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House of Commons Hansard
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05 June 2018
Volume 642

The Secretary of State was asked—

Prison Service Parliamentary Scheme

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1. What assessment he has made of the potential merits of introducing a Prison Service parliamentary scheme. [905577]

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I pay tribute to the hon. Lady and, indeed, to my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson). The idea is for a parliamentary scheme focused on the Prison Service, along the lines of the parliamentary schemes for the police and the armed services. This is an exceptional opportunity to show the public, through their elected representatives, the extraordinary work that prison officers do day in, day out. It is a very tough and a very challenging job, so, inspired by the hon. Lady and my hon. Friend, we have asked the Department to develop a scheme of exactly the kind that they have proposed.

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I am delighted to hear the Minister’s response, as, I am sure, are the leaders of the Prison Officers Association who are with us in the Gallery today. I am sure he will agree that this must not be just a stage-managed public affairs exercise, and I ask him to commit himself to working with the POA on the design of the scheme.

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That seems an excellent idea, and I am glad that the POA representatives are here today. As the hon. Lady—and any other Members who have visited a prison—will know, prisons are rarely stage-managed affairs, but we will work closely with the POA to ensure that the scheme reflects the experience of working prison officers.

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I, too, am delighted by the Minister’s announcement. Can he give us any indication of how long it is likely to take to get the scheme up and running?

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Let me again pay tribute to my hon. Friend for having inspired the scheme. The proposal is being put together by the Department at the moment, and I hope that before the end of the year we shall be able to enrol at least a couple of Members of Parliament on exactly such a scheme.

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As one of those who has served on the armed forces parliamentary scheme and seen the benefits that it provides in increasing knowledge, I commend the Minister for what he is doing. I suggest that this scheme should be similar to the armed forces scheme, because it has worked extremely well, and I think that the Prison Service should take advantage of it.

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We are looking closely at the armed forces parliamentary scheme, and also at the police parliamentary scheme, in which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State took part. Those are quite large and well-funded schemes, so we are looking at them carefully. This scheme may start as a smaller pilot, but we certainly want to model it on those other schemes.

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A Prison Service parliamentary scheme would give prison officers an opportunity to flag directly with Members of Parliament wider law and order issues, one of which is the use of separation jail cells to hold Islamist terrorists who pose a national security threat through attempts to radicalise other inmates. Many of those cells are lying empty. What work are you doing to ensure that they are in full operation?

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I am doing no work on this matter whatsoever, but the Minister may be.

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Managing Islamist extremists in prison means that, as well as identifying them and gathering intelligence on them, it is sometimes necessary to remove them from the general population to prevent them from radicalising other people. We have therefore set up two separation units, one of which is in Frankland Prison, and a third will shortly be set up in a new high-security prison. Such units are a vital element of managing extremists.

Legal Aid

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2. What assessment he has made of the effect of the decline in the number of people receiving legal aid for early legal help on access to justice. [905578]

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The hon. Lady is right to draw attention to the importance of early legal help. If a problem can be solved at an early stage, it can be prevented from escalating later. That is why the Department spent nearly £100 million on early legal help last year.

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I appreciate the Minister’s response, but the cuts in legal aid are having a devastating effect. One of my constituents is seeking legal aid after leaving a coercive, controlling relationship in which she suffered not just physical but financial abuse. Her former partner left significant debts in her name. She works, but she does not qualify for legal aid now due to her salary. Because the payments are taken out under court order before she receives her pay, she is left with no money for legal costs. He gets legal aid because he works. Surely this is not fair, and will the Minister review it?

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The hon. Lady has made an important point. The Government have done a significant amount in relation to domestic violence, understanding that it often involves not just physical abuse but, as the hon. Lady says, coercive control. We have also changed many of the guidelines relating to domestic violence so that people who have experienced such abuse can obtain legal aid more easily. I hope that that resolves some of the problems that the hon. Lady has identified.

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The Government’s cuts in legal aid have caused widespread damage to access to justice. The Information Commissioner has now taken serious action against the Ministry of Justice, owing to its refusal to publish in full the findings of its own research, which reveal judges’ deep concerns about the damage that is being caused. Would not the Government have spent their time better in trying to fix the broken justice system, rather than engaging in crass attempts to cover up embarrassing research findings showing the failures of their legal aid policies?

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As the hon. Gentleman will know, we are currently engaged in an extensive review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. We have met with over 50 organisations or individuals so far this year. I am aware that a complaint has been made to the Information Commissioner’s Office, and my Department is working closely with the ICO on this matter.

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The truth is that our legal aid and wider justice system is in crisis—a crisis created by this Government’s reckless cuts agenda—and the Government seem to be trying to bury the truth about the legal aid crisis. The research I referred to that was hidden away said that the judges

“believe unrepresented defendant numbers have increased and this is disproportionately reducing the efficiency of the courts.”

So will the Government today come clean and explain to this House why such evidence from judges about the scale of the damage the Government’s cuts are causing to access to justice was removed from the published report?

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The hon. Gentleman will know that 99% of people who claim legal aid in the Crown courts are granted it. He will also know that in the report he identified, although there are some unrepresented defendants, most people surveyed said that did not make a difference to outcomes.

Offenders: Housing and Benefits

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3. What steps his Department is taking to help offenders access (a) housing and (b) benefits on release from prison. [905579]

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A home provides a released offender with a stable platform and increases their chances of finding a job, accessing health services and tuning their lives around. The Government aim to eliminate rough sleeping by 2027. As part of this commitment, my Department will work with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to pilot initiatives, helping those with a history of offending to access and sustain suitable accommodation. We are also working closely with the Department for Work and Pensions to explore ways of enhancing the current benefit claim system.

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I thank the Minister for his response, but I recently supported a constituent who, after six months in prison, had successfully kicked his drugs habit. After being released from prison with no housing or benefits in place, he had to rely on former associates for support. He has now returned to drugs and his chaotic lifestyle—the one he wanted to escape. Does the Minister believe that lack of supervision and support for offenders leaving prison is likely to increase or decrease reoffending?

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We must work across government to ensure that those circumstances do not happen. It is right that we engage with local authorities, the MHCLG and the DWP to ensure that the support is there, and we also need to make sure that the probation service is working as it should to provide support for those offenders.

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Some local authorities claim that prisoners sent away from their home area have no local connection when they need to find housing. Will the Secretary of State have a word with the Secretary of State for Communities to make sure there is no discrimination among local authorities against ex-offenders; they just need to be treated fairly, the same as everyone else?

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My hon. Friend makes a good point and we discuss this issue with the MHCLG. We are also working with the Local Government Association in advance of its October commencement of the duty to refer under the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 to improve partnership working between prisons, probation providers and local authorities.

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Release from prison is particularly difficult for women, and I have raised this issue with the Prisons Minister, the hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), in Westminster Hall. Will the Secretary of State set out what he will do to support women up for release, not just in respect of when they are released from prison but also in keeping the family link, which is extremely important?

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That is an important point, and we will publish our women offenders strategy in the near future. We must address reoffending by ensuring that when people are released they are settled in the community as successfully as possible.

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Prisoners who build their own houses and then rent them at an affordable rent are much less likely to reoffend. Will the Secretary of State meet me and members of the Right to Build Task Force to discuss how this excellent initiative can be spread more widely?

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I congratulate my hon. Friend on managing to raise the issue of right to build in as many forums as possible, and I would be delighted to meet him to discuss the opportunities here.

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Does the Secretary of State accept that the number of ex-offenders ending up homeless has increased significantly in recent years, and will he accept that his Department’s policy objectives for reducing reoffending and helping rehabilitation will go nowhere unless this issue is tackled?

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I accept that if we want to reduce reoffending and to rehabilitate, we have to ensure that we address the issue of housing. I absolutely accept that, which is why I am determined to work with local authorities and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to address it.

Youth Justice System

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4. What steps the Government are taking to reform the youth justice system. [905580]

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We are increasing the frontline staff numbers in youth offending institutions by 20%. We have introduced enhanced support units at one location—soon to be two—to improve the behavioural management of very difficult children. We are also introducing secure schools, to fundamentally change the environment in which young people in custody are held.

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I thank the Minister for his answer. Perhaps he could tell us what role sport could play in helping to work with people in the youth justice system?

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It is interesting to note that the average person in youth custody spends more time in the classroom per week than I did at grammar school. I am firmly of the opinion that sport should play a bigger part in the typical day of those in the youth system, which is why I have commissioned Professor Rosie Meek to provide a report on the benefits of sport, both in custody and in the community. We should be publishing the report shortly.

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That insight into the Lee biography was of great interest and enlightenment to the House.

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Worryingly, among young offenders, those aged 10 to 14 have the highest reoffending rate—a rate of 42.7%. Overall reoffending rates among the youth prison population are up between three and four percentage points since 2005. What steps is the Minister going to take to reduce reoffending among young offenders?

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In the past 10 years, the number of young people we have been locking up has decreased from more than 3,000 to under 1,000. As a consequence, we have been left with young people who are quite difficult to manage, which is why we are introducing secure schools to improve the recidivism rates to which the hon. Lady refers.

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I welcome the work that the Minister has done in this field, but does he agree with the Justice Committee’s report published a year or so back, which found that a number of the drivers involve many agencies outside the traditional criminal justice system, including education and health, and that they extend beyond the current statutory definitions of young people and youth justice? Does he agree that we therefore need a much more holistic strategy for young people, from the moment they enter the criminal justice system up to around the age of 25, at which point all the evidence suggests that maturity tends to have reached its full development?

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My hon. Friend asks a telling question, as ever. Yes, I am persuaded on the question of maturity, and this is something that the system currently reflects. We have youth offender institutions for those aged up to 18, and for those aged 18 to 21. Beyond 21, offenders enter the adult estate. Yes, we need to adopt a more holistic approach to the management of young people. That is why, since I have been in post, I have had meetings with Education Ministers, with Health Ministers and with Ministers in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. I continue to pursue this actively.

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Youth offending teams have a crucial role to play in preventing our young people from becoming offenders or victims of crime, but the Ministry of Justice has halved the funding for those teams since 2010. We have now found out that they are facing another real-terms cut this year, despite the spate of knife and gun attacks. Does the Minister believe that the Government’s cuts to youth offending budgets leave us more safe or less safe?

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The youth offending team budgets are the same in cash terms this year as they were last year. The issue of ghastly knife crime to which the hon. Gentleman refers is clearly serious and, sadly, it is occupying the news headlines almost on a daily basis. Our approach to this is not just about youth offending teams; there is also a broader issue with regard to serious violence. We need to address the motivation of young people to use those knives. Going back to the previous question, dealing with this will require a cross-Government approach.

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What proportion of youth offenders become adult offenders, and is that figure going up or down?

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I do not have the exact figure, but I am pretty sure that it is a large proportion and I wish that it was smaller. We recognise that the performance of the youth system in improving reoffending is not good enough, which is why we are introducing new ways of holding young people, through secure schools. I am under no illusion about how difficult this is, but it is better that we intervene early in a young offender’s “career” than letting them go on to have a lifetime of offending.

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My antennae tell me that the Minister will be writing to the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) with further and better particulars, and I am sure that hundreds of colleagues will eagerly await a copy of that letter finding its way into the Library of the House.

Personal Independence Payment Appeals

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5. What assessment he has made of trends in the level of personal independence payment appeals that have been successful at tribunal. [905581]

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I am aware of the important issue that the hon. Gentleman highlights. I recently met the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work to discuss how our Departments can work together, and I was pleased to see that the Department for Work and Pensions is taking several measures to ensure that it gets decisions right the first time.

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Does not the fact that two out of three appeals in the north-east are successful prove that the privateers that the Government employ to carry out PIP assessments in the first place are not fit for practice by callously letting down disabled people and ripping off the taxpayer?

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The DWP is taking a number of measures to ensure that it gets decisions right the first time. It has recruited an extra 150 presenting officers and is taking feedback from the tribunals to ensure that the reconsideration process is as effective and as right as possible.

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Yesterday, the DWP yet again decided not to appeal a PIP case for fear of losing, and it owes billions in back payments following successful tribunals. I am pleased to hear that the Minister has had discussions with the DWP, but will she tell us whether she specifically raised the distress that going through unnecessary appeals causes claimants and the waste of public money from the UK Government fighting cases?

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The hon. and learned Lady makes an important point. Nobody wants people to go to court unnecessarily and nobody wants the most vulnerable to be put under unnecessary pressure. Many parts of the system are doing their best. We are looking at digitisation to improve the process and to make the system easier to use, and we are also trying to get clearance times down. The judiciary is also working closely with the DWP to try to ensure that people get decisions right the first time and quickly.

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In Scotland, the new social security agency has at its heart a culture of dignity, fairness and respect. The Law Society of Scotland has said that the United Kingdom benefit system does not treat claimants with dignity and fails to develop best practice from learning from appeal decisions. What discussions did the Minister have with her DWP counterpart about the need to observe the principles of administrative justice in how the benefit system is administered and about how the DWP will learn from appeal decisions so that it stops making the same mistakes over and over?

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I discussed getting decisions right the first time with Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, and we talked about the importance of getting feedback from the tribunal that can be fed into the DWP’s decision makers to ensure that they get decisions right the first time. I also liaise with Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service to ensure that all aspects of the process are managed effectively.

Prisons: Mobile Phones

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6. What steps the Government are taking to prevent the use of mobile phones in prisons. [905582]

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To prevent mobile telephones from getting used in prisons, we need to do four things: we need to prevent them getting into prisons, which is about searching at the gate; we need to detect them in cells; we need to intercept transmissions; and we need to jam those telephones. We are doing all those things.

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I thank the Minister for that answer, but criminals are often ingenious in getting items, such as mobile phones, or drugs, such as former legal highs, into prisons. Will he assure me that prison officers have access to the latest investigative technology to ensure that we can stamp out this trade?

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I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute both to my hon. Friend and to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield), who is taking through a private Member’s Bill to make it easier to jam and intercept mobile phone transmissions. Technology is changing all the time, and there are some challenges, particularly in heavily built-up areas, but we are absolutely committed to having the appropriate technology in different prisons to jam and intercept those phones.

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After last week’s shocking report on the state of Exeter Prison, including the availability of mobile phones and drugs, will the Minister reassure me that the prison is getting all the support, resources and supervision that it needs to implement the inspector’s recommendations as a matter of urgency?

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I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman, whom I spoke to about this issue over the weekend. The director of operations, Phil Copple, is on his way to Exeter as we speak. I have also spoken to the prison’s governor on the phone, and we are bringing him up to have another conversation with the chief inspector of prisons. It is vital that we address all the issues within the urgent notification, and the central issue is preventing violent assaults on prisoners and prison officers.

Court Closures

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7. What assessment his Department has made of the effect of court closures on access to justice. [905583]

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We are looking at a number of ways to reform and improve our justice system through technology, through our court estate and through people. We are spending £1 billion to upgrade our justice system. In 2016-17, 41% of courts and tribunals were used at less than half of their available hearing capacity. In circumstances where money raised from the sale of any court building will be reinvested into our justice system, it is appropriate to ask whether spending on physical buildings is the best use of money.

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It is hardly surprising that towns like Scunthorpe feel that they are being left behind by this Government when it is our courts and magistrates courts that close. It is always things in our towns that close, even before the new technologies that need to be in place have been properly evaluated and investigated. When will the Minister evaluate the impact of these court closures on communities, and when will she evaluate the effectiveness of new technologies?

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I am aware that the hon. Gentleman’s court was closed in December 2016, and I have read his detailed response to the consultation from October 2015. I understand that, when courts are closed in a particular area, the people in that area feel particularly affected, but I assure him that, as we bring in video technology, we are assessing the use of that technology and trying to improve it at every stage.

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The Minister is aware of my concerns about the closure of Banbury court. What steps has she taken to investigate the use of other public buildings for court services?

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My hon. Friend has raised her potential court closure with me on a number of occasions. I have also read her response to the recent consultation, in which she raises a number of points, including the one she has just identified. We will look at using other buildings in the community.

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The recent National Audit Office report on the courts programme says:

“Expected costs have increased and planned benefits have decreased.”

Given that the National Audit Office says the courts programme will now cost £1.2 billion—£200 million more than the Government previously stated—will it lead to even deeper cuts elsewhere in the Ministry of Justice’s budget?

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The hon. Lady highlights the ambition of the programme, which the NAO report identifies. It is a very ambitious programme, and it is right to be ambitious about our justice system. The NAO report acknowledges the early progress that has been made and makes recommendations about how we can strengthen the process. We will be taking all those recommendations on board.

No Body, No Parole Law

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8. What assessment he has made of the potential merits of bringing forward legislative proposals on a no body, no parole law. [905585]

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I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and to the hon. Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) for the incredible energy that has gone into this campaign. There is something peculiarly disgusting about the sadism involved when an individual murders somebody and then refuses to reveal the location of the victim’s body. There have been delays in framing the right kind of legal response, but I am absolutely confident that we can overcome that. Officials are now bringing forward advice that I hope will achieve, through a different method, exactly what hon. and right hon. Members have been campaigning for.

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The introduction of a no body, no parole law, known as Helen’s law, is very important to my constituent Linda Jones, as the location of her daughter Danielle’s body has never been disclosed by her killer. Can my hon. Friend therefore tell the House what impact assessment has been commissioned or carried out to support this introduction?

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The Department has now proposed two options, which the Secretary of State and I will discuss over the coming days in order to get a solution. We are clear that refusing to reveal the location of a body is an absolutely disgusting practice, and we ought to be able to use legal methods to impose consequences on individuals who refuse to do so.

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Is the Minister aware that many of us would support such legislation, particularly if it were also linked to miscarriages of justice? People who are found to have been wrongly convicted and are released after spending years in prison come out with no compensation and no reintegration into society—surely that cannot be right.

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Perhaps I could sit down with the hon. Gentleman to discuss that in more detail. It is a very important subject, but I think the issue of miscarriages of justice is slightly different and perhaps we could take that offline.

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It was the only way I could get in.

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It is a phenomenon known in the House, or certainly known in this Speaker’s Office, as “shoehorning”: a colleague shoehorning in his own concern wherever he thinks he can get away with it.

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Shoehorning Sheerman.

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Yes, Sheerman-horning!

Prison Officer Safety

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9. What progress the Government have made on improving the safety of prison officers. [905586]

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14. What progress the Government have made on improving the safety of prison officers. [905591]

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The safety of prison officers is of paramount importance. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who introduced a private Member’s Bill to double the sentence for assaults on prison officers and other emergency workers. There is much more we can do in this area—we are testing pepper spray and looking at body-worn cameras—but fundamentally this is about having the right staffing numbers and a proper, predictable regime in a prison to calm the prison down and prevent these completely unacceptable attacks.

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Despite the number of assaults on prison officers, very few offenders are prosecuted. Will the Minister ensure that anyone who attacks an on-duty prison officer faces the full weight of the law and can expect the punishments that those crimes would attract elsewhere?

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Absolutely, and this was debated in this House when we discussed that private Member’s Bill. At the moment, people are getting a sentence of 22 weeks for spitting at a police officer, but it is rare for such prosecutions to be brought for assaulting a prison officer. We therefore wish to work closely with our colleagues in the police to make sure that prosecutions are brought and that prison officers are properly protected. I have been talking to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service to ensure that we can get more police officers into prisons.

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When I recently visited Pentonville prison, I was naturally concerned about reports of a number of attacks on its prison officers. The safety of our prison officers is of paramount importance, so what further steps is my hon. Friend taking to ensure that they have all the support they need to keep themselves safe?

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I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for visiting Pentonville prison. I was lucky enough to be there two weeks ago, and I pay tribute to its excellent governor for the very good work he is doing. It is one of the most testing, busy London local prisons, and it faces a huge number of issues, but protecting prison officers is fundamentally about having a predictable, stable regime, enough prison officers on the landing, the right kind of training and relationships to calm things down, and, ultimately, protection.

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Given that the number of assaults on prison officers has risen by 23% in the past 12 months, what assessment has the Minister made of new psychoactive substances causing that problem? When does he expect the roll-out of body-worn cameras to be complete?

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The right hon. Gentleman is a very experienced predecessor in my job. Clearly there is a strong correlation with these new psychoactive substances; it is difficult otherwise to account for the huge rise in violence. The substances seem to drive both self-harming behaviour and extreme violent behaviour. I will give a written answer on exactly when we will fulfil the body-worn camera programme.

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The Minister can dress it up however he wants, but the bottom line is that cutting 7,000 frontline prison officers between 2010 and 2016 has caused prison safety to plummet. Will he tell the House how many more officers are needed to end this emergency in our prisons and when he will recruit them by?

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This is a very good challenge. Numbers are clearly one of the issues, but there are others, such as psychoactive substances, which have been mentioned. That is why we have recruited an extra 2,500 prison officers. We believe that that gives us the right numbers, because it allows us to have one prison officer for six prisoners to run our keyworker scheme. We see already in key prisons that that is beginning to have a real impact on violence.

Court Modernisation

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10. What assessment the Government have made of the effectiveness of their programme to modernise the court system. [905587]

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We are making significant progress on modernising our courts system and upgrading our justice system. We are spending £1 billion on our reform programme. For example, we have recently established the online court for civil claims. Claims of up to £10,000 can now be made via an online claim form, which is an effective and easy-to-use process.

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The Minister is aware that capacity concerns were expressed about the removal of all remand cases in West Mercia from magistrates courts in Shropshire, Telford, Herefordshire and Worcestershire to Kidderminster. Although that might have created some efficiencies for the courts, it has also created considerable inefficiencies for the other vital elements of the criminal justice system. If somebody on remand misses the 7.30 am van from Telford, they might now have to wait an extra 24 hours in custody, whether they are innocent or guilty. Can that be right?

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I know that my hon. Friend is concerned about this issue. I was pleased to meet him and neighbouring MPs before Easter. He has campaigned diligently on this issue on his constituents’ behalf and I look forward to meeting him later this week to discuss it. I should also let him know that officials from Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service have arranged a review meeting on 13 June with the principal agencies affected by the change. I know that my hon. Friend has submitted evidence for that meeting.

Offenders: Education and Employment

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11. What assessment he has made of the role of employment and education in reducing rates of reoffending. [905588]

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21. What steps the Government are taking to improve access for offenders to education and employment. [905600]

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22. What assessment he has made of the role of employment and education in reducing rates of reoffending. [905601]

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On 24 May, we launched the education and employment strategy to create a system in which each prisoner is set on a path to employment from the outset. This is vital because reoffending costs society around £15 billion each year. Effective rehabilitation needs prisoners to be willing to commit to change, take advice, learn new skills and take opportunities to work, and if they participate in learning and get a job, they are less likely to reoffend.

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I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer, and for his earlier mention of my Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 and the duty to ensure that ex-offenders get a decent house when they leave prison, which comes in in October. More widely, will he review education training and reward ex-offenders for participating in such programmes so that they do not reoffend when they leave prison?

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I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work on the Homelessness Reduction Act, which was a significant achievement. In respect of making sure that the incentives in the system are right, my hon. Friend absolutely hits the nail on the head. I am determined to ensure that we have the right incentives in the system to reward good behaviour and to bring down reoffending.

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Milton Keynes College is a leading provider of offender-learning programmes. I have discussed the New Futures Network with college staff, and while they welcome the Government’s new strategy, they and I would be grateful for further details of how employers will be incentivised, and perhaps even mandated, to employ a certain percentage of ex-offenders.

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Our approach is to encourage employers to take on ex-offenders. Some employers do marvellous work and not only make a real contribution to society, but find that they get very good employees. There are also employers who, frankly, are not engaging at all. There has been a change in public mood on this issue and we want to encourage much more engagement. We all have a role to play.

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Digital and technology skills are now vital in every workplace. They help those released from prison to secure better jobs, thereby reducing reoffending. What support is my right hon. Friend’s Department giving for such important skills training?

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My hon. Friend raises an important point. Information and communications technology forms part of the prison common core curriculum. It will be increasingly important, which is why it is right that we provide training in digital and technology skills. It is worth pointing out that from April 2019, governors will be given increased flexibility to commission the right education mix for their prisons. We expect that digital and technology will feature highly in governors’ plans.

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I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

Domestic violence offenders are particularly prone to repeat offending, so what commitment will the Secretary of State give to ensuring that the mandatory provision of domestic violence perpetrator programmes is made available to domestic violence offenders in all prisons through the domestic abuse Bill?

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I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that point. She is absolutely right about the repeat-offending nature of domestic abuse. She will be aware of the Government’s consultation on domestic abuse, which concluded at the end of last month. We are looking at ways in which we can bring down reoffending, and getting the right courses and training in prisons, including on domestic abuse, is very important.

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Education is particularly important in trying to ensure that offenders not only do not reoffend, but get employment post-custody. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that governors in all prisons right across the regime are aware that prisoners’ educational attainment is paramount if they are to find employment once they leave prison?

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The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. On the prisons for which we are responsible, I have set out the education and employment strategy, and the focus is on ensuring that governors have greater control over how they provide education within their prisons. His point about the link between education and employment is absolutely right. Of course, employment is linked very strongly to reoffending rates.

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May I urge the Secretary of State to look at the correlation and causation between traumatic brain injury and reoffending? The most recent survey that has been done in the prison in Leeds showed that nearly 50% of prisoners had a traumatic brain injury, and that 30% of them had more than five. Does it not make sense to screen every single prisoner when they arrive in prison and ensure that they have rehabilitation for their brain injury?

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The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, because there is evidence showing links between brain injuries and offending. If I may, I will take away his suggestion about testing across the board to see whether that is the right use of resources—that is something that we would have to look at—but he makes an important point about understanding the link between brain injuries and offending.

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When there are employers who wish not only to help people when they come out of prison but to train them while they are in prison, will my right hon. Friend ensure that no prison puts barriers in place because of risk assessments so that we ensure that they can actually help prisoners?

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We do want to encourage employers to get into prisons to work with prisoners before they are released. It is important that there is not a huge cliff edge from being in prison to then being released. We need to look at the best ways in which we can do that.

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We welcome the Government’s emphasis on education and employment skills, as they are the best route out of poverty and the cycle of reoffending, but when the Secretary of State made the announcement, he forgot that he had scrapped the National Careers Service in prisons, and presented an employment strategy that omitted to mention the provision of employment and careers advice. Why was that absent from the strategy?

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I welcome the Opposition’s support for our focus on education and employment, but may I say to the House that Dame Sally Coates noted in her 2016 review of prison education that the National Careers Service was delivering a service in an increasingly crowded environment, with multiple employment advice and support services operating in custody and through the gate? That was why the decision was made to reform this area. It is right that we do so, but I am determined to ensure that we provide the right support to prisoners so that they can get a job when they are released.

Prisons: Rehabilitation Technology

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12. What progress has been made on introducing technology to assist with rehabilitation in prisons. [905589]

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As a pilot, we have introduced basic computers and telephones into prison cells in HMPs Berwyn and Wayland so that prisoners can manage some of their day-to-day tasks such as ordering meals, making healthcare appointments and booking social visits. This technology also gives prisoners access to learning opportunities and basic educational content, and enables them to telephone their families in a private environment. Prisoners are not given access to the internet.

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Can the Minister reassure me that digital technology in prisons will allow prisoners to access only educational opportunities, rather than the sometimes murky wider digital world?

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I can provide my hon. Friend with that assurance. The digital technology currently available in prisons provides strictly controlled access to learning and training facilities. It is also used to provide opportunities for prisoners to access services within the prison environment to enable them to manage their time and activities while inside. There is no access to the internet, and strict security control prohibits access to the wider digital world.

Victims Law

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13. What progress is being made on introducing a victims law. [905590]

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18. What progress is being made on introducing a victims law. [905596]

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Supporting victims is a key priority for the Government, which is why we are bringing forward a victims strategy this summer. In compiling the strategy, we have consulted victims groups and academics, and across Government. In doing so, we have concluded that we will need legislative and non-legislative measures to ensure that the strategy works for victims.

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I hear what the Minister says, but Rotherham Council is today debating the support available to adults who survive child abuse in my constituency. I have now spoken to two Home Secretaries, two Prime Ministers and countless Ministers, and the Ministry of Justice was in Rotherham last week. Still we are not getting the cash we need to enable 1,520 victims—at the current count—to turn into survivors. Will the Minister please give us the cash we need?

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The dreadful incidents in Rotherham, which sadly have been replicated across the country, have proved a challenge both to local government and to the national Government. The ongoing independent inquiry into child sexual abuse—IICSA—is throwing up a significant level of incidents. The Government are clearly engaged with the process of trying to assess what is needed to help these victims of child sex abuse, both as children and as adults. I am under no illusions that this concerns not only the Ministry of Justice but the Department of Health and Social Care and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. All Government Departments are going to have to wrestle with this issue in the coming years because there has been significant child sex abuse over recent decades.

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Further to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), a new victims law would ensure that victims of crime are supported and can seek closure on their ordeal. Most importantly, it may encourage more people to come forward and report crime safely. Why, therefore, three years on from the Government’s manifesto commitment to introduce this important law, are we without any legislation in this House?

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I have just said that the strategy is going to include legislative measures to underpin the victims code. I am interested in legislation that is going to work, not legislation for legislation’s sake. Be in no doubt of my determination to improve the offering to victims both at the time of their abuse and in subsequent decades.

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Two of my constituents have experienced tragic cases. They have been bereaved after the loss of a close relative, and their distress has been added to by the length of time that they have had to wait for the body to be released for a second post-mortem decision. The Minister has been very sympathetic, but will he commit to reviewing the law and raising this issue again with coroners on behalf of my constituents?

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My hon. Friend and I met to discuss these cases recently. The challenge is that coroners hold an independent judicial position, which is important and invaluable. It is their responsibility to determine the cause of death. I clearly cannot talk about individual cases. The responsibility ultimately rests with the chief coroner. I do understand the deep distress that can be caused by any unnecessary delay, and I have passed this on to the chief coroner.

Leaving the EU: UK Legal System

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15. What steps the Government plans to take to ensure that the UK legal system operates effectively after the UK leaves the EU. [905592]

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It is right that we provide legal certainty for businesses, individuals and families as we leave the European Union. As the Prime Minister said in her Mansion House speech, we will need to have effective reciprocal arrangements with the EU to deal with cross-border issues. The Government will shortly publish their White Paper setting out their vision for the future UK-EU partnership.

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Given that the UK legal industry is worth approximately £25 billion to the UK economy, what steps is the Ministry taking to ensure that this world standing is maintained post-Brexit?

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My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. Our system is highly regarded throughout the world because of our respect for the rule of law, and the quality and integrity of our judiciary. The Department will seek to ensure that we help law firms to get the best post-Brexit arrangements with the EU on recognition and enforcement of judgments, and mutual recognition of qualifications.

Victims and Witnesses

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16. What steps his Department is taking to improve the court experience for victims and witnesses. [905594]

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We want to improve the court experience for everyone, including victims and witnesses. We now have video links in many courts that allow victims and vulnerable people to take part in criminal proceedings without having to meet the defendant face-to-face in court.

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What steps are being taken to ensure that victims and witnesses who give evidence in court are provided with access to counselling and other mental health services?

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My hon. Friend is right to identify the fact that we need to support vulnerable people who go through the justice system. That is why we will spend about £96 million this year to support and fund services such as the ones he identifies, including pre-trial visits and funding for police and crime commissioners to commission local services, including rape support services.

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Has the Minister made an assessment of the report by the Justice Committee that raising the small claims limit would represent an unacceptable barrier to justice for victims of road traffic accidents, workplace accidents, and public liability incidents? Will the Department revisit those proposals in that light?

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It is important that all people, whether they have small claims or big claims, have access to court. One measure that we have already brought in is the small civil claims court, which enables claims to be brought online very quickly, often without the need for legal representation.

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Notwithstanding Tommy Robinson’s gross contempt, does the Minister understand the level of public unease into which he tapped?

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That is a very important issue and I am very happy to discuss it with my right hon. Friend.

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I did not hear that. It would be most helpful if the Minister would look at the House as she answers, because I was looking forward to savouring the reply but unfortunately did not hear it. [Interruption.] You are going to have a chat with the fella about it. That is very useful to know. We are deeply grateful.

I just say to disappointed colleagues who did not get in on substantive questions that they might with advantage stay for topicals. I know they are very busy with many commitments and very full diaries, but if they feel able to hang around, they might find it to their advantage.

Topical Questions

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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [905602]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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]

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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).

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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]

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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]

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

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“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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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What are the Government doing to reduce the ridiculous one-year wait for immigration tribunal appeal hearings?

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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.

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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?

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I call the Minister—a Minister.

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rose—

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I call Dr Lee.

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

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rose—

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rose—

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Age first: I call Barry Sheerman.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.