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House of Commons Hansard
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Oral Answers to Questions
24 January 2017
Volume 620

Justice

The Secretary of State was asked—

Transgender Prisoners

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1. What support and resources the Government are providing to transgender prisoners. [908338]

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The House will be aware of the tragic death of Jenny Swift at Doncaster prison on 30 December. My sympathies are with her family. As with all deaths in custody, there will be an inquest and an independent investigation by the prisons and probation ombudsman. We are firmly committed to ensuring that transgender offenders are treated fairly, lawfully and decently, with their rights and safety respected.

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I cautiously welcome the new guidance regarding the management of transgender prisoners, and I am sure we are all keen to see all transgender people treated with respect and dignity. However, can the Minister assure the House that the new guidance applies to transgender people held in immigration and detention centres, as well as to those housed in the general prison system?

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I thank the hon. Lady for her question. The new guidelines to staff were issued on 9 November, following a review of the management and care of transgender offenders. The review involved independent oversight, including from the Prison Reform Trust. To put the issue into perspective, we have 70 people in this position in the estate at the moment, which broadly reflects the incidence in the population. Specifically on the question the hon. Lady asks, if she writes to me, I will reply.

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The National Offender Management Service guidance is very welcome, but will the Minister outline whether it applies to non-binary people who are in prisons, because this issue is not just about those who define themselves as men or women but about non-binary people as well?

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I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Again, to put the issue into perspective, we currently have four people who are in that position in the estate. The new guidelines state that all transgender prisoners

“must be allowed to express the gender with which they identify”,

irrespective of prison location.

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Will the Minister confirm that that means there is no longer a requirement for a gender recognition certificate? Will he also tell us how confident he is that these guidelines are being applied across the whole estate and when he expects to do an assessment of their impact?

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The underlying principle is that people are cared for and managed in the gender with which they identify, rather than that being based solely on their legally recognised gender. As I said earlier, the guidelines came about through interaction with various independent organisations, and staff are being trained in this area. I think some perspective is required here: we have a prison system that is traditionally male-female, and we are dealing with relatively small numbers, but, yes, I am keeping an eye on this issue. In particular, with regard to recent tragic events, I am also looking individually at each case.

Prisoner Rehabilitation

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2. What steps the Government are taking to improve prisoner rehabilitation. [908339]

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The Prison and Courts Reform Bill will for the first time set out in legislation that the reform of offenders, as well as the punishment of offenders, is a key purpose of prison. We need to make sure the whole system is focused on getting prisoners the education they need, and getting them off drugs and into jobs, so that we can reduce the £15 billion cost of reoffending.

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I commend my right hon. Friend for the work she is doing in making prison governors more accountable. Will she set out the standards she is laying down so that prison improvements, and indeed offender outcomes, can be properly measured?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we need standards so that we can hold prison governors to account on what they are achieving. We are going to start introducing those standards from April 2017. They will include measures such as prison safety, progress made in English and maths, progress on getting offenders into employment and measuring the time out of cell in prisons.

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The Secretary of State will know that good rehabilitation depends on at least two things: a good probation service providing aftercare when people leave prison, and good partnerships with the business community and employers, who will give people appropriate employment to steer them on their way. We have had some good experience at Reading and other jails. Will the Secretary of State back that kind of partnership?

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The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We know that when somebody gets into work on leaving prison, they are much less likely to reoffend. We are going to launch an employment strategy later this year to encourage more employers like Timpsons, which already does a fantastic job, to participate. We also want to get the third sector involved in that rehabilitation programme. We will also announce reforms to the probation system, and one key focus will be on how the probation service gets people into employment.

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Has there been progress on getting accurate job vacancy data from the Department for Work and Pensions in the areas to which prisoners will be released, to focus work preparation in prisons as effectively as possible?

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We are working with the Department for Work and Pensions to get the data and make sure that they are much more linked up. By giving governors more power we will enable them to work with local employers in making sure that jobs are available. We are training people in prison and getting them into apprenticeships so that they can continue those apprenticeships and that work when they leave prison.

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What steps are the Government taking to ensure that mental health problems are picked up as part of the rehabilitation process, not just to reduce suicide rates in prisons but to ensure that services are streamlined on release?

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The hon. Lady is absolutely right that mental health is a major issue. We are giving governors more power over the commissioning of mental health services in prison. I also want to see better diagnosis of mental health issues earlier in the criminal justice system, when people appear in court and when they are on community sentences.

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Will the Secretary of State set a high standard for employment projects in prisons along the lines of the experience in Padua? I am sure that she is aware of Pasticceria Giotto, an outstanding and exporting bakery business.

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I thank my hon. Friend for her comments. Catering and bakery is a big area in which we do a lot of training already. We are working with organisations like Costa Coffee to get people into employment. We also have the Bad Boys Bakery at Brixton, which produces some excellent cakes.

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There is no reason to doubt it; the Secretary of State seems remarkably well informed about these important matters.

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Getting ex-prisoners into employment is clearly very important, as the Secretary of State has said. What assessment has her Department made of the number of prisoners who leave prison and get into employment and stay in it for more than six months?

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The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to talk about the longevity of such employment. We are designing the measures on which prison governors and probation services will be held to account on the basis of getting people into sustainable employment. That is very important.

Fixed-term Recalls

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3. What recent assessment she has made of the effectiveness of fixed-term recalls. [908340]

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An offender who is assessed as presenting a high risk of serious harm will receive a standard recall. Thereafter, they will be re-released before the end of their sentence only if the risk they pose is reduced and they can be safely managed in the community. In cases that are not high risk, however, a fixed-term recall is often a more appropriate response.

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It is bad enough that prisoners are automatically released halfway through the sentence, whether or not they still pose a risk to the public, but when someone released on licence from prison then reoffends, surely the least the public can expect is that the criminals concerned are sent back to prison to serve the remainder of their prison sentence in full. Instead, a huge number of these people are simply recalled to prison for just 28 days on a fixed-term recall, sometimes on multiple occasions. How does the Minister justify this fraud on the British public?

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As I said, where a high risk is posed, the prisoner will not be re-released before the end of their sentence. Offenders on licence who are charged with a further offence and assessed as presenting a high risk of serious harm receive a standard recall. If they are convicted of a further offence, they get a fresh sentence.

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In a recent case in Northern Ireland, someone charged with a serious terrorist offence in connection with the murder of prison officer David Black absconded when he was on bail, and the police did not report that to the courts for over five weeks. Is the Minister aware of that, and has he had any discussions with the Minister of Justice in Northern Ireland to take this matter forward?

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That is only tangentially related to the question on the Order Paper, and I think that is a generous statement, but the Minister is a dextrous fellow, so let us hear from him.

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The straightforward answer is that I am not aware of that particular case and I am willing to take it up with the hon. Gentleman.

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Some in the justice system have raised fears that recall is used too readily by community rehabilitation companies because they are disincentivised from investing time in those they consider will not be able to complete their community sentence. What assessment has the Minister made of the use of recall by community rehabilitation companies?

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The hon. Lady makes a good point about the process whereby community rehabilitation companies have to justify the grounds for recall to officials in the National Offender Management Service before going ahead. Where officials do not find grounds for recall, they will then challenge the community rehabilitation companies. It is important to recognise that sometimes recalling an offender who is in breach of their licence allows the offender manager to put in place the appropriate mechanisms to manage them in the community.

Prison Staff

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4. What steps the Government is taking to support prison staff in maintaining order. [908341]

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We are recruiting an extra 2,500 prison officers and rolling out new body-worn cameras. We are also empowering governors and providing extra funding to enhance the physical security of the prison estate.

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To be fair to the Government, I appreciate that prison violence has been a problem for decades. I remember being a PPS 28 years ago when the Home Secretary was coping with a prison riot. But was it really wise to cut the number of prison officers by a quarter in the last six years, given these problems?

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I should be delighted to have a conversation with my hon. Friend about his experience looking at these issues. He is absolutely right that they have been a problem for a number of years, and it will take time to build up the front line and recruit those 2,500 additional officers. We have recently faced new challenges, with psychoactive substances, drones and mobile phones. We are taking action to deal with those, but it is vital that we have the staff on the front line who can both reform offenders and keep our prisons safe.

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Six major incidents in eight weeks is unprecedented in the 25 years I have been in this House. Following on from her reply to the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), will the Secretary of State confirm that the figures to September meant a loss in that last year of 417 prison officers? When she says that she has to recruit 2,500 officers, does she not mean that in the next 12 months she will have to recruit 4,000 to make up those 2,500, and does she intend to do that?

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The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We need to recruit 4,000 officers over the next year. I announced initially that we were recruiting officers for 10 of the most challenging prisons. We have already made job offers to almost all those 400 people, so we are making good progress. We have recently launched a graduate scheme, Unlocked. Within 24 hours of announcing that scheme, we had expressions of interest from more than 1,000 candidates, so there are people interested in joining the Prison Service. It is challenging to recruit that number of officers, but we are absolutely determined to do so. It is what we need to do to turn our prisons around and make them places of safety and reform.[Official Report, 26 January 2017, Vol. 620, c. 2MC.]

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Does my right hon. Friend accept that the greatest support that we can give to prison officers is to make sure that they have the correct levels of staffing in their prisons? Is she aware that there have been significant problems, highlighted by recent reports, in Chelmsford prison, which have been attributed to the understaffing of the prison? May I ask her what is being done to get the levels of staff to the correct ones, and would she agree to the prisons Minister having a meeting with me to discuss that?

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My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need to recruit staff at Chelmsford, in addition to other prisons. I know that my hon. Friend the prisons Minister will meet my right hon. Friend soon. I am keen to visit Chelmsford myself to meet my right hon. Friend and see the situation on the front line.

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As well as issues with understaffing and morale, we still have some old prisons that are not suitable for the kind of rehabilitation that we need, and that cause security issues. Can the Government update us on what is happening to deal with that fundamental infrastructure problem?

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The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is harder to reform offenders and create the safe environments that we want in old prisons that are not fit for purpose. That is why we are building additional prison places. We have £1.3 billion allocated. We will open HMP Berwyn in Wales shortly, which will have additional places. We are committed to this, and I will announce more about our prison build programme in due course.

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What has been the effect of the decisions in 2011, which were confirmed in 2016, to reduce the daily accommodation fabric checks to barely a weekly check? How has that helped to achieve the desired outcome, as stated at the time, of maintaining order and reducing self-harm?

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My hon. Friend raises an important issue. We need cells that are fit for purpose and usable. One of the things that my hon. Friend the prisons Minister has been focusing on in his regular meetings is making sure that our contractors get cells back to use and fit for purpose.

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Some prisons, including Her Majesty’s Prison Birmingham, use prisoner violence reduction representatives—prisoners who are paid to monitor other inmates—to discourage disorder. Stakeholders we have spoken to suggest that some are ensuring compliance by themselves meting out violence to troublesome inmates. What assessment has the Justice Secretary made of their use?

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The hon. Lady refers to violence reduction programmes. I have seen them in place in a number of prisons, where they can be very effective. Peer to peer support can often turn prisoners around, but it needs to be carefully managed and monitored. My expectation is that it is the role of the governor of the prison to make sure proper systems are in place.

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In December, during her statement to the House on the riot at Her Majesty’s Prison Birmingham, the Justice Secretary suggested that as many as 13 Tornado teams were deployed to the prison. Such events deprive other prisons of officer numbers. Is she confident that she has the resources to deal with disturbances of this kind, and when will Sarah Payne’s investigation into what happened be concluded?

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We are increasing the number of Tornado staff to make sure that we can deal with any incidents that arise across our prison estate, particularly while we are building up the strength of our frontline. Those officers do a fantastic job, and they did a fantastic job in resolving the incident at HMP Birmingham. I can tell the hon. Lady that the investigation into the incident at HMP Birmingham, which is being led by Sarah Payne, will report back in February.

Drug Addiction

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5. What steps the Government are taking to (a) treat drug addiction in prison and (b) provide education and skills training to prisoners formerly addicted to drugs to help them to find work on release. [908342]

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9. What steps the Government are taking to (a) treat drug addiction in prison and (b) provide education and skills training to prisoners formerly addicted to drugs to help them to find work on release. [908347]

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12. What steps the Government are taking to (a) treat drug addiction in prison and (b) provide education and skills training to prisoners formerly addicted to drugs to help them to find work on release. [908350]

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Our prison safety and reform White Paper affirms the Government’s commitment fundamentally to reassess our wider approach to tackling the supply of and the demand for drugs in prisons. It also gives governors greater power over services in their prisons, devolving control over education and increasing influence over healthcare provision, including drug testing and rehabilitation.

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I have visited many prisons in my role as rapporteur on mental health for the Joint Committee on Human Rights, and one of the most consistent and challenging problems is not only treating drug addiction but preventing new psychoactive substances from entering the prison system. Will the Minister update me on the Department’s plans to prevent NPS abuse in prisons?

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Prisons have a range of searching tools available. We have trained 300 dogs to detect psychoactive substances, and we have introduced laws to prosecute those who smuggle and supply drugs.

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Will my hon. Friend explain what impact legal highs are having inside prisons, and what steps are the Government taking to crack down on this very serious problem?

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The use of legal highs is undeniably changing behaviour patterns among prisoners. Last night’s “Panorama” illustrated the impact of new psychoactive substances. We have developed an innovative testing programme under the current mandatory drug testing regime, and we continue to work with health partners to reduce demand.

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In the light of the increasing pressures on the prison population, does my hon. Friend see any merit in the Howard League for Penal Reform’s suggestions about increasing the use of community orders—they certainly work well in Southend—and in its approach to helping offenders with drug problems?

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We want community orders to be effective so that further crimes are not committed. This includes better mental health interventions and drugs and alcohol desistance interventions. I am fully aware of the fact that if we can get to grips with the mental health challenges and the substance misuse challenges, crime will go down.

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If the Minister is to address the issue of drug addiction, he will have to address the issue of drugs being smuggled into prison. One method of doing that would be the introduction of new scanning machines similar to those at airports. Has the Minister given any consideration to doing that in prisons, thereby stopping drugs being smuggled by people into prison?

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Yes, consideration has been given to that. There is a particular difficulty with new psychoactive substances, because the way in which they are smuggled in—for example, by the impregnation of letters or paper—means that it is difficult to stop them via scanning. The hon. Gentleman should be assured that we are desperate to get a grip on the smuggling and supply of drugs into prisons because of the adverse impact that they are having.

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The hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Dr Davies) has an identical question, Question 19. It was not grouped with this question, but the position is clear: if he does stand I will call him, and if he doesn’t I won’t. He does. Get in there man!

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19. Does my hon. Friend agree that, if we are to reduce reoffending, it is vital to get prisoners off drugs and give them the skills they will need to find work in their local community on release? [908358]

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My hon. Friend, who has the same profession as me, fully understands the importance of the proper treatment of substance misuse. Having successfully got off the drug, part of that is finding purpose in life, and employment is key to that.

Prison Staff: Recruitment

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6. What steps the Government are taking to recruit more prison staff. [908343]

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17. What steps the Government are taking to recruit more prison staff. [908355]

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We are investing significant financial resources totalling about £100 million to recruit 2,500 additional prison officers. We are investing £4 million in our marketing campaign and effort. In addition to our national recruitment campaign, there are local recruitment schemes in 30 jails where it is hardest to recruit.

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his reply. I urge him, as he begins the recruitment process, to give due consideration to recruiting in rural areas, such as north Dorset, where house prices are high, rural public transport is scarce and unemployment levels are very low. That makes the governor’s job at a prison such as Guys Marsh in my constituency even harder.

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I am aware that my hon. Friend takes a keen interest in Guys Marsh, his local prison. I assure him that Guys Marsh has been made a priority prison, which means that the governor is getting extra resource, in addition to our national campaign effort, to recruit the staff he needs.

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Many of my constituents work in the Prison Service and I was contacted recently by one constituent who has worked in it for more than 23 years. He was concerned about the morale among his fellow officers and cited recent riots. What assurances can the Minister give me that those who serve on the frontline are able to work safely and with the appropriate staffing numbers?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right: prison officers are some of our finest and bravest public servants, and we want them to be able to work in safe conditions. That is why we are tackling the scourge of drones, drugs and phones in our prisons, and recruiting more staff so that they can work in a safe environment.

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Given the enormous turnover of staff on the prison estate and the reality that the Government will need to employ about 4,000 extra staff to reach their net figure of 2,500, what is the Minister doing to incentivise existing prison staff to stay and not walk out?

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The reality is that, in 75% of our prisons, recruitment is not a challenge. However, there is a challenge in some prisons, particularly in London and the south-east. In those places, we are offering market supplements of about £4,000 to attract new people. For those who are already in the system, we are in discussions about professionalising the Prison Service more to give them a better status and more pride in their jobs.

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The chief executive officer of the National Offender Management Service, Michael Spurr, told MPs that there is a need to recruit 8,000 more prison officers to achieve the increase of 2,500, as we have heard again today, yet existing prison officers have rejected the latest NOMS pay offer. When Michael Spurr met the Prison Officers Association this week, did the Secretary of State join him, and did she make the necessary commitments to make increased staffing in the Prison Service a reality?

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The Secretary of State and I met the POA last week. We had a very constructive discussion about continuing talks and, more widely, about workforce reform, professionalising prison officers’ jobs and raising their status.

Leaving the EU: Justice

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7. What assessment she has made of the implications for the justice system of the UK leaving the EU. [908344]

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10. What assessment she has made of the implications for her Department’s policies of the UK leaving the EU. [908348]

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We are determined to use the opportunities presented by our exit from the EU to build a truly global Britain. Our world-leading legal services contribute £25 billion per annum to the UK economy. My Department is leading the work on future co-operation with the EU on civil, commercial and family law, and, together with the Home Office, on criminal justice.

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I welcome the Prime Minister’s confirmation that we will be ceasing membership of the single market and thus ending the control of the European Court over this country. Does my right hon. Friend look forward to the day when the British courts are no longer undermined by European judges sitting in Luxembourg?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The UK has fantastic, independent and incorruptible judges, and we will be leaving the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, meaning that final decisions will be down to British judges.

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As with all things Brexit, we are facing a period of uncertainty around the recognition and enforcement of citizens’ rights associated with EU membership. What plans do the Government have to recognise the rights of parties in pending cases before the Court of Justice at the time of our departure from the EU?

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Such issues will be resolved in due course, and there will be a statement later today from my right hon. Friend the Brexit Secretary.

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What can my right hon. Friend do to reassure the legal profession that contracts where the choice of law is English or Welsh law will continue to be enforceable across Europe, even after we have left the EU?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is a vital issue for our fantastic legal services profession—four of the top 10 international law firms are headed in the UK. I said this week at a joint meeting with the Lord Chief Justice and members of the legal profession that mutual enforcement of judgments will be a key part of our Brexit negotiations.

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Civil and criminal justice are devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Does the Secretary of State for Justice agree with the conclusions of the first report of the Exiting the European Union Committee that the great repeal Bill must be dealt with in a way consistent with the existing devolution settlement, and does she accept, therefore, that the legislative consent of the Scottish Parliament to the great repeal Bill will be required?

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I look forward to meeting the hon. and learned Lady to discuss the issues of the devolved Parliament. The Prime Minister has been clear that she wants to strike a bespoke Brexit deal that works for the whole UK.

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Because civil and criminal justice are devolved, the triggering of article 50 will have major implications for the rights and freedoms of people in Scotland. Does the Secretary of State accept, therefore, that the Sewel convention will be engaged, and does she agree with the Supreme Court’s judgment this morning that the Sewel convention has an important role in facilitating harmonious relationships between the UK Parliament and the devolved legislature?

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As I said, the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU are working closely with the Scottish Government, and the Government have been clear that they will respect the decision of the Court this morning.

Probation Service

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8. What recent assessment she has made of the effect of the volume of probation officer caseloads on the effectiveness of the probation service. [908345]

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We are currently conducting a comprehensive review of the probation system so that it reduces reoffending, cuts crime and prevents future victims. A wide range of factors impacts on the effectiveness of probation services, including not only caseloads but the nature of supervision and rehabilitative support.

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In October, a joint report by the prisons and probations inspectorates found that

“high workloads meant that there was no time to think about cases in prison”

and that

“workload for resettlement workers meant that they spent very little time working with individual prisoners”.

Is not that evidence that the Government’s mistaken privatisation of the probation service is failing prisoners, failing to prevent reoffending and therefore failing to protect the wider community?

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Our ambition for the probation system review, due out at the beginning of April, is clear. We want a simple probation system with clear outcome measures, such as getting offenders into employment and housing. Outcomes, rather than inputs, are the best way to judge our probation service across the board.

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I call Danny Kinahan.

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That was on a previous question, Mr Speaker.

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Oh, never mind. We will bear the hon. Gentleman in mind for subsequent questions.

Courts System

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11. What progress the Government have made on modernising the courts system. [908349]

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The Government’s reforms will modernise the courts and tribunals system and improve the experience of everyone who comes into contact with it, particularly victims and witnesses, but we need to make sure that the provision of legal support is also updated to reflect the new way the justice system will work. We will work closely with the legal sector, victims and witnesses and others to review across the board the types of support needed in a modernised justice system and produce a Green Paper in the spring of 2018.

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Technology can mean that courthouses that were little used and have closed can still allow constituents to get access to justice. Can the Minister confirm that Skegness courthouse is going to receive the kind of technology solution that will allow my constituents still to get access to justice, and that that will not come at a cost to the local police?

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We are working with local interested parties to establish a video link facility for Skegness. That will allow victims and witnesses to give evidence without travelling to Boston.

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Yesterday, the British-Irish Parliamentary Association heard how well the Garda and the Police Service of Northern Ireland are working together. When we leave the EU, however, it looks as if we will become associate members of Europol, and the Schengen information system is another item that we need to keep together. Will the Minister ensure that we are in either the same place or a better place?

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I think that the hon. Gentleman also meant to refer to the modernisation of the courts system—purely an error of omission from the hon. Gentleman.

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I would like to see the modernisation of the courts system.

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Excellent. I would be happy to discuss the issue with the hon. Gentleman or indeed to pass his remarks to the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU to make him aware of the hon. Gentleman’s concerns.

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23. Over the last couple of years, three magistrates courts have been closed in Gloucestershire, the probation service has been divided and the Crown court in Gloucester and the magistrates court in Cheltenham continue to leak, while disabled access to both is poor. The Minister has been sympathetic to those issues. Can he confirm today that action will be taken on the physical condition of the courts and that an assessment will be made of the rehabilitation company’s work? [908362]

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Yes. I had a very useful meeting with my hon. Friend, and I can certainly confirm both the points he makes. I am particularly keen to get that skylight fixed for him. I am working hard on that.

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In his reply to the question from the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman), the Minister referred to modernising the tribunal system. Does he agree that part of that modernisation should be getting rid of employment tribunal fees, the introduction of which has led to a cut in the number of employment tribunal cases by two thirds and a cut of more than 80% in sex discrimination cases? Can the Minister announce today that those fees will indeed be abolished as part of access to justice and modernising the system?

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As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have been reviewing employment tribunal fees, and I can say that the publication of that review is imminent. Having said that, there is a difference of opinion across the Chamber on this matter. We think it right that individuals should contribute to the costs of the tribunals. It is also worth bearing in mind that ACAS has increased its workload in employment cases from about 23,000 cases a year—the number it used to conciliate—to 92,000 cases now. The result has been a very large increase in the number of cases that do not then proceed to the tribunal.

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21. Does the Minister agree that, if the UK is to remain at the forefront of legal services worldwide and if the sector is to continue as an engine for jobs and growth, it is vital that our courts system is modern, flexible and fit for the 21st century? [908360]

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I do agree. We have the best legal system in the world, but we also need to have the most modern one. Getting as many things out of court that do not need to be there, applying the full force of judge and courtroom for the most difficult and complex issues, stripping away unnecessary hearings, redundant paper forms and duplication are all important. I can report that, while two hearings ago, there was a saving of a Shard-load of paper as a result of these reports, that has now gone up to three Shard-loads, so we have saved a pile of paper as high as the Burj Khalifa, the largest building in the world.

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What a well-informed fellow the right hon. and learned Gentleman is.

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The new chairman of the Bar Council, Andrew Langdon QC, has warned people not to rely too heavily on the delivery of justice online. Yesterday the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, complained that facilities in his courts were a disgrace,

“prone to the link”

—the video link—

“failing and with desperately poor sound and picture quality”.

His own court, Court 33, has no such facilities and no video links. Does the Minister understand that some cases are not suitable for video links, and is he prepared to properly resource the ones that are?

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It is important for the courts to have the facilities that they need, which is the reason for our modernisation programme. As for the concern expressed about open justice, everything will work on the basis that people are able to see what is happening in a virtual hearing, so there will not be any secret justice.

Rehabilitation

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13. What steps the Government are taking to prepare offenders for life outside prison. [908351]

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It is vital for us to reduce the £15 billion cost of reoffending, and all the misery that it causes in our society. We must therefore ensure that offenders enter employment when they leave prison, and as a result of our new standards governors will be held to account for that.

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My private Member’s Bill, which is intended to reduce homelessness, will return to the House on Friday. One of its key provisions is a duty for the Prison Service to help people who are leaving prison to find stable homes. What measures can my right hon. Friend take to ensure that prison governors use the four two-hour workshops to prepare prisoners for a life outside prison?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Finding suitable housing, like getting a job, is very important to reducing reoffending. We will therefore measure housing rates as well as employment rates, and prison governors will be held accountable for how well they do in helping offenders to obtain housing.

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Let us hear the voice of Bolton West on this matter. Chris Green.

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16. It is commonly understood that once people have been in prison they have paid their debts to society, and contributing to society, especially through work, is a key part of rehabilitation. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the declaration of a criminal record at the very beginning of a job application creates an unnecessary barrier to work? [908354]

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I entirely agree that it is important for us to help people to find work. I support the Ban the Box initiative, and we are exploring options for its promotion. Later this year we will publish our employment strategy. We want to encourage more employers like Halfords, Greggs and DHL, which already work with ex-offenders, to become involved. Once they have jobs, ex-offenders often prove to be loyal and effective employees.

Human Rights Act 1998

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14. What recent progress she has made on the Government’s plans to replace the Human Rights Act 1998. [908352]

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We are committed to reforming our domestic human rights framework, and we will return to our proposals once we know the arrangements for our exit from the European Union.

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In September, the Secretary of State said that she was expecting to meet the Scottish Justice Minister to discuss the repeal of the Human Rights Act in Scotland. How does she plan to guarantee that the proposed British Bill of Rights will not compromise the autonomy of the Scottish legal system?

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The Secretary of State has offered some dates, and I hope it will be possible for the meeting to take place. There will be some time for that now, because, as I have said, we will return to our proposals once we know the arrangements for exit from the EU.

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It is of course right that our manifesto commitment to replace the Human Rights Act remains on the Government’s agenda, but does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that leaving the European Union and freeing the United Kingdom from the bonds of the charter of fundamental rights must be their top priority?

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I do agree with that. I think it important for us to sort out the EU side of matters, and the exit from the EU, before we return to that subject.

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20. In Scotland there is strong cross-party support for the European convention on human rights and the Human Rights Act, both in Parliament and throughout civil society. Does the Minister agree that any attempt to repeal existing rights will be likely to provoke a constitutional crisis? [908359]

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I do not accept that the sort of changes we are proposing to consider once the situation is known about our exit from the EU would be a crisis-making combination. This country has always had a proud respect for human rights; it long predates the Human Rights Act, and I think we can all agree on that.

Foreign National Offenders

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15. How many foreign national offenders are in prison; and what steps she is taking to return those people to prison in their own countries. [908353]

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As of 30 September 2016 there were 6,688 foreign national offenders serving a custodial sentence in our prisons. A further 2,374 foreign nationals are being held in prison on remand or in immigration detention centres. We are committed to increasing the number of foreign national offenders removed from our prisons, whether they are removed under the prisoner transfer agreement or the early removal scheme. In 2015-16, 5,810 FNOs were removed from prisons and immigration removal centres; that is the highest number since records began, and since 2010 33,000 have been removed.

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Poland has one of the biggest national groups of foreign national offenders in our prisons. Poland’s derogation from the compulsory EU prisoner transfer directive was due to expire in December 2016. Are we now in a position to send these Polish prisoners back to prison in their own country?

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All eligible Polish nationals have been identified and deportation orders sought. We have referred cases to the Polish courts, and transfers will take place once Polish legal procedures have been completed.

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Does the Minister think the number of prisoner transfers will go up or down after we leave the EU?

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We have already been in touch with the Department for Exiting the European Union on prisoner transfer agreements, but, as I said in my opening answer, that is one way of removing prisoners from this country. The early removal scheme is another way, and we have been successful at removing a lot of prisoners through that scheme.

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Has the Ministry of Justice made an assessment of how many British offenders are held in foreign prisons?

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There is a number available, but I do not have it to hand. I am willing to provide it, if the hon. Lady wants to follow up.

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Put the details in the Library; it will be helpful to us all.

Employment Tribunals

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22. When she plans to publish her Department’s review of the introduction of employment tribunal fees. [908361]

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Imminently.

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The Prime Minister claims she wants to protect workers’ rights. Is not the Government’s fear in publishing this report that it is going to demonstrate that the introduction of fees has negated that process? The Minister earlier said that publication is “imminent”; his predecessor said last July it was “soon”. Can he define the terms and give us a date?

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The hon. Gentleman will not have long to wait; it is genuinely imminent—but it has taken longer than we had hoped.

Topical Questions

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T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities. [908328]

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Today the Supreme Court issued its judgment on article 50. The 11 justices of the Supreme Court heard evidence over four days in December before handing down their judgment. Our independent judiciary is the cornerstone of the rule of law and is vital to our constitution and freedoms. The reputation of our judiciary is unrivalled the world over, and our Supreme Court justices are people of integrity and impartiality. While we might not always agree with judgments, it is a fundamental part of any thriving democracy that legal process is followed. The Government have been clear that they will respect the decision of the court.

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The Secretary of State has been gallivanting with City of London law firms of late, most recently on Thursday in Fleet Street, promising to put English law at the forefront of the attempts to create global Britain. Does she think that English law is superior to Scots law? What efforts is she making to promote the international interests of law firms from across the UK, and will firms not in the City of London get the same consideration as the firms in that one square mile?

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I want to promote both English and Scots law internationally; I think they are both huge assets to our country, and a very important part of commerce and business and the trust people have in our system. When I meet the Scottish Justice Minister, I will be delighted to meet some law firms up in Scotland.

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T2. I welcome the Government’s commitment to creating the status of guardian for the property and affairs of a missing person. This is much wanted and much needed by the affected families. Will the Minister tell us when this legislation will be brought before the House? [908329]

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We welcome the Bill from my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) on this subject, because we are determined to provide help to the families left behind when a person goes missing. It is our policy to introduce legislation, but we also now look forward to responding to my hon. Friend’s Bill on Second Reading.

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There are two things that are dangerous for our democracy: attempting to ignore the outcome of the referendum, and standing by while the independence of Britain’s judiciary comes under attack. In the light of that, I welcome the progress that the Secretary of State has made today, under pressure, in speaking up for the independence of our judiciary, but that has not deterred the continuation of the attacks. Will she now, once and for all, condemn the attacks on our judiciary?

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I am delighted to hear that the Labour party wants to support the will of the British people. That is a welcome development. As I have said, I am intensely proud of our independent judiciary—it is a core part of our democracy—but I am also proud to live in a country that has a free press.

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T3. Will consideration be given to whether the courts give both parents fair access to their children? There is a perception that, on occasions, fathers do not get the fair access that they deserve. [908330]

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My hon. Friend and I have discussed this matter informally. The welfare of the child is always paramount in court decisions, but he will remember that parental involvement provisions were inserted into the Children and Families Act 2014. The courts are now required to presume that a parent’s involvement in the child’s life will further that child’s welfare unless the contrary can be shown.

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T5. All Members will have been appalled by the recent findings of the inquest into the tragic death of Dean Saunders in Chelmsford prison. This was a man in a mental health crisis who should never have been sent to prison, and he was failed by everyone who should have been there to protect him. According to the charity Inquest, he is one of the 113 prisoners who took their life last year. When will the Secretary of State provide a full and frank response to the question of why Dean died? [908332]

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My condolences go to Dean Saunders’ family. This is a dreadful case. I have seen the details of it, and I am seeking the details of all those cases to see whether there is a pattern in why they are happening. I hope to come forward later in the year with suggestions for policy change relating to mental health assessments in prisons.

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T4. Figures released last month show that women are twice as likely as men to be prosecuted and seven times more likely than men to face the maximum £1,000 fine for non-payment of the TV licence fee. Additionally, figures show that in 2015 the number of women jailed for offences relating to this matter doubled. Will my hon. Friend explain to the House why women seem to fall foul of the TV tax so disproportionately? [908331]

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Of course, sentencing in individual cases is a matter for the courts. However, the Government are concerned that women—and, indeed, men—should not be sent to custody if they do not need to be there. Revised guidance on sentencing for non-payment of the TV licence fee was issued today by the Sentencing Council. The guidelines set out possible factors that could reduce the seriousness of TV licence evasion, including circumstances in which the culprit is experiencing significant financial hardship.

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T6. The proposed closure of Camberwell magistrates court would require my constituents—whether victims, witnesses or defendants—to make unacceptably long bus journeys to Croydon and Wimbledon to attend court. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the implications of the proposed closure for access to justice for my constituents? [908333]

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I thank the hon. Lady for her response to the consultation, which has now closed. We will, of course, announce our decision in due course. As was made clear in the consultation, there is excess capacity in London magistrates courts. Camberwell Green has significant outstanding maintenance, totalling more than £1 million. The consultation is about ensuring modern and efficient courts and improved court arrangements for everyone.

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T7. Assisting victims of crime is clearly at the centre of the Government’s attempts to modernise the court system. What steps can my right hon. Friend take to ensure that victims of sexual crime are assisted and that their rights are preserved in the court system? [908334]

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My hon. Friend makes an important point. We are seeing a record number of people prosecuted for sexual crimes, but I make it clear that victims and witnesses should be able to come forward. We are having more pre-trial cross examinations so that people do not have the difficulty of appearing in court. I recently held a summit with victims’ organisations about what more we can do to protect vulnerable victims.

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Does the Secretary of State recognise that, in relation to the Human Rights Act, the Good Friday agreement requires the European convention on human rights to be directly enforceable in Northern Ireland?

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As the hon. Lady knows, it is important that all matters to do with devolved arrangements are fully considered in that context and, in the light of my announcement today, there will be more time for that.

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T8. Will the Minister outline the support that has been provided to Lewes prison since it went into special measures at the end of last year? Is there any update on the progress that is being made in tackling some of the key issues that put the prison into special measures in the first place? [908335]

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HMP Lewes went into special measures on 12 December, and a bespoke package of support is being developed for the newly appointed governor, who took up his post on 9 January. I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the support in detail.

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The consultation on driving offences and penalties related to causing death or serious injury closes on 1 February. When does the Minister expect the report on the outcome of the consultation to be available?

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I understand that we have received thousands of responses to that consultation, and obviously we will be analysing the results. Once we are in a position to do so, we will bring further proposals to this House.

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T9. What is the Department doing to recruit high-quality graduates to forge their career in the Prison Service? [908336]

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We have launched the Unlocked programme, which is like Teach First but for prisons, to encourage the brightest and best graduates. We have had a huge response, with more than 1,000 expressions of interest within 24 hours. I look forward to them joining our fantastic Prison Service.

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It is two years this month since the Government signed the prisoner transfer agreement with Nigeria. Will the Minister tell me how many prisoners have been removed to Nigeria since that agreement?

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Again, I am happy to provide that information and put it in the Library.

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T10. Following last week’s announcement by the Prime Minister that Britain intends to leave the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice once we leave the EU, will my right hon. Friend outline what preparations her Department is making to ready the UK court system to assume the roles and responsibilities previously carried out by the European Court? [908337]

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Once we leave the European Union, British judges will once again be the final decision makers in our courts. I am sure that our world-renowned judiciary will rise to the challenge, and I am working very closely with them on arrangements.

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The Government have signalled their intention to remain a member of Europol after we leave the European Union. Is there a similar resolve to continue membership of Eurojust?

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I am working with the Home Secretary on arrangements for criminal justice after leaving the European Union, as well as with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.

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The Justice Secretary has already said that four of the 10 biggest legal firms are based in the United Kingdom. What steps is she now taking, given the similarity between English law and the law in New York state, Australia and New Zealand, to promote opportunities for British law firms after we leave the European Union?

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Last week, I hosted a meeting with the Lord Chief Justice and leading legal firms to talk about mutual recognition and enforcement of contracts. In the spring, we will hold a global Britain legal services summit to promote the fantastic capabilities we have in the law.

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When people leave prison, we need to ensure that those addicted to drugs or alcohol have the best start away from their dependency so that their loved ones can be protected from that harm. Does the Minister agree that former prisoners with a substance addiction, who might come back coercively to control their families to get to that substance, can be managed better?

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I think it extremely important that ex-offenders receive appropriate substance misuse treatment in the community, and I am looking at that extremely closely.

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Ah, a Crabb or a Berry? I think we will have the Crabb.

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Ministers will be aware of the disturbing incident that took place recently at Haverfordwest magistrates court, where a defendant, while in the dock, was able to use a sharp object to carry out a serious act of violence against themselves. Will the Secretary of State please commit to looking into what went wrong with the security arrangements at the court? No one should be in a position to do harm to themselves or others in any courtroom in England and Wales.

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My right hon. Friend makes an important point about an extremely concerning incident. I have been briefed already, but I have asked for a further report from Her Majesty’s Courts Service on exactly what happened and what measures are necessary to ensure that such an incident does not happen again.

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Let’s have a Berry.

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When I met Lancashire police federation representatives last Friday, they said that they believe the sentencing guidelines dealing with an assault on a police officer to be adequate, but that in some cases they are not properly enforced by the courts. What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that an attack on a police officer is always considered an aggravating factor, because an attack on the law enforcers is an attack on society itself?

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I thank my hon. Friend for his comment, and he is absolutely right about attacks on police officers—and also on prison officers. We have strengthened the law in those areas and I have regular discussions with the Sentencing Council.

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The use of psychoactive substances, especially Spice, was highlighted in a Home Affairs Committee report last year. Will the Secretary of State tell me what links can be highlighted between the rise in psychoactive substances and levels of violence in prisons?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right that psychoactive substances have had a serious effect in our prisons: the prisons and probation ombudsman described them as a “game changer”, which is why we have now rolled out testing to deal with those substances. We have extra sniffer dogs to deal with them as well, and we are making progress.

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Recognising the consequences of crimes for victims must be at the forefront of offenders’ minds as they leave prison, so what steps are Ministers and the probation service taking to ensure that that is the case?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right: victims have to be at the centre of the justice system. That is what our court reforms will help to deliver. Restorative justice programmes, led by our police and crime commissioners, can help to bring a sense of justice to victims.