House of Commons
Tuesday 6 December 2016
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Last 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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
Prisoners: Rehabilitation and Work
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?
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.
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?
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
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?
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.
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”?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
Prisoners: Rehabilitation and Work
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
Rail Infrastructure (Train Operating Companies)
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?