a repetition of an episode like Orgreave and that there is no useful purpose in an inquiry?
My hon. Friend has made a very good point. As I have said, the changes made by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act and Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, the criminal justice changes, and other reforms—not least the introduction of local accountability through police and crime commissioners—have led to a dramatic change in policing practices in the last few decades. I welcome that, but we all need to work to ensure that it continues.
I note that the Minister has failed to answer a single one of the questions asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham). I feel sorry for the Minister, because the Home Secretary bottled it yesterday and she has bottled it again today. He knows that she did not review the documents on the basis of which the IPCC reached its decision. Does he honestly believe that she can honestly say that there is no link with Hillsborough and that there are no lessons to be learnt today?
The hon. Lady should have another look at what I said in response to the right hon. Gentleman’s question. Although I fully appreciate that both she and he may not agree with or like what I said, that does not mean that I did not answer the question, and it does not mean that the Home Secretary’s decision is wrong. A number of factors were taken into account in the making of that decision. It involved looking at a wide range of documents, and, indeed, meeting the Orgreave campaigners themselves, as the Home Secretary, the hon. Lady and I did in September. I suggest that the hon. Lady look again at my answers to questions, including my answers to the right hon. Gentleman.
I wonder whether the Minister agrees with David Blunkett, the former Labour Home Secretary, who reportedly said that he
“would take some convincing that another agonising internal inquiry would shed more light than is already known.”
I saw that quotation as well, and I think it underlines and highlights the fact that this was a difficult decision. No one has said that it was easy. As the Home Secretary herself said, in the House yesterday—and she was here yesterday, answering questions on this matter—and also during previous appearances in the House and when meeting the campaigners, a difficult decision had to be made and many factors weighed up. Ultimately, however, we had to make a decision about what was in the wider public interest, and this decision is in the wider public interest.
May I ask the Minister a very simple question? Will the Home Secretary meet members of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign to discuss this matter further?
The Home Secretary has met the Orgreave campaigners, and she spoke to Barbara Jackson yesterday. She has also written to the campaigners, and I think that they need time to digest her letter. I know that they made a statement shortly before I came into the House today, but we shall have to await their response to the Home Secretary and take matters from there.
A few moments ago, the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Kevin Barron) mentioned the 1983 election. May I invite the Minister to consider improvements that have been made in police codes of conduct in the past 30 years by, for example, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which came into force on 1 January 1986? Given the apparent strength of feeling on the Opposition Benches, is it not strange that successive Labour Governments failed to conduct a review of, or inquiry into, what had happened at Orgreave?
My hon. Friend has made a couple of points. I will let others draw their own conclusions about the actions of those other than ourselves in the Home Office, but I will say that he is absolutely right about the changes that have taken place. We have had PACE, the Public Order Act 1986, the changes at HMIC, and the police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy inspections. The Association of Chief Police Officers has now become the National Police Chiefs Council and has its own codes of conduct. Furthermore, we have the Policing and Crime Bill, and we have the police and crime commissioner reforms that were introduced in the House by the present Prime Minister. Policing has changed dramatically, but we want the reforms to continue, and I urge all members to support that work.
I was elected to the House in 1984, in the middle of the miners strike. I spoke about the strike in my maiden speech, and I stood on the picket lines and saw what happened. I saw the brutality and the intimidation. I saw a pregnant woman kicked in the stomach. There was a lot of violence. That was in the Cynon valley, and people in the Cynon valley still feel very strongly about this issue. They believe that unless the Government have something to hide, they should agree to an inquiry. We are fully behind the people who call for the inquiry: people never forget, and certainly they will never forget the experiences of the miners strike.
As I said earlier, the decision that we have had to make—the decision that the Home Secretary has made—involved looking at a range of issues relating to the specific case of Orgreave and considering whether it was in the wider public interest to hold an inquiry. It was decided that it was not.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) on being granted the urgent question, but does the Minister agree that if there is to be an inquiry of this kind, it should take place as soon as possible after the event? Did the Home Secretary take account of the fact that Prime Minister Brown and Prime Minister Blair did not hold such an inquiry? Is not the danger now that all that would happen is that a lot of lawyers would become even richer, and we would not gain any more knowledge?
The Home Secretary’s decision involved looking at a wide range of documents and considering a wide range of factors. Ultimately, however, the core of the decision was the question of what was in the wider public interest, and we have decided that an inquiry is not in the wider public interest.
The Home Secretary stood at the Dispatch Box and encouraged me to present the evidence that I had been given by one of my local councillors, Mike Freeman. He was a serving officer in Greater Manchester police whose whistleblowing about the corrupt practices in South Yorkshire featured in an edition of the Channel 4 “Dispatches” programme. This Government did not have Mike’s back. Would the Minister like to apologise for the personal cost that he has suffered?
As I have said, the Home Secretary looked at a wide range of documents and considered a wide range of factors, and that included meeting the campaigners. We are determined to ensure that whistleblowers are properly protected, which is why we are seeking to increase their protections. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support that, along with the Police and Crime Bill and our work with the IPCC.
Does it not strike the Minister as odd that Labour Members are using part of their Opposition day tomorrow to debate police officers’ safety? They seem to have forgotten that 32 years ago individual police officers from up and down the country, including Northamptonshire, faced an unprecedented wave of picket-line violence from yobs, led by trade unions, without the protective equipment that police officers have today. Yes, it was ugly; yes, it was violence, and those unfortunate events happened on both sides. However, to spend millions of pounds on investigating events of 32 years ago when things have moved on would be a waste of time.
My hon. Friend has raised the important issue of the safety and security of our police, which we will debate tomorrow. It is right for people to appreciate that our forces police by consent, which is why I think that the reforms that have taken place over the past few decades are so important, and why I think that we must continue those reforms. We want a police force that we can continue to be proud of and continue to rate as the best in the world, and we want to make sure that our police officers are safe as well. That does not detract from the fact that both the Home Secretary and I fully appreciate the strength of feeling on all sides of the debate. Nevertheless, the decision about Orgreave had to be about what was in the wider public interest. That is the decision that the Home Secretary has made, and rightly so.
The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign is supported by people throughout the United Kingdom, including many of my constituents. Yesterday’s decision ultimately means that South Yorkshire police will not be held to account for their actions and required to answer the serious allegation that they were deliberately trying to create circumstances in which riot charges would stick, a narrative that was briefed to the then Prime Minister and her Cabinet. In the absence of an inquiry or an independent review, how do the Government intend to deal with that very serious allegation?
If there are allegations and new evidence, the IPCC chair repeated to me yesterday what it has said publicly: it will look at any new evidence and take it into account in any decisions it makes moving forward. In particular, there are still ongoing investigations and potential criminal proceedings linked to Hillsborough. This is also why it is important that we not only continue to deliver the reforms outlined over the last 30 years, and in particular the last five or six years, but we continue the reform of the police service, especially working with South Yorkshire police on its relationships with its local community.
I was very young during the miners strike but I do know Nottinghamshire’s former coalfield communities today; I represent some of them. Those communities are still suffering in many respects from the miners strike. They are suffering from ill health, low levels of employment, addiction and many other problems. As so little is to be gained from having this inquiry, would it not be better if we all now concentrate on the present and the future?
There is an important point here as this highlights why the Prime Minister is right to state that we as a Government need to work to ensure we deliver a country that works for everybody, so everyone in those communities— communities I worked in myself a decade or more ago—has the chance to succeed in life. We must always learn the lessons of the past. That is why the reforms over the last three decades and the reforms going forward are so important in making sure we continue to have a first-class police force in this country.
The police and crime commissioner in South Yorkshire, Dr Alan Billings, has made it absolutely clear that he does not want to begin the process of building a new future for South Yorkshire police by sweeping under the carpet the problems of the past. Will the Minister specifically say whether he and the Home Secretary have looked at the evidence of masonic links involved in the cover-up at Orgreave and whether they are the same masonic links that were evident in the cover-up at Hillsborough?
I repeat what I said earlier this afternoon: the Home Secretary has considered a number of factors in the decision, including a wide range of documents and arguments put forward in the campaign submission. [Interruption.] Members on the Opposition Front Bench are saying this has already been said, but that might be because I am being asked the same question in effect time and again. No matter how many times I am asked, I will be clear to Opposition Members that the Home Secretary has looked at a wide range of issues in making her decision. [Interruption.] I say specifically on the hon. Gentleman’s point about the PCC, if Opposition Front Benchers will allow him to hear what I am saying, that Dr Alan Billings makes an important point about wanting to move forward with a fresh start for the new leadership of South Yorkshire police. My hon. Friends have made that point, and when I spoke to the PCC yesterday he was clear about his determination to have transparency and to have an archivist work through the archives to get as much as possible out into the public domain to help us move forward. The relationship with the public of South Yorkshire is important.
Does the Minister agree that, although there was of course a tragedy at Orgreave and there were abuses almost certainly on both sides, justice delayed is justice denied, and it would have been better to have had this inquiry 15 years after the event rather than waiting 31 years, when so many people are retired or have died, and it would be inappropriate to have it now?
I understand my hon. Friend’s point, but the reasoning behind the Home Secretary’s decision comes from looking at the wider public interest. There were no wrongful convictions and no deaths and, importantly, the changes in policing over the last three decades mean policing has moved on, and we need to continue those reforms.
Does the Minister accept that there were no wrongful convictions because the case the police fabricated against those 95 miners collapsed because of the fabricated evidence? Does he not accept that there was then no accountability for the senior officers in South Yorkshire police, including the chief constable at the time, who led that arrangement to fit people up wrongly? Five years later, that same cadre of senior officers was responsible for fabricating evidence against fans after the Hillsborough disaster. Yes, that did lead to 96 deaths, but the denial of justice over so many years for the Hillsborough families and those affected by the events at Hillsborough might never have happened if the chief constable and his senior cadre of officers had been held to account for what happened at Orgreave, but they were not.
The hon. Lady has in effect outlined why it has been so important to have those reforms in how policing works and that local accountability over the last three decades. Her point about Hillsborough is right, and criminal proceedings may well come out of that with the IPCC, but that is because the reforms and changes through the IPCC and further reforms in the Policing and Crime Bill and the PCCs have changed the landscape of policing. It has changed dramatically in the last 30 years, and that forms a part of the Home Secretary’s right decision that it is not in the public interest to have a public inquiry.
In 1984 I sat on these Benches representing the coalmining communities of Cannock and Burntwood. At that time my constituents working at Lea Hall and Littleton collieries were being subjected to the kind of intimidation that my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) has mentioned, including the throwing of bags of urine by striking south Wales miners as my constituents attempted to go to work. So does my hon. Friend the Minister accept that Orgreave was in fact a violent attempt to prevent the British Steel Corporation from going about its lawful business and furthermore a naked political attempt to bring down the Government of Margaret Thatcher, and that since then trade union relations and industrial relations have been transformed out of all recognition, to the betterment of this country?
My hon. Friend highlights the strength of feeling on both sides about issues that happened decades ago, and also highlights again that, hugely importantly, the police have reformed. There are still reforms going forward that we need to see through, and I hope we will all be working together in the years ahead to deliver them.
The jobs of ordinary police officers, many of whom came from mining families, were made difficult for many years after the miners strike precisely because of the misuse of police by the state. Is that not the fundamental issue here? Zimbabwe, China and Venezuela are three countries that have recently used the police to undermine individual rights and freedoms. How do we know that senior politicians were not involved, as the Cabinet papers have not been revealed and there is no longer going to be an inquiry? When will we know, for better or for worse, what senior politicians did and what pressure they brought to bear on the police?
A large number of historical files on Orgreave and the miners strike are already publicly available through the National Archives. Also, as I have said, the PCC for South Yorkshire is employing an archivist to look at publishing even more from its archives, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will take a great interest in that. He should also work with us and endorse the reforms to the police service that will lead to that key important result that Members have mentioned: that the new leadership of South Yorkshire police is able to find a way to build a new relationship with the people of South Yorkshire and to continue the work the police do every day, policing by consent.
It is with great sadness that I hear Conservative Members saying that an inquiry is neither justified nor needed. I wonder how many said the same prior to the Hillsborough inquiry. We on this side of the House will continue our fight for justice and truth for those affected in Orgreave.
I would just draw the hon. Lady’s attention to the inquiries and work that this Government have done to bring injustice to the surface. We have a good track record of making sure we unearth things but ultimately always making a decision that is in the wider public interest.
The Prime Minister’s own chief of staff, Nick Timothy, is on record as saying:
“If the police pre-planned a mass, unlawful assault on the miners at Orgreave and then sought to cover up what they did and arrest people on trumped up charges, we need to know.”
He is absolutely right. Why are the Government stopping us knowing?
I suggest the hon. Gentleman read through the evidence that is out there—that is published in the National Archives and being published by South Yorkshire police—and reads the full IPCC report on its investigation as well as the paperwork from the campaigners themselves. These are all part of the wide range of sources that we and the Home Secretary have looked at in making a decision on what is in the wider public interest.
It is incumbent on every Member of the House to fight for truth and justice when lies and injustice have been exposed. The Home Secretary is denying us a public inquiry into the Orgreave tragedy, and the Scottish Government are denying us an inquiry in Scotland on the policing and convictions relating to the injustices that happened there during the miners strike. Can the public of this country therefore conclude that the Governments that are democratically elected to represent them here and in Scotland are no longer interested in fighting for justice even when new information becomes available?
As I have said, if new information becomes available, the IPCC will look into investigating it. I had that conversation with the chairman of the IPCC yesterday, and I refer the hon. Gentleman to the comments I made on that earlier this afternoon. I would also like to think that the public will look at the track record of the Government, the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister in taking on vested interests and making difficult decisions. This has been a difficult decision. The Home Secretary has made a decision that we believe is in the wider public interest, and it is the right decision.
Trust is crucial to policing, and the image of mounted police officers cantering towards the striking miners is seared on the imagination of everyone who has seen it. This is a huge issue of public interest, as are the allegations of political interference in policing in our country. Does the Minister not recognise the damage that the Secretary of State’s failure to hold an investigation and to stand up for justice is having on public confidence in her Department?
The IPCC has held an investigation, and if there is new evidence, it will look at the potential for further investigations. That is a matter for the IPCC, which is, by definition, independent. The hon. Lady also touched on the point that our police forces police by consent in this country. That is a two-way thing. In fact, we will be debating that subject tomorrow. It is important that the police and crime commissioner and the new leadership of the South Yorkshire police look at how they build that relationship with the public. It is also important that we and the public respect the police, as they continue to police us by consent. No doubt that will be part of the debate tomorrow afternoon.
It is not good enough for the Minister to say that there should have been an inquiry earlier, because papers on Orgreave were still being released up to Christmas 2015. Those papers prompted calls for an inquiry because they showed an abuse of power in South Yorkshire police and the concocting of statements. Yes, no one was killed at Orgreave but lives were ruined and innocent people were sent to jail on remand. More importantly, in the mining areas that I know well—I am the direct descendant of generations of miners—trust in the police was completely destroyed in communities where children were previously brought up to trust and support the police. Until there is an inquiry, those wrongs cannot be righted. How can the Minister possibly keep denying us one?
If the hon. Lady looks at what I have said this afternoon, she will see that I have not commented on what the previous Government did or did not do. I have stated specifically that that is a matter for those who were members of that Government to comment on, not for me. Our decision is about the Orgreave case, based on the facts that the Home Secretary and I have looked at and the meetings with the families. The hon. Lady talked about the public’s view of South Yorkshire police, and of the police in general, and it is important that we continue with the reforms and ensure that South Yorkshire police have the support they need to rebuild those relationships with the public. That is the outcome that should be right for people across the country. We should continue with the reforms and I hope that she will support us in doing so.
The miners from the Rhondda at Orgreave were dressed in T-shirts and plimsolls, and they were batted aside like flies by what felt like a paramilitary operation under political instruction. There are very real questions that the community in the Rhondda is still asking. Who gave those instructions? Has the present Home Secretary seen the operational instructions of the day? Why will she not publish them? Who told the police officers to fabricate evidence and to perjure themselves? The Home Secretary says that there has been no miscarriage of justice, but the people of the Rhondda will conclude that without a proper investigation and full publication, the miscarriage of justice is being done in this House by this Government. [Interruption.]
The point that the Home Secretary was making—[Interruption.]
Order. There is so much yelling from each side of the Chamber that it was difficult for me to hear the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who should be heard by the House—and, indeed, by the world. I also need to hear the response from the Minister, which should also be widely heard. I say to Members on both sides: please, hold your noise.
The point that the Home Secretary was making, and that I have made today, is that we have looked at a whole range of factors. The comparison has been made with Hillsborough, but unlike at Hillsborough, there were no deaths or wrongful convictions as a result of Orgreave. Also, policing has changed dramatically in the years since then. That is why the Home Secretary’s decision, which had to be made in the wider public interest, is the right one, despite the fact that there is disagreement on it.
Today’s exchanges show that what the Minister has described as the Home Secretary’s “difficult decision” is hardly going to be received as an independent consideration. He has said a lot today about the public interest. Will he tell us which public interest would be compromised or undermined by a demonstrably independent and cost-effective review of these signal events?
That is a very good question. This reminds me of a question I asked when I met the campaigners. I asked what they were hoping an inquiry would achieve. There were no wrongful convictions to correct, and there were no deaths to investigate. There was, however, a question about police behaviour. We can learn the lessons of the past and look at the behaviour, performance, structures and working of the police for the future. Things have changed dramatically in the past three decades, from the reforms in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 right through to the ones that we are introducing today. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to support us in our work on continuing with these important reforms.
Many of those campaigning for an inquiry into Orgreave drew hope from the result of the Hillsborough inquiry. Is the real reason that no inquiry will be allowed in this instance the fact that the Government fear that it would show that, unlike at Hillsborough, the police conspired in advance and initiated the confrontations, which would undoubtedly lead to questions about Government involvement?
As I have said, there are considerable differences between the two situations. The basis on which the Government’s decision on an inquiry into Orgreave was made was whether it would be in the wider public interest.
With your permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement on matters relating to the Leveson inquiry. A free press is an essential component of a fully functioning democracy, which is why it was a manifesto commitment of this Government to defend a free press. The press should tell the truth without fear or favour and hold the powerful to account. However, we now know that that freedom has in the past been abused. We know that some parts of the press have ignored their own code of practice and the law. I have met victims of illegal and improper press intrusion, some of whom have suffered immense distress.
In July 2011, the coalition Government announced an inquiry into the role of the press and the police in phone hacking and other illegal practices in the British press. Lord Justice Leveson—now Sir Brian Leveson—was appointed chair of the inquiry. Part 1 of the inquiry examined the culture, practices and ethics of the press. It considered such matters as whether the press needed a different form of regulation and how the press interacted with the public, the police and politicians. Sir Brian Leveson heard evidence from more than 300 people, including some of those who had been affected by the most egregious press behaviour. On 29 November 2012, the Leveson inquiry published its report on part 1. It contained 92 recommendations, the majority of which have been acted on and are being delivered. Part 2 of the inquiry, which has not yet begun, would further examine wrongdoing in the press and the police.
Following a cross-party agreement, a royal charter established the Press Recognition Panel, which began operating in November 2014. As stated on its website, the panel’s purpose is to ensure that any press self-regulator is
“independent, properly funded and able to protect the public, while recognising the important role carried out by the press”.
Since September 2015, the panel has been taking applications from regulators that are seeking recognition. Alongside the royal charter, section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 was designed to incentivise newspapers to join a recognised self-regulator. Section 40 has passed into law but remains uncommenced. It is one of two incentives. The other, relating to exemplary damages, came into effect on 3 November 2015. A self-regulator applying for recognition must meet the specific criteria set out in the royal charter, including providing a system of low-cost arbitration to replace the need for court action. Section 40 contains two presumptions: that if a publisher who is a member of a recognised self-regulator loses a relevant media case in court, they do not have to pay the winning side’s costs; and that if a publisher who is not a member of a recognised self-regulator wins such a case in court, they would have to pay the losing side’s costs as well as their own. Each element was intended to encourage the press to join a recognised self-regulator through a legitimate rebalancing of the normal rules on costs.
It has hitherto been the view of Government that as we wait for a number of elements of the new self-regulatory regime to settle in—the exemplary damages provisions of the 2013 Act, the press developing an effective form of voluntary self-regulation, and self-regulators applying for recognition—the time has not been right to commence section 40. However, the panel recently recognised its first self-regulator, the independent monitor for the press or IMPRESS, which currently has around 50 members. Meanwhile, the Independent Press Standards Organisation, known as IPSO, regulates more than 2,500 publications but has been clear that it will not seek recognition from the panel. We think the time is right to consider section 40 further.
It has also become apparent that the final criminal case relating to the Leveson inquiry is entering its final stages. We therefore think it is an appropriate time to start to consider the next steps on part 2 of the inquiry. Many of the issues that part 2 would have covered have been addressed over the past five years. Three police investigations— Operations Elveden, Tuleta and Weeting—have investigated a wide range of offences. A clear message has been sent to all police officers and public officials that receiving payments for confidential information will not be tolerated and will be dealt with robustly. The Metropolitan Police Service has introduced new policies on whistleblowing, gifts and hospitality, and media relations.
There was also a degree of subject matter overlap between parts 1 and 2 of the Leveson inquiry. For example, the inquiry reviewed the MPS’s initial investigation into phone hacking and the role of politicians and public servants regarding any failure to investigate wrongdoing in News International. Part 1 made numerous recommendations which, where they relate to them, are being addressed by the police, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, the Independent Police Complaints Commission and the College of Policing. Given the extent of the criminal investigations, the implementation of the recommendations from part 1 of the Leveson inquiry and the cost to the taxpayer of the investigations and part 1—£43.7 million and £5.4 million respectively—the Government are considering whether undertaking part 2 is still in the public interest.
We are keen to take stock and seek the views of the public and interested parties—not least those who have been the victims of press abuse. We will also formally consult Sir Brian Leveson, in his role as inquiry chair, on the question of part 2 at the appropriate time. I can announce that today we are launching a public consultation, inviting comments on both section 40 and part 2 of the Leveson inquiry from organisations that are affected by it and from the public. It will run for 10 weeks from today—1 November—until 10 January 2017. It is laid out in a consultation document entitled, “Consultation on the Leveson Inquiry and its implementation”, published on gov.uk. I am also depositing it in the Libraries of both Houses.
I have met Sir Brian Leveson, and spoke to him again this morning. I will write to him formally as well. I am extremely grateful for all the work that he and his team have done to get us this far. The Government are determined that a balance is struck between press freedom and the freedom of the individual. Those who are treated improperly must have redress. Likewise, politicians must not seek to muzzle the press or prevent it from doing legitimate work, such as holding us to account. The police must take seriously their role in protecting not only their own reputation, but also those people they are meant to serve. That is the balance that we wish to strike, and the consultation is the most appropriate and fairest way of doing so. I commend this statement to the House.
What a sad day this is. I am at least grateful to the Secretary of State for giving me an advance copy of her statement an hour ago—947 days after all parties reached an agreement to implement in full the recommendations of the Leveson inquiry.
The Prime Minister herself set the test for the process on 14 June 2012 when she said to the inquiry:
“I will never forget meeting with the Dowler family in Downing Street to run through the terms of this Inquiry with them and to hear what they had been through and how it had redoubled, trebled the pain and agony they’d been through over losing Milly.”
She went on to say that the test should be
“are we really protecting people who have been caught up and absolutely thrown to the wolves by this process. That’s what the test is.”
The Government reassured victims that if they spoke out at Leveson, the Government would act on his recommendations. Today, the Culture Secretary has announced that we must wait another 10 weeks while the reforms are discussed all over again in the context of a wider consultation on the press. The Opposition believe that they have been discussed and debated enough and should have been implemented years ago. The victims of press intrusion cannot wait a day longer for this Government to honour David Cameron’s promises to pass the then Home Secretary’s self-defined test. For the Culture Secretary to stand here today and announce a consultation into the press nearly 1,000 days after those reforms were agreed by party leaders is deeply regrettable.
As the Culture Secretary said, it is more than five years since the previous Prime Minister stood at the Dispatch Box and announced an inquiry into press practices and ethics. A lot has happened since then. We have had the Hillsborough inquiry and its findings on misleading police statements to Government officials and subsequently newspapers. We had the urgent question on Orgreave just this morning. We have had the case of Mazher Mahmood, the fake sheikh who perverted the course of justice to secure his scoops and in so doing left scores of previous convictions unsafe. Senior police officers have had to resign over phone hacking. We have had more information emerge about the brutal murder of Daniel Morgan, a private investigator who was threatening to reveal police corruption to the press. Over 30 police and public officials have been jailed for bribery.
Leveson 2 was meant to look at the relationship that existed between newspapers and police. Despite the exposure of criminality, it is impossible for the Minister to credibly conclude that we have learned enough about corruption to halt Leveson 2 before it starts. After all, one of the terms of reference for the second part of Leveson is
“To inquire into the extent of corporate governance and management failures at News International and other newspaper organisations, and the role, if any, of politicians, public servants and others in relation to any failure to investigate wrongdoing”.
In other words, Leveson 2 is the investigation into how the cover-up of phone hacking was conducted. In effect, the Culture Secretary is today announcing a consultation on whether the cover-up should be covered up. It is my view that the events of the past five years make Leveson 2 more urgent, not less. Leveson was created so that a Minster would not have to worry what pressure she was put under by newspaper editors. What the Secretary of State is doing today is abandoning that principle. She is taking back the power from an independent judge, and in so doing she opens up the Executive to accusations that they have succumbed to the vested interests of media barons—it is an age-old story and she is carrying the can.
I am afraid that the Secretary of State leaves us no choice but to ask her some searching questions. First, did the Prime Minister discuss the Leveson process at her private meeting with Rupert Murdoch in New York last month? Secondly, when the Secretary of State spoke to Lord Leveson earlier today, did he approve this hurried consultation? Does he agree with her analysis? Will she allow him to make a public statement? Finally, has she spoken to the parents of Milly Dowler and to other victims of press intrusion? What is their view of these proposals? Do they think this passes the Prime Minister’s test? Are we really protecting people who have been caught up and absolutely thrown to the wolves?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the Dispatch Box, but I disagree with much of what he has just said. Let me start by being clear about victims of press intrusion: the first people I met in this job regarding press regulation were the victims of phone hacking—I did so with Hacked Off. I have been determined throughout my time in this role to make sure that I meet as many victims as possible; I did the same in my previous role in the Home Office and I continue to do it, because if we do not listen to people and what they have been through, we cannot possibly imagine it and legislate in an appropriate way. But what is clear to me, and I think to him, is that we all want effective, robust press regulation, so we have to look at the situation we find ourselves in today, not five years ago, to make sure we can achieve that. In his list of things that had happened, he actually set out all the reasons why we need to take a step back and to consider the position, so I invite responses from all interested bodies—from all people affected by this. I am sure that we will get many, many responses to the consultation and I welcome them. We need to look at this in terms of the situation and the press regulation we have today, to make sure we get the right, appropriate, robust, effective press regulation, so that, as he said, we do all we can to protect people.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s intention to continue to listen very carefully on these matters. Will she confirm that in considering how best to proceed, she will take account of the significant deterioration in the economic health of traditional media, which has taken place even since Leveson and is still leading to the closure of titles at both national and local level? Will she bear in mind that the real media giants of today, such as Facebook and Google, are outside the scope of legislation and regulation altogether?
My right hon. Friend, who was my predecessor in this role, sets out important arguments, which we need to consider. He rightly says that we need to make sure that this regulation affects the whole of the press, not just the print media that are on our high streets and that are produced locally, but those global players on the internet.
As the House knows, section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 was passed to implement the recommendations made by the Leveson inquiry that any new regulator set up should be accredited as independent and effective. The purpose of that section is to provide costs protection for claimants and Leveson-regulated newspaper publishers. Section 40 extends to England and Wales only. Regulation of print media is devolved to the Scottish Parliament, which has provided cross-party support for the UK Government’s actions to implement the royal charter. Does the Secretary of State understand the difficulties that local newspapers face and recognise that the majority of the press, especially the regional press in Scotland, was not involved in the sort of malpractice that prompted the Leveson recommendations?
It is important that we balance respect for the freedom of the press and the public desire for high standards, accuracy and transparency. That said, does the Secretary of State agree that the protection afforded by section 40 would be available to Scottish litigants who chose to sue newspapers based in England and Wales in the event that section 40 was enacted? In the meantime, Scottish National party MPs will support the House of Lords amendment to the Investigatory Powers Bill that will introduce a new clause 9, on the back of clause 8, which was introduced as an SNP amendment.
The hon. Gentleman raises the issues regarding the devolution of regulation of the press. As he will know, part 2 of Leveson will cover the whole United Kingdom but, as he said, section 40 covers England and Wales. I am due to speak to Fiona Hyslop this afternoon to discuss exactly how we make sure it works across the whole country. He makes the point strongly that many good local newspapers were not involved in any form of press abuse or intrusion, and we need to make sure that we do press regulation in a way that protects a free, vibrant local press.
I declare an interest, in that I have had four successful defamation actions against newspapers. I say to my right hon. Friend that having an effective, robust press is even more important than having effective, robust press regulation. If we have 2,500 newspapers, including all those—or nearly all those—represented by the Society of Editors, and we have a pretty pathetic list in IMPRESS, most of which do not have a circulation of more than 200, 300 or 1,000, we must not introduce section 40 and we ought to find a way in which the IPSO people cannot be forced into the Press Recognition Panel but can be recognised as representing newspapers, with a proper way of redress?
My hon. Friend sums up the dilemma that faces the Government today: we have more than 2,500 newspapers and other publications that have not signed up and never will sign up to a recognised regulator. We have to make this work in that climate and with that situation, and I urge all interested parties to respond to the consultation, so that we can hear all those views.
I thought I was going to welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, because she explained in clear detail why the incentives contained in section 40 are essential to the Leveson recommendations, which this House approved overwhelmingly in the royal charter and which, as she said, are already in law—and we now have a recognised regulator. But she went on to say that, rather than commencing section 40, the Government were just going to consider it further. Why does she not just do the right thing by the victims and commence the legislation that this House and the House of Lords have already passed?
What I said is that we are going to consult; it is a 10-week consultation, and it is very clearly about part 2 of the Leveson inquiry and the commencement of section 40. I want to hear all views in that consultation.
I was struck by an article in this weekend’s Observer by the former editor of The Guardian, Peter Preston, who calls for section 40 to be mothballed and suggests that the Government could
“seek a fresh, more collegiate start.”
I would not expect the Secretary of State to take such an extreme position as the ex-editor of The Guardian, but does she agree that this consultation is exactly the right way forward and that it is an opportunity to take stock of where we are, to involve all interested parties and to see whether we can move on in a more consensual fashion?
I read that same article, and I should read out what Peter Preston says:
“It doesn’t make sense any longer. Blanket bitterness stuck in a time warp. Most editors, like most politicians, with a soupçon of perspective, would know what to say about such impasses. Time to dismantle the barricades. Time to move on.”
The Secretary of State has a very easy way out of her dilemma, which is to name a future date for the commencement of section 40. She will then get plenty of movement, because there will be plenty of incentive. We have all been circulated things by local newspapers, at the behest of national newspaper owners, but does the Secretary of State agree that that lobbying tells only half the truth? Section 40 gives protection for serious journalism from the chilling effect of deep-pocketed vexatious litigants, because such people would first have to go through a low-cost arbitration system and not to the courts? In that sense, it protects hard-pressed local newspapers in particular, whose investigations have, sadly, not been of the calibre that we have been used to.
The hon. Gentleman and I discussed that at the Select Committee last week. We share a local paper in the Stoke Sentinel, which has communicated with both of us, but he must recognise that the Stoke Sentinel and others have signed up to IPSO, which does not have recognition under the Press Recognition Panel. We need to ensure that we get this right, which is why we need to take stock, listen to all views and consider the position based on the fact that we are now five years on from the original date of the inquiry.
Order. Questions are rather long. Perhaps we can get pithiness from a classicist and a philosopher. I call Sir Oliver Letwin.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for that equivocal introduction.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Does she agree that the members of IPSO—the press—could spare us a lot of grief and move the matter on if they were to enforce, through IPSO, a genuinely Leveson-compliant regime, including the provision of a low-cost arbitration service?
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for the role that he has played in developing the cross-party agreement. Those are exactly the kind of comments that we want to hear through the consultation.
I rather agree with the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) that that is precisely what IPSO could do, but this is now a matter of keeping faith. David Foulkes was killed in the 7 July bombings in Edgware Road. His father, Graham, said:
“We were in a very dark place. You think that it is as dark as it can get, and then you realise that there’s someone out there who can make it darker.”
The right hon. Gentleman made promises to Mr Foulkes, as did the Prime Minister at the time and the present Prime Minister. The right hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) also made promises to Mr Foulkes and to so many others that, first, the commencement would start immediately, and secondly—no ifs, no buts—that there would be Leveson 2. Why on earth is the right hon. Lady reneging on all those promises made to the victims?
Nobody is reneging on any promises. We are having a consultation. We want to hear from all sides, and we will make a decision after that.
Will the Secretary of State bear most in mind the weakening and poor health of local and national newspapers, as set out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale), and make sure that they will always be protected in being able to expose people in authority? They should be protected from rich bullies who, by the very threat of legal action against them, may force newspapers not to print stories that would be in the public interest. Not doing that may suit many people in this House, but it would do a gross disservice to the public at large.
My hon. Friend is right. We all know of instances when local newspapers have perhaps printed something with which we did not necessarily agree, but I defend the right for them to do so.
I feel so let down and disappointed by the Secretary of State’s statement. She could have come here and announced the commencement of section 40, which would have been the right and proper thing to do. I do not know what she thinks more talking will do after the months and months of Leveson, but I want to ask this specific question: has she met the families and the victims of the lack of press regulation—not on the day that she took office, but today or yesterday—to say that there was going to be more delay and more consultation and to explain what she was coming here to announce today?
As I told the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson), I have met victims and I will continue to meet them. I will ensure that I have correspondence and engagement with all, but I wanted to come to the House and make this announcement because Parliament needs to hear it first.
I suppose I had better begin by declaring an hereditary interest rather than a direct one.
I want to commend my right hon. Friend for her excellent statement. She is clearly right to be reviewing this, because the system cannot be working when IMPRESS, funded by a degenerate libertine who was embarrassed by free newspapers a few years ago, has only 50 subscribers, and IPSO, representing the vast swathe of the press, has 2,500 subscribers. She is quite right to review that, and also right to defend the freedom of the press, which is more important than the press being responsible.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. That is why we are having a consultation. I want to hear all responses, and I want to look at this in the light of today, not of five, 10 or 15 years ago.
One common thread that runs between the injustices uncovered in recent years is an unhealthy, collusive relationship between police and the press. Part 2 of the Leveson inquiry was intended to examine that in detail. It is seen as essential by Hillsborough campaigners to bring a form of accountability, and yet the Secretary of State, if I heard her correctly, has effectively announced today that she is consulting on a decision to reject it. Can she not see that that will leave campaigners feeling bitterly let down? Does it not sound for all the world like the second Government cover-up in just two days?
I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman for whom I have enormous respect. In this case, he is simply wrong. We are consulting on what is the right thing to do today. He must recognise that there have been significant changes in the way in which the police behave and are accountable, much of which was uncovered during the inquiry on Hillsborough. I want to look at the position today to get the right result for those who have been victims of press intrusion in the past and to make sure that people in the future have the appropriate regulation and the appropriate redress.
I really welcome the comments of my right hon. Friend about effective and robust regulation. It is crystal clear that IPSO does neither of those. Will she do all she can to ensure that low-cost arbitration is on the top of her list?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We do want to see all people, no matter what their background, being able to get appropriate redress and arbitration that is effective and works.
The Secretary of State says that she wants to come up to date with what is going on now, and not just look back at the tragedies of 10 years ago. Well, she needs only to look at the case of Fatima Manji to see that the same people being complained about were the judges and the jury in the regulator, IPSO. That is the problem.
I do not want to comment on individual cases that have been brought to any regulator. What I want to see is robust regulation.
Does the Secretary of State accept that, regardless of her consultation, the current status quo is not acceptable, because we have yet to see the establishment of a robust industry-funded system of arbitration, which gives access to justice—one of Leveson’s key recommendations?
My hon. Friend, the Chair of the Select Committee, makes a very good and important point, and one that I want to hear more about during the consultation.
The Press Recognition Panel set up in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal stated that urgent action is required if the post-Leveson system of independent regulation is to be given a chance to survive. Surely today’s procrastination is tantamount to political interference by the Government.
I do not accept that point. We have commenced the exemplary damages point. We now have a recognised regulator. Now is the time to take stock and look at what further work needs to be done.
As a former journalist of some 17 years, I was shocked when only 14 of us in this House voted against the Royal Charter all those years ago, and I questioned whether democracy was at risk. May I remind Opposition Members and perhaps one or two Government Members that phone hacking is already illegal and a person will go to jail if they commit that offence? Finally, local newspapers, which had nothing to do with the scandal that occurred in a very small majority of the major newspapers, fear that if they have to pay costs despite even winning their case, they will have to close down and they will not be able to challenge those who should be challenged.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. This is why we are consulting and taking stock.
The Secretary of State says that press regulation is failing, but let us not forget that this Government set up this system, which is now failing. Is it not the case that this Government have been engaging in political gymnastics on this issue since the beginning to arrive at the very point that we are at today where section 40 and part 2 are going to be scrapped? It has always been the Government’s intention to pay lip service to this issue and not to consider the victims.
This is a full, open consultation on which no decisions have been taken.
The Secretary of State is absolutely right to stand up for independence, regulation and arbitration, but the consultation she has announced today will of course delay, at best, section 40. Does she not agree, therefore, that it would be reasonable to accept Baroness Hollins’s amendments to clause 8 of the Investigatory Powers Bill?
I do not agree with that point. The Investigatory Powers Bill is a matter of national security and nothing should get in the way of us passing it to establish an Act of Parliament to ensure that we have the right powers for our law enforcement to keep us all safe.
Section 40 needs to be implemented now—not just because it is in statute and part of Leveson, but because it is necessary to address part 2 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. The effect of that Act, which was introduced by the previous coalition Government, is that it is not possible for victims easily to sue people, so will they not continue to be vilified and humiliated?
I would welcome comments on that particular issue in the consultation.
Like my right hon. Friend, I believe in a free press, but I also believe in a responsible press. Does she not agree that a great virtue of the Leveson inquiry was that it took this whole contentious issue out of the hands of politicians; that by going for this consultation, which she will respond to, she is in danger of embroiling politicians in the issue again; and that low-cost arbitration has to be part of the solution?
The very fact that we are having a debate about section 40—tied up with the matter of national security, which is the Investigatory Powers Bill—means that we need to take stock and work out exactly what is the best thing to do.
Academic research has shown conclusively that the false lies printed on a daily basis on most of the front pages of our newspapers against migrants and minority communities have led to the rise of violence and prejudice towards those people. When complaints are made, all we get is a two-line correction at the bottom of the page. Has not IPSO singularly failed to deal with that?
Those are the points that I would like to hear in the consultation, so that we can make a decision based on the evidence.
Oh! Sorry. Thank you, Mr Speaker.
The hon. Gentleman does not have to look quite so surprised. He was standing. Therefore, I did think he wanted to contribute. It is not surprising, if he then rises to his feet, that I call him.
I was just surprised that I was called so early. I am normally further down the list.
Order. I must say that the capacity of right hon. and hon. Members for misguided self-pity is unlimited.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I will get to it now.
We in the House unanimously agreed to support Leveson part 1. Well, most of us agreed. Is the consultation, therefore, simply a tactic to get the press on board?
My hon. Friend is usually at the top of my list. I want to assure him that this is an open, frank consultation where we want to hear all views so we can make a decision based on the situation we find ourselves in today to get the effective, robust regulation that we all want.
The Secretary of State deliberately refused to answer the precise questions that my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson) put to her from the Front Bench. Will she now say, having spoken to Lord Leveson, what are Lord Leveson’s views on the statement she has made today and whether she will allow him to speak publicly about his views?
I apologise if the hon. Gentleman does not think that I answered the question, but, to be clear, I discussed the matter with the hon. Member for West Bromwich East earlier. The conversation I had with Lord Leveson is private and I am not going to comment on it in public.
I should declare that I spent 15 years as a journalist at The Daily Telegraph. We all feel profound sympathy for the victims in this situation, but, overall, is not the real prize that a good, free, robust and boisterous press holds the Government to account regionally, locally and nationally? If we get that wrong by allowing it to become either unsustainable or impractically regulated, we will lose far more than we are talking about today.
My hon. Friend makes the point very well. We want a robust, free, strong press that holds us to account. We will not like it when the press holds us to account, but it should have the right to do so.
My local, family-owned newspaper, the Newark Advertiser, knows what it is like to be vexatiously sued by a politician. When Harold Laski sued the newspaper to try to ruin a local family, the Parlbys, he lost. That is now one of the leading cases in this area of law. Of course, had these rules been in place, the family would still have been ruined and my local newspaper would still have been put out of business. In the consultation, will the Secretary of State pay particular attention to local newspapers and, above all, to independent titles such as the Newark Advertiser?
I can confirm that we will.
I am sure the Secretary of State, like me, will be amazed by the spectacle of a Parliament in which it is the Opposition who are demanding more restrictions on the press. Will she reassure me that we will balance any future system against the needs of the local media, particularly in an era when, sometimes, update lists via email run by Members of the House have a larger circulation?
My hon. Friend touches on the point alluded to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale): we are in a news world entirely different from what we have ever had before. We have digital media, global players and local players who can get to people through social media and the internet in a way that is totally unregulated. We need to ensure that we look at all those matters and get the right regulation.
How many marks out of 10 would my right hon. Friend give IPSO?
I have not yet been asked to give IPSO a mark out of 10, so I will restrain myself from doing so at this stage.