[Relevant documents: Fourth Report of the Justice Committee, Session 2015-16, Criminal justice inspectorates, HC 724, and the Government response, HC 1000; Sixth Report of the Justice Committee, Session 2015-16, Prison safety, HC 625, and the Government response, HC 647; Oral evidence taken before the Justice Committee on 29 November 2016, 14 December 2016, 18 January 2017, 31 January 2017, 21 February 2017 and 28 February 2017 on prison reform, HC 548; and Oral evidence taken before the Justice Committee on 7 February 2017 on the Government consultation on soft tissue injury claims, HC 922.]
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill makes the most significant changes to the Prison Act 1952 since it was passed 65 years ago. For the first time, it will be clear that the Government are not just responsible for housing prisoners; it will also be clear that a key purpose of prisons is to reform prisoners and prepare them for their return to the community. That means getting prisoners off drugs, into work and improving their education while they are in prison. Together with greater powers for governors, performance tables and sharper inspections, more people will leave prison reformed, and this will cut the £15 billion cost to society of reoffending that we all face every year.
I understand that people quite often want to be angry at prisoners and say that it is all their own fault, but a large proportion of people in prison have suffered major brain traumas through fights or various other means. The support available in the wider community through the health service can fully rehabilitate them and bring them back into society, but the support in prison is still very weak. Will the Government be doing more to tackle that?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that many people in prison suffer from serious issues such as the ones he mentioned. Therefore, we are going to give prison governors co-commissioning powers over health services in their prisons so that they can design them around the needs of those offenders, helping them to get the treatment that they need to live a lawful life once they leave prison.
The Bill will usher in a new era for our courts, modernising a process that remains fundamentally unchanged from the Victoria era. Our reforms, in this Bill and wider, create a system that is fit for the 21st century, providing better protection for vulnerable victims and witnesses, improving access to justice for ordinary working people, who will be able to access the courts in a much simpler and more efficient way, and promoting our reputation for global legal excellence and as the best place to do business.
I welcome the access to justice proposals in the Bill. I urge the Secretary of State to discuss with the devolved Administrations, particularly Northern Ireland—when we hopefully get a Government up and running again there—rolling out the process there so that Northern Ireland can share in the expertise and expense of the system that she has put in place?
I understand that the hon. Gentleman has had a demonstration of our system, and I look forward to discussing with him further how we can share best practice.
Prisons rightly punish those who break the law, but they should be a place of safety and reform where prisoners can turn their lives around to then lead a lawful life outside prison. Sadly, that is not the case at the moment. The levels of violence in our prisons are too high, as last week’s shocking attack on the young officer at Oakhill shows. I am sure that the thoughts of all those in this House are with him and his family at this very difficult time.
We have worrying levels of self-harm and deaths in custody. The “Prison Safety and Reform” White Paper, which I launched in November, set out a clear plan, combining immediate action to increase staffing levels and track drugs, drones and phones with radical reforms to get offenders off drugs, into work and away from crime for good.
I will take some interventions in a minute, once I have made a bit of progress.
While there is much we can do and are doing operationally, part 1 of the Bill addresses areas that require primary legislation. First, the Bill enshrines in law the purpose of prison. It sets out that prisons must aim to do four things. First, they must protect the public. Holding prisoners securely is a core job of prisons —protecting the public from the risk that offenders pose. Prisons must do all they can to prevent security failures.
Secondly, prisons must reform and rehabilitate offenders. They must give them the opportunities to allow them to turn their back on crime. That means tackling drug and alcohol addiction; tackling mental health issues; and giving offenders opportunities to work and get training and apprenticeships while they are in prison, to improve their English and maths, and to maintain their family ties.
May I say how much I welcome this Bill, which seems to me to be going in exactly the right direction in terms of reforming prisons? However, my right hon. Friend will be aware that, ultimately, the ability to deliver these programmes will be intimately dependent on reducing prison overcrowding, because without that, as we have seen on many occasions, the programmes, however good, founder as the prisons come under strain. Will she keep that in mind, and is there anything she can tell the House in the course of Second Reading about the strategy she might have in mind to try to address that issue?
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his question. We have held the prison population stable for the last six years, and there are some areas, such as sex offences, where we have seen sentences rise, and I think that that is right, because those are serious crimes and they were not receiving the level of punishment that we would expect. However, as I have said before—I made this point in a speech a few weeks ago—there is more we can do to prevent people from committing crimes that lead to custody, by tackling issues earlier on, whether that is drug addiction, alcohol misuse or not being in education or training. I look forward to saying more about that in due course.
Nobody will disagree with the statements the Lord Chancellor has made in relation to clause 1, because they are sensible and sound, but she must recognise that the indicators on self-harm, assaults and everything else are rising, and that there are 6,500 fewer officers than there were seven years ago. Can she tell us how many officers she has recruited to date, how many she expects to recruit and how she can keep a prison population that is at the level it was in 2010 with fewer officers?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have a programme to recruit 2,500 additional officers across the estate. I can confirm that we started in 10 of the most challenging prisons. We have now successfully secured the complement of officers in those first 10 prisons, which we said we would do by the end of March. We now have a record number of officers—over 700—in training. I do not deny it is a challenging task to recruit those officers, but as the right hon. Gentleman knows from his experience as prisons Minister, it is vital that we do that, because it is only by having qualified and skilled officers that we will help to turn people’s lives around.
I am not just interested in numbers; I am also interested in the career prospects and additional training that we give officers. That is why we are putting in an additional 2,000 senior officer posts across the country. Those will pay upward of £30,000, and they will reward officers who have additional training in areas such as mental health. As the right hon. Gentleman realises, it takes time to recruit and train those officers, but I am absolutely determined to do that, because, alongside these reforms, it is trained officers who will make the difference in our prisons.
I think I can help my right hon. Friend with an idea. About 15% of the prison population are foreign prisoners, and prisoners from places such as Albania, Jamaica, Somalia and Nigeria make up about 20% of them. Surely we can have arrangements whereby those prisoners are sent back to their own, friendly countries—including Commonwealth countries. The Department for International Development might help with the arrangements in those countries.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am pleased to say that a record number of foreign offenders were sent back last year, but we are doing even more on this and making progress. The Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), is working very hard on it.
I too welcome the Bill, particularly the emphasis that is placed on the purpose of prison. My right hon. Friend will be aware that one of the most successful young offender programmes is that run by National Grid. It has been going for many years, and National Grid now has 80 partner companies working with it. It has got the reoffending rate down from the average of way over 50% to 7%. In particular, some of its partner companies have been working really hard with Brixton prison in relation to release on temporary licence. Brixton has recently been removed from the ROTL regime, and that is causing some difficulty because there are no other prisons in London that satisfy the criteria. Will she look into that? Will she think about putting this into the Bill, because the ROTL scheme is really working for young offenders?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her point. She is absolutely right. Getting employers who want to employ people on the outside to train offenders on the inside will help to create the path into work that reduces reoffending. I have been to Brixton and seen the fantastic work that it is doing with offenders. The question she posed is already being addressed by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, because we want people to be able to get the experience in work that means that they can leave prison, get into a job, and lead a lawful life. We are also launching a strategy on employment to try to get more employers like National Grid, Timpson and Halfords, which already do fantastic work, to sign up to employing these ex-offenders, because that benefits all of us.
The Lord Chancellor has mentioned how important staffing is. The roll-out of a 1:6 ratio in public sector prisons is welcome, but I do not understand why it would not apply to private prisons, because they have to deal with the same sorts of challenges as those in our public sector.
I should clarify that it is a caseload of 1:6, which means that each officer will have responsibility for six offenders whereby they are in charge of making sure that those offenders are safe and encouraging them to reform while they are in prison. The head of the Prison Service, Michael Spurr, is in discussions with the private sector prisons to make sure that they have access to the same level of staffing. We want that to apply in both the private and the public sectors.
I welcome the Lord Chancellor’s response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint). The Lord Chancellor has set out this aspiration before, so could she now set out a timescale as to when the imbalance in ratios between the public and the private sectors will be corrected?
I commend my right hon. Friend for much of what she is doing in this Bill. Given that she takes great pains to stress the importance of mental health and its link with reoffending and the need to reduce self-harm and other issues in prisons, I am curious as to why one of the fundamental duties in clause 1 is not to promote and protect the mental health and wellbeing of prisoners.
I know my hon. Friend takes a very strong interest in this area. I assure him that the commissioning arrangements for governors will give them the power to specify mental health treatment in their own prisons. Governors have complained to me that, at the moment, mental health services are available only five days a week. That is an issue if somebody arrives in a prison at a weekend with serious mental health issues.
Governors will be able to co-commission those services. Under the categories of reforming and rehabilitating offenders, we have announced specific performance metrics, some of which will cover health issues. I issued a written ministerial statement recently containing the detail of that, and we will say more about it in due course. That is among the reform measures that we are putting in place, and it will be covered in the performance agreements that individual prisons have with me, as Secretary of State.
Askham Grange women’s prison in York has the lowest reoffending rate in the country, at 6%, but for two years the Government have been saying that they are going to close it. Will the Lord Chancellor look at that again and confirm that she will not close such an excellent prison?
I am certainly very happy to look at that issue. We will shortly launch a new strategy for women offenders, which will be about dealing better with underlying issues—whether that is substance abuse, or issues of abuse and domestic violence—to find a better solution and prevent women from committing the crimes that lead them into custody. We will launch that shortly, and I am sure we will cover the prison that the hon. Lady mentions.
The third priority and purpose of prisons that we lay out in the Bill is preparing prisoners for life outside prison. As has been mentioned, making sure that the offender has sustainable employment and a home to go to is vital in reducing reoffending.
In my constituency, I have Kirkham prison, which has been a pioneer in leading a programme on jobs, friends and family; the former prisons Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) has met those involved. May I ask the Secretary of State, during proceedings on the Bill, to have a look at the programmes being run by Kirkham prison and see whether similar programmes can be incorporated elsewhere, because they really make a difference to people’s lives?
I would certainly be happy to see the details of that scheme. Family ties will be included in our performance measures and our empowerment of governors. Governors will be given control of their budget for helping prisoners with their family ties. We have had a report from Lord Farmer, and I am meeting him this week to discuss the matter further. In addition to having work and a home to go to, a supportive family can be a very important part of rehabilitation.
Governors need to look at all those things. I am setting out clear expectations of what prisons should be doing, but not how they should do it. I believe that it is up to the individual governor to look at what works for their area and what works for the people in their prisons, so it is important that they should be given the flexibility to deliver things in an innovative way. I will be very clear about the standards that we expect, but how governors deliver those standards will be increasingly down to them.
Does the Lord Chancellor agree that if we are able to tackle the problems surrounding links with families—one of the key recommendations of Lord Farmer—that will, in itself, greatly reduce reoffending? Lord Farmer will show that 63% of the children of offenders grow up to offend. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important that we intervene early to ensure that that does not happen?
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct on that point. Those children often feel as though they have done something wrong, and it is absolutely wrong for them to feel as though they are being punished for a crime that their parent has committed. I am determined that we will do what we can to protect innovative schemes such as Storybook Dads, which help to keep the link between children and their fathers and mothers while those individuals are in prison.
Finally, we need to maintain a safe and secure prison environment. Prisons need to feel safe for staff and prisoners. That means that as well as tackling violent incidents and creating the right kind of culture and atmosphere, we need to provide support to vulnerable prisoners. We also need to make sure that we have sufficient levels of staffing to provide that safety and security.
The Bill makes it clear how I, as the Secretary of State, will account to Parliament for progress in reforming offenders. This is the first time that legislation will make it clear that the Secretary of State is responsible for reforming offenders, and the Secretary of State—that is, me—will have to report to Parliament about what they do. That is a very important change in the culture of our prisons: for the first time, there will be accountability at Cabinet level not just for prisons being safe, which is of course important, and for providing enough prison places, but for turning around and reforming the lives of individuals under the care of the state, and ensuring that they leave prison with better prospects and more likely to lead a law-abiding life.
I have listened closely to this debate, which has largely been extremely consensual. The Lord Chancellor knows about HM Prison Berwyn in the Wrexham constituency—we have already discussed it—and that a great deal of common hope is invested in that institution. In Wrexham, we are hugely impressed by its staff, under the leadership of Russ Trent. To pick up on the point she is making, will she report back regularly on the progress at that prison? Many of the aspects of the philosophy we are talking about are being carried out there in practice, and it will be extremely important to measure that as time passes.
The Lord Chancellor is very generous in giving way to me twice. She will be aware that people with autism are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system. Young Offender Institution Feltham was the first prison to have accreditation as autism-friendly, which it has found has reduced violence and helped people with mental health problems. I understand that 20 other prisons are currently going through the accreditation process. Will she give consideration to making sure that all establishments go through the accreditation process, because I believe it will deliver a safer environment in prisons for our officers and for those incarcerated?
My right hon. Friend is very kind. The Bill says:
“The report must set out the extent to which prisons are meeting the purpose mentioned in section A1.”
What happens if a prison, or prisons generally, do not meet such a purpose? What will the Secretary of State do about it, what can she do about it, and what will happen if she does not do anything about it because prisoners are let out?
My right hon. and learned Friend, who served as the shadow prisons Minister, makes a very important point.
As well as creating a framework for the Minister, the Bill will set up a new Executive agency, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, from 1 April, to focus on the operational management of prisons and probation. We will have new standards, and performance measures will appear in performance tables so that the public can see, transparently and accountably, what is going on in prisons. At the moment, we do not know the employment rate for those coming out of a prison, how good a prison is at improving the English and maths of the people inside it, or how effective it is at getting them off drugs. Those measures will all be published, which will lead to much greater scrutiny and accountability for the public.
In addition, I am strengthening the powers of the prisons inspectorate. The inspectorate—the chief inspector, in particular—will be able to trigger an urgent response from the Secretary of State in the most serious cases. That means that if a prison is failing to meet the standards, the Secretary of State will have to respond within a specific timetable with an action plan to improve the prison. At the moment, that is not the case.
It will be enforceable through the inspectorate, which will be given specific powers to ensure that that happens.
The Bill will place the prisons and probation ombudsman on a statutory footing, giving him greater authority and statutory powers to investigate deaths in custody. The Bill supports our efforts to stop drug use and crime enabled by illegal mobile phones. It enables phone network operators to disrupt unlawful use of mobile phones in custody.
The governor is accountable for what happens in their prison, but there is a line management structure through to the head of the Prison Service and, ultimately, the Secretary of State.
The Bill supports swifter responses to the devastating effect of psychoactive substances. There have been very serious cases on our prison estate. They fuel debt and violence and can have a serious impact on prisoners’ health. We rolled out new tests for psychoactive substances in September last year—we were the first jurisdiction in the world to do so. The Bill strengthens our ability to keep up with the speed at which substances evolve. It allows quicker testing for all newly identified psychoactive substances based on the generic definition of those substances set out in the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016.
We face challenges in our prisons that will not be solved in weeks or months, but I am absolutely determined to turn the situation around. We now have the resources to do so: we are investing an additional £100 million a year and we have a clear plan. The measures in the Bill provide a structure under which accountability and scrutiny can take place, so we will be able to see how our prisons improve over time.
The Bill introduces major reforms to the court and justice system, which I announced in my joint memorandum with the Lord Chief Justice and Senior President of Tribunals in September. It will introduce more virtual and online hearings, put in place greater protection for victims and witnesses, and provide greater support for our excellent judges and magistrates.
I want to take a moment to pay tribute to the Lord Chief Justice, John Thomas, a great reformer who has spearheaded these reforms and who will retire later this year. I also want to thank the Senior President of Tribunals. Their vision for a courts and tribunals system that is just, proportionate and accessible lies at the very heart of the reforms set out in the Bill. The reforms are a tribute to their tireless work, alongside other senior members of the judiciary.
On behalf of the Justice Committee, may I warmly associate myself with the Justice Secretary’s entirely appropriate comments on the Lord Chief Justice and the rest of the senior judiciary? Will she reflect on whether the Bill’s passage through the House may not provide an opportunity to revisit the retiring age of senior judiciary, which, at 70, runs against the behaviour of much of the rest of society and our economy?
I thank the Chairman of the Select Committee for introducing this hotly debated issue into our discussion on the Bill. The measure is not a part of the Bill. I have had discussions on this issue with the senior judiciary. We should certainly consider it in due course, but at the moment there is no consensus.
Yesterday, we announced that we are bringing forward the roll-out of reforms to allow rape victims to pre-record their cross examination, sparing them the trauma of giving evidence during trial. This follows successful pilots of measures for child victims of all crimes. This will not reduce the right to a fair trial. During the pilots for vulnerable victims there was no significant change in the conviction rate, but we did see more early guilty pleas and fewer cracked trials. That means less stress and trauma for all of those participating in the case.
I want to praise the determined leadership of the president of the Queen’s Bench Division, Sir Brian Leveson, and the senior presiding judge, Lord Justice Fulford. They have been vital in developing the plans for rolling out these provisions for child victims and victims of sexual offences in all Crown courts. Given that in some of our Crown courts, almost 50% of cases are sexual cases, this is a very important reform that will help us to support people who have to go through this terrible experience and to improve the situation for them.
This is a very welcome announcement, but it will mean that more cases will have to be included in the roll-out of section 28, which is due to be completed by December 2017. The sexual assault referral centre in Manchester is currently a remote site, enabling cross-examination of vulnerable witnesses by video link to the court. Will the Secretary of State consider the use of existing remote sites such as St Mary’s for pre-recorded cross-examination of witnesses, which would help to prevent delays in the roll-out of section 28, which has been a fantastically successful pilot?
I am in principle in favour of using alternative venues, other than courts, which can be conducive to people giving the best possible evidence in a less intimidating environment. I would have to discuss that with the senior judiciary—we are working closely with them on this issue—but I am certainly in favour of using places such as sexual assault referral centres to make sure that we give the best possible support to victims and witnesses at a very difficult time for them.
The measures set out in the Bill will further enhance our ability to protect vulnerable witnesses and modernise the courts and tribunal system. Our changes to the system should be reflected in better legal support, but are focused on early help and representation. That is why we are bringing forward a legal support Green Paper in early 2018, setting out proposals to update the system of legal support in a modern court system. Put simply, what we want is less time spent navigating the system and more legal time spent on giving people legal advice and legal representation.
Parts 2 and 3 will take forward measures relating to procedures in civil, family and criminal matters, and the organisation and functions of courts and tribunals. I shall talk through each in turn.
One area that I am concerned about is representation in court in matrimonial proceedings, which can be some of the most difficult, emotional and contentious cases in our courts, yet very little legal representation is publicly funded. Is the Lord Chancellor content with the current situation, and which areas does she think need the most attention?
If the hon. Gentleman is asking me whether I am content with the current situation, no, I am not. We need to reform the family justice system. We need to help people to get an earlier resolution of their issues. We need to get better at helping families, and I am a big fan of the family, drugs and alcohol courts and the work that they do in supporting parents. That is why the Minister for Courts and Justice and I will bring forward a Green Paper on family justice that will look at the system in a holistic way to see how we can do things better within the family justice system. There are certainly areas where improvement needs to be made.
Banning the ability of alleged abusers to be able to cross-examine their victims in court is an important step. This was done in the Crown courts in the 1990s, and we are only now catching up with it in the family courts. It is very important to give family courts the priority in the system that they deserve, so that we can deal with these difficult issues in people’s lives as sensitively as possible.
This Bill will also make sure that victims and witnesses in the criminal courts receive the support they deserve. It will extend the use of video links from virtual hearings, which will have multiple benefits. First, it will allow victims to be eligible to take part in cases without having to meet their alleged attacker face to face. In future, about 180,000 victims and witnesses a year will be eligible to give evidence remotely from a convenient location or in advance of a hearing. The Bill will enable more bail hearings to take place through video link and away from the courtroom, saving time and money. It will increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the overall process by allowing a number of decisions to be made outside the traditional courtroom, and it will save people time spent in travelling to court: it will save about 112,000 journeys from prisons to courts each year.
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way again. I support the thrust and intention of the Bill. Normally a victim is the first witness for the prosecution, but is there not a risk that the question that someone may wish to ask the witness will be changed by the evidence that precedes the giving of that evidence by the witness? We shall have to have a system to deal with that if a fair trial process is to be maintained.
My right hon. and learned Friend has made the important point that a fair trial is at the heart of our justice system. We already have rules committees, and we are establishing a new online rules committee which will be managed by the judiciary. They will look at the issues in detail to ensure that a fair trial is always paramount.
The Bill will enable screens to be installed in courts across England and Wales to allow the public to observe virtual hearings from court buildings anywhere in the country. Lists of all open cases will be published online, and results will be made available digitally. That will ensure that justice is done and seen to be done.
The Bill will streamline the pre-trial process, and will make changes in the way in which cases are allocated in the Crown and magistrates courts. Defendants will be able to indicate a plea online in all cases, allowing the courts to make administrative decisions without the need for a hearing. We are also stripping out nearly 30,000 unnecessary first hearings for the most serious offences in the magistrates courts each year.
The Bill will abolish local justice areas, simplifying the structure of our magistrates courts and removing the bureaucracy and geographical constraints that cause inefficiencies and delays. It will allow those who are charged with some of the most straightforward, non-imprisonable offences to resolve their cases entirely online. For example, a commuter charged with failure to produce a ticket can log on to a website, have all the options clearly explained, and accept a conviction and pay a set penalty instantly online without waiting for a magistrate to process the case.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that a number of magistrates courts—including the court in Bedford—were closed in past years by the justices themselves, despite the best efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara), whose hands were tied. Will these measures help to allay my constituents’ concern about the difficulties of additional travel in the case of some offences? Will the Bill give them some comfort by ensuring that the problems involved in having to go to Luton will be allayed?
My hon. Friend is right. I represent a rural constituency, and I understand people’s concerns about having to travel far. Virtual hearings will enable people to do more online so that they do not need to travel to court, and to use virtual videos. That is already reducing travel needs throughout the country. If people want to observe a case in another part of the country, they will be able to go into their court to do so, with special permission. Victims and witnesses will have more access to the justice process.
Transferred online communications are wonderful if people have access to quality broadband, but communities in parts of my constituency have broadband that is as slow as 25% of capability. How on earth will people be able to gain access to justice when they cannot possibly do anything online because of appalling broadband?
We are doing a lot to improve broadband across the country. The online system is not mandatory; the paper process will be available. I have been looking recently at virtual hearings that are taking place across the country. In some areas, such as the south-west of England, there is very high take-up of these hearings, because being able to use broadband helps people in rural areas, who have long distances to travel to get to court.
Particularly in the west country.
The west country is leading the way at the moment, and we are looking at how we can encourage courts across the country to do the same thing.
I am very pleased to say that civil justice is at the forefront of our reforms. I was proud to announce the new business and property courts last week with the Lord Chief Justice and the Chancellor of the High Court. These courts are the vanguard of our world-class civil justice system, making sure that global Britain leads the world in law. They will be based in London, Leeds, Bristol, Manchester and Cardiff, and they represent the fact that our courts and commercial courts serve not only the City of London, which is of course important, but significant regional centres across the country.
I promise that this intervention is uncontroversial. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as well as the integrity of the judiciary, one of the strengths of our commercial courts is the ability to enforce judgments worldwide, and that includes within the European Union? Does she therefore accept that it is most important that the ability to enforce the judgments of our courts in the EU remains a top priority in our Brexit negotiations?
My hon. Friend is correct. As well as making sure that these commercial courts cover all the regions of our country, we need to make sure that there is mutual enforcement of judgments elsewhere. We have a commitment to do that as a Government; it is something that I have agreed with the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, and it is a priority for the Government’s negotiations.
This Bill introduces a new online court which will enable people to resolve civil claims of up to £25,000 simply and easily online. These online services will increase access to justice. It will reform procedures so that people can make witness statements rather than statutory declarations in relation to certain traffic and air quality offences in the county court. It means that people will not have to go into court to go through this process. The Bill will also streamline the use of “attachment of earnings” orders, giving the High Court the same power as the county court to make attachment of earnings orders in relation to judgment debts, and on the basis of a fixed deduction scheme.
We also want our excellent judiciary and magistrates to be better supported in the work they do. This Bill will allow judges in all our courts and tribunals to make greater and more effective use of authorised court staff, to assist them with tasks such as dealing with routine applications or ensuring compliance with court directions. This will allow our judiciary to prioritise their time and expertise on the matters where they are needed most.
The Bill will bring the legislative framework for the employment tribunal system into closer alignment with that of the wider tribunals system. It will confer responsibility for making procedural rules to the Tribunal Procedure Committee. Employment judges will be able to delegate routine tasks to appropriately trained or qualified staff. Overall, these reforms will benefit tribunal users, whose cases will be resolved more quickly and proportionately.
We have the most highly regarded judiciary in the world; they are a beacon of independence, expertise and commitment to the rule of law. The Lord Chief Justice and I are working closely together to make sure that we have the strongest possible role for judges and magistrates in a transformed and modern justice system. We are putting in place reforms that recognise magistrates as an integral part of this judicial family. The judiciary is an important part of our constitution and its continued independence is vital for the rule of law. We must continue to uphold the very high standards and to select its members purely on merit. That means ensuring that people want to apply, feel valued and have good working conditions. I value the work that the judiciary does, from the magistrates and tribunals to the High Court and the Supreme Court. As Lord Chancellor, I am determined to support them in all they do.
Part 4 takes forward measures to ensure that our judiciary have the support and opportunities they need for a fulfilling and successful career. This Bill will strengthen leadership structures in the judiciary, supporting our wider work to provide clear career progression for judges, and ensuring that the widest possible range of talent comes into our judiciary. It will make it easier for the judiciary to deploy judges more flexibly, allowing judges to gain experience of different types of cases and helping with their career progression. The Bill will also enable the Judicial Appointments Commission to assist with selection exercises in other parts of the world, sharing the leading expertise within the commission.
Part 5 tackles the rampant compensation culture that has developed around whiplash claims—
Just before my right hon. Friend moves on, may I ask her a question about magistrates? She rightly values the work that they do, so when can we expect the Government to allow them to send people to prison for 12 months, rather than six? This Government have been promising to do that for quite some time.
I thank my hon. Friend for his dogged support for magistrates; he is absolutely right about the fantastic work that they do. I am looking into this issue, and I would be happy to discuss it with him further.
Part 5 tackles the rampant compensation culture that has developed around whiplash claims. The number of road traffic accident personal injury claims is over 50% higher than it was 10 years ago, despite there being fewer accidents and safer cars on our roads. The Bill will enable us to introduce a transparent tariff system of fixed proportionate compensation for whiplash claims with an injury duration of up to two years, and to ensure that all claims will be supported by good quality medical evidence provided by accredited experts.
Should not the Lord Chancellor use the Bill to put in place a fairer and more balanced framework for calculating personal injury compensation lump sum insurance payments, following her seismic decision on the discount rate a few weeks ago? That decision has the potential to raise our constituents’ insurance premiums, and the Treasury has said that it could add £2 billion next year and £1 billion thereafter to NHS litigation costs, which will affect the taxpayer. Surely the Bill could introduce a better balance.
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that he will not have to wait long for an answer to his question. I agree that the system is in need of reform, and I will bring forward a consultation before the Easter recess. I look forward to hearing his contribution to it.
I strongly welcome the provisions in the Bill to clamp down on whiplash fraud. Will the Lord Chancellor consider widening very slightly the definition of “whiplash injury” in clause 61 to include injuries to the lower back as well as the upper back?
That issue was covered in the consultation, and we have brought it back after listening to what people fed through in the consultation. The Bill will end the unfairness of higher premiums for motorists while ensuring that fair compensation remains available for genuinely injured claimants.
The Prisons and Courts Bill will usher in a new, modern era for our prisons, courts and justice system. It will do three key things. It will ensure that our prisons are places of reform so that offenders have the skills they need to return to society, to secure employment and to turn their back on crime. It will create a courts and tribunal system that protects the most vulnerable and is more straightforward and accessible for all. It will also enable the judiciary to meet the demands of a modern justice system and enhance our reputation for legal excellence around the world. I commend the Bill to the House.
I start by echoing the Justice Secretary’s comments about the young prison officer Ryan Goodenough, who was attacked in Oakhill secure training centre last week. I pay tribute to all our prison officers, who do such a good job in such difficult circumstances.
I thank the Secretary of State for telephoning me the evening before the Bill’s publication to discuss its contents, and the Minister for Courts and Justice for meeting me last week to discuss the Bill in further detail. Even though I have been in this place for only a limited time, I understand that that is a custom more often honoured in the breach than observance, so I was pleased that they contacted me in a courteous and informative way. I also thank the House of Commons Library for its thorough and clear briefing, which has assisted me and my staff, and doubtless many other Members and their staff, too.
We are discussing a Bill to amend the procedures in our prisons and courts. The Bill has been trailed since the Queen’s Speech last May—back in the days when the former right hon. Member for Witney was Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) was Justice Secretary, and the right hon. Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne) could not find the time to edit a daily newspaper. Much has changed since then—we have waited a long time for this Bill.
We are not opposed to the Bill. Indeed, we welcome and support much of its content. However, when we disagree with provisions or believe that the Government should go further, we will pursue amendments in Committee. The Bill comes at a time of dual crises: a dangerous and declining prison estate; and thousands of people being priced out of access to justice. I will set out the reasons for those crises and what the Bill must offer to make a real difference.
It has been the Secretary of State’s misfortune to inherit a brief that has been dominated from day one by the crisis in our prisons. That crisis is not of the Secretary of State’s making, but it was created by the Conservative Government’s cuts agenda. The relevant statistics are often cited in this place, but they are worth repeating. There is overcrowding in 68% of our prisons, with more than 84,000 people for approximately 77,000 places. In the 12 months to September 2016, there were more than 25,000 prisoner assault incidents, which represented a 31% increase on the figure for September 2015. Assaults on prison staff reached 6,430, which was an increase of 82% since 2006 and a 40% increase on the year before. There were more than 37,750 incidents of self-harm, which was an increase of 61% compared with September 2006 and a national increase of 23% on the previous year. In the 12 months to December 2016, there were 354 deaths of prisoners in custody, 34% of which were self-inflicted. This Government’s decision to cut 7,000 frontline prison officers no doubt contributed in large part to the crisis, but that was allied with the disastrous decision to part-privatise our probation service, meaning that the effective rehabilitation of offenders has become all but extinct under successive Conservative Governments.
I, too, want to support and help to protect our prison officers. I intend to table an amendment whereby a prisoner who assaults a prison officer should no longer be automatically released halfway through their sentence. That would have a big impact on the Prison Officers Association—it would welcome that support—and it might deter some of the violence in prisons. If I table such an amendment, will the hon. Gentleman show his backing for prison officers by supporting it?
In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) and others will look at ways of ensuring that we put the safety of our prison officers first, and on a par with the safety of police officers. Overcrowding, violence and failure to reform are all challenges that the Bill must confront and surmount.
The Bill sets out proposals to modernise the way in which our courts and tribunals operate, which is welcome. I can testify from my decade as an employment tribunal lawyer that when Dickens complained in “Bleak House” about the turgid pace with which courts dealt with cases, he could have been speaking for our age, too. However, technology has begun to appear in courtrooms, from which it was previously glaringly absent.
It is vital that such innovations do not come at the expense of access to justice, because in recent years, when the Conservatives have released documents with the word “transforming” in the title, that has usually been shorthand for cutting, diminishing and failing—think of “Transforming Legal Aid” and “Transforming Rehabilitation.” “Transforming our Justice System,” which is one of the papers that has influenced this Bill, must not result in the same.
The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, was certainly correct when he said last year:
“Our system of justice has become unaffordable to most.”
I was glad that the Secretary of State praised Lord Thomas in her speech, but I would welcome it if she went beyond praising him and agreed with his analysis of the barriers to access to justice.
Lord Thomas certainly said that, but the hon. Gentleman will be aware that Lord Thomas also supports all the Bill’s measures on reforming the courts, particularly on using technology to allow the access to courts that so many people were saying was going to be denied. Lord Thomas supports all the measures.
I made it clear at the outset of my speech that we will not oppose the Bill on Second Reading. We welcome a number of the Bill’s measures, but the Government should go further. I hope that the Secretary of State will agree that reform should not come at the expense of access to justice, and if Lord Thomas, whom we all hold in high esteem, is saying that our system of justice has become unaffordable to most, Members on both sides of the House must take that seriously.
Nothing more poignantly demonstrates what Lord Thomas said about the barriers to access to justice than the 70% reduction in employment tribunal cases following the coalition Government’s introduction of employment tribunal fees. The Bill must provide answers to such problems. Technology alone is not a panacea, nor must it be utilised to mask further cuts to public funding.
A key feature of the Bill that has received much coverage in recent weeks is the proposed reform of whiplash claims. When the Bill was published, many people were pleased that it did not raise the small claims limit for all personal injuries, so the Government can be congratulated on listening—or listening a little—but we should be clear that the reform of whiplash claims is based on a false premise. The Secretary of State said today that there is a “rampant compensation culture”, but there is no epidemic of fraudulent claims. The British people are not on the fiddle or on the make in the way the Government so disparagingly suggest.
The shadow Minister’s tone suggests that he agrees with much of the Bill—that is welcome—but how does he explain the fact that while the number of accidents is going down enormously, the number of whiplash claims has nevertheless increased by 50%? Does that have something to do with fraud?
I wonder whether my hon. Friend can help me a little. The Government have claimed that the whiplash proposals will reduce insurance premiums for drivers by about £40. Has he become aware of any evidence to back up that claim? If so, will he share it with the House, because we would be interested in examining it?
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is wrong to penalise people who have valid personal injury claims because of a possible rise in the number of claims that is driven by cowboy claims management companies cold calling people to suggest that they should make claims that have no basis in reality? The Bill does nothing to address that.
I agree with the point that my hon. Friend so eloquently makes. Injured people should not be made to pay the price of the behaviour of the unscrupulous minority—the companies that engage in the practices she describes.
The Secretary of State started her speech by explaining how the Bill introduces a statutory purpose for prisons to
“protect the public…reform and rehabilitate offenders…prepare prisoners for life outside prison; and…maintain an environment that is safe and secure.”
Of course we agree with those aims, but most people believe that they are what prisons are meant to be doing already. It is crystal clear that those things are not happening today. The main problems in prisons cannot be disputed: violence, drugs, overcrowding and understaffing. To combat those threats effectively, we need a plan for order—a plan to reduce the demand for and supply of drugs, to manage the prison population, and to recruit and retain prison officers. Where is any of that in the Bill? Where are the practical measures to realise those goals? We will be returning to those issues in Committee.
Let me try to help my hon. Friend because there is a bit of a theme running through the Government’s approach. Ironically, given that we are considering the Prisons and Courts Bill, the Government’s approach to evidence is somewhat cavalier. Most of us would accept there is likely to be cause and effect between cutting 6,500 prison officers and replacing them with only 2,500, and the terrible state of our prisons; and between the introduction of massive employment tribunal fees and a lack of access to justice. Now we have bizarre compensation tariff proposals for whiplash with no evidence of where the Government got their figures from, but just an assertion from the Secretary of State that they believe in fair compensation. Well, I believe in Santa Claus as well.
My hon. Friend puts it very well indeed. Evidence is required in court and in this place, and the evidence to back up some of the Government’s proposals is lacking. I will say more about this later, but there is a similar situation in respect of the review of employment tribunal fees. In effect, it says, “There is nothing to see here,” despite evidence showing that there has been a 70% reduction in the number of cases brought to those tribunals.
Of course we have considered the White Paper but, as I said, we will be returning to these practical proposals in Committee as we attempt to improve the Bill.
Did Ministers consider that the resettlement of prisoners might be a worthy aim to set out in the Bill? Too many prisoners leave prison without a home to go to, and that is a barrier to many things, including getting a job. It hampers rehabilitation and increases—
Is my hon. Friend aware of the Emmaus project? It will offer a prisoner who is ready to take the step of moving away from drugs and offending and into work the chance to become a companion. People will prepare goods for sale in the Emmaus shop, and restore and repair other goods. Those people claim no benefits other than housing benefit, so there is no real cost for the state, but they are supported in changing their lives absolutely and getting back into work. Should we not encourage that?
Fantastic work such as that of the Emmaus project helps not only to turn around the lives of inmates, but to protect society, because the majority of people who go into our prisons will come out and live next door to us. The project helps to give people a stake in society and to reduce reoffending, and the Government can learn much from it. Leaving prison without a home to go to creates a barrier to many things, including getting a job, and that hampers people’s reintegration into society.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support for many of the Bill’s provisions. Does he agree that the National Grid scheme, which was started all those years ago by Dr Mary Harris, does valuable work in finding homes for prisoners? It takes prisoners out on temporary licence, pays them and finds them a job—this means they have money in the bank—and often finds them a home. That is why the programme is so successful in reducing reoffending. Does he agree that the scheme should be rolled out right across the prison system, particularly as by 2020 we will need around 1.8 million engineers throughout the UK?
That programme is certainly worth while and welcome. I have been arguing that the Bill should refer specifically to such practice.
We need to know more about what the Secretary of State’s overall responsibility for the statutory aims will mean in practice. Who will decide whether she is fulfilling her responsibility? We welcome the additional powers for the inspector of prisons, but the inspector’s report will mean little, if not nothing, if its recommendations are simply ignored. As we have heard, the Bill will require the Secretary of State to respond within 90 days. It will be interesting to know how that time period was decided, but beyond responding to a report, what else will she be required to do?
Many stakeholders tell me that a failure to take any action in response to independent monitoring boards’ reports and inquest jury verdicts has contributed to the prisons crisis. The recent tragic death of Dean Saunders is a sad case study of what can go wrong when mental health issues and our prison system collide. Has the Secretary of State considered whether she or prison governors should be required to respond to such findings? Could the role of the governor be more effectively scrutinised through a system of peer-to-peer review across the prison estate—whether public or private?
The urgent notification system is welcome, but how did the Government arrive at the 28-day time limit for a response? Does the concept of urgency not demand a shorter period? There have been past attempts to put the prisons and probation ombudsman on a statutory footing. Perhaps that is now within reach, but that is all the Bill will achieve in this regard. What thought did the Secretary of State give to expanding or augmenting the ombudsman’s powers? There is nothing in the Bill that addresses the need to improve the experience of and care for those who come to prison with mental health problems, or that addresses whether prison is even the right place for many of them in the first place.
Blocking the use of unauthorised mobile phones in prisons is clearly an urgent task, which we of course fully support, but other measures could be taken to complement the innovation in the Bill and reduce the trade in mobile phones. Committed and hardened criminals will seek out mobile phones to try to continue their criminal enterprises and activities from inside our prisons. For those prisoners who just want to phone home or phone a friend, greater access to affordable pay phones for monitored calls will help to reduce the demand for mobiles. Currently, some prisons have pay phones in cells, but most have pay phones only on the prison wing, which means that, at association time, the prisoners end up queuing to use the phone, and they may not get to use it before their association time is up. Better access to affordable pay phones and privacy from other inmates will reduce the demand for mobile phones. We welcome the Government’s measures to block the unauthorised use of mobile phones.
Developing and using an effective way of testing for psychoactive substances is also vital. However, that alone will not deal with the demand and supply of those substances. Recent reports from the inspectorate have found that overcrowding and a shortage of prison officers means that intelligence-led drugs tests are, sadly, a rarity. The best and most effective way of reducing the demand for drugs is to ensure a full and purposeful programme for all prisoners so that their time in prison is occupied.
Many of these problems with which we now grapple can be linked with the disastrous decision to cut prison officer numbers by 7,000—or 30% since 2010. The public sector pay freeze has made recruitment more difficult and without sufficient numbers of officers in prisons, order cannot be maintained. Officers do not have time to mix with prisoners and gather intelligence or to conduct searches, fabric checks of cells, and drugs testing.
In that context of insufficient staff, does my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the establishment of a prisons and probation ombudsman with considerable powers, including one to direct the form of the response to be made by the Secretary of State to a report from the ombudsman? It is a considerable power. To have a strong ombudsman who would be prepared, if necessary and in certain circumstances, to face up to the Secretary of State is a powerful protection when that ombudsman investigates deaths as well as other complaints.
That is a very important point. We support a strong ombudsman, and we want reassurances that the Secretary of State will have to not just respond to the ombudsman, but take action on the basis of the findings of the ombudsman.
Prisons officers to whom I speak want to help offenders turn their lives around. They want more responsibility and to be part of a valued profession. They do not want to be viewed just as turnkeys, but successive Conservative Secretaries of State have diminished their role.
As mentioned earlier, the Government have set out plans for league tables and greater autonomy for prison governors. One wonders why the Government are persisting with the league tables idea when it was first dismissed by the chief inspector of prisons, Peter Clarke, at the Justice Committee in January. The Prison Governors Association has said that league tables
“will not achieve anything other than to risk demoralising staff and of unfairly judging the senior management team”.
Perhaps that was what prompted the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), to tell the Justice Committee that it would be performance data. The PGA also fears increased governor autonomy coinciding with increased responsibility for the Justice Secretary may result—heaven forbid—in blame being pushed its way. It says:
“Governors are being asked to sign up to agreements, which will become effective in just five weeks, with insufficient detail on what they will be held to account for. The risk is that the prison reform bill will become the prison blame bill”.
Further inroads into overcrowding and chaos could be made by considering who is being remanded and why, whether some offenders with mental health problems need a different approach and by dealing with the backlog of imprisonment for public protection prisoners. None the less, we see insufficient action to address any of those things. We were told that this Bill would transform the lives of offenders, but just saying that that is the case will not make it so. Transforming lives means first transforming the system.
I shall return to the subject of courts and tribunals, which I touched on earlier. Since 2010 Government legal aid cuts have robbed thousands of the legal representation that should be their right. Many of them are those who are most in need of legal representation—for example, people who are in debt, claiming welfare benefits, facing marital breakdown or experiencing housing problems. In 2012-13, 724,243 civil law cases were funded by legal aid; after the provisions of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 were introduced, that figure plummeted to 258,460. I realise that some Government Members will toast those figures as evidence of a job well done, but in reality what are they but proof of access to justice denied?
The coalition Government introduced employment tribunal fees. That measure resulted in a 70% reduction in the number of cases brought. The long delayed review I mentioned earlier essentially concluded, “There’s nothing to see here.” It said:
“While there is clear evidence that ET fees have discouraged people from bringing claims, there is no conclusive evidence that they have been prevented from doing so.”
If only illegal treatment by employers flouting the law of the land had been reduced by 70%. Instead, it is the number of cases that has fallen by 70%.
If someone can get something for nothing, are they not likely to take it up? That was the core problem with employment tribunals when people had to pay nothing to get access. It is right that if one goes to court, one pays some sort of fee.
That is a very useful intervention because it makes clear the Conservative view of access to justice. Something for nothing? If somebody has not been paid the national minimum wage, why should they be charged to get the money back? If someone has not been paid their proper wage or has experienced disability, maternity or pregnancy-related discrimination, it is outrageous to say that they are seeking something for nothing.
That intervention takes me back to when I was an employment lawyer acting for the people the hon. Gentleman dismisses in such a cavalier fashion. I remember the first time I lodged a case after the coalition Government introduced employment tribunal fees. On the Employment Tribunal Service website, it said, “Customer, please enter your credit card details.” Is that not shameful? When we regard citizens who are attempting to assert their statutory rights—rights made in this place, such as the right to the minimum wage and the right not to be discriminated against at work—primarily as consumers, it shows that the priorities of our society and our justice system have been warped by the Government.
Does my hon. Friend agree that part of the difference is that some Government Members apparently have overlooked the fact that very often employment tribunal cases are brought by people who have no job? They have no income. That is why they are bringing a tribunal case. It is very different from a big commercial dispute, where court fees are paid for access to justice, to charge tribunal fees to people who have no income and no job, and that is the substance of their complaint to the tribunal.
The coalition Government’s objective in introducing employment tribunal fees was to strengthen the hand of employers, including unscrupulous ones, and to weaken the hand of individual employees. That is what the policy was about and that is why it has worked from the Government’s perspective. The ACAS conciliation now offered as compulsory conciliation is not the same as the role of ACAS in the past when people issued an employment tribunal case. No professional advice is given on the value of the case. Just because a claim has not been issued or a matter has been discontinued does not mean that it has been resolved satisfactorily with both parties on an equal footing. To make it clear, Labour would abolish employment tribunal fees because Labour believes in access to justice.
More than implicit in the hon. Gentleman’s ill-considered comments is that allowing people to seek justice in the employment courts without paying money is a something-for-nothing practice. That is a disgraceful comment, which we look forward to publicising as widely as we can. The Government need to think again when it comes to employment tribunal fees.
The problem is that the price that is being paid is that of access to justice, and that is unacceptable to the Labour party at least. Are the Government seriously contending that 70% of claims brought before 2013 were somehow fraudulent? If so, that is absolutely outrageous.
Would my hon. Friend repeat the figures? I thought he said, in round terms, that there were half a million fewer cases after the changes, but the Minister has indicated that 70,000 more cases go to arbitration. That is a big gap—it is still more than 400,000 people who are not getting access to justice.
That is completely right. My final point on the subject, before I move on to the closures of courts and tribunals, is that the introduction of employment tribunal fees has harmed not only those who would bring a case, but those who would never dream of bringing a case. If employers know that there is virtually no chance of an employee bringing a case against them if they break the law, it gives unscrupulous employers the green light because they know that the risk of being held to account is so much diminished. This goes to the root of what access to justice is. Legal rights are basically worthless if we cannot enforce them or rely upon them because of lack of resources or for any other reasons.
Two Government programmes earmarked a total of 243 courts and tribunals for closure. This has obvious and long-lasting effects on the principle of local justice. The cuts have led to an increase in the number of people forced to represent themselves. As far back as 2014, figures such as the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, were warning of the rise in unrepresented litigants—litigants in person. The Justice Committee’s 2015 report into the impact of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 said:
“The result is that the courts are having to expend more resources to assist litigants in person and require more funding to cope”.
We know that, and we know that litigants in person clog up the court system and make it less efficient.
As Members of Parliament, our weekend advice sessions are full of people who need a lawyer, but cannot get one. Ministers seem to treat the involvement of lawyers in litigation or potential litigation as a fundamentally bad thing. That misses much of the point. Those hon. Members who have ever needed to use a lawyer or who have ever been lawyers themselves will know the valuable role lawyers play in dissuading clients from ill-advised litigation, in encouraging settlements that are fair and beneficial to clients where possible, and in shortening the proceedings in court.
In that respect, the prohibition in part 2 on cross-examination by the abuser of the abused is, of course, very welcome. The stark evidence from groups such as Women’s Aid is that this gap in the law was being used as a further means of control and abuse. Despite the fact that we very much welcome this measure, it cannot be left unsaid that the reason this serious problem became so pronounced was the Government’s legal aid cuts, which exacerbated it in a very damaging and profound way, and Resolution—the body of family solicitors—makes that clear:
“The impact of LASPO has led to an increase in litigants in person, meaning we’ve seen a rise in the number of defendants cross-examining those they have abused.”
Let me turn to the subject of modernisation. Few will disagree that the court system needs modernising and digitising—some would say it is in more need of modernisation than this place. There remains too much paper involved, when technology has made it possible for much documentation to be stored, referenced, annotated and amended using tablets and the like. However, technology alone does not demolish barriers to justice, and it can exacerbate the risks. The Opposition favour streamlining justice and reducing unnecessary court hearings, and we recognise that part 2 seeks to achieve that, but as the chair of the Bar Council, Andrew Langdon, QC, has warned, the fact that online courts
“might encourage defendants to plead guilty out of convenience, when in fact they may not be guilty of an offence, no matter how small, risks injustice.”
We have to be mindful of that. In its briefing on the Bill, the Law Society also issued a caution, saying:
“Although we welcome the introduction of these measures as a way to improve efficiency, there are serious risks associated with them in the absence of adequate access to legal advice. Safeguards must be in place to ensure that a defendant is aware of the consequences of indicating their plea in writing and the other measures highlighted above.”
Online courts, again, present the opportunity for a modern and desirable way of using technology to reduce court hearings and, hopefully, to deal with preliminary matters efficiently. However, the Law Society, again in its briefing, cautions that online convictions should be thoroughly tested and reviewed before being expanded. The Opposition therefore hope the Government will be open to amendments that allow for reviews to take place after a specified time. That would seem sensible. Virtual hearings, procedures on papers only, and written plea and mode-of-trial procedures will all need to be reviewed in time. The Government need to give closer consideration to safeguards, and we will seek to put those in place.
On whiplash, the clauses in part 5 will have come as a relief to many. The Government have backed away from increasing the small claims limit across personal injury, and that is welcome. However, they see a personal injury lawyer lurking around every corner—the Minister with responsibility for courts and tribunals even mistook me for one. [Interruption.] There is a former personal injury lawyer behind me—my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South West (Rob Marris)—although he has only one job now. However, the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers made it clear in written evidence to the Justice Committee that even
“when whiplash statistics are combined with the number of injuries registered by insurers with the CRU”—
the Compensation Recovery Unit—
“as ‘neck and back’ injuries, there has been”,
as I said earlier,
“a significant fall of 11 per cent since 2011/2012.”
Profound problems also exist with the tariff system proposed. As the Government have accepted, the amounts they have set out elsewhere are low. However, they are too low, and compensation must be commensurate with the severity of an injury. If those tariffs are taken together with the increase in the small claims limit to £5,000, no victims of road traffic accidents—not only victims of whiplash—would be entitled to recover legal costs where the compensation did not exceed £5,000. That will inevitably deter people from accessing legal representation and deter genuine claims. The Government should consider ensuring that victims of road traffic accidents are able to recover their legal costs.
We have heard repeatedly—this was touched on earlier—that the proposals in the Bill will lead to premiums reducing by as much as £40 a year on average. The Law Society has questioned the accuracy of these figures, saying that the pass rates on which they are predicated are difficult to predict and it is unclear how the 85% savings rate has been calculated. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South West said, it is a matter of evidence—or, in this case, a lack of it. Most obviously, there is no mechanism by which insurers can be made to pass on any savings to consumers. We hear a lot of insults thrown at the British people about a rampant claims culture and people being on the make and on the fiddle, but a lot less about the behaviour of some insurers in failing to defend weak claims and how much the insurance industry is making out of all this. Only a tiny minority of insurance companies have said that they will pass on any savings. The Government need to take action to win those guarantees.
I look forward to the remainder of this debate. As I said, Labour does not oppose the Bill on Second Reading, but we do lament the fact that it lacks so much. I suggest that the Bill itself must transform if it is to transform.
I thank the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State, as did her shadow, for the courtesy that she has shown to me as Chair of the Select Committee in keeping me apprised of the progress of this Bill. That is very welcome. Although there have been occasions when the Committee has come up with constructive—I hope—criticism or intentions contra to the Government’s, the whole ministerial team has always engaged with us very positively. I very much welcome the Bill and the tone of her speech. This is an important Bill because, first, it deals with some very important topics; and, secondly, it is wide enough in scope to merit acting as a framework for further improvement as we go forward.
I will start with, but not confine myself to, prisons, because that is obviously the most significant issue on my right hon. Friend’s agenda, and perhaps the matter of greatest concern to the Justice Committee. We have issued a number of reports during this Parliament, as in the previous one, about the situation in our prisons. Let us be blunt: the situation is grim. That is not the doing of my right hon. Friend; it has grown up over a number of years and under the watch of Governments of different political complexions. We now need to tackle it as a matter of real urgency. There is no single reason why we have got into this difficulty in our prisons; a number of factors are involved. Similarly, therefore, there is no single silver bullet as a solution.
The Bill contains a very valuable and worthwhile framework on which to hang a wider suite of reforms. I very much hope that my right hon. Friend will take courage to be bold and radical in those reforms. Conservative Members should not be afraid of being advocates of prison reform, which is a fundamentally important social cause. I am proud to be a member of a party that has a long tradition of advocating social reform running back through Wilberforce, Shaftesbury, and the reforming work of Disraeli’s second Administration that was done by Richard Cross, his Home Secretary, and others. My right hon. Friend, who takes on the proposals of my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), follows in a radical Tory tradition that I welcome and for which we should not be afraid to make the case.
My hon. Friend is making a valuable contribution. I agree with him about the many merits of this Bill. Does he not agree, though, that it is a missed opportunity to improve opportunities for prisoners and reduce reoffending, because improving and protecting the mental health of prisoners is not mentioned in clause 1?
My hon. Friend makes a perfectly fair point. I imagine that it will be almost impossible to put every single objective into the Bill, and I suspect that Ministers will say that the objectives are intended to be broad and overarching, but the issue of mental health in prisons is a most profound and important one, and I would have no objection were it to be in the Bill. Equally, however, the most important thing is the political good will of Ministers in ensuring that it is made a top priority within the framework of the Bill as it stands. I hope that he and I, and others who share our concerns about this across the House, will be able to work hard to make sure that that is delivered, as this is one of the areas of prison reform that we need to tackle.
We are seeking to provide a legal framework. Part of that is in the Bill; the rest is set out in the important measures in the White Paper, which was a very significant and progressive—in the right sense of the word—document.
Let me just make this point and I will give way to my hon. Friend again, because I know of his expertise and interest in these matters.
We need to recognise across the House that we must have the political will to tackle reform. That includes creating a climate of public opinion that accepts that prison reform is not a soft option—that it is done not out of a kind of soft-headed liberalism or do-goodism but for sound and profound social, moral and ethical reasons—and that it brings with it real societal and economic benefits.
As my hon. Friend will be aware, the White Paper sets out a whole range of proposals to deal with increasing violence and self-harm, and persistently high levels of reoffending. Given, as he said, the profound connection between poor mental health in prisoners and these issues—including substance misuse, which is often linked with poor mental health—I find it very surprising that clause 1 does not mention improving the mental health of prisoners.
I suspect that my hon. Friend will return to that topic as the Bill progresses, and there will be other opportunities for others to do so as well. In the course of our ongoing inquiries into prison reform, the Select Committee has taken some evidence on the difficulties in mental health provision. Practitioners from the Prison Service came to give evidence to us very recently. It is certainly a topic that we will return to and that others may well address, even in the course of this debate.
My hon. Friend mentioned, correctly, the need for political will. However, if members of the public are asked, individually or on a more organised basis, what they think about the current state of our prisons and what needs to be done within our justice system, they are much more liberal than politicians give them credit for. We need to be braver and get on with this rather than allow ourselves to be pushed around by various disobliging organs of the media who want us to be more and more draconian in the way that we deal with prisons.
My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right, and he moves me neatly on to the next thing I was going to say. That political will does sometimes require us to stand up against the writers of the lurid headlines and those who pose as the voices of public opinion but in fact seek to be manipulators of it, and to say the truth—that it is in everybody’s interest that we reduce reoffending because the more we do so, the fewer victims of crime there are, and that is in everybody’s interest. That is a good right-of-centre, as well as left-of-centre, case for undertaking prison reform, and we should make it across the House.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the ways in which we could dramatically cut reoffending would be to look at how many people are revolving-door entrants and leavers of prison, not because of criminal intent but because their mental health condition drives them to behave in a way that leads them, inevitably, into the arms of the police—the police are becoming social workers for the mentally ill—and into the criminal justice system rather than into our psychiatric hospitals, which are massively overcrowded and underfunded?
The hon. Lady, who follows these issues closely, makes a very fair and reasonable point. That is a significant factor.
I practised as a criminal lawyer for the better part of 30 years. I both prosecuted and defended, so I have had no compunction about sending away people who have committed serious crimes. Equally, when I defended people and when I looked at some of those whom I prosecuted during that career, I saw some who were dangerous, unpleasant and, frankly, in some cases downright evil. They deserved to go to prison, and some of them deserved to go to prison for a very long time.
There were others who were weak and stupid, and some who were greedy. Sometimes—particularly for those who were greedy—that, too, deserved punishment, and prison was an apposite and appropriate punishment. There were also those who were weak or vulnerable, or who found themselves in situations where they were easily coerced. There were people who had made a series of errors in their lives, and others who suffered from physical or mental illnesses or from real social pressures around them.
We have to be much more discriminating and sophisticated in how we deal with defendants in our justice system. Prison does not always work. It works for some people, but not for everybody all the time, and we need to be brave enough to say that in political debate. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier), the former Solicitor General, rightly says, the public are much more alert to and realistic about that, and much more willing to buy that argument. We simply need to have the courage to make it.
I do not know where my hon. Friends go out of an evening or during the day, but I am not sure that lawyers’ dinner parties accurately reflect public opinion at large. Does my hon. Friend accept—it is a fact—that since Michael Howard started the trend of sending more people to prison, the crime rate has fallen? What does my hon. Friend make of that direct correlation?
To be blunt, I rather suspect that I met a broader cross-section of society in practice as a criminal lawyer than one would meet in the average bookmaker’s. We must be prepared to stand up and challenge stereotypes, wherever they come from on the political spectrum.
We diminish the value of prison if we adopt a knee-jerk approach and say that locking people up and throwing away the key is the best solution in all circumstances. It is the best solution for the dangerous. I had no compunction about saying that those in the Brinks-Mat trial, in which I was involved, deserved to go to prison for a very long time. One was later convicted of a very serious murder, and I thought that they should stay in prison for a very long time indeed. Equally, those who commit crimes to feed drug habits are not served by lengthy prison sentences. More to the point, the public are not served in the long run either.
The real difficulty that we face is that we incarcerate more people per 100,000 of population than virtually any of our western European comparators. That is more than Spain—and more than France, which has demographic, sociological and economic problems and indicators very similar to ours; it is a good comparator, in many respects. We incarcerate more than 140 people per 100,000 of population, while France incarcerates about 98. Our rate of incarceration is practically double that of Germany, a country that is also very similar to us in many other respects. That cannot be because of some greater inherent criminality on the part of the British people. It is simply that we do not have a sufficiently sophisticated suite of alternatives to custody to provide robust and publicly credible options, so sentencers often feel obliged to fall back on custody more than they do elsewhere.
The other point to bear in mind is that Germany and the Netherlands, in particular, do a better job of rehabilitating those who are in custody. We know that because their reoffending rates are much lower. I think the Government recognise, as do all other commentators, that short sentences very seldom have a positive effect. The Government are to be commended for saying that not only do we need to look at prison reform, in terms of what happens in prisons, but we need to look at what happens when people come through the gate; at the support that they get within the community; and at what diversionary activities can be established early on when people—particularly young people—come into contact with the criminal justice system, to make sure that they proceed no further down that path. It is an holistic approach, and the Government are right in that regard.
My hon. Friend is being typically gracious and kind in giving way. Notwithstanding the point that he made, the fact of the matter is that for every 1,000 crimes committed in this country, only about 19 people are sent to prison. That is one of the lowest ratios of any country. Perhaps he can tell us in which countries the ratio of people who are sent to prison per 1,000 crimes committed is lower? That is the best measure of how many criminals we send to prison—not proportion of the population. We send very few criminals to prison per 1,000 crimes committed.
My hon. Friend perhaps neglects to say that the reporting arrangements are very different in other countries, particularly when dealing with younger people in the criminal justice system. The different diversion work done in those countries does not allow for that kind of correlation.
I am not just talking about Europe. A number of states in the United States—we do not always think of them, particularly in current circumstances, as beacons of social progressiveness—are more effective than we are at rehabilitation, meaningful community penalties and reducing recidivism. Some of that work, I might add, has been carried out on the watch of Republican governors. There is often a value-for-money case for imprisoning fewer people, as well as a social outcomes case. We ought to be prepared to make the case for prison reform as an important objective of any Government.
To return to the thrust of my argument, the Bill is an important step in achieving such reform. Of course, there is a lot more that we need to work on which is not in the Bill. The statutory purpose of the Bill is a good one. I understand the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter) about what, specifically, should go in it, but I think that its overarching purpose is correct. The balance between the safety of the public and the inmate on the one hand, and reform, rehabilitation and improvement on the other, is the right set of principles to have.
New duties on the Secretary of State are important. I suspect that they probably are justiciable; none the less, it is important to have proper accountability mechanisms. The new power for the chief inspector of prisons—the right to a response to his reports—is especially important. The current chief inspector, Peter Clarke, is an excellent appointment. I had the privilege of shadowing his team while they carried out a prison inspection—it happened to be at the prison local to my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary, in Norwich—and I saw how thorough and professional they were.
As my right hon. Friend and the prisons Minister know, and as we in the Select Committee know, one of the chief inspector’s great frustrations is the fact that in some cases, the bulk of his recommendations—not just a few, but sometimes an overwhelming majority—are not taken on board. It is important he can make sure that they are taken on board, and that a proper reason is given if they are not. Too often, his recommendations are repeatedly ignored by the same serial-offender prisons. This is an important legal step, which underpins progress.
The point has already been made about the prisons and probation ombudsman, and I agree with it entirely. These are important and welcome measures, as far as the prisons dimension is concerned, as are those to do with new psychoactive substances and interference with mobile phones. They are all important steps forward.
In the rest of the Bill, the modernisation of court proceedings is important and valuable. As the Bill progresses, I hope that the Government will bear in mind some of the caveats raised by practitioners, such as the Bar Council, the Law Society, the Criminal Bar Association and the Criminal Law Solicitors Association, to avoid unintended consequences. When dealing with things that might give rise to a conviction online, it is important for people to have the resources necessary to make an informed decision in relation to the plea, the means of election and so forth. Having such access will be important. This could be a very useful tool, and I know that the judiciary believes that it can be a good tool, but it is important to have informed decisions, and making guilty pleas online is an obvious example. Similarly, there is often a good case for having virtual hearings, but we need to make sure it does not drift into being the default position. We would obviously not have that for a trial, but we can think of other forms of interlocutory proceedings in which physical presence is appropriate, and we must make sure that we do not have too much of a broadbrush approach. However, the principle is good, and I have no problem with it.
On the whole question of dealing with the abuse of litigants in person in family cases—chapter 8 of the explanatory notes—I think the case is accepted across the piece. Such a system has worked well in the criminal jurisdiction for many years. When we set up in regulations the system of how this will work, I hope there will not be an attempt to over-complicate or over-engineer it. I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to take the criminal system and, as far as possible, lift it across with adjustments, which seems the sensible way to do it. Practitioners have made the point that when advocates are asked to take on such a role—in effect, on behalf of the court—they often take on a heavy burden. The instructions can be detailed and complex, and in my experience of such cases they frequently change depending on the nature of the person being dealt with, so the task is not easy. I therefore hope that rates of remuneration will not be any worse than in the criminal jurisdiction, because it is important to get good people to undertake this work.
Judicial appointments, which are important, have been mentioned. It is also important to bear in mind that leadership roles should be recognised, given the difficulty we have at the moment in recruiting proper High Court judges.
Moving on to part 5 on the whole question of whiplash—I will finish on this point—I do not think we can pretend that there is not an issue. The Select Committee has already heard evidence on this, and we will want to take more. Nobody can reasonably pretend that there is not an issue about whiplash, although there are disputes about whether the evidence base is strong, as was apparent in our hearings. I am glad that the Government have taken the step of moving to a system of tariffs, rather than having an outright prohibition on general damages. However, we will need to consider the devil in the detail in relation to the definition of whiplash in clause 61 and its subsections. At the moment, there is an ouster of the tariff system for breach of statutory duty, but, as practitioners have raised with me, one can of course envisage a number of circumstances in which it is possible to plead both negligence and a breach of statutory duty as alternatives. It might be self-defeating if we get an industry of people always seeking to put in an alternative head of claim to take it immediately out of the pure negligence category. Some careful drafting may be needed to look at the practical effects as far as that is concerned. Above all, we must not allow this to cause us to take our eye off the ball of the abuse by claims management companies. Good work is already being done by the Ministry and the Information Commissioner’s Office, but a lot of the problems stem from the work of the claims management companies, and it is important to look at that.
On that basis, I wish the Bill well. It is an important and valuable Bill. I am sure we will have lively and constructive debates, and I hope that I and other members of the Select Committee will, as appropriate, endeavour to assist the Government in making a good Bill better. I wish it well in its passage through the House.
The Bill gives the House, the Secretary of State and her prisons Minister the chance to do something that should have been done a long time ago, but that is now urgent, which is to end the death toll of suicidal mentally ill people who take their own lives in our prisons. When the state takes someone into custody, we have a duty to keep them safe—their life becomes our responsibility—yet prisons are not a place of safety. Last year, 12 women and 107 men took their own lives while in prison in the custody of the state. This Bill affords us the important opportunity to change the law to prevent these tragic deaths, and we must seize that opportunity because the problem is urgent and growing.
We all know that the issue of prison reform is not one that brings people out on to the streets, or that tops the agenda at election time. Unfortunately, I wish I could agree with the Chair of the Justice Committee, the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill)—I did agree with much of his speech—but I think that when it rises up the agenda, it is usually not in the cause of liberalising prison regimes, but because of demands to make them more draconian. That makes the job of the Secretary of State and the prisons Minister, in any Government, particularly challenging, and it is why, where possible, a cross-party approach is important. It is also why the Committee that I have the honour to chair, the Joint Committee on Human Rights—it is cross-party and composed of members from both this House and the House of Lords—is conducting an inquiry into suicides in prison.
Every single one of these deaths is an absolute tragedy for each individual and their family. Mark Saunders, the father of Dean, who took his own life, told our Committee earlier this month that
“we do not have capital punishment in this country but”
when Dean was sent to Chelmsford prison, he was sentenced to death. So, too, for Diane Waplington, whose mother and aunt came to Parliament to give evidence to our Committee: her suffering had been so intense that, to harm herself, she set fire to a mattress while in a secure hospital, and the response was to send her to Peterborough prison, where she took her own life.
The tragedy of suicide in prison is not new, but, as the Government acknowledge, it is worsening. Last year, the number of self-inflicted deaths rose by 32%. It is not a new problem or even one where no one knows what to do. Over the years, there have been numerous weighty reports to which Members of this House, Members of the House of Lords, judges and many others have contributed. They have analysed the problems and mapped out solutions, and successive Governments have welcomed their proposals, changed policy and issued new guidelines, but nothing changes, except the death toll, which rises. In 1991, we had the Woolf report; in 2007, the Corston report; in 2009, the Bradley report; and in 2015, the Harris report. It is not that we do not know what needs to be done; it is just that we have not done it.
We must recognise reality. There is no point in having more reviews, new policies or new guidance; we must make sure that the changes we all know are needed actually happen in practice. For that to happen, we need a legal framework that will ensure that the necessary changes take place because they are required by statute. Reports, guidance and White Papers are not enforceable and are not enforced, but the law is. The Bill is the opportunity to put into law the changes highlighted by the countless weighty reviews and inquiries.
The inquiry by the Joint Committee on Human Rights is still ongoing, but because the Bill is now before the House, I want to ask the prisons Minister to consider including new clauses to put the following proposals into law. There should be a legal maximum for the number of prisoners per prison officer. When there are not enough staff—sometimes just two prison officers on a wing of 150 prisoners—prisoners remain locked in their cells. Medical appointments and educational sessions are missed. They do not get to see the nurse for their medication. Calls for help go unanswered. Prison officers do not have the time to unlock prisoners for exercise, let alone sit down and get to know them. In the vacuum, the worst prisoners take charge. Staff become demoralised and defensive, prisoners angry and frightened, and the most vulnerable at risk.
We can either cut the number of people going to prison or increase the number of prison officers, but the Government have been cutting the number of prison officers while the number of prisoners has increased. We can see a clear correlation between the falling number of prison officers and the rising number of prison suicides —I put the graph, which shows this very clearly, on a tweet just now. Unless the prisoner to prison officer ratio changes, the death toll will continue to rise. We have an opportunity to put into the Bill a legal maximum prisoner-prison officer ratio.
There should be a legal maximum time in which a prisoner can be locked in their cell. The Government agree that there should be a maximum time—it was in their response to the Harris review and it is in their White Paper—but it does not happen. A legal obligation is required to make sure that it does.
There needs to be a legal obligation for the Prison Service to ensure that each young or adult prisoner with mental health problems has a key worker, whether a prison officer or someone else. What matters is that there is an individual who takes responsibility for bringing together all the information from the different services inside and outside the prison, and, crucially, that there is someone to liaise with the family. That is in the White Paper, but I say to the Minister that unless it is in the Bill it just will not happen. It will remain nothing more than a good intention.
Unless there is a specified reason that it should not be the case, the relatives of a suicidal prisoner should be informed of, and invited to take part in, the safety reviews or ACCTs—the assessment, care in custody, and teamwork reviews. Of all the people involved, the family knows the prisoner best and care about him or her the most. The family of Dean Saunders told us that far from being given the chance to contribute to the reviews of the measures to keep him safe, it was not until the inquest that they actually found out that in the two-and-a-half weeks he had been in prison there had been eight reviews conducted by staff who did not know Dean or anything about him.
There needs to be a legal obligation to ensure that all young offenders and suicidal prisoners are able to call a specified and approved member of their family. One of the most frightening things for a prisoner suffering the misery and fear of mental illness is being out of touch with their family. A desperate, confused and terrified mentally ill prisoner cannot stand on a wing queuing for a phone, and cannot find their way through PINs or getting permission. Phone technology is perfectly advanced enough now for there to be a system for suicidal prisoners to be able to call home.
Where a prisoner needs to be transferred to a mental hospital, there should be a legal maximum time limit between the diagnosis and the transfer. If a prisoner is regarded as so ill that they cannot stay in prison and they need to be moved to a secure hospital, that must happen right away. Under Mental Health Act 1983 guidance, that is supposed to be no more than 14 days, but it often takes many months. The maximum time limit should be laid down in law.
If the Minister says that these six measures are too detailed and specific to be in law, I say: look at the law that applies to education and health, where we find legal provision for maximum staff-child ratios and legal time limits for referral for health treatment. If it is good enough for education and the health service, why not for our prisons? If the Minister says that these issues do not need to be in law, or that they can be or already are in guidance, I say: we have done that over and over again and it has not worked. It is now time to put them into law. If the Minister says that these issues are more suitable for regulations than for being on the face of the Bill, I would have no objection. Whether they are in primary or secondary legislation is not what matters; what matters is that they should be put into law.
I know exactly what the Minister’s civil servants will say when he goes back to his Department. They will say it is unnecessary or that it cannot be done, but I ask him most sincerely to reflect on this point. Being a prisons Minister is a great responsibility and a great privilege, and I know that he is committed to his ministerial role, so I hope he will resist the voices who will urge him to do no more than preside over this wretched status quo. I ask the House to help the Minister to do what needs to be done by putting new clauses into the Bill.
Nothing will bring back Dean Saunders and Diane Waplington, whose heartbroken families gave evidence to our Committee, or any of the other 12 women and 107 men who killed themselves in our prisons last year alone, but we in this House and the Minister have a chance to make the Bill a turning point where we stop talking about the problems that are costing lives and take action. As prisons Minister, he more than many other Ministers has an opportunity to make a difference and to save lives. I hope he will seize that chance. We must make sure that he does.
I congratulate Justice Ministers on bringing forward this very competent Bill. I very much appreciated the helpful and informative briefings on, and technology demonstrations for, the proposed court reforms that were organised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Courts and Justice. In many aspects of prisons, court and litigation policy, the Bill moves the debate forward in a generally pragmatic and rational way. If I have any overall concerns, they relate not so much to the Bill’s general content, but to the need to give fuller context to some of its clauses. This I intend to do in relation to a few of its measures.
On whiplash, we need to keep in mind that the proposals in part 5 are a continuation of the policy held since 2010 to reduce a compensation culture that has had a detrimental impact on our society. In Justice questions on 7 March and again in this debate, the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon), seemed to question the existence of a compensation culture. Frankly, I thought that we had positively proven that that was an issue at the time of our consideration of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, but it seems that the situation now needs to be re-explained. Before LASPO we noticed, as my hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara) pointed out, that although accidents had fallen by a quarter, claims had increased by a third. That unacceptable position led us to instigate a series of incremental measures with the aim of reversing that trend.
The key problem originated from the dynamic created by the no win, no fee provisions of Labour’s Access to Justice Act 1999, which had put in place an unreal marketplace. To cut a very long story short, due to the workings of Labour’s Act, the interest of the client in their advocate’s fees had become detached. That was because the client would never directly have to pay any of the fees, so it followed that they would not care what those fees were. The situation was stoked by claims farmers and aggressive cold callers. This was a further example of Labour supporting a something-for-nothing system, and that system put constant upward pressure on fees and thereby insurance premiums.
In LASPO, to counter that, we ended the recoverability of success fees and after-the-event insurance premiums from the losing defendant. We then moved on to ban referral fees, and to address spam texting and cold calling by claims handlers and their agents. We also toughened up the regulation of claims handlers. The overall impact of the changes was considered to have reduced insurance premiums by some 25%. However, it is vital to keep an overall picture of what is a complicated situation. For instance, the Association of British Insurers considers that some 1% of whiplash claims are fraudulent, meaning that criminal sanctions also play a part in dealing with this issue. The fraud figure used at the time of LASPO was over 5%, so I will be interested to hear from the Minister whether he believes that insurers and prosecutors have now got the message and upped their game by taking more fraudsters to court. However, I am not convinced that the problem of illegal cold calling has yet been resolved, and I would be interested to hear whether the Minister has any further proposals in this regard.
Another important aspect is the small claims limit for personal injury cases, which is frankly well out of date. To those who are complaining about the proposals, I would say that the fact that this measure is being taken up now, rather than when it was first considered in around 2012, shows how cautious the Government have been to take one step at a time. I fully support the Government’s proposal to increase the road traffic accident-related personal injury small claims limit to £5,000, which will encourage more thought before cases are taken. Will the Minister please confirm whether mediation will be a requirement for consideration, as it is for general small claims, or will the use of a tariff not require this?
I am surprised that the Government propose to increase the limit for all other personal injury claims from £1,000 to only £2,000, rather than £5,000. My understanding was that if only inflation were taken into account, the limit would increase to above £3,000. I appreciate that the change to the small claims limit is a matter for secondary legislation rather than the Bill, so I hope that the Government might reconsider this level. I recall putting up the general small claims limit from £5,000 to £10,000, and what was generally seen by lawyers at that time as something that would hurt their businesses has been very successful in practice.
The compensation culture tag is not one that I would attach to seriously injured accident survivors who need complicated legal help, but rather more to the mass of whiplash claims that involve an injury duration of less than two years and are currently waved through to settlement by insurers who do not want the cost or bother of dealing with each small claim. The average compensation for a six-month injury duration is £1,850. This is why I fully support the Bill’s proposal that the tariff should be based on injury duration, but if that proposal is not to be taken advantage of, a better system for organising medical reports is needed. At the moment, offers to settle can be made without medical reports, even though changes were made in 2014 to discourage that practice. From now on, there will be a ban on settling without medical evidence, which I certainly think is to be welcomed.
A related area that I understand is contributing to the increase in insurance premiums relates to the cost of so-called free hire cars for accident victims. Is the Department looking at that?
The overall insurance premium saving attributed by the Government to these proposals is £40 per year. However, I agree that that message has been somewhat diluted by insurers, who are saying that the proposed reduction of the discount rate applicable to personal injury lump sum compensation payments to minus 0.75% will result in a significant increase in premiums of up to £75. I appreciate that the law, not the Lord Chancellor, sets the discount rate, and I am pleased that the Government are consulting on an alternative framework, but one wonders why the consultation could not have been handled with the Bill. Having said that, it is certainly the case that, through this Bill, the Government are continuing the incremental fightback against the compensation culture, which I think is a very good thing.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s points about the whiplash culture, but does he appreciate that the Bill does not cover the ability of rogue solicitors to pursue false claims against individuals who have not been involved in car accidents? Those solicitors claim that they have, and that people have been injured. An elderly couple in my constituency were harassed terribly, and although there was no evidence of injury, the solicitor pursued the claim. The court threw it out, but the Solicitors Regulation Authority would not look at the matter at all.
I totally agree with the hon. Lady. Fraud is an important part of the overall situation, but the criminal side is not dealt with in the Bill. I asked the Minister earlier if he would address that issue. At the time of LASPO, it was considered that 5% to 7% of claims were fraudulent. The latest ABI information I have seen is 1% or perhaps less, which would suggest that there has been a dramatic improvement, but I will be interested to hear whether the Government accept that and what they are going to do about the 1%, if that figure is accurate.
The Bill also sets out a wide variety of proposals for case management and the operation of the courts, all of which will, taken together, make for a much more effective, modern and technology-friendly system. Of course, the fact that the Government propose to invest £1 billion in the courts will do much to ensure that they remain world class. There will be fewer courts, but a much better service—by 2022, I understand. I hope that some of the money will be used to simplify processes and facilitate non-lawyers’ ability to navigate the system. Will the Minister indicate where the Department has got to on using technology to assist litigants in person?
Technology was often disregarded in the past because people did not think that its use would deliver justice as effectively as turning up in person. I would suggest that that view is very out of date, particularly with respect to younger people. Indeed, we are moving to a situation in which most crime is likely to be carried out online, so I welcome proposals such as having automatic online convictions with statutory standard penalties for a few criminal offences. I hope that that will shortly be reviewed with the aim of extending the range of offences. Likewise, enabling claimants to recover money owed up to £25,000 entirely online will save time and will certainly help small businesses.
The extension of the use of virtual hearings is to be commended in terms of not only protecting the vulnerable from those accused of certain crimes, including rape, but making justice cheaper and more efficient. How much better will it be to have the police brought in online from their stations, rather than their hanging round the court waiting for cases with nothing else to do? Having said that, I appreciate that we will need good procedural rules so that trials are kept fair.
In some ways, the technology is still being developed. I spoke recently to a criminal district judge who said that he was all in favour of court cameras, except when they did not work, which was all too frequently for his liking. Apparently, private companies that deal with bridging link-ups act strictly to timetables that sometimes do not tie in with those of the courts. Will such practical issues now be ironed out? Of course, that will become even more relevant because the Bill proposes that criminal cases could be conducted virtually, whereby all court participants join the hearing through a live link. The proposal to balance tech developments with the ability for the public and media to view virtual courts online is a good safeguard and a modern re-assertion of the old principle that justice needs to be seen to be done.
I note the proposal to reorganise the magistracy and make it a unified judiciary. It is exactly right, and will provide an adaptability similar to that given when the county courts were unified. It will actually enhance the concept of the magistrate as a nationally qualified judge rather than as a person tied to a particular bench.
This is a worthy Bill. It will do much to move our justice system into modern ways of organisation and efficiency.
I shall focus on a number of points in the Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) said in his opening remarks, the Labour party will not oppose the Bill, but that does not mean that we cannot take steps to try to improve it and to get clarity from Ministers about what the Bill means in practice and what its impact will be.
Like the Minister, I support the aims of clause 1, which says that prisons are intended to
“protect the public…reform and rehabilitate offenders…prepare prisoners for life outside prison, and… maintain an environment that is safe and secure.”
Nobody can disagree with those objectives, but, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) said in her excellent speech, the prisons system faces a number of challenges. Those challenges have not come from nowhere; they have come from deliberate decisions—from Government policy—and the Bill provides an opportunity to at least look at them, and, potentially, to rectify them.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham covered some of the statistics, but they are worthy of repetition. It is now the case that 76 of the prisons in our estate—some 60%—are overcrowded, and have been deemed to be overcrowded by the prisons inspector. We have seen an increase of 39% in the number of deaths in prison custody over the last year, while there has been a 32% increase in self-inflicted deaths. There has also been a massive increase—22%—in the number of self-harm incidents reported. We have seen an increase in the number of assaults by prisoners on staff and on fellow prisoners. There has been an increase in the number of psychoactive substances found in prisons. There has been an increase in the number of mobile phones found in prisons, and, therefore, an increase in the number that are getting into prisons. Sadly, as we heard from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham, there has been a reduction of some 6,335—26%—in the number of prison officers in the past seven years.
I believe that those facts are linked. We have fewer prison officers and the same number of prisoners—prisoners who, for a range of reasons, are more difficult and more challenging and, in many cases, have been convicted of more violent offences. The reduction in prison officer numbers has a real impact on the other statistics. While I do not object to the aims of clause 1 —indeed, I support them—I think that we need to think about what they mean in practice, and about how the White Paper is linked to them.
In what was, as I have said, an excellent speech, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham made some positive suggestions about clause 1. The amount of time spent in cells is extremely important, and we should also think about how to establish mechanisms for the recognition and support of people with mental health problems. I would add two issues to her list: family links and distance from home.
In the past 12 months, I have dealt with two constituency cases—quite apart from my work as a member of the Justice Committee—involving people in prisons in the Isle of Wight and Norwich respectively. Let me explain to those who are not familiar with the geography that the Isle of Wight is 273 miles from my constituency—an 11-hour train journey—and that travelling to Norwich takes six hours by train or a four-and-a-half-hour drive. If one of the key purposes of the Bill is reform and rehabilitation, contact with family is surely critical to that achievement.
Could not those two examples be replicated, but to an even worse degree, in the case of young offenders? Obviously there are fewer young offender institutions than prisons. Youngsters are bussed around in the back of sweatboxes for hours—for hours and hours after court hours—and often do not reach their destination until nearly midnight. That is not a good way to rehabilitate anyone.
I agree, but we both know that such problems are not easy to solve. Central to today’s debate is the question of what we can do in the context of the Bill. As I have said, I would add the question of family links to the list given by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham. I was prisons Minister for two years and one month. It is a difficult job, and it is difficult to change policy, but we have opportunities to consider these matters. I hope that the Minister will reflect on them in Committee, and will think about how clause 1 can be strengthened in order to achieve its objectives.
The Justice Committee welcomes the fact that clause 2 puts Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons on a statutory footing, and we consider the statutory recognition of the inspectorate’s role in visiting places of detention to be a positive development. We are pleased that the chief inspector of prisons will be required to have regard to the new statutory purposes of prisons. I am particularly glad that the Government will have to respond to the chief inspector’s recommendations within 28 days if the matter is urgent, or within 90 days in the case of a general inspection, and that there will be scrutiny of inspection powers. Clauses 4 to 20 put the prisons and probation ombudsman on a statutory footing, and we welcome that as well.
The Government accepted the Committee’s recommendation that the HMIP protocol should be finalised, and said that they would produce a final version before Second Reading. The Committee was consulted on the draft protocol in January, but as far as I know no final protocol has been agreed or published. I think it important for it to be published as soon as possible so that we can develop it accordingly. It was more than a year ago that we recommended a protocol on the relationship between the inspectorate and the Ministry, and we need to know what that relationship is.
Whiplash poses a challenge for the Minister and the Government. The Committee heard evidence from the Association of British Insurers and from the association of legal professionals who deal with whiplash cases. Because we have not been convinced by the Government’s case to date, we have established a follow-up inquiry—as the Minister is doubtless aware, it was announced last Friday—to call for evidence on whiplash. The terms of reference for our fuller inquiry include the definition of whiplash and the prevalence of road traffic accident-related whiplash claims, considering whether fraudulent whiplash claims stack up and whether the provisions in part 5 introduce an effective tariff to regulate damages for RTA-related whiplash claims. In particular, they include consideration of the impact of raising the small claims limit to £5,000 for RTA-related whiplash claims, and—this is not in the Bill, but it is directly linked to it—raising the small claims limit to £2,000 for personal injury claims more generally. They also include consideration of the role of claims management companies, which have not been touched on to date.
The challenge for the Minister, in Committee and on Report—and I hope that the Justice Committee will influence those debates—is to convince us that his policies, established on a cross-party basis with the Committee, will meet our objectives. The claims that the Government have made about savings being passed on to motorists and about the level of fraud in the system have not yet been tested to my satisfaction or that of the Justice Committee, which, it should be remembered, has a Conservative majority.
The Government’s consultation paper sets out no rationale for including employment injuries in what is billed as a reform of whiplash claims. I wrote to the Lord Chancellor last week, and was told that the employment injury aspects would be dealt with by a statutory instrument following completion of the whiplash measures in the Bill.
The aspect of whiplash that is in the Bill is the tariff, along with the judge’s ability to enhance it by 20%. However, there is an entirely separate secondary legislation route whereby the small claims limit can be raised. It could be reduced, of course, but that is not happening in this instance.
I am fully aware of that. What the Minister needs to know is that the Justice Committee believes that there is still a tangential link between two matters, which is why it is considering the whiplash provisions in the Bill together with employment levels. We are very conscious that, as well as the potential examination of the Government’s case in regard to whiplash, there should be an examination of their case in regard to industrial and employment injuries. There are myriad cases—I have no time to list them now, but I shall do so on another occasion—in which industrial injury claims would be detrimentally impacted by the change in the limit, and while that is not directly in the Bill—
The Minister does not work in the same spheres that I work in; people in my constituency depend on that level of employment injury support to ensure that they get justice at work. We will return to that at a later stage. The Minister is looking quizzical; he will have an opportunity to come and explain his proposals and those on whiplash to the Justice Committee in due course.
The Bill’s direction of travel can and should be supported. However, the beef of this Bill is what really matters. There are measures that the Government can take to improve it, and to reduce the poor indicators that have been growing in disparity over the last few years, and not just in staffing. They should also consider issues such as those raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham and those that the Justice Committee asks the Government to look at again.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), who had a distinguished ministerial career and speaks with considerable authority in this House. I also refer Members to the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, in which it is stated that I am a non-practising solicitor.
I welcome the Bill. I firmly believe that we have one of the finest, if not the finest, legal systems in the world, and the measures in this Bill will ensure that we can maintain our pre-eminent position in the global legal system.
I shall begin by making some comments on the court reform proposals. It is important to recognise that when we talk about access to justice we do not mean access to, and being in, a physical building called a court. I had that argument with many colleagues when I was the Minister in charge of courts and had to convey the bad news that many courts were to close—indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) had to do likewise a few years beforehand. Effectively, this Bill fulfils what we said then—that there are different ways of accessing justice and courts.
I always remember what an African Justice Minister once said to me. He said that he wanted a justice system in his country whereby the people living in the villages outside the capital city could access justice through their smartphones. The world is moving on, and it is good to see that we are keeping pace with the technology that goes with that.
I particularly welcome parts 2 and 4 of the Bill, which deal with the court reform measures. In the past, the legal system has concentrated rather too much on process and procedure, but I am very pleased that this Bill puts the court user centre-stage and ensures that we have a system that is good for them. The changes will mean that the public who use the courts will not necessarily have to spend huge amounts of time, at huge cost, or indeed have to spend their time physically waiting and hanging around in a court.
The Bill provides for court dealings to be carried out by audio and video links, and to have virtual hearings, where no parties are present in a courtroom, but instead attend by telephone or through video-conferencing facilities. The provision for evidence to be given by video links is good for victims and witnesses, particularly vulnerable witnesses, and it has to be right that prisoners can give video evidence while staying in prison, rather than expending the time, effort and cost of transporting them to and from courts—which, incidentally, often leads to delays when they get caught up in traffic. This modern way of using video-conferencing facilities also means that witnesses can easily give evidence when overseas, and that lawyers do not have to hang around outside the courtroom waiting forever and a day until they get their 10 minutes before the judge, for instance for a bail application. The barristers and judges can now stay in their chambers and the solicitors in their offices, and they can simply book a time when they can all speak and have their 10-minute conversation and the bail application can go through.
The Bill proposes that where there are low-level offences—and the majority of offences are low level—and offenders are charged with summary-only, non-imprisonable offences, such as fare evasion or not having a TV licence, and where there is a guilty plea, they can be convicted and given standard penalties by use of an online procedure. Effectively, this means that people have the luxury of being able to use their smartphones from their sitting rooms to get access to justice. Of course, it is important to recognise that for people who plead not guilty the majesty of the court remains; they can have their court cases in the usual way.
I welcome the proposal that in civil cases for claims up to £25,000 there will be simple online hearings, although it is important to recognise that some of those cases might need to go offline and to follow the usual process. I am pleased that the Bill provides for that, and I very much hope that, despite the surge towards technological advances, we keep that option, and that where, for whatever reason, a case needs to be dealt with in the usual way, that will be done. We also at present have very complex forms full of legal language that are very difficult for the lay person to deal with. I hope that as we use new forms and go online, the justice system will take the opportunity to make those forms easier and far more user-friendly.
I also hope that the Minister will recognise that not everyone uses modern technology. Some people cannot use it—for example, the elderly or some people who are disabled. I hope the Minister will be able to give us an assurance that those people will retain the opportunity to speak by phone to a person or indeed have a meeting, as is necessary, because otherwise we will be denying some people access to justice.
I also urge the Minister to ensure that the technological advances that we employ are not rendered redundant very soon. Advances in technology are so fast that millions of pounds can be spent on a system that becomes outdated in a year or two. I hope he will ensure that his civil servants try to introduce a technological system that allows for easy adaptation to more modern systems as and when they arise, and at a cheap cost.
Part 4, along with schedule 15, deals with the judiciary and the Judicial Appointments Commission, and there are various references to senior judicial appointments. I wish to make a general point on appointments. To be absolutely clear, I believe, as do most people, that all judicial appointments should be made on merit. That is crucial, but, that being said, it is also fair to say that we still need to make serious advances in the numbers of women, disabled people, people from ethnic minorities and people from a variety of backgrounds who hold senior judicial positions. I hope that the Ministry of Justice, the judiciary and the JAC will ensure that we continue to have a judicial system that is reflective of the country at large.
Sadly, there are still people who believe that the old boy network is the way for people to get promoted to senior levels. For them, it is about whether someone belongs to the right dining club or golf club, and whether they went to the right school and university. Some people simply do not put their names forward for senior positions for that reason. Of course advances have been made, and I hope that we will continue to persuade good candidates to put themselves forward even if they believe that they will not get through because of the old boy network.
I particularly welcome clause 21, which will allow public communications providers to block the use of unauthorised mobile phones in prisons. Frankly, it is absurd that this has not been done earlier; it is high time that it was done. I also welcome the provisions in clause 22, which will allow more powers to test for psychoactive substances in prisons, so that prison authorities will be able to respond more quickly to new drugs.
People are sent to prison because they have to be punished, but we all recognise the importance of a regime of education and training to enable those individuals to play a useful role in society when they come out. We rightly talk about education and training, but we should talk just as much about the health of those prisoners, and particularly about their mental health. Colleagues on both sides of the House have made reference to mental illness, and I hope that the Minister will be able to assure us that he will look into that issue and ensure that people in prison suffering from mental illnesses and who are genuinely unwell get the treatment they require. I welcome the Bill, and I am particularly pleased that—notwithstanding our differences across the political divide—we agree on a great deal. I wish the Bill well as it progresses through to receiving Royal Assent.
I, too, welcome much of the Bill. I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara), and I particularly endorse his comments about judicial diversity. This is a far-reaching Bill, although we have to infer quite a lot of the detail from the White Paper, particularly in relation to prison reform. As others have said, the Bill is relatively thin on detail.
I welcome the establishment of a new statutory purpose for prisons, but I also hope that there will be opportunities to strengthen and extend it as we take the Bill through this House and the other place. The Prison Reform Trust has suggested that the statutory purpose should make exclusive reference to standards of fairness and decency. Given the problems in our prisons today, including the exceptional amount of time that prisoners are spending in cells and not engaged in purposeful activity, the disturbances that have put prisoner and staff safety at risk, and the appalling mental health of many of those in our prisons, I strongly endorse the need for a purpose that captures those elements of fairness and decency.
Like many hon. Members who have spoken today, I want to talk about the need for good mental healthcare in prisons. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, at least 3% to 4% of prisoners have a psychotic illness; 10% to 14% have a major depressive illness; and up to two thirds have a personality disorder. Many prisoners are so unwell that prison is utterly the wrong place to treat them. This has been starkly brought home to me when handling a constituency case over the past few months. That case has really shown that the system is not working to ensure that prisoners’ mental health is paramount. It involves a young man accused of very serious offences who has been on remand in Manchester prison since before Christmas. He is seriously psychotic, and prison is not the right place for him to have been sent to, yet still, four months on, no secure hospital bed has been found where he can be securely and appropriately cared for. I therefore strongly endorse the call by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) for statutory time limits in the Bill for the length of time that someone who is so unwell can be kept in prison. We need to take that important measure to ensure that parity of esteem between mental health and physical health exists in our prisons as it does in the wider healthcare system.
We also know that women in custody have a high incidence of mental health problems. This year, we mark the 10th anniversary of Baroness Corston’s seminal report on women in custody, and this is a real opportunity for us to make a step change in the way in which we deal with women in the penal system. The Justice Secretary has said that she intends to bring forward a strategy in relation to women in the next few weeks, and I very much look forward to debating it with the Government. I hope that Ministers will take this opportunity, and not simply build more new women’s prisons that are far from home and too large to provide the right regime for their particular needs. Baroness Corston identified the need for small, local, secure units—not prisons—that specifically cater for the needs of women. This is a once-in-a-generation chance for Ministers to transform the nature of the women’s prison estate, and I really hope that they will not miss the opportunity.
I am also concerned that the Government seem intent on building new large male prisons, such as Berwyn, which I understand is to have a population of 2,000 prisoners. However, there is a lot of evidence of smaller prisons doing better, according to the Centre for Social Justice, the Prison Reform Trust—which found that prisons with fewer than 400 prisoners were more likely to perform well than those with more than 800—and the National Audit Office, whose 2013 report showed that the smaller prisons achieved better internal performance ratings. We do not know whether there is a difference in reoffending rates for small and larger prisons, and I would be grateful if anyone in the House enlightened me on that. If we do not have the information, however, I strongly urge Ministers to conduct a programme of research to help us to understand that.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) went into some detail about the importance of family contact, which incarceration a long way from home naturally makes more difficult. According to a 2008 study for the Ministry of Justice, family contact reduces recidivism by 39%, which is a substantial reduction. A joint report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons and the Youth Justice Board found that boys who suffered from emotional or mental health problems were less likely usually to have a visit at least once a week from family or friends than those without mental health problems, yet half of women and a quarter of men on remand receive no family visits. Concentrating prisoners in larger prisons, further from home and covering large geographical areas, is going to work against the family contact that can make such a difference.
I totally endorse everything that my hon. Friend says. She sets out the tragedy of the difficulties that women in prison face in maintaining family contact. Their children often end up in care or being farmed out to family members who cannot travel long distances. In particular, for Welsh women, children have to travel to England to see their mum in prison. This damages the family cohesion that is so vital to rehabilitation.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Women are usually the main carers of children, and the consequences of their being in custody can be devastating not only for the women but for the children, who ought to be our paramount consideration. I support the calls from the Prison Advice and Care Trust, among others, for a requirement on sentencers specifically to ask about the provision for the children of parents who are about to be given a custodial sentence, and particularly to know where they will spend that first night as their parent faces incarceration.
If we are serious about prison reform, we have to face the fact that our fundamental problem is sentencing policy. We incarcerate too many people who do not need to be there, which costs a great deal of money, and too many of them resume offending on release. I could not agree more with the Lord Chief Justice, who told the Justice Committee last November that the focus needs to be on rigorous, demanding and effective community penalties. However, that requires those penalties to be available and it requires sentencers to have knowledge of and confidence in them. This cuts to magistrates’ training budgets, the lack of full pre-sentence reports because of pressures on the National Probation Service, and problems with community rehabilitation companies.
I want to comment briefly on the Bill’s extensive court reform proposals, and in that regard I declare my interest as a life member of the Magistrates Association. While I recognise the opportunities that modern technology can offer to an efficient court system, I echo the concerns about how vulnerable users will fare in a virtual system. The virtual courts pilot of several years ago offers little reassurance and this Bill’s impact assessment frankly tells us nearly nothing. However, there are concerns, as highlighted by Transform Justice and others, about the lack of access to legal advice, the impact on lawyer-client relationships, the impact on sentencing—the virtual courts pilot suggested that there may be some inflationary impact—the fairness of the process, public perception, and the cost to the public purse, about which the impact assessment is quite vague. I share the concerns of the Magistrates Association and others about the use of online courts in relation to pleas, remand, sentencing and vulnerable young people. Significant numbers of prisoners have low levels of literacy and numeracy or suffer from learning disabilities and may struggle to present their case in the best possible light. They may agree to their case being dealt with in writing or online because it is quicker, it gets things over with, or because it is suggested to them by a police officer in a police station, but that does not necessarily serve the best interests of justice.
I understand the argument made by the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) about the loss of the local justice area being an opportunity for a unified magistracy and judiciary, but there are advantages to local justice. As the Justice Committee identified in its report on the magistracy last year, the loss of local justice must not mean losing the leadership and peer support that helps a bench to function collectively more effectively and efficiently. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us on that.
On the other proposed reforms to civil justice, I endorse the concerns expressed about the proposals on whiplash and the small claims route, and I regret that the Government have not taken the opportunity to be more assertive in their tackling of the aggressive marketing practices of some claims management companies. I also endorse the concerns of my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn about the rise in the small claims limit and the impact that that may have. Workers in relatively low-paid employment with modest claims for accidents at work may find themselves unable to access the legal advice that enables them to make claims successfully. USDAW, a trade union of which I am a member, offers several examples of where relatively minor accidents that are significant to those in minimum wage jobs would not have secured compensation under the Government’s proposed changes due to the lack of access to legal help for workers to pursue their cases.
Finally, I am also concerned about one aspect of the proposal to move responsibility for employment tribunals to the Ministry of Justice. In doing so, I hope that we will not lose the real value that comes from having expert tribunals made up of representatives of both employers and trade unions, employees and the trained judiciary.
Like others, I welcome the Bill, much of which I look forward to seeing develop, but I hope that Ministers will take seriously the concerns that are being expressed and ensure that the justice system, of which this country is so proud, remains the best and most modern in the world as result of the reforms.
I begin by declaring an interest not only in the subject that we are discussing, and not only in the fact that I am a trustee of the Prison Reform Trust and a patron of Unlock—those two charities are concerned with criminal justice and prisons in particular—but in the fact that I am on the advisory board of Samaritans, and much of what has been discussed this evening touches upon on its work. Literally tens of millions of calls are made to the offices of Samaritans every year. The fact that it is difficult for prisoners to get access to telephones and that the suicide rate in prisons is high—I understand that 119 prisoners took their own lives last year—suggests that we cannot push this subject aside lightly as one of the consequences of someone going to prison. We all need to concentrate on what we say and do about reducing self-harm and suicide in prison. I hope that the Minister for Courts and Justice will be able to respond positively on that point at the end of the debate.
It is uncontroversial to say that prisons are violent, overcrowded and understaffed, but the question of what we do about that is difficult to answer, because the politics relating to the criminal justice system is about sentencing, not prisons. We take a reasonably consensual view—with one or two exceptions—about what we think ought to be done in prisons, for prisoners and to protect the public, but sentencing is acutely politically controversial. The right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) asked Ministers why, if we can do it for education, we cannot create a regime to regulate prisons, but the answer is that while most of the British public—not all, but a great proportion—either have children of their own or know children, and therefore take a personal, direct interest in schools, few of us know people who go to prison or know what goes on in prison. It is a secret world. I have often said that the more prisons that are opened up to the public’s gaze—not in a ridiculous way, but sensibly—the better the debate about prisons and that aspect of the criminal justice system would be.
Notwithstanding what my right hon. and learned Friend has just said, does he agree that it is perfectly possible to resile from an over-liberal approach to sentencing while supporting an innovative approach to tackling recidivism, such as through the social investment bonds that we have seen at prisons in Doncaster and Peterborough?
I do not have an argument with that at all. The argument for making our prisons work for the public as a whole, for the victims of crime and for prisoners is not just moral and political, but economic. We push hundreds of millions of pounds into the criminal justice and prison systems, and what do we do with that investment? We produce failure. If the prison system was a business or a factory, and if I, as the managing director of that business or factory, pushed millions and millions of pounds into the process, but the things that I produced broke or failed 65% of the time, I would get the sack or my investors would go elsewhere. That is the economic argument. It happens to be bolstered by a moral argument and a political argument that we need to do better on prisons, but I do not resile from the fact that the money that we spend on prisons is not well spent, because it does not produce a lower rate of reoffending, or teach people to read and write so that they can get jobs.
Some 95% or 98% of the 85,000 people currently in prison will come out. I have sat as a judge for 20-odd years. I have put plenty of people into prison for perfectly good reasons, but if they come out of prison still addicted to drugs, still mentally ill, still unable to read or write and still incapable of getting a job, and if they then reoffend because they have no other ambition but to do what they have always done, which is to commit crime, what I am sensibly doing with the public’s money? Not much. It seems to me that there should be a perfectly straightforward economic consensus. Forget whether I am a lily-livered liberal—[Interruption.] Of course, my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) and I belong to the same political party and, although he is rather more expert than me, we both take an interest in racing.
My right hon. and learned Friend is making an important point, but to achieve a compromise between him and my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), does he accept that if we were more successful at rehabilitating low-level offenders—I think that my right hon. and learned Friend is correct about that—it would leave more space for us to lock up more serious offenders for longer, thereby satisfying the public’s need for more severe sentences for very violent and serious crime?
I agree with my hon. Friend. I have sent plenty of people to prison, some of them for very long periods of time. I wish that we were able to make sure that those who do not need to go to prison, or who need to be sent to another place, such as a mental hospital, could be dealt with in a more sensible, productive, efficient and effective way. The argument is not about whether criminals are good people and whether we should love them dearly and hug hoodies; it is about doing what is best for all of us and ensuring that the money raised through taxes—the money spent on the health service and education—is properly devoted and directed towards getting these people better so that they do not do it again. Most people who have their house burgled want to ensure that the person responsible is caught, stopped and dealt with but, secondly, they want to be sure that that person does not do it again. If all we do is feed the conveyer belt, we achieve nothing but a waste of money.
The crux of the problem that we face with prisons—it is not a new problem—is overcrowding. I wrote a paper called “Prisons with a Purpose,” having visited 65 of the 140 or so prisons, young offenders institutions and secure training units when I was shadow Minister for prisons between 2005 and 2009. It was abundantly clear then, as I suspect it is now, that our prison estate was woefully overcrowded. We cannot sensibly rehabilitate or reform prisoners, adequately protect the public, prepare prisoners for life outside and maintain a safe and secure environment within our prisons unless we deal with the problems of overcrowding. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), the Minister for prisons, are fully aware of that. They have been inside prisons and know what is going on, and they have to deal with the arithmetic of how to spend the money in the most sensible way, subject to the demands of the Treasury.
The task of the Secretary of State and the Minister is a difficult one. The aims that the Secretary of State has written into the Bill are good, but in six months or a year—or a suitable time period after the Bill has been enacted—I do not simply want a report from the Secretary of State or the chief inspector of prisons, welcome though such reports are; I want real, practical advances. It is one thing to write things in the Bill; it is quite another to ensure that they happen.
Most centrally, we must address the hideous problem of overcrowding because with overcrowding we get churn. A person who is sentenced to prison at Canterbury Crown court is sent that night to Canterbury prison.
They end up in Norwich having been via Maidstone, Lewes, somewhere on the Isle of Wight, somewhere in Dorset, somewhere in Devon, somewhere in Bristol, somewhere in the east midlands and somewhere in the west midlands. They eventually end up in Norwich, from where they are released miles away from their family without having had any contact with them. A prisoner’s medical records and education records do not follow them seamlessly.
I have uttered this plea time after time over the past 10 to 15 years and, no matter what party was in government, Ministers have told me, “What a perfectly sensible thing to say.” Unfortunately, because the politics is in sentencing, not prisoners, little is done about it. I hope that on this occasion, with this new Secretary of State for Justice, we will see an advance whereby it will not take another 65 years until we have a new prisons Bill to consider that question because we will not need such a Bill. I hope that in a few years we will see a reduction in prisoner numbers, an increase in reform and a reduction in reoffending levels, for the benefit of the public and the taxpayers whom my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley and I want to protect, in terms of not only their pockets but their safety in their homes. I want an improvement to the advantage of us all.
I hope to bring great cheer to the right hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier), because I am proud to say that one prison that has developed a world-class suite of rehabilitation interventions to reduce reoffending is Parc prison in my Bridgend constituency. Those interventions are largely thanks to the leadership of the prison’s director Janet Wallsgrove as well as Corin Morgan-Armstrong, the head of its family intervention unit and his team of staff and volunteers. Most importantly, the prison has clear partnerships with numerous local organisations within the community, which has led to rehabilitation work with families being not only possible but successful.
The Invisible Walls Wales programme was set up in 2012 and funded for four years by the Big Lottery Fund, Bridgend County Borough Council, Barnardo’s Wales, Gwalia housing and the Welsh Centre for Crime and Social Justice—money not from the Ministry of Justice but from organisations within Wales that are worried about reoffending.
The three core aims of Invisible Walls Wales meet all four of the aims of this Bill. Parc is a 62-bed family intervention unit aimed at reducing reoffending, reducing intergenerational offending and encouraging community cohesion. The funding has transformed family engagement at Parc prison. The environment of prison visits has been fundamentally revamped and, in a bold step, the prison’s visit hall feels more like a community centre than a prison.
Across the prison estate, 48% of prisoners receive regular family contact, but at Parc, thanks to a small change, the proportion has now risen to 69%. As we all know, evidence shows that people in prison who maintain links with their family are 52% less likely to reoffend. Some 90% of prisoners were misusing drugs and alcohol at the start of the Invisible Walls Wales programme, but that fell to 24% by the end of the project. There were particular benefits for the children of prisoners—by the end of the project there was a 30% reduction in the number of children assessed as having school attainment and attendance issues, and 91% of the children had appropriate peer relationships.
In June 2016, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons declared that the children and families work at Parc was “innovative and radical” and “probably the best” it has seen in the UK. The work has been exported internationally to prisons in the Netherlands, Uganda and Australia. The President of Malta has visited to see what can be learned from Parc, the first prison in the EU to achieve an “Investors in Families” charter mark. This week, Parc’s head of family interventions, Corin Morgan-Armstrong, is to speak at the International Coalition for Children with Incarcerated Parents conference in New Zealand.
Parc represents a global hub of excellence, especially given that we are expecting evidence to show that the reoffending rate among 80 high-risk families is to reduce to about 10%. The results speak for themselves: before the changes, physical altercations in the visit halls were witnessed by family members and children once a week, whereas since the revamp Parc has had just one incident in the past six years. Facilitating positive family engagements becomes all the more important when, as we have discussed, six out of 10 boys with fathers in prison will end up incarcerated themselves. We need to place more emphasis on family engagement as a tool for reform. We have all said that, but Parc actually makes it possible.
I cannot tell Members how many ways Parc has changed lives. For example, Mark won the platinum award—the highest possible award—in the 2016 Koestler Trust prison art awards, which attract entries from prisoners from around the UK and abroad. Parc is among the top three establishments to have submitted the most entries to the trust, whose chief executive, Tim Robertson, said:
“HMP & YOI Parc’s outstanding record of success in the Koestler Awards is a testament to the excellent education staff and facilities at the prison: they turn prisoners’ latent potential into concrete positive achievement. It also reflects the fact that G4S, across all its establishments, takes the arts seriously as a means of learning and rehabilitation.”
Many Members will know of the Hay literary festival in Wales, but they may not know of “Hay in the Parc”, which takes place at the same time. This literary and arts festival encourages prisoners to write and to present their artworks, and sometimes the presenters at the Hay literary festival go to “Hay in the Parc” to talk to prisoners.
Schools now go into the prison to work with dads, helping with their reading and understanding of educational jargon, and with developing their listening and reading skills, so that they can engage in their children’s education. Schools are provided with the information they need to support children affected by parental imprisonment. Contact details are provided to schools so that if issues arise they can go to the prison to ask for information and advice. Prisoners are helped to improve their children’s literacy and numeracy, while also building their own literacy and numeracy skills. Building a parent’s confidence in parenting and teaching them how to do it while incarcerated really makes a difference in the life of that family and of that prisoner once they leave prison. The “Fathers Inside” scheme focuses on intensive group work on parental responsibility for a child’s education, development and wellbeing, using drama, fiction, games and written portfolios. A Duke of Edinburgh leadership pilot at the prison gives fathers the opportunity to gain a Duke of Edinburgh leadership qualification while mentoring their children or siblings through different sections of the bronze award. The prison also has a beaver scouts group, the first in the UK for prisoners and their children, while the “Baby Steps” programme provides innovative antenatal education to parents so that they know how to parent.
The prison has developed an introductory booklet that enables a robust risk assessment to be made, so that prisoners who may be violent are identified and measures can then be put in place immediately to reduce that violence. New arrivals are screened for discriminatory views, and prisoners found to have contravened the prison’s community inclusion policy are required to attend a diversity training programme, whereby set actions are fed into their sentence plan.
I talked earlier about the work of Emmaus with Parc, but this works only if Parc prison works in advance of a prisoner’s discharge to make sure that they are ready: ready for the change; ready for the responsibility; ready to move into work; ready to build a new life; and ready to change and move away from the old patterns, the old friendship group, the old offending and the behaviour that led to it, before moving towards becoming a “companion” in one of the Emmaus homes. I ask the Secretary of State also to work with the Department for Work and Pensions, because the new proposals on changes to access to housing benefit will damage the Emmaus scheme; the only income companions have is that housing benefit, and that makes it possible for Emmaus to continue its work.
I know that time is running short, but I must say that money is not everything; skilled and dedicated prison officers, partnership working outside the prison and maintaining the family link are vital to rehabilitation, but so, too, are taking risks and trying new, innovative ideas which do not fit the traditional view of punitive sentencing. It is not a soft option for someone to know that they will lose contact with their children if they take drugs; to have their child tell them about their bed-wetting and about the bullying they face because their father is in prison; or to have to face their own illiteracy and innumeracy, and the way in which their offending has damaged their community and family life. I hope that the Secretary of State will visit Parc to see the work that has been done there. I hope she will have the same kind of look on her face as the previous Justice Secretary did when he came to Parc and spoke to one of the prisoners about their educational experience there. This young man told him that he had dropped out of education because it was not for him and it was not going to take him anywhere, but Parc had given him a chance, not only to do his GCSEs, but to do a degree. He was asked, “In what?” He replied, “Philosophy.” If prison can take people through degrees in philosophy, that is the sort of rehabilitation and changes in people’s lives that I hope this Bill will be able to produce.
It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon), an acknowledged expert on prison reform. What she said about HMP Parc was incredibly informative and moving, and I was really interested to hear what she said about Parc supporting families, as that could be rolled out in other prisons. I wish to declare an interest, as a former criminal barrister who both defended and prosecuted. I also wish to pay tribute to the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State, my Norfolk neighbour, for the work she and her ministerial team have done in preparing for this Bill. They have been indefatigable in putting together a very impressive Bill, which appears, given what the hon. Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) said, to command a great deal of consensus.
On prisons, there obviously is a crisis, and a number of right hon. and hon. Members have alluded to it. I have a great deal of concern about it, because in the 12 months to December 2016 there were 25,000 prisoner assault incidents, which was a 31% increase on the previous year’s figure. Furthermore, there were 6,430 assaults on prison staff, of which 761 were serious. As we heard from the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), there were 37,750 self-harm incidents, and 354 prisoners died while in custody, with only 55% of those deaths due to natural causes. There is obviously a crisis. Although the number of prisoners who test positive for drugs has come down, which is encouraging, there has been a big increase in the use of new psychoactive substances. I am pleased that the Secretary of State is introducing, through the Bill, measures to bring NPSs under the existing testing powers; that is sensible. I also welcome the measures on mobile telephony, because there are far too many illegal mobile phones in prisons.
I recently went round Wayland prison in Mid Norfolk, and I was struck by the number of prisoners who are getting access to Spice and other NPSs. They are having a devastating effect on the management of prisons. The death of a prisoner in HMP Forest Bank on 29 January from a Spice overdose was the 16th death throughout the prison estate in that month. One prisoner who was recently released from Forest Bank said that half the prison is on the stuff, and the other half spend their whole day trying to keep away from those prisoners who are on the stuff. We have a real problem.
When I visited a particular prison—I shall not say which one it is because I do not want to embarrass the governor—the governor said he was keen to create a drugs-free wing. I find the lack of ambition incredible. Our prisons should be drug-free; it is as simple as that. How are the drugs getting in? The prisoners do not bring in drugs and I do not believe that visitors do so. They are coming over the wire on drones and perhaps in supply vehicles, and I am sorry to say it, but there may well be a small number of corrupt prison officers. A significant amount of drugs, particularly these new psychoactive substances, are getting into our prisons and causing a great deal of mayhem, misery and, in some cases, death. I urge the Secretary of State and her team to do all she can to keep up the pressure to make our prisons entirely drug-free.
I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier) that, in some ways, there are too many people in prisons. I think that not enough people who have done certain things wrong and have committed horrendous crimes are in prison, and they should be in prison for longer, but I also feel strongly that some people who are in prison should not be there. I am worried that there are more and more prisoners aged 50-plus, and there are currently many more prisoners aged over 65. As the Secretary of State conceded, that is partly because of the extra convictions for child abuse crimes. I certainly do not want to underestimate the seriousness of some of those crimes—no one can claim for one moment that they are victimless crimes, because they are not; there are victims of such crimes and the perpetrators need to be punished—but I agree with Chief Constable Simon Bailey of Norfolk constabulary, who is the Association of Chief Police Officers lead on this subject, that some people need help, not prison. There has been over-zealous prosecution of some of these people, who should be given help to wean them off their dreadful habits.
Several colleagues—including the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), my hon. Friends the Members for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara) and for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), and the good doctor, my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter)—have mentioned the mentally ill in our prison estate. It is worrying that 4% of prisoners have a psychotic illness, 14% suffer a major depressive illness, and nearly two thirds have some form of personality disorder. I wish to make a suggestion to the Secretary of State as to how we could make some progress on this issue.
The alternative to prison for some people who suffer from serious mental ill health is to be found in the mental health treatment requirement. It can of course be added to a community or suspended sentence after a conviction, but it worries me that only 0.5% of community sentences in 2016 included an MHTR. Why is that? Perhaps the prisons Minister can look into that and elaborate further on it, because significant progress could be made on that front.
I am glad to see my neighbour the Secretary of State nodding.
I find it extremely worrying that of our prison population of 84,307—as at last week—just under 10,000 are foreign prisoners. I have not done the maths, but I think that is around 15% or 16%. Some of them are of course European, so there is a problem with ensuring that they are deported, because we have to have arrangements in place and that does not normally happen across Europe. There are, though, prisoners from countries including Albania, Jamaica, Pakistan, India, Somalia—unfortunately —and Nigeria. Roughly 3.5% of all foreign prisoners come from Nigeria, and a staggering 5.3% come from Jamaica. The prisons Minister and his team of officials really must try to do more to grip the problem. Why are better, reciprocal arrangements not in place? Why are we not working with the Jamaican and Nigerian Governments to, for example, use Department for International Development money to improve their prisons? Why are we not doing the same in Somalia? As far as I understand it, the new Government there have complete control of most of the urban areas and most of the prisons, so surely something could be done.
I shall conclude in a moment; I was going to say something about the courts, but a lot of colleagues are waiting to speak. I was keen to get the key points across, and additional points can be discussed in Committee and on Report. I find it heartening that the Bill commands a great deal of consensus among all parties and that, although the Government’s energy over the next few months—indeed, perhaps two years—is going to be focused on Brexit and all the challenging negotiations that will go with it, they still have time to stand true to their reforming zeal and introduce an important Bill. I congratulate the Secretary of State and her team. Let us hope that a really good Bill can be made better still in Committee.
It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for North West Norfolk (Sir Henry Bellingham), whose speech was very articulate. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate ahead of serving on the Bill Committee over the next few weeks.
With the Government’s White Paper, which was published in November last year, and the Bill before us today, I welcome many of steps being undertaken to get to grips with the challenges in our prisons and the justice system more widely. Greater scrutiny and more transparent allocation of responsibility are positive steps but, as others have already said, the Bill will succeed only once we have comprehensively got to grips with overcrowding and safety in our prisons. Without an effective, functioning prison system with reform at its very core, the wider justice system simply fails to function. When he appeared before the Justice Committee back in November, the Minister for prisons and probation admitted that all the numbers relating to prison violence, self-harm and deaths in custody are pointing in the wrong direction. I shall therefore use my role as constructively as possible to make sure that the Bill goes far enough and fast enough in improving those numbers.
In part because of several high-profile incidents, Members will be well aware of the prevalence of overcrowding in prisons, which is so commonplace that it sadly now seems to have become institutionalised in the justice system. When they gave evidence to the Justice Committee, both the Minister and the chief executive officer of the National Offender Management Service were in agreement that overcrowding has been a sustained problem for the past decade. The prison population rose from 43,000 in 1993 to just over 84,000 in 2016. Despite this increase, the number of uniformed prison officers tasked with managing and caring for those in prisons has decreased. Following the closure of 18 prisons since 2010, the prison estate has seen a reduction of around 6,000 places, at a time when the prison population is increasing. Although there are plans for new prisons and extensions at existing sites, at this rate such measures will not alleviate overcrowding in this Parliament or the next.
Overcrowding is a problem in 69% of prisons—that is 80 out of 116 establishments. My nearest prison, HMP Leeds in Armley, is one of the most overcrowded in the country. The Prison Reform Trust found that although it was built to accommodate 669 men, as of October 2016 it held 1,145, meaning that it is populated at 171% of its intended capacity. What is the impact of overcrowding on the conditions inside prisons? We have already heard statistics from the House of Commons Library, which reveal that, in the 12 months to September 2016, the number of prisoner-on-prisoner assaults increased by 31% on the previous year, with just over 25,000 recorded incidents. There were nearly 38,000 incidents of self-harm, which is an increase of 61% compared with 2006. In the 12 months to December 2016, there were 354 deaths in custody, 34% of which were self-inflicted and 1% the consequence of homicide.
A report by the Prison Officers Association revealed that there are more than 42 incidents of violence in prison establishments every day. Given, as the Minister said, that all the numbers by which we measure the effectiveness and safety of our prisons are pointing in the wrong direction, it is perhaps surprising that we have seen a reduction of 7,000 prison officers since 2010. I appreciate that the Government have closed 18 prisons in that time, but the prison population has still increased. In fact, it peaked at an all-time high in 2011. By any analysis of prisoner to prison officer ratios, the number of officers will surely be found to be inadequate to meet the challenges, and I support the call from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) to look at how we can introduce ratios into the Bill.
I welcome the decision announced in the White Paper to recruit 2,500 more prison officers, and I am glad that the Secretary of State was able to tell us more about that recruitment process, and that 400 more prison officers have been recruited for the 10 most challenging prisons, but I hope that the Minister can go further in outlining what the next steps will be in recruiting for the remaining 2,100 posts.
Michael Spurr, chief executive officer of the National Offender Management Service, confirmed to the Justice Committee in November that the rate for new prison officers leaving within their first year is 13.5%, and has been as high as 16% in the past three years. I would be interested to know whether the Secretary of State has factored in that retention rate when recruiting those new officers. If 13.5% of the 400 already recruited leave within their first year, we will need to find 54 additional officers. I have set out the context not simply to make the case for sufficient prison capacity to meet demand, but to make the case for my amendments on prison officer safety, which is an area in which this Bill could go much further.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham talked about how two officers were left to cover a wing of more than 150 prisoners. Members can appreciate that sense of being outnumbered when they think about the reality of those figures. What needs to change to make sure that prison officers do not leave in their first year, are safe at work and are staying in post until retirement? Colleagues will be aware that, since having had an eye-opening experience while shadowing a lone police officer in my constituency last year, I have been campaigning for greater protections for emergency service workers, and prison officers are no less deserving of those same protections.
A report by the Prison Officers Association revealed that eight staff members are assaulted every day and that, in 2010, there were 24 sexual assaults against prison staff. That is just unacceptable. Section 8 of the Prison Act 1952 says:
“Every prison officer while acting as such shall have all the powers, authority, protection and privileges of a police constable.”
In the event that a prison officer is assaulted, and where the evidence affords, the prosecutor has a choice between pursuing common assault charges, under section 39 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, or assault police charges under section 89 of the Police Act 1996. Assault police is a summary only offence and as such carries a maximum of 24 weeks custodial sentence, with community resolution orders and fines the most common outcome. I will not share the details now, but I can recommend the report “Prison Violence—How serious does it have to get”, which is published by the Prison Officers Association, for harrowing testimonies from prison officers, complete with photos of their injuries. It is well worth a read if anyone is in any doubt about the need for having the toughest possible deterrents in place to protect prison officers.
I commend the hon. Lady for all her work on this matter and also with regard to police officers. It is very much appreciated by them. She says that the number of assaults on prison officers is going up, but is she also aware that the number of extra days given for the assault of a prison officer by a prisoner is going down? The average number of extra days given for a prisoner assaulting a prison officer was 20 five years ago, and it is just 16 now. Does she agree that that is completely inadequate punishment for a prisoner assaulting a prison officer?
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. I wonder whether the pressures of overcrowding are starting to reflect in those sentences handed out in prisons, which do not then serve as a proper deterrent. I would be more than willing to consider that point and others when we debate the Bill in Committee.
This is why I am calling on the Government to consider making it an aggravating factor to assault a prison officer under existing common assault, grievous bodily harm, actual bodily harm and malicious wounding charges. That would give the judiciary much greater flexibility when considering sentencing. Sentencing must be about effective deterrent. It is about not exacerbating the existing conditions in prison, but ensuring that there is a real incentive not to assault officers.
There is also the practice of “potting”, where urine and faeces are thrown at a prison officer as a means of assaulting them—it seems to be female prison officers who are singled out for this treatment—and it is simply horrific. Those acts must be followed up and charges brought against every individual who engages in that activity. It is no wonder that there is a 13.5% drop-out rate in the first year when that is what we ask our prison officers to face every day they go to work.
The second part of my campaign relates to spitting. As well as being horrible, spitting blood and saliva at another human being can pose a very real risk of transmitting a range of infectious diseases, some with life-changing or even lethal consequences. In presenting my ten-minute rule Bill, which addressed that very issue, I shared with MPs the story of Arina Koltsova, a police officer in Ukraine who died after contracting tuberculosis from an offender who spat at her while she was trying to arrest him. At the moment, if a prison officer or any other emergency service worker is spat at, they can take a blood sample from an individual only if they give their permission. Needless to say, in most cases in prisons, prisoners are deliberately seeking to inflict the maximum distress on a prison officer, and so decline to provide a sample. This then leaves the prison officer or staff member with no choice other than to take anti-viral treatments and face a six-month wait.
To address this issue, I have looked to laws in Australia where refusal to provide a blood sample can result in a fine of 12,000 Australian dollars and a custodial sentence. Adding such a measure to the Bill would mean that to refuse to provide a blood sample would in itself be a crime, punishable by a fine or an additional custodial sentence. If a prison officer has already had to endure being spat at or bitten, this measure would hopefully save them having to endure a six-month ordeal waiting to see whether the consequences are much more serious. I hope to demonstrate the merit of these amendments in Committee and hope that the Government will work with me on these measures.
On behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn), who cannot be in the Chamber today, I wish to raise his commitment to Helen’s law, which would deny parole to those convicted of murder who refuse to reveal the location of their victim’s remains. He will be seeking to build support for that change and amend the Bill to that effect, and I will be supporting him in doing so.
I have been particularly animated about the closure of both the magistrates court and the county and family court in my constituency. I am grateful to the Minister for Courts and Justice for keeping me informed about this Bill. He knows that I am particularly passionate about the provision of justice.
Last week, having attended the briefing on the sweeping reforms to access to justice, I can see that there is a lot to be optimistic about. When starting from a position of what is best practice for supporting vulnerable victims and witnesses through the justice system and when giving evidence, I accept that our old-fashioned court buildings and outdated systems are just not up to the job. However, having accepted some of the reasoning for the closure of the courts—to facilitate this revolution in access to justice which promised to make justice more available than ever before—what happened in Halifax was that the courts closed, and people now have to travel much further than ever before to attend old-fashioned court buildings and use outdated systems. With a six-year roll-out on the measures that we are all looking forward to seeing, my experience in Halifax is that there has been a massive step backwards in justice provision in the intervening years. I have engaged with this process, accepted that there were inefficiencies across the two courts, and even lobbied to merge them, which would have returned a cost saving for Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service.
I visited Kent police’s excellent video-enabled justice system, and bought the Government’s arguments, but, through no lack of trying, I have failed to get HMCTS to engage with me on how technology can be used to the benefit of my constituents and to deliver a justice system that is indeed fit for purpose. I am really grateful that the chief executive of HMCTS, Susan Acland-Hood, has offered to meet me to discuss this matter further, following similar pleas that I made at that briefing hosted by the Minister for Courts and Justice last week. I genuinely hope that we can get a video hub in place to mitigate some of the impact of the court closures in Halifax.
I genuinely welcome the move to introduce modern technology into the justice system, so that vulnerable victims can record their evidence just once to save potentially painful and unnecessary repetition; so that we can cut down the time spent by police officers in court; and so that justice can be accessed on an iPad in a front room. Such changes would be fantastic. I will use my time in Committee to outline examples of where court closures have left a void, which this Government have failed to bridge, and work towards practical measures for delivering a better service as soon as possible.
I look forward to examining and debating the Bill in more detail in Committee. I welcome many of the measures. While the situation remains so pressing—I would go so far as to say pretty desperate—in some of our prisons, the pressure to get this right and quickly weighs on us all. I intend to work constructively to firm up the Bill as it relates to prison officer safety. Given the recruitment and retention pressures they face, I hope that the Government will be receptive.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) and so many other experts who have spoken already from both sides of the House. It is also a pleasure to have caught your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to be called to speak so early in this Second Reading debate on a Bill that commands cross-party support.
The Bill contains much that is commendable. I warmly welcome the strengthening of regulations on whiplash injuries and the provisions on the introduction of new technologies in court procedures. I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State describe how courts in the south-west of England—my part of the world—are doing so well in using technology.
I will focus on prisons and prison reform. I am delighted that the Bill sets out the purposes of prisons, in particular that they should
“reform and rehabilitate offenders”
“prepare prisoners for life outside prison”.
Many Members have expressed their concerns about the prison system, but none, I think, has dwelt on the reoffending statistics, which have remained stubbornly high. The rate of reoffending by young offenders is running at 68.7%, the rate among those sentenced to less than a year in prison is 60%, and the overall reoffending rate is 44.7%. Such rates come at a cost of £15 billion a year. That is not the cost of reoffending overall; it is the cost in relation to reoffending by those who were in prison. It is right that we refer in the Bill to the necessity of reforming and rehabilitating offenders.
The statistics that I just cited compare badly with those for our international counterparts. Some countries do particularly well—Denmark’s reoffending rate is 29%, and Iceland’s and Singapore’s are both 27%, but Norway leads the field with a rate of 20%. I accept that the legal jurisdictions in some countries are very different from our own, but it is worth looking at where there is good practice and seeing what we can learn. In that regard, I was pleased to visit a young offenders institution in Norway, just outside Bergen. Prisons in Norway have been compared, unfairly, to holiday camps by some in our country’s media, but given Norway’s reoffending rates, it would be churlish to ignore its example. When there are good lessons to learn from other countries, we should try to learn them.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there are also examples of good practice in this country? I visited a project in my constituency, LandWorks, which works with offenders providing routes into employment, mentoring and counselling. It offers an extraordinary range of opportunities and achieves reoffending rates of just 4%. Does he agree that we should look at practical examples in this country and roll them out more widely?
I agree absolutely and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. It is clear that LandWorks is doing an excellent job in her area. We heard from the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) about the good work that is done in Parc prison, which is being rolled out internationally. When we can learn, whether from institutions in our own country or abroad, we should be big enough and brave enough to learn those lessons, to adopt good practice and to roll it out across the country.
The two principles I learned from my visit to the young offenders institution in Norway related to staff ratios and officer training. There, all prison officers are either graduates or have completed a two-year training programme. I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State say that we are recruiting more prison officers and more is being done to improve their training. Earlier today, I learned of the “Unlocked” graduate scheme—a two-year programme, I think.
Will my hon. Friend, whose professional background is similar to mine, comment on the need for offenders leaving prison to go not into the arms of drug dealers, which leads to further reoffending, but into the arms of a loved one or family members, so that that relationship can give them ongoing support and help them not to reoffend?
I was going to touch on that point later in my speech, but I will deal with it now. Members on both sides of the House have talked about the importance of that. The hon. Member for Bridgend talked about a 51% reduction in reoffending—I would be interested to hear where that figure comes from. The hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) mentioned a 39% reduction, and I believe that that figure was drawn from research instigated and conducted by the Ministry of Justice in 2008. I am interested in both those figures.
My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) is right. I challenge the Minister to consider whether maintaining close family relationships outside prison should be mentioned in the Bill, perhaps in clause 1, which sets out the purposes of prisons. I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State say that Lord Farmer has been looking into this, and I know he will bring his great expertise to bear. We eagerly anticipate the publication of his report.
I had the opportunity to visit, with my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), Her Majesty’s Prison Coldingley, which is a reform prison, to see the work that goes on there. When reform prisons were launched, I questioned how they would make a difference and what empowering governors would mean on the ground. The governor of Coldingley gave two examples that made clear to me the impact that reform prisons and giving governors greater autonomy can have. They are small examples, but I believe they paint a bigger picture. They have had a big impact, certainly in Coldingley.
First, every prisoner in Coldingley works. We had the opportunity see the vast factories there—there is a printing press and the like all set up. As a result of the flexibility given to the governor, she has been able to increase the food allowance from less than £2 to in excess of £2. That seems like a small uplift, but it was done in recognition of the fact that every prisoner works, and if nothing else it has made a dramatic difference to prisoners’ morale. The second example was the appointment of a key position that the governor simply would not have been able to afford without having flexibility in the budgets and the autonomy to prioritise funds as she saw fit. Those two small examples brought home to me the importance of giving governors autonomy and greater authority.
Another measure foreshadowed in the White Paper was release on temporary licence. Schemes whereby prisoners are released early are sometimes criticised, even by Conservative Members. Some say, “Well, what about the risk to the public?” While I agree with those concerns and although it is right to highlight them, it is also right, when proper, to challenge them, because release on temporary licence has a success rate in excess of 99%. In 2015, there were 162 failures, the definition of which is a prisoner who has breached his or her terms of release, committed a further offence or failed to turn up on time. The figure equates to 49 out of 100,000—less than 0.5%. If we translated that into reoffending statistics, I think we would all be pleased, so I warmly support measures giving governors greater autonomy in rolling out and prioritising release on temporary licence.
I am conscious that other experts are waiting to speak, so suffice it to say that I warmly welcome the measures set out in the Bill. I fully support it and am pleased that it has cross-party support.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson).
I have been disappointed to hear prison being disparaged so much in this debate, as prison is actually a pretty successful place. According to the Ministry of Justice’s own figures, the longer people spend in prison, the less likely they are to reoffend. The Ministry’s latest figures, released in November 2016, show that although 60% of those released from a sentence of less than 12 months go on to reoffend, only 37% of those who serve a sentence of between 12 months and four years, 24.7% of those who serve a sentence of four to 10 years, 15.6% of those who serve a sentence of 10 years or more, and 11.4% of those sent on an indeterminate sentence go on to reoffend after release. Prison is clearly not the problem because the longer people spend in there, the less likely they are to reoffend. Perhaps the problem is that they are not spending long enough in prison. That seems to be the lesson from those figures.
I have some sympathy with part of what my hon. Friend says, but does he accept that those statistics ignore the nature of the offence? For instance, quite a lot of people are serving very long sentences for murders—crimes of passion—that they may have committed only once in their life and are unlikely to go on to commit again, whether they go to prison or not.
The problem with that is the example of those who serve less than 12 months. If my hon. Friend looks at the figures, he will find that it is very difficult to be sent to prison for a first offence and a short sentence. People who are eventually given short prison sentences have been given community sentence after community sentence, which have not worked. The reason that these people end up in prison on a short sentence is that the courts eventually say, “We have no other option but to send you to prison because every other intervention we’ve tried has failed.” The reoffending rate for the cohort of people who end up in prison after community sentences was 100%. The fact that they have a reoffending rate of 60% when they leave prison is a greater triumph than was shown by community sentences for that cohort of people who end up in prison.
I do not have time to give way to my hon. Friend again.
The Bill contains provisions to toughen up the current position on the use of mobile phones. I am sick to death of seeing pictures of smiling criminals from within prison cells, surrounded by all kinds of creature comforts and ill-gotten gains courtesy of the use of mobile phones in prison. More concerning is the use of phones to intimidate or threaten victims, or to ensure the continuation of crimes, so I welcome the steps the Government are taking to deal with that scourge.
I have some concerns about extending the use of video links in certain cases, and I am certainly not comfortable with people using video equipment in all kinds of venues that are not courts. I shall listen to the points made by those promoting such technology, but sometimes, in the interests of justice, saving a few pennies should not be the overriding factor. We need to be very careful that, in trying to protect victims, we do not affect the scales of justice and end up with a situation where it is difficult for defendants to have a fair trial. Having a fair trial should be paramount, just as it is essential to deal appropriately with those found guilty. I am not overly keen on the sound of the online conviction process, so I will be listening with interest to the types of offences it might cover. The Magistrates Association also has concerns about this, and I hope they are considered carefully.
I am concerned about the abolition of the local justice areas, which organise magistrates and their work within geographical locations. I understand that some work can be done in different areas, but there is something to be said for the argument that justice should be dispensed locally. I hope we do not end up with a situation whereby all kinds of cases are being heard randomly all over the country for no good reason.
I have a bit of concern about judicial appointments and the drive for diversity. Surely we should just be interested in recruiting the best people. It should be irrelevant whether they are men or women, black or white, Christian or Muslim, gay or straight. Who cares about any of those things? We want the best person for the job, irrespective of their gender or race. Surely that is what equality means in this day and age—not just giving somebody a job out of tokenism because they happen to tick a particular quota box. Let us stick to appointing people on merit alone, and ignore every other irrelevant factor about them.
In my brief contribution, I want to focus on what is missing from the Bill, which is more important than what is in it. I would like the whole sentence given by the courts to be served. People should certainly should not be automatically released halfway through their prison sentence, as is the case at the moment. That was a scandal when it was introduced. The Conservative party was apoplectic when the last Labour Government introduced it, but we now seem to think that it is wonderful to release people automatically halfway through their sentence, irrespective of how badly they behave in prison. I will certainly table an amendment at a later stage in the passage of the Bill to ensure that any prisoner who assaults a prison officer cannot be released automatically halfway through their prison sentence. We must have some proper punishments for assaulting prison officers. The least that prison officers deserve is that kind of support.
One reason for the breakdown of order in prisons is that prisoners know that no matter how badly they behave, they will be released halfway through their sentence. All that is given for assaults on prison officers is extra days. As I indicated in my intervention on the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch), who has done a great job and should be commended greatly for all her work on defending prison officers and police officers, the average number of extra days given to a prisoner for assaulting a prison officer was 20 days in 2010 and 16 days last year. That is completely and utterly unacceptable. I am sure that the Prison Officers Association would welcome the Government saying that if a prisoner assaults a prison officer, their opportunity for automatic early release halfway through their sentence will end, and that their position will be judged on whether they are safe to be released out into the public.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what I consider to be his support for my amendment. I only need the support of the Opposition and about eight more on our side and we should be in business. I will put my hon. Friend’s name down as a likely supporter.
The Library briefing paper confirms:
“There were 6,430 assaults on prison staff, 761 of which were serious. This was an 82% rise on the number of assaults on prison staff in 2006 and was a 40% increase from 2015.”
Prison officers have a very hard and, at times, dangerous job. I am sick of hearing about the pathetic additions to sentences for prisoners who assault them. I hope the Government will deal with that in the remaining stages of the Bill.
I would also like to see an amendment to limit the use of fixed-term recalls. When prisoners are released early, they do not even go back to serve the remainder of their sentence when they are convicted of a further crime. They just go back into prison for 28 days, for what I would consider a mini-break. They can usually keep an eye on their criminal activities knowing that they will be back in prison for only 28 days. I hope the Government will deal with that.
I would recommend giving consideration to making judges accountable for their decisions, particularly when they do not hand down custodial sentences that are perfectly justifiable and possibly even expected, and particularly when the offender goes on to reoffend. I do not need to say now what the consequences of collecting such information should be, but it should be clear to many that where a judge consistently allows offenders to avoid prison, and those offenders go on to make others suffer as a result of their continuing crime spree, there should be accountability and consequences for that judge.
I would like to table an amendment to allow magistrates to sentence people to prison for up to 12 months for one offence, instead of the current six-month limit. We already have the law in place to do that, and it just needs a commencement date. That is something the Government have been promising for years, but they still have not got round to doing anything about it. When the Minister winds up, perhaps he can tell us when he intends to activate this part of Government policy.
I would like to recommend increasing the age limit for magistrates and judges to 75, and I will table an amendment to that effect. As of 1 December 2016, the Government increased the age limit for jurors to 75, and I cannot really see any difference between being a juror and determining someone’s guilt or innocence in a serious criminal trial, and, for example, sitting as a member of a bench of magistrates. Surely, the same rationale applies to both.
I am not a fan of release on temporary licence, unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole. If prisoners serve only half their sentence, the least they can do is actually serve that half in prison, rather than being released in advance of the half for which they are automatically released. It is ludicrous to count time out of prison as time in prison, and I am considering tabling amendments to cover some instances of release on temporary licence.
I am not going to give way, because my time is almost up, and I want other people to have the chance to speak.
I want to place on record my continued interest in seeing male and female offenders treated equally by the courts, not only for sentencing purposes but in all aspects of the criminal justice system. It is increasingly accepted that women are treated more leniently than men. For every single category of offence, a man is more likely than a woman to be sent to prison. In the interests of equality, this matter needs to be looked at. However, we should look after women in the criminal justice system by abolishing sharia councils, which discriminate against them terribly, although the Government sit idly by and allow that to continue, which is an absolute disgrace.
Finally, on a more positive note, I am delighted to support the Secretary of State when she said in a speech last month that:
“the wrong way to address the problem would be to shorten sentences or to release offenders earlier. That would be reckless and endanger the public. And it would restrict the freedom of the independent judiciary to choose the most appropriate sentence for each offender.”
I could not agree more. She is certainly on the right lines. If she sticks to that kind of principle, she will be doing okay. I hope to be able to support the Bill by strengthening it in its remaining stages.
It is a privilege, as always, to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), and I very much look forward to supporting some of the amendments he foreshadowed in his speech.
At the outset, I must draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, as I am on the roll of solicitors. I am a non-practising solicitor now, but earlier in my career I was involved in many personal injury matters, and it is to part 5 of the Bill, which deals with whiplash, that I want to restrict my remarks.
There are things to commend and welcome in the Bill, but the one area where I do have concerns is over the proposals relating to whiplash. It is completely understandable that the Government would want to root out fraudulent whiplash claims, and I am sure everybody would agree with that, but I am not convinced that the proposals in part 5 will assist in achieving that aim. I welcome the fact that the Government have abandoned some of the more extreme proposals in the consultation paper, but we have nevertheless finished up with a set of proposals that I doubt will have the desired effect.
There is no doubt that if fraudulent claims are submitted and not spotted, the damages that are paid out will increase premiums. However, I am not convinced that the way to reduce premiums is to restrict artificially the level of damages payable by someone found liable for the tort of negligence. The Government’s proposal has nothing to do with controlling public expenditure; we are told that it is all about rooting out false, fraudulent claims and trying, as a consequence, to reduce insurance premiums. If the Government are really keen to do that, one way would be to reduce insurance premium tax. It seems rather perverse that we should tax those who seek to do the right thing. I can understand the argument—I might not always agree with it—for taxing goods or behaviours that are perceived to be bad, but it is less easy to understand the rationale for taxing those who seek to do the right thing by taking out insurance to protect themselves and take care of their future.
There are already procedures in place to reduce the potential for fraudulent claims to be successful. I am all in favour of taking the strongest possible action to root out those who try to con the system, but perhaps we should have given the existing measures—it is not many years since they were introduced—more time to work, and there is already evidence that they are working. The number of whiplash claims, as reported to the compensation recovery unit at the Department for Work and Pensions, fell from 511,111 in 2010-11 to 335,365 in 2015-16.
The expression we use is whiplash-related road traffic injuries. Some of them are described as upper torso strain caused by shunt by a vehicle; that is a whiplash-related claim, and it would not count as a whiplash claim, but we think they are the same thing, and we reckon that the figures show a 50% increase over the last 10 years, at a time when the number of road traffic accidents generally has been falling.
Clearly, there are issues around the definition of what constitutes a whiplash injury. The fact remains that, under the definition of whiplash used by the CRU, there was a 34% fall between 2010-11 and 2015-16.
Regardless of the number of claims, if they are valid, appropriate damages should be paid. The introduction of tariffs will have a number of effects, particularly when combined with the proposed increase in the small claims limit, which I accept is not in the Bill but is foreshadowed in the Government’s proposals. First, the level of damages will hardly ever be correct, as the Government recognise in their proposed uplift provisions. This is a rather clumsy way to try to finesse the basic scheme, recognising that the damages will not be at the appropriate level. There will inevitably be an increase in the number of litigants in person, and that raises questions as to how the courts will cope. For example, is the portal proposed as the mechanism by which the system is accessed intended for use by litigants in person?
Claims management companies will have a field day as they look to expand their operations in the light of these proposals. I fear that there will inevitably be an increase in the number of nuisance telephone calls. The Government may feel that insurance premiums are a problem, but that is as nothing compared with the problem of nuisance telephone calls. I am sure that I am not alone among MPs in being able to say that I hardly ever get a complaint about insurance premiums in my postbag or email inbox, whereas I get many, many complaints about the number of nuisance telephone calls.
Another problem resulting from the introduction of tariffs is that the same injury will attract a different level of compensation dependent on whether the injury was suffered as a result of a road traffic accident or in the workplace. I am not sure how that could be justified to the injured person, but I look forward to hearing the explanation of how it could be justified. There will inevitably be a transfer of cases from qualified legal practitioners to unqualified claims companies—McKenzie friends and so forth—and thousands of high street practices will face closure or, at the very least, job losses. There will also be unintended consequences. For example, the Access to Justice Action Group has pointed out that an injured party would be entitled to £3,725 for a neck injury lasting 24 months under the small claims track, but £6,750 for a neck injury lasting just one month longer outside the small claims track. That will be an incentive for the small minority who try to play the system to exaggerate their claims.
In summary, why should the vast majority of innocent, law-abiding citizens be penalised for the actions of the dishonest few?
I strongly welcome this Bill because it will help to improve the rehabilitation of offenders, which is at the heart of preventing more crime and keeping the public safe.
Prisons are the end of the line for maintaining law and order in this country, and we expect an awful lot of them. Of course, prevention is always better than cure, and we need to redouble our efforts in cracking down on the scourge of drugs, which so often leads to a life of crime. We also need to continue to provide more and more ladders of opportunity for people to engage in legitimate, worthwhile and rewarding study and work. Rehabilitation in prison cannot take place unless the environment is safe and secure, and it is absolutely right that those words appear on page 1 of the Bill.
If we are to reform and rehabilitate offenders and prepare prisoners for life outside prison, we need to focus on a number of areas. Many prisoners arrive in prison with serious mental health issues, and making sure that the very best mental healthcare is available for them must be at the heart of the prison regime. I welcome the moves towards joint commissioning so that prison governors are more involved with the mental healthcare being delivered within their prisons.
I was also delighted that the Secretary of State agreed to take forward the Farmer review, to keep prisoners’ family and other relationships healthy and strong where it is safe to do so. Some prisons, such as Parc in Bridgend, as we heard in the wonderful speech by the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon), are already doing that work really well. If prisons are truly to be places of reform, we cannot ignore the reality that a supportive relationship with at least one person is often indispensable to prisoners’ ability to get through their sentence well and achieve rehabilitation. It is not only family members who can provide that. Other significant and supportive relationships can make a significant difference to the prevention of reoffending.
Huge advances have been made by Jim Davidson’s charity Care after Combat, which works with military veterans and is supported by the Government. To start with, more than 50 of its mentors have gone into prisons, been friendly with prisoners and put them on the road to really decent rehabilitation. It is a great charity, and I am very grateful for all the work it has done for the military.
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. I have met Jim Davidson on a number of occasions, and I thoroughly commend the work of Care after Combat throughout the Prison Service.
Family work, which brings prisoners face to face with their enduring responsibilities to their families who are left in the community, is indispensable to the rehabilitation culture that we urgently need to develop in our penal system. I welcome the commitment by the Ministry of Justice to measuring the quality of prisoners’ relationships. At a very practical level, we know that enduring family relationships lead to many prisoners being able to access on release family accommodation that would be unavailable to them if those relationships had broken down.
There is a huge amount of consensus this evening about maintaining prisoners’ family relationships. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a corollary of that is that family contact should not be removed as a penalty where other forms of sanction are available? It is unfair to the family members and it defeats the object, which he and others have talked about, of maintaining prisoners’ contact with their families.
I share the sentiments expressed by the hon. Lady, and my instincts are with hers. I have talked extensively to prison officers about the issue, and on occasions they have a relatively limited number of levers that they can use. I am with the hon. Lady, however. Family relationships are really important, and they are often powerful forces for good that can help prison officers to achieve what they are trying to achieve.
Accommodation is the base camp of rehabilitation, and we are unlikely to make any progress without it. It is concerning that some local authorities are, frankly, discriminatory towards ex-offenders. Ex-offenders should not be given preferential treatment, but neither should they be treated worse than others who seek accommodation.
I hope that Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, as it will be called from 1 April, will look at the cost of prisoners phoning home. Many prisoners have mobile phones so that they can speak to their wives, husbands, partners and children. We need to make sure that prisoners have good access, for legitimate use, to affordable prison telephones. I am also a fan of the prison voicemail initiative, which is spreading in our prisons. A daughter managed to leave a message of her first violin piece for her father to hear on a prison voicemail, for example.
On the issue of housing and released prisoners, does my hon. Friend agree that many prisoners struggle to get on to the housing list in various local authorities? How does he suggest we incentivise local authorities to consider in priority need those prisoners who have served their sentence and need a bit of support to prevent them from getting into homelessness?
At the very least, we need fairness across the system. What concerns me is that some local authorities have a blanket approach of telling ex-offenders to wait a couple of years. My local authority, Central Bedfordshire Council, has a very good policy. It is concerned about antisocial behaviour, and it does not really mind whether someone is an ex-offender; it wants to know whether that person will be a good tenant. As long as they are a good tenant, the council does not discriminate against them. I think that that is a good and practical policy.
Does my hon. Friend welcome, as I do, the Third Reading in the House of Lords of the Homelessness Reduction Bill, in which there is duty on local authorities to provide advisory services to those who have been in prison? Does he welcome that excellent measure?
I very much do so, because so many of the other things that we want to do—improving prisoners’ education, getting them into work, keeping family links strong—depend, very naturally, on having somewhere to live.
I am concerned that offenders’ innocent family members are being unfairly and wrongly penalised by insurance companies either withdrawing insurance cover or making it prohibitively expensive. In some cases, this is happening while the offender is in prison, and it is hard to see how there could be an additional risk to the insurer with regard to the family home in such cases. The Ministry of Justice needs to make its views about this issue very clear to the Association of British Insurers. I am grateful to the Salvation Army for highlighting it in a recent edition of its magazine, The War Cry.
The previous Secretary of State was absolutely right to get an outstanding headteacher, Dame Sally Coates, to review prison education. We need much better baseline assessment of levels of literacy, numeracy and other key skills on arrival in prison, and a real determination not to waste a single day in prison in making progress on those areas. We also need a culture change so that prisons become places of education across the whole establishment. One of the ways to achieve that is through the much greater use of mentors—for example, with the Shannon Trust’s reading schemes, or by using numeracy schemes, such as one to one maths. Some of our best governors, such as Ian Bickers at Wandsworth, have accelerated this progress and formalised the mentoring arrangements with prisoners who have level 3 qualifications and are able to help other prisoners.
The Ministry of Justice is to be commended for realising the vital importance of making sure that prisoners leave prison with a job to go to. This is a huge challenge and we are a long way from achieving it, but no longer is purposeful activity just to be about keeping prisoners occupied, worthwhile though that is. Work and training in prison needs to be related to getting and keeping a job on release. I welcome the focus on prison apprenticeships. I hope there will be more properly focused release on temporary licence, as its decline from 529,000 instances in 2013 to 333,000 in 2015 is a great concern.
It would be good to have an update on how the Government and the wider public sector are doing with the Ban the Box initiative. Companies such as Boots, Barclays, Carillion, Land Securities, Ricoh, Virgin Trains and many others are leading the way. We need other firms to join them, and we need to bring employers who are not as enlightened up to the mark.
I am very pleased that the Bill does not alter the statutory provision for chaplaincy set out in the Prison Act 1952. Chaplains play an extremely important role in prisons, and recent research on Catholic prisoners found that over 90% trusted their chaplain. The cost of accommodation for clergy can lead to vacancies, and I hope that Churches will look at shared appointments, making use of existing clergy housing, or indeed invest further in housing for this important ministry. I am also extremely grateful to the benefactor who, at no cost to the public purse, has provided thousands of copies of the “Doing HIS Time” devotional guide for prisoners. Chaplains should be aware of this excellent free resource, which I believe will have a significant impact in our prisons and beyond, given the clear links between rehabilitation and redemption.
Prisons will be successful in achieving rehabilitation and preventing reoffending only if we have an effective probation service that is working hand in hand with our prisons. I welcome the implementation of the key worker role in prisons to help bring this about, and I hope that the probation service will look at the inspiring examples of what can be done by initiatives such as Jobs, Friends & Houses in Blackpool. It is an initiative between Lancashire police and Blackpool Council that provides construction skills training, accommodation, employment and friendship, as well as strengthening the wellbeing of those it serves in very practical ways. I have explained the model to the chief constable and police and crime commissioner in Bedfordshire, as well as to senior judges in Luton, and I hope that they will be inspired to establish a similar initiative in my own county.
It is an honour to follow the distinguished former prisons Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous). Like him I would like to confine my remarks to part 1, but I am afraid that I am tempted by the presence of the Minister for Courts and Justice. With your permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to thank him for the very enjoyable hour I spent in his company last week piloting the excellent provisions of parts 2 and 4. During that hour, I was able to apply for divorce and probate, both of which, I am glad to say, were fictitious elements—my husband and parents should not be worried. It was a mercifully short, easy and painless application process, and one that is warmly to be welcomed. I commend him for all his work.
The Bill is a note of hope in the fairly dark places that are our prisons. It is very welcome in both its scope and content. I follow such a line of distinguished speakers that I would like to confine myself, if I can, to three points. The first is on rehabilitation.
Some 99% of prisoners are released, whether my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) approves or not. They are members of our communities, yet over 50% of released prisoners go on to commit further offences. It is in all our interests to break the cycle of reoffending and to do what we can to rehabilitate them. As the Lord Chancellor herself told us earlier, the only legislation we currently have to build on is the Prison Act 1952, which was consolidating piecemeal legislation that gives prisons one role and one role only: to hold those sentenced by the courts.
Truthfully, much good work has been done by those in the sector for many years to stop prisons simply warehousing offenders. It is still welcome, however, that the provisions included in clause 1 establish for the first time a much broader statutory purpose. It emphasises reforming and rehabilitating offenders, preparing prisoners for life outside prison, and maintaining an environment that is safe and secure. It is clear and unequivocal in its purpose, and provides a point of focus for all who work in the prison community. The Minister will have noted the considerable pressure from Members on both sides of the House during the course of the debate to incorporate mental health on the face of the Bill.
The provisions will be supplemented by new standards for governors. Increasing their autonomy is essential if we want genuine improvement. From my many conversations with the governor of HMP Bullingdon in my constituency, I know that giving him greater control, in particular over decisions on hiring staff, will in itself be transformative.
The Bill lays out clearly the Secretary of State’s personal accountability for the prison system. I was very interested to hear her exchange with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve). My own experience of administrative law would lead me to believe that this will be justiciable, and my previous experience as a civil servant would encourage me to say that the Secretary of State is being brave—I mean that in a good way, rather than in a civil service way—in taking that power upon herself. Personally, I am very comfortable with judges considering whether a failing prison should be considered by the courts, but I welcome the fact that the Lord Chancellor is taking these powers upon herself for the very first time. It is real proof of how clearly she feels that this is important.
The Bill contains welcome requirements on the Lord Chancellor to respond to both the chief inspector and the ombudsman. Clause 1 adds to the remit of Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons, and—the Justice Committee has been calling for this for some years—puts the prisons and probation ombudsman on a statutory footing.
Secondly, the Bill introduces new powers to authorise public communications providers to disrupt the use of unlawful mobile phones in prisons. We know that in 2016 nearly 13,000 mobile phones and sim cards were found in prisons—almost double the number found three years previously. A recent Channel 4 documentary showed viewers how easily they can be brought in by visitors, who, for example, conceal them in Mars bars. The prevalence of mobile phones presents a real security risk by increasing the amount of organised crime that can be carried out daily in prisons. It is absolutely critical that we deal with this. The powers in the Bill will lead to real change.
Thirdly, alongside the increased use of mobile phones, we have seen a horrific rise in the use of new psychoactive substances. We do not have recorded incidents before 2015, but in 2015, there were 1,385 incidences of these drugs being used. Sadly, we do not have the updated figures, but we know that these drugs are everywhere in prisons. Indeed, many prisons have a drug freeway, and we can assume that the rest of the prison is not drug free.
NPSs present a real problem and have led to a significant deterioration of behaviour in prisons, as recent unrest has shown. These drugs make prisoners both more aggressive, and thus a threat to others, and depressed, which amounts to a real threat to themselves. The safety of our prison officers is essential, but NPSs are making that increasingly more difficult to ensure. Prison officers need the power to test for these drugs as well as for any new ones that we subsequently identify. I welcome the provision in the Bill to do exactly that. No longer will secondary legislation be needed to rush to keep up with new drugs as they appear.
I am aware from my conversations with her that the Lord Chancellor wants to go down in history as a strong prison reformer. I am looking forward, as are my colleagues on the Justice Committee, to seeing real change in prisons under her stewardship.
It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate, and I intend to focus on part 1, too. As stated in clause 1, we should aim to
“protect the public…reform and rehabilitate offenders…prepare prisoners for life outside prison, and…maintain an environment that is safe and secure.”
I am pleased to sit on the Joint Committee on Human Rights under the excellent chairmanship of the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman). I have been appointed within the Committee to the role of rapporteur on mental health, and our first inquiry has been into self-inflicted deaths in prisons, based on the Harris report of 2015. In common with others, I have been conscious of previous reports such as the Woolf report of 1991, the Corston report of 2007 on women in prison and, more recently, the Harris report of 2015 on suicide among young prisoners. There are merits in all those excellent reports, which have been welcomed, yet find more people are still taking their own lives in prison—12 women and 107 men in the last year alone.
I have visited many prisons in my role, and the first point to note is that prisons should be and are places of punishment. They do, however, have their challenges and responsibilities when it comes to human rights, so I would like to explore a few of those.
To me, strong leadership is vital, because good practice needs to come from the top and cascade throughout the system. I welcome, of course, the proposed increase in the number of prison officers, because it is undeniable that the system is stretched. We must therefore make sure that the new officers get proper training, and we should also consider existing officers, who might have become demoralised in their work. We should ensure that they, too, are aware of and adhere to the new standards, while being fully supported and trained in the new expectations. This will necessitate a culture change—a change of attitude and behaviour—which requires investment across the board, not just to increase staff levels.
Let me provide a simple example that has nothing to do with money, just good practice. We heard evidence that in one prison an orange file was used if prisoners were suspected of having a mental health issue. Of course no one wants to be branded as having such issues, so prisoners are reluctant to seek medical help in case others see them with the orange folder. With a little forethought, a simple solution arose relating to good practice. Why not use a file the same colour as all the others? It would be no extra cost, but would deal sensitively with the prisoner’s needs.
On my first visit to a prison, I was struck by the amount of banging on doors in cells. At one point, it became unbearably loud with a prisoner striking the wall and door with his chair and shouting at the top of his voice. What really concerned me, though, was that the cell was shared. Imagine being the person who had to share a cell with someone who was kicking off like that. Imagine the impact that would have on your own wellbeing.
At the time I asked a prison officer what the problem was, and was told that the yard time had been stopped because of the weather. When I asked how often that happened, I was told that it happened a lot, and that some prisoners would kick off at night, waking the whole floor. As a result, no one would get any sleep, and the next day they would all be irritable. The problem just goes on. We must ensure that enough exercise and association time is provided, and that the time in the cell is not excessive. I welcome the fact that an increase in the number of prison officers will make that possible, but please, please, we must consider time outside the cell even if it is raining, because the frustration and anger are evident if that is not allowed.
A great deal needs to be done. I welcome the Bill’s aim of reforming and rehabilitating offenders, but let us not underestimate the challenge of the culture that exists in prisons. Let us not deny that drugs are available, that there is a workforce that needs to be reinvigorated, that a gang culture exists, and that for some prisoners prison is just a way of life.