House of Commons
Monday 9 January 2017
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Work and Pensions
The Secretary of State was asked—
The Government support those who aspire to be their own boss. The number of self-employed people in the UK labour market has increased by nearly 800,000 since 2010 and by 129,000 in the last year alone. We continue to monitor and review the impact of self-employment on the wider labour market and benefits system.
A Citizens Advice report in August 2015 said that there were as many as 460,000 people in bogus self-employment, with a cost of hundreds of millions of pounds in lost revenue. Is it not about time that the Secretary of State, rather than hounding disabled people, started tackling exploitative companies, many of which have lucrative public sector contracts, that are forcing people down the self-employment route?
The hon. Gentleman is right that there should be no exploitation of workers, particularly through forced self-employment, but he will have noticed that the Government are on the case, having set up the Matthew Taylor review specifically to explore alternative employment structures and to consider how employment rules need to be altered to keep pace with changes in how people work in the modern economy. If, however, he is characterising the growth of self-employment as harmful to the jobs market, I would disagree. The new enterprise allowance is proving very successful at making sure that people who want to can work for themselves. I am sure that he, like me, welcomes the fact that in his own constituency self-employment is up by 7% since 2015, and that the claimant count in the last year has fallen by 12%.
Happy new year, Mr Speaker.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that rather than denigrating people who become self-employed, we ought to be celebrating the fact that they are prepared to take a risk that many others are not? Will he make it as easy as possible for them to take on new employees and become employers themselves?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. I have already mentioned the new enterprise allowance, which is designed specifically to help people to stop claiming benefits, set up their own businesses, and then carry on and employ others in a way that I hope everyone on both sides of the House would welcome. This scheme is proving extremely successful. A survey published last year showed that 80% of businesses that started with the new enterprise allowance were still trading, which makes it more than twice as effective as the old jobseeker’s allowance in terms of keeping people off benefits, so it is doing good work.
Happy new year, Mr Speaker.
Will the Secretary of State ensure that there is much closer co-operation between the single fraud investigation service and local authorities on the prosecution of abuse, including on self-employment status, so that councils can be confident that when they report possible scams, including by employers, they are properly followed up?
I am happy to pass on the right hon. Lady’s message to the relevant bodies—councils and the fraud investigation service. Of course, while self-employment is a good thing, fraud involving any kind of employment is wrong, so clearly we must get ever more effective at combatting it.
I am sure that the Secretary of State agrees that online opportunities are giving many people the chance to set up a microbusiness. Does he agree that schemes such as the pop-up shop initiative that Torbay Council ran to help internet micro-retailers to take their first step on to the high street are the kind of thing we should be looking at in terms of self-employment, rather than some of the negative impressions we hear from the Opposition?
I very much agree, and I particularly welcome Torbay’s pop-up shop experiment. I had such a scheme in my constituency a couple of years ago, and it did indeed prove successful in allowing microbusinesses to start and to develop into larger businesses, thereby creating more employment and wealth, so I am delighted to hear what is happening in Torbay.
Happy new year, Mr Speaker.
Many self-employed people do not earn a great deal of money and will be losing out from cuts to tax credits and the introduction of universal credit. Should not the Government be supporting those who become self-employed?
I am sorry, Mr Speaker, that I have not yet wished you happy new year publicly—I have done so only privately—as clearly that is becoming a compulsory part of this question session. I now wish you happy new year publicly.
I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation of self-employed earners and universal credit. Universal credit reduces poverty by making work pay. It supports claimants to enter work, and then to be able to keep some of their benefits while they are at work if they are not receiving or earning very much money. Universal credit actually does the opposite of what the hon. Gentleman says—it helps people who are getting into work for the first time.
But is not the biggest trend in self-employment the massive increase in women who are self-employed, with 70% of those newly self-employed in 2014 being women? Yet self-employment is the area where the wage gap is biggest. According to the OECD, self-employed men earn an average of £17,000 a year, but average earnings for self-employed women stand at £9,800. We know from the Department’s figures that women are less likely to access loans and so forth for self-employment. What is the Secretary of State doing to deal with gender inequality in self-employment?
If the right hon. Lady is saying that it is disproportionately men who take the allowance up, I would urge more potential women entrepreneurs to take it up. We are improving the new enterprise allowance later this year to make sure that the mentoring and advice goes on for longer so that more people—men and women—will be able to benefit from the freedom of being able to start, set up and run their own business, which millions of people want to do.
A happy new year to you, Mr Speaker, and to everyone.
Resolution Foundation data show that self-employment accounts for 81% of the net change in employment since 2008. The Government’s plans to abolish class 2 national insurance contributions could leave low-income, self-employed women paying five times as much to access maternity allowance. Given that nearly 2 million self-employed workers earn less than the national living wage, why have the Government decided to make social security support harder to access for so many of Britain’s entrepreneurs?
I know about 2008; I am giving more up-to-date figures, as I said.
Over the past year, 38% of the increase in employment has been in self-employment, so the figures are not as the hon. Lady suggests. As I said in answer to the hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), the whole point of universal credit is that people, whether it be through self-employment or employment, are able to keep their income. We have reduced the taper so that less of their income is lost when they go up the earnings scale and get into work. I am afraid that the hon. Lady simply misunderstands what is happening in the welfare system.
Disabled and Terminally Ill Children
This year we are due to spend nearly £1.9 billion on supporting ill and disabled children through disability living allowance. We have special rules in place to grant immediate access to the benefit for those who are terminally ill.
May I also wish you a happy new year, Mr Speaker?
I thank my hon. Friend for her answer. The DWP family resources survey that was published last year showed that there were nearly 1 million disabled children—a 20% increase over the past 10 years. Will she outline what measures the Government are implementing to take account of that increase so that these children can access the support and the specialist equipment that they require?
Local authorities and clinical commissioning groups have a requirement to meet the needs of children with a special educational need or disability, including by providing specialist equipment. In the past few months, my Department has set up a children and young person’s forum so that we can better understand the unmet need that is out there. My hon. Friend will know from the work that I have done with one of the organisations with which she is involved that we are looking to support charities, social enterprises and businesses that are providing these much-needed services.
Many of us who liked some of the elements of the big society when we first heard about it now quite like some of the utterances about the shared society. However, if the programme is to work for children, and not just for those who are terminally ill but people with disabilities—some disabilities are abilities; I am thinking here of autism—it must have teeth, leadership and resources.
Absolutely. The measures announced by the Prime Minister today will be accompanied by additional funding, and every age range in society will be taken into account. There will, for instance, be measures to help children and young people—I have just described what my Department is doing to ensure that their needs are considered—as well as new provision for those in the workplace.
We are very conscious of the needs of children and young people in particular, which is why we have set up an additional forum. Obviously we are concerned about people in the workplace, but if we get this right for children and young people, including students, we will avoid problems for future ministerial teams. I shall be happy to look into any particular case that the hon. Gentleman wishes to raise.
Health Outcomes: Work
I shall not say happy new year again, Mr Speaker.
Evidence shows that being in the right work is good for health, and that being out of work can have a detrimental effect on health. That was why I launched the “Work, health and disability” Green Paper jointly with the Secretary of State for Health. The Green Paper expresses our intention of working with healthcare professionals to help people into employment, and our current consultations ask how we can best achieve that goal.
Helen Stokes-Lampard, the chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, has rightly spoken about the burden of work on GPs. Notwithstanding that, what analysis has my right hon. Friend carried out of the effectiveness of fit notes in getting people back to work?
I am keen to improve their effectiveness in that regard, and I also take my hon. Friend’s point about the pressure on GPs. In the consultation document we consider the possibility of extending the issuing of fit notes to other healthcare professionals, and I shall be interested to see what response we receive, not just from those who receive the fit notes but from the professionals involved.
I strongly support my right hon. Friend in respect of this specific policy. Does he agree, however, that as the consultants—as it were—to whom patients are referred will be work coaches, it is critical that those people receive training that will enable them to deal with the hardest cases among those who are unemployed, particularly those with pressing mental health problems?
I agree with my hon. Friend and am grateful for his support. I am happy to reassure him that all work coaches will complete specific training for their role, including a course that combines the knowledge, skills and behaviour that they will need to deal with the people with whom they work, particularly those with mental health conditions. Obviously, work coaches will need specific skills to handle the many issues that will arise from such conditions.
Obviously I do not know the details of the individual case, but if the hon. Gentleman writes to me or the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, we will look at it. I can assure him, however, that in the vast majority of cases, work coaches do their best and work very hard to help people to make the most of their lives, and to get into employment. That is at the heart of what we do.
After the big cut in employment and support allowance takes place in April and the new Work and Health programme is established, will the Department be spending more or less on employment support for ESA claimants than is currently the case under the Work programme and Work Choice?
I am happy to assure the right hon. Gentleman that as part of the changes there is an extra £330 million support programme for those in that group. We will target support more effectively to ensure that as many of them as possible can get back into work.
There is a huge premium on helping ex-offenders into work for them, their families and their children’s life chances, and for reducing costs to society. Jobcentre Plus now has a dedicated resource of 150 prison work coaches who are helping to support prisoners nationwide.
I am grateful to the Minister for his response. He will know from his own experience, and from the excellent report on supporting offenders by the Work and Pensions Committee, which my own Select Committee would endorse, that getting a job is one of the best means of preventing reoffending. As well as the work that is being done, will he consider what can be done jointly with the Ministry of Justice to ensure there is better collaboration between job centres and community rehabilitation companies so that they are joined up, given that people currently risk the cliff edge to which the report refers?
We work closely with the Ministry of Justice on numerous joint initiatives locally and nationally, and we are supporting the development of the MOJ’s new offender employment strategy, but I recognise that we need to improve opportunities for ex-offenders, so I welcome the continued attention of my hon. Friend and his Committee, as well as the Work and Pensions Committee report, to which we will respond in due course.
Her Majesty’s inspectorates of prisons and probation found that not a single prisoner had been helped into employment by the Through the Gate provision, which is the Government’s flagship programme for achieving a step change in rehabilitation. Did that surprise the Minister, and what is his response?
First of all, my response is that this has been a challenge for successive Governments for many years. We do need to do better, but there is good work going on. Ultimately, to improve the situation, we need more prisoners to be work-ready, and we need more employers to be willing to take the plunge and take on a prisoner. Having governors controlling skills provision in prisons will have a beneficial effect on work-readiness, but we all need to encourage more employers to step forward. Initiatives such as the See Potential programme can play an important part in that, as can Ban the Box and the Employers’ Forum for Reducing Re-offending, but of course we need to do more.
The Minister will be aware that people on the autistic spectrum are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system and that people with autism have great difficulty in finding jobs. Can he reassure me that when he looks at the consultation on the health and disability Green Paper, he will look specifically at people with autism and ex-offenders with autism, as only 16% of people with autism are currently in employment?
My right hon. Friend highlights an important point. I know my hon. Friend the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work will be looking very closely at the issue of people with autism. This also highlights that one of the key determinants for post-release employment is what happened with the individual before they were convicted, and it highlights again the importance of making sure nobody is left behind. In our work, we pay particular attention to all these groups who face particularly difficult barriers in getting into work.
Our Work and Pensions Committee report found that reoffending costs £15 billion to the public purse, yet fewer than one in four ex-offenders goes on to find work. Alarmingly, Westminster Council’s report on rough sleeping that was published before Christmas found that one in three of its rough sleepers had come directly from prison. Why is the Department unable to provide proper transitional support for people leaving prison to make sure that they are not on the streets and that they are assisted into employment?
It is vital that ex-offenders and people on release from prison have help with finances, employment and housing. Among the things we have done to help on housing is to ensure that there are no waiting days in relation to universal credit and to keep the housing element in universal credit open for 26 weeks rather than 13 for certain types of prisoner in order to ensure that we can enhance their support.
Mr Speaker, were I allowed to wish you a happy new year, you can be assured that I would do so.
Pension Wise provides guidance to people aged 50 and over with a defined contribution pension pot on their options under the pension flexibilities. We are consulting on a single financial guidance body to provide debt advice and guidance on money and pensions.
I thank my hon. Friend for his salutations and for his question. The Department for Work and Pensions continues to run a multi-channel communication campaign that includes radio, press and social media to raise awareness of the new state pension. As well as directing people to information on gov.uk and working with stakeholders to deliver key information, our priority has been to provide personalised information to individuals so that they know how much state pension they are likely to get, and from when. Since February 2016, the online Check your State Pension service has had more than 2.1 million views.
The Minister’s warm words will do nothing to reassure the women in my constituency for whom the Government’s advice on pensions has a terrible reputation because of the injustices highlighted by the Women Against State Pension Inequality campaign. The one thing the Government could do to persuade the public to believe their pronouncements on pension entitlements would be to give justice to the WASPI women by looking again at the 2011 changes.
The hon. Lady will be aware, because the WASPI women have been discussed in the House and I have discussed this matter personally with her on many occasions, that the changes affecting them were in the Pensions Act 1995, and that a lot of time and resources were devoted to informing them of the situation, including millions of letters being sent out from 2011.
A happy new year to you and everyone in the House, Mr Speaker, and particularly to the WASPI women. I hope that they have a better year this year.
The leaflet entitled “Ways to save in 2017” recently published by the Treasury mentioned the junior ISA, the help to buy ISA, premium bonds, cash and stocks and shares ISAs and the new lifetime ISA, but it completely omitted to mention pensions. That is an absolute disgrace, and it confirms my fears that the Government have downgraded the role of pensions and are using the gimmick of ISAs to distract attention from pensionable savings. Does the Minister agree that pensionable saving is the best form of saving for retirement? Will he establish a pensions and savings commission to ensure that dignity in retirement is promoted and protected?
I must totally disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s analysis of the importance that the Government place on pensions. A lot of effort goes into communicating with people, on television and elsewhere, about auto-enrolment. The auto-enrolment of so many people has been one of the great successes of this Government and of the coalition, and I hope that that continues.
I know that the Minister agrees with me on the need for greater transparency in the pensions world, particularly around costs. He will therefore be keen to address the widespread criticism of the Government’s failing to act to ensure that people get the best possible returns. The Financial Conduct Authority’s interim report in November highlighted a number of failures in the asset management industry relating to the transparency of costs and charges applied to pension investments, stating that “weak price competition” was having a “material impact” on investment returns. Labour is committed to implementing all the FCA’s recommendations. Are the Government?
Children in Relative Poverty
There are 100,000 fewer children in relative poverty than in 2010 and 557,000 fewer children living in workless households. The forthcoming Green Paper on social justice will identify and address the root causes of poverty, building on the two statutory indicators set out in the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016—namely, worklessness and educational attainment.
I note that the Minister uses the figures for relative poverty, and I am a little surprised. We know that absolute poverty in this country has been in decline for the past 10 years, except among children. We know that 500,000 more children in this country are living in absolute poverty than was the case in 2010. What responsibility does he think this Government and the previous Government have for that?
The Government have a responsibility to make sure that as many households as possible have work, particularly households with children. Working-age adults in non-working families are almost four times more likely to be living on a low income. The “Child Poverty Transitions” report of June 2015 found that 74% of poor children in workless families who moved into full employment exited poverty. That is what we can do, and are doing, for children who have been in poverty.
The hon. Lady neglected to say it, but there are now 500,000 fewer people living in absolute poverty than in 2010. The key point is about getting people into work. As a reasonable Opposition Member, I hope she would acknowledge that achieving historically low levels of unemployment is actually the best thing we can do for children—it is the best way to get children and the households they live in out of poverty. I am happy to tell her that, in her constituency, the claimant count is down by 47% since 2010 and the youth claimant count has fallen by 2% in the past year.
Absolutely. That is precisely why this Government, and previously the coalition Government, have decided that having a simple income-based measure and target is not the right way. We need to look at the root causes of child poverty, and having a range of indicators and targets—one of which is on family breakdown—is the best way to make sure that we have as few children as possible living in poverty and that more and more children are able to emerge from it.
A good new year to you, Mr Speaker.
The Secretary of State has focused so far on the value of work in tackling child poverty, but the reality is that the average working family in receipt of universal credit will be more than £1,000 a year worse off by 2020. According to the Resolution Foundation, some working parents will be more than £2,500 a year worse off. With child poverty projected to rise dramatically over the next three years, why do the Government continue to downplay the role of income poverty in determining children’s future health, job prospects and even life expectancy, in spite of all the evidence?
I am not downplaying the role. I am talking about the underlying causes and about making sure that we take a range of measures across the board that help to eradicate child poverty. That is the only sensible way to do it. Simply focusing on individual incomes or, indeed, individual benefits does not represent the whole realistic picture. We need to be much more wide-ranging in our approach.
The Prime Minister has been talking over the weekend about the pressures faced by people who are just getting by on low and average incomes and about our shared responsibilities to them. Those are fine sentiments, but does the Secretary of State not accept that they sound utterly hollow when the Government’s planned cuts to work allowances will slash the incomes of exactly those families who are just getting by? Does he accept that the Government have a responsibility to support parents who are working hard in average and low-paid jobs, rather than cutting their already stretched, precarious incomes?
No. Indeed, I would point out to the hon. Lady that this Government’s introduction of the national living wage last year gave the lowest earners their biggest pay rise in 20 years—an increase of 6%. That is an example of a Government measure introduced by employers. I cannot think of a better early example of the shared society.
As I have said to a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House, the solution lies in a wider range of issues, and that is what we are introducing. We have the social justice Green Paper, about which I am sure we will have many discussions in this House and elsewhere. The root is making sure that as many people as possible can earn a salary and work. I am sure that the hon. Lady, like me, will welcome the fact that unemployment has come down by 53% in her constituency since 2010. That means thousands of families who are able to work and control their own lives, possibly working their way out of poverty. She ought to welcome that.
It is a poor Government who fail to understand the value of the nation’s children. In addition to the universal credit work allowance cuts, this Government have abolished the child poverty unit and frozen social security payments, and are removing tax credits from third and subsequent children. Does the Minister think child poverty will go up or down as a result of those measures?
Well, the fact is that since 2010 there are 100,000 fewer children in relative poverty. I would hope that the hon. Lady would welcome that and the fact that the child poverty unit is now covering a much wider range of policies and is based inside the Department for Work and Pensions.
This Government are committed to supporting new enterprises. We are building on the success of the new enterprise allowance, which has already supported 96,000 claimants to start a new business. From this year, eligibility for NEA support will be extended to include universal credit claimants who are already self-employed.
Will my right hon. Friend look again at the regulations requiring small businesses and the self-employed to use online systems for their tax affairs? Does he recognise that these people often do not have the equipment, knowledge or broadband capacity to download the complex forms, and that the process often costs time and money?
I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that tax affairs are not my direct responsibility, but the Treasury will have heard what he had to say. What I can say is that Jobcentre Plus is always keen to help small businesses with individual problems they may have, such as with the use of online forms, and I hope that businesses in his constituency would find the jobcentre a helpful place to consult.
In Cornwall, unemployment has continued to fall year on year to record low levels, and the county now has 61,000 self-employed people. Does my right hon. Friend agree that only under a Conservative Government can we continue to increase employment in Cornwall and further improve the creation of small businesses in those communities?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I know that in his constituency self-employment has increased by 7.6% since 2010. As I said in answer to previous questions, the UK labour market is in its strongest position for years. Clearly, the best way to promote new growth in jobs is to promote growth in small businesses, and I am delighted to hear it is going so well in Cornwall.
One difference between universal credit and the previous benefits it is replacing is that people can and do continue to receive it when they are still in work. It is particularly good at coping with people who may have fluctuating earnings, as many self-employed people do, because it can be flexible enough to adjust to that. The introduction of universal credit is another brick of the edifice of helping people to set up their own businesses.
What is the Secretary of State going to do about people who are classified as self-employed because of their contract of employment? They are classified as such not because they have set up their own small business, but because their employer requires them to sign a contract saying that they are self-employed, which means that they get no sick pay and no annual leave. How is he going to help them?
I agree that that is an issue, which is precisely why we have set up the Matthew Taylor review. It is investigating precisely the new types of employment structures that have been set up in recent years and making sure that employment laws keep up with new types of employment.
National Living Wage
I thank the Minister for his reply, but has he considered the implications of the national living wage coming in so quickly for small and medium-sized businesses, particularly those in the manufacturing sector? What would he say to those businesses that will not be able to adjust in time, or that simply will not be profitable because the national living wage is being introduced so quickly?
Everybody should benefit from a strong economy, but as well as introducing the national living wage the Government have announced plans to reduce corporation tax further to 17% and to increase the employment allowance, which could be worth up to £3,000 a year.
Is it not perverse of the Government to have reduced work allowances and universal credit at the same time as we have seen increases in the national living wage, meaning that the overall benefit to individuals in work is actually reduced?
The Government have done a range of things. Universal credit is completely different from the legacy benefits it replaced, so it does not make sense to make a direct comparison with tax credits. We have to see it in the context of greater help with childcare and the introduction of the national living wage. Of course, the increased income tax personal allowance also means that people get to keep more of what they earn.
When my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne) introduced the national living wage, the Office for Budget Responsibility said that it would cost 60,000 jobs. Does the Minister think that that is a price worth paying, or is that another forecast from expert economists that we should ignore?
We are investing significant resources, including increasing coverage of Talking Therapy services by 600,000 people a year by 2020. Mental health is a key feature of our Green Paper “Improving Lives”, on which we are currently consulting. I thank Members on both sides of the House who came to our drop-in event on the Green Paper and who are helping with the consultation.
I welcome the Minister’s response and the Prime Minister’s intervention today on mental health. Does the Minister agree that in order better to support those with mental health conditions into the workplace, we need to transform the way we deliver mental health services for young people before they reach working age?
I agree with my hon. Friend absolutely. When I ask healthcare professionals who work in Department for Work and Pensions services what the single most significant transformative healthcare intervention would be, they say mental health support services for young people. The Prime Minister’s announcement on that was very welcome.
The “Five Year Forward View for Mental Health”, which was published a year ago, contained two specific recommendations for the Department for Work and Pensions, one of which was on employment support. Will the Minister update the House on the progress on that specific recommendation?
There were two targets, but the Department has set out a range of initiatives. Good progress has been made on all fronts, including the development of specific mental health support for the services we run, such as Access to Work. Considerable work has been going on, as the Prime Minister referred to earlier today, but she also said that we need to pick up the pace on this issue, and I agree with her absolutely.
The proposed closure of eight Glasgow job centres will result in increased travel times and introduce further barriers for people with mental health conditions who are seeking help to get into work. How will the Minister ensure that people with mental health conditions continue to receive the help that they need?
My hon. Friend the Minister for Employment has met all the MPs who are concerned about those locations across Glasgow, and my hon. Friend the Minister for Welfare Reform has met Scottish Ministers to discuss the issue. We are aware of the concerns that Members have raised. If the hon. Lady has any subsequent comments to make, she is more than welcome to have meetings with either me or my colleagues.
People with mental health conditions are more likely to fail the work capability assessment and more likely to be sanctioned. At the same time, we know from independent research how damaging work capability assessments and sanctions are for people’s mental health. The Prime Minister made her announcements today, but when will the Government take responsibility for the impact of their policies on mental health and ensure that timely, evidence-based support from trained mental health professionals is available for claimants with mental health conditions? Will the Secretary of State commit to scrapping the work capability assessment and punitive sanctions, as Labour has?
I refer the hon. Lady to three things: the Secretary of State’s reform speech in which he announced that his focus was on the particular issue of sanctions for people with mental health conditions; obviously, the Prime Minister’s statement today; and the Green Paper, a major tenet of which is that we are consulting on the work capability assessment—a Labour policy that is not delivering. I am very pleased that enormous numbers of Labour MPs came to our drop-in on this and will be helping us with the consultation. This is an important issue, and we should get it right.
Contracted-out Health Assessments
Over 93.5% of assessments for personal independence payment and over 90% of work capability assessments for ESA are deemed of acceptable quality through independent audit. Those that are not deemed acceptable are returned to the provider to be reworked. The Department closely monitors all elements of providers’ performance and holds those providers to account through their contracts.
Will the Minister consider introducing and funding the mandatory use of body-worn cameras by all contracted-out assessment providers, which will improve the accuracy and efficiency of the much-disputed health assessment reports and safeguard claimants and assessors, and which is proving to be very successful when used by emergency services across the UK?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He will know that the Department has carried out a number of pilots to look at being more lenient at the early stages of assessment to give people time to get that health care information in front of assessors. That move is paying dividends, and we hope that it will be rolled out.
Although we are consulting on ESA, the Green Paper consultation affords us the ability to look at PIP assessments in the round and at a person’s whole journey. I have previously said that we are looking at what more we can do in recording assessments. If the hon. Lady knows of cases where people need home assessments and they are not getting them, I urge her to flag them up with me.
In my own constituency of Rossendale and Darwen, those who are waiting for their PIP appeal to go through are having to wait three, six or, in some cases, nine months to have that appeal heard. Given that they receive no benefit during this period and can lose their vital Motability car, will the Minister tell us what efforts the Department will make to speed up the appeal process?
Motability is an independent charity responsible for its own management information, including what data it publishes. There are 70,000 more people with a Motability car than there were in 2010.
My constituent Evelyn Campbell had her Motability car removed on 20 December following a PIP assessment, leaving her housebound and distressed over Christmas. It will take months for her appeal to be heard. In the meantime, her car has been sold. Is this not another cruel policy from this Government? Given that 60% of PIP appeals are successful and that the cars have to be reprovided, is it not also a totally false economy?
I am encouraged by what the excellent Minister has just said. The key point is that I do not think the car should be withdrawn until the appeal process has finished. As it is only a small number, as the Minister has said, could she be encouraged to look at that route?
As part of the comprehensive package of reforms to improve mental health support announced by the Prime Minister this morning, my Department will be undertaking an expert-led review on how best to ensure that employees with mental health problems can be supported. That will involve practical help, including promoting best practice among employers and making available free tools to businesses to assist with employee wellbeing. We will also be conducting an internal review of discrimination in the workplace against people with mental health conditions. Those reviews will build on our Green Paper consultation to help to establish the evidence base around mental health and employment.
I too welcome those figures. I can tell my hon. Friend that the new enterprise allowance has helped to create nearly 100 new businesses in North Cornwall since it began. We are moving to a second phase, beginning this April, with an improved NEA. Since it began, over one in five businesses supported by the NEA have been started by disabled entrepreneurs, which is an extremely encouraging development.
It was great to hear earlier that there is consensus on the need to implement in full the Financial Conduct Authority’s recommendations on transparency in pension scheme costs. We hope that that will be soon, and we will hold the Government and the Minister to account on that.
Let us try another subject. Labour is committed to the state pension triple lock. Are the Government?
I am happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. He and I have exchanged correspondence on this—he may not yet have received a letter from me offering a meeting with my hon. Friend the Minister for Employment. We absolutely want to work through any teething issues with local councils.
PIP is slightly different. For example, someone’s needs might increase and they need a reassessment to receive more support under PIP. The Green Paper affords us the opportunity to look at all these things together. I think there are opportunities for PIP perhaps to have a lighter assessment, but we need to get the whole process right.
I would be delighted to have a meeting with my right hon. Friend and her constituent.
The right hon. Gentleman will know that the disability employment gap has been closing under both this Government and the coalition Government. We recognise that we need to do more, and I think the public sector can do more. Part of that is identifying particular roles that individuals can take up. The Government are picking up the pace on the issue and we are in a much better situation than the one that existed under the previous Labour Government.
I welcome the fact that more than 1 million more women are in employment now than in 2010, but will the Minister confirm what the Government are doing to support women with children who might find it difficult to return to work because of childcare responsibilities?
Our aim is to help parents to get into a job that fits around their caring responsibilities, which is why we are doubling the amount of free childcare offered to working parents to 30 hours a week. Last year, we spent a record £5 billion supporting parents with the costs of childcare and the figure will rise to more than £6 billion by 2020.
As I understand it, the Finnish scheme is a small pilot in a local area. I have read a lot of the literature—it is clearly an interesting idea—all of which suggests that that kind of scheme is fantastically expensive and that some of the losers from it are those who are on the lowest incomes at the moment. The polite response is that I am unconvinced by the proposal.
Seasonal agricultural workers have benefited from auto-enrolment into pensions, but many accrue only very small pension pots. What can the Government do to ensure that the bureaucratic burden does not fall disproportionately on the employers of these vital workers?
My hon. Friend brings up a very good point. The Government have to find a balance between wanting as many people as possible to have pensions, and economic sense when there is an impact on employers. My officials have discussed the issue with the National Farmers Union. We understand it and it will be looked into in the course of the 2017 review.
I think the hon. Gentleman is confused: we are actually putting more resources into these initiatives, and also asking others to do more. Obviously, we are consulting in the Green Paper, but even some of the announcements the Prime Minister made today included additional resource. We very much want to meet that target, and we are putting the resources and the policies in place to do that.
Last month, I asked the Government to introduce mandatory video recording of all DWP employment and support allowance assessments because a constituent of mine in Twickenham was treated with less respect than the character in the fictional film “I, Daniel Blake”. When will mandatory video recording commence?
I would like to say thank you to the scores of businesses in Corby and east Northamptonshire that provide important work experience opportunities for our young people. These introductions to the world of work are crucial, so will Ministers continue to make sure they remain at the forefront of cross-departmental discussions?
We know that one of the most important things in being able to get a job is to have had a job and to have demonstrated employability skills. Specifically on the work experience placements we do through Jobcentre Plus, people spend 49 days longer on average in employment as a result of having done one, so the answer to my hon. Friend’s question is yes.
May I urge the Secretary of State personally to review what is happening to the Motability scheme? Some 41,000 people have had their cars taken away as a result of PIP assessments, including a severely disabled Castleford constituent who now cannot get to work and may be about to lose her job, and a Pontefract constituent with metal rods in her joints who now cannot get out of the house and is at risk of slipping into depression as a result. On the day when the Prime Minister rightly raised the issue of mental health injustice, will he take seriously the serious impact on people’s mental health of being isolated in this way?
I am happy to assure the right hon. Lady that we are looking very closely at the whole Motability scheme, which, as she knows, is an independent charity. We have formed a working group to look at the various issues that gave rise to it, so we are looking at this very carefully.
Following on from the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), my constituent Ms Brookes, who has limited mobility because of a stroke, received a Motability car last year, and that car was a lifeline. Last week, the car was removed from her, and she is now struggling to get her children to school and then to get to work. She is appealing the decision, and I hope she will win, but in the meantime she is finding it incredibly hard to manage her disability as well as her responsibilities as an employee and, more importantly, a mother. Will the Minister look at this case as a matter of urgency to ensure that my constituent gets the help and support she needs?
I would be happy to look at the particular case the hon. Lady raises. We are looking at that issue in the Motability scheme, but also at other issues that mean that people are perhaps not able to take up work or travel opportunities. We recently met Motability on these issues and have formed a working group with it to work through them. We hope to be able to make some announcements very soon.
Indicators of child poverty are important, as the Secretary of State said earlier, but so are targets. Will he therefore agree to adopt the provisions in the Bill presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), which would establish statutory targets for the reduction of child poverty?
That old-fashioned approach is not necessarily the best way forward. Having the whole range of issues that can give rise to child poverty addressed by Government policy is the best way to do it. I look forward to the hon. Gentleman’s response to the social justice Green Paper that we will publish in the coming months.
In the London borough of Wandsworth that houses my constituency, last year there was a 25% increase in food bank use. Shockingly, almost 50% of these users are children. Do the Government agree that this is an absolute disgrace, and what will they do to assure us in this House today that the children and adults of Tooting shall no longer have to rely on food bank use?
As I said in response to previous questions, the best route out of poverty is work, and one of the great successes of the economic policy of this Government has been that more people are in work, more women are in work, and fewer children are growing up in workless households than ever before. I just wish that Labour Members would accept that getting more people into work and reducing unemployment is the best attack on poverty that any Government can make.
I met the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, and we had a Westminster Hall debate as well. I committed to a number of things, one of which was that we would have an online consultation, and that is indeed proceeding. As I said to him and his colleagues when we met, if there is other information that they want to bring forward, I am absolutely sure that they will do so.
The main function of the child poverty unit was to support Ministers in meeting the Child Poverty Act 2010, which has now been superseded by the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016, whereby the response specifically to poverty is being led by my Department, so the unit is now working inside the Department for Work and Pensions. That is the straightforward answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question.
Does the Secretary of State have any new year’s resolutions? If not, perhaps I can help him out: he could resolve to make sure that no one is sanctioned at Christmas. Will he review the operations of his Department, as I asked him before Christmas, to make sure that nobody goes without over the festive period?
My new year’s resolution is, as ever, to make sure that my Department continues its successful work in getting ever more people into work, and to make sure that we have a benefits system that helps people to get into work and a pensions system that provides security and dignity in old age.
Domestic Violence Victims: Cross-Examination
I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) for the chance to update the House on an important issue. To put this in context, the issues at stake in family proceedings are always sensitive and often complex, and the decisions of the court can have far-reaching implications for the individuals involved. The presence of domestic abuse only exacerbates an already traumatic situation, so the Government have already taken steps to make sure that victims in the family justice system have support and protection. We have protected legal aid for individuals seeking protection from abusers. We continue to invest in the court estate to improve the physical security of family courts and the emotional support available for users. We have placed particular emphasis on training for those who work in the family justice system, making sure they understand the nature and impact of domestic abuse and that they act appropriately when they come across it.
However, we know that there is more to do. As the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), made clear when this was debated in Parliament on 15 September, the Government are determined to improve the family justice response to domestic abuse, and we have worked closely with judges and others to consider what additional protections may be necessary. We are particularly concerned about the fact that unrepresented perpetrators of abuse can directly cross-examine their victims in family proceedings. I want to make family court processes safer for victims so they can themselves advocate effectively and for the safety of their children. This cannot happen while a quarter of domestic violence victims face cross-examination by their abusers.
The Lord Chancellor has requested urgent advice on how to put an end to this practice. This sort of cross-examination is illegal in the criminal courts, and I am determined to see it banned in family courts, too. We are considering the most effective and efficient way of making that happen. That will help family courts to concentrate on the key concerns for the family and always to put the children’s interests first, which is what they are supposed to do. This work, which is being fast-tracked within the Department, is looking in particular at the provisions in the criminal law that prevent alleged perpetrators from cross-examining their alleged victims in criminal proceedings, and we are considering how we might apply similar provisions in the slightly different circumstances of family proceedings.
Members will appreciate that such a proposal requires thought, but we want to resolve the matter as soon as possible. We will make further details available shortly, once the work is complete. I want to thank the president of the family division, Sir James Munby, who has argued passionately that this practice should be outlawed for good.
This issue has been wreaking untold devastation on victims of domestic violence. I have now spoken to numerous survivors of abuse whose accounts of torment under cross-examination in the family court—often by convicted rapists—are devastating to hear, but impossible for most of us even to imagine.
I have spoken to a woman who was cross-examined by the man who was in jail for numerous counts of rape and abuse that had left her unconscious and hospitalised. As a result of the family court process, this extremely vulnerable woman needed weeks of medication and months of counselling to recover. She has now suffered such an ordeal three times. I have spoken to the sister of a woman who was abused so grievously that the abuse resulted in her death. The convicted murderer then sued for custody of their child from the prison where he was serving a life sentence for murder. He directly cross-examined the sister of the woman he murdered, even having the grotesque nerve to ask, “What makes you think you can be a parent to my child?” Abuse is being continued and perpetuated right under the noses of judges and the police, the very institutions that should be protecting the vulnerable with every sinew of state power.
On 15 September 2016, in response to speeches by Members on both sides of the House in a Back-Bench debate, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), said that this is a
“scourge, which blights our society.”—[Official Report, 15 September 2016; Vol. 614, c. 1119.]
Yet he made no commitment to review or to change policy. Sadly, it took the excellent coverage in The Guardian during the Christmas break for such a commitment to emerge from the Ministry of Justice.
The source was anonymous, so will the Minister provide clarity in these areas? Lord Justice Munby, the president of the family division, supports measures to outlaw the cross-examination of victims by perpetrators, and he has said that this will require primary legislation. Does the Minister agree with that assessment, and if so, will he make the drafting and introduction of any such legislation a priority? The anonymous source told The Guardian that this was a matter of urgency for the Secretary of State. Will the Minister tell the House when she started the review, and more importantly, precisely when it will be completed? Victims of abuse need to have precision and clarity at this moment of great importance for them. Speed is of the essence, but so is consultation—we need to get this right—so will the Minister tell us what process is in place to enable victims, campaigners and support organisations to feed in their essential experiences and views so that the review is at all times carried out with, not done to, survivors of domestic abuse?
Finally, as I told the House back in September, it is a source of shame to me personally that I got to the age I am today without being aware that such barbarism is being practised within our own legal system. In addition to my lack of inquisitiveness, which I regret profoundly, the secrecy imposed by law on the family court process allowed this to continue without journalistic oversight. Will the Minister consider longer term assessment of the wider operational activity in the family court system? Such assessment should look, in a considered and detailed way, at the overall operation of family courts with a view to ensuring, where appropriate, greater transparency and oversight of the family court process is introduced.
Before we proceed, let me just say this. The hon. Gentleman has raised an extremely serious matter on the back of very considerable knowledge and research, and he has aired it in this House with great sensitivity. I did not wish to interrupt him—not least for that obvious reason—but perhaps I can announce to the House a new year’s resolution: from now on we must, without fail, stick to the established time limits for urgent questions. The hon. Gentleman was notified of the two-minute limit and he took over three minutes. That is the first point. A lot of more experienced Members will be well aware of my second point, but perhaps I can just underline it. The briefest preamble of description is fine, but an urgent question is supposed to be just that: neither a speech nor a contribution to debate, but a series of questions. I know the hon. Gentleman well and he will not, I am sure, take offence. He has raised very important matters. In future, however, doing so must be done in accordance with the proper form and time.
I agree with many of the hon. Gentleman’s points. Judges have always had wide discretion on family proceedings to try to get to the truth of matters, and to protect the interests of the family and so on. Judges have discretion to ask the questions themselves to try to avoid situations arising that are against the interests of justice. In recent years, judges have become more concerned—as the hon. Gentleman has—about situations where abuse is being perpetrated through the proceedings. That is why Sir James Munby has spoken out, why I have made the comments I have made today, and why the Department is treating this as something that should be dealt with as a matter of urgency.
Is it necessary to change the law? The answer is yes it is. Primary legislation would be necessary to ban cross-examination. I also think there are related ancillary matters that would require primary legislation. Clauses, therefore, are required. Is work being done? Yes, work is being done at a great pace to ensure that all these matters are dealt with in a comprehensive and effective way—the urgency is there. I became the Minister responsible for these matters in October, and I have chaired the Family Justice Board, which has become very concerned about this issue over that period. The Lord Chancellor shares that concern, which is why we are moving at speed to try to tackle it.
The extent to which consultation is necessary is something I will consider in the light of the hon. Gentleman’s comments, and perhaps discuss with him privately if he wishes. My feeling is that what is required is pretty straightforward: a ban, and then the necessary ancillary measures to allow cross-examination without the perpetrator doing it. I would question, therefore, the extent to which a wide consultation is needed, but I will discuss that with him.
On transparency in the courts, journalists are now able to attend court and report the proceedings, although there are obvious restrictions to protect children and so on.
The Minister of State and the Lord Chancellor are to be congratulated on moving promptly on this matter. The president of the family division is also to be congratulated on his frankness in relation to the deficiencies he finds within the family jurisdiction. Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that the simple solution is to adopt, more or less lock, stock and barrel, the criminal procedures under the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999; to use the forthcoming courts and prison reform Bill to put that into primary law; and accept that the very modest public expenditure of a court-appointed advocate to do the cross-examination where justice so requires would be a drop in the ocean compared with the benefits, in the interests of justice, to individuals who are the victims of abuse?
I am grateful to the Chair of the Justice Committee for those comments and agree with a good many of them. There are some differences from criminal proceedings, for example in a case in which an injunction is sought and there is no charge, or a case in which money is being considered but there is a background of abuse. There is a range of issues. For legal aid in cases of domestic abuse in family proceedings, there is a wider list than is available for criminal proceedings, but his basic point is right.
I am not able to give a commitment on the Bill. It depends on how quickly the work is concluded, and I am working on it very quickly.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) for asking the urgent question and the Minister for his response. I recognise that this issue unites the House.
The practice of unrepresented parties against whom domestic violence is either proved or alleged questioning victims in court has been raised repeatedly in the House and in the media. Many Members on both sides of the House have constituents who have been left devastated by the experience. That the Government are doing something to end that practice is welcome, but there is a clear admission that their legal aid cuts have caused this situation. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 removed much family law from eligibility. Victims of domestic violence struggle to provide evidence of their abuse because they are frequently not believed, and in some cases because medical evidence is difficult to obtain. Their experience is made worse still because their abuser, who is also unable to get representation, is allowed to question them, even when they would be prevented from contacting the person in any other situation. The abuse therefore continues.
It need not be that way. In the criminal courts, cross-examination by an unrepresented party accused of domestic violence is not allowed. Is the Ministry of Justice counting the number of litigants in person in the family courts? How many of those are victims of domestic violence? How many are convicted or alleged to have committed domestic violence? Will the Minister look at the practice in criminal courts? Along with prohibiting cross-examination, will he introduce the greater use of more sensitive procedures? When will the LASPO review finally begin?
On the hon. Lady’s final point, as she knows, the LASPO review has to be concluded by April 2018. It is not overdue, but it is something that the Government have very much in mind, and that we will have to start fairly shortly.
On the hon. Lady’s other points, legal aid is available in cases of domestic abuse. That is why the Government concentrated efforts in legal aid on situations where life or liberty are at stake, and on domestic abuse and housing when homes are at risk. That is not an issue, but I accept that the evidence criteria are important. That is why the Government have allowed a longer period and a wider range of evidence to be used, which has been welcomed.
Cross-examination by litigants in person takes place too much. The hon. Lady asked what the exact number is. It is not clear, but it is certainly a considerable number, which is why the Government consider this to be an important issue to tackle.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister and welcome everything he has said on the Government’s attitude to this long-standing problem. May I urge him please to look at the rules on legal aid? There is certainly strong anecdotal evidence from former colleagues of mine at the family bar and the judiciary that there is a direct consequence and link between the rise in litigants in person and the changes to legal aid, which was begun under the Labour Government. That link between litigants in person and legal aid is causing so much of the problem. If he at least looks at it, he could provide some of the solution.
As my right hon. Friend rightly says, this is a long-standing issue but one that has now become urgent—the cries for help from judges and others have become more urgent—and that is why the Government are tackling it. It is necessary to find a way to prevent litigants in person from using proceedings to continue the abuse, and that is what we aim to do.
May I welcome the Justice Secretary’s emergency review and stress how important it is that we all focus, across the UK, on how to prevent the perpetrators of domestic abuse from using the processes of the justice system to re-victimise the survivors of domestic abuse? In Scotland, the Government are engaged in a significant overhaul of the justice system, ahead of the introduction of new legislation on an all-encompassing offence of domestic abuse that will include all forms of coercive behaviour, but in Scotland legal aid is widely available in both criminal and civil cases. In England and Wales, cuts to legal aid mean that 80% of family cases now see at least one party without a lawyer, while in 60% of cases in the family courts neither party has one. In addition, victims of domestic abuse can only access legal aid in England and Wales if they cross a threshold test that has already been found to be too restrictive in a judicial review case. In addition to this important review, we therefore need a review of the criteria for access to legal aid for victims and survivors of domestic abuse. When will the Government commit to such a review?
I thank the hon. and learned Lady for that and for her news from Scotland. On legal aid in England and Wales, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) deliberately decided to concentrate the effort on cases involving people’s life, liberty, home or, as in this case, domestic abuse. Given that it was a period of austerity and decisions had to be made, I believe he got that judgment right. On the criteria for legal aid and the evidence that needs to be provided, it is not as though the Government have said, “This is set in stone”; where criticisms have been made, we have changed the rules to tackle those criticisms. My overall point is that the Government are responding when we should be.
I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend’s announcements today and his work with the Lord Chancellor, but may I draw his attention to a report published last April by the all-party group on domestic violence, chaired by myself and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), that not only picked up on this issue of cross-examination but considered special measures in courts to make it is easier for some of the most vulnerable victims to give evidence without feeling intimidated?
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend’s work in this area and for the important work of the all-party group, of which the Government and the ministerial committee on violence against women and girls take particular note. On special measures, the family courts have always had available to them a wider set of tools than the criminal courts and their judges have a wide discretion. Such measures as cross-examination by video, which in the criminal courts is provided for under section 28 of the 1999 Act, can be taken in family cases. Family courts can take evidence in a wide variety of ways, so there is a lot of protection. As I said in response to the urgent question, however, we are going further. Measures to do with the court estate, such as ensuring separate waiting rooms, screens and all those sorts of physical aspects, are being covered, as is staff training, through the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service and so on. That is very important, too.
I am grateful to the Minister for highlighting the discretion already available, but given that primary legislation might take some time, what steps is he taking now to remind the judiciary of the discretion they have and how they can apply it?
The hon. Lady makes an important point. As she will know, there are practice directions in the family division, and one is being prepared at the moment, so I will make sure that her comments are taken well on board. We do not make the practice directions, but we can certainly pass on her comments.
I and my staff have been struck in my constituency surgeries by the clear feedback on this anomaly around cross-examination. One of my constituents who complained about it was a former police officer. May I urge the Minister to take every step and use every tool possible to get the matter resolved as soon as possible?
On who should be involved and consulted in the review, will the Minister bear in mind that party litigants cross-examining their victims is just one species of the controlling behaviour that lies at the heart of domestic abuse and that, for that reason, there is a real and important role for organisations such as Women’s Aid to have their voices heard in this process?
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and the Department does, of course, listen to what is said by Women’s Aid. It does seem to me that this is a fairly discrete issue—an issue about banning cross-examination by alleged perpetrators and making arrangements to ensure that cross-examination can take place in a suitable way. I would not want to sacrifice speed in tackling that for anything.
Last week, the country was shocked and saddened by the death of my constituent, Jill Saward, who campaigned tirelessly on behalf of victims of rape and sexual violence, following her own horrific personal ordeal. Jill was instrumental in the campaign to change the law, so that accused rapists are barred from cross-examining victims. Will my right hon. and learned Friend join me in paying tribute to Jill and expressing our sincere condolences to her family, and does he agree that it is absolutely right to extend this law to the victims of domestic violence?
I certainly believe it important to pay tribute to Jill Saward, who suffered the most vile ordeal, yet showed through the rest of her life what a wonderful person she was, by campaigning for others and doing a tremendous amount of charity work. She was a model, and someone who set an example of being good. Yes, I would like to pass on the law that applies to criminal cases into family cases, so that we can tackle the sort of abuse that has been described.
I declare my interest as a member of the Wilberforce barrister chambers in Hull, although I am not currently practising. I welcome the Justice Secretary’s position to bring forward a review on this important issue, but the Minister will know that this was created as a result of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. The truth is that the vast majority of people today are refused legal representation in family proceedings unless they can prove domestic violence, which is virtually impossible to prove. The Government should bring forward a review of LASPO, which is not working. They should do something about it.
I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman, but there will be a review of LASPO. It is something that we have promised, and the date by which it has to be completed is April 2018. We are committed to that. As for family proceedings, I think it right that families can come together in many cases and reach agreements, so we do not have the problem that the hon. Gentleman outlined. Where abuse is present for a significant number of individuals, it is important that in those cases the individual who is the victim should not be cross-examined by the alleged perpetrator. That is what we want to solve.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I congratulate the Minister and the Lord Chancellor on taking action regarding the travesty of litigants in person being able to cross-examine their victims. In his statement, the Minister referred to the problem as urgent and said that it has the utmost priority. When the review is complete, will he commit to bring this forward as emergency legislation? I think that would gain support from both sides of the House, and we could pass the legislation in one day, ensuring that we can bring about the change as quickly as possible.
I think that the importance of that issue is accepted throughout the House. Whether or not my hon. Friend’s suggestion is an appropriate way to deal with it, one thing is clear: it should be dealt with as a matter of urgency, and that is what I am committed to doing.
Perhaps I should have said earlier that there were instances in which this problem arose before LASPO. It is not a new problem, and many people were refused legal aid representation under the Labour Government.
The Government’s reforms of the family courts were designed to keep some of these antagonistic cases out of court altogether, but the legal aid changes have undoubtedly led to the involvement of more litigants in person in very sensitive cases. Does my right hon. and learned Friend acknowledge the problems that litigants in person are causing in relation to court resources? They often spin out the time that cases take, with judges themselves requiring constant advice on legal procedures. We really need to do something about that, because it is messing up the family courts.
I fully accept that how litigants in person are helped with court proceedings is important, and the Government are spending £3.5 million on helping them. Let me make another point with which my hon. Friend may agree. Not every case needs to be decided in court; I am a strong supporter of mediation, and I should like to see more of that.
The emergency review is welcome, but cross-examination is not the only way in which perpetrators exploit family court processes to perpetuate their abuse. Will the review consider the ways in which abusers can, for example, string out judicial process in the family courts to continue to abuse former partners and their children?
I should be happy to discuss the issue with the hon. Lady, and to look into it in due course. This, however, is a discrete matter and an important one. I should like it to be tackled swiftly, and I do not intend to widen what we are doing at present, because I want to get on with that.
Women’s Aid has raised this issue on a number of occasions, most recently in its important and hard-hitting report “Nineteen Child Homicides”, which revealed that 25% of women interviewed had been cross-examined and that one woman who had been raped, beaten and abused for six years was cross-examined for three hours. Notwithstanding the need to get it right in the review, will my right hon. and learned Friend introduce legislation as soon as possible to ensure that that can never happen again?
The need for training of the judiciary goes beyond the family courts. A constituent came to see me because her ex-partner had taken a case about the management of family property to the civil court, and the judge had said it was irrelevant that he had been imprisoned for raping her daughter. That cannot be right. Judges need to be trained as well.