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House of Commons Hansard
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Commons Chamber
07 March 2017
Volume 622

House of Commons

Tuesday 7 March 2017

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

[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—

Reoffending Rates

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1. What recent assessment she has made of the potential (a) financial and (b) social benefits of reducing reoffending rates. [909086]

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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.

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Prison should be a place of transformation and renewed hope. What steps has the Secretary of State taken to ensure that prisons are places of reform and rehabilitation?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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What steps is the Secretary of State taking to reduce reoffending by domestic violence perpetrators in prisons and in communities?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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

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2. What progress her Department has made on reforming the youth justice system. [909087]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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Has the Minister had a chance to see this morning’s damning report on G4S’s performance at Oakhill training centre? Has he yet made a decision on whether he plans to allow G4S to flog off the centre to an American buyer?

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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.

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21. I congratulate the Secretary of State on the appointment of Charlie Taylor as the new chairman of the Youth Justice Board. I warmly welcome the new figures showing that fewer young people than ever are entering the youth justice system in the first place, but reoffending rates remain stubbornly high, especially for those young people sentenced to a period in custody. What more can the Minister do to improve those rates and stop our young people reoffending? [909107]

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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.

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Is overcrowding or understaffing the biggest problem in our youth justice system?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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It is not about ruling out whether private or public organisations should provide care in the youth justice system. I point out to the hon. Gentleman that the original contract for Oakhill was signed in 2005, and the terms of the contract were set then.

Insurance Premiums

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3. What assessment the Government have made of the effect of recent changes in the discount rate for compensation for accident victims on the level of insurance premiums. [909088]

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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.

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Another organisation affected, to the tune of £1 billion, is the NHS. What discussions has the Lord Chancellor had with the NHS Litigation Authority on this topic?

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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.

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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?

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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.

Whiplash Claims

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4. What progress has been made on ensuring that only legitimate whiplash claims are successful. [909089]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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22. Six thousand vulnerable road users—pedestrians and cyclists—responded to the Justice Department’s consultation on the reforms, expressing concerns that cyclists and pedestrians would be disproportionately affected by any increase in the small claims limit. Will the Minister discuss the proposals with officials and consider excluding vulnerable road user claims from the increase, as discussed yesterday by Cycling UK? [909109]

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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.

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Obviously, none of us wants fraudulent claims for damages, but have the Government made any assessment of the effect the changes proposed in the Prisons and Courts Bill will have on the numbers of litigants in person?

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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.

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It is very important that we keep insurance premium payments low. However, there is also a need for a framework that ensures there is adequate compensation for serious accidents. How can a balance be struck?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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

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5. What proportion of appeals against personal independence payment awards in Inverclyde were successful in (a) 2015 and (b) 2016. [909090]

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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%.

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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?

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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.

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Order. The question is about Inverclyde, from which New Forest West, North Swindon and Wrexham are a considerable distance away.

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rose—

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Well, all right—if the right hon. Gentleman can focus exclusively on Inverclyde.

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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.

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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

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6. What steps she is taking to ensure that prisoners receive appropriate treatment for mental health problems. [909091]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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18. What analysis has the Department done on people going into prison with mental health problems, as opposed to acquiring mental health problems in prison? [909103]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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Last year’s prison White Paper contained something on healthcare, giving governors input into the commissioning of services, so that if there is an issue with mental health provision the governor can say so.

Legal Advice

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7. What progress has been made on making access to affordable or pro bono legal advice more widely available. [909092]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the improper behaviour that occurs in some cases. It is right that the Solicitors Regulation Authority and disciplinary tribunals take a tough line on that. We have seen some recent examples of that.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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Justice questions would be a lot shorter if we did not have quite so many lawyers. They are very clever and eloquent, but they do take up a lot of the time.

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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

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8. What recent assessment she has made of the extent to which local media report on court proceedings. [909093]

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We are committed to upholding and strengthening the principle of open justice, in which local reporters play an important role.

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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?

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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

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Does the Minister support the BBC’s proposals to work with local newspapers and local websites such as the excellent Wrexham.com to improve the coverage of court proceedings and local coverage generally?

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In fact, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) was the initiator of that scheme, which we do support.

Prison Officers: Recruitment and Retention

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9. What steps she is taking to increase recruitment and retention of prison officers. [909094]

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15. What progress the Government have made on recruiting more prison staff. [909100]

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16. What steps she is taking to increase recruitment and retention of prison officers. [909101]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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Retaining and recruiting experienced staff is crucial to the success of any organisation. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to keep experienced prison officers, particularly in the north of England?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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The Government are closing down old, ineffective prisons and replacing them with modern prisons. In fact, they are building capacity for 10,000 new places on the basis of old for new. Will that not help to retain prison officers?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

Court System

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10. What progress the Government have made on modernising the court system. [909095]

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We are investing £1 billion to reform and take paper out of our courts, and the Prisons and Courts Bill underpins those reforms.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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

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11. Which organisations she consulted on the prison service pay award announced by her Department on 19 February 2017. [909096]

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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.

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Good management suggests that we lift up the lower paid in the Prison Service, which will help with recruitment and, more importantly, lift morale.

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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

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12. How many people are serving sentences of imprisonment for public protection which have lasted for more than twice the length of their original sentence. [909097]

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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.

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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?

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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.

Prison Work

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13. What steps the Government are taking to ensure that prisoners work and earn while they serve their sentences. [909098]

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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.

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We know that paid work transforms lives. Rather than provide purely menial work or training, will the Lord Chancellor require prisoners to pay their way via skilled employment, which can continue when their sentences end?

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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.

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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?

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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

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14. What steps she is taking to review the capability of (a) HM Prison Service and (b) contracted-out prisons to respond to incidents of concerted indiscipline. [909099]

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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.

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On how many occasions in the past year have private prisons required the support of the public Prison Service to deal with prison indiscipline?

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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

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17. What steps the Government are taking to make prisons safer and more secure. [909102]

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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.

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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?

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I would be surprised if the gentleman my hon. Friend mentions was informed of his release only two days in advance, but I would of course be happy to look into the situation in more detail.

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When the Minister replied to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Mr Shuker) about safety in prisons, he forgot to supply my hon. Friend with the number. What is the number?

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The answer is very straightforward: mutual assistance exists for prisons to support each other in both the private and public sectors.

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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?

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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

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19. What proportion of legal aid is allocated to cases of foreign nationals convicted in the UK who are appealing against deportation. [909104]

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It is not possible to isolate cases of that type using the data recorded by the Legal Aid Agency.

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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?

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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

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20. What her plans are for unused land on the prison estate on the Isle of Wight. [909105]

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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.

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That is most impressive. Will the Secretary of State meet me and Councillor Richard Hollis to discuss the possibility of a car park near Albany prison?

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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.

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Finally, I call Owen Thompson. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West (Rob Marris) keeps chuntering “Bingo” from a sedentary position. The hon. Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson) must be accommodated.

Leaving the UK: Human Rights

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23. What her policy is on the protection of human rights after the UK leaves the EU. [909110]

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Human rights have been protected in the UK since long before our membership of the EU, and leaving the EU will not change that.

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What assurances can the Minister give that any future trade deal that is agreed by the UK Government and the EU during negotiations will contain a commitment to human rights?

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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.

Topical Questions

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T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities. [909111]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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T2. The Secretary of State for Scotland indicated that sweeping powers would be devolved to Edinburgh following Brexit. However, when asked for clarification, he promised criminal justice powers, which are already devolved. Will the Justice Secretary confirm what that will entail, or is double devolution just a cover for a post-Brexit power grab? [909112]

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As the hon. Gentleman knows, those issues are being discussed by my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Scotland. It is important that we get a deal that is good for the entire United Kingdom.

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T4. Mobile phones in prisons allow criminals to deal drugs, intimidate their victims and continue criminality from within their prison cell. Will my hon. Friend say how the powers in the Prisons and Courts Bill will help to address the scourge of mobile phones in prisons once and for all? [909114]

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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.

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T3. Obviously, we do not want to follow the United States in politicising the judiciary. However, to ensure some degree of public accountability when appointing Supreme Court judges, might the Minister consider allowing the Chair of the Justice Committee to sit on the relevant appointment panel? [909113]

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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.

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The hon. Gentleman looks cruelly let down, but we will have to cope.

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T5. Some of my constituents who work in Winchester prison have highlighted directly with me the challenges that they have at work, locally and nationally. As the Lord Chancellor is keenly aware, there are rising challenges around extremism in prisons. Will she update the House on the progress of the new directorate for security, order and counter-terrorism? [909115]

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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.

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T6. The Government sensibly introduced section 67 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 to allow the police to arrest paedophiles for sending sexual communications to children, rather than waiting until they actually meet. However, the power cannot be used until the commencement order is passed. It is two years since the Act became law. Will the Secretary of State say how much longer the police will have to wait until they can keep our children safe? [909116]

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I am looking at this to get on with it imminently.

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T8. I have been raising the issue of false and exaggerated whiplash claims ever since I was elected. Can the Lord Chancellor ensure that her plans for change in this area will be successful and result in real benefits, such as much lower premiums for law-abiding drivers? [909118]

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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.

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T7. Police and voluntary services are being overwhelmed on the streets of Wrexham by incidents of the use of psychoactive substances. Will the Lord Chancellor please ask Her Majesty’s prison Berwyn to share its specialist knowledge of the subject with agencies in Wrexham? [909117]

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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.

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T9. Does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State share my concern at the content of the answer to my earlier question? Will she get a grip on this important issue, and will she follow the lead of my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) in saying that prisoners such as the one I mentioned earlier should be released immediately? [909119]

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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.

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T10. Rather than curtailing access to justice for those with legitimate personal injury compensation claims, why are Ministers not cracking down on the cowboy aggressive marketing of claims management companies? [909120]

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It is important to do both, and we have a package of measures that achieves that, so I do not think the hon. Lady need concern herself that we are not taking this forward.

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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?

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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.

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Given the 30% cut in prison officer numbers since 2010, and given the poor retention rates among new recruits, at what point will the number of officers reach the appropriate level?

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As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in answer to an earlier question, we are investing £100 million to add 2,500 prison officers, and we have more officers in training than we have ever had before.

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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?

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My hon. Friend makes an important point about the way in which the process should work, and it has been the aim of the reforms to achieve that, but I am happy to discuss the issue further with him.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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Given the disturbing revelations this morning relating to Facebook and the use of sexualised images of children online, are we doing enough to protect our children, online and offline?

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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.

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Order. If the right hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) can be as brief as she is illustrious, the House will be blessed.

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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?

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I can reassure the right hon. Lady that she is wrong and we are not doing that. In fact, I will be giving a speech this afternoon on the 10th anniversary of the Corston report, and she is very welcome to come along.

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Put a copy in the Library of the House and we will all be blessed.

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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?

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I thank the Chairman of the Select Committee for that question. We will take every action necessary to make sure that we deal with the scourge of drugs in our prisons.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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Extreme brevity, please.

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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?

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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.

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Let us hear from Members who have not so far been heard.

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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?

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I assure the hon. Lady, as I assured the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins), that this is imminent.

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With cuts to local government funding and other sources, access to advice on civil matters is being squeezed harder than ever. There are cuts of 50% in York. What is the Justice Secretary doing about this?

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As I explained earlier, we are re-engineering the system, so that it is much easier to access for members of the public, and we are also reviewing legal aid.

Housing Benefits (18 to 21-year-olds)

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(Urgent Question): To ask the Minister if she will make a statement on the impact on homelessness of the Government’s plans to remove automatic entitlement to housing benefit for 18 to 21-year-olds.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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What are the Government doing to ensure that this policy supports young people who are in work?

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My hon. Friend is right to mention young people who are in work. Anybody who is working 16 hours a week or more at the national minimum wage equivalent will be exempt.

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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?

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The Department has, of course, met all its requirements under the public sector equality duty. Equality assessment information has been received and shared with the Social Security Advisory Committee, which chose not to consult on this.

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Young people in their first jobs cannot afford their own accommodation, so they share with other young people or they stay at home. Why should it be different for people who are out of work?

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My right hon. Friend makes exactly the point that underpins this policy. We want young people in work and young people out of work to be making the same choices about where they are going to live.

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I think that anyone listening to this urgent question would, frankly, be appalled by the responses that we have had thus far from the Minister. She has not answered any of the questions that were rightly asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey). Will she tell us why the equality impact assessment has not been published and when she will bring it forward, so that we can all see exactly the rationale behind this ridiculous policy?

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I think I have answered that. The Department has engaged extensively at ministerial and official level with stakeholders. We announced this measure in the summer Budget. There is no duty on us to share the impact assessment with the House, but we did share it with the Social Security Advisory Committee.

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Will the Minister confirm that care leavers will not be affected by these changes?

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My hon. Friend makes a really important point about care leavers. Absolutely, they are exempt from this policy.

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One of the exemptions in the regulations where housing benefit can still be paid is if

“in the opinion of the Secretary of State it is inappropriate for the renter to live with each of their parents”.

Does the Secretary of State assume that this exemption will automatically apply where the parents refuse to have their child living with them?

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Absolutely. That is a point. A very important exemption is included, so where that is inappropriate—where a parent cannot or will not accommodate their child—such people will be exempt from the policy.

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The key point is that nipping the dependency culture in the bud at the earliest opportunity is very important, because once it takes hold it can be very damaging to the interests of those concerned. I must say one thing, however: young people may well think this is fair, but when we do this and protect every single penny going to pensioners, including the winter fuel allowance for millionaires in mortgage-free mansions just because they are over 65, they can be forgiven for thinking that we are not playing fairly by everybody. That would be my observation.

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We are trying to play fairly by young people who are in work but have to make the decision that they simply cannot afford to leave the family home and stay living with their parents.

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Will the Minister explain the rationale for denying young adults access to housing and support, while providing it for older adults? On the face of it, and from the Minister’s comments so far, it appears to be nothing other than the demonisation of young people.

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This is not about the demonisation of young people; it is about encouraging young people to make sensible and rational choices about where they are going to live, whether or not they are in work.

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As a parent of two children between 18 and 21, I would be appalled if I felt that they had left home to live a life on housing benefits while they still have a bed in my house. Will the Minister confirm that support will be made available for those who are vulnerable or have complex needs?

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I thank my hon. Friend for that, and absolutely yes. Those who cannot live with their parents and those in receipt of the main disability benefits will be exempt from this policy.

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Further to the question from the Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), will the Minister confirm what I believe she said earlier, which is that the only thing necessary for a young person to demonstrate before being entitled to the housing element of universal credit is that their parent has said that they cannot live at home?

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Yes, and I think I have made that very clear. If it is inappropriate for a young person to live at home with their parents, they will be exempt from this policy.

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The YMCA tells me that, from April, it may not be able to house young people with the most complex needs, those with addictions and mental health conditions, those who may not be able to learn or earn, and those who cannot or will not stay at home or, indeed, access temporary accommodation. In relation to supported housing for vulnerable people, which is at stake, will the Minister clarify the scope of the exemption in regulation 4B(e), and defer the application of the impact on those at most risk of homelessness until we know the outcome of the supported housing review?

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The YMCA has been involved in the consultation process. As I believe I said at an event downstairs last night, it is always a trusted adviser that provides excellent advice and information. Absolutely: those with complex needs and mental health conditions will be exempt from this policy.

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Will the Minister tell me whether she has made any assessment of the impact of these changes on excellent small charities, such as Doorstep in my constituency, that help young people who find themselves unable to continue to live at home?

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I have received a great deal of information from and had roundtables with a number of providers and charities, including some of the smaller ones. We have been very clear: those for whom it is inappropriate to live at home will be exempt from this policy.

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The principal reason why young people become homeless is a relationship breakdown with their family. Will my hon. Friend assure the House that decisions will be taken by the Secretary of State, not by local decision makers who may discriminate against young people when they cannot live with their family?

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I commend my hon. Friend for his excellent work on the Homelessness Reduction Bill. Absolutely: it is a question of young people informing a work coach, somebody in the local authority or a trusted medical professional of their inability to live at home because their relationship with their parent has broken down, and in those cases they will receive the exemption.

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Given that the Minister has conceded that there is an impact assessment—she said that she has not published it because she does not need to—and in view of the concern that exists, would she care to think again and publish the impact assessment?

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We looked very carefully, under the public sector equality duty, at the impact this policy would have and we have shared that information with the Social Security Advisory Committee. I am under no obligation to publish it.

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Will the Minister explain how the policy will apply to young people on apprenticeships, who may be earning below the national living wage?

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My hon. Friend makes a really important point in apprenticeship week. Absolutely: apprentices will be exempt from this policy.

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Last Thursday, as part of the work I am doing on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) on homelessness in Greater Manchester, I went around the streets of the city centre of Manchester and was shocked to see the risk that young people face from the dealing of psychoactive substances and the threat that they face from violence. Does the hon. Lady not understand that this will force significantly more young people in our country into rough sleeping and make them increasingly vulnerable? Is this not the personification of the return of the nasty party?

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The hon. Gentleman makes the assumption that this will increase homelessness. In fact, we expect there to be behavioural change and that young people will, where they can, stay living with their parents. Where they cannot stay living with their parents, they will be exempt from this policy.

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At a time when the public is increasingly fed up with politicians who do not do what they say they will do at election time, may I congratulate my hon. Friend on the audacity of sticking to a Conservative manifesto commitment? Will she confirm that youth unemployment actually continues to fall and that, week by week, more and more young people have the security and dignity of taking a wage back home?

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My hon. Friend is right to point out that there are 197,000 more young people in work than there were in 2010. He is right: this policy was a manifesto commitment and it was in the summer Budget of 2015, and we are delivering on that commitment.

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The vast majority of my young constituents who need to access housing benefit are doing so in the private rented sector, which means that they already face crippling costs and great insecurity. Why can the Minister not see that, across the board for young people, this policy simply makes precarious situations more precarious, stigmatises young people and is nothing short of a kick in the teeth? Why are the Government ignoring the overwhelming evidence from those who work with young people showing that this policy will make homelessness worse, and why will she not drop it?

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As the hon. Lady will have heard, we have put in place a long list of exemptions to protect those who are most vulnerable and to enable those who need the support to continue to receive it. She makes the really important point that we are there to support the most vulnerable and also to ensure that there is an even playing field between those in work and those who are not. One of the most straightforward ways in which to be exempt from this policy is to be working for 16 hours or more a week.

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Like the Minister, I am a great supporter of the YMCA. Will she confirm what impact the measures will have on all these young people, who benefit in so many amazing ways from organisations such as the YMCA?

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The YMCA is among the best and leading training providers in the country, and it is also a significant housing provider. We are determined to work with such stakeholders to make sure that young people who are exempt from the policy receive that exemption and are still supported to make sure they are in training, so that they can move into the work they need.

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My constituency has full service before most other constituencies. The Highland Council’s temporary homeless accommodation framework is £175 a week. Before universal credit, my constituent Gavin was awarded £168 a week, leaving £7 extra to find from other entitlements. Now, it is £60, meaning £115 extra, which is much more than he gets, even before he pays for his food, light, heat or anything else. How is that fair?

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The hon. Gentleman did not say how old his constituent is. It is really important that we are focusing support on those who need it most. When it comes to young people, we are obliging them to make the same sort of choices that his constituents who are in work for 16 hours or more a week are making.

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Will the Minister confirm that the Government are doing everything possible to prepare young people for the world of work, so that fewer young people are at risk of falling into a life on benefits?

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The Government are bringing forward the youth obligation in April, which is about making sure that young people who are not in work are undertaking the appropriate training or apprenticeship they need to put them in the best position to move into work.

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May I return to the definition of “inappropriate to return”? Would that include a case that I have heard about: a young man who was kicked out by his stepfather for being gay, but was told he could return home if he denied his sexuality?

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Yes. We have been very clear about that. If a young person would find it impossible and inappropriate to return home, they would receive the exemption. The situation outlined by the hon. Lady is absolutely one that we have considered.

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Drilling down into the exemptions, who will make the decisions about cases such as the one raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue)? Similar exemptions exist for victims of domestic violence to access legal aid—they need a letter from a doctor or from a specialist agency—but 37% of women still report that they are not able to access legal aid. How does the Minister propose that the policy will work, how much will it cost and how much will it save?

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The anticipation is that the policy will save in the region of £105 million over the period of this Parliament. We are absolutely committed to ensuring that victims of domestic violence are exempt from the policy. We recognise the impact on young women who have been victims of domestic violence and the importance of supporting them.

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The young people the Minister describes bear no resemblance to the young people I used to work with at the youth homelessness charity Centrepoint, many of whom had experienced horrendous physical, mental and emotional abuse, which meant that they understandably no longer had a relationship with their families. How does she expect those young people to prove that they cannot return home? They cannot simply pick up the phone to their parents, and they should not be forced to recount to a stranger again and again the stories of what had happened to them. What will the Minister do to make sure that young people are not subjected to reliving the horrendous abuse that they have already suffered?

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Those who have reported abuse to a stakeholder or a trusted professional will be exempt from the policy. It is our intention to ensure that we establish a long list of stakeholders who can take on that reporting. It should, of course, be the case that they should only have to report it once.

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Yet again, for ideological reasons the Tories have identified a problem that does not really exist. Less than 1% of 18 to 21-year-olds claim jobseeker’s allowance and housing benefit at the same time. We have heard that the policy will only save £105 million if it actually works as planned. Will the Minister tell me one non-Government stakeholder that agrees that it will help young people into long-term, stable work?

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We put the policy in our manifesto for the 2015 election and included it in the summer Budget 2015. We have been really clear that it is about providing fairness for those who are in work as well as those who are out of work, and ensuring that young people have the same decisions to make about the affordability of their housing.

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There has been a war on young people by this Government for seven years, and this is the most shameful policy they have brought forward affecting the most vulnerable. Not to produce an impact statement is an absolutely disgrace. The Minister talks about getting people back into work, so let us talk about what the Government have done for young people’s wages. An apprentice wage is £3.50 an hour. How on earth can that person get to work if they are denied the assistance they need for housing and they cannot work near their home?

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As I said earlier in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills), apprentices will be exempt.

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I have come across many reasons that 18 to 21-year-olds have left home, but I have never seen claiming housing benefit as an incentive. Given the long list of exemptions, would it not just be easier for the Minister to scrap the policy altogether?

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The Government included this as a manifesto commitment, and we are determined to deliver it.

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The Minister talks about an even playing field. If she is so confident that the policy is fair, why will she not publish the impact assessment? What does she have to hide?

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There is absolutely nothing to hide. I have considered my public sector equality duty carefully. As I said, the assessment was shared with the Social Security Advisory Committee, which chose not to consult on this.

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I would like to help the Minister. She is almost there. She said that this policy will save £105 million. We can work out how many people will be affected when we leave the Chamber, but will she confirm whether it is in the region of 10,000? Is the figure higher or lower than that?

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The policy is expected to affect 5,000 young people in the first year, and 10,000 a year in steady state.

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Given that the number of people rough sleeping has more than doubled since 2010, does the Minister think that the policy, which singles out young adults, will make that shameful statistic better or worse?

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As I have said repeatedly, we have put in place a long list of exemptions precisely to prevent homelessness. Those who are unable to return to the family home will be exempt from the policy, so we do not expect it to increase homelessness.

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The lack of a published impact assessment is simply scandalous. Will the Minister tell us the measured impact on a vulnerable young person who has had to leave home because of difficulties or abuse, and who is now being asked to prove that abuse just so they can get the housing support they need to live away from their family?

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A vulnerable young person who has had to leave home because of abuse will, of course, be exempt.

Queen’s Sapphire Jubilee

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

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I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for a national public holiday marking the Queen’s Sapphire Jubilee in 2017 and to establish a framework to ensure that the United Kingdom, its overseas territories and Crown dependencies appropriately commemorate this occasion; and for connected purposes.

The 65th anniversary of Her Majesty the Queen’s accession to the throne was marked on 6 February this year. This is a truly remarkable milestone for the longest-serving monarch in the history of our proud nation and peoples. Her Majesty the Queen’s sapphire jubilee must surely be a cause for great celebration across the British Isles, in all corners of the kingdom and, indeed, throughout Her Majesty’s overseas territories and Crown dependencies, her other realms and across the Commonwealth of nations.

During Her Majesty’s reign, there have been three royal jubilees: the silver jubilee of 1977, the golden jubilee of 2002 and the diamond jubilee of 2012. In each case, the British people paid tribute to Her Majesty for her service to the nation with spectacular events in counties, cities, towns and villages throughout these islands. There were parades, street parties, church services, fêtes, cultural events and school assemblies, and beacons were lit up and down the land.

National celebrations took place, usually in June, with services of thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral, combined with military parades through the streets of London and, for the diamond jubilee, a flotilla along the River Thames. Her Majesty, the Duke of Edinburgh and other members of the royal family have appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace while the spectacle of a fly-past by the Royal Air Force and the Red Arrows took place. Indeed, in the case of the golden jubilee, Concorde flew overhead. Millions of people filled the streets of London, gathering on the Mall to cheer the Queen, celebrating with flags, singing and dancing. On each occasion, the nation’s spirits were lifted. Come rain or shine, the people rose to the occasion the length and breadth of the nation.

The silver, golden and diamond jubilees brought the entire country together in nationwide displays of affection for the Queen, and the sapphire jubilee must surely do so again this year, reminding us of our rich heritage and cultural identity as part of a Great British family, sharing a union of the Crowns unbroken since 1603. Whether we consider ourselves to be English, Scottish, Ulstermen, Irish, Welsh, Manx, Jerseymen, Guernseymen, Gibraltarian, Falkland Islanders, Bermudian, Montserratian, Caymanian or, indeed, whichever identity within the British family we happen to call our own, the celebration of the Queen’s sapphire jubilee must be a cause that brings each and every one of us together in honour of Queen and country.

We only need to look around the world today to see politicians as Presidents, Prime Ministers and leaders of nations who come and go, but how fortunate we are here in the United Kingdom to have such a dedicated, neutral head of state as a constitutional monarch who defends our laws, upholds our democracy and is the guardian of our constitution, providing the foundations for stable and accountable government.

Just as previous jubilees have been celebrated far and wide, it must surely be right that the sapphire jubilee is, too. In fact, Her Majesty’s sapphire jubilee should be the greatest of all, as no other monarch has reached 65 years on the throne, and it is inconceivable that any other future king or queen will accomplish such an achievement for centuries to come. We must not allow this year to pass by without a celebration befitting the occasion, saluting Her Majesty for all she has done for our nation and the wider Commonwealth, but also to prove to ourselves once again that what unites our country and people is much greater than what divides us.

Her Majesty the Queen is undoubtedly the most unifying figure of our nation; indeed, she is the fundamental component of our common British identity. As a people, we share common beliefs, principles and obligations, so let us cherish our common heritage, and in so doing ensure our common destiny.

It is my fervent belief that the Queen exemplifies all that is great and good about our nation and represents the continuity that our forebears did so much to hand to us, most especially the freedom of our island home that we cherish so much today. As our queen and sovereign, Her Majesty brings steadfastness and stability to our constitution, our parliamentary democracy and throughout our society. The importance of this steadfastness cannot be understated. Her Majesty is the single greatest flagbearer of stability and continuity.

The Queen’s sapphire jubilee must be a time for everyone to celebrate this great milestone in the history of our island people, whether they be from England, Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales, the Crown dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark or the Isle of Man, the sixteen overseas territories or in the communities of people of British ancestry scattered across the globe.

The United Kingdom, in taking the lead, will also encourage Her Majesty’s other realms to celebrate the sapphire jubilee—after all the Queen is also Queen of Antigua and Barbuda; Australia; the Bahamas; Barbados; Belize; Canada; Grenada; Jamaica; New Zealand; Papua New Guinea; Saint Kitts and Nevis; Saint Lucia; Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; the Solomon Islands; and Tuvalu. Our friends in these nations must also have the chance to celebrate, as the sapphire jubilee is as much their celebration as it is one for the British Isles.

My Bill will ensure that all the people of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the British overseas territories and Crown dependencies will be able to mark the occasion of the Queen’s sapphire jubilee with a celebration that such a significant landmark deserves. It will give councils the authority to make plans now for local celebrations, providing for street parties, carnivals and special events to take place without the tiresome bureaucracy that can so often get in the way.

One weekend in June could be designated “sapphire jubilee weekend” with an additional bank holiday immediately afterwards, which could be a national day for a thanksgiving service. The “weekend of trooping the colour” might also be an option for the official sapphire jubilee celebrations. As this is first ever sapphire jubilee of a reigning British monarch, we cannot allow this great occasion to go uncelebrated. On the contrary, Her Majesty’s 65th anniversary as our sovereign and Head of State must be an opportunity to unite all British people, together with those of other nationalities who have made Britain their home and who might also wish to celebrate with pride and patriotism.

In presenting the Bill today, my hope is that it will draw attention to this highly significant event. Time may be short to arrange celebrations for June, but I believe the spirit of our nation will inspire the people to make Her Majesty the Queen’s sapphire jubilee a spectacular occasion that will be remembered for generations to come, as we demonstrate our heartfelt thanks to Her Majesty for what she has done for our country and for what continues to be a truly glorious reign. I commend the Bill to the House.

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Although I have no objection whatever to the people of the United Kingdom, and those more widely, celebrating the Queen’s sapphire jubilee, I feel that, as with most proposals, the devil is in the detail. That is why I am forced to speak against this Bill.

I would like to press for greater detail so that we may learn from the problems created for UK workers from the most recent extra public holidays, which were held on 29 April 2011 to celebrate the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, and on 5 June 2012 to celebrate the Queen’s diamond jubilee. On both those occasions, I was working for the NHS and I was also an elected workplace trade union rep for Unite the union. As I am sure all Members will appreciate, not everyone in the NHS was able to enjoy those public holidays. Essential public services still have to be provided and many staff were required to remain in work on those days, to provide emergency and urgent care.

Problems arose with how these staff were to be remunerated, because NHS terms and conditions under “Agenda for Change” specify that staff are entitled to eight bank holidays per year, and those extra holidays counted as the ninth bank holiday. My NHS trust refused to pay staff who were working on those days at the bank holiday rate and instead paid them at the normal daily rate. I was trying to negotiate a better rate of pay for these staff, my union members, but I came up against a blanket refusal from management to recognise those days as bank or public holidays that would therefore qualify for the higher rate of pay. Before the diamond jubilee holiday, I even wrote to the then Prime Minister, David Cameron. His reply, unfortunately, was unhelpful, merely re-stating the NHS management view. We were left with a situation in which hard-working, dedicated NHS staff who gave up their days off to provide a vital service were not adequately remunerated—and I do not want to see that happen again under this Bill.

Unite revealed that 113 NHS employers in the UK treated the diamond jubilee as a normal working day, denying staff the normal bank holiday pay and time-off- in-lieu arrangements. Unite had even written to the Queen on behalf of its 100,000 members in the health service on this issue—alas, to no avail.

Additionally, in April 2011, prior to the royal wedding, the Daily Mail reported that, according to a poll by the Chartered Institute of Payroll Professionals, more than a tenth of employers said that they would not be giving their workers a paid day off. Employment law experts said that workers were the victims of a lottery that depended entirely on the wording in their contract. For example, if a contract states that the employee is entitled to 28 days’ holiday, including all bank and public holidays, the worker would be entitled to paid time off. However, if the contract stated that the worker was entitled to 28 days’ holiday including eight bank and public holidays, that would not confer the right to be off, because the royal wedding constituted a ninth bank holiday.

On that day in 2011, all 163 Debenhams stores were open, but the staff did not receive extra pay. Conversely, and showing better practice, Tesco stores said that staff who worked the public holiday would be paid at up to three times their normal rate. Following the royal wedding holiday where some employers failed to give their staff the day off, the TUC wrote to the Government to add a provision to holiday entitlement to take account of any special bank or public holidays, but sadly no such provision was made.

With that in mind, one way to avoid the situation arising every time an extra public holiday is announced would be to increase the number of bank holidays from eight to nine per year, with the extra bank holiday to be used to celebrate a significant occasion that year—the occasion to be determined by Parliament.

As I stated when I rose to speak, it is right that we should celebrate the Queen’s record of an amazing 65 years’ long service, but I ask for more clarity to enable employers and employees to reach a better understanding of the practicalities of arranging an extra public holiday, most importantly the rates of remuneration for the emergency workers who give up their time, so that others may enjoy the day off and the celebrations.

I will conclude by asking three questions. Will the Bill specify how the holiday should be characterised and the rates of pay for those who have to work on the day? How will the Bill ensure that all employers participate and give staff the day off without resorting to the use of loopholes? Will the Government now take heed of the TUC recommendation that provision should be made for workers’ holiday entitlement to take account of additional public holidays?

Question put (Standing Order No. 23) and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Andrew Rosindell, Sir Julian Brazier, Mr Douglas Carswell, Tom Elliott, Michael Gove, Kate Hoey, Daniel Kawczynski, Norman Lamb, Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil, Albert Owen, Gavin Robinson and Michael Tomlinson present the Bill.

Andrew Rosindell accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 March 2017, and to be printed (Bill 151).

Points of Order

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

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Ah, the day would not be complete without points of order.

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I would like to raise my concern that Ministers of both the Department of Health and the Ministry of Justice appear to be evading my very serious named day questions. As colleagues well know, it is intended that named day questions receive an answer within three sitting days, yet I can recite countless recent examples where that timeframe has not been observed—and often completely disregarded.

I am particularly troubled by an answer I received from the Secretary of State for Health to one question. Last year, I submitted a question to ask how often the transfer time for prisoners experiencing an acute mental health crisis exceeded the two-week guidance period. I found that in 2015-16 three out of four cases took longer than two weeks. When I submitted an identical question last month, to get hold of the most recent figures for 2016-17 to date, I was told that the data are not held in the requested format. When I tabled a subsequent question to inquire whether the data collection had changed, I was told that it had not.

I have started to receive a number of answers from the two Departments stating that the data are not held in the requested format. How can the Department of Health possibly defend avoiding answering these questions and withholding vital information it clearly has access to?

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I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. My response is as follows. First, as has been said on innumerable occasions, there is a responsibility on Ministers to provide answers to parliamentary questions that are both timely and substantive. I cannot comment on the question whether the material the hon. Lady sought is held in the form she had in mind, but the central point is that Ministers are supposed to attend to both the letter and the spirit of the inquiry from an hon. Member and to seek to accommodate that Member by providing, as I have said, a timely and substantive response.

Secondly, over a period of years, as Members on both sides of the House will be keenly conscious, it has become commonplace for the record of individual Government Departments on these matters to be published. It seems to me to show very considerable discredit on the part of a Government Department persistently to fail, in a timely and substantive way, to respond to hon. Members’ questions. The hon. Lady’s point of order will have been heard on the Treasury Bench.

The Leader of the House has traditionally seen it as part of his or her duty to persuade Ministers to up their game in these matters. My clear understanding is that the Leader of the House of Commons, the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington) recognises his responsibility in these matters. I hope it will not be necessary for this matter to be raised continually on the Floor of the House. An improvement is required.

My final observation is that if this problem persists I urge the hon. Lady to write to the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), the Chair of the Procedure Committee, who, on behalf of the House, will, I think, be only too happy to chase progress in this matter.

If I may, perhaps on behalf of the House, I would like to offer good wishes to the hon. Lady for her own health and progress in the next few days. We all wish her well and we look forward to seeing her return to her place in due course.

Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will be aware that, for the past two years, Members of this House have been in correspondence with the trustees of the parliamentary pension fund, raising concerns about its investment approach, especially on the long-term financial risks associated with fossil fuel assets, as well as on the fund becoming more transparent and open with Members and former Members of this House. In its 2016 annual report, published just last week, we learned that the fund invested in tobacco, fossil fuels and large-scale tax avoidance, raising a reputational risk for Parliament.

Mr Speaker, can you clarify what MPs might do, using proper procedure, to take this matter forward with the trustees who have so far refused to meet Members? Might you also help to allay the concerns of many Members, perhaps through the Speaker’s Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, that the pension fund is leaving this House open to reputational damage and legal challenge?

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I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for notice of what I hope she will forgive me as describing as her attempted point of order. Unfortunately, the fact of that notice, which is extremely courteous of her, does not of itself convert the attempt into an actual point of order. However, I do not in any sense mean to be dismissive. This is a very important matter, even if it is not principally a matter for the Chair. The Chair has, frankly, no responsibility for the parliamentary contributory pension fund, let alone the investment policies its trustees pursue. That said, I acknowledge that the hon. Lady and all colleagues, as well as retired Members, have a legitimate interest in this subject. They are, as she indicates, properly pursued with the trustees. I am sure the ever-alert secretariat of the fund will be reading our proceedings—they certainly should be.

My concluding observation for the hon. Lady is that, although there is no ministerial responsibility for this matter, she might wish to bear in mind the interest of the Leader of the House in the subject. I was somewhat perturbed to hear the hon. Lady say that her pursuit of meetings has so far been unsuccessful. I have come to know the hon. Lady over the past seven years and she is, in the very best sense of the term, an extremely persistent Member. People who think that if they forever and a day refuse to meet the hon. Lady she will go away and drop her point of concern are probably guilty of a triumph of optimism over reality.

Children and Social Work Bill [Lords] (Programme) (No. 2)

Ordered,

That the Order of 5 December 2016 (Children and Social Work Bill [Lords] (Programme)) be varied as follows:

(1) Paragraphs 4 and 5 of the order shall be omitted.

(2) Proceedings on Consideration shall be taken as shown in the following Table and in the order so shown.

(3) Each part of the proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on the day on which those proceedings are commenced, at the time specified in relation to it in the second column of the Table.

Table

Proceedings

Time for conclusion of proceeding

New Clauses and new Schedules relating to the welfare of children, except any relating to the subject-matter of Chapter 3 of Part 1; amendments to Part 1, except any relating to Chapter 3 of that Part.

One and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.

New Clauses and new Schedules relating to the subject-matter of Chapter 3 of Part 1; amendments to Chapter 3 of Part 1; remaining proceedings on Consideration.

Three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.

(4) Proceedings in legislative grand committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.

(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion four hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.—(Edward Timpson.)

Children and Social Work Bill [Lords]

Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee

New Clause 15

Education relating to relationships and sex

“(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations make provision requiring—

(a) relationships education to be provided to pupils of compulsory school age receiving primary education at schools in England;

(2) The regulations must include provision—

(a) requiring the Secretary of State to give guidance to proprietors of schools in relation to the provision of the education and to review the guidance from time to time;

(b) requiring proprietors of schools to have regard to the guidance;

(c) requiring proprietors of schools to make statements of policy in relation to the education to be provided, and to make the statements available to parents or other persons;

(3) The regulations must provide that guidance given by virtue of subsection (2)(a) is to be given with a view to ensuring that when relationships education or relationships and sex education is given—

(a) the pupils learn about—

(i) safety in forming and maintaining relationships,

(ii) the characteristics of healthy relationships, and

(iii) how relationships may affect physical and mental health and well-being, and

(b) the education is appropriate having regard to the age and the religious background of the pupils.

(4) The regulations may make further provision in connection with the provision of relationships education, or relationships and sex education.

(5) Before making the regulations, the Secretary of State must consult such persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.

(6) The regulations may amend any provision (including provision conferring powers) that is made by or under—

(a) section 342 of the Education Act 1996;

(b) Chapter4 of Part 5 of the Education Act 1996;

(c) Schedule 1 to the Education Act 1996;

(d) Part 6 of the Education Act 2002;

(e) Chapter 1 of Part 4 of the Education and Skills Act 2008;

(f) the Academies Act 2010.

(7) Any duty to make provision by regulations under subsection (1) may be discharged by making that provision by regulations under another Act, so long as the Secretary of State consults such persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate before making the regulations under that Act.

(8) The provision that may be made by regulations under subsection (1) by virtue of section 70 includes, in particular, provision amending, repealing or revoking any provision made by or under any Act or any other instrument or document (whenever passed or made).

(9) Regulations under subsection (1) which amend provision made by or under an Act are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.

(10) Other regulations under subsection (1) are subject to the negative resolution procedure.

(11) Expressions used in this section, where listed in the left-hand column of the table in section 580 of the Education Act 1996, are to be interpreted in accordance with the provisions of that Act listed in the right-hand column in relation to those expressions.”—(Edward Timpson.)

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to make regulations requiring relationships education to be taught in primary schools in England and requiring relationships and sex education to be taught in secondary schools in England. The duties would apply in relation to Academy schools and independent schools as well as maintained schools.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment (b) to new clause 15, in subsection (2), leave out “from time to time” and insert

“at least once in every three year period”.

Amendment (a) to new clause 15, in subsection (2), leave out paragraph (d) and insert—

“(d) to allow a parent of any pupil receiving relationships education or relationships and sex education to request that the pupil be wholly or partly excused from receiving that education and for the pupil to be so excused.”

Amendment (c) to new clause 15, in subsection (2), at end insert—

“(e) about arrangements for inspecting the quality of teaching of relationships and sex education at schools in England.”

Amendment (d) to new clause 15, in subsection (4), at end insert—

“(4A) The Secretary of State must review the regulations at least three years after they come into force and once in every three year period thereafter.”

Amendment (e), to new clause 15 in subsection (4), at end insert—

“(4A) The Secretary of State must review the regulations from time to time.”

Government new clause 16—Other personal, social, health and economic education.

New clause 1—Safeguarding: provision of personal, social and health education

“(1) For the purpose of safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children a local authority in England must ensure that pupils educated in their area receive appropriate personal, social and health education.

(2) For the purposes of subsection (1) “personal, social and health education” must include but shall not be restricted to—

(a) sex and relationships education,

(b) same-sex relationships,

(c) sexual consent,

(d) sexual violence,

(e) online and offline personal safety, and

(f) domestic violence and forms of abuse.

(3) Targeted inspections carried out by the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) under section 136 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 shall include an assessment of the provision of personal, social and health education under subsection (1), including whether the information provided to pupils is—

(a) accurate and balanced,

(b) age-appropriate,

(c) inclusive,

(d) factual, and

(e) religiously diverse.

(4) Assessments made under subsection (3) must include an evaluation of any arrangements for pupils of sufficient maturity to request to be wholly or partly excused from participating in personal, social and health education.

(5) For the purpose of subsection (4) “sufficient maturity” shall be defined in guidance by the Secretary of State.

(6) Withdrawal from personal, social and health education by pupils under subsection (4) shall not be considered a breach of the safeguarding duties of a local authority.

(7) This section comes into force at the end of the period of twelve months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.”

New clause 3—Sibling contact for looked after children

“(1) In section 34(1) of the Children Act 1989, after paragraph (d) insert—

“(e) his siblings (whether of the whole or half blood).”

(2) In paragraph 15(1) of Schedule 2 to the Children Act 1989, after paragraph (c) insert—

“(d) his siblings (whether of the whole or half blood).””

This new clause would ensure that children in care are allowed reasonable contact with their siblings.

New clause 4—Placing children in secure accommodation elsewhere in Great Britain

“(1) Schedule (Placing children in secure accommodation elsewhere in Great Britain) ends at the end of the period of two years beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.”

This new clause would revoke provisions in the Bill that enable local authorities in England and Wales to place children in secure accommodation in Scotland, and vice versa, two years after the Act comes into force.

New clause 7—Post-removal counselling for parents and legal guardians who are themselves looked after children or care leavers

“Where a child is permanently removed from the care of a birth parent or a guardian further to any order made pursuant to—

(a) section 31 of the Children Act 1989 (care and supervision orders),

(b) section 22 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 (placement orders),

(c) section 46 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 (adoption orders), or

(d) section 14A of the Children Act 1989 (special guardianship order)

a local authority must, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide a counselling service and commission specialist therapeutic support for the parent or guardian where—

(i) the parent or guardian is a looked after child, or

(ii) the parent or guardian is a care leaver.”

This new clause would provide post-removal support for parents who are themselves a looked after child or care leaver.

New clause 8—Former relevant children: provision of sufficient suitable accommodation

“In the Children Act 1989, after section 23C insert—

“23CA Duty on local authorities to secure sufficient accommodation for former relevant children

(1) It is the duty of a local authority to take reasonable steps to secure sufficient suitable accommodation (whether or not provided by them) within their area to meet the needs of former relevant children, where “former relevant children” has the same meaning as in section 23C(1) of this Act.

(2) In taking steps to secure the outcome in subsection (1), the local authority must—

(a) produce, and make available to all former relevant children, information about the providers of accommodation and the types of accommodation they provide,

(b) be aware of the current and expected future demand for such accommodation and consider how providers might meet that demand, and

(c) have regard to—

(i) the need to ensure the sustainability of the housing market, and

(ii) the need to encourage providers to innovate and continuously improve the quality of such accommodation and the efficiency and effectiveness with which it is provided.””

Local authorities already have a duty to ensure that sufficient accommodation is available for looked after children in their area. This new clause would introduce a similar duty on local authorities to ensure sufficient, suitable accommodation is made available for all care leavers up the age of 21.

New clause 10—Benefit sanctions for care leavers

“(1) The Universal Credit Regulations 2013 are amended as follows—

(a) in regulation 102(2)—

(i) in paragraph (a) after “18 or over” insert “and paragraph (b) does not apply”;

(ii) in paragraph (b) after “16 or 17” insert “or is a care leaver within the meaning given by section 2(7) of the Children and Social Work Act 2017 and is under the age of 25”;

(b) in regulation 103(2)—

(i) in paragraph (a) after “18 or over” insert “and paragraph (b) does not apply”;

(ii) in paragraph (b) after “16 or 17” insert “or is a care leaver within the meaning given by section 2(7) of the Children and Social Work Act 2017 and is under the age of 25”;

(c) in regulation 104(2) after “18 or over” insert “and section (3) does not apply”.

(d) in regulation 104(3) after “16 or 17” insert “or is a care leaver within the meaning given by section 2(7) of the Children and Social Work Act 2017 and is under the age of 25.””

This new clause will ensure that the maximum sanction for a care leaver under the age of 25 can be no more than four weeks whilst under the age of 25, in line with 16 and 17 year olds.

New clause 11—National offer for care leavers

“(1) The table in regulation 36 of the Universal Credit Regulations 2013 is amended as follows—

(a) in column one after “single claimant aged 25 or over” insert—

“or former relevant child as defined under the Children and Social Work Act 2017 aged under 25”

(b) in column one after “joint claimants where either is aged 25 or over” insert—

“or either are a former relevant child as defined under the Children and Social Work Act 2017 aged under 25”

(2) The Secretary of State will make provisions for bursaries to be available to all care leavers, who are undertaking their first year of a statutory apprenticeship, as defined in the Enterprise Act 2016 (the “care leaver apprenticeship bursary”)—

(a) in this section “care leavers” has the same meaning as section 2(7) of this Act.

(b) The bursary will be administered by local authorities on behalf of the Secretary of State in line with their corporate parenting responsibilities defined in section 1 of the Children and Social Work Act 2017.

(c) The value of the bursary will be of equivalent value to the Higher Education Bursary outlined in The Children Act 1989 (Higher Education Bursary) (England) Regulations 2009.

(d) Bursaries under this section will be disregarded for the purposes of calculating a claimant’s Universal Credit entitlements.

(3) The Housing Benefit Regulations 2009 are amended as follows—

(a) in regulation 2, in the definition of “young individual”, in each of paragraphs (b), (c), (d), (e) and (f), for “22 years” substitute “25 years”.

(4) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.”

The National Offer will uprate the financial support available to care leavers under the age of 25 by: (1) extending the over 25 rate of standard allowance of Universal Credit to all care leavers under the age of 25; (2) placing a duty on the Secretary of State to make provisions for all care leavers under the age of 25 and in the first year of an apprenticeship to be paid a £2,000 bursary, which will be distributed by local authorities on her behalf; and (3) delaying the transition onto the Shared Accommodation rate of Local Housing Allowance until the age of 25.

New clause 12—Duty to maintain and report a local safeguarding and welfare capacity register

“After section 16(E) of the Children Act 2004 (inserted by section 16 of this Act) insert—

“Duty to maintain and report a local safeguarding and welfare capacity register

(1) The safeguarding partners for a local authority area in England must assess, and maintain a register of, capacity to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in the area.

(2) The assessment must include, but shall not be restricted to, an assessment of the number of additional children, including unaccompanied refugee children, that could be fully supported by children’s social care services in the area.

(3) At least once in every twelve month period—

(a) the safeguarding partners must report the capacity assessment for that period to the Secretary of State, and

(b) the Secretary of State must publish and lay before Parliament a single report setting out the information provided under paragraph (a) and any relevant information that may be provided by the devolved administrations.””

This new clause would require local safeguarding partners to assess their capacity to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in their area. This assessment must include the number of additional children the area could support, including unaccompanied refugee children. Local safeguarding partners would be required to report this information to the Secretary of State annually, who in turn would publish and lay before Parliament a single report, which may include any relevant information received from the devolved administrations.

New clause 13—Strategy for safeguarding of unaccompanied refugee children

“(1) Within six months of this Act coming into force, the Secretary of State must develop and publish a strategy for the safeguarding of unaccompanied refugee children living in the United Kingdom (“the strategy”).

(2) The Secretary of State must publish a report on the progress of the strategy’s development at least once in every four week period prior to publication of the strategy.

(3) The strategy must include, but shall not be restricted to—

(a) information clarifying the roles and responsibilities towards unaccompanied refugee children of any public agency the Secretary of State considers relevant, including in particular—

(i) the European Asylum Support Office,

(ii) local government service providers, and

(iii) the Children’s Commissioner;

(b) information clarifying how safeguarding practices should differ for those children covered by the strategy who—

(i) have family members in the United Kingdom, and

(ii) do not have family members in the United Kingdom; and

(c) recommendations on how to ensure full cost reimbursement to public agencies required to provide services under the strategy.”

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to develop and publish a strategy for safeguarding unaccompanied refugee children.

Amendment (a) to new clause 13, at end insert—

“(4) The Secretary of State must consult with devolved administrations before publishing the strategy.”

New clause 14—Local arrangements for reporting on capacity to provide children’s safeguarding and welfare services

“After section 16E of the Children Act 2004 (inserted by section 16 of this Act) insert—

“Local arrangements for reporting on capacity to provide children’s safeguarding and welfare provision services

(1) At least once in every 12 month period, the safeguarding partners for a local authority area in England must report to the Secretary of State on their capacity to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.

(2) The report must include, but shall not be restricted to, identification of capacity to provide safeguarding and welfare services to children who could be resettled in the area, including unaccompanied refugee children who could be transferred to the area from abroad including those with existing or current applications for transfer.

(3) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament the information received under subsection (1) in a single report.””

This new clause would require the local safeguarding partners in an area to report annually to the Secretary of State on what capacity they have to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in that area. This includes what capacity they have to resettle children, including unaccompanied refugee children, in the area. The Secretary of State would be required to lay before Parliament the information received from local authorities in a single report.

Amendment (a) to new clause 14, after “(1)” insert—

“and any relevant information that may be provided by the devolved administrations”.

New clause 20—Review of access to education for care leavers

“(1) The Secretary of State must carry out an annual review on access for care leavers to—

(a) apprenticeships,

(b) further education, and

(c) higher education.

(2) The first review must take place by the end of the period of one year beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.

(3) A report produced following a review under subsection (1) must include, in particular, an assessment of the impact on care leavers’ access to education of—

(a) fee waivers,

(b) grants, and

(c) reduced costs of accommodation.

The report must be made publicly available.”

Amendment 12, in clause 12, page 10, line 30, at end insert—

“(3A) At least one member of the panel appointed by the Secretary of State under subsection (3) must—

(a) be independent from Government, and

(b) have relevant specialist expertise in tackling domestic abuse.”

This amendment would require that at least one member of the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel has specialist expertise in tackling domestic abuse.

Amendment 1, in clause 16, page 13, line 34, at end insert—

“, including unaccompanied refugee children once placed in the area, and unaccompanied refugee children who have been identified for resettlement in the area.”

Amendment 3, page 13, line 34, at end insert—

“(1A) The safeguarding partners for a local authority area in England must conduct and publish a review of the steps taken by that local authority to safeguard and promote the welfare of children since 1 June 2010, including an assessment of the impact of Government policies since that date.

(1B) The Government policies to be considered under subsection (1A) are those deemed by the safeguarding partners to be relevant to the safeguarding and welfare of children.”

This amendment would require the safeguarding partners for a local authority area in England to conduct a review of steps they have taken to safeguard and promote the welfare of children since 1 June 2010, including an assessment of the impact of Government policies since that date.

Amendment 2, in clause 22, page 17, line 30, at end insert—

“(3) Guidance given by the Secretary of State in connection with functions conferred by section 16E in relation to unaccompanied refugee children must be developed in accordance with the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child.”

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I shall deal first with new clauses 15 and 16, which relate to relationships and sex education and personal, social, health and economic education. I shall then respond to key points raised in other new clauses and amendments. I shall ensure that they are covered within the time that is available under the now agreed programme motion, as I am conscious that many other Members wish to speak.

Many Members on both sides of the House have worked hard for some years to increase awareness of the issues to which new clauses 15 and 16 refer and the case for statutory underpinning of relationships and sex education and PSHE, and I thank them for their efforts. My right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) and my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), along with the Chairs of the Health, Education, Home Affairs and Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committees and the hon. Members for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) and for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), have been particularly strong supporters of that approach.

Relationships education, RSE and PSHE can help to ensure that pupils are given the knowledge and skills that they will need to stay safe and develop healthy, supportive relationships. That is particularly important when they are navigating the new challenges of growing up in an online world. Parents, of course, are the primary educators and guides of their children, and we should not forget that: they play a central role both in helping their children to grow up into successful adults and in protecting them from harm. However, parents are telling us that they want schools to help them to deal with what are complex and fast-moving issues to ensure that their children grow up equipped with the knowledge and skills that they need to be safe and successful. Our proposals to make these subjects compulsory are supported by professionals working in the field, by parents and carers, and, importantly, by children and young people themselves.

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I warmly welcome these vital and long overdue new clauses, but it would be helpful if the Minister could provide some reassurance that relationship education in primary schools will not exclude key age-appropriate information that relates to physical health, wellbeing and the safety of children, because that is an area of concern that is still outstanding. I am thinking of, for instance, the difference between safe and unsafe touch, and the naming of body parts that are private.

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I can reassure the hon. Lady that the whole purpose of bringing relationships education into primary schools is to start creating the all-important building blocks that will make children resilient enough to deal with the pressures and risks that the modern world throws at them. The new clauses are intended to allow a period after the Bill has gone through both Houses during which we can draw on the greatest possible expertise to establish how we should go about teaching these subjects in an age-appropriate way, so that by the time the children leave school they have all the knowledge and skills that they need to make good choices in their lives as they grow up.

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Will the Minister give way?

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I will, but I should make it clear to Members that I do not want to curtail the opportunities for others to have their say, and I want to deal with other aspects of the Bill as well.

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The Minister will remember what we discussed in those happy days when we served together on the Education Committee. It is all very well to have an obligation, and this is a real step forward, but the fact is that if we do not give the people in the schools real professional training, it will not work.

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We served on that Committee such a while ago that it was then called the Children, Schools and Families Committee. In 2013, Ofsted acknowledged that the teaching of these subjects was still not as good as it should be. We shall be working with teachers and schools so that they understand how to develop their understanding of and ability to teach these subjects, so that there is consistency throughout the education system.

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Will the Minister include the Church of England in his list of organisations that support the Government’s proposals? Despite its support, the Church seeks reassurance that relationships education will be respectful of the ethos of the schools where it is taught.

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I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that clear indication of the Church of England’s support for the step that we are taking. Having engaged with the Church and with representatives of other faiths throughout the process, I am aware of that support. The religious faith that brings many people into the education system will be respected as it has been in the past: that is reflected in the Bill, and will be reflected in the regulations and statutory guidance that will follow.

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Will my hon. Friend give way?

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I will give way briefly, but then I want to try to make some progress.

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New clause 15 draws a distinction between relationships education provided for primary school children and relationships and sex education provided for secondary school children. Can the Minister confirm that that does not mean that sex education will be smuggled into primary schools under the label “relationships education”?

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A clear distinction is drawn by the very name of each of those subjects. The new clause makes plain that sex education will not be a statutory part of primary school teaching. Of course, if primary schools choose to teach sex education in an age-appropriate way, as they can now, they will be able to do so, but the right to withdraw from that will still apply, as it does in secondary schools.

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rose

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I will give way to my hon. Friend, but then I must make some more progress.

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I congratulate my hon. Friend and the Secretary of State on new clause 15, which is long overdue, but may I ask a specific question about faith schools and other schools of that type? New clause 15(3)(b) states that it must be ensured that

“the education is appropriate having regard to the age and the religious background of the pupils.”

Will my hon. Friend confirm that that will not allow faith schools to avoid providing such education because they consider it to be inappropriate?

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The education will become a statutory part of the curriculum, so schools will have to provide it. The duty and the power that we are creating will enable schools to teach the new subjects in an age-appropriate way that is commensurate with their religious faith and will best suit their pupils in the setting in which they happen to be, but what my hon. Friend has said is absolutely correct.

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Will my hon. Friend give way?

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I will, but I shall then impose a moratorium on any further interventions.

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