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Topical Questions

Volume 642: debated on Tuesday 5 June 2018

Since the last Justice questions, my Department has published an education and employment strategy for adult prisoners. My vision is that when an offender enters prison they should immediately be put on the path to employment on release. To deliver this, we are giving governors powers to tailor education provision to employers’ requirements. We are launching the New Futures Network to broker partnerships with employers, and we are consulting on measures to get more prisoners into workplaces on day release during their sentences. Success will mean more prisoners leaving custody ready for work and more employers ready to hire them.

Releasing prisoners immediately before the weekend, when housing offices, benefits offices and other sources of advice are closed, leaves vulnerable individuals without support and more likely to reoffend. Will the Justice Secretary take immediate steps to address this ridiculous practice?

I thank the hon. Lady, because I hear exactly the point that she is making. I have asked my Department for the evidence on this issue. If the evidence does point towards worse levels of reoffending and real difficulties for offenders if they are released on a Friday, we will look at that.

T2. Recent reports emerging from Belgium suggest that the suspect in the alleged terrorist murder of two police officers was a small-time crook who had been radicalised in prison. What steps have been taken to reduce the risk of radicalisation in our own prisons? (905603)

This is a hugely important issue. It is not about identifying people who are in prison for terrorism-related offences but people such as that individual who have been put in prison for other offences and have been radicalised in prison. The challenge is first to identify those individuals, then to work with the security services and the police to really investigate them, then to put the measures in place either to change their behaviour or to separate them from the general population.

T4. My local council and police have raised concerns about the impact of court closures on their costs and on their effectiveness, especially with regard to the detrimental effect on good management of housing and reducing crime, so will the Minister undertake a proper evaluation of whether, across Government, this has been a case of penny wise and pound foolish? (905605)

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, with any sale of a court, the money is reinvested in the justice system. We have a £1 billion court reform programme, and the sale of any court will go into that investment.

T3. A freedom of information request by the Press Association found that there had been only 11 charges related to the practice of upskirting since 2015. Does the Minister share my constituents’ outrage about the upset that upskirting causes victims, and will she provide an update on the Department’s review of the current law? (905604)

My hon. Friend is right to identify that victims of upskirting are caused a great deal of upset. My officials have met Gina Martin, who has campaigned very hard on this issue. We are also looking at the details of the private Member’s Bill on this very important issue introduced by the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse).

T6. I was contacted recently by my constituent, Anna Arnone, who was employed as a prosecuting barrister by the CPS. Her work allegedly was removed without notice or explanation, and she was refused any statutory interest on the amount owed. Will the Minister commit to look into my constituent’s case if I forward her the details? (905607)

If that matter falls within my remit, I am happy to do so. If it is to do with the CPS, it will be for the Attorney General.

T5. I will repeat the same question as last time, on the grounds that unless one makes oneself a complete bore, nobody listens. What progress has the Secretary of State made on replacing short sentences with alternatives? Short sentences in prison rarely achieve anything, due to a lack of training and rehabilitation. (905606)

My hon. Friend may have noticed that I made some remarks recently that were very sympathetic to that point of view. He has been effective before becoming a bore; I congratulate him on that. Reoffending rates for those given a short sentence are higher than for those given a non-custodial sentence, which is why we are delivering alternatives.

T8. One of the most upsetting cases I have dealt with over the past 12 months was where my constituent’s children were sexually abused by their father. I would like to thank the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. and learned Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer), for her co-operation thus far. However, can the Minister explain why the victim’s criminal injuries compensation claim was originally turned down due to a lack of evidence, when the father is currently serving a lengthy prison sentence? How many children are facing that situation? (905609)

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I met Hannah Jones at a Westminster Hall debate organised by the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris). That is a dreadful case. I gather that the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority is reviewing it and that that information will be transmitted to Hannah this afternoon.

T7. Does the Minister agree that greater use of release on temporary licence for work placements can play a significant role in helping inmates to transition back into society and, crucially, reduce reoffending rates? (905608)

I very much agree. Indeed, that is a point we make strongly in our education and employment strategy. Release on temporary licence can help get people into work when they leave prison. If they are in work, they are less likely to reoffend, and that can bring down crime.

T9. What assessment have the Secretary of State and the Home Secretary made of the adequacy of the new process for EU citizens who are residents in the UK to apply for settled status? (905610)

That is a matter for the Home Office, but I am assured that the Home Office believes that the system can deliver what we need for the country.

Futures Unlocked is a Warwickshire charity with a community café called Moriarty’s in Rugby, providing work experience and job opportunities for those who have just completed a prison term. Does the Minister agree that locally managed schemes such as that are valuable in reducing reoffending rates?

Very much so, and I want to pay tribute to the employers, businesses and charities that do so much in this space. I am pleased that there is a consensus in the House that we need to focus on rehabilitation and reoffending, and one of the best ways of doing that is focusing on employment.

T10. I have constituents who are close family members of the murdered Fusilier Lee Rigby. They are being taunted by the constant drip, drip of musings from within the Prison Service of his two killers. Can Ministers ask the Prison Service to get a grip on those pronouncements and the ability to make them, and if they are to be made, might the family be informed first? (905611)

Absolutely. That is disgusting and disturbing behaviour, and I will be talking directly to the governor of the prisons concerned.

“This prison gives you the chance to reassess and rebuild your life.” Those are the words of one of the women at East Sutton Park Prison in my constituency. I thank the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), who is responsible for female offenders, for his recent visit to the prison. Will he do all that he can to secure the future of that prison, so that it can continue its good work in preparing female offenders for life after prison?

Yes, I was very impressed by East Sutton Park. I have now visited virtually every women’s prison in the country, and the response from the women themselves is what I took away from that visit. They had a hope for the future that I had not encountered very much elsewhere. I will be doing my best to go into bat for East Sutton Park.

Given that the Lord Chancellor has said that the timetable for the review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 is likely to slip, and the fact that, in giving evidence to the Justice Committee, the Law Society and the Criminal Law Solicitors Association praised as refreshing the whole independent review of Scottish legal aid, is this an opportunity to pause and commission an independent review in England and Wales?

The hon. Gentleman refers to the report on Scottish legal aid. I have looked at the review, which makes some recommendations that my officials will be looking at to improve our legal aid system. It is very interesting to see in the report a number of measures that we are taking—for example, in relation to video links and the online court, which I have already mentioned.

The safety of prison officers in prisons is absolutely pivotal, as my hon. Friend the Minister recognises. May I urge him to give serious consideration to prison officers carrying pepper spray?

We are in fact already piloting the use of pepper spray. With the correct training—it needs to be used with the correct training—it can be an important part of reducing violence, and we are working on the lessons of those pilots.

My constituent Caitriona McLaughlin, who is a solicitor, was recently paid £255 for seven months’ work on a criminal legal aid case. Does the Minister think that this was enough?

It is obviously very difficult to comment on a particular rate in a particular case for a particular individual, but I am very happy to talk to the hon. Gentleman about it. It is very important that criminal legal aid barristers and solicitors are paid appropriately for the amazing work that they do every day, up and down this country, in protecting the most vulnerable.

If the Chair of the Select Committee can match his legendary distinction with brevity, he will be an even greater man. I call Bob Neill.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the single departmental plan means that greater priority will be given to developing robust non-custodial sentences to divert those whom it is not necessary to send to prison in the first place?

Will the Secretary of State clarify whether, under the Department’s vision for secure schools, Ministers will close existing penal facilities, or is this yet another way of incarcerating our children?

There is no intention, in the longer term, to increase the number of young people we lock up. Indeed, our intention is to reduce the number of young people we lock up, and that is why we are changing the environment with the introduction of secure schools.

While we regularly praise the likes of Greggs, Timpson and Halfords for the great work they do in employing ex-offenders, do Ministers agree that the time has now come no longer to allow employers that have made a blanket refusal to employ any ex-offenders to carry on such an approach in secret?

My hon. Friend raises a very good point. As I have said before, I think there has been a shift in public mood, and employers should explain themselves if they take such an approach, which I do not think is good for them or for society.

When I was a councillor, I visited Porterfield Prison many times and learned many things, including how to start a Mercedes without the ignition key. Will the Minister tell us how the splendid new parliamentary scheme will have an impact on the lives of our prisoners, and on their hopes, needs and aspirations?

The key target for the parliamentary scheme is of course Members of Parliament, but the idea is to make the public aware through them of what is happening in prisons. Nothing drives change more in an institution than opening it up to public scrutiny, and I hope that that—in addition to learning how to start a Mercedes without the key—will be one of the great benefits of the new scheme.

The EU prisoner transfer directive was meant to enable us to transfer thousands of EU prisoners in UK prisons to a prison in their own country. How many EU prisoners have we actually transferred?

If memory serves, it is something like 41,000 over the past 10 years, but I will write to my hon. Friend to confirm the numbers.

Earlier this year, HMP Nottingham was issued with an urgent notification as it is fundamentally unsafe. Will Ministers tell me how many assaults on staff there have been at the prison since this notification was triggered?

The urgent notification process was triggered at the beginning of this year, and the report has just been published. I do not have the exact figures for the number of assaults on staff over the past four months, but I am very happy to write to the hon. Gentleman with those figures.

The Government have had years to address the safety problems at Bedford Prison following the riot in 2016, but the prison is already back in special measures. When will the Government get a grip on the prison and publish an action plan, so that staff do not have to go to work in fear of their lives?

This question and the questions about Nottingham and Exeter reveal a fundamental challenge across the system in terms of assaults on prison officers. The solution has to be to have the right numbers of officers to restore the predictability of the regime, so that prisoners calm down; to have body-worn cameras and CCTV in place; and to make sure that in Bedford and all the other challenged, violent local prisons we bring these measures into place.

I challenge the hon. Gentleman on his figures. I am happy to give him the correct figures, but the Government are doing a lot to reduce waiting times for every type of tribunal, by increasing the number of members of the judiciary and bringing in a number of measures to make tribunals work much more effectively together.

One of my constituents has a brother who has been missing for more than a year. She would like to step in to manage his affairs and protect his property and finances, but she cannot: although the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2017 received Royal Assent on 27 April 2017, it has yet to come into force because the rules of court have not been published. When will the Minister publish the rules of court to allow the Act to take effect, so that my constituent can deal with her missing brother’s affairs?

If this is my responsibility, the hon. Gentleman can by all means write to me about the details of his case.

Is the ministerial team aware of the growing concern in some women’s prisons about the placement of transgender people in those prisons? What is the Minister going to do about it?

I am fully aware, and I recognise that I have a significant responsibility for the majority of the women in those prisons, so that they are safe and secure. This is a difficult issue to manage, but I am persuaded that robust guidelines are in place, so that nothing untoward would happen.

Will the Secretary of State also look at the issue of acquired brain injury in the youth justice system? One of the most interesting pieces of work being done at the moment shows that we can divert some of the most difficult, troubled children if we bring together psychologists, psychiatrists and prison and probation officers—all the different teams—to transform individual lives.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point, which we will look at very closely. I take this opportunity to say, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), that 41,000 foreign national offenders have indeed been deported since 2010.

It is a pity that the hon. Member for Kettering is not here, but I am sure that he will get to hear of it very soon. We are extremely grateful to the Secretary of State.