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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 628: debated on Tuesday 5 September 2017


The Secretary of State was asked—

Legal Aid: Access

1. What steps his Department is taking to ensure that people in each region of England and Wales have adequate access to legal aid providers. (900664)

The Legal Aid Agency regularly reviews the capacity of the legal aid market to cope with demand for legal aid and takes urgent action where any regional shortfall develops. I intend to look more widely at the impact of recent policy changes on access to legal aid as part of a forthcoming post-implementation review, about which I hope to be able to say more shortly.

The latest report from the Children’s Society, “Cut off from Justice”, found that in Yorkshire we saw a 56% drop in the availability of free immigration advice between 2012 and 2016. Given the acute vulnerabilities of unaccompanied children who need to access legal advice, will the Secretary of State commit to consider those children in the upcoming review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012?

There will certainly be an opportunity, as the hon. Lady wishes, for representations to be made and consideration to be given to that sort of change. While the most recent legislation did indeed exclude non-asylum immigration matters, much family law, including cases involving vulnerable children who might be taken into local authority care, is still eligible for legal aid.

While it is undoubtedly true that fewer people have access to legal aid than was the case before the reforms, it is also true that lots of people who are entitled to legal aid are not getting it. What can the Justice Secretary do to make sure that those people receive the finance that they need to get the access to justice that they require?

If people believe that they are entitled to legal aid, I would strongly encourage them to apply to the relevant authorities and to one of the legal aid providers that are contracted to provide that kind of advice. Even after the exclusion of certain categories in the most recent legislative reform, last year’s legal aid expenditure still amounted to £1.6 billion, which is nearly a quarter of my Department’s entire expenditure.

Does the Minister believe that a greater number of people who have to represent themselves in court—so-called litigants in person—helps justice to be done in this country?

What is important is that we manage legal aid in a way that directs finite taxpayer resources to those cases where there is greatest need, and that we look actively for ways to simplify access to justice, including through the use of digital technology, so that people do not feel the need always to have that kind of professional representation.

Barely a third of immigration detainees even know that they are entitled to 30 minutes of free legal advice in England and Wales, and only half have ever been able to access it. Given the horror show in Brook House that we saw on last night’s “Panorama”, will the Government act urgently to ensure that all detainees get access to the free legal aid that they urgently require?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the centre that was the subject of last night’s programme is accountable to the Home Office. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is concerned about the allegations and appropriate action is being taken.

On the hon. Gentleman’s broader point, legal aid is still available for asylum cases. I would certainly hope that appropriate measures are taken in every relevant establishment to bring those rights to the attention of anyone who is detained and might qualify for legal aid.

May I press the Secretary of State on a publication date for the legal aid review? Will he tell me how many people who have been denied legal aid since the Government changed the criteria the Government have heard from?

I would hope to able to give Parliament details in the relatively near future. I am conscious that this work has been promised. We have not yet been able to make an announcement, but the hon. Lady will appreciate that matters such as a general election and a change of Ministers have intervened. I want to press ahead with this as soon as possible.

Employment Tribunals: Rebates

2. When the Government plan to announce how rebate arrangements will work for people who have paid employment tribunal fees. (900665)

Following the Supreme Court judgment on employment tribunal fees of the end of July, we immediately stopped charging them. We are putting in place arrangements to refund those who have paid the fees in the past, and we will announce the practical, detailed arrangements shortly.

I have been contacted by a constituent who highlighted the stress and financial burden that was placed on them while going through an employment tribunal case that they ultimately won. Will the Minister ensure that those who are entitled to claim back employment tribunal fees are made aware of the process and reunited with their money in a timely fashion?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that it can be quite an ordeal to go to an employment tribunal—or any tribunal—which is why I pay tribute to the conciliation work of ACAS. We will set out practical arrangements for the reimbursement of those fees. We want to ensure that all the points—particularly about people’s awareness—are properly thought through before we do that.

It is no pleasure to say that a number of the criticisms of the development of this policy were foreshadowed in a Justice Committee report in the previous Session. As well as rightly and promptly acting to reimburse fees paid, will the Minister undertake to look at some of the specific recommendations in that report and at the factual findings on the evidence in the Court’s judgment? That would highlight a better way of developing policy in this area so that we do not end up in this situation again.

I thank the Chair of the Select Committee. We will certainly further consider his Committee’s report into this—[Interruption.] The former Chair of the Select Committee—

In due course.

The cost of employment tribunals last year was £68 million. Only £8 million came from fees; the rest was from taxpayers. It is inherently difficult to balance the contribution required by those who use the justice system against the amount that needs to be borne by the taxpayer, and we recognise that we got that balance wrong. We have ended those fees and are looking at practical arrangements to ensure that those affected are reimbursed.

In the light of the Court ruling and the Select Committee’s report, was the decision to introduce the fees in the first place a mistake?

We certainly accept the Supreme Court ruling. We think that we got the balance wrong and we have ended the fees. We are looking to ensure not only that we reimburse those affected, but that we learn lessons for the future.

The Women and Equalities Committee also called for changes in tribunal fees, particularly because they affect pregnant women and new mums, who have experienced significant increases in discrimination at work in the past 10 years. Will the Minister undertake to look at the other part of our recommendation, which is to increase the time limit from three months to six months for pregnant women and new mums to bring cases to court?

We will certainly look into all aspects of the various Select Committee reports when charting the way forward.

May I start by welcoming the Minister to his place?

The Supreme Court ruled that the secondary legislation that brought in the employment tribunal fees interfered with access to justice and employment rights, and that it discriminated unlawfully. Does the Minister accept that the Supreme Court’s judgment illustrates that fundamental rights such as equality and access to justice should not be changed or undermined by secondary legislation that receives little or no parliamentary scrutiny?

The hon. and learned Lady makes her point in a typically powerful way. The Supreme Court also recognised that fees can have a role to play. Of course, they do help to secure justice and access to justice by making the necessary resources available. Equally, we recognise that we got the balance wrong. That is why we have taken immediate action to end the fees. We will be coming up with proposals on the practical arrangements for reimbursement shortly.

In 2015, the Scottish Government said that as soon as the power to do so was devolved—and that is pending—they would abolish employment tribunal fees. Does the Minister agree that the fact that the Scottish Government chose to do that voluntarily—the UK Government were forced to do so by the Supreme Court—shows that the case for the devolution of employment law to Scotland is strong so that the Scottish Government may protect the interests of Scottish workers and access to justice?

We are fully in favour of the principle of devolution. A whole range of justice matters have been devolved, and we will look very carefully at how we get the balance right.

In the Supreme Court, Baroness Hale was very concerned about meritorious claims being put off by the fees. She also acknowledged that there are some unmeritorious claims, and those are the ones that damage relations in the workplace. Will the Minister consider fairer ways of sifting out unmeritorious claims, such as having a sift before the application is made into a full case?

My hon. Friend makes a strong point and that is certainly something we can look at. Equally, it is fair to say we got the balance wrong on the specific issue of fees. One of the strong elements we are looking to reinforce is the role of ACAS. We have seen that conciliation and the number of cases referred to conciliation have had a strong impact on reducing the number of cases that need to go to court or a tribunal.

I wrote to the Secretary of State back in July to call on him to issue a full and unequivocal apology to working people for deliberately and unlawfully blocking their access to justice through employment tribunal fees. Last week, I received a wholly inadequate reply, which I have here. Will the Minister apologise today for the suffering that this policy has caused hundreds of thousands of working people?

We have conceded that we got the balance wrong. I am happy to say that I am very sorry for any frustration or deleterious impact that this has caused anyone who has been affected. That is why we are acting so quickly to end the charges and to make sure there are practical arrangements for the reimbursement of anyone affected by these fees.


3. How Government investment in (a) cyber-security and (b) the National Cyber Security Centre will support victims of cyber-crime; and if he will make a statement. (900666)

The Government are investing £1.9 billion to transform our ability to respond to the cyber-threats we face. This includes continuing to develop our support to victims of cyber-crime. I am committed to making sure that victims get the support they need to cope with and, as far as possible, recover from the effects of crime. The National Cyber Security Centre is part of GCHQ, which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has ministerial responsibility for.

Given that it is Government policy that victim support is commissioned locally by individual police and crime commissioners, is the Minister content that there is sufficient resource for victim support? Given the year-on-year increase in cyber-crime, and considering the national and international nature and background of cyber-criminals, does he not agree that a single, national approach to victim support would act as a better deterrent and a better support structure for victims, rather than allowing criminals to cherry-pick among the 43 police forces?

As I made clear in my initial response, cyber-security policy does not sit with this Department—in fact, it sits with the Cabinet Office. Victim support funding has gone up from £51 million in 2010-11, and I was pleased to announce that it is going up to £96 million in 2017-18. Most of that is spent via PCCs. Importantly, I have put in place an audit of the performance of PCCs with regard to funding for victims’ services.

20. As crime changes and the focus on cyber-crime grows, what assurances can the Minister give us that police budgets will match that changed focus and that we will not see a loss of bobbies on the beat as resources are inevitably shifted? (900684)

Unfortunately, I am not a Minister at the Home Office, so I cannot really respond in detail to that question. I would encourage the hon. Gentleman to write to the relevant Minister.

When will we see the draft of the victims’ Bill, which was committed to by the Government and Her Majesty’s Opposition?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. We committed to the victims’ Bill in the last manifesto. We are up against it in terms of parliamentary time, as I am sure he understands, but work continues on the legislation most likely to underpin the victims’ code.

The Minister will recognise how vital international co-operation is in tackling cyber-crime. I hope he is aware of the excellent work done by Europol, with, for example, the UK sending over 400,000 malware files to its malware analysis service since its inception just two years ago. Have the Government decided whether the UK will stay part of that EU mechanism to fight cyber-crime?

I hate to repeat myself, but the two policy areas to which the right hon. Gentleman refers do not sit within the Ministry of Justice. Cyber-security sits with the Cabinet Office and our membership of Europol sits with the Home Office.

Child Sex Abuse: Compensation

4. What assessment his Department has made of the adequacy of compensation paid by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority in child sex abuse cases. (900667)

Child sexual abuse is abhorrent. The taxpayer-funded criminal injuries compensation scheme provides an important avenue of redress for victims and is accessible to victims of violent crimes, including physical and sexual assaults. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority administers the scheme and decides all claims individually, independently of Ministers and Parliament.

Will the Secretary of State commit to updating the guidance in three specific areas? First, children cannot be complicit in their own abuse. Secondly, as part of a grooming process, children are coerced into carrying out criminal activities. Thirdly, will he look at compensation for victims of family abuse under the same roof before 1979? At the moment, CICA is denying compensation on those grounds.

I am happy to look further at all those three issues. Following some of the concerns expressed earlier this year, CICA decided to mount an urgent re-examination of its own internal guidelines—in particular, to make sure that there is no risk that a child could be disqualified from compensation because they had given consent when that consent had, in effect, been forced from them by a subtle process of grooming. The Department is also aware of concerns that have been raised about how the rules of the scheme work more generally in relation to cases of child sexual abuse. We are talking to organisations such as Barnardo’s and Victim Support in detail about those concerns and the reforms that they propose to deal with them.

If it is a criminal offence to have sex with a child, how is such an offence anything but a crime of violence? To say that child victims cannot receive compensation for their abuse is simply victim blaming. The definition of a crime of violence was last reviewed five years ago. When will this be reassessed to ensure that sexually abused children are not denied compensation?

As I have said, we are discussing with the various charities the concerns that they have expressed. If the hon. Lady’s point was about the distinction that CICA makes between consent in law and consent in fact, this has been written into the law since it was first introduced by the previous Labour Government, I believe, and administered during their time in office. Its purpose was to ensure that we did not end up in a situation where, for example, two 15-year-olds engaging in sexual intercourse automatically led to a claim for compensation —it would be left to the authority to look at the facts of the case. I am very willing to look at, and CICA is already looking at, the guidance that applies to individual cases, but we should not lose sight of the fact that there was a reasonable motive behind the law as it was originally drafted.

No one will deny the absolute right and need of victims to receive proper compensation from CICA under these conditions, but does not the Secretary of State agree that there may be occasions—as in, for example, the very grave allegations made against the late Sir Edward Heath—when the informant is incentivised in one way or another to make the allegation by the likelihood of getting some kind of compensation? Should not the compensation wait so that the outcome of the investigation is known before the person making the allegations is paid?

The scheme operates to provide compensation for people who are victims of crime. Probably all of us, as constituency Members, can think of cases when somebody has been the victim of an assault, but it has been impossible to successfully prosecute the person or people responsible. A direct link to a trial and conviction is therefore not in the scheme. However, I do agree with my hon. Friend that if there is evidence that compensation has been sought fraudulently, the authority ought to seek the necessary legal action to recover those funds.

Offenders: Education and Employment

5. What steps the Government are taking to improve offenders’ access to education and employment. (900668)

Education and employment opportunities are crucial to help offenders to turn around their lives. In line with our reforms, every prisoner will have a personal learning plan linked to their sentence plan. To make this reform effective, we are giving governors control over their education budgets to organise courses that fit prisoners’ needs.

Gardening and horticultural schemes for growing edible crops are increasingly being incorporated into prison programmes and programmes for those on remand up and down the country, giving offenders transferrable skills and offering them future employment opportunities, as well as encouraging self-confidence and, quite often, transforming unattractive concrete yards into much more pleasant green spaces. Has a formal assessment been made of some of those programmes, with a view to rolling out the best of the models even more widely?

My hon. Friend is right. I remember visiting Rye Hill prison near Daventry and seeing the pride with which prisoners tended their gardens; they spent hours doing so. She may be aware of the Royal Horticultural Society Windlesham trophy award, which is judged by an independent panel that looks at the best gardening schemes across the prison estate. If she does not mind, I should be delighted to put her name forward to be a judge.

Category D prisons often have the very best examples of rehabilitation as they prepare to let their prisoners back into the community. North Sea Camp in my constituency has worked with the council not only on that rehabilitative work to prepare prisoners for work but, for example, on fly-tipping, saving the taxpayer £300,000. Does the Minister agree that the other prisons in the sector can learn from category D’s rehabilitative practices, and will he come to North Sea Camp and have a look at how well they can work?

My hon. Friend has lighted on an important principle. Work in prison is vital to preparing prisoners for life after release—North Sea Camp has an excellent example—which is why I am supporting the New Futures Network to develop relationships between employers, governors and the world of work. I would be delighted to visit North Sea Camp in due course.

I have never heard such complacency from the Government. The Prison Service is a shambles, and at the heart of that shambles is the lack of education, the lack of literacy, the lack of numeracy and the lack of apprenticeships—services that, as they are for our Scandinavian brethren, should be in every prison. When is the Minister going to wake up?

The hon. Gentleman has come back from his summer holiday with his customary passion. I agree that if prisons are to work properly we need to give people the opportunity to turn their lives around. Prison reform is important to this Government. That is why we are giving governors more control of their budgets and more freedom to implement the plans that are necessary for offenders to turn their lives around. I share his concern and his passion, and such work is a priority for this Government.

How will the personal learning plans of which the Minister has just spoken operate when a prisoner is transferred from one prison to another? What guarantees can he give that the education path on which that prisoner has commenced can be continued in his or her new setting, and that there will be consistency of offer right across the prison estate?

The hon. Lady points out a very serious problem that currently exists on the estate. Prisoners are transferred and cannot continue courses that they have started—for example, some were on GCSE programmes and cannot finish them. We are looking at courses and technology systems that allow them to carry on what they have been doing when they are transferred from one prison to another, so that there is progression on all the courses. I completely agree with her, but we are looking at it.

21. If prison is to achieve anything, it must change lives. It has the best chance of doing that if we offer people both education and assisted places in work on release. Given that three fifths of offenders still leave prison without identified education or any employment opportunities, will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State or my hon. Friend assure us that these programmes will be at the centre of the prison system and describe how these policies are being adjusted for greater success? (900685)

My hon. Friend is right. About 50% of prisoners have the reading age and numeracy skills of an 11-year-old. If we are to give them a chance in life, we need to sort out education, but we also need to give them employment skills that are valued in the workplace. That is why prison reform, which is at the heart of the White Paper that the Government published last November, is carrying on at pace.

The chief inspectors of prisons and of probation recently issued a devastating report on the Government’s flagship community rehabilitation companies, which stated:

“None of the prisoners had been helped into employment by through-the-gate services”.

Will the Minister commit to an urgent review of the role of CRCs, including their delivery of education and employment services, and will he guarantee that no extra money will be passed on to those private companies until they can be proven to be fit for purpose?

The probation reforms that the previous Conservative Government rolled out mean that 45,000 offenders who previously would not have been supervised, because they had been in prison for less than 12 months, are now being supervised. The hon. Gentleman is right that there are challenges with what is a first-generation outsourcing programme. We have an ongoing probation review and extra funds have been invested in the CRCs, but we are still within the funding envelope that was decided at the start of the programme. We are carrying out the review to make sure that through-the-gate and other services operate as was envisaged in the original vision.

Prisons: Extremism and Radicalisation

We have established a new extremism unit, between Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service and the Home Office, to strengthen our approach to tackling the threat of extremism in prisons and probation. Prison governors and frontline staff in prisons and the probation service are being given the training, skills and authority needed to challenge extremist views and take action against them. The first separation centre at HMP Frankland in County Durham was opened in June 2017, and the first prisoners are now being held there. Those facilities will hold the most subversive extremist prisoners, protecting the more vulnerable from their poisonous ideology.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer, and it is right to say that extremists target and manipulate the prisoners who they think will be most susceptible. Given his answer, what impact does he anticipate the removal of such individuals will have on the prison population as a whole?

The decision to proceed with the separation centre was taken only after very careful thought. We judged that it would be beneficial for the general prison population, and in particular for vulnerable and impressionable prisoners, if we could take out of association with them those who pose the greatest risk. Those who are going to be in separation centres will be assessed by experts regularly, and they will be returned to the mainstream prison population only if it is judged that the risk they present has reduced to a level that can be effectively managed there.

Many young men start their journey towards radicalisation by seeking out in prison the strong male role models they so often lack in their lives outside. What is the Department doing to ensure that there are more better role models within the prison estate to guide them on to a better path?

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point, which I think has relevance not just to matters of penal policy but to social policy more generally. Many charitable and voluntary organisations are helping—for example, by bringing sport into prisons—to provide the adult male role models of whom he wants more. In the context of extremism, it is also important to pay tribute to the work of the imams in the prison chaplaincy service who are arguing, from a basis of scholarship and expertise, to rebut the extremist ideology that some have espoused.

Figures from the right hon. Gentleman’s own Department show that there are approximately 1,000 prisoners who have either been radicalised or are vulnerable to being radicalised. When they leave prison, those such as Khalid Masood, the Westminster terrorist, need to be effectively monitored. Is the Lord Chancellor satisfied that there is a sufficiently robust relationship between the police and the prison authorities to make sure that when such people come out of prison we know where they are and what they are doing?

The information we have is that only one of those involved in the recent attacks in London and Manchester had spent time in prison. That dated back to 2003 and there was no evidence to suggest that that man had been radicalised in prison. We clearly want the strongest possible joint work between the police, the Prison Service and the probation service. I believe that what we have at the moment is strong, but there are always lessons that can be learned and improvements that can be sought. We are committed not to be complacent but to continue with vigilance and determination.

The Secretary of State spoke in his initial answer of a new initiative. Does that come with new money and, if so, is it adequate?

It is part of the duty of the Prison Service appropriately to look after all those whom the courts have sent into custody. We have found the money for the separation centres from within Ministry of Justice budgets—a sensible prioritisation of expenditure that will bring benefits to the management of the prison population more generally by separating those who pose a particular risk through extremist ideology.

Child Sexual Exploitation: Sentencing

7. What assessment the Department has made of the adequacy of sentencing for crimes involving child sexual exploitation. (900670)

We have a robust sentencing framework for all crimes involving child sexual exploitation. The changes made in the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 reinforced those punishments, giving the Parole Board a greater role to make sure that serious offenders are released only when it is safe.

Mubarek Ali will be released from prison on 1 November, five years after receiving a sentence of 22 years for child sexual exploitation in Telford. As the Minister just said, legislation was passed in 2015 to ensure that most serious offenders cannot be released until they have served two thirds of their sentence and satisfied the Parole Board that they are not a risk. What can he do to ensure that that legislation applies in this case?

I am aware of the case my hon. Friend raises, and of the heinous crimes that were committed and the appalling impact they had on the victims. She will know that the overhaul of the sentencing framework between 2012 and 2015 means that that type of sentence would not now be passed in that type of case. She will also appreciate that I cannot intervene in individual cases and that changes to legislation to strengthen sentences cannot be passed retrospectively. That is the problem and challenge in this case.

Bearing in mind that 56% of all victims of sexual offences in Northern Ireland in 2011 were under the age of 18, will the Minister outline the multi-regional approach that will be taken to deal with the aftermath of the sexual exploitation of children in the transition to adulthood?

That is a detailed and complex area, and I would be happy to write to the hon. Gentleman on its impact in Northern Ireland.

One barrier to successful prosecutions in child sexual exploitation cases is the fact that, too often, victims are wrongly thought to be complicit in their own exploitation. That highlights the importance of the issue my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) just raised. There must be absolutely no suggestion in any Government guidance that children can be complicit in their own exploitation. That is why the guidance from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority needs to be changed—and needs to be changed now.

The hon. Lady makes a powerful point. No one wants to lay the blame at the door of any victim, let alone the most vulnerable—in this case children. She heard what the Secretary of State said about CICA: it will be looked at in the context of the issues that have arisen recently. It operates in a different context from the criminal justice system, in that it can apply when there has not been a criminal conviction.


Drones are a serious threat to order and stability in our prisons, given the contraband that they are used to smuggle. Our intelligence work tells us that a lot of this activity is backed up by organised crime gangs. That is why we have invested in our intelligence teams. There is also a specialist unit between the Prison Service and the police service to track down and prosecute such offenders. In the last year alone, there have been 40 arrests and 11 convictions of criminals involved in drone activity, resulting in those convicted serving a total of 40 years in jail.

With offenders being more than twice as likely to be reconvicted within 12 months of release from custody if they are known drug users, what work is being done to tackle the supply—potentially using drones—of drugs into our prisons?

Drones are one way in which drugs are smuggled into our prisons, but we are looking at all possible ways. For example, paper is sometimes impregnated with new psychoactive substances, which makes them very difficult to detect. The way to tackle the supply is to get intelligence not just from each establishment but from different parts of the Prison Service so that we can respond appropriately. We are investing heavily in doing so to combat the drugs problem in our prisons.

The escape in February of a convicted murderer serving a 30-year sentence was linked to the dropping of a mobile phone into a prison in Liverpool using a drone so that he could liaise with villains outside to effect his escape. What steps is the Minister taking to enhance and expand the scheme that he has put in place to disrupt drones over prisons? In passing, has he found the prisoner yet?

The right hon. Gentleman, as a former prisons Minister, is well aware that the job of tracking down and arresting criminals is one for the police service, not the prisons Minister. In response to his other question, we are looking at various types of technology to disrupt drones flying into our prisons to deliver contraband.

Employment Tribunals

9. What assessment his Department has made of the reasons for recent trends in the number of employment tribunal cases. (900672)

In 2014, the Government introduced a requirement for potential claimants to consider conciliation before starting proceedings at the employment tribunal. The number of cases going to conciliation quadrupled, rising to 92,000 in 2015-16.

In the year after employment tribunal fees were introduced, sex discrimination claims fell by 67% and pregnancy discrimination claims by 37%. The Supreme Court made it clear in its recent judgment that fees disproportionately affected women. The Minister has outlined plans to reimburse those who have submitted claims, but what steps will be taken to compensate people who were denied access to justice because they could not afford to pursue a claim in the first place?

The hon. Lady is right to refer to the ending of the fees and the proposals for reimbursement that we will bring forward shortly. If there were potential claims that should have been made but were not, anyone who was unable to bring a claim can submit to the employment tribunal to have their case heard outside the usual time limits. The judiciary will consider those applications case by case.

European Court of Justice

10. What his Department’s policy is on the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK after the UK leaves the EU. (900673)

17. What his Department’s policy is on the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK after the UK leave the EU. (900681)

The Government have been clear that in leaving the EU we will bring about an end to the direct jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union in the United Kingdom.

As you know, Mr Speaker, Scotland has its own distinct legal system. Brexit will have a direct impact on that system, on justice agencies in Scotland and on a range of devolved issues. Will the Secretary of State confirm that that distinction will be given serious consideration as the Brexit negotiations progress?

Yes. Indeed, when I spoke to the Scottish Justice Minister Michael Matheson last month I emphasised to him that one of our key objectives in the official and ministerial-level meetings between my Department and his would be to ensure that the interests and features of the Scottish justice system are properly reflected in the UK’s work, particularly on future civil judicial co-operation with the European Union.

In January, the Prime Minister boldly and unambiguously asserted that Brexit would allow the UK to take back control of its laws and bring to an end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in Britain. Last month, however, the official Government document on the ECJ said something entirely different: Britain would be willing to work with the EU on arrangements for judicial supervision. Given that remarkable change, how did the Prime Minister get it so wrong in January?

The hon. Gentleman is misreading the Government’s position. The Prime Minister was very clear in her Lancaster House speech, as the Government have been, that this country’s exit from the European Union means that the EU’s treaties will cease to apply to the United Kingdom and that therefore the direct effect that decisions of the Court of Justice of the European Union have in the United Kingdom will cease from that point. What is also the case, as spelled out in the Government paper on dispute resolution, is that there are many international examples of arbitration mechanisms that involve different jurisdictions coming together to agree how to take account of their different courts’ views in coming to a settlement when a dispute arises. We are approaching these negotiations in a constructive fashion.

Courts: Victims and Witnesses

11. What steps the Government are taking to improve the court experience for victims and witnesses. (900674)

We are testing pre-trial cross-examination for child and vulnerable victims and witnesses in the Crown court, and testing this provision for certain eligible intimidated victims in three Crown court centres this autumn. We have installed remote links in each region and recently completed work on model waiting rooms. We recognise that there are concerns about the operation of the victims’ code, and we are considering how compliance might be monitored and improved.

I welcome that answer. Despite the progress that has been made, attending court as a witness, and particularly as a victim, can still be very stressful. Will my hon. Friend enlarge on what steps the Government are taking to ensure that victims and witnesses know what to expect when they attend court, and that they are treated with respect in court and know when they are required?

We want to use technology to assist all witnesses, not just those who are vulnerable and intimidated. That is why we are exploring ways of making best use of technology, such as video links, to allow witnesses to avoid the stress and/or inconvenience of having to be physically present in the courtroom. We also plan to develop an online tool, which will allow witnesses to access information about a case, such as a trial date, quickly and easily.

Research from Victim Support found that more than half of victims have unwanted contact with the defendant at court. How will the Government’s court reforms ensure that separate entrances, waiting rooms and facilities are standard across all criminal courts?

As I am sure my hon. Friend is aware, the Government are investing more than £1 billion to transform and modernise our court systems to make sure they put the needs of victims first. Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service recently established model victim and witness waiting rooms at Nottingham justice centre, Manchester magistrates court, Newcastle Crown court, Liverpool Crown court and Aldershot justice centre, drawing on feedback from the Victims’ Commissioner, the Witness Service and court users.

The Minister will be aware that decisions on the support received by police and crime commissioners to work with victims are often made very late in the financial year. Will he consider three-year-long provision, so that services can be provided more efficiently and with greater stability?

There are areas where PCCs are doing very good work and there are areas where the work is perhaps not as successful. I have announced annual awards only because I want to get to grips with the evidence of what works, so that the money can follow that and we can deliver better services for victims.

Prior to the introduction of the Prisons and Courts Bill in the previous Parliament, no research had been carried out into the effects of virtual justice reforms on witnesses—victims or defendants—or the extent of expected savings. Will the Minister guarantee that research into these key areas will be done and published in advance of the Bill being brought back to the House?

We are consulting a variety of different agencies and the Victims’ Commissioner on the work to which the hon. Lady alludes. We are in the process of testing pre-recorded cross-examination at a number of centres across the country.

I would not want the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr Fysh) to feel that he was out of the water in some way. I call Mr Marcus Fysh.

22. Justice delayed can be justice denied. It can also be very distressing for victims and witnesses, such as constituents of mine, to suffer repeated delays in the scheduling and notification of hearing dates and the notification of verdicts, which in some cases have even been learnt from the opposing parties. What can be done to improve court processes and timeframes, and their communication? (900686)

All criminal justice agencies are committed to keeping victims and witnesses informed about their cases. The outcomes of cases involving vulnerable victims and witnesses are available in court systems within 24 hours. Professionals who are involved in a case and are present on the day will know the outcome immediately. If my hon. Friend is aware of details of any other cases in which that may not be happening, will he please write to me? I will then respond.

Prison Officers: Recruitment

Between the start of January and the end of June 2017, there has been a net increase of 868 new prison officers. That puts us well on track to recruit 2,500 new officers by December 2018.

The Minister will be aware of the major drugs finds and related problems at Holme House prison in my constituency, where experienced officers have left and have been replaced by 18-year-old recruits. Does he really think that recruiting youngsters is the answer when it comes to meeting the needs of our increasing prison population, tackling drugs, and solving the crisis in the Prison Service?

I take issue with the implication behind the hon. Gentleman’s question. We are recruiting new prison officers. We were all inexperienced once, but that did not mean that we were not capable of doing our jobs. I have been to the Newbold Revel training centre; I know that many of our recruits are of the highest calibre, and that the recruitment methods are those that have been used over a number of years. The Opposition did not believe that we could deliver these numbers, but we are delivering them, and I think that the Opposition should be supporting the Government.

As a result of the Government’s excellent policy, a new, modern prison has been built in Wellingborough. Can the Minister tell me how many of the new prison officers will be working there, and when the prison might open? If he cannot do so now, will he write to me, please?

I will certainly write to my hon. Friend. The staffing arrangements at Wellingborough have not been decided yet, but we are very proud, and very keen to be progressive in opening the prison.

The Minister is boasting about the number of prison officers who have been recruited this year, but the Ministry’s own figures show that 35 prisons—a third of the total—have suffered a fall in frontline officer numbers since January this year. Is this another example of what the former director-general of the Prison Service now describes as Ministers

“doing nothing except issue cheery press releases...which suggest all is going precisely to plan”?

It has nothing to do with “cheery press releases”. There are 868 people on the payroll, who have started work in our prisons and are doing a heroic and brave job. We promised to invest £100 million to recruit 2,500 new officers by the end of 2013, and we are on track to deliver that target. Of course there are wider issues in our prison system, such as the retention of officers, but we are working on those. We are also going beyond that, recruiting smart graduates to work on the frontline, and we have exceeded our targets for the Unlocked programme.

Those are not boasts. It was the Opposition who talked prison officers down and said that no one would want to work in our prisons. It is good to see people stepping up to do what is a brave and challenging job.

Topical Questions

My priorities as Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State are to uphold and defend the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, and to ensure that our prisons are safe and secure places that also work effectively, and with the probation service, to rehabilitate offenders. That means strengthening the frontline in the way described by the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), but it also means that we need to respond better to reports from prison inspectors. I am therefore setting up a new unit, ultimately accountable to Ministers, to ensure that we respond to, and follow up, inspectors’ reports swiftly and effectively.

How many foreign-national offenders are there in our prisons, and why is not more being done to send them to secure detention in their own countries?

As of 30 June this year, there were 6,792 convicted foreign-national offenders serving sentences in our prisons. In 2016-17, we removed 6,177 such offenders from the United Kingdom—that is including prisoner transfers—and that is the highest number since records began.

I hope the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) will shortly reissue his textbook for colleagues on succinct questions.

This summer I was proud to sign up to the campaign launched by Gina Martin to change the law so that the disgraceful practice of so-called upskirting is made a specific sexual offence. So will the Minister finally join with us today in backing this call for a change in the law?

I have taken very seriously the representations made not only by Gina Martin, but by some of the police and crime commissioners around the country. I have asked for detailed advice on this, but I hope the hon. Gentleman will understand that, before proceeding to a commitment to legislation, I want to be absolutely certain that this would be the right course to take.

T3. Legal services in the UK are rightly held in the highest regard around the world and are a major asset to our economy. What is the Minister doing to ensure that we champion and defend the interests of the legal sector in this country? (900706)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: legal services exports contribute a trade surplus of £3.4 billion to the UK economy. The UK is a global leader in dispute settlement. We are working with the sector to promote this key comparative advantage. It is a priority for the Brexit negotiations, and, as a global leader, this is the message my ministerial colleague Lord Keen will be taking to the International Bar Association conference in Australia just next month.

T2. Last week a report from the committee of the United Nations made 60 recommendations to the Government on how they could better comply with the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. How will the Government respond, and what changes in Government policy can disabled people expect to see as a result? (900705)

It is obviously for the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work and the Department for Work and Pensions to decide overall on the Government response to that report. However, I think that the Government were right to express disappointment that the report failed to acknowledge the significant advances this Government have made in improving the lot of disabled people in this country, not least in seeing a record number of people with disabilities now in employment.

T5. What upgrades have been achieved in prisons since we came into office, and how are we going to rehabilitate prisoners even further? (900708)

I assume my hon. Friend is referring to the upgrades in the prison estate, where we are investing £1.3 billion to modernise the estate. As part of that, we will be building 10,000 modern prison places. That should help with offender rehabilitation. In terms of where we are now, we have started with the proposed developments at Glen Parva and HMP Wellingborough, and we have also announced plans to build four new prisons: in Yorkshire, adjacent to Full Sutton; at Port Talbot in Wales; and the redevelopment of the young offender institutions at Rochester and Hindley.

T4. Given the problems the Department has had when it has privatised many of its services, it seems extraordinary that there are now plans to privatise the collection of court fines and outsource the work of civil enforcement officers. When will the Government appreciate that the public expect these sensitive public services to be delivered by the public, not a bunch of cowboys? (900707)

What the public expect is for those fines to be collected in the most efficient and effective way possible.

T9. Can the Minister update me on when the revised version of practice direction 12J will be adopted and how the Government will ensure that judges and magistrates are aware of the change in order to improve guidance for judges overseeing child contact cases with allegations of domestic abuse? (900712)

We are absolutely committed to doing everything we can to improve the treatment of victims in the justice system. In relation to the practice direction to which my hon. Friend refers, we expect to receive the revised version from the president of the family division for ministerial agreement by the end of this month.

T6. Since the election, hundreds of constituents have contacted me about our current animal cruelty laws, which are not fit for purpose. A maximum prison sentence of six months for some of the most appalling crimes, including torturing a dog to death, is completely unacceptable. What steps will the Minister take to ensure that the sentencing guidelines are rigorously reviewed and strengthened? (900709)

I share the hon. Lady’s desire to see the most robust sentences for animal cruelty. The Government keep the sentencing framework under regular review, and I am not sure whether she is aware that in January the Sentencing Council published new guidelines on relevant aggravating factors in animal cruelty cases.

In the past 18 months, three of my constituents have died in HMP Bristol, which has one of the highest numbers of self-inflicted deaths in custody. What reassurance can be provided that that prison is being given the scrutiny and support that it needs to get those figures down?

Every death in custody is a tragedy, and I offer my condolences to the families of my hon. Friend’s constituents. We have increased the staffing level at HMP Bristol by 31 prison officers in the past year. I chair a weekly safer custody meeting with officials to drive forward improvements, and I review the details of every self-inflicted death to see how we might prevent others. We have also launched an internal review of our approach to safer custody, specifically in relation to mental health patients, and I would be willing to visit my hon. Friend’s prison in order to deal with this further.

T7. Last week, a Tory peer said that Brexit was a good thing because our young people would be able to work longer hours. Can the Minister confirm that his Government will continue to guarantee protections for workers in accordance with the European working time directive? (900710)

The Prime Minister could not have been clearer: we are committed to the best possible employment conditions for all British workers. We have a fine record of achievement on that, and we will ensure that when we leave the EuropeanUnion, there is no diminution in workers’ rights.

In January last year, an Afghan national who had previously served time for murder in the Netherlands attacked two Crawley police officers with a clawhammer. Recently, the Court of Appeal has reduced his sentence. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that the Sussex Police Federation’s requests to the Home Office will ensure that he is deported at the earliest opportunity?

I can give my hon. Friend an assurance that the views of the Police Federation and others in his constituency will be conveyed fully to the Home Office. It remains the Government’s collective will to ensure that those foreign national offenders who merit deportation are deported as soon as possible after serving their sentence.

T8. Is the Minister aware that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has recommended that the protections afforded by the EU charter of fundamental rights be retained in the UK? What is he going to do about that? (900711)

I am always bewildered by the approach of the Opposition to the charter. When Labour was in power, it claimed, rather fraudulently, that it was seeking an opt-out, but now that it is out of office and we are leaving the EU, it wants to opt back in. We have the strongest protections for human rights in this country, and they have been reinforced. We are going to see no diminution in those protections, but the charter adds uncertainty and is frankly surplus to requirements.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the pilot scheme that allowed the filming of judges’ sentencing remarks in criminal courts has been a success? Will he now consider going further in allowing the broadcasting of court proceedings, so that justice is not just done but seen to be done?

We have made considerable progress in the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, and my right hon. Friend is right to say that one of the areas under review is the broadcasting of judges’ sentencing remarks in the Crown court. Last year, we conducted not-for-broadcast tests in eight Crown court centres, and we are looking at the experience from those trials with the judiciary in order to see how best to proceed.

T10. Last year, 316 people died in our prisons. Emails from prison doctors printed in the media a few days ago say that there are not enough medical staff in our prisons and that urgent hospital referrals are being cancelled because of prison escort shortages. What are the Justice Secretary and the Health Secretary planning to do to tackle this growing healthcare crisis in custody? (900713)

We are very conscious that the Government have a duty of care to everyone we hold in custody. We are working with the Department of Health on a number of protocols, including some relating to mental health, as well as working to ensure that prisoners get access to the healthcare that they need, when they need it.

Will Ministers give the House their response to Lord Farmer’s recent report on the importance of strengthening prisoners’ family ties to reduce reoffending?

Lord Farmer’s report is excellent. Family ties are important not only to help people to turn their lives around, but to improve stability in prisons. We will publish our response in due course and will make the House aware of that.

While I welcome the Minister’s news about increased prison officer numbers in HMP Bristol in my constituency, I am concerned by the Department’s figures, which show that 1,770 experienced prison officers left the service last year. What is the Minister doing urgently to retain valuable experienced prison officers for the longer term?

It is always the case that people will leave an organisation voluntarily or due to retirement or—[Interruption.] May I finish my point? In some cases, people may leave because they have not been too happy with what has been happening in our Prison Service. A retention plan is available, but the numbers that I gave earlier—868 net new prison officers so far this year—take account of people leaving the service, so we are actually up on last year’s figures.

Having recently met the governor of Styal prison in my constituency, I know that drones are an increasing problem in prisons, as is the illegal use of mobile phones. The two are linked because mobile phones allow for greater frequency and accuracy of drone activity. Does the Minister agree that the way to curb drone activity and stop illegal mobile phone use is to block phone signals in prison? Will he support my private Member’s Bill to do that? The Second Reading is on 1 December.

I fully support my right hon. Friend’s Bill. It is what we need to deal with the illegal use of mobile phones, which are used to carry on criminal activity from behind bars.

The Minister’s plans to build a prison on the Baglan industrial park in my constituency are causing a huge amount of concern and disquiet within the community. May I urge the Minister to come to the public meeting that I have organised on 20 September in Baglan to explain the position to the community?

The hon. Gentleman is aware that Ministers do not attend public consultation events about obtaining planning permission for new prisons. He is also aware that the Port Talbot site was proposed alongside several other sites by the Welsh Government, who continue to support us in redeveloping the site for the purpose of the new prison. I have received his representations on behalf of his constituents—he is diligent and persistent—and we also had a meeting on 12 July. Subject to the two-day consultation, which is more than would ordinarily happen, I am willing to engage further with him on what could be done to ameliorate his constituents’ concerns.

Order. We often have time for the questions but rather less time for the answers, which tend to take up rather more time.

Will the Secretary of State look at how families are treated by the insurance industry when a householder gets a criminal conviction? The Salvation Army recently highlighted several cases in which insurance had either been denied or made prohibitively expensive in a way that seems to me, as a former chartered insurer, to be neither reasonable nor necessary.

I am happy to look at that and would welcome a conversation with my hon. Friend to examine the matter further.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Given the historical child abuse in north Wales, will Ministers now place in the Library the unredacted copy of Lady Macur’s report on the Waterhouse inquiry, which relates to many of the children involved?

The honest answer is that I am not familiar with the detail as to why an unredacted copy has not been published, but I will undertake to ask for urgent advice on that and will write to the right hon. Lady.

I will call the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) if he confines himself to a short sentence.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the work of Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the Lord Chief Justice, who will have retired by the next Justice questions, both for his integrity as a judge and for his modernising work as head of the judiciary in England and Wales?

I am happy to join my hon. Friend in his salute to Lord Thomas, who has been a formidable and exemplary leader of the professional judiciary. What has struck me in the short time that I have held my office is the enormous respect and affection in which Lord Thomas is held by his colleagues on the judicial bench. I am sure the entire House will want to wish him all the best.

In the last Parliament, a joint report of the Petitions Committee and the Women and Equalities Committee found widespread exploitation of women at work, and especially of young women in vulnerable employment. Now that the barrier of fees has been removed, will the Minister look seriously at the report’s recommendations and work with other Departments to ensure that women are aware of their access to justice?

As I explained earlier, we will take into account all the recommendations and findings of the Select Committee report as we chart the way forward.

Did the Secretary of State read the letter in the press by the widow of our late colleague, Ian Gow, contrasting the fact that the two IRA murderers suspected of killing him have no fear of arrest with the recent revelation that hundreds, if not thousands, of letters are being sent out to veterans of the troubles with a view to further prosecutions? Will he support the policy of a statute of limitations to put an end to this grotesque inequality of treatment?

The answer to my right hon. Friend’s question is that, yes, I did read the letter to which he refers. Those matters, as he knows, are the responsibility of my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who is very concerned to ensure that a proper examination of the past, and a search for the truth about the past, does not lead to the unfair and disproportionate arraignment of British soldiers who stood firmly for democracy and human rights in Northern Ireland.

The Minister will be aware of the serious disorder at HMP Birmingham in my constituency on Sunday, which follows the very serious riot in December 2016 and serious incidents at other prisons across the country over the summer months. Clearly our prisons are in absolute crisis. Is it not time that we had an independent inquiry into the state of our prisons?

We have already said that the level of violence in our prisons is too high. I spoke to the Gold Commander at HMP Birmingham on Sunday night, and we should first praise the professionalism of the Prison Service in dealing with what are very difficult and very challenging situations in our prisons. Of course, a key part of dealing with the stability and security problem in our prisons is increasing the staffing levels, on which there has been a number of questions today, and we are doing so. A wider part of the reforms is dealing with drones, mobile phones and illegal drugs, and it will take time to do that, but I praise our prison officers for their brave work in containing these disturbances.