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Topical Questions

Volume 651: debated on Tuesday 18 December 2018

Today the terms of reference for the review of the criminal injuries compensation scheme have been announced. Compensation has long been an important part of the Government’s support for victims of violent crime, and we are determined to ensure that every victim gets the compensation to which they are entitled. The review will look at the scope of the scheme, its eligibility rules, the value and composition of awards and how to provide easier access to compensation. The review will give particular consideration to victims of child sexual abuse and terrorism and look to ensure continued financial sustainability. We have separately announced our intention to remove the pre-1979 same roof rule from the scheme and we will table an amended scheme before Parliament as soon as possible.

We know the Government see public services as a cash cow for the private sector, but the privatisation of the probation service has been an abject failure. The contract had to be terminated two years early, despite a £0.5 billion bailout. The privatised service failed to reduce reoffending, so why is the Secretary of State proposing to privatise the service again in 2020? Is this not an example of ideology over plain common sense?

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is best placed to lecture on common sense versus ideology.

The reoffending rate has fallen in the time since “Transforming Rehabilitation” and we would like it to fall further. There are issues with how the system is working, which is why we took the entirely pragmatic approach of bringing the contracts to an end and making some important and necessary changes to ensure that we can do more to reduce reoffending.

T3. Will the Minister update the House on progress towards the abolition of the same roof rule? (908271)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. Further to the Secretary of State’s answer a few moments ago and the tabling today of the written ministerial statement on the review of the overall scheme, let me say that earlier this year we committed to remove the pre-1979 same roof rule more swiftly. In that context, I pay tribute to the work of the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) in her campaign on this issue. As the Secretary of State has said, we anticipate, subject to the parliamentary timetable, to be able to lay an order as swiftly as possible.

Can the Lord Chancellor assist me in finding out the answer to a question that the Attorney General and the Brexit Secretary have been unable to answer: how much taxpayers’ money did the UK Government spend fighting the litigation that established that the article 50 notice can be unilaterally revoked?

I certainly cannot give that answer this morning, but of course there is no intention to revoke article 50.

T5. In Chelmsford, the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the youth offender programme have occasionally recommended that a young offender be placed on a curfew in order to safeguard that young person from being further targeted by criminal gangs, but sometimes the magistrates are not fully aware of the circumstances and overturn the curfew. May I encourage Ministers to encourage the magistrates to work more closely on sharing information between services, so that the full information can be taken into account? (908273)

It is of course for magistrates to make decisions and they do have the right to overturn recommendations. However, as my hon. Friend says, when making those decisions, they should be in possession of the full facts from the youth offending teams, the police and the CPS. She is right to highlight the importance of information sharing and sharing that information in good time. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), and I continue to work on that.

The Government’s ideological experiment of privatising probation has been a calamitous failure. It was such a flawed idea that even this Government have had to cancel the current private contracts, which were costing the public more and more money while leaving them less and less safe. Yet the Government are set to re-tender those contracts back to the private sector. Interserve is currently the largest probation provider, supervising 40,000 offenders, yet it is now in rescue talks, trying not to become the next Carillion. So will the Justice Secretary commit today to ensuring that Interserve is not awarded any of the new private probation contracts?

We will award the contracts to those best placed to carry them out. I have to say that the hon. Gentleman’s hostility to the private sector, in all its forms, in all contexts, is not a sensible or pragmatic approach to trying to ensure that we get best value for money for the taxpayer while making improvements to reducing reoffending.

Senior managers at Lloyds-HBOS were found guilty of a scandalous fraud against their own business customers but, thus far, the bank itself has avoided or evaded any corporate sanction. Would my right hon. Friend support the Solicitor General’s efforts to make failure to prevent an economic crime a corporate offence?

My hon. Friend, who campaigns tirelessly on these issues, will be aware that we ran a call for evidence on corporate criminal liability to determine whether the current law is adequate. This is a complex part of the law and consultation responses offered a broad range of views. We are currently analysing those with Departments across Government and we will publish our response in 2019.

T2. On Friday, I visited Nottingham Prison; I am grateful for the support of the prisons Minister in securing that meeting. Drugs continue to be a significant problem in our prison, as in many others, and body scanners are a really important way of tackling that. What is the Government’s current position on the use of body scanners and when will we get them in Nottingham? (908270)

First, I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for the work he does in supporting the work of Nottingham Prison, which is one of the 10 priority prisons. We are therefore bringing scanners into those prisons. We are currently shipping those scanners over, but a range of different types of scanning will be taking place: X-ray scanners used on an intelligence-led basis, which can penetrate through the skin; metal detectors on a more regular basis as people go through; and additional dogs.

The Minister responsible for rehabilitation will be aware of the great work that groups such as St Mary Magdalene church in Torquay do with ex-offenders. That work could be enhanced if such groups could use the old Torquay magistrates court, which is still empty. Will he agree to meet me and representatives of the church to discuss how, if they acquired the building, they could make a real difference?

I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that matter, and if any other colleagues wish to meet as well, I am sure they will do so.

T4. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) for asking almost exactly the question that I was about to ask, because that gives me the opportunity to expand on the answer he was given. Will the Minister tell us a little more about whether the Government are minded to make Spice and Mamba—drugs that are causing huge problems in Nottingham Prison and many others—class A drugs? What other strategies do we have to reduce the amount of drugs in prisons? (908272)

The big legislative change that we are trying to introduce, and for which we would very much like to get cross-party support, is a provision to allow us to do proper testing on Spice—an endeavour that is in a private Member’s Bill that is currently trying to make its way through the House. As the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, Spice is a real problem. It is provoking unbelievably aggressive behaviour and it is extremely bad for people’s health. We can search along the perimeter but yes, we also need to do more in the law.

Citing reputational reasons, one of my local authority employers failed to keep on a member of staff after a probation period because of a spent conviction that was known about. Would public sector employers not get a better reputation if they helped to turn people’s lives around when they want to put something back into society?

I could not agree more. One of the best ways to prevent reoffending and therefore protect the public is to help people into employment. Ex-prisoners can be some of the most loyal and hard-working employees one can find. We encourage all employers to take a realistic, pragmatic approach. Many convictions are absolutely irrelevant to the work that the person is doing or to public protection. The best way to protect the public is to provide a job.

T6. My constituents Gemma and Paul Black were devastated last year when their 22-month-old daughter, Pearl Melody Black, was killed by a runaway car. I understand that the police and Crown Prosecution Service have been unable to bring charges because of a loophole in the law. Will the Secretary of State or a Minister meet me, possibly with Department for Transport colleagues, to discuss how we can avoid having other parents facing this suffering? (908274)

First, let me share our very sincere condolences. It is the most horrifying thing to lose a 22-month-old in that way. Secondly, we are currently consulting on changing the law to have a life sentence for causing death by dangerous driving or by careless driving under the influence. We can do an enormous amount more, both legally and in terms of road safety and driving tests. We must bring down the number of people who are killed. The hon. Gentleman raises a particularly tragic incident, and I would be delighted to meet him to discuss it.

Last week, the House passed the Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill, which is an important part of court modernisation. Does the Lord Chancellor accept that there remains a pressing need to introduce the remaining primary legislation necessary to underpin the rest of Sir Michael Briggs’ reforms?

I share the desire of my hon. Friend the Chair of the Justice Committee to do that when parliamentary time allows. Of course, there are currently some pressures on parliamentary time.

T7. Too many prisoners are in desperate need of drug rehabilitation services. How many inmates are currently using drug rehabilitation services and what is the MOJ’s target for 2019? (908275)

We do an assessment whenever a prisoner comes in. In a prison such as Humber, for example, almost a quarter of the prisoners are currently on some form of drug rehabilitation treatment. Those are very high numbers. Drugs in prison are a big issue: nearly 50% of prisoners have alcohol or drug-related addiction issues. The NHS takes the lead on that; I would be happy to get back to the hon. Lady with the figures.

Will the Minister endorse the excellent work of Youth of Walsall and its campaign “Real Knives, Real Lives”, which seeks to educate young people on the dangers of carrying a knife?

I welcome any initiative that aims to combat knife crime by educating young people about the potentially devastating impact it can have, not only on victims and their families but on the perpetrators themselves. I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend has highlighted and would be happy to learn more about it. We must all do more to tackle serious violence, which is exactly what the Government are doing.

In the name of fairness to colleagues, those asking a question should confine themselves to a single short sentence.

T8. What discussions has the Minister had with the Home Secretary on the use of Clare’s law in cases where a restraining order has been granted through a civil process, which puts the onus on the victim? (908276)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that question. She rightly highlights a very important issue. I work closely with my opposite number in the Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), on tackling domestic abuse. We will be publishing a draft domestic abuse Bill and consultation response shortly. In respect of the hon. Lady’s specific point, I am very happy to meet her and discuss it further.

The Government already have agreements with around 100 countries in relation to prisoner transfers.

T9. The Scottish Government have raised concerns about the effectiveness of the European arrest warrant as European member states will be permitted to operate constitutional bans on extraditing their citizens during transition. Can the Minister clarify this situation? (908277)

I think the hon. Lady will have been pleased to see a paragraph in relation to extradition in the future framework.

Ministers will be aware of the very low attainment in reading among prisoners. Is anything being done to try to improve the situation? I understand that the average reading age in a prison is 11.

It is a very serious problem. As my right hon. and learned Friend has pointed out, almost half the prisoners have a reading age of under 11. Perhaps 25% of prisoners have a reading age of six. There is an enormous amount that we can do and that is where the education and employment strategy comes in, which is about making sure that the education is relevant and leads to a job.

T10. The Tories have cut £1 billion off the legal aid budget to the poor. This has meant a cut of 99.5% in the number of people receiving legal aid for benefit cases. Will the Tories sleep well at Christmas knowing that they are starving the poor? (908278)

Various changes were made as a result of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. As the hon. Gentleman will know, we are undertaking a significant review. My Department has met with more than 100 organisations or individuals to discuss the changes that were brought in and my Department will be reporting in the new year.

Will the Secretary of State commit to implementing the recommendations of the independent Mental Health Act review to reform mental health tribunals and will the Government commit adequate resourcing to the recommendations?

As the hon. Lady will be aware, the Government have welcomed the independent review of the Mental Health Act and have rightly committed to reform mental health legislation. Some of the review’s recommendations, as she alludes to, have particular implications for civil justice and particular reforms to the Mental Health Tribunal. My Department is working closely with the Department of Health and Social Care to consider the review, its recommendations and implications in detail and we will respond shortly.

Today, it has been confirmed that three quarters of all Welsh female prisoners are serving a custodial sentence of less than six months. There is no women’s centre in Wales, so may I ask the Minister to introduce new funding for a women’s centre in Wales, so that we are able to have different ways of putting women forward, other than custodial sentences, because it is not working?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Something that runs through our female offender strategy is moving away from short sentences to alternative provisions. He highlights a particular issue in the context of Wales. It is something on which I have had discussions with the previous Cabinet Secretary, Alun Davies, and I look forward to meeting his successor in that role to have further discussions.

Many of those convicted of murder under joint enterprise thought that they would be able to seek appeals of their convictions after the Supreme Court ruling that the law had taken a wrong turn. However, the recent loss of the Laura Mitchell case, the first brought by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, has shown that the appeal bar is impossibly high. What will the Government do about that?

I know that the hon. Lady has campaigned very hard on this. I was very pleased to answer her debate shortly after my appointment. As she knows, the appeal bar is set in relation to all cases, not just in relation to this case, but I am very happy to discuss this issue in a meeting with her.

It was two years ago that the then Secretary of State for Justice agreed to outlaw the cross-examination of survivors of domestic abuse by the perpetrators of their crime, yet the misery goes on. When will the Government outlaw that?

Ofsted’s recent annual report yet again raised its concerns about high levels of violence in children’s secure training centres. The use of pain-inducing restraint techniques in youth prisons and right across the secure estate has been found to carry up to a 60% chance of causing serious injury to children. This is Government-sanctioned abuse of children. When is it going to end?

As the hon. Lady will be aware, we have commissioned an independent review, which is being led by Charlie Taylor. I look forward to receiving his report in due course.

When we debated legal aid last month, the Minister was expecting to publish the LASPO review before Christmas. It is already eight months late, so will she tell us the date on which it will now be published? Why are we not getting it until next year? What is the reason for the delay?

I am happy to take the hon. Gentleman’s question. I remind him what he said to the Law Society several months ago—that it is important to take time to review this important subject. It is important and, as I have said, we have met over 100 organisations and individuals. We finished our final engagement with organisations at the end of last month and we will publish the review early in the new year.