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House of Commons Hansard
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Commons Chamber
06 December 2016
Volume 618

House of Commons

Tuesday 6 December 2016

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Justice

The Secretary of State was asked—

Prison Safety

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1. What steps the Government are taking to improve safety in prisons. [907674]

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3. What steps the Government are taking to improve safety in prisons. [907676]

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Last month, we launched the White Paper “Prison Safety and Reform” and we are already implementing measures to track all drugs, drones and phones. This major overhaul of the prison system will include the recruitment of an extra 2,500 front-line officers. Our reforms will empower governors to make the changes that they need.

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I warmly welcome the Government’s decision to invest £555 million to recruit 2,500 extra guards, and I hope that Lewes prison in East Sussex, where staff had to deal with a serious incident involving threats of violence a month ago, will benefit from that. The Home Affairs Committee, of which I am a member, released a report on psychoactive substances and their increased availability in prisons. Given the aggressive and violent behaviour that they cause, what is the Secretary of State doing to clamp down on drugs of all types available in prisons?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right about psychoactive substances. They have been a serious issue in our prison system. That is why we have developed tests, which we have rolled out across the prison estate, to detect these substances and why we have trained up 300 sniffer dogs.

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The suicide rates at HMP Hewell in Redditch are unacceptably high. May I invite my right hon. Friend to update the House on what the Government are doing to ensure the safety of prisoners and to reduce suicide rates in our prisons?

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First, may I welcome my hon. Friend back to the House? It is great to see her back on our Benches looking so fit and well.

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Radiant!

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Indeed. Finally, I can agree with a comment from the Opposition.

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the issue of self-harm and suicides in our prison. The rates are too high, which is why we are taking steps to increase the number of prison officers. We will have a dedicated officer for every six prisoners and they will be responsible for those prisoners’ welfare and for helping them to turn their lives around so that they do not go back to reoffending.

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The suicide rate in our prisons is the highest it has ever been in 25 years. It is absolutely shameful. Just the other week, the Health Secretary appeared before the Health Committee and admitted that he has never visited a prison mental health service. Will the Secretary of State tell us whether she has visited one, and if not, why not and when will she?

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The hon. Lady is absolutely right that mental health is a real issue in our prisons. I recently had a meeting with the Health Secretary on how we can improve mental health services. We are enabling governors to co-commission those health services. I was recently at HMP Lincoln discussing mental health services with the governor. Such services are available only from Monday to Friday, and he wants them to be available all week round, and we will enable that to happen.

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In part due to increased attacks on prison officers, more than 200,000 days were lost through ill health by prison officers in the past 12 months. Will the Secretary of State update the House on what the figure lost through sick days is as of now, and what steps she will take to reduce that figure?

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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. There is an issue with sick days. The the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), who is responsible for prisons and probation holds a daily meeting in which he goes through the levels of sickness at each prison and works with the governors on what we can do. One thing we are doing is strengthening the frontline to ensure that we have more officers available for support.

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I am glad that the Secretary of State recognises the importance of the number of officers, and I congratulate her on the extra moneys available. Does she agree that in potentially violent situations one of the most important factors is the availability of experienced officers who have the knowledge and the personal relationships with inmates to calm them down? Can she give us more detail about what is being done to deal with the current very high levels of wastage of experienced officers?

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I completely agree with my hon. Friend, and the evidence backs him up that having experienced officers is vital. We have a higher proportion of experienced officers in 2016 than we did in 2010; more than 80% of our prison officers have five or more years of experience. I am absolutely determined to keep those officers in the service. Two weeks ago, we launched a fast-track programme to help people already in the service to progress in their careers. We are also offering retention payments, particularly in hard-to-recruit areas, because we certainly need to keep those very important staff on board.

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In every one of Her Majesty’s inspector’s reports on closed male facilities published during the Secretary of State’s time in post—reports on Bedford, Chelmsford, Hindley, Onley, Risley, Swaleside and Winchester, and the youth facilities at Isis and Wetherby—outcomes of the test of prison safety deemed them to be either poor or not sufficiently good. When can we expect a positive report on prison safety in closed male prisons?

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The hon. Lady is right that current levels of violence in our prisons are not acceptable. That is why we launched the prison safety and reform White Paper, with measures to deal with drugs, drones and phones, as well as to bolster the number of front-line staff. We are also working directly with governors to help them to deal with issues that might trigger incidents in their prisons while we build up that front-line capability. I announced in October that we are recruiting an extra 400 staff in 10 of the most challenging prisons; we have already given job offers to 280 people, so we are making progress.

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The Ministry states in the White Paper that it will trial the inclusion of prison co-ordinates in no-fly zones to prevent banned items from being dropped into prisons. How will that work in practice and what is being done now to reduce demand for banned items in prisons?

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The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey is working with drone manufacturers and leading a cross-Government taskforce to get in place the technology needed to do that. We are also employing solutions such as installing extra netting. Last week I was at HMP Pentonville, which now has patrol dogs whose barking helps to deter drones. We are using all sorts of solutions to deal with contraband entering our prisons.

Mental Health: Prisons

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2. What plans the Government have to tackle mental health issues in prisons. [907675]

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15. What plans the Government have to tackle mental health issues in prisons. [907688]

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A key aspect of our prison reform programme will be to address offender mental health and improve outcomes for prisoners. We are introducing co-commissioning, which will make sure that governors are focused on and accountable for those outcomes, alongside health commissioners. I know the Secretary of State has discussed the matter with the Health Secretary and it is a high priority for both of them.

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Last year, I spent more than a month in a small room, unable to leave. I lost track of where I was. I became tearful over the slightest of issues. I felt that I could not breathe. I was not incarcerated in prison; I was in hospital following a physical illness, but the experience made me reflect on how easy it is to develop a mental health issue when confined in a small space and lacking orientation. With that in mind, what assessment has the Department made of people developing mental problems in prison, rather than going in with such problems, and what can be done to reduce that?

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I am glad to see my hon. Friend looking so well, following such a significant illness.

Prisoners are entitled to the same levels of care as those living in the community, but there are specific measures in place for their care. All prisoners have a health assessment on arrival, all prison officers receive training to help them to recognise mental health issues, and all prisons have on-site primary healthcare teams who can provide mental health care, refer to counselling, or refer for a further psychiatric assessment for serious mental illness.

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A recent report by the prisons and probation ombudsman found that 70% of those who committed suicide had a mental health issue. What steps will the Government take specifically to tackle this problem?

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Every death in custody is a tragedy. We are committed to reducing the number of self-inflicted deaths. We have reviewed the case assessment care in custody and teamwork process for prisoners assessed as being at risk and we are piloting revised safer custody training in response. All prison officers, both new and experienced, receive training to help offenders with mental health issues.

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Statistics show that 50% of those who are in prison suffer from personality disorders. Does the Minister agree that it is important to assess such issues when people enter the criminal justice system—even at the stage of the custody suite—rather than after their incarceration?

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Of course the initial assessment is important, as is who does that assessment. In addition to our work on that, the care following the assessment and ongoing care, as well as the observation of prisoners, are being closely looked at.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) asked the Secretary of State when she had last visited a prison’s mental health service. Suicide in prisons is at a 25-year high. It is utterly disgusting that neither the Health Secretary nor the Secretary of State for Justice has visited prisons to see what is going on. What is happening?

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As I have said, each of those suicides is a tragedy. The Government are fully aware of that, and I am aware that the Secretary of State for Health will be visiting a prison. I was at Peterborough prison last week discussing mental health provision there, and I visited the mother and baby unit at the same time. I am under no illusions about the challenges involved in addressing the problem. We are fully aware of the problem and I intend to make further statements on the subject because the mental health of prisoners is such a key problem.

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However important it is to improve and enhance mental health care in our prisons, little will be achieved without continuity of care once prisoners leave prison. What is the Department doing, with the health service, to ensure that continuity of care is provided for prisoners from day one when they leave prison?

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I thank my right hon. Friend for his question which, as ever, is a wise one. Yes, continuity of care before, during and after prison is key, not just for the mental health of prisoners, but for their physical health too. We have ongoing discussions with the Department of Health on the matter, and my intention is to make the continuity of records and the continuity of care as a consequence much better in the future.

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Does the Minister accept that many prisoners with mental health issues would be better served and facilitated outside the prison regime? If so, what alternatives are being looked at?

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Of course, the hon. Gentleman is right. However, prison can be an opportunity to address mental health problems that have not previously been diagnosed and properly treated, so being in prison may be an opportunity for someone to receive proper care, which is ultimately what I am about.

Apprenticeships: Prisoners

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4. What steps the Government are taking to introduce apprenticeships for prisoners. [907677]

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As outlined in the prison safety and reform White Paper, we will introduce a prisoner apprenticeship pathway that will offer prisoners opportunities that count towards the completion of a formal apprenticeship on release. This scheme is being developed as part of our offender employment strategy which will be published in the new year.

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Can the Minister update me on progress in introducing apprenticeships in HMP Lewes?

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HMP Lewes is exactly the kind of local prison that will benefit from the new prison apprenticeship pathway. I anticipate that the prison will also benefit from the new Prison Service apprenticeship scheme that we are launching in 2017, which will help recruit members to the Prison Service by widening the number of entry points into the service.

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16. Most apprenticeships require literacy. What proportion of prisoners was functionally illiterate at the start of their sentence and what proportion was functionally illiterate on release? [907689]

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The hon. Gentleman asks a very important question. At the moment, roughly 50% of prisoners are illiterate as far as English and maths are concerned. Our prison safety and reform White Paper proposes that we test prisoners’ literacy on entry and on exit so that we can measure the distance travelled and progress made in prison.

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Which prison has the best record for training prisoners for gainful employment once they leave, and how might that best practice be rolled out across the prison estate?

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My hon. Friend asks a very important question. Across the Prison Service there are patches of good work aimed at employment post-release. We want to create a system to measure that, and to identify and rank prisons according to how well they do in that respect. That is precisely what our White Paper does. Employment post-release is one of the outcome measures against which governors will be judged once we proceed with reform.

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Work experience outside prison can also enhance a prisoner’s employment opportunities on release, so what guidance is the Minister giving prisons—not just reform prisons, but governors of all prisons—in relation to release on temporary licence?

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Release on temporary licence has a huge role to play in helping prisoners to gain employment in the wider world. I have been speaking with Timpson’s, for example, which employs a lot of ex-offenders, and that is how they are trialled before release. We are looking at that to ensure that the guidance that governors receive allows them to do more with release on temporary licence, specifically in relation to employment opportunities.

Prison Reform

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5. What plans the Government have to increase the autonomy of prison governors to enable them to make reforms. [907678]

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We will turn around offenders’ lives only if governors have the levers they need over education, work and health in prison. That is why our reforms devolve power over budgets and services to governors.

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Procurement is a complicated business. What guidance and training are governors being given to ensure that they can complete the procurement process properly, be that for the provision of mental health services or even the recruitment of the dogs that bark at drones?

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It sounds like my hon. Friend is asking for some of those patrol dogs at her local prison, HMP Bullingdon, which I am delighted to say will be one of the 30 prisons that will be recruiting locally to build up a local cadre of staff, starting next January. The answer is that we will be setting up a What Works network to help governors gain the expertise they need to take those decisions and make those things happen locally.

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Government Front Benchers seem to be doing a bit of sleepwalking this morning. I know that it is nearly Christmas, but can I ask them to wake up to the dangers of empowering governors too much? When the former Select Committee that I chaired looked at prison education all those years ago, we found that one real danger was that a very good system of education and training in a prison could suddenly be wiped out by a new governor who wanted nothing to do with it. We need common standards across all prisons. Is that not right?

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. We are being very specific about what we are asking governors to achieve in raising education standards, getting prisoners into apprenticeships and work, and improving health standards. We are specifying the what, but giving governors much more freedom over the how, because they are the people with the expertise. The officers on the landing are the ones who talk to the prisoners, and they need that freedom to be able to turn people’s lives around.

Dangerous Driving

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6. What progress the Government have made on the sentencing review of motoring offences and penalties relating to dangerous drivers. [907679]

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The Government yesterday issued a consultation paper following a review of driving offences and penalties. The consultation focuses on the driving offences that result in death or serious injury and proposes that the courts should be able to impose a life sentence, or longer determinate sentences, in the most serious cases.

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I welcome the consultation. Does the Minister agree that it presents the perfect opportunity to close a loophole whereby in the event of a pedestrian being hit by a driver under the influence of alcohol or drugs, as happened to my constituent Sean Morley, who was tragically killed as a result, the maximum sentence available for failing to stop and report is just six months, leaving no incentive for the driver to stay around? In Sean’s case, the Crown Prosecution Service and the judge had only the charge of failing to stop available to them, not death by dangerous driving.

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The case to which my hon. Friend refers is truly horrific, and I extend my personal sympathies to Sean Morley’s family. Nothing can compensate for the loss of a loved one by a killer driver who drives irresponsibly. I encourage the family to contribute to the consultation so that we can take their points on board.

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Campaigners and families are delighted that the Government have now announced this review, and I pay tribute to all of them, and to all hon. Members on both sides of the House who contributed to the cross-party manifesto in 2014. The direction of travel is clearly welcome, but I just ask that consideration is given to getting rid of the charge of careless driving, because at the moment some of the most dangerous sorts of reckless, criminal driving are called careless, and that is wrong.

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The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I congratulate him on his long-standing campaign on the issue. We looked very carefully at the distinction between careless and dangerous driving, which he wants us to get rid of, but we came to the view that a sense of culpability needs to be reflected in the decisions that the courts come to. For example, someone could be momentarily distracted by their children crying in the backseat and—God forbid—something bad then happens. That is very different from someone involved in speed racing. That is why we have chosen to keep that distinction.

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My constituents George and Giulietta Galli-Atkinson set up the Livia awards in memory of their daughter. She was killed by a driver who mounted the pavement, but who was found guilty of causing death by dangerous driving and received only a fine. My constituents have campaigned for over 20 years for tougher sentences. How might that be achieved as a consequence of the Minister’s consultation?

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We are proposing a new life sentence as a maximum penalty for those convicted of dangerous driving. As a consequence, we are giving the courts the tools they need to make the punishment fit the crime, and that is testimony to the campaign my hon. Friend’s constituents have been running for years.

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I welcome the consultation on this matter, but I seek some clarity from the Minister on the distinction between careless and dangerous driving. The consultation makes it clear that the Government do not propose any changes but seek instead to explain and address misconceptions about the law. How exactly does the Department intend to ensure greater consistency across the UK in applying this law?

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The consultation does have question 7 —an open question—so if the hon. Lady has any specific concerns that are not reflected in the consultation, she can by all means submit them in that question.

Prisoners: Rehabilitation and Work

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7. What further plans the Government have to provide prisoners with (a) drug rehabilitation and (b) education and skills training to improve their prospects for finding work on release from prison. [907680]

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10. What further plans the Government have to provide prisoners with (a) drug rehabilitation and (b) education and skills training to improve their prospects for finding work on release from prison. [907683]

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As part of our reforms, we are going to set clear standards on the outcomes we expect each prison governor to achieve on drug rehabilitation, education and other drivers of rehabilitation.

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I thank the Minister for that. Given that 42% of adult prisoners in England and Wales were permanently excluded from school, does he agree that it is only through education that the cycle of reoffending can be stopped? What more can be done to ensure that this message properly resonates across the prison estate?

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My hon. Friend makes an important point: education is one of the key ways in which we can help to break the cycle of reoffending—when the offender, obviously, is willing. One of the things we have done to speed up this process is to transfer the education budget from the Department for Education to the Ministry of Justice. That budget will be delegated to governors so that they can organise education that suits individual prisoners’ needs.

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I am pleased to hear about the steps that have been taken to improve drug rehabilitation and education. Could I suggest that prisoners close to release are also given careers advice and experience mock interviews to aid their search for work on release?

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Again, that is an important point. If someone has spent quite a lot of time inside, it is highly likely that they will be unused to the world of work and certainly to interviews. One of the things we are doing is having Department for Work and Pensions work coaches work with prison governors as part of the regime. Their job is to help to prepare prisoners, alongside rehabilitation companies, for life after release.

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17. A constituent of mine has a criminal record but has been a law-abiding citizen for over 40 years. Should there not come a time when she is able to move on and no longer has to explain to prospective employers the mistake she made when she was much younger? [907690]

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My right hon. Friend raises a point around conviction and time spent. Obviously, there is the Ban the Box campaign, which we are supporters of, that encourages employers to look beyond these things, certainly when it comes to employing ex-offenders. I would be happy to speak with my right hon. Friend directly about the case of her constituent.

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22. In Havant, the Hampshire community rehabilitation company helps offenders and drug users to find employment and training opportunities. Will the Minister continue to support its excellent work in breaking the reoffending cycle? [907696]

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Prison Safety

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8. What steps she is taking to reduce the number of assaults, incidents of self-harm and deaths in prison. [907681]

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We take the safety of prisoners in our jails extremely seriously. It is of paramount importance that they are kept safe and given the opportunity to reform.

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At the Justice Committee last week, the prisons Minister said in reply to a question regarding the recent escape from Her Majesty’s Prison Pentonville, that the frequency of cell searches was determined locally by the governor. Does he remain satisfied that the coalition decision to end daily cell searches was right, or does he think they might have prevented this escape and limited the use of mobile phones, drugs and weapons?

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Cell searches are carried out on an intelligence-led basis at establishment level. In addition, we are investing £3 million on a regional and national intelligence network so that we can identify where phones, for example, are being smuggled in to aid criminal activities in our prisons and deal with such situations appropriately.

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Our prison chaplains deal with all these issues daily and are almost universally well thought of, so will the Minister tell the House what steps he is taking, first, to recruit the full number of chaplains, and secondly, to make sure that they have the time to do the important work they are there to do?

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That is an excellent suggestion, which I am willing to look at in detail.

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Is the Secretary of State for Justice aware of the situation at HMP Maghaberry, where three prisoners have tragically taken their own lives, and will she and her team use all their influence on the Northern Ireland Executive and the Northern Ireland Justice Minister to make sure that this is dealt with immediately?

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As my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice said, every death in prison is a tragic one. Such people are in the care of the state, and we have to make sure that we take good care of them in that respect. I am willing to look in more detail at the situation that the hon. Gentleman has outlined.

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As I have mentioned on a number of occasions, there is no real incentive for prisoners to behave themselves in prison because of the law introduced by the previous Labour Government that prisoners have to be released halfway through their sentence irrespective of how badly they behave or whether they are still a danger to the public. I am still waiting for the Government to give an explanation of why they think this law should still be on the statute book, and I have yet to receive a satisfactory response. Will the Minister now give us the reason why, by law, prisoners should be released halfway through their sentence irrespective of how badly they behave or whether they are still a danger to the public?

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My hon. Friend raised this issue at the Select Committee last week, and I will give him the same answer I gave then. When prisoners are released, even at the halfway point, they remain on licence, and if there is a breach of the licence, they are recalled to prison. That remains the case.

Prison Officers

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9. What steps she is taking to improve levels of recruitment and retention among prison officers. [907682]

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A core part of our prison safety and reform plan is the recruitment of an additional 2,500 prison officers. In 10 of our most challenging prisons, we have already started a recruitment programme, and we have made 280 job offers.

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We have nearly 7,000 fewer prison officers in our prisons than in 2010. The Government have announced an increase in the prisons budget of £100 million to recruit or re-recruit an extra 2,500 officers. Is it any wonder that the service is in a mess?

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In our “Prison Safety and Reform” White Paper, we make it very clear that it is important to have a skilled force of officers. That is why we are investing £100 million, which will enable us to make sure that one officer is responsible for six prisoners. Through our work, we have shown that that is effective in keeping a prison safe, and in being able to turn around the lives of offenders.

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I have three prisons in my constituency. Combined, they have one of the largest concentrations of prisoners in the country. The prison officers in Sheppey’s prisons are fantastic people—dedicated, hard working and highly responsible—but Sheppey’s prisons are seriously understaffed. Because of our location in the south-east of England, it is difficult to recruit officers, given the number of other jobs available to them. What reassurance can my right hon. Friend give my prison officers that steps will be taken to solve the problem of recruitment on Sheppey?

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I agree with my hon. Friend that prison officers do a fantastic job. When I visit prisons up and down the country, I meet officers and see the great work they do, their dedication to the job and why they have gone into it. There are staff recruitment issues in about a quarter of our prisons because there is high demand for employees, particularly in the south-east of England. That is why we are enabling governors to offer market supplements of up to £4,000 to recruit officers, and retention payments of up to £3,000 to keep those officers on board.

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It is not just the cut of 7,000 prison officers, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Sir Kevin Barron) talked about; another 7,000 non-officer grades are also being cut. That is a total cut of 14,000 staff—2,000 is a drop in the ocean. That is why people are getting hurt and killed in Britain’s prisons. When will the Secretary of State return staffing to pre-2010 levels, which is needed to ensure safety in prisons?

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The important point is that the staffing that we are putting into our prisons is evidence-based and enables us to operate with a ratio of one officer for every six prisoners. That is what works.

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In a Westminster Hall debate last week, the prisons Minister confirmed that it is his intention for each prisoner to have a dedicated prison officer, who will be responsible for six inmates. He called it the new offender management model and the new staffing model. Will the Secretary of State explain whether that is based on current staffing levels or whether it is an aspiration for the future? What are the details of the new models?

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That is what we will operate when we get up to the full complement of having the additional 2,500 officers. We have already started with 10 of the most challenging prisons. Of the 400 prison officers we are seeking to recruit, we have offered jobs to 280. It will take time to build up the prison officer workforce. That is why we are launching a new apprenticeship scheme, a new fast-track scheme for graduates, and a scheme to recruit former armed forces personnel. We will not achieve this overnight, but it is important to build up the workforce to improve safety and reform in our prisons.

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The prisons Minister also told the Justice Committee last week that, in order to recruit an extra 2,500 prison officers by 2018, the Ministry of Justice would have to recruit a total of 8,000 officers, due to the staff leaving rate. Michael Spurr said that the leaving rate after just the first year as a prison officer is 13.5%. How does the Secretary of State plan to retain the new staff who are leaving and the prison officers that she plans to recruit in future? Will she spend whatever it takes to get a grip on the crisis?

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As I said, we are investing £100 million in recruiting the additional 2,500 officers. We are launching a new apprenticeship scheme, a new graduate scheme and a scheme to recruit people from the armed services. We are improving career progression in the Prison Service to ensure that our experienced officers get the opportunities that they deserve. In the 25% of prisons in which we struggle to recruit in London and the south-east, we are offering additional payments. We are doing everything we can to build up that strength because it is important to delivering safe and reformed prisons.

Human Rights Act

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11. What recent progress has been made on the Government’s plan to replace the Human Rights Act 1998. [907684]

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As is well known, we shall set out our proposals for a Bill of Rights in due course, and we shall of course consult fully on those proposals.

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In the light of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities finding that cuts to benefits meet the threshold for human rights violations, instead of replacing the Human Rights Act, should not the Secretary of State focus on ensuring the protection of rights to which the Government are already committed?

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The UK Government and this country do not need lectures about our human rights record. Our country has a proud tradition that goes back 800 years of pioneering human rights and spreading our values around the world. We do not need any lessons.

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Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that not only is it a good idea to make the change, but that we were members of the European convention on human rights for a whole generation before we put human rights legislation into British law, and that the clear understanding needs to be that British courts, informed by legislation from this Parliament, make the decisions?

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Of course it was Winston Churchill in his famous speech in Place Kléber in Strasbourg who pointed out the importance of fundamental human rights after the second world war, and British lawyers played a very important part in framing the European convention on human rights. Having said that, it is right to consider what that should be in the modern context, and whether we need a British jurisprudence over those rights. That is what we are doing.

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19. Five times in the past few years the UK Government have been found guilty of a breach of article 3 of the European convention on human rights for their treatment of people with mental health problems in immigration detention. Many more cases have been settled or are pending. Will the Minister confirm that the solution to that shameful state of affairs is not to water down that absolute right in order to avoid being found out? [907692]

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Of course we respect human rights and the rights that are within the convention. No country has a better record of abiding by those decisions than this country. Having said that, there is a need to look critically at the Human Rights Act and how it operates, which is what we will do.

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Does the Minister agree that the example of countries such as New Zealand, Canada and Australia prove that a country does not have to be a member of the European convention on human rights to have an excellent human rights record?

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My hon. Friend’s point is that those countries have the common-law tradition that was founded in this country by our judges and our Parliament. The fact that it is expressed differently in Canada and countries of that sort does not mean that it does not have the same root. We in this country should be proud of that.

Judicial Independence

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12. What steps she is taking to protect judicial independence. [907685]

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The independence of the judiciary is the cornerstone of the rule of law, vital to our constitution and freedoms. As Lord Chancellor I frequently make this clear, both in private and in public.

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After the press attacks on the judiciary, it took the Justice Secretary nearly 48 hours to release a statement. The former Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge said of that statement that he thought it was

“a little too late—and quite a lot too little”.

Does she agree with Lord Judge, and if so will she take the opportunity to apologise?

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It is not the job of the Government or the Lord Chancellor to police headlines. The process is working absolutely as it should. People have a right to bring a case to court. The Government have the right to defend our position in the court. The judiciary is independent and impartial, and the press can scrutinise the process within the law.

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I agree with my right hon. Friend. As we sit here today in this Parliament, just across Parliament Square the Supreme Court is sitting with 11 Supreme Court justices. Does she not agree—and does this whole House not agree—that the integrity of the Supreme Court and the justices should not be impugned?

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I completely agree with my hon. Friend. As I said last month, the Supreme Court justices are people of great integrity and impartiality.

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In response to the constitutional change brought about by devolution, the renowned international jurist, the late Professor Sir Neil MacCormick, stressed the importance of the principles that justified judicial independence and the concept of the separation of powers. As the United Kingdom once more faces major constitutional change after the EU referendum, will the Justice Secretary join me in reaffirming the importance of those principles?

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I absolutely will. The independence of the judiciary is a vital part of our free society, as is our free press. Both those things are important. We have seen over the last months that we have a robust independent judiciary and a robust free press, which I look forward to discussing with the hon. and learned Lady very soon.

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In recent years, it has become commonplace for some Conservative Members to deprecate the judges of the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights simply for doing their job. Does the Lord Chancellor agree that such scant respect for the rule of law has encouraged a climate in which a major tabloid, which I believe some people call a newspaper, thinks it is appropriate to describe justices of our own Supreme Court as “enemies of the people”?

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I have been very clear that the independence of the judiciary is a vital part of our rule of law. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Courts and Justice has just said, it is important for the UK that British courts make those decisions, and that is precisely what we are going to achieve.

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Yesterday, the President of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger, said at the beginning of the article 50 appeal:

“This appeal is concerned with legal issues, and, as judges, our duty is to consider those issues impartially, and to decide the case, according to law. That is what we shall do.”

Does the Lord Chancellor agree that if she had done her duty and spoken out at the time to defend the judiciary, those words would not have been necessary?

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As I said earlier, I frequently make it clear that the independence of the judiciary is a vital part of our constitution and our freedoms. I also think that it is absolutely right that the President of the Supreme Court, who has absolute integrity and impartiality, should make that case as well.

Vulnerable Witnesses

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13. What steps the Government are taking to protect vulnerable witnesses when they testify in court. [907686]

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We are committed to helping vulnerable witnesses to give their very best evidence. A range of measures exist to help to reduce the anxiety of giving evidence, including video-link evidence away from the courtroom, and, within the court, giving evidence behind a screen.

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Following the closure of my local court in Buxton, witnesses will have to travel from my High Peak constituency to the nearest court. Can my right hon. and learned Friend provide further assurance that there will be protection for witnesses not only in the court, but when they are travelling to it?

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Yes, I can do that. When a witness needs protection, the police assess what is required to keep them safe. Witness care officers also help to ensure that the witness has any help that they need to attend court.

Prisoners: Rehabilitation and Work

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14. What steps she is taking to improve rehabilitation in prisons. [907687]

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The prison and courts reform Bill will, for the first time, set out in legislation that the reform of offenders is a key purpose of prison. Prison is not just about housing offenders until release. Everyone involved in prisons, from officers to headquarters, will be focused on turning prisoners’ lives around.

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Will the Lord Chancellor think about the pathway back to independent crime-free living and the use of organisations such as the Amber Foundation, which do a lot to look after people before they have developed the life skills to live independently and free from crime?

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I congratulate the Amber Foundation on its work, particularly in turning around the lives of young people. We will shortly issue our response to Charlie Taylor’s review on how we will improve the youth justice system to do just that.

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23. Given the recent attack on a prison officer in my constituency, what will the Secretary of State be doing to ensure the safety of prison officers at work? [907697]

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Making our prisons safer places is my No. 1 priority. That is why we are dealing with drugs, drones and phones, and it is why we are investing in additional prison staff across the estate.

Missing Persons

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18. What steps the Government are taking to help relatives of missing persons manage financial and other affairs on their behalf. [907691]

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We are preparing legislation to create the new legal status of “guardian of the property and affairs of a missing person”. We will introduce it as parliamentary time allows.

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I hope to introduce a ten-minute rule Bill on guardianship that would help relatives and friends to manage the affairs of missing people. In memory of Claudia Lawrence, my constituents’ daughter who went missing seven long years ago, will the Government offer that Bill their full support? Will they also be willing to honour her memory by referring to it, whenever possible, as Claudia’s Bill?

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That is good news, and I wish my hon. Friend well with his Bill. I understand why he wants to refer to it as Claudia’s law. I would like to extend my sympathies, as I am sure the whole House would, to Peter and Joan Lawrence. The Government will formally announce their position on Second Reading, but we are keen for this matter to be tackled.

Topical Questions

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T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities. [907664]

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Our probation officers do a vital job—it is one that I value highly—in turning offenders’ lives around, and the prisons and probation Minister is conducting a comprehensive review of the probation system that is focused on improving the quality of our probation services. As with our plans for prisons, we want a simpler, clearer system, with specific outcome measures such as getting offenders off drugs, improving educational standards, and getting offenders into apprenticeships and work. We also want closer working with the Prison Service. We will set out our more detailed plans after our review is completed in April.

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Guide dog owners are too often turned away by taxis, despite that being illegal, and research has shown that when offenders are prosecuted, they can be fined less than £200. Will my right hon. Friend review the situation and find ways to increase the penalties to ensure that such discrimination is better addressed?

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It is appalling that some taxi drivers refuse to take assistance dogs. That is an offence under the Equality Act 2010, and it can result in a fine of £1,000. I know that the Department for Transport is looking at improving training for drivers, and at the role that taxi licensing can play in eradicating this discrimination.

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Given the Government’s climbdown on their outrageous plan for immigration and asylum tribunal fees, and if they really believe in access to justice, is it not about time they listened to opposition to their unaffordable employment tribunal fees and their small claims limit changes, which hit injured people on lower incomes, and to the urgent demands that they finally begin a review into their savage legal aid cuts?

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We have already announced a review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012—we will shortly be announcing the timetable—but we need a system that is both open and affordable, which is exactly what the Government are delivering.

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T2. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that an independent judiciary and a free press are two pillars of a free society, and that, while we might not always like how each acts, we should be proud of, and protect, those freedoms. [907666]

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I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. We can be incredibly proud of our independent judiciary, which is the cornerstone of the rule of law and supports our commerce and trade, and we also have a robust free press, which is vital to ensuring a free society.

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T3. As has been stated, last June the Government commenced their review of the future of employment tribunal fees. As of yet, we have not seen any results. Will the Minister give me a firm date for the review’s completion and publication? Is it not time the Government abandoned these unfair fees, which cut across the rights of working people? [907667]

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There is a difference: Government Members think it only fair that those who can afford to should make a contribution to a service that costs hard-working taxpayers £66 million a year. We are reviewing the situation—we are doing a careful job, because this is an important issue—and we will publish the outcome in due course.

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T4. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State agrees that one of the main challenges facing the justice system is integrating ex-offenders back into the outside world upon their release. Does she agree that this requires the co-operation of employers as well as former prisoners? What is the Department doing to ensure that such co-operation is both encouraged and increased? [907668]

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I completely agree with my hon. Friend about this vital means of reducing reoffending. We will be launching a new employment strategy next year in partnership with employers, and prisoners can take up apprenticeships in and out of prison so that we create the link between prison and the outside world. Most importantly, we are matching jobs that are available on the outside with the training and work that prisoners do on the inside so that there is a pathway to employment.

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T8. The European criminal records information system enables the UK to access information about the convictions of EU nationals, but the future of our involvement is now unclear. What plans does the Department have to ensure that there is effective engagement post-Brexit? [907672]

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It is important that the Scottish Parliament and Government liaise with the UK Parliament and Government about Brexit, and that is happening, as the hon. Gentleman knows. ECRIS is an important system, but the Government are not announcing their Brexit negotiating position at this stage.

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T5. With care applications rising dramatically in the family courts, what steps is the Minister taking to head off what Sir James Munby, the president of the family division, has referred to as a “looming crisis” in the family courts? [907669]

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My hon. Friend’s question is about a very important point. In the same period, the time taken to complete a case has halved, and the Family Justice Board, which I co-chair, is investigating the reasons for the increase in cases and whether it is temporary. I agree that there are some vital issues here, such as helping women not to lose successive children to care. My hon. Friend might have heard about the Pause project, which is doing promising work in this area, and I would be happy to have a meeting with her to discuss the issue further.

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Three Secretaries of State—for Justice, for Health, and for Communities and Local Government—believe that parents in Hull should have an independent inquiry to find out what happened to their babies’ ashes. Does the Secretary of State fully understand the disappointment of those parents that she will not stand up for justice for them by establishing an independent inquiry to find out what happened to those ashes?

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I am sympathetic to the hon. Lady’s concerns and I offer my sympathy again to her constituents. We are supportive of local historical investigations, but we do not plan to order an historical inquiry in Hull or elsewhere. Hull has made significant improvements, including by putting in place measures to improve practices across, and communication between, the cremation authority, local funeral directors and NHS trusts.

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T6. What action are the Government taking to address the specific needs of women in the justice system? [907670]

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We are working to ensure that we take proper account of the specific needs of women at every stage of the criminal justice system so that they receive the support that they need to make positive changes in their lives. We want to see fewer women offending and reoffending, and we will set out our strategy for how we manage female offenders in 2017.

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May I give the Secretary of State another opportunity to answer my question? She told the House that she has had meetings to discuss the record levels of suicide in our prisons. Has she actually visited a prison mental health service—and if not, why not?

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I have visited a number of prisons where I have discussed mental health services. I have already answered the hon. Lady’s question.

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T9. What specific actions are my right hon. Friend and the Government taking to ensure that the UK remains a specialist leader in world legal services? [907673]

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We are a modern global centre for legal services and dispute resolution, and English law is the international law of choice. Our legal services sector contributes £26 billion to the UK economy. We have the best legal system in the world, and our modernisation programme will maintain that situation. I will be championing, as will the Secretary of State and the whole team, our legal services sector as a key part of post-Brexit global Britain.

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The family of Richard Davies of Yeadon are dismayed that the man found guilty of his manslaughter is being considered for a move to an open prison a year before the family was told that that would be considered and after spending only a year in prison. Is that justice?

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There is obviously a careful risk assessment before people are moved into open prison. I am not aware of the specific facts of the case that the hon. Gentleman has outlined, but I will be happy to meet him to discuss it.

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The hon. Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) said that he thought that Lord Neuberger had mentioned that he would decide the case in accordance with the law on the basis of something that the Secretary of State had or had not said. Does the Secretary of State agree with me that Lord Neuberger said that he was deciding the matter on the basis of the law because that is his duty, and because it was stated that the matter would be decided on law, not politics, in paragraph 8 of the High Court judgment?

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My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right about Lord Neuberger’s role—[Interruption.] It is pronounced “Newberger”; I have had frequent conversations with him. It is important that the judiciary itself states the case, too.

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Prisoners serving IPP—imprisonment for public protection—sentences have remained in custody long beyond their tariff and long after the coalition Government abolished such sentences. I understand that a dedicated Ministry of Justice unit is looking into the position of IPP prisoners. Will the Secretary of State tell us exactly what it is doing?

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I have met a number of IPP prisoners who are anxious to hear more about the progress that they will make through the system. The unit is ensuring that there are sufficient parole hearings and that sufficient courses are being taken, and getting people to a stage at which they are ready for release. However, it is always important for us to focus on public protection, and we make sure that we only release people who do not pose a huge risk.

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Woodhill prison in my constituency has had more suicides than any other prison this year. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that she is working urgently with the governor to address the situation?

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I can assure my hon. Friend that we are working urgently with the governor to address the situation, as well as addressing the overall issue of the number of suicides in our prisons, which is far too high.

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Reoffending rates among young offenders remain stubbornly high. Earlier this year, the Association of Youth Offending Team Managers said that there had been a record cut in funding for youth offending teams. What is the Secretary of State doing to address that?

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The hon. Lady will not have to wait long before we release the Charlie Taylor report and the Government’s response, which will explain how we will improve outcomes in youth justice.

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In February this year, 21-year-old Croydon resident George Beresford was knocked over and killed by a drink-driver. Because the police and the Crown Prosecution Service were unable to prove that the drink-driver was also driving carelessly, he received only a relatively short driving ban, rather than a custodial sentence. I thank the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), for agreeing to meet the family this afternoon, but does he agree that the case should be considered as part of the consultation on driving offences, and that when a drink-driver kills someone, a custodial sentence is appropriate irrespective of whether careless driving can be proven?

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Our consultation proposals make it very clear that when a driver has consumed drugs or alcohol and then kills someone, and if there is sufficient evidence to charge that driver with careless or dangerous driving, he or she could face a life sentence. Obviously it is for the Crown Prosecution Service to prosecute on the basis of the evidence, and it is for the courts to hand down the relevant sentence. I look forward to discussing the details of that specific case with the Beresfords later this afternoon.

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A constituent of mine who has pleural plaques is raising an action against his former employers, of whom there are many because of the nature of his work. His claim is subject to a time bar and must be submitted by the end of the year. However, he cannot obtain a list of his employers because Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs says that that will take 321 days. I am sure that he would appreciate it if the Secretary of State asked the Treasury to make an exception.

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I shall be happy to look into the case with the hon. Lady.

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On her first day in office, the Prime Minister said:

“If you are black you are treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if you are white.”

I am pleased to be working with the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) on a review of the treatment of, and outcomes for, black, Asian and minority ethnic individuals in the criminal justice system. What steps will the Secretary of State take to act on the emerging findings, which show that, in respect of arrests and charging, such people are disproportionately affected?

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I am delighted that my hon. Friend has joined that review, to which I am sure that she will make a major contribution. Clearly there are issues throughout the criminal justice system that we need to examine, but I am certainly keen to see more diversity throughout our legal services industry and our judiciary, and we are working very hard on that.

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Education budgets are being devolved to prison governors. Will each of those budgets be ring-fenced for education spending purposes?

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Well! A one-word answer. Absolutely magnificent. I very much doubt that we shall hear a one-word question, but we can always ask the Chair of the Justice Committee, who is himself an accomplished lawyer. There is a hint there. I call Mr Robert Neill.

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Given the Government’s welcome development of a corruption prevention strategy for our prisons, will the Minister look personally at the allegations of systemic corruption raised by BuzzFeed News today on the basis that this presents a serious risk of undermining our prison system?

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I completely agree with my hon. Friend. While the vast majority of prison officers are hard-working and dedicated, there is a small minority that is an issue. We acknowledge that in the White Paper, and we are reporting early next year on our corruption strategy. We are also considering options for a prison-specific offence of corruption to crack down on that scourge.

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I have previously raised my concerns with the Lord Chancellor about the rise of gangs promoting extremist ideology within prisons. Will she update the House on how her Department is cracking down on extremist behaviour?

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My hon. Friend is right about our concerns. We launched our response to the Acheson review in the summer. I am pleased to say that all prison officers are currently being trained—and will be by the end of the year—in tackling extremism, but I would be very pleased to have a meeting with her to discuss what further measures we can take to deal with this issue.

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rose—

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I think we will conclude with another dose from Shipley.

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Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.

When the previous Labour Government changed the law so that prisoners had to be released halfway through their sentence irrespective of how badly they behaved or if they were still a risk to the public, the then Conservative Opposition were apoplectic and voted against the change. Do the Government think that the then Conservative party was wrong to oppose that change in the law?

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I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave earlier today and last week to the Select Committee.

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I think this show will run—probably for some years to come.

Rail Infrastructure (Train Operating Companies)

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(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the Government’s plans for train operating companies to take responsibility for track and infrastructure from Network Rail.

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The hon. Gentleman has clearly misunderstood our plans, so let me explain them to him.

This morning I laid a written statement in both Libraries of this House setting out my vision for reforming the railways in a way that puts passengers at the heart. This is about providing better and more reliable journeys for passengers.

Britain’s railways are crucial to our economic future, and we have seen very substantial growth in passenger numbers since privatisation, but this growth brings challenges and the impact of disruption can be immediate, significant and wide-ranging. So our railways need to adapt and change in order to be able to cope with this huge expansion in the number of passengers. We are spending very large amounts of money trying to tackle the challenge, with new and longer trains, more capacity being introduced across the country, and big projects like Crossrail and small projects that make a difference locally.

Earlier this year, Nicola Shaw recommended that Network Rail should devolve responsibility to the route level. I support the principles of the Shaw report, and I support Network Rail’s reform programme, but there is more to do.

I therefore intend to press ahead with Sir Roy McNulty’s recommendations on how to make the railways run better and more cost-effectively. I will do this initially at an operational level. In order for all those involved to be incentivised to deliver the best possible service for the passenger, I expect the new franchises, starting with Southeastern and East Midlands, to have integrated operating teams between train services and infrastructure, working together in the interests of the passenger. I will also be inviting Transport for London and Kent County Council to be more closely involved in developing the next Southeastern franchise by embedding their own representatives in the team that develops, designs and monitors that franchise.

We will continue to develop the model for greater alignment of track and train as further franchises are renewed, including the option of joint ventures. In the meantime, my Department is also publishing an update to the rail franchising schedule, which I am placing in the Libraries of this House.

I also want to bring new skills to the challenge of upgrading our railways. I will begin by looking at the reopening of the link from Oxford to Cambridge. I am going to establish East West Rail as a new and separate organisation, to accelerate the permissions needed to reopen the route, and to secure private sector involvement to design, build and operate the route as an integrated organisation. This East West Rail organisation will be established early in the new year and chaired by the former chief executive of Chiltern Railways, Rob Brighouse.

These reforms will set the railway on a firmer footing for the future. We can, and will, make sure our rail network plays its part in making this country a country that works for everyone. I will bring forward in due course a new strategy for our railways with more detail on what I am setting out today.

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Private companies will only engage with the Secretary of State’s plans if they believe that they will be able to extract yet further value from Britain’s railways at the expense of taxpayers and commuters. Not only does this mean poor value for the public, but it also risks compromising safety. The last time the Tories privatised the rail tracks it resulted in a series of fatal accidents, which led to the creation of Network Rail in the first place. Now the Secretary of State wants to start us on a slippery slope back to the bad old days of Railtrack, with profit-chasing companies being entrusted with the safety-critical role of being responsible for our rail infrastructure. Has he not learned the lessons of Railtrack, or is he simply choosing to ignore them? Why does he expect things to be different this time?

Will the Secretary of State explain how his planned “integrated operating teams” will be different from the “deep alliances” between Network Rail and South West Trains, which were abandoned, and from the similar arrangement between Network Rail and ScotRail, which is performing abysmally? Will the same system of regulation apply in his new landscape? What discussions has he had with the Office of Rail Regulation about this? What costings have been done for this programme? Has a cost-benefit analysis been carried out? It is time for our railways to be run under public ownership, in the public interest, as an integrated national asset in public hands, with affordable fares for all and with long-term investment in the railway network. Sadly, today’s announcement will take us further away from that than ever before, but an incoming Labour Government will redress that as a matter of urgency.

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Fortunately, there is not an imminent Labour Government. The trouble is that Labour Members want to turn the clock back to the days of British Rail and of the unions having beer and sandwiches at No. 10. We want to modernise the railways and make them work better. This is not about privatisation. I am not privatising Network Rail. I am creating teams on the ground with the same incentives to work together in the interests of the passenger. An essential part of that —the bit the hon. Gentleman has not spotted—is that the Shaw recommendations on route devolution, which will give real power to local teams to make decisions about their routes without always referring to the centre, will make it possible for those alliances to work much better than they have in the past. We know that where there have been alliances, they have made something of a difference, but they could do so much more.

This is not rocket science. If the trains are being run from over here and the tracks from over there, when things go wrong we get two separate teams waving contracts at each other rather than working together. Of course our railways do not maximise their potential. This is about forging teamwork on the ground to respond to challenges, to plan better and to deliver a better service to passengers. That is what we should all be aspiring to. Moving the deckchairs around, renationalising the railways and taking away hundreds of millions of pounds a year of investment in new trains from the private sector would take our railways backwards and make the travelling public worse off. This is a sign that, as always, the Labour party has not made it into the modern world.

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I warmly welcome efforts to create greater integration between those who run the tracks and those who run the trains, but will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that a one-size-fits-all model would not be the right one, because certain lines are so heavily used by diverse operators that such a degree of integration would be difficult to achieve?

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That is absolutely right. It is very straightforward in areas where there is complete synchronisation between the Network Rail routes and the train operators, such as on the west coast main line, which has multiple operators. We also have to be careful to protect the interests of freight operators and open access operators. I am not planning to change the fundamental regulatory structure, but by forging teams together by letting franchises and structuring Network Rail in a way that allows them to integrate, we will be able to deliver better day-to-day performance and a more reliable railway over the vast majority of our network.

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The Secretary of State is right to acknowledge the problems with our rail network, but he should not remedy them through further privatisation. There is higher passenger satisfaction and reliability in Scotland than on any other network in the UK, but Scotland could do better. Will he agree to devolve power over Network Rail to the Scottish Parliament?

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The hon. Gentleman has just described progress in Scotland, but the point that he has missed is that Scotland is the one place where we have a working alliance of the kind I am talking about. What he is describing is a step on the road to the model that I want to create across the railway, which he says builds passenger satisfaction. That is why this is the right thing to do. It is not about privatisation; it is about teamwork to deliver a better service for the passenger.

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Although Network Rail does many things well, it is often cumbersome and unresponsive to the customer. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the purpose of his virtual operating companies is to bring scale benefits in cost and service to the customer?

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My hon. Friend, who has great experience in such matters, is absolutely right. Right now, the incentives for team members in Network Rail are different from those in train operators. The incentive across the entire railway network should be to do a better job for the customer. Part of that process will involve aligning incentives so that everyone has the right motivation to deliver for the people who matter: the customers.

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A joined-up approach could bring benefits and has been called for on many occasions by, among others, the Transport Committee. How will safety be protected in the specific model that the Transport Secretary now advocates? Could it be the beginning of a highly expensive fragmentation of the system?

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The opposite is the case. This is not about fragmentation; it is about joining up. As the hon. Lady will know, we have various teams on the ground across our railways, some looking after the track and some looking after the trains. Sometimes they work together well, but sometimes they do not. By creating a structure that shapes teams on the ground, which involves decentralisation within Network Rail of the kind recommended by Nicola Shaw and the sort of partnerships that Sir Roy McNulty recommended, we will reach a place, about which the hon. Lady has talked in the past, where we have a more joined-up railway that does a better job for the customer.

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I congratulate my right hon. Friend on taking an initiative that could and should have been taken about 20 years ago. I am delighted that my constituents travelling from east Kent will be among the first to benefit from better co-operation between Network Rail and the train operating company. Will he indicate whether funding will be available for the Kent coast line to be brought at least into the 20th century and preferably into the 21st century?

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Following the new Southeastern franchise bids, I hope and expect to see the kind of benefit that we have seen on the East Anglian rail network, where every single train is due to be replaced as part of the new franchise. That is the sort of progress that makes a real difference to passengers, and I want to see that kind of improvement across the network, including on Southeastern. As the two sides of the railway work closer together, the ability to deliver small, incremental improvements quickly becomes better and more readily available, and we can then improve services.

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This is a Minister who has a bit of form. In a previous job, he wrecked the prison system. He now has the job at Transport and is about to cause havoc there as well.

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Let me surprise the hon. Gentleman by saying that I am the Minister who decided not to privatise the Prison Service, a decision which was described in my office by the Prison Officers Association as a victory. I hate to disabuse him, but I am not an inveterate privatiser; I am an inveterate improver of services.

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I thank my right hon. Friend for his encouraging response to the urgent question. A number of operators work with Network Rail in both our constituencies and not only has the number of complaints dropped dramatically but, more importantly, there has been a positive response to requests for service changes from the constituents.

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That is right. Two rail routes run through my constituency. One is run by South West Trains and one by Southern. We understand the issues on the Southern network, but I recently went to a public meeting on the edge of my constituency about the service provided by South West Trains and found an audience broadly full of praise for the operator. There have been a bumpy few weeks this autumn and some things have gone wrong with the infrastructure on the network, but there are many decent people on our railways who have been there for a long time, working hard for passengers, and we must always recognise that.

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Some of the main causes of delays and problems on the network include failures of signals, points and trains. Will the Secretary of State explain in specifics what will be different under his proposals from what currently happens?

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Let me give the hon. Gentleman a specific example. About 10 days ago, there was a quite bad signal failure at lunchtime on the South West Trains network. I caught the train home during the evening peak, by which time the service was pretty much back to normal. It is a joined-up route that has the nearest thing to an alliance on the network, and the two sides work hard together to deliver improvements quickly when something goes wrong. That is an example of the benefits of joined-up working, as opposed to having to wait several hours for the two teams to decide how to do things together.

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I welcome the move towards greater integration with operating teams. Does the Secretary of State share my hope that that might stop the buck-passing between train operating companies and Network Rail, which many of my constituents north of the river on the Thameslink line have suffered daily and to which I drew his attention yesterday?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. I make no pretence: there are some genuine problems on our railways at the moment. Those are mostly problems of intensive use and dramatic increases in passenger numbers, beyond anything envisaged even 10 years ago. So we have to deliver change and improvement, which comes partly through capacity improvements—a lot of money is being spent on the Thameslink route. It also comes through better performance on a day-to-day basis. I will never be afraid to hold rail companies’ feet to the fire if they do not deliver, but we also need to recognise that many of the problems arise on the infrastructure, and getting the two to work together to deliver real solutions to those problems has to be the right way forward.

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The Secretary of State has said that he wants less contracting complexity and more localised decision making, but giving more power over infrastructure to private train operating companies will create a new and uneven layer of contracting in the industry. How can he be confident that this will not lead to a return of the subcontracting culture, which was a major factor in the avoidable rail tragedies at Hatfield and Potters Bar?

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I do not think the hon. Lady has been listening to me. I am not talking about creating complex new contracting structures; I am talking about teamwork on the ground. Where we have started this—the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) made the point about the situation in Scotland—it has made a difference. We need to deepen and strengthen these alliances, and create much stronger teamwork on the front line. That is what will make a difference.

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I, too, welcome this announcement, including the proposal to involve Kent County Council more in the renewal of the Southeastern franchise. Day in, day out, rail commuters in my constituency have to cope with delays, to the extent that one constituent has even asked the managing director of Southeastern to write to his boss to explain why he is late each day. Will the Secretary of State therefore say more about how his proposals will enable my constituents to get to work on time?

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I know that there has been disruption in the Kent area in the past couple of years because of the improvements at London Bridge, and there are lessons to be learned from the way they have been carried out to make sure that we minimise disruption in the future. We need big investments that will create extra capacity, but they have to be done in a way that causes as little damage as possible to ongoing services. I want the new franchise to deliver the best possible improvements to services in Kent and London, which is one reason why I reached the view that the design of the franchise has to be a three-way partnership between my Department, Transport for London and Kent, because this multifaceted franchise has to work for everyone.

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In east Yorkshire did we not have a plan for joined-up thinking, using a train operator called First Hull Trains to improve services for local people by electrifying the line to Hull? Was not that joined-up thinking abandoned by the Government just a few weeks ago?

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What actually happened was that before the point of being able to take a decision on electrification on the Hull line, Hull Trains and TransPennine ordered bi-mode trains that deliver the service improvements without any additional investment in unnecessary infrastructure. That means we can spend more money around the network to improve services. People in Hull should be pleased, because they are about to get smart new trains that will really improve services.

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We would all welcome more integrated teams working on behalf of passengers on our railways. Will the Secretary of State explain how this will work for my local passengers on the trans-Pennine route, bearing in mind that the Northern franchise runs out in 2025 and the TransPennine Express franchise runs out in 2023?

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The central focus is likely to be the Northern franchise, and indeed that was Nicola Shaw’s recommendation. A large part of the rail network is relatively easy to deliver in this way, but in some parts where there are multiple operators we need to look carefully at how best to do it. The integrity and the spread of the Northern franchise is probably the foundation for the strongest alliance in that area.

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The Secretary of State has mentioned South West Trains and how some of this integration is already in place in our network. So either we are talking about that, in which case this is not really a change, or this is the predecessor to a privatisation which will go badly—which is it?

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It could just be that we have had some tentative steps in this direction that have shown early signs of promise and that we think we should pursue much more seriously—it could just be that.

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Commuters on the Braintree to Liverpool Street line suffer cancellations and delays far too regularly. I welcome the commitment to new rolling stock under the new franchise, but does my right hon. Friend agree that the bringing together of the TOCs and Network Rail will mean that there can be no excuses, be they about rolling stock, signalling or points, to further delay the commuters in my constituency?

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I agree; what the public want is to know that someone is in charge. The aim of all this is to ensure that someone is in charge. Things will go wrong and there will be problems—that is unavoidable in a congested rail system—but we all want to know that there is a joined-up team trying to solve them. Of course, I hope that the new trains on my hon. Friend’s network, once they arrive and have bedded in, will deliver much better reliability than the existing ones.

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Will this new arrangement have any impact on future investment decisions? I note that the east midlands franchise is to be one of the first considered for this new arrangement, so how does that impact on possible electrification there? A scheme was committed to and then paused, and then unpaused and recommitted to. Now it appears to be neither paused nor committed to. Will the Secretary of State explain the impact on that of these arrangements?

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There is no impact; as I have said in the House before, we are proceeding with the next stage of electrification to Corby. We are looking at how we deliver service improvements to Sheffield by 2020, with improved journey times, faster tracks and the remodelling of key places such as Derby station, and I am looking actively at how we provide the best train fleet for the future.

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I have been campaigning for the reopening of the east-west rail line for many years, so may I thank my right hon. Friend for this early Christmas present? Will he assure me that the new body will work closely with the National Infrastructure Commission on unlocking the economic potential of the Oxford to Cambridge corridor through Milton Keynes? Do we have an updated likely date for the opening of the line?

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We will work with the National Infrastructure Commission, and we will also work closely with the local authorities that have been involved in helping to develop the project. I will not give my hon. Friend a date, but I would say that one reason for doing this is that I want to accelerate the process. I look at the pipeline of projects that Network Rail has, and I do not want this project to disappear into the middle of the next decade; I want us to start real improvement works quickly. We have money from the autumn statement to start some of that work around the intersection with HS2, but I just want to make this project happen quickly. We have to demonstrate sometimes in this country that we can get on with things.

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My constituency and the north Wales line are covered by two major franchises, Wales and borders, and west coast; by two Governments, the Welsh Government and the UK Government; and by Network Rail. In future, under the Secretary of State’s plans, who would be responsible for safety? Has he spoken to the Welsh Government about that?

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Today’s announcement is predominantly about England, because, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the Welsh Government are taking the lead in designing the franchise. I know that they have sympathy with this view, because they are pathfinders at the moment in securing bids from integrated consortiums for the proposed Cardiff metro service, but I will discuss this with the Welsh Government, as I have regular conversations with them. I hope that they may want to build on some of the things we are seeking to do in England.

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The Secretary of State’s decision to reintegrate train and track, where appropriate, is sensible. Does he accept, however, that my constituents will regard his failure to remove the London metro services from the wholly discredited Southeastern franchise as a complete cop-out and failure, and that it makes sense at all, as far as rail users in my constituency or I am concerned?

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I know that my hon. Friend feels passionately about this, but I do not agree with him. We will have the opportunity, between London, my Department and Kent, to design an improved franchise for the future. What I had to decide was whether the benefits set out in the Mayor’s business plan, which did not involve increases in capacity on my hon. Friend’s local routes into London, and the incremental improvements that Transport for London claimed it might be able to deliver were really worth putting his railway line through the biggest restructuring since the 1920s. My judgment is that we can achieve the benefits that TfL is arguing for through partnership, rather than through massive reorganisation, and that is my aim.

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What evaluation has there been of the time and cost benefits of doing the Oxford to Cambridge line in the way that the Secretary of State proposes, as opposed to having Network Rail do it? Does he envisage other projects being run in this way? If this is about looking for different ways of doing things, will he consider allowing the public sector to bid for train franchises?

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As the right hon. Gentleman will be aware from the autumn statement, the Oxford-Cambridge corridor is a much broader project than just a railway line. It is seen as a key development corridor by the Treasury and the National Infrastructure Commission. We also need to look at the construction of improved road links between the two, so it is much more complicated than simply saying, “It’s a railway line.” However, we need to build a model that secures developer contributions on the route. It is good for our rail sector to have a bit of contestability. The assumption that Network Rail should always do everything does not give us any benchmarks to judge whether someone else can do it better. I want to use this as an opportunity, in a way that does not affect the rest of the network, to test the way that we are doing things, and to see whether we can do them quicker and better.

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Passengers in my constituency just want a better service—one that matches the train timetable—and this is something that I have raised with the Secretary of State on a number of occasions. I agree that both track and train teams need to work together to focus on delivering a better service, especially on the Upfield line. What improvements will my constituents see with this new initiative?

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One thing I asked Chris Gibb to do around the Southern route was to start to create the kind of partnership that I have described today. My early experience on this route—and the early experience of the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard)—was that Network Rail and the train operator were not working closely together and not addressing problems together. Sadly, the real challenge in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Nusrat Ghani) is the ongoing industrial action, which is utterly pointless. No one is losing their job, and no one is losing any money; this is all about adopting new technologies and ways of working that are already custom and practice on the same routes. The action is a tragedy, and it is unacceptable. I again call on the unions to go back to work.

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When Transport for London took over London Overground, it went from being the worst performing rail line in the country to the best performing rail line. That was why the Government signed an agreement with TfL and the London government in March for TfL to take over Southeastern when the franchise expires in 2018. What exactly has happened to make the Government break their promise to Londoners?

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I looked very carefully at this matter. The hon. Lady needs to understand the difference between London Overground and the rest of the suburban routes. London Overground has provided a good service, which is run by Arriva—part of the German railways—and was co-run initially by MTR, the Hong Kong metro system. It is a franchise operator, like the rest. Having read the Mayor’s business case carefully, and having considered the level of change required to split the franchise in half—it would be the biggest operating change on this railway since the 1920s—and the potential disruption to passengers over a period of time, I thought, rightly or wrongly, that we could deliver the service improvement that TfL was talking about by forging a partnership. Crucially, we would involve Kent, because this is not a London issue; as this railway runs from London to the south coast, we cannot think of the railway system just in terms of London. Very many passengers and representatives in this House from further afield would take a very different view from her on what will work for the railway line.

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May I welcome the Secretary of State’s pragmatic approach to this problem? We on the Conservative Benches believe in devolution and in providing different solutions depending on the circumstances. The west coast main line is working at almost 100% capacity. Will he explain to my constituents how London Midland, Virgin and Network Rail on the west coast main line will work better together through his proposals?

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There are two issues here. Clearly, there is logic, for the midlands and the north, in having a really joined-up relationship between Network Rail and the local train operator. Of course there will be services, such as Virgin’s west coast main line and the CrossCountry service, that cross boundaries. We must preserve the existing regulatory framework so that those services are not affected by this. My hon. Friend talked about devolution; what I am talking about for London is exactly the same model that we have adopted for transport in the north and the midlands of partnership and of shaping franchises. Local designer franchises have played a big part in the north in delivering what is genuinely thought to be a great new franchise structure that will bring real improvements for people across the north of England.

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Just a couple of weeks after the autumn statement, which was supposed to herald new investment in infrastructure, the new Secretary of State has given the game away with today’s announcement that the new rail line between Oxford and Cambridge will be built with private investment, so his true colours are shining through. Let me take him back to his comments about the success of ScotRail Alliance and ask him this: if it is working so well now, would it not work even better if we removed more interfaces and fully devolved Network Rail in Scotland to the Scottish Government?

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The hon. Gentleman talks about investment and true colours. My view is this: the public sector is already putting a vast amount of investment into the railways. I support that, and I will get as much investment as I possibly can for our transport system, but there is no harm in also trying to do more by supplementing that with private finance. That may be an ideological division between us, but I cannot see how our transport system loses by having some private finance alongside the huge amounts of public finance already going into the sector.

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Network Rail recently carried out upgrades worth £3 million on the line running through Fareham in my constituency. Does the Secretary of State agree that this announcement will mean a greater focus on passengers? There are still so many commuters from Fareham who struggle because of the troubles with Southern rail. A more joined-up and co-ordinated approach will be a step in the right direction towards ensuring that commuters have better journeys to work.

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Three things need to happen to deal with the issues on Southern. The first is that we need much more joined-up working. Secondly, we will have to put more money into the Southern infrastructure, which is clearly under great stress. It is a very intensively used railway, and not enough has been spent on it over the years. Above all, we just need to get the workforce back to work. The bizarre thing is that the 10-coach train that I often take to Victoria in the morning has a driver and no guard, and it has been like that for years. Why on earth are the drivers and the guards on Southern putting the passengers through such enormous distress when no one is in danger of losing their job? It is shocking. I would like to hear one word of condemnation from the Labour party. Do we ever hear any condemnation of its union paymasters? The answer is no, not for a moment.

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When Zac Goldsmith was standing as the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London, the Department for Transport was all for the idea of devolving responsibility for letting Southeastern’s franchise to TfL, but now that he has gone, the promise seems to have gone as well. Why are the Government jettisoning the practical improvements that could have been associated with devolution in favour of this political experiment?

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The hon. Lady talks about political experiments; a political experiment would be implementing a business plan that I did not judge delivered substantial improvements to passengers, and that involved the biggest shake-up of the railways in the south-east since the 1920s. That is a risk that we do not need to take. We can deliver improvements through partnership, but we must remember that that partnership is not just about London; it is about Kent. It is a partnership that involves passengers on different parts of the routes. We need to design a franchise structure that delivers improvements for everyone.

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Passengers on the diesel-operated East Midlands Trains franchise from London to Kettering, who already experience some of the most expensive fares per mile in the country, often have delays to their service, not because of anything that East Midlands Trains has done, but because of Network Rail problems with the overhead lines coming out of St Pancras for the Thameslink service. That often happens at Luton and Bedford as well. Will the Secretary of State ensure that East Midlands Trains, Thameslink trains and Network Rail are among the first to set up these joint operating arrangements, because that would be greatly welcomed by my Kettering constituents?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that will be the case; that is one of the franchises that is coming up to be let. Big improvements are needed on that route. One of the other things that is unsatisfactory about the service for his constituents in Kettering is that in the mornings, they have to pile on to crammed inter-city trains from much further north in the east midlands. What we aim to deliver by 2020 is a better inter-city service and, for the first time, a proper dedicated commuter service to people from Corby, Kettering, Wellingborough and further south.

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From what I can gather, integration is at the heart of what the Secretary of State is endeavouring to achieve. With that in mind, now that the UK Government are devolving responsibilities for the Welsh franchise to Wales, is it not logical to devolve responsibility for the Welsh network?

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I need to correct the hon. Gentleman on that: we are not devolving responsibility for the whole Welsh franchise as he describes; we are doing so in part. I have said to the Welsh Government that I am happy with their taking control of the Welsh valleys lines, with a view to developing the metro system that they hope to put into service, but the Welsh franchise is not purely Welsh; it runs through large parts of England as well. We cannot have a situation where we, the Government in Westminster, give up control over services in England to the Welsh Government without checks and balances. That is not going to happen.

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I welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement today of greater alignment between track and train operators. It seems that in the past fortnight or so Southern and Thameslink passengers have suffered a lot of broken rail reports—almost more reports in that period than in the last year. How can the new model help to address that situation?

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The incidence of broken rails is a worrying coincidence, to put it mildly. I am concerned about the number of infrastructure breakdowns in recent weeks. Passengers blame the train company, but often—recently, more often than not—it is an infrastructure problem. That route is suffering intensely from low-level industrial action on non-strike days, and effectively a work to rule has been in force on different parts of that railway for months, which is adding to the intense pressure. I wish the unions would just accept that their members are not losing as a result of the change. They have more job security and better pay than a lot of people in the south-east, and they should get back to work and do the job they need to do for their passengers.

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The travelling public support devolution, as do a number of Conservative MPs, council leaders and Assembly Members, and indeed as the Conservative Government did when they signed the joint prospectus with the previous Mayor of London. Is it not just a narrow, petty, political point that the right hon. Gentleman does not want to devolve to a Labour Mayor, who would provide more frequent trains, fewer delays and cancellations, more staff at stations and frozen fares?

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This is the problem with the proposition. The hon. Gentleman says that more frequent trains would be provided, but the Mayor’s business plan did not provide more frequent trains. It provided no extra capacity in peak hours into the stations that serve the Southeastern route, and it would have involved the biggest reorganisation of those routes since the 1920s. My judgment is that, as it does not deliver the more frequent trains the hon. Gentleman describes, we should design the franchise through partnership, rather than upheaval.

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As the Secretary of State is well aware, there are appalling problems on Southern rail, which have been going on for a significant period and made worse by the apparent inability of Network Rail and Govia Thameslink Railway to work together. May I welcome his work with Chris Gibb and his pragmatic approach both to that and to the unions?

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I appreciate my hon. Friend’s comments. One of the breakdowns last week was caused by a piece of equipment being left behind from engineering work being done to sort out the problems in the Balcombe tunnel, which contribute to the unreliability on that network. Some of the money I announced in September is now being spent operationally on the ground. It is frustrating when it has an unfortunate accidental wrong effect.

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Can the Secretary of State tell us when the electrification work between Cardiff and Swansea will be finished?

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As I have said to the hon. Gentleman before, I make no bones about my unhappiness with the progress of Great Western electrification, which has not been anything like what I had hoped for. My policy right now is to deliver for him the new trains and improved journey times that will result from where we have got to so far, and where we hope we will get to soon in the electrification programme. He knows that what will make the biggest different to Swansea is fast new trains to London.

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What are the implications of the proposed partnership on the east midlands franchise for smaller capital schemes such as the one for level access at Alfreton station, which was scandalously delayed by Network Rail last week?

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My hon. Friend will know that where more enlightened train operators have invested and made improvements, it has paid dividends for them—Chiltern Railways is the obvious example. I hope that with more autonomy for the Network Rail team on the ground and autonomy for the private sector operators, they will look together at small schemes that will make a real difference to passengers and can be afforded within local budgets.

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Proposals to devolve rail services in London were championed by the Secretary of State’s predecessor, were underpinned by a solid business case, had cross-party support inside and outside London and, most important, were incredibly popular among passengers in London and Kent, who suffer daily at the hands of Southeastern and its unreliable and overcrowded services. Does the Secretary of State accept that his decision to take the proposal off the table today will be seen by those passengers as a betrayal of the hopes and expectations that were raised earlier this year by the Government?

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No, I do not accept that. As I keep saying, the business plan submitted by the Mayor did not deliver extra capacity. I have invited Transport for London and Kent County Council to work alongside us on designing a franchise that maximises performance, takes advantage of any best practice we can learn from, and works for London and for Kent. Both are important.

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People in Corby and east Northamptonshire are delighted with the Government’s commitment to electrification of the midland main line and pleased with the track upgrades in recent weeks. As part of the reletting of the franchise, they would like more trains running northbound and southbound through Corby. What benefit does my right hon. Friend envisage this greater co-operation having, in terms of responding most effectively to local concern and demand?

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We know that often on the railways, as on the roads, it is the small things that make a real difference. I hope that with decentralisation of Network Rail into a route-based structure, the autonomous local managing directors who have their own budgets will be much better placed to apply small amounts of money to small schemes that make a material difference to passengers. I believe that the approach we propose will make that more likely. There is a real opportunity for the east midlands to be early beneficiaries of this approach.

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The prize for patience and perseverance goes to Ian Lucas.

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Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Transport for London and Merseyrail are successful vertically integrated train companies. Why, if we want more integration, do we not apply their successful model, which attracts public and private investment, to the rest of our railway network?

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I hate to disabuse the hon. Gentleman, but Merseyrail is not a vertically integrated train operator. Indeed, I have discussed with Merseyrail whether it wants to take control of its tracks, and so far it has been indicated to me, at least by the Mayor of Liverpool, that he does not particularly want to. I would be happy if Merseyrail took control of its tracks. It has long had the opportunity to become an integrated train operator, but right now, it is not.

Casey Report

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(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government if he will make a statement on the Government’s initial reaction to the recommendations in the Casey report and indicate what process the Government will now adopt for detailed consideration of its proposals and their implementation.

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In July 2015, the Government asked Dame Louise Casey to conduct an independent review of opportunity and integration in the UK. Her report was published yesterday. Once again, I thank Dame Louise for her thorough and diligent work over the past 18 months. Many of her findings ring true to me personally. I have seen for myself the enormous contribution that immigrants and their families make to British life, all without giving up their unique cultural identities, but I have also seen with my own eyes the other side of the equation. For too long, too many people in this country have been living parallel lives, refusing to integrate and failing to embrace the shared values that make Britain great; and for too long, too many politicians in this country have refused to deal with the problem, ducking the issue for fear of being called a racist and failing the very people they are supposed to help. I will not allow that to continue.

We in public life have a moral responsibility to deal with the situation, and Dame Louise’s report is a crucial step in that process. I am studying her findings closely. The report touches on the work of a number of Departments, so I will discuss it with colleagues across Government more widely. In spring, we will come to the House with our plans for tackling these issues, so that we can continue to build a country that works for everyone.

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I had the pleasure of hosting Louise Casey on a visit to Sheffield, where she identified both the scale and the speed of substantial Slovak Roma migration to the city, which is a significant challenge. She identified that even in Sheffield, which has a history of good community relations, those communities very often live side by side, with very little interaction, let alone any integration. Will the Secretary of State indicate his response to the detailed recommendations of the report, particularly a key recommendation for the creation of a new programme to improve community cohesion, with area-based plans and projects? Does he recognise that such a programme will need targeted funds, rather like the impact funds that the Government abolished?

Does the Secretary of State agree with Louise Casey that speaking English is key to integration? Will he agree to reverse the cuts that have been made to the funds available for courses teaching English as a second language? Does he have a view on the recommendations to promote British values in all communities, especially the values of tolerance and respect for others, which support equality on grounds of sex, sexuality, race and religion?

Given that many of the recommendations are challenging and some may be controversial, will the Secretary of State have a programme to consult elected councils and the different communities in the areas most impacted by the recommendations? Finally, after discussions with Government colleagues, will the right hon. Gentleman come back to this House with an action plan, and maybe even come to the Communities and Local Government Committee to discuss it with us as well?

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First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his warm words about the report and his welcome for it. I know that this is an issue in which he has personally taken an interest for many years, and I look forward to speaking to him as the Chair of the Select Committee about the report. He will know that this is an independent report, not a statement of Government policy. Naturally, the Government will want to take the right length of time to look at each of the report’s findings and the recommendations that Dame Louise has made.

The hon. Gentleman asked about a number of the recommendations. Let me respond to some of those, without prejudging our response to the report in spring next year. He asked about the area-based plan—a more place-based view. Taking account of local circumstances is just common sense, something the Government already do with their integration and cohesion programmes, but I would like to see how we could make more of that. The hon. Gentleman asked about making resources available. Of course, we will make sure that any recommendation that the Government accept and decide to take forward is suitably resourced.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the importance of English. One of the central recommendations of the report is to make sure that every community in Britain can speak English. I remember, when I was about eight or nine years old, going with my mother when she had to visit the GP and acting as an interpreter for her. Many years later I am pleased to say that she learned English and now speaks it very well. It has transformed her life. It is great news for British society when more and more people who are going to settle here can speak English. I know from personal experience the difference that can make. That is why I am pleased that the Government already spend more than £100 million a year to help people to learn English if it is a foreign language for them. We always have to see what more we can do.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about promoting British values. He is right to stress that, and the report touches on it in a number of areas. He talked particularly about the importance of tolerance and respect, and I am sure he will agree that respect works both ways—respect of all communities for each other, including of immigrant communities for the dominant Christian culture in this country, which is sometimes lacking. We have to make sure that we are promoting British values in every sensible way that we can. We will be looking closely at the report and reporting back on its findings in the spring.

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I welcome Louise Casey’s review. It echoes a number of the findings in a recent Women and Equalities Committee report on the challenges that many Muslim people face in getting work in this country. In her report she sets out the fact that women in some communities face a double barrier of gender and religion preventing them from accessing even basic rights as British residents. How are the Secretary of State and the Government ensuring that every person in this country is afforded the protection of the Equality Act 2010 and of their rights under the law of this country?

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My right hon. Friend is right to raise the issue. She speaks with great experience and has done a lot to promote equality in this country through her work as a Minister and on the Back Benches. She speaks of the double barrier faced by some women. The report talks about the challenges facing Muslim women in particular. More needs to be done in that regard, not just directly by Government; it is a challenge also to Muslim communities, and particularly to some Muslim men, as to how they treat Muslim women. These findings are extremely important. We should take them seriously and see what more we can do.

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I thank the Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee for asking this important urgent question. For too long as a country we have ignored these complex issues for fear of being seen as racist or as attacking cultural attitudes. Sadly, this approach has left a vacuum that has been exploited by those who exist to promote hatred. It is time that we recognised the problems and opportunities highlighted in the Casey report and addressed them in a realistic and mature way.

One of the issues that was highlighted by the Chair of the Select Committee was the ability to speak English. One of the most concerning aspects of the report is how women in some communities are denied equal rights and opportunities. We are constantly urging people who suffer sexual abuse or violence to speak out, but they cannot speak out if they cannot speak English. If they cannot speak English, they cannot even ring 999. Yet the Casey report found that the Department for Communities and Local Government spent more on promoting the Cornish language between 2011 and 2013 than it did on promoting English. Does the Secretary of State now believe that ESOL classes should not have been scrapped? In the light of this report and of his own experience as a young man, will he commit to reinstating ESOL?

The report highlights the fact that communities have been left behind. It is not acceptable to blame the people living in those communities for that, when many of the projects recommended in the report that would empower marginalised women, promote social mixing and tackle barriers to employment for the most socially isolated groups have been scrapped over the past six years as a result of devastating cuts to local government. Does the Secretary of State recognise that cuts to local government funding have contributed to these problems, and will he push for fairer funding in the coming spending review?

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with the Muslim Council of Britain that although any initiatives that facilitate better integration of all Britons should be welcomed, taken as a whole the report could be perceived as a missed opportunity to emphasise that integration requires the active participation of all Britons?

The report looked at education, recommending strong safeguards for children not in mainstream education. Will the Secretary of State outline what is being done by his Department and other Departments to make sure that those children are safeguarded?

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I am pleased that the hon. Lady agrees that many of the issues raised in the report have been ignored for too long by too many politicians on both sides of the House. It is good that there is general agreement on that. By taking the report as an important first step, we can start to deal together with some of the issues.

The hon. Lady asked about English language. I am a little disappointed that having started by saying that we should take a mature approach, she then made the point about the Cornish language. If she had looked more closely, she would have seen that it was an entirely misleading headline. She spoke about spending on languages by my Department, so I will tell her the facts. In the past six years the Department has spent £780,000 on the Cornish language, but in the past five years it has spent £11 million on community-based English language programmes. On top of that, the rest of the Government has spent hundreds of millions of pounds on supporting English. If we are to have a proper debate, the hon. Lady would be well advised to stick to the facts and use them in the debate.

The hon. Lady asked whether there will be fairer funding for local government. She should know that there is currently a local government fairer funding review, which will report early next year. On the Muslim Council of Britain and some of its early comments on the report, it is important to highlight that I certainly want to speak with all groups, including the Muslim Council of Britain and many others, that want to comment on the report and make suggestions on how we can take integration and cohesion forward.

The hon. Lady also asked about safeguarding, particularly of young Muslims who might be vulnerable in some way. She will know that the Prevent programme is exactly that: a safeguarding programme. That is something I hope the whole House can support.

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Can sharia be a voluntary choice for women lacking in English in closed communities?

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My right hon. Friend raises an important issue that came up in the report. It is worth reminding the House that sharia councils are not courts in England and Wales; they cannot legally enforce any decisions and they must, of course, operate within the national law. However, the report has highlighted some legitimate issues. That is why I am pleased that the Government have already started a full, independent review of sharia law in England and Wales, and I look forward to reading its conclusions.

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Dame Louise’s extensive report comes at an interesting time, with Brexit exacerbating hate crime and Government and tabloid rhetoric ramping up. I am particularly thankful that at least in Scotland we have political leadership at all levels, whether that be the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who has made welcome those new Scots who have chosen Scotland and given us the tremendous honour of making Scotland their home; Glasgow City Council, which put above its front door a banner proclaiming that refugees are welcome; or the range of community initiatives across the country, such as Refuweegee, which fosters integration. The challenges of migration—[Interruption.]

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Order. Why is there so much noise in the Chamber when the hon. Lady is speaking from the Front Bench? She must be listened to.

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The challenges of migration are highlighted in the review, but again and again this Tory Government have been found lacking, and in some cases they are the cause. Ending austerity is the best thing this Government could do to tackle social exclusion and promote integration. Will the Secretary of State challenge the toxic rhetoric that pits groups in our society against each another? Will he look to Scotland to see how the strategies that we are implementing are providing opportunities for people to share experiences? Will he reverse the damaging cuts to ESOL, which other Members have mentioned, and will he refuse to accept the offensive suggestion that we require an integration oath?

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It is a shame that the hon. Lady has to be so party political about this matter. When she can act in a more mature fashion, and when she and the Scottish National party have something useful to say, I will respond.

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Has the Secretary of State had the opportunity to listen to two important radio programmes on the Deobandis—they are still available on the internet—that were broadcast by the BBC a year or so ago? They shine an important light on some of the problems that affect us. Will he join me in welcoming the section of the report on the Prevent strategy, and Louise Casey’s statement that the public servants delivering it

“should be proud and unapologetic about the important work they do to keep us safe”?

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I have not listened to those radio programmes on the plight of the Deobandis, but I am well aware of the issues faced by that community. My right hon. Friend is right to highlight it in the House. The report is a reminder of all the communities that we can help through Government action. I am pleased to hear of his support for the Prevent programme. He has been a supporter of it for a while, and that is because he knows that it works.

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The Secretary of State has referred to the Prevent strategy. In relation to children who are home schooled, can he please explain how that operates and how success is measured?

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Home schooling, as the hon. Lady will know, is an important and valuable option that we offer in this country. My hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards is here and has heard her question, and I am sure that he will respond.

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I welcome the report, but one of my concerns is that it contains no reflections on the future of faith schools, and therefore the integration of young people across faiths, which I hope we will look at in particular. Can we take urgent action on one of the recommendations, which is that children who are withdrawn from school and educated at home might not receive the sort of education that we would like them to receive? Those children are at risk right now and we need to take urgent action.

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My hon. Friend makes an important point. We are looking at unregistered settings, and once that review is complete it will help us deal with the kinds of issues he is concerned about. He talked more generally about faith schools, which are a hugely important part of our education system. They provide variety, but so many people choose them because, by and large, they are excellent schools. Many of them do a great job of promoting integration. One of my brothers, as a Muslim, went to a Roman Catholic school, and it taught him a lot about British society and British values. I think that we should find good practice and see what we can do to promote it.

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Louise Casey is right to call out misogyny as one of the ways in which women from minority ethnic communities are socially excluded—not an issue that some of us have ever ignored—but will the Secretary of State talk to the Home Secretary about the misogynist practices of the Home Office? First of all, it excludes wives who come from overseas from accessing free ESOL for the first two years they are here. Secondly, what about those women in Britain who have been exploited by husbands cheating their way into Britain on a marriage ticket? The Home Office refuses to tell the wives, who are British citizens, what has happened to their husbands, and it refuses to collaborate with those women in reporting their husbands and removing them when it should do.

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Unfortunately, I do not recognise much of what the right hon. Lady is talking about. Again, she would do well to stick to the facts. For example, she talks about helping women to learn English when they come to Britain. As hon. Members have mentioned, English is hugely important for integration, which is why the Government have put in place a requirement that anyone wishing to settle permanently in this country must first be able to speak English.

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The report states:

“Too many public institutions, national and local, state and non-state, have gone so far to accommodate diversity and freedom of expression that they have ignored or even condoned regressive, divisive and harmful cultural and religious practices, for fear of being branded racist or Islamophobic.”

Does the Secretary of State agree that there is now a great opportunity for the Government to take the lead in forging a common, modern British identity that new arrivals must sign up to if integration is really going to work?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. As I said at the start—I am pleased to hear that she agrees—politicians, collectively, have for too long ignored this issue and there has been a fear of being branded racist, and clearly that is unacceptable. This is an excellent opportunity for us to build on.

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Integration, of course, is a two-way process, and it can be assisted by central Government but has to be delivered at a local level. May I suggest to the Secretary of State that something he could do to respond to the Casey report would be to give the regional mayors in the west midlands the power to administer the training levy? They are best placed to know what kinds of employment opportunities and integration projects for better training and education should be applied.

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The right hon. Lady is absolutely right about the importance of having local flexibility and control over many integration programmes. She might be aware of the Near Neighbours programme, which has thousands of projects all run locally, often involving voluntary groups and local authorities, which I think is a good example of that. She has made a suggestion and I have listened carefully.

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The Minister will be aware that the last two Muslims to be murdered in hate crimes were murdered not by Brexit supporters but by other Muslims. Does that not show the importance of implementing this report and demanding that all communities sign up to gay rights, women’s rights and the right to interpret religion in any way one wishes?

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My hon. Friend highlights the importance of promoting British values and making sure that they are accepted by all communities in Britain. That includes tolerance, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, respect for democracy and so many other things. The more we can do to make sure that every community embraces those, the better off we will all be.

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I do not recognise the description of the Muslim community that is painted in this report in respect of my home city of Leicester, where 20% are of Muslim origin and 50% are from the ethnic minority communities. The Secretary of State and I have been to many dinners and other events for the ethnic minority communities, and he will know that what those communities want more than anything else is to belong, to integrate and to be ambitious for their children. In which country of the world can the son of a bus driver be a Secretary of State in the Cabinet and be talked about as a potential Prime Minister? In which country of the world can four Muslim women be sitting in Parliament today representing all their constituents? While accepting what the report says, let us also be positive about the huge contribution that the ethnic minority communities have made, which has made this country great.

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The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight the massive and positive contribution that immigrants through the decades have made to our great country and how they have made our country stronger still. He referred specifically to Muslim communities, including in his own constituency, and I think he will recognise that a lot of the issues and challenges affect a minority of the Muslim community. I think—well, I know, factually—that many members of the Muslim community recognise that there are problems and challenges that are particular to their own community, and they, as much as the right hon. Gentleman, myself and others in the House, want to deal with that.

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In Bradford, we have issues of segregation and integration in our communities. I very much welcome the report and what the Secretary of State has said today. Could I invite him to come along to Bradford sometime next year to see what the Government can do to help local communities with their desire for more community cohesion and integration? In the meantime, can he be very firm with local authorities to stop them translating documents into lots of different languages and insist that those documents are all in English only?

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My hon. Friend highlights some of the challenges, particularly in his own constituency, of segregation and lack of integration, but I know that he will also be one of the first to accept that different communities have helped his constituency in so many ways and brought so much for people to celebrate. I will be more than happy to come to Bradford to look at both issues with him.

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While I second the invitation to Bradford from my colleague, the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), I do not second the other half of his question. How will the Minister address the structural inequalities affecting Muslim communities, and especially Muslim women, which frustrate their aspiration of progressive engagement with society?

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The hon. Lady will know that a number of programmes are already in place. Since 2011-12, the Government have spent £60 million on integration and cohesion programmes, including teaching the English language to isolated communities, with many of those involved being women. However, we always have to see what more we can do, and there are some suggestions in this report. It would be wrong of me not to study them carefully and not to look at which ones to take forward and implement, and I look forward to doing that. If the hon. Lady has particular suggestions once she has looked at the report in detail, I would be happy to listen to them.

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Sport does so much to break down barriers, bring people together and help promote British values in our society on an organic basis, so although we have a proud record on this in this country, will the Secretary of State see what more can be done, working across Government, to help boost sporting participation, particularly among young people?

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My hon. Friend makes a very important point. When I was Culture Secretary, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport sponsored a number of programmes, particularly in cricket and football, that involved a number of young Asian men, and that did help with community integration and cohesion. He is right to raise the issue again, and we should be looking across the board to see how every Government Department can help.

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I fear that the Secretary of State’s fine words mask little-England identity politics. Can he assure me, as a south- east Londoner representing the most Welsh-speaking constituency for Plaid Cymru, that British values do not equate to a British state-imposed identity, and can he commit to bringing forward a strategy addressing poverty, inequality and inter-community respect?

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I think the hon. Lady knows full well what British values mean, and they mean values for every part of the United Kingdom.

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I agree with the Secretary of State that, for too long, we have had a soft-headed attitude towards integration, which has led to segregated communities up and down this country. I know that he has already been asked about faith schools, but could he spend some more time looking at the report, because I share its concern that faith schools further isolate young children? Does he agree that the report deserves a serious and determined response?

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First, I thank my hon. Friend for the work she has already done to campaign on so many of the issues raised in this report, and I look forward to speaking to her in detail about the report and considering the recommendations. She raised the issue of faith schools, which, as she knows, is mentioned in the report. It is something that we want to look at carefully, and it is certainly something I will be discussing with my colleagues in Government.

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Young Muslim women I have met in my constituency at the al-Hikmah centre and at Batley Girls’ High School are engaging and whip-smart. They are held back not by lack of integration but by lack of opportunity. Will the Secretary of State therefore look particularly closely at the recommendation to provide additional funding for area-based plans to empower marginalised women and promote social mobility?

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First, the hon. Lady is right to raise the issue of opportunity—the report is about opportunity and integration. We always have to look across Government to see what more we can do to promote opportunities for all communities, including young Muslim women. The hon. Lady described young Muslim women she has met, who sound absolutely fantastic and model citizens, but I think she will recognise that there are also young Muslim women who are being held back—sometimes by members of their own family or members of their own community. For example, as we have seen in this report, and as I have seen from bitter experience over a long time, women have been held back because they have been asked to go out with chaperones, because they are told to dress in a certain way, or because they are told that they cannot take certain jobs or that they should not go to university or pursue higher education. We want to make sure we tackle those issues as well, and I know the hon. Lady agrees with that.

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Does my right hon. Friend agree that, while Britain should always remain a tolerant and diverse nation, it is also important that new communities feel an obligation to integrate and embrace a common British identity, and that we should never use the excuse of multiculturalism to tolerate practices that are clearly not in accordance with British laws, values and customs?

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I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. I think we all realise—the report highlights this—that mistakes were made in the past. We could collectively, as politicians, have done a much better job in helping to settle and integrate new arrivals and new communities in Britain, and we should now learn from that. Looking forward, there are some interesting suggestions in the report about how we can do that, and I will be taking them very seriously.

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I remember that when language classes were provided for immigrant women in Oxford, the same women went to the same classes year after year without showing any improvement in their ability to speak English. Does the report not point to the fact that it is a question not of throwing money at this, but of making language tuition effective?

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I agree with my hon. Friend. We must make sure that the money we—the taxpayer—are currently spending on helping people to learn English is spent effectively, which is about making sure the programmes currently in place are effective. We must make sure that any new initiatives that we come up with as we plough through the report are effective in tackling that problem.

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The report quite rightly highlights the good work of organisations such as Tell MAMA and the Community Security Trust, and it also draws attention to the upsurge of violence against people from Poland and elsewhere in recent months. Will the Secretary of State have urgent discussions with his Home Office colleagues about how to reduce the impact of the poisonous ideologies that come from other countries and cause tensions and even deaths, as we saw in Glasgow, in this country?

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The hon. Gentleman mentioned two organisations—Tell MAMA and the CST—that are very effective and valuable, and the Government are proud to support them in the work they do. There are many other such organisations. That highlights the fact that dealing with these issues requires lots of groups and stakeholders, including voluntary organisations, to come together.

The hon. Gentleman asked me to meet the Home Secretary. I assure him that I regularly discuss these issues with the Home Secretary; we have a mutual interest in them. He may be interested to know that very recently—just two or three weeks ago—the Home Secretary and I jointly chaired a hate crime action panel, to which we invited a number of groups, including the two he mentioned, to discuss what more we can do.

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I have read the Casey review, which considers many important aspects of integration. The Refugee Council has called for a comprehensive refugee integration strategy, and that is echoed in what we on the all-party group on refugees, which I chair, are finding in our public “Refugees Welcome” inquiry. Refugees have told us that they want to learn English, to work and to integrate, so will the Government support the expansion of the Syrian resettlement programme to create a comprehensive refugee integration strategy?

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The hon. Lady is right to raise the importance of making sure that refugees are integrated quickly and properly, and of providing the resources for that. She will know that a number of programmes are in place to do just that. If she believes that there is more that can be done, I am happy to learn more from her.

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I congratulate the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) on securing this very important urgent question, but I think we could sometimes be a little bit more positive about this. In Wellingborough, we have an integrated multicultural community, and we have had it for a very long time. We have Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Christian—both Labour and Conservative—councillors and candidates, and we have temples, mosques and churches. I wonder whether someone from the Secretary of State’s Department might at some point come down to see how this can work well, rather than for us always to concentrate just on where it is going wrong.

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I think that is a very good idea. Again, my hon. Friend highlights something that we should never forget: we are talking about the challenges and how to deal with them, but so many immigrants who, through the ages, have come to this great country have made a huge contribution to our country and made us so much stronger.

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I welcome all efforts to improve integration in the UK—this is not the first study to find problems in this area—but I am concerned that there is no real understanding in the report of the simple truth that integration is a two-way street and should definitely not be used, as it so often is, as a stick with which to beat the minority communities of Britain. Given that, will the Minister consider what work can be done to understand, as Casey does not, the drivers of isolation? Alongside asking our minority communities to do more, how can we encourage our majority community to play their part too, so that integration can be truly a success for our country?

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I know the hon. Lady feels passionately about these issues. She has thought a lot about them, and I think she will have some good suggestions. I am always very happy to speak to her about this. However, I think it is a bit unfair to Dame Louise Casey to say that she does not recognise that this is a two-way street. Dame Louise has come up with some specific recommendations, and I think we should take them seriously. She recognises—I have discussed this with her in the past, and it is reflected in the report—that there is a role for everyone in all communities to play.

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As Bedford has been home to people of many national origins for many decades, we can see, as the report shows, that some communities follow intergenerational dispersion, with children and grandchildren living away from their grandparents, and that others follow intergenerational proximity, with children and grandchildren living next door to their grandparents. May I draw the Secretary of State’s attention to recommendation 10 on the use of housing policy to encourage dispersion, and will he consider the possibility of using planning policy to encourage the dispersion of places of worship?

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I listened carefully to what my hon. Friend has said. I know from visiting his constituency with him a number of times that he takes these issues very seriously, and that he is able to look at these issues in his constituency and to suggest certain ideas. I will certainly look carefully at recommendation 10.

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First, I want to echo the remark made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) about integration being a two-way process. I want to highlight that the previous Labour Government set up the forced marriage unit and the community cohesion unit—I was involved in establishing both units—which did excellent work in tackling underlying causes, particularly in relation to human rights violations. I urge the Secretary of State to make sure that we provide service providers with the resources to address those issues.

Secondly, on discrimination, ethnic minority graduates are twice as likely as others to be unemployed, as are white working-class graduates. I therefore urge the Secretary of State to prioritise addressing the underlying problems and barriers to equality.

Finally, I want to draw attention to social integration. I have as many challenges in my constituency in encouraging middle-class newcomers to integrate with the settled communities, which are predominately ethnic minority communities, as I do the other way around. We all have a part to play, and if we can connect those communities together through projects, mentoring and engagement, we can genuinely have a two-way process and a practical way to integrate people, rather than stigmatising certain communities—in the case of this report, the Muslim community.

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Again, I know that the hon. Lady speaks from experience. To take her last point first, I know that she has done a lot when it comes to projects and community work and I have seen first hand how transformative they can be. She is right to raise the issue of work opportunities, and the Government take that seriously. I chair—I did so in my former role of Business Secretary, and I continue to do so—an intergovernmental taskforce on opportunities for black and minority ethnic people, particularly young people. We are looking across Government to see what more can be done.

The hon. Lady also raised the issue of tackling female genital mutilation, forced marriage and other serious crimes of that nature. I think she will agree with me that the Government have taken them seriously. The previous Government did so, and this Government have built on their work. In fact, much of the good work done in recent times was done by the Prime Minister when she was Home Secretary.

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May I tell my right hon. Friend that this is his moment? His personal family experience and his sharp intellect mean that he is the right man in the right place at the right time. Dame Louise Casey tackles head-on the problems faced by thousands of Muslim women in this country, many of whom do not speak English, suffer misogyny and domestic violence at home, are oppressed by sharia law and have had their life chances diminished. Will he assure the House that he will not duck the challenge to seize the recommendations in the report and to restore full human rights to this very large cohort of oppressed women?

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I can absolutely assure my hon. Friend that I will not duck the issues and the Government will not duck them. As I said at the start of the urgent question, they have been ignored by too many politicians for far too long, and that is not going to happen.

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The Secretary of State will know about concerns that Prevent is undermining efforts to integr