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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 630: debated on Tuesday 31 October 2017


The Secretary of State was asked—

European Arrest Warrant

1. What discussions he has had with the Home Secretary on continued participation in the European Arrest Warrant after the UK leaves the EU. (901512)

Ministers in the MOJ and the Home Office have regular discussions on key aspects of criminal justice co-operation in relation to our EU partners, including on the European arrest warrant.

I thank the Minister for that reply. The police have repeatedly underlined the importance of the European arrest warrant in fighting crime. If the price of maintaining our citizens’ security and the effective operation of other European crime-fighting mechanisms is the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, will the Minister put crime fighting first or let his arbitrary red line jeopardise our citizens’ security?

I am not sure that making sure the UK Supreme Court has the last word on the law of the land is some arbitrary red line. However, the Government’s position in relation to our future partnership with the EU was set out in the position paper that was published in September. It was very clear that we have an ambitious plan for co-operation on security, law enforcement and criminal justice. The right hon. Gentleman will see if he looks at it carefully—I am sure he has—that maintaining strong extradition relations will be an important part of that agenda.

Will the Minister take on board the clear recommendation from the Justice Committee’s report in the last Parliament that underpinning any practical means of criminal justice co-operation, including the European arrest warrant, should be a continuing relationship on maintaining data equivalency? Unless the data regulations are equivalent, it will not be possible for European agencies to share with us or vice versa.

I thank the Chair of the Select Committee. That is, of course, why we have taken through the Data Protection Bill. We have extradition relations—very vigorous ones—with countries all around the world, and we see no reason why we would not continue to do so with our EU friends and allies.

Given that it took countries such as Iceland and Norway 13 years to negotiate extradition arrangements with the EU, does the Minister accept that not maintaining the European arrest warrant puts people in this country at risk of seeing criminals go free and that those criminals may well include terrorist suspects?

No, because we are not in the position of Iceland. We start from the position of the European arrest warrant, with strong, intensive co-operation on extradition, and we will make sure we continue that operationally for many years to come.

Does the Minister agree that one reason people voted to leave the European Union was to make the Supreme Court the supreme court?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Let us also not forget the advice of the former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, who made it clear in his evidence to the independent review of extradition that there were problems with the European arrest warrant. We have legislated for extra safeguards. We are ending the jurisdiction of the European Court, but there has been no suggestion that we are dispensing altogether with vital EU extradition—except, perhaps, as a figment of some of the furtive Liberal Democrats’ imaginations.

Surely the Minister can make it clear that the Government’s priority must be continued participation in the European arrest warrant and that that must come ahead of his obsession with ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, but I gently suggest that he read the position paper on the future partnership, which was published in September, because it deals directly with the question he has just asked and makes it clear that we do want to continue vital extradition relations with our EU partners.

Leaving the EU: Human Rights

2. What steps his Department is taking to maintain human rights standards after the UK leaves the EU. (901513)

The United Kingdom has a long tradition of ensuring rights and liberties are protected domestically and of fulfilling its international human rights obligations. The decision to leave the European Union does not change this.

Last week, during evidence to the Brexit Committee, the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), said of the charter of fundamental rights:

“It is right that we leave behind the charter, and that we continue to rely on the Human Rights Act and the convention.”

Is it now the Government’s intention to stay in the European convention on human rights and to keep the Human Rights Act after Brexit?

The European convention on human rights is separate from the European Union, so leaving the European Union does not affect our membership of the convention.

When I was in opposition, we were assured again and again by Ministers that the charter of fundamental rights would not apply in the United Kingdom. I hope that we will be able to deliver that.

The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill ensures that the source rights that underpin the EU charter of fundamental rights will continue to have effect in UK law after we leave the EU. The charter was created as a collection of all the laws that the EU had passed, and it would be wrong if, post our leaving the European Union, that charter continued to be cited in any future legal case.

Can the Minister assure us that when we leave—if we leave—the European Union, human rights will very much involve the ability to put right miscarriages of justice and that the Criminal Cases Review Commission will be strengthened rather than weakened by our leaving Europe?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government’s intention is to confirm that post our leaving the European Union—when we leave the European Union—such access to justice is available to British citizens.

When the United Kingdom leaves the European Union—[Interruption.] I speak as a remainer. When that happens, does the Minister agree that the Council of Europe will become an increasingly important interlocutor between this country and the European Union? Will he reiterate this Government’s commitment to staying in the European Court of Human Rights?

Yes, when we leave the European Union, it is important that Britain maintains a strong role in international affairs in terms of its lead on human rights. I remind the House that the original convention on human rights was written by two Britons.

Community Sentences: Reoffending

3. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of community sentences in reducing rates of reoffending. (901514)

The reoffending rate for community sentences has been coming down since 2005. The latest figures show that 34% of adults given a community order or a suspended sentence order go on to reoffend. This evidence shows that community sentences are more effective at reducing reoffending than short-term prison sentences are.

I very much welcome the figures that were published on Thursday showing that recidivism was coming down for people on community sentences. However, about a third of people on community sentences do still reoffend, so will the Secretary of State consider the “swift and certain” programmes in the United States that have had considerable effect in reducing recidivism?

I am certainly keen to learn from best practice not just in the United States but in other jurisdictions around the world. What was striking about some of last week’s figures was that they showed that offenders who underwent drug or alcohol treatment in this country showed a 33% reduction in the number of offences they committed in the following two years. That is a lesson we can learn from.

May I recommend to the Minister my proposal of deferred prosecutions, which also gets to the community responses that can reduce recidivism? That is among the recommendations I made in the review that the Government asked for.

I reiterate to the right hon. Gentleman the Government’s appreciation for the work that he put into the review. We shall be responding in detail to his recommendations, including the one that he mentioned.

But is it not the case that according to the Ministry of Justice’s own figures, there is a direct correlation between the length of a prison sentence and the likelihood of an offender reoffending? In other words, the longer that somebody spends in prison, the less likely it is that they are going to reoffend.

It is true that short-term sentences appear to have the least effect in reduced reoffending, but the comparison with them is with alternative community sentences, which are available for that similar type of crime. Those community sentences work best when they link up with services such as drug and alcohol treatment programmes sometimes provided by other authorities in the community.

I think the whole House will agree that community sentences function only when magistrates have trust in the people supervising them. Last year, thousands of community sentences were served in London alone. Will the Secretary of State therefore commit today to an urgent independent review of the performance of the London company responsible for supervising many of these community sentences in London, following the revelations in last week’s “Panorama” investigation that the London CRC—community rehabilitation company—had failed to act on 15,000 missed appointments over 16 months?

Of course, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the company responsible has denied some of the claims that were made in the “Panorama” programme. None the less, it is quite clear that missed appointments are a serious matter. We expect the London CRC, like other CRCs, to take appropriate action. I believe that in the independent inspectorate of probation we have precisely the kind of independent body that he has called for. It is currently looking again at London and we look forward to its next report.

I hear the Secretary of State’s reassurances about the delivery of community sentences by the so-called CRCs, but for us to be absolutely sure about this, I argue that we need to know the advice that the Minister has had about the failure of the CRCs. The “Panorama” documentary revealed an in-house MOJ paper warning of the risks of handing much of the supervision of community sentences to the private sector through the privatisation of probation. Will the Secretary of State make that memo public, so that we and the House can ensure that those flaws are being tackled?

I think the hon. Gentleman is referring to a document that was produced some years ago. It is important now that in addressing the underperformance of some areas of the probation service, we act on the recommendations from the independent probation inspectorate and seek, through the contractual mechanism, to drive up standards to where the public would expect them to be.

Leaving the EU: Legal Jurisdictions

4. What assessment his Department has made of the effect of the UK leaving the EU on the legal system of each legal jurisdiction. (901515)

We recognise the distinct legal systems across the UK. We engage with our counterparts in the devolved Administrations to prepare the ground for Brexit, in terms both of achieving a smooth transition on things such as civil and judicial co-operation and of seizing the global opportunities for the UK legal sector, which contributed around £25 billion to the UK economy last year.

That being the case, what actual steps has the Department taken to ensure that Scottish legal services and the Scottish legal system are protected when the UK leaves the EU?

There is a two-part answer to that. First, in relation to the negotiations with our EU partners, we are very focused on making sure that the current co-operation continues as well and as optimally as possible. Secondly, in relation to the legal position, the EU withdrawal position will make sure that there is legal certainty for citizens across the UK.

20. The Government’s “Legal Services are GREAT” campaign, which was launched in Singapore earlier this month, focuses solely on the global promotion of the English legal system; it contains no mention of Scotland or Northern Ireland. Will the Minister see that that is rectified prior to the campaign’s domestic launch later this year? (901532)

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we are absolutely committed to promoting every one of Scotland’s finest exports, from whisky through to its brilliant lawyers.

The Government’s EU position papers on enforcement and dispute resolution and on security, law enforcement and justice have significant implications for the Scottish legal system and for areas of law devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Yet, in advance of the publication of those papers, there was absolutely no consultation with the Scottish Government or the Scottish Law Officers. What assurance can the Minister give me that such oversight will not happen again?

I do not know about the specific drafting in the papers, but there was considerable dialogue with all the devolved Administrations on the substance underpinning the position papers and the negotiating position that the UK has taken.

Sir David Edward, a distinguished jurist and a former judge at the Court of Justice, recently gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament about these papers. He said, and I quote, that “the UK Government has overlooked the significance of the separate Scottish legal system, the Scottish judicial system and the Scottish prosecution system in relation to justice and home affairs issues such as Europol, the European Arrest Warrant, cross-border information systems and the conventions and regulations about recognition and enforcement of judgments.” Will the Minister undertake to meet me so that these oversights might be rectified?

I thank the hon. and learned Lady, but she has not actually pointed to one aspect, one paragraph or one point in the position paper that she thinks we have got wrong. We certainly accept, recognise and, indeed, embrace the huge contribution that the Scottish justice and legal systems make. In relation to the justice and home affairs strand of the negotiations, we will of course bear in mind very closely the different contours across the whole UK.

Farmer Review

5. What progress the Government have made on the implementation of the Farmer review published on 10 August 2017. (901516)

The family is the most effective resettlement agency that we have. That is a view shared by the prisons inspectorate, the probation service and Ofsted. The time to work on those relationships is from the moment an offender is sentenced to jail. To leave it longer is to leave it too late. That is why I welcome the excellent review by Lord Farmer, and we are working to implement all his recommendations.

Figures from the Farmer review show that inmates who receive regular family visits are 39% less likely to reoffend. Will the Minister outline what steps the Government are taking to enable more family visits to happen in our prisons?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Reoffending rates among people who have family contact are a lot lower than those for other offenders. We are working to implement all of Lord Farmer’s review over time. I will be meeting her and a number of colleagues to discuss our progress on this later.

The Farmer review references prisoner wellbeing. At HMP Nottingham in the past two months alone, four prisoners have killed themselves and one has died of an overdose. Will Ministers say why they think this is happening, and what do they plan to do about it?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. Certainly, for a lot of prisoners—whether for their mental wellbeing and issues to do with self-harm, but also violence—family contact can make a difference. There are specific issues relating to HMP Nottingham, and I am willing to write to him about those.

In Parc Prison outside Bridgend in south Wales, parent teacher evenings take place in the prison so fathers can demonstrate their ongoing responsibility to their children’s education. Will the Minister tell us if any other prisons are going to follow the excellent example set by Parc?

The former Prisons Minister makes an excellent point about good practice at Parc Prison. As he is aware, there is good practice dotted around the prison estate. We have Storybook Dads and Mums in some prisons and Our Voice in other prisons. We want to see good practice spread across the entire estate. To enable us to do that, we are devolving budgets to prison governors, and we will also hold them to account when we pilot new family and significant relationship performance measures as of next year.

Review of Legal Aid Reforms

Yesterday, we laid a written ministerial statement before the House setting out the details of the review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, and publishing the post-legislative memorandum, which discharges the promise made by previous Ministers to this House. I expect the review to be completed by the summer of 2018.

I thank the Minister for his response about progress on the review of legal aid reforms, but it is disappointing that, even though the Government first announced this review nine months ago, it still will not conclude for another nine months, which is nine more months of many thousands of people not being able to afford to access our justice system. His Government’s reforms of legal aid were intended to save £350 million. In fact, legal aid has fallen by double that. Will the Minister lobby his colleague the Chancellor, so that some of those additional savings go immediately to help those who have been priced out of access to our justice system?

I thought the hon. Gentleman might at least welcome the fact that we laid out the terms of the review yesterday. I am not sure whether he has had a chance to study the post-legislative memorandum. Let us be clear about one thing: last year, we spent £1.6 billion on legal aid in England and Wales, which is a quarter of the Ministry of Justice’s budget. International comparisons are not exact, but according to the Council of Europe’s review last year, the UK spent more per capita than any other Council of Europe member.

In looking at the effect of the reduction in legal aid on access to justice, will the Minister also comment on the impact on access to justice of the closure of magistrates courts. The closure of Kendal court this summer has removed easy access to justice for hundreds of people, increasing pressure on the police, legal professionals and local families. What will he do to restore such physical access to justice?

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern if the court estate is situated in his constituency, but we have a £1 billion court reform programme, which is investing in updating, modernising and introducing technology. As a result, we will actually deliver more sensitive justice for victims and witnesses, but also a better bang for the taxpayer’s buck.

18. Wales has seen one of the largest drops in legal aid providers, at 29%, particularly with regard to housing. Will the Government’s belated review of their deep cuts in legal aid look specifically at the impact of this? (901530)

The terms of reference have been set out very clearly. The post-legislative memorandum is wide in scope, and the hon. Lady should feel free to submit any particular points that she wants us to consider. I am obviously not going to pre-empt or prejudice the scope of the review that we have just undertaken.

Has my hon. Friend seen any evidence that reductions in legal aid have reduced the cost of litigation in this country? If not, will he look into why the market is not working properly?

A good many of those issues will be examined by the review. If my hon. Friend would like to write to me with any concerns he has, I would be very happy to look at them.

Twenty months ago, the Court of Appeal ruled that the Government’s restrictions on legal aid for victims of domestic violence were unlawful. Nine months ago, Ministers told the House that they would make changes by secondary legislation that would

“make it easier for victims of domestic violence to access legal aid.”—[Official Report, 25 April 2017; Vol. 624, c. 983.]

Nothing has happened. Victims cannot wait another nine months, so when will the secondary legislation be brought forward?

The hon. Lady is right that it is vital to ensure that legal aid is available to victims in circumstances of domestic violence. Of course, it was granted in more than 12,000 cases last year. We have reviewed the evidence requirements again and are committed to making it easier for victims to access legal aid. I will announce the details shortly.

Prison Governors

We have given governors greater freedom over their prison’s daily routine and timetable, staffing and family services. We intend to give governors control of areas such as education and training provision. As other current contracts expire, I will look for opportunities to devolve further powers.

There were 21 recommendations in the Farmer review and Ministers have made the welcome commitment to implement them all. What further support and incentives are being given to prison governors, as they have increased autonomy within their prisons, to ensure that that implementation happens on the ground?

The budgets have already been devolved to governors, enabling them to commission family services that are tailored to the specific needs of their prisoners. I have seen examples of that when visiting HMP Parc and HMP Bronzefield. Governors will be supported in future by new family services guidance, which will incorporate elements of Lord Farmer’s report, in the hope that they will all develop best practice.

A recent independent monitoring board report confirmed that the riot at Bedford Prison last year was caused by “chronic understaffing” and “poor systems”. Improvements have been made while the prison has operated at half capacity, but will the Minister assure me today that the same problems will not happen again once the prison is operating at full capacity?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that we are about halfway towards recruiting the additional 2,500 prison officers that my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), announced about a year ago. If he has particular concerns about a specific prison, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Prisons Minister will be happy to discuss them with him.

I warmly welcome the commitment of the Secretary of State and the Prisons Minister to implementing the Farmer review in full. They have acknowledged the important link between family ties and rehabilitation. Now that prison governors are being further empowered, what more can be done to ensure that that is rolled out across the whole prison estate?

One thing that has struck me since being appointed to this role in the Government is that we need to get better at ensuring that the best, most successful practices in prisons are disseminated rapidly and widely. One means of doing that is to ensure that there is additional support for individual prison governors at regional level, so that they have experienced mentors available to them—particularly for new governors. I hope that that shift will help deliver the change that my hon. Friend seeks.

Governors cite the outsourcing of facilities management, maintenance and repairs as something that undermines their ability to manage important elements within their prisons. Labour has announced a review, working with prison governors, to identify private service contracts that can be brought back in-house to save the taxpayer money and, at the same time, improve prison conditions. Will the Government also commit to review those contracts?

As I said in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), as existing contracts expire, we shall seek new opportunities to devolve powers to governors and to clusters of prisons. Along with Prison Service headquarters, they will then have to strike the appropriate balance between the local provisioning of services and the need to secure the best value for taxpayers’ money.

Cammell Laird Strikers

8. Whether the Government plan to respond to the findings of the European Parliament’s Committee on Petitions in December 2014 on the treatment of Cammell Laird strikers in 1984. (901519)

In Justice questions in April, I committed to looking at this case further. Having done so, however, I remain to be convinced that this is a matter for the Ministry of Justice.

Does the Minister agree that it is completely unacceptable for a British citizen representing the Cammell Laird strikers to take that issue to the EU Parliament petitions committee, for a judgment to be found in his favour and for his own Government not to even bother to respond?

The Ministry of Justice does not think it holds any documents with regard to this case. I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to a petition brought by Edward Marnell. I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman wrote to me to set out the issues and I will arrange for my officials to have a meeting with him.

Drones: Prisons

Drones are a threat but also an opportunity for our prisons. Where they are a threat, we are absolutely determined to tackle the organised crime groups who use them. In terms of the opportunities, the prison service is investing in drones to proactively manage large-scale incidents as our eyes and ears to improve our intelligence and allow us to respond more effectively and swiftly.

My hon. Friend will know that technology moves ever faster, day by day. Can he assure me that HMP Guys Marsh in my constituency will have access to the relevant funds to have the technologies in place to combat the use of drones and mobile telephones?

Absolutely. Guys Marsh will benefit from the £2 million pot being used to invest in mobile phone detection technology. An additional £3 million is being invested in a national intelligence team to help to tackle serious and organised crime. This will allow us to deal with serious and organised crime in our prisons and in our communities. We will be working with the Home Office on this project to improve prison security and social reform.

In April 2017, the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Prison Service in Northern Ireland set up a special unit to address the delivery of drugs, mobile phones and contraband into prisons using drones. Has the Minister considered setting up such a unit? Has he also considered a radio blocker that would prevent drones entering prison property?

Absolutely. As I said, we have an intelligence unit dealing with organised crime in our prisons in a very concerted way across the estate. We are doing that alongside investing in anti-drone and mobile phone detection technology. Bringing this together will mean that we are able to deal with the threat that drones pose across the prison estate and, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), in the community. Organised crime is not just in the prison estate, but often in the community.

Approximately 200 kg of drugs were smuggled into the England and Wales prison estate last year. Exactly what proportion does the Minister believe was smuggled in with the use of drones, and what specific support is he giving to HMP Bristol in Horfield in my constituency to help to deal with it?

It is difficult to tell exactly what proportion was brought in by drones. We do not know how many drones are successful; we know only those that are unsuccessful. We know that drones are a very serious and emerging threat because of the load they can carry into our prisons. Dealing with drugs in prisons is not just about our counter-drone strategy, but the overall illicit economy in prisons as a whole: mobile phones, which help to facilitate it; cracking down on corruption, where it exists, in the supply chain; and working with law enforcement. There is no single way to deal with it; we are going to do all those things across the piece to crack down.

Prison Overcrowding

11. What assessment he has made of the effect of overcrowding and staff numbers on recent serious disturbances in prisons. (901522)

I have seen a number of incidents in prisons. Every incident in any prison has its own unique situation, which is why we always investigate incidents in prisons very thoroughly. Obviously, we hold some of the most challenging individuals in society in our prisons, so incidents do sometimes occur. Our job is to minimise the risk and manage those incidents when they happen.

The chief inspector of prisons has said that staffing levels are simply too low for a decent regime to be run. We need prison officers on the frontline, not filling in for cuts elsewhere. Under this Government, we have lost 6,000 prison officers. Will the Minister take some of the responsibility for the crisis in prisons such as the one in Walton?

Obviously, I take a keen interest in the hon. Gentleman’s local prison, where the staff complement is exactly as it should be. It is one of the 10 pathfinder prisons in which we are implementing the new offender management model. I discussed the staffing situation there with the new national chair of the Prison Officers Association, and he commended the fact that staff numbers there are at full strength, but that does not mean that there is not more to do across the estate. We are halfway to our target of 2,500, and I am confident that we will achieve that.

The chief executive of the Prison Service has stated that, because of overcrowding, the Government will not be able to proceed with planned closures, throwing the financing of their prison building plan into disarray. In the light of concerns that the Ministry of Justice will not be able to build new prisons without selling off the old—the model on which its building plan was based—will the Minister today guarantee that no new prison places will be built from private funds?

The hon. Gentleman seems to have forgotten that we have a duty to house those who are sentenced by the courts. The prison population in England and Wales is 86,000; we have a duty to provide accommodation for them to serve their sentence in. We still have a commitment to investing £1.3 billion in the prison estate to create 10,000 additional prison places during this Parliament.

The Minister will be aware that one of the main causes of overcrowding in our prisons is the very long delays in our criminal justice system and the number of prisoners on remand. I wrote to him about Cordell Austin’s very long delay on remand; he was first arrested back in May 2016 under a very large joint enterprise case, but was acquitted in August this year. He is still in prison after nearly 18 months, and his oral hearing is not due until December; originally, we were told it would be next year. Are these not the sorts of cases that need attention, and do not hearings need to be prompt?

Justice for those going through the system has to be swift. May I correct an assumption in the question? The reason why the prison population has increased in England and Wales is that more people convicted of sex-related offences are serving longer sentences. Given our duty to protect the public, it is right that when these people are convicted by the courts, they serve their time. The hon. Lady mentioned a case in her constituency and what she perceives to be the injustice there, but I would not generalise from that case and say that that is why there is overcrowding in our prisons.

Young Offender Institutions

12. What recent steps he has taken in response to the finding of the chief inspector of prisons that no young offender institution inspected in the last year was safe to hold juveniles. (901523)

Improving safety and reducing the risk of serious incidents of violence and self-harm in youth custody are among my highest priorities, and we are committed to reforming custodial provision.

Given that no prison is safe for children, that over a third of children in prison have diagnoses of mental health conditions and that nearly 70% of children sent to prison reoffend within a year of release, does the Minister believe that it is time to find an alternative to sending children to prison?

I recognise that the recidivism rate of 69% is unacceptable, and that is why I am bringing forward two new secure schools, one in the north-west and one in the south-east of England. We recognise that we have a problem with the environment in the youth custodial estate; I have never hidden this from the House. The mental health issues are deep-seated. We are dealing with approximately 1,000 individuals who are locked up at any one time, and they can often be quite deeply damaged; I assure the hon. Lady that I am cognisant of that.

I very much welcome the idea of the secure school in the north-west. That is the right direction of travel, but will the Minister give a guarantee to the House and to the public that staffing levels will ensure that such schools both are safe and become places where we can break any reoffending cycle?

The hon. Gentleman is fully aware that the part of the world that he used to represent as a Mayor is quite ahead in dealing with individuals more holistically. Staffing is an issue. We have brought forward a youth custody officer role, which will start in 2018, and we are bringing forward another 80 people for a course to improve the type of care that those individuals can offer. We are under no illusions about the challenges. The guidelines on how we are procuring secure schools and their staffing arrangements will be announced in the new year.

Child Abuse: Prosecutions

We are taking action across the Government to bring about a step change in the response to the sexual abuse and exploitation of children, including the commencement of the roll-out of recorded pre-trial cross-examination for vulnerable witnesses in Crown courts in January 2017. Further roll-out for vulnerable witnesses, which includes child victims of sexual abuse, will continue in the autumn.

It takes tremendous courage for children to come forward in such cases. The process of giving evidence is often extremely harrowing. They deserve justice, and when that does not happen they are left deeply disillusioned with the system. It is something I have seen in my own constituency. What further steps can the Government take to ensure that justice is done? In particular, will the Minister look at the operation of the criminal injuries compensation scheme to ensure that child abuse victims are treated fairly?

It is an important point that the nature of grooming can make signs of abuse particularly challenging to detect. That is something that CICA—the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority—has to address. That is why it has consulted with experts and charities to produce recently published new guidance to ensure every victim gets the compensation to which they are entitled.

Prison Officer Safety

We are working to keep our brave prison officers safe by strengthening the frontline. We had 20,000 individual officers in post at the end of August. That is an increase of 1,290 since October last year and the highest level since 2013. We are also giving our prison officers the tools that they need to do their job. We have invested in 5,600 body-worn cameras across the prison estate to protect and deter assaults.

In Chelmsford Prison, the number of attacks against staff rose to more than 120 last year, but since then it has recruited more staff and installed innovative mobile phone detectors and it will soon roll out a new digital initiative; where that has been piloted, attacks on prison officers have more than halved. Will the Minister join me in welcoming that progress to put staff safety first?

I certainly welcome the progress. I would like to visit Chelmsford—I make that offer to my hon. Friend. We want to go further: she will be aware that we are supporting the private member’s Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) on emergency workers, which will increase penalties for assaults on prison officers.

Imprisonment for Public Protection

16. What progress he is making on reviewing cases of prisoners serving a sentence of imprisonment for public protection. (901527)

We are making good progress in helping IPP prisoners to progress to eventual release. We have implemented measures such as individual psychology-led case reviews, increased access to offending behaviour programmes and we are increasing places on progression regimes, with an additional three regimes planned to come online at the end of March 2018.

On 18 October, the Select Committee on Justice heard that 760 released IPP prisoners were recalled in the past year, but 60% of those were quickly re-released. Does the Minister agree with the chair of the Parole Board that the threshold for recall is too low and should be reviewed to stop the revolving door for prisoners who have already long served their minimum tariff?

I do not agree that the threshold is too low. When an IPP prisoner is recalled, it is not because they were found, for example, hiding under their mother’s bed. It is often because there is a clear causal link to the behaviour exhibited at the time of the index offence. Our duty is to keep the public safe. Where there is any signal or any cause for concern, it is right that such prisoners are recalled into custody. However, the national probation service is working on a programme to help IPPs when they are released into the community to transition into the community and to reduce the incidence of recall in a way that protects the public, but also allows IPPs to rebuild their lives.

Courts: Victims and Witnesses

We are investing over £1 billion to bring our courts into the 21st century, to make them more sensitive to victims and witnesses and to deliver swifter and more effective justice.

I am grateful to the Minister for that response. What can be done to ensure that the courtroom environment and the wider environment of the court building itself help to put victims and witnesses at ease, and support them through the process of giving evidence?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we need to reduce the stress and trauma experienced by victims and witnesses. We are doing a range of things. First, we are establishing model waiting rooms for victims and witnesses so that they will feel less stressed and more comfortable, meaning that they are more likely to give compelling evidence. Secondly, in the courtroom itself, we are rolling out section 28 measures for pre-recorded cross-examination to Crown courts nationally. This autumn, we will extend that to victims of sexual offences or modern slavery offences in Leeds, Liverpool and Kingston upon Thames.

Community Rehabilitation Company Contracts

19. What recent changes his Department has made to community rehabilitation company contracts. (901531)

We changed CRC contracts earlier this year to better reflect the fixed costs that they were incurring. However, payments to CRCs are still below our original forecasts.

I am grateful for that answer. Will the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State publish how much additional resource he has given to CRC companies in total, which CRC companies have received that additional resource, and what he intends them to do with the product they have been given?

The answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s last question is that we expect them to use that money to improve the delivery of services and to match the best CRCs, such as Cumbria, which recently received a very impressive report from the inspectorate. We did not award the CRCs a specific sum, but agreed to alter the contracts in such a way that we accepted a greater proportion of their costs as fixed. The figure of £277 million that is in public circulation is an estimate of how that adjustment might increase the total contract value, but that is based on certain assumptions about volumes and payment by results, and I reiterate that payments will still be well within the forecast budget.

I think that the House has savoured the treatise from the Secretary of State, and we are deeply obliged to him.

I call Stephen Morgan. He is not here. Peter Kyle? Not here either. Where are these fellows? How extraordinary. Well, all is not ill with the world because the hon. Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) is here.

Youth Justice System

We outlined our plans to reform youth justice in response to Charlie Taylor’s review last December. Since then we have created a new youth custody service that is responsible for the day-to-day running of the youth estate and committed £64 million towards its reform.

The Justice Committee heard this morning that a third of people on jobseeker’s allowance have criminal records. What further steps is the Secretary of State taking to ban the box?

The Ministry of Justice is trying to set an example by banning the box and treating ex-offenders on a par with any other applicant for a job. That example is being widely followed throughout the public service, and we look to the private sector to match it, because we believe that ex-offenders can contribute a great deal to the successful work of private sector companies.

Topical Questions

Since the last Justice questions, it has been my pleasure to welcome the appointment of Lord Burnett of Maldon as Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, and the historic appointment of Baroness Hale as President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. Where she leads we hope that many others will follow. I look forward to working with them both to ensure that the judiciary’s essential role at the heart our nation continues to be championed and respected.

Further to the comments made a few moments ago by the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), about the new guidance issued by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, I can tell Members that I have asked my Department to give full consideration to wider concerns that have been expressed in the House about the rules of the compensation scheme as part of my Department’s work to develop a strategy for victims, and in the light of recommendations we expect next year from the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse.

After last week’s “Panorama” investigation into the dangerous failings of the privatisation of probation, will the Minister halt any plans to outsource night-time supervision in probation hostels?

Of course we seek to get the best value for money for the taxpayer in all our services. I understand that we are hiring people to cover some night-time shifts in probation hostels. We will ensure that we bear in mind value for the taxpayer while also protecting the public.

T5. As my hon. Friend the Minister is aware, Kirkham Prison is a category D open prison in my constituency that works to enable prisoners to make the transition to life outside. What steps are the Government are taking to support Kirkham and other prisons to rehabilitate offenders and to improve prisons’ ways of operating? (901506)

In prisons across the estate, including Kirkham, we are empowering governors by giving them control over their budgets and holding them accountable for training and education outcomes so that we enable them to deliver rehabilitation.

The family courts are full of people representing themselves. The new President of the Supreme Court, Lady Justice Hale, has described the Government’s legal aid reforms as a “false economy”. Does not the Minister agree that restoring early legal aid would not only reduce the number of cases coming to court, but save court time? Will he guarantee that the legal aid review will include an analysis of the cost to the rest of the legal aid system that has resulted from the Government’s abolition of early legal aid?

It is certainly right that we need to try to reduce the number of cases getting into the family courts in the first place, especially given that witnesses and others involved are often more traumatised by the process of going to court. The terms of reference for the legal aid review have been clearly set out, and there is wide scope for the issues that the hon. Lady mentions to be taken into account, but I will not pre-empt or prejudice what the review will look at right now.

The exceptionally high cost to businesses of commercial litigation is good for commercial lawyers—perhaps I should declare an interest—but it is not good for businesses, whether they are large or small. One answer that has recently been developed is the use of commercial litigation financing. Will my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor look into ethical and other concerns surrounding that, as outlined by Lord Faulks in the other place recently?

We will be happy to look into that and to take account of any representations that my hon. Friend wishes to make.

T2. Why are the Government planning to give security companies and bailiffs the power of arrest, because that will be the result of privatising the collection of court fees? A petition opposing those plans has been signed by 16,000 people because they do not believe that either 150 jobs, or the safety and finances of vulnerable people, should be put at risk. (901503)

These are not in fact new powers; they have been in use across the country for many years. They apply to arrests relating to debt and community penalty breaches, and they must follow the issue of a warrant of arrest from the criminal courts. Any use of these powers is overseen by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service.

Following the triumph of the Conservative manifesto at the election, may I congratulate the Lord Chancellor on finding another half-baked and unpopular policy to put before the electorate: giving prisoners the vote? Will he acknowledge that nobody is taking the vote away from prisoners—they are taking it away from themselves? If voting is so important to them, perhaps they should not commit the crimes that lead to them being sent to prison in the first place. I urge him to reject this ridiculous policy, which goes down like a lead balloon with the electorate.

The Government are preparing their position ahead of the December meeting of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. We will announce any changes in our position to Parliament in the usual way.

T3. What steps are the Department taking to ensure that there is adequate funding for youth justice services in places such as Warwickshire, which has seen significant funding cuts? (901504)

We spend more than £200 million a year on youth justice and, as I outlined earlier, we are spending an additional £64 million on the custodial estate. We are conscious of the difficulties within the custodial estate, but this is about not just the estate, but the community, which is why I have commissioned a report on the value of sport to the criminal justice system, and especially young people, which will be published in the new year.

Tomorrow sees the release of Mubarek Ali, who is a serial child sexual exploitation offender in Telford. Will the Secretary of State please confirm whether all that should be done has been done to protect the public and the victims concerned?

To the best of my knowledge, that has been done. Mr Ali is, of course, being released in accordance with the law having served the term that was set out by the judge in his case for the purposes of punishment and deterrence. However, if my hon. Friend or her constituents have any concerns about the circumstances of the release and the supervision arrangements that should follow, I ask her to bring them to my attention without delay.

T4. Sixty-one per cent. of women who leave prison after a sentence of less than 12 months are reconvicted in the first year. In my recent Westminster Hall debate on women leaving prison, the Minister made various commitments about new interventions and various reviews to support women in prison and those leaving it. When will those reviews be complete? When will there be a better, fuller programme to support women in and leaving prison? (901505)

The hon. Gentleman arranged a good and well-attended debate. He is aware that I have committed to producing a women’s strategy. It will be published once all the moving cogs of government are in place, and I can promise him that it will be about how we can do more in the community to prevent locking women up.

May I invite the Minister to join me in saying to our hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) that most people in prison never voted and are unlikely to vote when they come out? By making it compulsory for them to register to vote, they are far more likely to think about other people, not just themselves.

We hope that all prisoners will be fully integrated into society when they come to be released from prison and will lead a law-abiding life of constructive citizenship. As I said a few moments ago, the Government will make clear their approach at the forthcoming Committee of Ministers meeting and in an announcement to Parliament in the usual fashion.

T7. Some 54,000 women lose their jobs each year due to pregnancy and maternity discrimination. The Secretary of State may remember the chaos of the early weeks of caring for a newborn, but the time limit for bringing an employment tribunal claim is just three months, so will he look again at this issue, as recommended by the Women and Equalities Committee, the Justice Committee and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and extend the time limit for claims related to pregnancy and maternity discrimination? (901508)

I have looked into this important and sensitive area, and I have also spoken to my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee. I urge the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) to send me any evidence that putting the limit back to six months would actually make a difference, because some of the considerations that apply in relation to three months would also apply to six months.

I welcome the news that the Government are again considering prisoners’ right to vote. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State may find that this is a matter on which public opinion and the mood in this House has shifted. It is high time that we remedied something that places us in a very small category of countries. Most countries manage to allow their prisoners to vote—certainly those sentenced to short terms of imprisonment—without the world coming to an end, and it is an important tool for both civic participation and rehabilitation.

My right hon. and learned Friend expresses a view that he has held for a long time and has been clear about, and I am sure that he will be following the debate closely. When the Government have reached a view on our approach to the Committee of Ministers meeting, we will share that with Parliament.

T8. The Government have new proposals to limit legal costs and damages recovered in clinical negligence cases. Patient groups are extremely concerned this will mean serious cases involving older people, child deaths and stillbirths will be impossible to pursue. Will the Minister meet me and those groups to hear their concerns and to sort out the proposals? (901509)

Serious and sensitive though that matter undoubtedly is, it falls in large part to the Department of Health, but either myself or the Minister of State would be happy to discuss it further with the hon. Lady.

Following my ten-minute rule Bill in March calling for the reform of family law, including a robust enforcement of child arrangements orders, opening up the family courts in care proceedings and updating our anachronistic divorce laws, what progress have the Government made on their family law review, which was announced in the summer?

I thank my hon. Friend for her proposals and the thought that she has put into them. The time taken to conclude public family law cases has nearly halved since 2011. We are still working through very real issues with the relevant Departments, including the Department for Education. On private law, we are committed to facilitating the settlement of far more family disputes so that we avoid families, vulnerable witnesses and sometimes victims having to go through the trauma of court proceedings.

T10. Following a meeting with the Courts Minister, I received a letter from him last week that described Sunderland’s court building as below what would be expected, but that is putting it mildly. The court is more than 100 years old. It is damp, has very poor accessibility, and is wholly inadequate for victims and staff alike. Will he visit Sunderland and explain to the people of Sunderland, including my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott), why they do not deserve better from his Department? (901511)

The hon. Lady raises her point tenaciously. I welcome the opportunity to sit down with her and the hon. Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) to look at the issue. We will ensure that the refurbishment is carried out as soon as reasonably practical. In the long term, we want to ensure that in her constituency and across the country we have the right courts in the right places, and with the right technology and refurbishment, to ensure that they deliver the best access to justice.

The reputation of our legal system partly depends on our respect for our international obligations. In advance of the Committee of Ministers, will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State bear in mind that respecting the judgments of the European Court of Justice is a better guide for this country’s reputation than the amateur jurisprudence of the Dog and Duck?

The rule of law is at the heart of this country’s constitutional traditions and is expressed in the oath that I and every Lord Chancellor has to take. My hon. Friend will recall that the manifesto on which he, I and other Conservative colleagues stood earlier this year committed us to remaining party to the European convention on human rights for the remainder of this Parliament.

The recently published Bach commission report highlighted a number of serious issues relating to access to justice, including representation at inquests. In the light of tragic events such as Grenfell Tower and Hillsborough, will the Minister commit to providing legal aid for inquests in all cases when the state is funding one or more of the other parties?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question on this pertinent and salient point. Legal aid remains available for inquests through the exceptional case funding scheme. Although those decisions are obviously decided independently, I reassure her that more than half the applications in relation to inquest cases in 2016-17 were granted.

Full-body scanners that detect drugs that are concealed within the person are successfully used across America. The Ministry of Justice has trialled one scanner. Has there been an evaluation, will we see more trials, and could the scanners be used on a mobile basis?

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in his party conference speech, one scanner was trialled in Wandsworth and we are looking at doing that across the entire estate. There has been an evaluation. Full-body scanners are not the only way to combat drugs and to prevent drugs from getting into prisons, as using intelligence, going after organised crime and working with law enforcement are also ways of dealing with drugs. We will use every measure possible to make sure that we stop the epidemic of drugs in our prisons and the flow of drugs into them.

The Minister will now be aware that there is a covenant on the land on the Baglan industrial park, in my constituency, where he wishes to build a prison. That covenant states that the land should not be used

“other than as an industrial park”,

or for

“any offensive, noisy or dangerous trade business manufacture or occupation or for any purpose or in any manner which may be a nuisance to the Agency or the occupiers of neighbouring or adjacent premises.”

Does he agree that the covenant is the final nail in the coffin of the Ministry’s plans to build a prison on the Baglan industrial park?

The hon. Gentleman is incredibly persistent and tenacious in fighting for his constituents. Before moving ahead with any building project, we will of course carry out all the necessary legal and local authority searches. If they turn up any objections, we will take those into account accordingly.

With a population of more than 80,000, our prisons are bursting at the seams, yet according to the Ministry of Justice’s own figures, we transferred a pathetic 110 foreign national prisoners to prison in their own country last year, and this year’s number is 56. Surely we can do better than that.

I think my hon. Friend is referring to the numbers transferred under prisoner transfer agreements. Last year, the overall number of prisoners deported from this country was a record high. We continue to work consistently with foreign Governments, and there is an inter-ministerial group that links not only the Department for International Development, the Foreign Office and the MOJ, but the Home Office, to make sure that we iron out all the issues that can be impediments to transferring prisoners to serve their sentence abroad. I assure him that this is a key focus that we will continue to pursue.