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Volume 658: debated on Tuesday 23 April 2019

The Secretary of State was asked—

Victims Law

Mr Speaker, I will endeavour to croak my way through my response.

We published the first ever pan-Government victims strategy in September 2018 containing 88 commitments, of which we have already implemented 24, to better support victims of crime. Among those is a commitment to consult this year on the revised victims code and details of victim-focused legislation, reaffirming our manifesto commitment to such a law.

I am sure that the whole House will join me in sending condolences and expressing shock at the terrorist attack in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. Sadly, it highlights the issue of the effect on victims of terror incidents, whether in this country or abroad. When will the Government come forward with a law to ensure that victims are properly supported, because all too many reports from victims in previous incidents suggest that that has not been the case?

I join my hon. Friend in his expression of condolence and sympathy to all those who were affected by the horrific events in Sri Lanka over the weekend. It is vital that we get any new legislation right—hence our commitment to consult. We will first revise and strengthen the victims code and then identify any legislative gaps arising from that. We will consult on a victims law this year and bring forward legislation subsequently when parliamentary time allows.

I am grateful to the Minister and the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) for what they said. Many Members will have noted what is on the Annunciator, but for those who have not I simply give notice of the intention for us to hold one minute’s silence in respectful memory of those who tragically and horrifically lost their lives in Sri Lanka, and that will take place after the urgent questions and immediately before the first of the ministerial statements.

Does the Minister agree that the tragic victims are those people who cannot speak because they have been killed by an accident or a violent crime? Will he meet me to discuss the case of a bereaved family whose little girl was killed 15 months ago as a driver crashed into a bus queue? The driver not only killed the little girl, an only child, but seriously injured another woman. They have not been prosecuted. Can we have a chat about that?

I would not want to comment on specific cases on the Floor of the House, and although decisions on prosecution are not a matter for Ministers, I would, as always, be very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman.

If prolific repeat offenders spent longer in jail there would be fewer victims of crime in all of our communities. Does the Minister agree?

I believe that the key to seeing fewer victims of crime is effective rehabilitation of offenders and breaking the cycle of offending. That is exactly what I and the Secretary of State are focused on.

My constituent Kristian Thompson would have been 27 years old today had his life not been taken when he was 19 years old after he was the victim of a one-punch attack. His mam, Maxine, set up the charity One Punch UK. This week is One Punch Awareness Week when many people who have lost loved ones are pleading with the Government to follow Australia and Canada and create a one-punch law imposing a minimum sentence for perpetrators. Why are the Government continuing to resist doing so?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady and I send my sympathies to Kristian’s family and friends on the terrible events that she has just described. I am very happy to look at what she is proposing, and if she would like to write to me, I will respond as fully as I can.

A vital feature of justice for victims is financial redress, so why have this Government presided over a near 60% fall in the number of victims of violent crime receiving payments from the criminal injuries compensation scheme?

I am grateful to the shadow Minister for her question. Our ongoing review of the criminal injuries compensation scheme has one simple aim: to make sure that it better supports victims and reflects their needs in the 21st century. Indeed, last year we awarded compensation of more than £154 million, and recently, we have announced that we are abolishing the “same-roof” rule so that many more victims can make claims. In respect of the specific issue to which she refers, which I believe was covered in The Guardian newspaper recently, I would sound a slight note of caution about the figures for 2010-11 being a benchmark as I understand there is a possibility that they were inflated that year due to a £30 million pay-out specifically for compensation for asbestos-related conditions. None the less, I welcome her engagement with the review that we will be undertaking this summer.

Imprisonment for Public Protection

2. What steps he is taking to reduce the number of prisoners serving sentences of imprisonment for public protection. (910419)

The Government are committed to providing IPP prisoners with opportunities to progress to the point at which they are safe to release. Our primary responsibility is public protection. Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service and the Parole Board are delivering a joint action plan to improve IPP prisoners’ sentence progression. In 2017-18, three quarters of those considered by the Parole Board were either recommended for release or a move to open conditions. This shows that our approach is working.

My constituent Wayne Bell is currently in the 12th year of a sentence for which the original tariff was four years. Owing to his significant mental health issues, he is unable to engage with the parole process and the review process, and his mental health problems are exacerbated by the hopelessness of his situation. Does the Secretary of State realise that prisoners with mental health issues can get trapped in a vicious cycle where it becomes almost impossible to achieve parole, and will he look at interventions that could be considered to enable Wayne’s cases and others like it to be resolved?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this point. I am happy to write to him on the individual case, which has a number of complexities, as I am sure he is aware. I have mentioned the joint action plan to improve IPP prisoners’ sentence progression. These measures include case reviews led by psychologists for those prisoners not making the expected progress, an increased number of places on specialist progression regimes, and greatly improved access to rehabilitative programmes. I continue to be ambitious to ensure that we do everything we can in this area, remembering that public protection must remain our priority.

I thank the Secretary of State for what he has said about his ambitions for IPP prisoners. Does the joint action plan have an end date—that is, is there a date beyond which we should not detain people under these sorts of sentences?

In the end, it comes down to the decisions made by the Parole Board, which has to make its decisions based on public protection. In some cases— regrettable though it may be—if someone is not safe to be released, the Parole Board must make that decision. We need to ensure that we do everything we can to progress these cases as best we can. As I have said, we have made progress in recent years.

The latest figures show that there are still nearly 2,500 prisoners serving IPP sentences. These sentences often have punitive recall conditions, which means that people might be returned to prison for fairly minor breaches of their licence conditions, resulting in many prisoners serving well beyond their original tariffs. It was previously a target of the Parole Board to reduce IPP prisoner numbers to 1,500 by 2020, so what steps will the Secretary of State take to ensure that this happens?

Obviously I want to reduce the numbers, and one of the reasons that we have provided additional support to the Parole Board is to enable it to do so. In the end, it comes down to individual decisions in respect of particular individuals, and some cases present a number of challenging factors. Decisions have to strike the right balance between progressing people as we should and ensuring that we protect the public.

Access to Criminal Justice

It is vital that our criminal justice system remains fair and accessible, and we are taking a number of steps to ensure justice within it. Legal aid is a very important part of that process, and last year we spent almost £900 million on criminal legal aid alone. However, our court system also needs to be modern and up to date, so we are spending £1 billion on technology to bring our court system up to date for the 21st century.

I thank the Minister for her response. The Law Society has highlighted the fact that low criminal legal aid fees are having an adverse impact on the number of new, younger lawyers. Criminal legal aid fees for solicitors have not been increased since the 1990s. Will the Government commit to raising fees for solicitors, at least in line with inflation?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point, because those who work within the criminal justice system play a vital part in upholding justice. That is why, over the course of last year, we have consulted the professions and put a further £23 million into the advocates’ graduated fee scheme. It is also why we have recently announced that we will be doing a holistic review of criminal legal aid with regard to the professions, looking overall at a whole range of issues across the Bar and across the duty solicitor schemes. That review has already started.

I thank the Minister for that reply, but there is a crisis in legal aid and in legal representation. The Law Society data says that within five to 10 years there will be insufficient criminal duty solicitors in many regions. She has mentioned the review and mentioned more money, but what specific steps will she take to make sure that people have their right to be represented while being interviewed by the police?

Doing a review and putting in £23 million are specific steps to ensure that we get better justice. I am very grateful to the Law Society, which the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma) mentioned, because it is actively engaged in our review, as are the Bar Council and the Criminal Bar Association.

It is really good to hear that the Law Society is having such an impact on the Government. However, the Law Society has also published research that shows that the criminal legal aid means test is preventing families living in poverty from accessing justice. Although the Government will eventually review this, the review will not conclude until 2020, and it will be even further down the line when any changes come into place. Will the Minister therefore commit to taking action now to ensure that vulnerable people are still able to access justice?

I am very pleased that the hon. Lady has highlighted that we have already committed to doing a review of the threshold for legal aid across the board, not just in relation to criminal law but civil law as well. It is very important that we get that review right. Legal aid has not been uprated for a number of years. We have committed to doing that, but not only that—we have already started the review.

Violence in Prisons

I am sure that the whole House will join me in expressing our deep horror at the recent attack against a prison officer in Nottingham prison. It is completely horrifying to see this happen. It must not happen again. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our prison officers for the work they do in very difficult circumstances keeping us safe. There are three main things we can do to stop this kind of thing happening again. We need to improve perimeter security, which means really searching people for weapons and drugs at the gate; we need to make sure that the conditions in the prison are decent and work; and, above all, we need to provide the training and support for prison officers to have the right kind of relationships with prisoners whereby things like this do not occur again.

My hon. Friend the Minister vowed that if prison violence did not decrease, he would resign. I, for one, think that we have seen too many members of the Government resign. Could he give us an update on his own ambitions to stay in post?

As some people in the House will be aware, I promised to reduce violence in 10 key challenge prisons over a 12-month period. At the moment, the figures are looking reasonably positive. In other words, it looks as though, in the majority of these prisons, violence is coming down so hon. Members may be in the unfortunate position of still having me at this Dispatch Box in a few months’ time.

As the Minister mentioned, on Sunday 14 April a prison officer at my local prison in Nottingham had his throat slashed with a razor by a prisoner in what his union calls a cowardly, unprovoked act. According to doctors, this young public servant—a brave man in his early 20s—came within millimetres of losing his life. Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to this prison officer and to his thousands of colleagues facing this sort of violence every day, and does he agree with the union—the Prison Officers Association—that this ought to be treated as an attempted murder?

I absolutely agree that these are extraordinary public servants. This is a horrifying and completely unacceptable act. We need to punish the person who did it, and we need to punish them properly. At the moment, the charge that is being brought forward carries the maximum life sentence, as it should, but there is more that we can do. That includes body-worn cameras, the rolling out of PAVA spray and ensuring we have enough officers on the landings, which is why I am pleased that we now have the highest number of prison officers at any date since 2012.

Would there not be less violence in our prisons if there was a relentless focus from the first day in prison on getting prisoners work on release? We could do that by combining training in prison with employer and college support on release.

This is not an either/or. We have to be confident and practical about doing two things at the same time. Controlling prisons—these include some quite dangerous individuals—involves serious measures on searching people for drugs and weapons, but it also involves treating people like humans and turning their lives around, because that is the way we protect the public from the misery of crime through reoffending when these individuals are released from prison.

In the light of the recent disturbances among 16 and 17-year-olds at Feltham young offenders institution, is the Minister aware of the previous episodes of violence at the prison, which were attributed to the lack of education and training facilities, 23-hour confinement in cells and the mixing of remand and convicted prisoners? Why do lessons appear not to have been learned?

A lot of lessons have been learned since that initial event, but the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right; there was a very disturbing event two weeks ago. The basic challenge, as he will be aware, is getting the balance right between ensuring that people are motivated and focused on the regime and that there are high expectations around prisoners and prison officers. To some extent, it is like running a very difficult school, particularly when we are dealing with 16 to 18-year-olds. It is a mixture of being strict on the one hand and loving on the other that is the key to a good prison.

Does the Minister agree with his party’s former long-serving Secretary of State, Sir Malcolm Rifkind—a self-confessed true believer in privatisation—who wrote recently in the Financial Times:

“The physical deprivation of a citizen’s liberty should not be the responsibility of a private company or of its employees”?

Does the Minister accept that the renationalisation of HMP Birmingham heralds the end of his Government’s failed prison privatisation agenda?

I respectfully disagree with Sir Malcolm on this issue. It was absolutely right to take Birmingham back in hand, because that prison was not performing properly. On the other hand, the same company is running some very good prisons in Oakwood, Altcourse and Parc. It is doing good things on family work and on technology. Private sector prisons are often among the safer local prisons in terms of assaults per 1,000. We are not ideological on this. The private sector can certainly play a role.

Welfare Benefits: Legal Advice

5. What assessment he has made of trends in the number of people able to access early legal advice for welfare benefits cases. (910422)

22. What assessment he has made of trends in the number of people able to access early legal advice for welfare benefits cases. (910448)

In the most recent Legal Aid Agency civil tender, the number of offices providing legal aid services on welfare benefits increased by 188%. In February, we set out our legal support action plan, which focused on the importance of early legal support. We will be establishing a number of pilots in a range of areas of law to see how best we can support those in need. It is critical that welfare decisions are made right the first time, and we are working with the Department for Work and Pensions to help ensure that.

I thank the Minister for that answer, but she will know that the number of people receiving legal aid to challenge benefit decisions fell from more than 91,000 in 2012-13 to fewer than 500 five years later, which was clearly the Government’s plan. The Department’s own figures show that while 28% of unrepresented claimants are successful on appeal, that figure jumps to 90% for those who have legal representation, so literally tens of thousands of people have lost out on moneys to which they were entitled. Does she agree that the Government should consider restoring legal aid for social security appeals, so that claimants can get the support they need to win the money they deserve?

Legal aid is available in welfare cases on points of law to the upper tribunal and the higher courts. A wide variety of considerable support is also available from some fantastic third sector organisations. I visited a number of them recently, and they are doing an excellent job. As I mentioned, we are also looking in our legal aid action plan at how we can provide people with support early on in a variety of areas, which may include this area.

Recent BBC research found that 1 million people live in areas with no legal aid provision for housing, with a further 15 million in areas with just one provider. Does the Minister not agree that only rogue landlords benefit from this situation?

The hon. Gentleman mentions housing. It is right that, across the country, some areas are quite sparsely populated, but people can always get advice on the telephone gateway. There are 134 housing and debt procurement areas, and as of 31 March 2019, there is at least one provider offering housing and debt services in all but five procurement areas. The Legal Aid Agency recently concluded a procurement process, and services in three of those areas will commence on 1 May. The agency is considering how to procure provision in the remaining two.

Government cuts to legal aid have left tens of thousands of welfare benefit claimants without the ability to appeal flawed DWP decisions. We continue to see harrowing stories of those who have suffered after such poor decisions. Those cuts left tens of thousands of tenants unable to take on lousy landlords, and left migrants unable to fight back against the Conservative party’s hostile environment. Can the Minister explain why these vulnerable people are far too easily cast aside, while the private companies failing in our prison, probation and courts systems are too readily bailed out? Does this not sum up in whose interests the Conservative party governs?

This party and this Government would like to support all people who need support, but we need to provide it in a way that is efficient, provides a good service and uses taxpayers’ money well. That is why we set out in our legal aid support strategy a variety of pilots that we will hold to help people in a variety of areas of law—housing, immigration—and all these can be bid for. We are putting forward £5 million for people to develop and put in place technology provision, face-to-face support and other support for legal aid.

It is just not good enough because all too often the Government spin against legal aid, with talk of fat cat lawyers and unmeritorious claims, but the latest figures show that the number of not-for-profit providers, such as law centres, has fallen by nearly two thirds under this Government. Will the Minister follow Labour’s lead and commit to funding a new generation of social welfare lawyers that can empower communities to battle against injustice and a new generation of law centres that can empower people to fight back against cruel Government policies?

While the professions and those who provide support are incredibly important—that is why, as I mentioned earlier, we have put £23 million more into criminal legal aid professionals—we would like to focus on helping those who need that support. That is why we are focusing on our £5 million innovation fund to find out what sort of support people need and how best to provide that support. We recommend and hope to support bids from legal advice centres as well as from professionals.

Youth Justice System

Significant reform has been undertaken since 2010, and we remain committed to driving further improvements. While fewer young people are committing crimes for the first time, with an 86% reduction in the number of young people entering the youth justice system for the first time, we still have more to do to break the cycle of reoffending. Working with youth offending teams in partnership is central to prevention, but for those who end up in custody, we believe our reforms to move to a secure school model will play a key role in reducing further offending.

The recent increase in knife crime has highlighted the very young age at which some of our most vulnerable young people get involved in crime. What steps is the Department taking to divert young people away from offending and reoffending?

We work very closely with youth offending teams and youth offending services run by local authorities to help with that prevention. I pay tribute particularly to the team in Lewisham, whom I was lucky enough to visit the other day. We also work closely with the Department for Education on exclusions and the role they can play in causing offending behaviour.

Feltham young offenders institution has had a difficult recent history and problems with sustainability of management. Following the recent attack on prison officers, I am grateful to the Minister for how quickly the management, the Prison Officers Association and the Department responded.

It is increasingly clear that the growing violence to which young inmates are subject, and which they experience prior to prison, is presenting new challenges. Will the Minister join me in welcoming new projects that use sport—such as Tough Cricket in Feltham, which works with faith communities—to support young offenders in more positive activity and help to develop an alternative set of values?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her work following the incidents of violence that she has mentioned. Once again, I thank the Prison Officers Association for its constructive engagement, and our thoughts are with the welfare of the injured staff. She is absolutely right to highlight the importance of sport as one of the positive ways we can divert young people away from violence and offending behaviour.

Too many young people who get involved in crime have been failed by the education system or have special educational needs, which often go undiagnosed or are not coped with well by schools. What more can be done to ensure that young people do not fall foul of the system and end up with very few qualifications and very little hope for the future?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Central to tackling the problem is partnership working, not only with youth offending teams but with colleagues in the educational sphere. We are fully engaged with Edward Timpson’s review of exclusions, and we are working very closely with the Department for Education on matters such as speech and language therapy, learning disabilities and other factors that can play a part.

The age and maturity of children is so important. The age of criminal responsibility here is 10 years, which is low; it is 14 years in Germany and 15 years in Italy. There was a 60% increase in the number of young offenders between 1996 and 2004. What has been done to reduce the number of young offenders?

We have worked extremely hard across the Government, and with local authorities and other state and charity agencies, to drive down the level of offending. We have seen an 86% reduction in the number of young people coming into the criminal justice system for the first time, but there is more to do to break the cycle of reoffending for those who are already in the system, and that is what we are focused on.

Housing Cases: Legal Advice

8. What assessment he has made of trends in the number of people able to access early legal advice for housing cases. (910425)

Legal aid is available when someone is at risk of losing their home or seeking to address safety concerns that pose a serious risk of harm to the person or their family. In 2017-18, the Legal Aid Agency spent £28 million on housing matters, including £9 million on legal help for housing. We recognise that early support may well be helpful, and I have mentioned already a number of pilots and an innovation fund. We will also be piloting face-to-face advice in an area of social welfare law, which may possibly be in housing.

Labour has committed to restoring legal aid funding for early legal advice for housing, welfare benefits appeals and family law cases, helping hundreds of thousands of people. Why have the Government refused to do the same, despite evidence that to do so would actually save them money?

There is already funding available, as I have mentioned. In 2017-18, we also spent £3.6 million on the housing possession court duty scheme—in other words, on-the-day advice. The Government want to ensure that people are helped early on, but also that we provide advice in the best way possible. That is why instead of just ploughing taxpayers’ money back into traditional legal aid, we want to evaluate many different forms of provision of early legal support and see which is the best, and then we will take a decision on what support we want to give.

The Minister may well say that, but thousands of families up and down the country rely on citizens advice bureaux and law centres for help with a wide variety of problems. Even refugees rely on those centres. What is she going to do about properly funding those organisations? They cannot wait around for some Government review that might take place in the future. Will she deal with the matter urgently?

The hon. Gentleman mentioned immigration, and people can already get legal aid for asylum cases. We are committed to ensuring that people know when legal aid is available to them. We are going to advertise when it is possible and undertake a programme to ensure that people know when legal aid can be claimed. In other areas where it is currently out of scope, we want to ensure that we provide it in the best way possible. In relation to housing advice, I should also mention that people can always get advice on the telephone gateway.

Leaving the EU: Legal System

9. What steps the Government plan to take to ensure that the UK legal system operates effectively after the UK leaves the EU. (910426)

The UK and the EU have agreed the terms of an implementation period. If Parliament is able to support a deal, common rules will remain in place during that period. That will provide certainty to businesses and citizens. The UK and EU have also committed to explore a new agreement on family judicial co-operation and other related matters; ambitious arrangements for services and investment, including legal services; and a future security partnership. My Department continues to work to ensure we are in the best position to negotiate our priorities.

The former Brexit Minister, the hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) said at the Dispatch Box that a no-deal Brexit

“would not result in a reduction in mutual capability”—[Official Report, 20 March 2019; Vol. 656, c. 1077]

on security and law enforcement co-operation.

However, the Solicitor General, when giving evidence to the Justice Committee, said:

“A no deal is deeply suboptimal when it comes to criminal justice”

and that

“we would lose the European arrest warrant”,


“raises all sorts of questions of delay and, frankly, potential denial of justice”.

Will the Justice Secretary tell me which Minister’s version of the post-Brexit future is accurate?

We are very clear that the best way forward is to reach a deal. That is what the Government are endeavouring to achieve and support from across the House would be quite helpful in delivering that.

The Solicitor General’s evidence to the Justice Committee was indeed crystal clear. Does my right hon. Friend also agree that it is critical for civil justice co-operation that there should be a deal? None of the ambitious objectives for future collaboration would work if there is no deal. For example, mutual recognition and enforceability of judgments in civil and family law cases would fall away immediately in the event of no deal.

My hon. Friend is right to highlight these issues. We have made progress in our negotiations, particularly in the context of family law. It is to the advantage of citizens in the UK and the EU that a deal is reached, which will enable us to enforce judgments in this area. Our ambitions are to go further and, in terms of the future framework, to make further progress on civil judicial co-operation.

In thousands of instances, we are not able to deliver justice in this country unless we have a proper extradition agreement with other countries in the European Union. As I understand it, even if the withdrawal agreement were to go forward at some point, we will still have to operate as a third party outside the European arrest warrant. Relying on the 1957 treaties will not be enough, so what plans does the Secretary of State have to ensure we are able to maintain a proper extradition arrangement with other countries in the European Union?

The hon. Gentleman is correct to say that on leaving the European Union we will not have access to the European arrest warrant. We would wish to be able to do so, but there are difficulties. For example, Germany has a constitutional bar in this area. The Home Office continues to work with EU member states to try to find a way in which we can have as effective extradition and arrest warrant arrangements as possible.

Justice issues are, of course, largely devolved. EU initiatives such as Eurojust and the European arrest warrant are well utilised by Scottish prosecutors and are hugely valued by them. In the current Brexit talks between the UK Government and the Labour party, will the Secretary of State confirm what proposals regarding justice have been discussed and if the Scottish Government have been or will be consulted on these or any forthcoming proposals that may result from the talks between the Tories and the Labour party?

I am not going to comment specifically on those discussions. What I would say in the context of no-deal preparations is that, as I understand it, the Scottish Government have not allocated any of the money given to them for no-deal preparation on justice matters. Certainly, when it comes to the United Kingdom, we are doing everything we can to prepare for every eventuality.

I can assure the Secretary of State that the Scottish Government’s no-deal planning is well advanced. The Justice Secretary’s Government recently opted into the Eurojust regulation. Eurojust plays a vital role in the fight against serious organised crime, particularly terrorism but also cyber-crime and child pornography. His Department said that opting in was necessary to ensure that the UK continues to work in line with our European partners in the lead-up to exit day and during the transition period. Will he tell us how many more justice opt-ins has he planned before Brexit takes place and will they feature in the Tory manifesto for the EU Parliament elections?

What I say to the hon. and learned Lady is that we want to work in a pragmatic way with the European Union, so that as we leave the EU, we continue to co-operate wherever we can to our mutual benefit. That does require us to reach a deal.

Access to Justice: Criminal Case Delays

11. What assessment he has made of the effect of delays in progressing criminal cases in the courts on access to justice. (910428)

Unnecessary delays can always cause distress for all parties. Some cases are moving more quickly through the criminal courts, but due to the complexity of cases, impacts on the time that they take to reach courts are being realised. The Crown Prosecution Service and the police are driving change across the system through the national disclosure improvement plan, and we are working to reduce delays and improve the way cases are progressed through the system through better case management and transforming summary justice.

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer and I am aware of the work that is being done to improve disclosure processes, which both the Law Society and my local police tell me are still contributing to delayed and, in some cases, collapsed trials. What is her view of the Law Society’s suggestion that different disclosure rules should apply in the magistrates courts and Crown courts, where the nature of the cases and the amount of disclosed but unused material differ greatly?

Of course, the Attorney General has done a review in relation to disclosure more broadly. I am very happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss any ideas that she would like to put forward on those matters.

Since 2016, payments to consultancies by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service have shot up from £3 million to £20 million. The Government appear to think that expensive private consultants are the solution to all their problems, even in the face of spiralling costs. Does the Minister really believe that the way to increase access to justice is to hand over yet more public money to private consultants at a time when our courts are facing unprecedented cuts?

We are in the process of a £1 billion court programme—one of the most ambitious across the world in relation to how we transform our justice system—and it is appropriate that we get the best and right advice to manage that process. Sometimes we find that it is cheaper to instruct experts than it is to develop that expertise internally, so we use consultants where appropriate.

Enforcement Agents: Regulation

There is no excuse for aggressive tactics by bailiffs. I know that the hon. Lady has worked very hard to highlight the issues that have occurred in her constituency, and I was very grateful for her contribution to a recent Westminster Hall debate. She will know that we have undertaken a call for evidence, which addresses the regulation of the industry. Recently, we were very pleased to see the report of the Justice Committee, and we will respond both to the call for evidence and the Justice Committee’s report in the summer.

I thank the Minister for that answer. It is unacceptable that many people, including the disabled constituent of mine she referred to, have suffered at the hands of aggressive bailiffs, who seem to think that they are above the law. Debt collectors and debt advice charities are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, but bailiffs are an anomaly in all this and do not have independent regulation. I hear what she says about the timetable, but when the Government do respond to the call for evidence and the Justice Committee report, will that include plans for an independent regulator of bailiffs?

As the hon. Lady will know, regulation is one of the questions that we are asking in the call for evidence. We will look at the evidence—we have had quite a lot of evidence submitted—and we will be responding to that point about regulation. The Justice Committee made a number of interesting recommendations and put forward some proposals, and we will of course look at those in due course as well.

I rise as co-chair of the justice unions cross-party group. The number of public sector civilian enforcement officers is less than half what it was four years ago, while private bailiff firms receive millions from the taxpayer every year, and the Government recently admitted wasting almost half a million pounds on their cancelled private bailiff procurement process. When will they admit that privatisation is not worth it and invest instead in public staff?

Sometimes it is appropriate for the public sector to provide services; sometimes the private sector does it just as well, and sometimes better. It is appropriate to ensure that in all services we get the best service, not dictate who provides those services.

Living Wage

We believe very strongly that we need to both provide decent wages for people and grow the economy and make sure we have employment, which is why we have undertaken to provide a living wage to all our direct employees, and also to our third-party employees, but we have done so—and this is where I suspect the disagreement between me and the hon. Lady lies—at a level that has led to us having the highest rates of employment on record.

Just to be clear, will the Minister state that the people who clean his offices and the security guards who keep him safe in his role as a Minister will receive the living wage, meaning that his Department’s name, the Ministry of Justice, is accurate?

Yes, I absolutely can confirm that. In April, their wages will go from £7.83 to £8.21 an hour, which is the national living wage.

Prison Officer Safety

Protecting our prison officers is vital to having safe prisons. In order to do this, we have doubled the maximum sentence for assaulting a prison officer; we are introducing body-worn cameras; we are rolling out PAVA spray; and we are ensuring, through the training and support we provide for prison officers and the work we do on drugs, that we keep our prisons safe.

A key factor in the safety of prison officers is the number of these professionals in each prison. In an earlier response, the Minister said that the number was at a higher level than in any year since 2012. What is the number of prison officers at the moment and what plans does he have to increase the number of these professionals over the next 12 months?

We have fewer officers than in 2010. There was a reduction from 2010 to 2012, but we have now turned that around, with the 4,300 extra officers, meaning we can now roll out the key worker programme, which is central, as it means we have the ratios we need to have one prison officer allied with four prisoners to make sure we deliver the work on rehabilitation.

The number of officers is only one part of the equation. Will the Minister increase the almost poverty pay of those in the lowest-paid jobs in the Prison Service and the courts?

We have been looking at this very carefully, and the public sector pay review body is currently gathering evidence on the situation. We owe a huge debt of obligation to our prison officers and we have to think about their salaries. We also have to balance that with making sure our resources go into improving the physical fabric of these buildings and having the right security infrastructure and the right programming in place. Looking at the resources as a whole, we think we have got the balance right, but we will listen to the public sector pay review body.

Child Sexual Abuse Victims

15. What steps he is taking to ensure that the criminal justice system adequately supports victims of child sexual abuse. (910432)

We are determined to ensure that support is in place for all victims of child sexual abuse. In particular, a range of special measures is available in court cases to assist and support victims of child sexual abuse to give their best evidence in criminal proceedings, including the provision of evidence via video links, recorded evidence-in-chief, screens around the witness box and access to an independent sexual violence adviser.

I recognise the good work done to support victims of child sexual abuse, but access to compensation is key to that. The Minister will know that in 2017, of the 6,861 cases in which someone was found guilty of child sexual abuse, in only 26 was a criminal compensation order awarded. That is 0.4%. Will he work with me and others in the House to ensure we get victims of child sexual abuse the compensation they deserve?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the very powerful and, indeed, very personal speech that he made recently when presenting a ten-minute rule Bill on this subject. I should be happy to meet him, with my officials, to discuss this further.

Given that so many victims of child sexual abuse have spoken out about their horrendous experiences through the family courts, what consideration is being given to a full inquiry into the treatment in those courts of women and girls who have suffered domestic abuse and violence?

I know that the hon. Lady speaks about this subject with passion and knowledge, and that she has championed a number of those who have suffered in the past. She has highlighted a very important point. As she will know, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer), and I—along with members of the judiciary and others—are looking closely into what can be done to ensure that the family courts themselves continue to ensure that the voices of victims of child sexual abuse are heard, and that they are responded to appropriately.

Topical Questions

On 12 April, the Voyeurism (Offences) Act 2019 came into effect. It criminalises the reprehensible behaviour known as upskirting. The offences specified in the Act are framed in clear and focused terms to ensure that that disturbing practice is tackled robustly wherever it occurs, so that victims can be confident that their complaints will be taken seriously. I thank Gina Martin for leading the campaign, and I thank all Members on both sides of the House who supported this law. Together, we have sent a clear message to those who think that they can get away with such invasive and unacceptable behaviour: it will not be tolerated.

A staggering 72% of decisions on personal independence payments and 65% of decisions on employment and support allowance are overturned in the first-tier tribunal. That means that not only are ill and disabled people having to fight for the social security support to which they are entitled, but a great deal of money is being wasted on the administration of appeal tribunals. May I ask the Secretary of State how much is being spent on the administration of PIP and ESA tribunals? If those figures are not recorded, will he agree to start producing them?

If I remember correctly, only 8% of awards are challenged in tribunals. As for the total cost, I will happily write to the hon. Lady providing the details.

T5. What steps is the Minister taking across Government to spread the successful best practice of organisations such as Care after Combat, which is doing brilliant work with veterans in prisons and driving down reoffending? (910437)

I know that my hon. Friend is a committed supporter of Care after Combat. Indeed, so committed is he that he will be running the London marathon next weekend in aid of the organisation, and I gather that all sponsorship is welcome.

As a member of the ministerial covenant and veterans board, I am happy to confirm that the Government’s new strategy refers explicitly to veterans in the justice system. We incorporate a wide range of military and non-military charities in our work on prisons and probation, including SSAFA, the Royal British Legion and, of course, Care after Combat, and we encourage the sharing of best practice on what works.

Climate change is now receiving the public attention that it merits. Greta Thunberg is in the House today, and my party pays tribute to her work. All too often, however, our justice system restricts the ability of citizens to take legal action against environmentally damaging decisions. Last month, the United Nations criticised the Government’s failure to meet their international obligations relating to access to justice in environmental matters.

Labour’s 2017 manifesto proposed the establishment of a new type of environmental tribunal with simplified procedures so that citizens would have alternatives to prohibitively expensive judicial reviews. Will the Government follow Labour’s lead, and commit themselves to the establishment of a tribunal that would empower people to use our legal system to protect our shared environment?

I am not sure that setting up a new tribunal is necessarily the right response to this particular issue, but of course we want to do everything we can to ensure that the law—including the Government’s ambitious climate change policies—is properly enforced.

Given that the Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Act 2018 became law last year to block mobile phone signals in prisons, could the Minister update us on the progress that has been made on introducing the technology across the prisons estate?

I thank my hon. Friend for the work she did in bringing the Bill through and turning it into an Act. It is an important piece of legislation, which extends our powers to work alongside network providers. We are taking significant steps in dealing with the security threat posed by mobile phones. We have to prevent them from getting into prisons. We have to use detection methods to find them and stop them working, and we are making advances on that. We also need to exploit the data that is held on them.

T2. I went to prison last week—to Downview Prison, which is a women’s prison—for the Sycamore Tree course on restorative justice. Does the Minister agree that restorative justice programmes of this nature, and also those run by the Chris Donovan Trust, can have a real impact on reoffending rates and provide some comfort to victims who want to go on them by helping them to recover from a crime? (910434)

Having also recently visited Downview, I know what the right hon. Gentleman is talking about, and I fully agree that restorative justice and the work of charities such as the Sycamore Tree project can have a vital role to play in making our prisons safer and more rehabilitative. Restorative approaches are already used across the youth estate and, as the right hon. Gentleman highlighted, in a number of other prisons. They have real benefits, in terms of both defusing conflict and repairing harm after an incident in prison.

I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I welcome the fact that a family impact test on the Government’s proposed divorce law changes has been published, but what is the justification for the Government cherry-picking not just public opinion, which, according to the responses to their own consultation, is 80% against the proposed changes, but the evidence they rely on, with Ministers seeming to ignore evidence that there will be an immediate spike in divorce rates, which will impact negatively on the families involved?

I have to disagree with my hon. Friend on this point. It is true that there was a surge of submissions to our consultation in the last couple of weeks, but the fact is that a YouGov poll on the day the proposals were set out suggested 73% support for them. Indeed, we have had support from the Law Society, Resolution, the Family Law Bar Association, Sir Paul Coleridge—the chair of the Marriage Foundation—Relate and National Family Mediation. This reform will help families and ensure that the divorce process is less acrimonious.

T3. Do the Government have any plans to change the legal system to protect against gender targeting of advertising towards children and teenagers? (910435)

We will certainly look at any proposals on this front. We do not, at the moment, have any plans, but I will certainly look at any proposals the hon. Lady might have.

I warmly welcome the commitment by the UK Government to recruit 2,500 more prison officers, because prison officers in Scotland have spoken out about the fact that the system there is at breaking point. Rising numbers have led to overcrowding in my local prison, HMP Perth, which was recently reported to rely heavily on inexperienced agency and bank nurses due to staffing shortages. Does the Minister agree that the Scottish Government need to make a similar commitment to restore order in our prison service?

My hon. Friend is a doughty defender of the interests of her constituents. As she points out, this is a matter for the Scottish Government, but I am more than happy to share our experience with the Scottish Government if that would be helpful.

T4. Will Ministers make a commitment today that the Domestic Abuse Bill will include guaranteed access to special measures in courts for survivors of domestic abuse and that that will apply equally across all our court systems and our entire courts estate? (910436)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. As he will be aware, we have brought forward the draft Domestic Abuse Bill, which we are currently considering in the Joint Committee. We would very much welcome any reflections he has as part of that process before we draft definitive legislation to bring forward to the House.

During an earlier answer, my hon. Friend the Prisons Minister mentioned the roll-out of PAVA spray. When will it be completed?

I am delighted to be able to remind the House that PAVA spray is an incapacitating spray and that it can be safer, when dealing with acts of extreme violence, to use a spray rather than pulling out a baton or rolling around with someone on the ground. We need to use these sprays in a moderate, controlled fashion, but they can reduce extreme violence in prisons and protect our prison officers, so we are proud to be rolling them out.

T6. In South Tyneside, disabled claimants are having to wait over 12 months for a tribunal, and 80% of those appeals are successful. What discussions have the Minister and the Department had with the Department for Work and Pensions about this flawed decision making? (910438)

I am happy to answer the hon. Gentleman’s question. I met the previous Minister for Disabled People twice to talk about how the DWP can get decisions right first time, and I have already spoken to the new Minister to follow up on those discussions. There were 3.8 million decisions made on the personal independence payment in the last year, of which only 10% were appealed and only 5% overturned. However, it is absolutely fundamental that the decisions should be got right first time and that only those that are more questionable should come through the system.

Ah, a Lincolnshire knight, and an illustrious member of the Privy Council to boot—we are doubly blessed. I call Sir Edward Leigh.

Having pissed off half our supporters by botching Brexit, why are we now irritating the other half with an extreme liberal social agenda? Every single study, including the Harvard Law reform and the Margaret Brinig studies, shows that it is poor, vulnerable and dispossessed children who suffer most from divorce. Will my right hon. Friend at least accept that if he makes something easier, it will happen more often?

The evidence on no-fault divorce is that in a steady state there is not a higher rate of divorce than otherwise. It is also the case that the current fault-based approach to divorce results in divorces that are going to happen anyway being more acrimonious than they would otherwise have been. That is why I believe that it is right that we make this reform.

T7. The Health Minister will soon be meeting the parents in Hull affected by the baby ashes scandal, including mothers who do not know how their babies’ bodies were transported from hospital with no coffin, no funeral director and no funeral service for the family. Does this not yet again show the need for the local independent inquiry that is still being sought by those parents, and was it not unwise for the Ministry of Justice to accept the assurances of Hull City Council that the parents’ concerns had all been dealt with, without asking the parents? (910440)

The hon. Lady raises an important and sensitive point, and I would be happy to meet her to discuss the issue.

Education is at the very heart of rehabilitation. What are Ministers doing to ensure that people have access to education and the jobs they need when they leave prison?

The big change that has been introduced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is to ensure that education in prison is linked to employment. This involves talking to the local job market, ensuring that we provide the skills that match that market and, above all, ensuring that we have safe, decent prisons so that we can remove the prisoners from their cells and into work and education so that we can get them into jobs. That reduces reoffending by an average of 7%.

T8. How are we getting on with securing the 26 prisoner transfer agreements that are currently in place with the European Union to ensure that they are in place at the end of this year? (910451)

I am delighted that Labour Members are working with us to try to get a good Brexit deal in place, and if we can get such a deal, we will be able to continue through the transition period. In a no-deal situation, however, it will become significantly more difficult because we will have to fall back on older and more cumbersome ways of moving prisoners. That would not be good for us or for Europe.

Despite the wilful destruction of thousands of small businesses by their own bank, no senior executive has ever been held to account. Will the Minister update the House on the Government’s proposals to bring forward legislation to make failure to prevent fraud a corporate criminal offence?

Of course, when people suffer economic crime it is as devastating for them as it is with any other crime. As my hon. Friend will know, we put out a call for evidence and we are looking carefully at the responses across the Departments. We will be responding in due course.

T9. The number of recorded child sexual abuse offences increased by 178% between March 2007 and March 2017. Can the Minister explain how his Government’s substantial cuts to the MOJ, the CPS and, of course, the police have helped victims achieve justice? (910452)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. I know that she has a sustained interest in this area. She will be aware that we increased funding for specialist rape and sexual abuse support services, including for child sexual abuse, from April this year. That means a 10% increase in funding, a move to three-year rather than annual settlements, and support for 96 centres across England and Wales—the highest number that the MOJ has ever funded—ensuring that support services are available in each of the police and crime commissioner areas.

The law regarding the sentencing of offenders has grown piecemeal and become ever more complex, even for experienced judges and practitioners. Bearing that in mind and noting that comparatively uncontroversial legislation is being sought for a future Queen’s Speech, would not paving legislation for the Law Commission’s sentencing code consolidation Bill absolutely fit the bill?

The Chair of the Justice Committee makes a good point. There is cross-party support on the matter, and I hope that we can make progress in the not-too-distant future.

In 2010, the then Secretary of State for Justice said that he wanted to examine what could be done to use technology more effectively so that fewer people have physically to attend court for routine purposes. Nine years on, however, this Government have admitted to not collecting information on how many times video links break down; nor have they published the business case for their modernisation programme. Will Ministers commit to undertaking that research before proceeding with any more closures or cuts to our courts?

There are a number of developments relating to the use of technology to ensure that people do not have to attend court or fill in lengthy, unwieldy documentation. People can now apply for divorce and for probate online, and users can be updated about social security claims through their mobile phone. We piloted online tax tribunal hearings, which were extremely effective, and we are now piloting further video hearings in the civil courts.

Of the 9,000 foreign national prisoners in our jails, 760 are from Albania. What are we doing to negotiate a compulsory prisoner transfer agreement with Albania?

My hon. Friend has raised this matter several times, and I recently met with the Albanian Minister of Justice. It is difficult to return prisoners to Albania. We are ahead of the Italians and the Greeks, but we still have a lot more to do. The problem is that the host country needs to receive these prisoners, so we cannot transfer prisoners in a compulsory fashion. I assure my hon. Friend, because he has asked this question in the past, that a no-deal Brexit will make such prisoner transfers not easier, but more difficult.

Three of the four men convicted of killing my constituent Jacqueline Wileman were on probation at the time of her death. Does the Minister recognise that that demonstrates the devastating failure of the privatised probation system? Will he meet with me to discuss both the case and how to prevent similar deaths, including by removing the maximum sentence for death by dangerous driving?

I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her campaigning on this issue. This was a tragic case involving death by dangerous driving, and the individuals have now received sentences of between 10 and 13 and a half years for the crime. We fully support the idea that the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving should be increased up to a life sentence, but we still need to maintain a basic distinction in law between people who intend to commit murder and people whose actions lead to the horrible situation of loss of life through gross negligence and carelessness. We support the idea, and I will meet the hon. Lady.

I have met many excellent prison officers who serve at HMP Long Lartin in my constituency and elsewhere, but way too many of them seem to leave to pursue careers elsewhere. What more can be done to retain more prison officers?

In order to retain people in the job, we need to make sure that we have the right salary rates and that our prisons are safer. However, we also need to make sure that people feel motivated and that their morale is good, which is one of the reasons why the training and support packages we have introduced should transform retention rates for prison staff.

Two Members have been standing for some time, and I am keen to accommodate them. I feel sure they will agree that a sentence each seems fair.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Street & Arrow is a social enterprise street food project and is part of Scotland’s violence reduction unit. It hires people with convictions for 12 months, mentors them and provides them with wraparound support. Does the Minister agree that such support is the best way to reduce reoffending?

Obviously I must pay tribute to the extraordinary achievements, particularly in Glasgow, on reducing violence. On my recent visit to the United States, I also picked up things we could do to work with ex-gang members to interrupt the cycle of violence and have a rapid impact, but we can certainly learn from Scotland on this issue.