Following a successful pilot, we have made the decision to equip every prison officer in the public sector adult male estate with PAVA spray. PAVA can help to prevent serious harm to staff and prisoners alike, as well as being a tool to persuade prisoners in the act of violence to stop. All officers will receive specialist training before being allowed to carry the spray, and it will be delivered only where key worker training has already been rolled out. Key working will allow officers to build more positive relationships with prisoners, support their rehabilitation and manage difficult behaviour.
I am grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. and learned Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer), for meeting me and the family of Jerome Rogers before the summer recess. Jerome took his own life after aggressive bailiff threats and intimidation. Does the Secretary of State not find it astonishing that charities giving advice about debt, such as Citizens Advice, are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, yet bailiffs, with infinitely more power, are not? Will he confirm that this will form part of the consultation?
As the Secretary of State has made clear, we feel very strongly that we should look and act on the evidence that a short-term prison sentence is more likely to lead to reoffending than a community sentence, and that therefore, in a sense, it endangers the public. The point of a sentence of any kind must be primarily to prevent offending happening in the future. For that reason, we will look very carefully at emphasising community sentences.
It defies belief that a spouse convicted of attempting to murder their partner can have any financial claim on their assets as part of a divorce settlement. Does the Minister agree with that principle and will she meet me to look into changing the law to ensure that there is no financial entitlement in all but the most exceptional of those cases?
The shadow Minister makes a very important point, and the issue has also been highlighted by The Guardian. The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 says that the conduct of the parties in a divorce can be taken into account in the distribution of assets and, if it would be inequitable, to disregard it. I am very happy to discuss the issue with her and to meet her to do so.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Once parties have made a decision to get divorced, the law should make it straightforward for them to do so, making it less acrimonious, which makes it better for children. For that reason, on 15 September we launched our reducing family conflict consultation on no-fault divorce.
People are still having to wait an average of 42 weeks to get a hearing before the immigration and asylum first-tier tribunal, which is a long time to be in immigration limbo. What steps are the Government taking to reduce that time and what do they regard as an unacceptable waiting time target?
The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight that waiting times for tribunals could be reduced. We are recruiting new members of the tribunals; in February and March, we appointed 226 new medical members of the social security tribunal. I am also meeting, and have met twice, my counterpart in the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that we can get those waiting times down.
As I represent a rural constituency, I completely understand my right hon. Friend’s point. The Government have recently consulted on the powers available to local authorities to deal with such problems and we are now looking at how we might strengthen the powers of local authorities and landowners.
The Prime Minister told her party conference that austerity is over, but if that were true, everyone in the justice sector would be breathing a huge sigh of relief. Tory cuts have unleashed an unprecedented crisis in our prisons and wider justice system. Justice faces the deepest cuts of any Department, totalling 40%, with £800 million in cuts between April 2018 and 2020 alone. Those cuts risk pushing justice from deep crisis into full-blown emergency, so will the Secretary of State confirm that that £800 million of cuts will not go ahead? If not, will he agree with me that the Prime Minister’s words were nothing more than yet another Tory con trick?
What I can confirm is that we are continuing to recruit more prison officers and to invest in court reform. As the hon. Gentleman mentions party conferences, I have to point out to him that as the shadow Lord Chancellor, when somebody suggested an illegal general strike, the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] Well, he denied that he joined in a standing ovation, but he did say that he stood up and clapped.
To bring things back down to earth, the people who clean and tidy the Secretary of State’s office—perhaps even when he is in it—have been demanding a real living wage of £10 an hour. Those Ministry of Justice cleaners are sick and tired of being treated like dirt, and his security guards, who keep the Ministry of Justice safe, are in the same boat. I wrote to the Secretary of State demanding that he sort this out, but he used outsourcing as his excuse for inaction. Instead of repeating his excuses to me today, will he address the Ministry of Justice staff watching us today and tell them why he thinks that they are not worth £10 an hour?
I referred earlier to the steps we are taking in the MOJ in relation to medical members to reduce social security PIP and ESA appeals, but we are also introducing 250 more judges across tribunals. I welcome the very recent appointment of Grant Harvey Bird in September as a salaried judge for the first-tier tribunal in Gloucestershire.
This morning, we announced that officers will be able to carry pepper spray on their belts. This is to be used as a last resort, in the same way as a baton would be. It means that if, for example, a prisoner was in the process of stamping on another prisoner’s head, an officer could intervene safely from a distance to resolve the incident and potentially save lives. It is only one measure, along with a dozen other measures that we have to take to improve safety in prisons, but it is an important measure to protect the people who protect us.
We take the report very seriously, as we take all reports, including the recent report on domestic violence. It is absolutely right to say that we need to improve the risk assessment, the programme plans and the frequency of meeting. We are doing a consultation at the moment, to which we invite the hon. Lady to make a submission, on exactly what we can do to tighten up procedures for the CRCs. They have reduced reoffending by 2%, but there is much more that we can do on the quality of delivery.[Official Report, 22 October 2018, Vol. 648, c. 3MC.]
Given that, yet again, the recruitment round of High Court judges has fallen short, and given that many distinguished retired judges are kept busy as arbitrators and wish to continue working, is it not time to look again at whether the arbitrary judicial retirement age of 70 is out of line with modern practice?
This is an issue that we continue to look at. I think it is a finely balanced matter, and we continue to look at the evidence. The argument is sometimes made that if we increase the retirement age, we will increase the age at which people apply to become judges. We will continue to look at the matter.
I read that advice from the Law Society with interest. I recently met the Law Society and a number of solicitors that it brought with it to discuss the issues that face the profession, in relation not only to legal advice but to the age of the profession. As I have mentioned, we are doing a legal aid review, which will report at the end of the year.
Ministers in the Department are aware of the deep concerns of one of my constituents, who has been impacted by a very long wait for a second post-mortem following the loss of her brother. This has also impacted on other people, up and down the country. Will the Minister agree to meet me to see what more can be done to address the concerns of my constituent and her fellow RoadPeace campaigners?
I am very happy to give the assurance that I will meet my hon. Friend.
As I have said, we have looked very seriously at the inspectorate’s domestic violence report. It is worth bearing in mind that this has been a problem in many probation services across the world, and that it was, in fact, a problem before the CRCs were introduced. We are looking closely at the question of qualification during the current consultation, which will run for a further six months.[Official Report, 22 October 2018, Vol. 648, c. 4MC.]
I know that the Lord Chancellor takes the role of the rule of law in this country very seriously, but can he reassure me that the Government will always stand up for it, and would resist—and certainly would not stand up and clap—any suggestions that it should be broken?
Last month prison officers took unprecedented action by staging a day of protest outside prisons, including HM Prison Liverpool in Walton. Has the Minister spoken to the Prison Officers Association since then, and what has changed since its members took their unprecedented action?
That action was very regrettable. As the hon. Gentleman knows, prison officers are not entitled to strike legally, because it endangers prisoners and other prison officers. I met the chairman of the POA on the morning of the action—two hours later—and we had a number of discussions, which focused particularly on safety. We believe that working constructively, and not engaging in illegal strike action, is much better for prisons and prison officers.
If the Minister is sincere when he insists that the decision to build new private prisons is not ideological but based on evidence, why is he trying to bury the evidence by refusing to release the official report on public-versus-private procurement for the two new prisons, despite freedom of information requests from the Prison Officers Association and parliamentary questions that remain unanswered?
Given the very lucrative public contracts given to Atos and Capita, and the fact that they are clearly failing—71% of assessments for personal independence payments are overturned in the upper courts—what discussions has the Justice Secretary had with his counterpart in the Department for Work and Pensions about the imposition of a fining system? Atos and Capita are not only blocking up the courts, but treating disabled people appallingly.