House of Commons
Tuesday 7 March 2017
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before Questions
New Southgate Cemetery Bill [Lords]
Third Reading opposed and deferred until Tuesday 18 April (Standing Order No.20).
Oral Answers to Questions
Ministry of Justice
The Secretary of State was asked—
Almost half the people leaving our prisons will reoffend within a year, with a cost to the economy of £15 billion, and countless costs to victims and society. We are giving prison governors the power to be able to turn people’s lives around, to reduce that level of reoffending.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need to ensure that prison governors have all the tools at their disposal to get people the education they may not have had—almost half of prisoners do not have basic English and maths—to get them into jobs and training, so that they can go into work and lead a lawful life when they leave prison.
Following the transforming rehabilitation reforms, there has been a 57% increase in the number of offenders being recalled as a result of failure to keep in touch during supervision after short sentences. What action are the Government taking to address this rise in the number of people being recalled to prison, and why is such failure being seen as a result of the reforms?
It is, of course, important that we recall people who pose a danger to society, but we need to ensure that we are recalling the right people. We are looking at that issue and at wider probation reforms to ensure that we turn people’s lives around not just while they are in prison, but while they are under community supervision.
One particularly stubborn area of concern has been the above-average reoffending rate of those serving sentences of 12 months or less. Does not that give rise to the need to look again at the effectiveness and use of short sentences as opposed to community penalties, and to look carefully at the way in which the Through the Gate programme operates? There is a real concern that there is not adequate follow-up for people who are released under these circumstances.
The Chair of the Select Committee on Justice is right that we need to get better at intervening before people commit crimes that lead to custody. As well as announcing a review of probation and the way in which it operates, we are looking at community sentences. We are ensuring that good community sentences are in place and that there is a higher use of mental health treatment orders and drugs desistance orders, which reduce the likelihood of reoffending.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that, as we have got better at dealing with issues of domestic violence, there is more we can do. That is why I am leading a joint taskforce with the Home Secretary to look at the law around domestic violence. We are also ensuring that domestic violence victims are protected in the family court. Under the Prisons and Courts Bill, abusers will no longer be able to cross-examine domestic violence victims, and that is an important step forward.
I am sure the Secretary of State will welcome the fact that companies such as Boots, Barclays, Carillion, Land Securities, Ricoh and many others have “banned the box” to improve the chances of ex-offenders getting jobs. However, does she share my concern that some quite big household names have not yet stepped up to the plate? Will she do her bit to get them over the line alongside those other good employers?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work he did to get more employers involved in this when he was a Minister. We are following on from his good work by setting up an organisation called the New Futures Network, which will comprise businesses and charities. The network will encourage more employers to take on ex-offenders, who are often very loyal and hard-working employees, and who can help to address some of the skills shortages we face.
Reoffending now costs us £15 billion annually, as the Secretary of State just said. A recent report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of probation noted that not enough is being done to help prisoners to prepare for life outside prison, due to a
“combination of unmanageable caseloads, inexperienced officers, extremely poor oversight”.
The service was rated as four-star before privatisation. What will the Secretary of State do to address this?
As I have said, it is important that people are supported to get into jobs once they leave prison. Just as we are establishing metrics for governors, showing how many people are employed once they leave prison, we want to use similar metrics to hold probation operators to account to make sure that they are focused on getting people into homes and into work, which we know leads to a reduction in reoffending.
Youth Justice System
On 24 February, we announced changes to improve governance of the youth justice system. We are creating a new youth custody service headed by a dedicated, experienced director who will lead on operational delivery, and we have appointed Charlie Taylor as the new chair of the Youth Justice Board.
Young people in custody now have more complex needs, and more than three quarters of them have been excluded from school. How will we put high-quality education at the heart of the youth justice system, so that young people can have a second chance of getting the skills they need to break the cycle of reoffending?
My hon. Friend is, as ever, spot on with regards to the importance of education. We are bringing forward plans on secure schools, and we are going to put health and education at the centre of that. I strongly believe that when people leave the youth justice system, they should be fit in body, fit in mind and fit to play a positive part in society.
Yes, I have seen the report. In fact, it confirmed what I encountered myself on a recent visit to Oakhill. We are aware of the difficulties there, and we are also aware that G4S is in the process of trying to sell the youth justice arm of its business. I am keeping a close eye on that process, and rule nothing out when it comes to looking after the children and indeed the broader security of society.
As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), the Government strongly believe that we need to create an environment in which young people can learn and be rehabilitated, so that they can play a more positive part in society. Our plans for secure schools—one in the north-west of England and one in the south-east of England—will build on that in the future.
No, it is not. [Interruption.] The problem is not overcrowding. There are some issues around staffing, which is why we have brought forward our plans on creating a new role for the youth justice officer. Those individuals are going to be attracted to work specifically with children. We are also developing the youth custody service as part of our plans around Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, because we believe that there should be a distinct service to deal with children in the criminal justice system.
Youth reoffending rates are among the highest of all prisoners, and we have just heard that reoffending costs this country a total of £15 billion a year. Surely the obvious answer is to make sure that all prisoners serve their time in jail in full before they are released out into the public.
Specifically in the youth justice system, I believe that the most important thing is to ensure that when young people are in custody, we take every opportunity to treat them if they have mental health problems and to provide the necessary education for future employment prospects, so that when they leave the institution, they are less likely to reoffend.
It has been reported that Working Links, an outsourcing company criticised for its handling of probation services, including for failures in Wales and the south-west, is the company that it is in talks to buy Oakhill secure training centre from G4S. Is it part of the Justice Secretary’s reforms to youth justice to allow private companies with no experience in youth justice to run our youth custody centres?
As Lord Chancellor, I made a decision to lower the discount rate. Not to have done so would have been unlawful. Under the law, I may only consider the impact on victims, not defendants. As I have said, the system needs to be reformed, because I do not think it is right that a discount rate is set on an ad hoc basis by the Lord Chancellor.
I have spoken to my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary to discuss the implications for the NHS. As I said, under legislation the Lord Chancellor must only consider the impact on the victim. I do not think the procedure works in the right way, which is why I will shortly bring forward a consultation on a better way to set the discount rate.
There seems to be some element of confusion in the minds of the public. The insurance industry says that car insurance premiums will go up because of the fall in the discount rate, while the Government, quite rightly, say that insurance premiums should come down because of the proposed changes in the Prisons and Courts Bill. Is this a question of netting off, with no change to premiums at all, or can the Lord Chancellor be slightly more scientific?
My hon. Friend makes the point that there are different issues around the discount rate and whiplash. The measures on whiplash in the Prisons and Courts Bill should reduce insurance premiums by, on average, £40. The issue about the discount rate is very different: it is an independent decision that the Lord Chancellor has to make. I am saying that we need to review the way that decision is made, and I will be bringing forward a consultation on that very shortly.
Measures to disincentivise minor, exaggerated and fraudulent whiplash claims are being taken forward in the Prisons and Courts Bill and through changes to reduce the cost of litigation by increasing the small claims limit.
Whiplash claims have increased by 50% over the past decade, at a time when cars are becoming safer and the number of road traffic accidents is falling. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is time for reform? Can he confirm the extent to which consumers will benefit through lower car insurance premiums, and how does he intend to hold insurance companies to their side of the bargain?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point to the fact that as cars have become safer there have been fewer road traffic accidents. It is shocking that whiplash cases have gone up by over 50% in the past 10 years. The reforms I mentioned will, taken together as a package, ensure that the genuinely injured receive compensation, and fraudulent and exaggerated claims are tackled.
I pay tribute to the work of the all-party parliamentary cycling group, which the hon. Lady co-chairs. We have taken account of the overall effect of the measures and looked at the representations made. She will have noticed that some of the original proposals have not been taken forward, and the ones we have taken forward we believe are proportionate.
Yes. The Government are keen to change the way in which the courts work to make them not just the best in the world but the most modern. This involves new procedures that use online technology—virtual hearings for some small matters and so on. The overall effect is to improve access to justice and improve life for litigants in person. We also have a special strategy for litigants in person, which helps them.
It is important for that balance to be struck. The whiplash proposals relate to the most minor claims—cases in which the pain and suffering lasts for up to two years. Even then, there is provision for judges, in exceptional cases, to award more than the tariff that is proposed. When serious injuries are involved, however, the system will continue as it is now. It will still be designed to recompense people properly for the injuries that they have suffered.
A few years ago, I was shunted up the backside—my car was, I mean. Although I was perfectly well, I received a phone call from someone who asked me whether I had whiplash. I said, “No, I do not have whiplash.” The person said, “Oh, go on! Say that you do have whiplash.” I did not do that, because I am an honourable person. My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right to reduce the number of bogus claims.
I am very sorry that the hon. Gentleman is so accident-prone. I remember serving on a Bill Committee with him many years ago, and receiving the distressing news that he had been bitten in a sensitive place in the course of an excursion overseas. He really does seem to suffer a disproportionate share of ill fate.
In those circumstances, my hon. Friend showed the strength of character that I would have expected of him. It was, of course, shocking to hear from colleagues, during our Westminster Hall debate, of the experiences that they and their constituents had had of this dreadful cold calling. People are being begged to start proceedings when they have not had an injury.
The Minister claims that there is a compensation culture surrounding whiplash when, in reality, the number of claims has been falling for five years. Even if that were true, however, I should like to know why he is penalising workers throughout the country by increasing the personal injury limit to £2,000, rather than focusing solely on whiplash.
I am glad to hear the hon. Gentleman—with his background as a personal injury lawyer—raising those concerns. [Laughter.] I see another one behind him, waiting to ask a question.
The simple answer is that it was right to increase the personal injury small claims limit to £2,000. That just reflects inflation. The last increase was in 1991, so it is time for another. As for the whiplash cases, I stand by the £5,000 limit, which I think will get rid of the exaggerated claims.
The Minister has mentioned inflation. In his 2009 review of civil litigation costs, Lord Justice Jackson opposed any increase in the small claims limit until inflation justified an increase to £1,500. The Government now propose to increase it to £5,000. Can the Minister explain, here and now, precisely how that specific figure was arrived at?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are plagued by a series of minor, exaggerated and fraudulent whiplash claims, and we want to tackle that. We believe that the combination of no settlement of claims without a medical report, the tariffs in the Bill, and the raising of the small claims threshold will disincentivise those claims. The hon. Gentleman should also bear in mind that the limit for ordinary money small claims is £10,000.
Personal Independence Payments: Inverclyde
In 2015, 52% of appeals against personal independence payment awards heard in Greenock were successful. Between January and September 2016, the latest period for which data are available, the proportion was 57%.
I thank the Minister for that catch-up on Greenock.
It is clear that a rapidly increasing number of constituents are losing their benefits, and subsequently winning their appeals. My constituents inform me daily that they are without benefit entitlements for eight to 10 weeks, and many are losing their Motability cars as well. Does the Minister agree that sanctions should not be enforced until the appeals process has been exhausted?
I think that the hon. Gentleman should view the position in context. The Government are spending £50 billion a year on supporting people with disabilities and health conditions, and the new PIP arrangements mean that 65% of PIP recipients with mental health conditions are receiving the highest rate; the proportion used to be only 22%. Overall, the system works, and the fact that there are appeals and they succeed shows that it works.
Indeed, Mr Speaker. The successful proportion would not matter nearly so much if the Minister could arrange for those appeals to happen a hell of a lot quicker, and if he can fix it in Inverclyde—well, I need not spell it out, Mr Speaker.
My right hon. Friend makes the important point that justice delayed is justice denied, and it is important that cases are brought on quickly. We monitor them very carefully and provide extra days to tribunals as required, so he can be assured that we are not complacent about this.
Mental Health Problems: Prisoners
Prisoners are far more likely to suffer from mental health issues than the general population. From April, we will introduce a co-commissioning approach into prisons in England, with governors making decisions about prison healthcare alongside local NHS commissioners. As I am sure the right hon. Gentleman knows, these matters are devolved in Scotland.
Indeed, although the Howard League tells us that 2016 was the worst year ever recorded for suicides in prison, with one prisoner every three days across the UK taking his or her life. Does the Minister accept that the earliest diagnosis— and the best diagnosis—will not make much difference if we continue to house prisoners in overcrowded prisons, with the most vulnerable being locked up 23 hours a day?
Each of those cases is a tragedy and my condolences go to the family concerned. The right hon. Gentleman is right that it is important to hold prisoners in appropriate circumstances. We are working hard to improve the mental health training of staff, and we are in lengthy discussions with the Department of Health about the broader provision of mental health care.
We are working hard on continuity of care in the transmission of notes from the community into the custodial estate, so that we can improve our pick-up of mental health problems when prisoners arrive. There is ongoing training of staff, so that if mental health symptoms develop within prison they can be spotted and the appropriate care provided.
When inmates become so acutely unwell that the prison is not equipped to care for them, they should receive appropriate treatment under the Mental Health Acts. In the outside world, this happens within 24 hours; in prisons, the guidelines recommend 14 days. An answer I received to a parliamentary question last year showed that, of 1,141 prisoners, three in four waited more than that two-week window. What action is the Secretary of State taking to rectify this urgent situation?
The hon. Lady is right that access to secure accommodation can be challenging—not only within the prison system but within the community for those who have not committed offences, who cannot always access it within 24 hours. We are in lengthy discussions with the Department of Health on this, because access to secure accommodation in the circumstances the hon. Lady outlines is very important.
Last year, 2016, was the worst recorded for suicide in prisons. The Secretary of State introduced the Prisons and Courts Bill, but it contains nothing to address mental health issues. Why has the Justice Secretary missed this valuable opportunity to enshrine in law the way in which we treat prisoners with mental health problems?
The Government’s court programme aims to deliver a justice system that is more accessible. Legal support needs to reflect the new way in which the justice system will work, so a Green Paper is proposed for early next year. I recently addressed the Civil Justice Council and was able to pay tribute to the work of Mr Justice Knowles and the tireless work of everyone in the pro bono sector that does so much for our country.
Will the Minister join me in thanking law students from Huddersfield University law school and local law practices for their excellent work in providing a fantastic Huddersfield legal advice clinic in the Packhorse centre? Does he agree that as constituency MPs we must make sure that we can direct our constituents not only to pro bono legal advice but to affordable and accessible legal advice?
Huddersfield University is known as a beacon in this area, and it has done tremendous work. I was pleased to meet some of the students during pro bono week last year. I pay tribute to them and to all the universities and other bodies that set aside time to help people with their legal work.
The Minister will know that much good pro bono work is going on in the legal profession, but does it balance all the crooked, bent solicitors in the insurance industry who are practising in our towns and cities and who are behind the conspiracy over whiplash?
Barristers and solicitors across the country are making a remarkable pro bono contribution worth around £600 million per annum, but they cannot do it all. Does the Minister agree that pro bono must be an adjunct to, and not a replacement for, a properly resourced legal aid system?
I do agree with that, but with the caveat that we are changing the way in which the justice system works, so that it is simpler and more accessible. We are also using modern technology. We should look at how legal support dovetails with all that. So, yes—but we are moving forward with our plans.
In a report called “Cuts that hurt”, Amnesty International highlights the devastating impact of legal aid cuts on vulnerable groups in England. Amnesty concluded that the cuts had decimated access to justice. What steps is the Minister taking to review the impact of the Government’s cuts to legal aid in England and Wales?
When I addressed the all-party parliamentary group on legal aid, I was pleased to meet members of Amnesty International to discuss their concerns about particular areas of law. We have announced our timetable for the review of the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, which involves delivering a full memorandum to the Justice Committee by May and holding a full review going through into early next year, at which point there will be a Green Paper on legal support.
Since 2013, legal aid funding has not been available in England and Wales for many immigration cases, including family reunion cases. Unaccompanied or separated children making applications to stay in the UK have to do so on their own, without legal assistance. Given Amnesty’s findings, will the Minister follow the example of the Scottish Government and provide legal advice and assistance to vulnerable individuals such as those children, who have to navigate a very complex immigration system?
I am not going to make my declaration about that now, Mr Speaker. This is a complex issue. There is a role for the local authorities to play, and there is some legal aid available, but I am in correspondence with Amnesty and am looking into the matter in detail.
Court Proceedings: Media Reports
We are committed to upholding and strengthening the principle of open justice, in which local reporters play an important role.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend share my concern that more than half of local newspaper editors have said that they think the courts are no longer being reported properly? Does he agree that justice needs not only to be done but to be seen to be done and that the decline of local media represents a real threat to that principle? What more can be done to address this issue?
Yes, I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend. This is an important area. We are committed to upholding open justice, and local reporting of court proceedings is a key part of that. Under our reforms, we will publish lists of forthcoming criminal cases and their outcomes. We will also allow access to virtual hearings via video screens in local courts, so that reporters can see those proceedings anywhere in the country. We hope that that will make a contribution to the important principle that my right hon. Friend highlights
Prison Officers: Recruitment and Retention
In November, we announced a £100 million investment to increase prison officer numbers by 2,500. We are on target with that recruitment, and I can tell the hon. Lady today that 700 officers are currently in training—a record number.
An inspection report on Durham prison published this morning shows that 60% of prisoners report feeling unsafe—up from 37% in 2013. At the same time, the number of staff has reduced from 190 to 159. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is harder for prison staff to keep themselves and prisoners safe when numbers have been so reduced? What is she going to do to improve prisoner safety now?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right about the concerning report on HMP Durham. We are addressing issues of recruitment in that prison and in prisons across the country. We have created 2,000 new positions at a more senior grade for experienced officers with mental health training and other types of training. Those positions will be available in Durham, which will help us to retain some of our experienced and valued staff.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are creating an additional 2,000 positions, which will be paid around £30,000. They will be available in his local area and in Durham, because it is vital not only that we ensure that we have enough staff—we are recruiting 2,500 prison officers—but that we retain our highly valued existing staff right across the country.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Research by the Community union found that the main barrier to retention was not pay but safety. Prison officers in both private and public prisons feel unprepared, isolated and undermined. Will the Government conduct a complete review of the training, support and development given to prison officers and act on Community’s call for a set of adequate minimum safety standards?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct that prison officers have raised concerns about safety. We are employing more prison officers, so that one officer will have a case load of six offenders, which will help to keep prisons safe and, importantly, turn people’s lives around. We are reviewing training and the career structure for prison officers, ensuring that there are opportunities for promotion and to take on leadership roles.
My hon. Friend is right. I was delighted that we were able to say that Wellingborough will have one of those new prisons. We have just opened HMP Berwyn in Wrexham, which is operating well already and will help us to deal with overcrowding. The new prisons will also ensure that we are able to attract and retain prison officers in places where offenders can be reformed.
I rise to speak as chair of the cross-party justice unions parliamentary group. As the Secretary of State mentioned, HMP Berwyn opened its doors and accepted its first men last week, but how can she condone paying newly recruited prison officers in north Wales £8,000 less than new recruits in south-east England?
I am determined to ensure that we recruit the right number of officers right across the country. In the south-east, where costs are high and where there is much competition for highly skilled individuals, we have specific issues with recruiting and retaining people. However, the 2,000 new more senior roles that I mentioned are available right across the country, and people in HMP Berwyn will be able to apply for them with that extra training and get that extra pay.
There are now 6,000 fewer prison officers on the frontline than in 2010, and they are dealing with more prisoners. The Secretary of State wants 2,500 extra officers by 2017, but officers are leaving the service faster than she can recruit them. When will she come up with an effective plan to turn around that expanding exodus?
I am afraid that there were two factual errors in the hon. Lady’s question. First, the prison population is exactly the same as it was in 2010—it has not gone up. Secondly, we are recruiting people at a record rate and have a record number of officers in training.
We are investing £1 billion to reform and take paper out of our courts, and the Prisons and Courts Bill underpins those reforms.
The Prisons and Courts Bill clearly underpins the Government’s vision to modernise our court system, but I am particularly interested in the measures to allow victims and vulnerable witnesses to avoid the risk of coming face to face with their assailant. Will my right hon. and learned Friend update me, please?
We will obviously have physical measures, such as the use of screens in courts, but we also intend to maximise the use of video links in criminal court proceedings, to roll out pre-recorded evidence and to make greater use of prison-to-court video links. The Bill also helps to protect vulnerable witnesses in family cases by banning cross-examination by perpetrators in certain circumstances, including where there has been domestic abuse.
The Victims’ Commissioner’s review of children’s entitlements in the victims code found that the justice system is failing to meet a child’s right to receive information and for that information to be communicated in a timely way. Why does the much-needed update to the young witness pack remain incomplete? When will every child giving evidence get accurate and updated information about the process?
We are talking against a background where improvements are being made for victims all the time. I accept that more needs to be done for children, and the hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We are looking to produce further measures for victims in due course, and I will make sure that that is considered.
Prison Service Pay Award
We have announced that, in prisons where recruitment and retention are most difficult, we will offer a combination of higher starting pay and an additional allowance of up to £5,000 a year, taking the salary of officers in those jails to up to £30,000. The relevant trade unions were advised in advance.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We want to make sure that our hard-working prison officers are well rewarded. Our announcement on 19 February, to which he refers, was specifically designed to tackle jails where it is very hard to recruit because of the high cost of living in their particular market. This year’s pay award for all prison staff is a matter for the independent pay review body, to which we will submit evidence shortly.
Imprisonment for Public Protection: Sentences
As at 31 December 2016, there were 2,006 unreleased prisoners serving a sentence of imprisonment for public protection who had served more than twice their original tariff.
I thank my hon. Friend for that depressing statistic. My constituent has served not twice but five times the length of his original sentence. Having been sentenced to two and a half years for actual bodily harm, he has been in prison for 12 and a half years. When is he going to be released?
The hon. Gentleman is obviously aware that the IPP tariff was introduced by the last Labour Government, and abolished by the Conservative Administration in 2012. Our efforts are now focused on giving IPP prisoners the support, opportunities and motivation to progress more quickly so that, when they are reviewed by the parole board, they have the best possible prospect of securing release. We are tackling delays in the system and have identified what more needs to be done. A specific unit is looking at individual cases in order to progress them as quickly as possible.
We are launching new performance metrics that will measure not only the amount of work taking place in prisons but the percentage of prisoners who secure employment on release, and we will use those measurements to hold governors to account. We are also creating new apprenticeships in areas where there are skill shortages, such as construction, retail, catering, logistics and digital, so that prisoners can go into relevant roles.
My hon. Friend is correct. We are taking an outside-in approach: we are finding employers who have jobs to offer on the outside, and they then start to deliver training on the inside, so that the individual goes straight into an apprenticeship or employment on release. We already have a very successful scheme involving Land Securities and Halfords, and we are building up the number of employers that are part of that arrangement.
There are many great examples of prison enterprises, such as the Freedom Bakery, which is a social enterprise artisan bakery that operates in the Scottish Prison Service at HMP Low Moss near Glasgow. What measures are the Government taking to encourage such initiatives south of the border?
That is an important initiative. We have several initiatives in our prisons, including the Clink Restaurant and the Bad Boys’ Bakery, which does excellent baked goods—I think I mentioned it last time. There are huge opportunities in catering and cheffing, in which we have skill shortages. We can do a great deal with apprenticeships to make sure that people are trained up to take on those roles on release.
Concerted Indiscipline: Prison Response
All prisons, both private and public, face the same challenges to safety and security. We are continually reviewing and supporting prisons across the estate to mitigate and manage serious threats and incidents.
Mutual assistance across both sectors is in place in the event of an incident to provide immediate support to those prisons in need. Private sector prisons can therefore provide support to public sector prisons—and vice versa—in the event of a serious threat or incident.
Prison Safety and Security
We are taking urgent action to improve prison safety and security, alongside reforms to overhaul the system to focus on the rehabilitation of offenders. This includes tackling the supply and demand of drugs, drones and phones, which drive prison violence and undermine safety, and redoubling our efforts to address the record levels of suicide and self-harm.
I am the rapporteur to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which is conducting an inquiry into mental health and deaths in prisons. Last week, we took evidence from four serving prisoners, including on the issue of safety. One young man told us that he had received only two days’ advance notice of when he was due to be released, causing him great anxiety about accommodation and having a sufficient support network. Will the Minister undertake to look at the resettlement problem?
Staff morale is very important to safety and security in prisons, so I wish to ask the Minister again about the flexibilities that I understand governors will have on pay increases from 1 April. Will that mean that we could end up with prison officers in Hull being paid less than prison officers down the road in Leeds? How will that affect morale?
No. As I said in my answer to a previous question, the matter of Prison Service pay will be decided nationally. The independent pay review body will also submit evidence throughout this year. That will still be the case where we have governor freedoms, but, in giving governors their budgets, they will be able to decide on the mix of staff and how to deploy them.
Foreign National Offenders: Legal Aid
It is not possible to isolate cases of that type using the data recorded by the Legal Aid Agency.
Just as McCloskey condemned lawyers from Burton & Burton, which represented members of the Rochdale grooming gang, for gaming the system, he also said that Government should investigate that and other examples. What steps is the Minister taking to look at the bad use of legal aid?
As the hon. Gentleman may know, the Legal Aid Agency does investigate cases that are brought to its attention, and there have been recent examples where contracts have been removed. It is also important to make the point that, even where there is the possibility of legal aid and representation for foreign national offenders, it is limited to cases involving the refugee convention or articles 2 or 3.
Prison Estate: Isle of Wight
We are working on potentially transferring the former Camp Hill site to the Homes and Communities Agency. This is an opportunity to develop the site, build new homes and regenerate the local area.
I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend, as indeed would my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. As I have said, we are seeking to transfer the site to the Homes and Communities Agency. Yesterday, I had a meeting with officials to urge them to get on with it.
Leaving the UK: Human Rights
Human rights have been protected in the UK since long before our membership of the EU, and leaving the EU will not change that.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Joint Committee on Human Rights is looking at that issue. The Department for International Trade has given evidence on this, saying that it is constructing its approach to such agreements at the moment. This country has always been a strong supporter of human rights, and I cannot see that changing.
Last month, we introduced the Prisons and Courts Bill. For the first time, as well as punishing offenders by depriving them of their liberty, a key purpose of prison will be reforming offenders. There will be a new framework and a clear system of accountability. I will account to Parliament for progress. We are also putting in a strengthened inspectorate and an ombudsman for sharper external scrutiny. We are modernising our courts system and ensuring that vulnerable victims and witnesses are no longer cross-examined by their alleged abusers in the family court.
My Homelessness Reduction Bill reaches its Committee stage in the House of Lords on Friday. One provision is to ensure that prison governors prepare prisoners so that they are not homeless when they leave prison. What action has my right hon. Friend taken to ensure that prison governors are aware of their responsibilities under the new law?
First, I can tell my hon. Friend that we are making sure that we measure how successful prison governors are at getting people into accommodation once they leave prison. The public will be able to see that information, as it will be publicly available. I am also speaking to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and working with him on his homelessness plan, and helping ex-offenders get into homes is a key part of that.
The measures in the Prisons and Courts Bill will allow the Secretary of State to authorise mobile network operators to block illicit mobile phone signals across entire prison sites. That will allow industry experts to work more creatively and effectively to block signals, which means that we will not require a court order to stop the illicit and harmful use of mobile phones in prison.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his thoughts on this issue. I point out that there is currently an open competition for Supreme Court justices. I want to encourage as many qualified candidates as possible to come forward. The closing date is the 10th, so if any are listening, I want them to apply for the role. It is very important to distinguish between the situation in the US, where there is a written constitution, and here, where we have a sovereign Parliament and the role of the Court is to interpret legislation. The Select Committee absolutely has a role to play, post-appointment, in making sure that it is holding the Supreme Court justices to account, but I think that it would be dangerous to muddy the water with pre-appointment hearings.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: extremism is a worry in our prisons. That is why we set up the new security and counter terrorism unit in the Ministry of Justice. That unit is progressing with implementing the recommendations of the Acheson review that the Department adopted last summer.
May I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend has done on the Transport Committee to highlight this important issue? We hope that every motorist will see a benefit of £40. We are certainly pressing hard on the issue.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. We have expertise in dealing with psychoactive substances. We have rolled out tests across the prison estate, and we are working on prisoner education to deter people from that type of drug abuse. I am very happy to facilitate a meeting with the Prison Service and the hon. Gentleman, so that we can make progress together.
First, I am very happy to make sure we look into the case my hon. Friend raises. We do have to remember that public protection must always be our priority, so while we are keen to see people get the training and re-education they need to secure a successful parole hearing, we must always make sure the public are kept safe.
As the Secretary of State mentioned, the Supreme Court judges application process ends on Friday. In circumstances where around 20% of Court of Appeal judges and 20% of High Court judges are female, what is she doing to ensure we get more diversity in our highest courts?
My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. We have never had a female Lord Chief Justice or a female Master of the Rolls. Out of 11 Supreme Court justices, only one is a woman, and that is not good enough in modern Britain. What we need to do is make sure it is easier for highly talented solicitors to apply to go on the bench, and Lord Kakkar is looking at that. We are creating direct entry into the High Court for talented individuals, and we are also creating the 100 top recorders competition to encourage more entrants from among good individuals.
The vast majority of successful personal independence payment appeals succeed because of late additional submitted evidence. What discussions has the Minister had with colleagues in the Department of Health to automatically share supportive medical evidence at the beginning of the process?
Does the Secretary of State recognise that current human rights legislation adheres minimally to the provisions contained in the Good Friday agreement for Northern Ireland and therefore that the Human Rights Act 1998 should be retained?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that. As she knows, we have made an announcement that there will not be an imminent change, because, although we have a mandate for that, we want to find out what the outcome of the Brexit negotiations is, and that is, in itself, a major constitutional change.
Developing skills in prison is crucial to successful rehabilitation, but it is important that those skills translate into the real world. What consideration are Ministers giving to ensuring that skills development in prison dovetails with the needs in the industrial strategy?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I know he is a big supporter of the new Wellingborough prison. In that prison, as well as in others across country, we are looking at areas where there are skills shortages—whether it is in construction or catering—and making sure that we start apprenticeships in prison that can then be completed on the outside, so that we can bring new, skilled people to important industries.
There are reports today of children being held in solitary confinement in prisons in this country, which is shocking, immoral and probably unlawful. Surely, the Secretary of State understands that, whatever chance these young people have of turning their lives around, they will not find it if they are locked in a cell for 23 hours a day. Will she commit now to ordering an end to this practice?
I am aware of the reports from the Howard League. The safety and welfare of young people held in custody is our highest priority. I would stress, though, that these cases are extremely difficult. Some of these young individuals are extremely difficult to manage, and governors on the ground have to make decisions that are in the interests of the broader community in prison and the wider security of society.
I am working on this subject very closely with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. We need to ensure that more people are brought to justice—in fact, there has been an increase of 140% in those brought to justice for sexual offences—but we also need to make sure that internet companies are doing their bit to crack down on this practice.
Ministers have praised the Corston report on women in the criminal justice system and yet are currently planning, I hear, to open specialist units for women as adjuncts to men’s prisons, going in the opposite direction to the Corston report. Can they reassure me that I am wrong?
The Ministry has released figures showing that the number of incidents of drugs being found in prison more than quadrupled from 2,500 in 2015 to 10,400-plus in 2016, yet the National Offender Management Service does not keep a central register of cell searches, which is where many of these drugs are found. Will that change?
After a constituent of mine residing in HMP Lindholme was seriously assaulted when other inmates had access to keys to their cells while he did not, is it not abundantly clear that the people who are in charge of our prisons are not governors, and certainly not the Secretary of State, but the prisoners?
That is certainly not the case. We do recognise, however, that by recruiting more staff and strengthening the frontline we will make it much easier for staff to challenge and support prisoners. That is why we have announced new investment to recruit 2,500 new officers for our jails, and we are also enabling a caseload of one prison officer per six prisoners, so that they can support our prisoners in the efforts to rehabilitate them.
While significant progress is being made on foreign national offenders being returned, what analysis is there of foreign national offenders coming into the system—and, crucially, do we monitor whether there is a net reduction in foreign national offenders on the estate?
The number of foreign nationals entering our prisons is monitored by the Ministry of Justice. Our figures indicate that between 30 June 2008—the highest point—and 30 June 2016, there was a 14% decrease in the total foreign national prisoner population. This is good progress, but I acknowledge that there is still a lot more to be done.
Despite the Government’s attempt to recruit more prison officers, staff rolls at many prisons continue to fall—High Down’s went down by 30. Is this recruitment drive working, or are demoralised prison officers leaving before they can recruit more?
We have launched a very important prison officer recruitment programme, and we have a record number of officers currently in training. However, we need to recognise that it takes time to recruit and train these officers. That is why we are also making sure that we pay our experienced officers at the right level and creating new, more senior roles for experienced officers as well as getting new recruits in.
I am afraid that the Secretary of State’s answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) was simply not good enough. Can she explain why, after two years, she still has not commenced the law to protect our children from sexual predators?
Housing Benefits (18 to 21-year-olds)
From 1 April, automatic entitlement to housing costs will be removed for some 18 to 21-year-olds. This is a Conservative manifesto commitment and it was formally announced as a Government measure in summer Budget 2015.
This policy removes a perverse incentive for young adults to leave the family home and pass the cost on to the taxpayer. This is about stopping young people slipping straight into a life on benefits, and it brings parity with young people who are in work but who may not be able to leave the family home, while an unemployed young person can do so.
We have always been clear that this policy will have a comprehensive set of exemptions, to make sure that the most vulnerable continue to have the housing support that they need, so the policy will affect only those who have no barriers to work and who are unable to return safely to their parental home. In addition, there is a time-limited exemption for those who have recently been in work. The policy will apply only to those in universal credit full service areas who make new claims or whose earnings drop below the in-work threshold after that date.
The policy will be implemented at the same time as the new youth obligation, an intensive package of labour market support for young people from day one of their claim. With new support available under the youth obligation, more young adults will move into work, significantly improving their current living standards and future prospects.
My urgent question—this concern is shared by Members on both sides of the House—was: what assessment has been done of the impact of the cuts on homelessness? With respect to the Minister, she has made a statement but she could have given a one-word answer, which is “none”. No impact assessment was published with the regulations on Friday. Why not? How many young people will now be denied all help with housing benefit? There are 1,741 18 to 21-year-olds in the Minister’s county of Hampshire claiming housing benefit. How many of them will still get help next month, and how many will get nothing?
The Minister may not have done an assessment, but the charities that work day in, day out to help the homeless in all our constituencies have done so. Centrepoint says that 9,000 young people will be put at risk of homelessness. Shelter says that
“there is no way this isn’t going to lead to an increase in rough sleeping.”
Crisis, which drafted the very important Homelessness Reduction Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), says that the policy “runs entirely counter” to the aims of that Bill, and that it
“could spell disaster for the many vulnerable young people rightly entitled to help.”
Surely the Minister does not think that those charities are wrong. If she knows they are right, surely the Government are not going to go ahead with these cruel and counterproductive cuts.
Members on both sides of the House have deeply held concerns about the rapidly rising level of homelessness in our country. Will the Minister accept that none of the arguments that she has made today or previously really stack up? She says that this is about levelling the playing field, but these young people, who are old enough to marry, work, pay taxes and fight for our country, will now be denied the same right as other British adults to basic help with housing costs.
Ministers have said that the exemptions will protect the vulnerable, but the National Landlords Association declares:
“Never mind the nuances, all landlords will hear is that 18-21 year olds are no longer entitled to housing benefit…they just won’t consider them as a tenant.”
Ministers have said that this will save money, but once the knock-on costs to other services are taken into account the saving will fall to only £3.3 million.
The Minister talked about the manifesto; it contained a commitment to remove the “automatic” entitlement. Claimants already have to pass multiple checks and tests, so there really is nothing automatic about young people getting housing benefit. Will the Minister recognise that the Government have the opportunity in tomorrow’s Budget to reverse this counterproductive policy? Will she leave the House this afternoon and tell the Chancellor that if he does so, he will have the fullest support not just from Opposition Members but, I suspect, from Members across the House?
The right hon. Gentleman raised the issue of those across the country—he specifically mentioned Hampshire—who are already in receipt of housing benefit. They will have transitional protections and will not be affected. So when he asks how many in the county of Hampshire will have their housing benefit withdrawn, the answer is none, the same as for every county. He also raised the case of those who are serving in the armed forces, of taxpayers and of couples who have children. If he looked at the list of exemptions that was published on Friday, he would see that those are all included.
Does my hon. Friend agree that in the light of all the exemptions, we are actually talking not about the children, but about the responsibilities of the parents? Are we not seeing here a reassertion, rightly, of the responsibilities of parents for unemployed young people under the age of 21?
My right hon. Friend makes a really important point. This is about encouraging family responsibility. It is about enabling and helping young people who have the choice to remain at home to stay there. For those who cannot stay at home, a very significant exemption is written in; those for whom it is inappropriate to stay in the family home will be exempted from this policy.
Yesterday, SNP MPs joined others to try to annul this ludicrous legislation. The Government seem to be working on the incorrect assumption that young people can simply stay at home, when parents have no obligation to house their adult children. The SNP has consistently opposed the withdrawal of housing benefit for 18 to 21-year-olds, but under the current powers of the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Government cannot reverse the cut or provide an exemption for Scotland. Does the Minister agree that it is simply ridiculous that young people should suffer purely because the Government are obsessed with imposing austerity? Can she tell us how many young people will be affected who do not qualify for an exemption? Does she think that an unemployed young adult is more likely to get a job if they have a stable address, or if they are living in a hostel or sleeping on the streets? Will the UK Government exempt Scottish young people from the impact of the regulations and allow the Scottish Government to provide the housing support on their behalf?
The Scottish Government already have a wide range of powers that would enable them to alleviate the proposed changes. Our Government are committed to working with the Scottish Government on a whole range of issues in the DWP portfolio, to make sure that they have the power and the strength to implement those powers.
I think we should call this what it is: a nasty, vindictive policy that will make injustice worse, from a Government who said that they would tackle burning injustice. Will the Minister now answer the question that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) asked? No impact assessment has been published for the measure—inexplicably, in my view. Will she tell the House what advice she has received from her officials about the impact on homelessness of this proposal?