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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 644: debated on Tuesday 10 July 2018


The Secretary of State was asked—

Offenders’ Access to Education and Employment

1. What steps the Government is taking to improve offenders’ access to education and employment. (906347)

3. What steps the Government is taking to improve offenders’ access to education and employment. (906349)

10. What steps the Government is taking to improve offenders’ access to education and employment. (906356)

Reoffending costs society around £15 billion a year. We must support people’s rehabilitation through education and employment opportunities, both when serving their sentence and after. We launched the education and employment strategy in May, and our reforms will empower governors to commission bespoke, innovative education provision that meets the needs of their prisoners and links to employment opportunities on release. Our reforms will also engage and persuade employers to take on ex-prisoners via the New Futures Network. We have consulted governors and employers on proposals to increase the use of release on temporary licence to enhance employment opportunities.

May I press the Secretary of State on the release on temporary licence scheme? What are the measures of success? How useful has it been in getting prisoners out of prison and into full-time employment on an ongoing basis?

It is useful, but I want us to do more of it. The education and employment strategy seeks to expand the use of workplace release on temporary licence— ROTL—to get prisoners who have earned it and who have been properly risk assessed out of their cells and into real workplaces. That will enable prisoners to build trust and prove themselves with an employer. If people do ROTL, they are more likely to be employed, and if they are employed, they are less likely to reoffend.

I thank the Secretary of State for his response. Of the 4,221 prisoners who reoffended in Northern Ireland, over two fifths, 43.6%, reoffended within the first three months. Will the Minister outline whether any initiatives are specifically aimed at providing guidance in those all-important first three months?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. Whether through the probation service, through charities or in prisons, we need to ensure that offenders get support when they are released. A lot of that work can be done within prison, which is why the education and employment strategy is so important. We want people to be geared up to go into employment when they are released, because if they are employed, they are less likely to offend.

I warmly welcome attempts to improve the employability of those in custody, but that will work only if the training relates to jobs that individuals want and for which there is a need in society. What steps are being taken to ensure that the resources are properly targeted at what will work best?

My hon. Friend is right. Returning again to the education and employment strategy, our emphasis is on ensuring that training is focused on what will help people into work, and we are giving governors greater control and discretion to ensure that they are well placed to do that.

23. Female offenders often have complex needs and getting the right support in place can be vital in helping them to turn their lives around, so why have members of the Government’s advisory board said that recent announcements from the Secretary of State represent a missed opportunity and are simply not sufficient to achieve his ambitions? (906370)

The female offender strategy, which I outlined a couple of weeks ago, has by and large had a positive response, and our focus on residential centres has been warmly welcomed. Of course, there are those who are calling for us to go further, and we will continue to listen and engage, but the direction in which we are going has widespread support and fully recognises the hon. Lady’s important point that we need to address complex needs.

Data has highlighted that two thirds of young offenders have speech, language and communication problems. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, with joint working across the Department for Education, the Department of Health and Social Care and the justice system to bring forward programmes that will tackle the issue from birth, such as parental training, more health visitors and better advice, we could actually prevent many young people from ever getting into the criminal justice system?

My hon. Friend raises several important points, and I will try to address one or two of them. On the need for us to work across Government, many issues are not just for the Ministry of Justice, but for the likes of the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Education. It is also the case that we want to work upstream, because if we can address the complex problems that exist, we can stop people committing crimes in the first place.

Effective employment via the Through the Gate programme depends on effective community rehabilitation companies, which the Select Committee on Justice recently described as “wholly inadequate.” What plans does the Secretary of State have to fix community rehabilitation companies in Through the Gate?

The right hon. Gentleman is correct to say that the Through the Gate service needs to improve, and we are engaging with CRCs on that issue. We recognise it does not meet the standards we require, and it is important that we engage. We have been clear with the CRCs that they need to improve their performance, and we are in commercial negotiation with providers to secure the quality of services, including Through the Gate services, that we need.

Youth Justice System

Since the creation of our youth justice reform programme in 2017, reports by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons have highlighted improvements in the youth secure estate. It is encouraging to see that our reforms are starting to have an impact on the ground, but there is more to do, which is why we are continuing to invest in system-wide reform further to improve safety and outcomes, and why we are expanding frontline public sector staff capacity at young offender institutions. That is why this is a priority for me and for the Secretary of State.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his promotion to a ministerial role. Many children and young people in custody have poor educational attainment. What is he doing to ensure that children in custody have access to good education?

I thank my hon. Friend for her comments. Her work with young people, on both their health and welfare, is well known.

Education should be at the heart of youth custody and must meet the needs of young people. It is there to prepare them for employment, an apprenticeship or continued education when they are resettled back into their communities. We are building more flexibility into the core day, which is designed to ensure that all children receive an individualised education programme tailored to their needs. We are working with each YOI on plans for improving delivery of education to those young people who are unwilling or unable to participate in the mainstream regime.

I also welcome my hon. Friend to his new role. Does he agree that, although these reforms are welcome, they form only part of the solution? Can he outline what work his Department is doing to support community-based projects, which can play a crucial part in preventing more young people from entering the youth justice system in the first place?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I agree that support in the community plays a vital role in our efforts to reduce the number of those entering youth custody. I am clear that custodial sentences should be handed down only when absolutely necessary, which is why we have provided £72 million to the Youth Justice Board for the youth offending teams that deliver youth justice services and for community-based interventions.

19. What is the Minister doing on the mental wellbeing of first-time offenders? Has he spoken to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care about that? (906365)

The hon. Gentleman highlights an extremely important point, because we know the evidence shows that first-time offenders, particularly youth offenders, often display a multitude of challenges in their background, including in their mental health. I have already had informal discussions with the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price). She and I have regular bilaterals scheduled to discuss exactly this sort of issue.

Howard League research shows that children aged 16 and 17 who are living in children’s homes are at least 15 times more likely than other children of the same age to be criminalised. What discussions have Ministers had with other Departments about reducing the number of care leavers in our justice system?

I hope that the hon. Lady will allow me to point to my future intentions. Having been in post for just shy of three weeks, I have not yet had any formal discussions; I have had the informal discussions I mentioned. I intend that bilateral meetings with colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government will be part of my regular meetings programme.

I, too, warmly congratulate my hon. Friend on his appointment. With nearly 80% of young offenders who are sentenced to a short term of imprisonment going on to reoffend, prison is not working. It is not working for them, or for the victims of crime, which means there are more victims of crime. Will he consider a presumption against short-term sentences and instead consider a rigorous community system with a focus on rehabilitation?

Although it is right that sentencing decisions should always rest with the judiciary and a custodial sentence should always be an option where the nature of the offence absolutely merits it, given the persuasive evidence that short custodial sentences are not the most effective way to secure rehabilitation and reduce reoffending, we will be looking at what more we can do to provide alternatives and to highlight that short custodial sentences should be used only as a last resort.

I, too, welcome the new Minister to his position. May I recommend to him the Lammy review? In it he will see that there is tremendous concern that the youth prison population now is 43% from a black or ethnic minority background. Will he look closely at its recommendations and can I meet him soon?

First, I commend the right hon. Gentleman for his work on that review, which is well known to this House and beyond. It is an excellent review, with an excellent report, which was one of the first documents I read upon my appointment. I considered all its 35 recommendations carefully and I am absolutely delighted to agree to meet him.

The last inspection report on Oakhill said that there is no evidence that the 80 children held there are adequately cared for. Oakhill is managed by G4S. I have been asking parliamentary questions about whether G4S is meeting its contractual obligations there and the answers are revealing:

“The Contract for Oakhill STC is between the Secretary of State for Justice and STC Milton Keynes Ltd (the Contractor), of which G4S is their Operating Sub-Contractor. We therefore do not have information on the proportion of contractual obligations that G4S has met.”

Does the Minister agree that that is yet more proof that outsourcing and privatisation should be ended in our prison system?

It is a pleasure to answer the shadow Secretary of State from the Dispatch Box. He highlights an extremely important issue. I believe there is a role for the public, private, and voluntary and philanthropic sectors in our justice system. He highlights the issues at Oakhill. Ofsted’s findings in the inspection report on Oakhill at the end of last year are unacceptable, and we took urgent action to address the concerns raised. We are robustly monitoring performance against the contract, and I am clear that all options remain on the table.

MOJ Staff on Low Pay: Wages and Conditions

4. What steps he is taking to improve wages and conditions for staff of his Department who are on low pay. (906350)

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the staff of the MOJ on, and thank them for, all the important work they do across a number of spheres. The MOJ continues to pay the statutory national living wage or above to all its staff.

I thank the Minister for her answer, but will she explain why the same workers are paid the London living wage in the Department for International Development? Does she believe that a cleaner in DFID is worth more than a cleaner in her Department?

Obviously, I cannot comment on DFID, but I can comment on the MOJ. We pay a significant number of our employees the real living wage. As at 1 December last year, only 1,791 of more than 22,000 employees within the MOJ and its agencies, excluding Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, were paid below the real living wage. In HMPPS, only 540 out of more than 47,000 direct employees were paid below the real living wage.

No one has to be a public servant, and it is really important that prison officers get up in the morning and enjoy going to work. There were some worrying figures recently showing an increase in the number of prison officers leaving the profession. What more can we do on induction and supervision to keep our excellent prison officers in post, where they are desperately needed?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We are of course recruiting more prison officers. Enjoying one’s work is not just about pay, and the reward strategy in prisons is about officers working closely with their prison governors to ensure that they have an opportunity to develop in work and get the most out of their work.

I regularly ask parliamentary questions about staffing levels and conditions at the private probation companies. The answers from the Department are shocking. None of the community rehabilitation company contracts specifies that CRCs must maintain staffing numbers at a particular level. When Ministers bailed out the private probation companies last year with another £342 million, they did not bother to make staffing levels a contractual obligation. Why not? Does the Department not care about accountability? Or is it because, in the Secretary of State’s privatised probation service, profits always come first?

We believe it is important that systems work and that outcomes are effective. The contracts focus on ensuring that the right outcomes are achieved, not on the number of people who work under them.

Leaving the EU: UK Legal System

5. What steps the Government plan to take to ensure that the UK legal system operates effectively after the UK leaves the EU. (906351)

With the European Union (Withdrawal) Act having now received Royal Assent, we are ensuring that this country’s statute book will operate effectively after we leave the EU.

The application of new technology has the potential to make our justice system even fairer and more effective. Measures such as the adoption of the use of video technology in court by the Courts and Tribunals Service could aid speed and accessibility. Will the Minister tell me how the Government aim to encourage much-needed innovation in the justice and legal system?

The Ministry of Justice is doing a number of things to improve innovation. In the courts themselves, we have a £1 billion programme that is digitalising our court services and bringing them up to date. We are also ensuring that our legal services sector continues to thrive and prosper globally. Only yesterday, we had the first meeting of the law tech panel, which is supported by Government but led by the industry to support innovation and technology for our legal services sector.

Last month, the Scottish Government produced the latest in their series of “Scotland’s Place in Europe” policy papers. The paper emphasises the importance of co-operation with the European Union on criminal justice and law enforcement for Scotland’s legal system, which is of course separate from the legal system for the rest of the UK. Will the Minister tell us what discussions she has had with her Scottish counterparts about that policy paper?

The hon. and learned Lady makes an important point, because we have distinct legal systems in Scotland and in England and Wales, and we must recognise that. Last month, I had the pleasure of meeting Michael Clancy from the Law Society of Scotland to discuss a number of issues relating to Scotland. My officials meet regularly with their counterparts in Scotland.

We know from the Chequers agreement that the Prime Minister is relaxing her red lines on the European Court of Justice. The Scottish Government stated in the paper that I mentioned that they would welcome ECJ jurisdiction on data protection matters to maintain data sharing for justice and law enforcement purposes. Just last week, the Exiting the European Union Committee recommended that the ECJ should continue to have jurisdiction over aspects of data protection after we exit the EU. Does the Minister agree with the Scottish Government and the Select Committee that that would be a good thing?

The Prime Minister has made it clear that the ECJ will no longer have direct jurisdiction in this country. Where we continue to operate common rules, it will of course be appropriate that this country can look to the ECJ jurisprudence to decide the way forward.

Offenders: Help to Find Employment

The education and employment strategy will set each prisoner on a path to employment from the outset. Through work, people can turn their backs on crime. Good behaviour and hard work will be rewarded with opportunity. Since the strategy’s publication, more than 30 new organisations have registered an interest in working with offenders. Nine Government Departments are signed up to the Going Forward into Employment pilot to hire ex-offenders in the civil service, and the first cohort of offenders is already in post.

I thank my right hon. Friend’s Department for the interest it has already shown in a project to enable serving prisoners to undertake the theoretical exams required for a career in the haulage industry, which is currently very short of workers. As a result of the meetings I have had with the Department, a pilot project is taking place in south Wales. I thank Ministers for that and ask that they continue to show interest in the project.

I thank my hon. Friend for his point. It is an example of where I hope that my Department and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service can work with employers to ensure that we help get more people into work, which is good for the individual offenders, good for the employers and society benefits as a whole because it contributes to reducing reoffending.

The Justice Secretary will know that there is no women’s prison in Wales and I am not advocating that there should be one. However, that will mean that there are considerable issues of geography for some women who do commit offences, so can he set out how he is able to support women who do offend, who live in Wales and who wish to relocate there in order to find employment in communities that they know and in which they have often grown up?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I point him in the direction of the female offender strategy, which we published a couple of weeks ago. One point that we argue in that is that, in many cases, custodial sentences are not the right approach, particularly for female offenders who, disproportionately, are sentenced to short sentences that disrupt their lives and do little to help them rehabilitate. If we can do more about helping in the community and, for example, making use of residential centres, we can help ensure that more female offenders get into work.

Eighteen months ago, a constituent of mine who had left prison just before Christmas and been through perfunctory training and employment introductions found himself out of prison and living on the street within 36 hours. Before the new year came round, he had committed another offence and been given another 12 months in prison. Will the Secretary of State commit to making sure that packages that are aimed at getting prisoners into work after prison actually work and are not perfunctory and that, from the day a person enters the criminal justice system, they are trained to live a fruitful life once they leave it?

I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman’s point. He highlights an example—a sad example, but not, I accept, the only one—where people, too quickly, go out of prison and commit a crime and are then set in a cycle of offending and reoffending. The system is not working for them or for society. The purpose of the education and employment strategy, which is implicit in his question, is an important point, and we must ensure that we implement it successfully. The purpose of that is to address this very issue.

Some of the people who are disproportionately represented inside the prison system are ex-servicemen. What plans does the Secretary of State have to bring charities such as Care after Combat into the prisons to help to ensure that reoffending does not take place and that these people who are heroes one day are not villains the next?

My right hon. Friend raises an important point. It is important for all offenders that we address this issue, but there is a particular point about ex-service people. He is right to highlight the very strong charitable sector in this area. I am determined to ensure that we continue to engage with those charities to provide people with the support they need, making sure in particular, in the context of his question, that those who have served this country are not disadvantaged.

Reducing reoffending rates is crucial. What information are the Minister and the Government providing in wider society to point out the benefits of a reduction in reoffending rates not just for prisoners, but for the wider society?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I have just delivered a speech making that very point, so I am doing my little bit that way. That is a message that we need to be getting across. How do we reduce reoffending? We must rehabilitate and we must help people into employment.

Drones over Prisons

Reducing the use of drones in prisons means four things: we must tackle the criminal gangs that organise the drones; we must tackle the people who fly them over the wall; we must ensure that we have electronic jamming equipment in place; and we need physical security in the forms of nets and grilles to prevent the prisoners from accessing those drones.

I know that my hon. Friend likes nothing more than donning his budgie smugglers and sitting in the back garden on a Sunday afternoon. Drones can be a menace in that regard. Will he confirm exactly what he is doing in some of the measures that he is putting in place to combat drones in prison?

You are right, Mr Speaker; it does sound a pretty rum business. The serious point about drones is that, rather than flying over my back garden in Penrith and The Border, they are bringing illicit substances into prisons. Of the four methods I emphasised, the key way of dealing with that—the one that is the most important of all—is physical security. If we have the right nets and grilles, it is simply impossible for the prisoner to put their hand out of the window and take the drugs off the drones. Of the four methods, perimeter security is probably the most important.

I thank the Minister for taking the issue suitably seriously. Is he aware of a particular issue in a number of prisons, including Wayland prison in Norfolk, where the drone flyers have been acting with impunity and have become ever more brazen in their conduct? Will the Minister tell the House how far he has got in implementing the measures he has mentioned? Is there not now an argument for a specific new offence of flying drones in that way?

We have made a lot of progress on the issue. In prisons such as Liverpool, where the new grilles are coming in, and Chelmsford, where we have the new protective equipment in place, we can see that it is more and more difficult to get a drone into a prison. When the nets are working and the grilles are up, it is difficult to do. There are other things we can do, too. One central thing is intelligence operations to identify organised criminal gangs. We are introducing sentences—in a recent case someone who flew a drone into a prison received a seven-year sentence.

It is estimated that more than 200 kg of drugs were smuggled into prisons in England and Wales in 2016. What proportion of that 200 kg does the Minister estimate was delivered by drones? What else is happening to stop the use of other methods of delivering drugs into prisons?

The payload of a drone is relatively limited. The amount of weight that it can carry tends to be 1 kg or 2 kg at the maximum. Therefore the majority of drugs that come into prison are almost certainly going over the wall by other means—thrown over or posted over impregnated in paper—or carried in by people coming into the prison. That is why we are investing much more now in different types of scanners to pick up any human bringing drugs into prison and are also ensuring that we have the perimeter security in place for the throwovers.

Mobile Phones: Smuggling into Prisons

It is central that we also tackle mobile telephones. The reason is that if we do not, crimes can be committed by people within prison reaching outside the prison walls, both bringing illicit substances into the prison and terrorising their victims outside.

I take this opportunity to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) for the private Member’s Bill that she effectively took through on Friday. That is going to make it much more difficult for people to use mobile phones in prisons, by working with the mobile telephone companies.

I was in the Chamber to see the progress of my hon. Friend’s Bill on Friday. It is an exceptionally well put together Bill. What discussions has the Minister had with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport about the implementation? When are we likely to see some progress?

I have met the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and we have looked at two areas. We have looked at devices that can be used within the prison walls. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) pointed out in his speech on Friday, and in his question today, there is much more that we can now do by working with the mobile telephone companies to identify the exact frequencies and strengths of transmissions, to locate the mobile phones, prevent their use and analyse the traffic data.

24. Diolch yn fawr iawn. I rise as co-chair of the justice unions parliamentary group. Management at HMP Berwyn has made much of the use of digital technology as part of its innovative regime, but in recent days, prison officers there have lost teeth through being head-butted, have been injured, pushed down stairs and had excrement and urine thrown over them. I am told that violence against staff goes effectively unpunished, with prisoners spending only a few hours in segregation. Senior management lost a vote of confidence by prison officers last week. Given the Secretary of State’s announcement today, what will the Minister do to safeguard prison officers at Wrexham? (906371)

This is a very serious point and a very serious challenge. I will be following up this allegation with the governor. The governor has generally done a very good job in Berwyn, and the report that the hon. Lady raises is very disturbing. We must be clear that we have to support our prison officers. We are doing that through supporting a private Member’s Bill to double the sentence for assaults, and investing in body-worn cameras and trials of PAVA spray. But unless we have decent safety regimes, it is almost impossible to do other forms of rehabilitation. We need to learn from the prisons that are doing best in reducing violence. I pay tribute, for example, to Wandsworth, which has made a lot of progress over the past 12 months.

Female Offenders

9. What steps the Government is taking to improve the management of female offenders in the criminal justice system. (906355)

I am pleased that, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has set out, on 27 June we published our new strategy for female offenders. This set out our vision and plans to improve outcomes for women in the community and in custody, but, most importantly in doing so, to help reduce reoffending and see fewer victims of crime. A key theme of the strategy is the need for a joined-up approach to addressing the often complex needs of female offenders, including through new women’s residential centres, which give judges an alternative to short custodial sentences.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his new role. East Sutton Park prison in my constituency has a fabulous reputation for preparing women offenders for life back in the real world. For instance, 90% of its inmates do not reoffend within two years, which, as he will know, is much better than the general national statistics. While I welcome the plans to reduce custodial sentences for women, may I ask for his support for this model prison in my constituency and invite him to come and see it for himself?

As I highlighted in my response to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson), while a custodial sentence should always be an option, there is strong evidence that short custodial sentences do not achieve the best rehabilitation and reduction of reoffending outcomes. I recognise that women’s prisons, including East Sutton Park, of which my hon. Friend is a strong champion in this Chamber, are among our best. We will continue to work with it and I would be delighted to visit.

Given that Baroness Corston’s seminal 2007 review of women in prison set out a clear case for the benefit of women’s centres and said that they should be at the centre of a successful strategy on female offending, why are the Government insisting on piloting this when we already know that it works? Is it because of lack of funding?

I pay tribute to the work of Baroness Corston in her ground-breaking 2007 report, and indeed to the work of the right hon. Member for Delyn (David Hanson), who took some of this forward in his time as a Minister. The landscape of the evidence base on reoffending has continued to evolve and change. We continue to work with that model. We believe that the steps we have set out for five residential women’s centres as a pilot is the right way to approach this, but it remains only a first step on a journey.

I welcome the Government’s new women’s strategy. May I encourage the Minister, who I welcome to his place, shortly to meet the all-party parliamentary group on women in the penal system, and to work with me and Baroness Corston to ensure that we can deliver these reforms at pace?

I pay tribute to Baroness Corston for her work. My hon. Friend is far too modest to highlight her own significant contribution in this area and her significant work with Baroness Corston. I have already written to the APPG that she chairs and would be absolutely delighted to come and meet it.

Well, it runs in the family, because the hon. Lady’s dad, as many will remember, was a very modest man, with nothing to be modest about.

New Hall, one of the largest women’s prisons, is close to my constituency. The message that I am getting from it recently is, first, about the evaluation of whether new prisoners are literate or numerate, and whether they have problems with autism. Secondly, it demands that all women prisoners should be safe and secure from sexual depredation when they are serving their sentence.

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight that safety should be at the heart of everything we do in our custodial estate, be that for female prisoners, male prisoners or young offenders. That is safety for the prisoners, safety for their fellow prisoners and safety for the prison officers who are looking after them. It remains a priority for me.

The Government’s Advisory Board for Female Offenders identified £50 million that had been earmarked for building women’s prisons. Can the Minister guarantee today that all of that £50 million will be reinvested in the female offender strategy, or is this just another example of the Government’s refusal to properly fund that strategy?

First, I pay tribute to the work of that panel and those on it. Although I have not yet had the opportunity to formally chair a meeting of the panel, I met a number of panel members at an informal meeting. The Ministry and this Government have never put a figure on the prison building programme. That is not a figure that I recognise. We have been very clear that our priority is investing in the strategy that the Secretary of State launched. We have already set out £5 million for that and made it clear that it is only the first step.

Prisoners: Access to Healthcare

Offender health is a key part of delivering a secure and safe environment for those in our custody. I will appear before the Select Committee on Health this afternoon to address questions on exactly that topic, and we continue to see investment in progress in this area.

My constituent has multiple sclerosis. He went to prison nine months ago, newly diagnosed and relatively healthy. Now he has two hearing aids, is partially sighted and has to use a wheelchair. Despite that extreme deterioration, he was only taken to see a neurologist seven months after his arrival in prison. As a vulnerable inmate, is he not owed a duty of care by the prison? At the very least, should he not be moved to a category D prison closer to home?

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s question. While it is not for me to talk about the categorisation of a particular prisoner, and I cannot go into the specific details of that case on the Floor of the House, I will say, as I said in answer to her initial question, that the care, health and wellbeing of prisoners is all of our concern. If she feels it would be helpful to discuss the specific case she mentions, I am happy to meet her.

Probation Service: Recruitment and Retention in Oxfordshire

13. What recent assessment his Department has made of trends in recruitment and retention rates for the probation service in Oxfordshire. (906359)

We have a series of challenges in relation to retention in Oxfordshire, some of which will be familiar to the hon. Lady. They are partly about the fact that people can get jobs in London, with London weighting, and they are partly to do with general problems around employment. We are, however, addressing them through a new recruitment campaign that is much more locally targeted, and I am pleased to say that we have managed to increase the number of applications from 500 to 5,000.

I thank the Minister for his well-prepared answer, but the fact is that the probation service in Oxfordshire is at breaking point. That is also to do with sky-rocketing workloads, the high cost of living and paltry pay rises since 2009. One officer told me that they are being forced to cut corners and feel they

“can no longer actively reduce reoffending or keep the public safe.”

How can we guarantee that these measures will actually work? Is it not time to consider a housing allowance?

We have been in discussion with the Treasury, and we got clearance this week to begin discussions with the unions on the question of pay. Of course pay matters, but we have also learned real lessons about recruitment. As I say, ensuring that we are not simply doing national recruitment campaigns but are specifically targeting Oxford markets and working in the relevant universities is really beginning to get results. We are filling places much more rapidly, and by the spring of next year, we should be fully staffed.

The hon. Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) should worry not, because I am very much hoping to get to her question. She is not in isolation—she is the leader of a group—so I am not going to muck up the group by calling her now, but I am beavering away to get to Question 17.

Criminal Justice System: Contribution of Sport

14. What assessment his Department has made of the contribution of sport to effective outcomes in the criminal justice system. (906360)

There is good evidence that sport and physical activity have considerable benefits for the physical, mental and social wellbeing and motivation of prisoners while they are in custody and can improve their prospects for successful resettlement in the community. To understand the fuller picture, Professor Rosie Meek of Royal Holloway, University of London was commissioned to undertake an independent review of the role of sport in youth justice. Her report will be published shortly, and we will respond to it.

Programmes run by professional rugby clubs—such as the England-wide Hitz programme, which is run in my nearest premiership club, Wasps, and Saracens’ Get Onside in London—build up career aspirations for young offenders and those excluded from school. We have already heard that rates of reoffending are too high, but the Get Onside programme prevents 92% of the young offenders involved from returning to crime. Does the Minister recognise the benefit of these sports-based programmes?

I am absolutely delighted to join my hon. Friend in highlighting the important and successful programmes of this sort that are run by clubs such as Saracens. They are already using sport and team sports such as rugby to improve outcomes in prison effectively, but also, importantly, to reduce reoffending on release. He is absolutely right to praise them.

One of my constituents is concerned that her son has put on significant weight in prison. What are the Government doing to provide health education, sport and a better diet to help offenders?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight that all three of those factors play a part in whether a prison is a safe place and whether it looks after the welfare of those in it. As I have highlighted, we continue to focus on sport, and we have commissioned a review, and we continue, as does Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons in holding us to account, to deliver a healthy regime in prisons.

Prison Officers: Protection from Violence

Reducing violent behaviour in prison is absolutely vital, particularly for our prison officers, who are doing unbelievably difficult and challenging jobs and turning around people’s lives. We are addressing this through body-worn cameras and better use of CCTV, and we are ensuring—in supporting the private Member’s Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant)—that we are doubling the minimum sentences for assaults against prison officers.

When the new prison in neighbouring Wellingborough is open, it may create many new jobs for my constituents in Corby and east Northamptonshire. To encourage more people to apply for and then stay in prison officer roles, what thought are the Government giving to further deterrents and sanctions for violent prisoners?

My right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor laid out in a speech this morning the incentives and earned privileges schemes that he will be pushing for, which are exactly intended to incentivise good behaviour and make sure we turn around people’s lives. On the subject of my hon. Friend’s constituents, and indeed those of any Member, I want to re-emphasise that being a prison officer is one of the most honourable roles in public service and does an extraordinary amount for public safety. It is a challenging, fulfilling and tough job, and we would encourage more people to apply for that role.

Non-road Traffic Accident-related Personal Injury Claims

16. What assessment he has made of the effect on access to justice for people injured at work of his Department’s plans to raise the limit for non-road traffic accident-related personal injury claims on the small claims track. (906362)

On non-road traffic accident-related personal injuries, the decision has been made to increase the small claims limit from £1,000, where it was set in 1991, to £2,000 in line with retail prices index inflation. This is in line with what happens in many other European countries—in Norway, for example—in taking lawyers out of the smallest claims.

In the light of the Supreme Court ruling on the Unison employment tribunal case, will the Minister think again? Increasing the small claims limit would remove the ability of many people injured in the workplace to pursue claims against their employees. The Minister will know from the Justice Committee’s report that litigation is the main driver for maintaining health and safety in the workplace.

The important thing to understand about the small claims process is that the shift from £1,000 to £2,000 is simply to ensure that the original 1991 legislation keeps up with inflation—the RPI increase—in line with the Judicial College guidelines. This is not about people with catastrophic, life-changing injuries, but about people with injuries below the £2,000 level. We are making sure that the small claims process is fair, transparent and easy for the public to access without expensive lawyers.

In its report on the small claims limit increases, the Justice Committee noted the

“compelling evidence of the obstacles that would be faced”,

and concluded that the changes would

“represent an unacceptable barrier to access to justice.”

Will the Minister listen and think again before pursuing another attack on workers?

I am always prepared to meet the hon. Lady and to listen. I emphasise again that this is simply a change in line with RPI. The small claims limit was set at £1,000 in 1991. The proposal is now to move it to £2,000, which is simply in line with the retail prices index, so that we have the same fair policy today that we had in 1991.

Probation Services

17. Whether he has plans to change the contracts of private sector probation companies; and if he will make a statement. (906363)

21. Whether he plans to review the future provision of probation services; and if he will make a statement. (906367)

22. Whether he plans to review the future provision of probation services; and if he will make a statement. (906369)

We are currently in commercial negotiations with community rehabilitation companies, with the aim of amending contracts and improving operational performance. Once we have concluded those negotiations, we will be in a position to provide further detail about the changes that we intend to make.

Last year, the Ministry of Justice bailed out privatised probation companies to the tune of £342 million, leaving the public to foot the bill for their inadequate work, which the chief inspector of probation found to make a negligible difference. Will the Minister commit today that there will be no more bail-outs for those privatised probation companies?

We should be clear about what happened. Last year, we amended contracts to ensure that payments made to community rehabilitation companies were more in line with the costs that they incur to deliver core services. We are paying CRCs less than we originally intended when the contracts were let: they are receiving less than their costs, a consequence of over-optimistic bidding on their part. When we talk about bail-outs, we should be clear that those companies are receiving income that is less than it costs them to provide the services.

Why will the Secretary of State not accept the conclusion of the Conservative-led Justice Committee that this is, in its words, “a mess” and may never work? Why does he not stop throwing good money after bad, cut his losses, blame his predecessor and be applauded for bringing this vital service back in-house?

As I said in my earlier answer, we are engaging with the CRCs, which do need to improve their service. The model that we have has opened up the delivery of probation services to a range of new providers. It has extended support and supervision to an additional 40,000 offenders leaving prison. First-generation contracts can be difficult to get right—I acknowledge that—but we are taking all necessary steps to get the performance that we require.

Given the constant underperformance, high cost and deeply abject failure of private probation companies, is it not time to re-establish a professional, coherent and comprehensively public probation service?

I am not sure that the complaint about high cost holds together: the services are being delivered for less than we had expected, although we acknowledge that there are problems. The one thing we hear from the Opposition about justice is that the private sector should be kept out at all costs. I do not think that ideological approach is sensible. It is important that there should be a mixed market.

Last year, as we have heard, the privatised probation services got a £342 million bail-out despite underperforming. There are press rumours that the contract will be changed again. Will the Minister give a commitment today that the privatised probation services will not get a penny more until the Government have held a review into the botched privatisation of probation services?

I come back to my previous points. The CRCs have been receiving less income than it costs them to deliver the services. Because of the reforms undertaken a few years ago, 40,000 offenders get support who would have got nothing previously. The contracts can be challenging; it is right that we look at that and deliver good value for money for the taxpayer and good-quality services. That is what we are determined to deliver.

Topical Questions

Today, I have announced an additional £30 million investment in our prison estate, including £16 million to improve facilities at 11 of our most pressed prisons. Some £6 million will enhance security and tackle those co-ordinating drug dealing from inside through scanners, better searching and phone-blocking technology. Since February, 12 such serious criminals have been targeted for disruption, with nine already having been transferred to other parts of the estate, including more secure prisons.

The Government are conducting a review of the impact of the swingeing cuts to legal aid since 2012, but they have so far refused to say whether more funding will be made available for legal aid. Will the Secretary of State confirm that additional funding will be made available if it is found to be required, or is the review simply an exercise in moving legal aid funding from one cause to another?

The purpose of the review is to assess what we need to do. That is the correct way to go about it. Obviously, we will need to engage with the Treasury in terms of future spending reviews, but we have a serious piece of work, with very substantial engagement with stakeholders, on which to make an assessment of how the legal aid system is working.

T4. Will the Minister give an update on how restorative justice programmes are being rolled out and how they are being used for public good and environmental measures? (906375)

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the important role of restorative justice. The Ministry of Justice supports the provision of victim-focused restorative justice as one of a range of measures to help victims to cope with and recover from crime. A recent evaluation showed that 85% of victims who participated in restorative justice said they were satisfied with the experience, which can, of course, bring benefits to the community as well.

In my first two questions today, I focused on the widespread failings of privatisation in our justice system. I have written to the Secretary of State about the close relationship that his Department has with outsourcing giant Serco, a relationship that is ever closer given that his new Minister was once its spin doctor-in-chief. Will the Secretary of State confirm to the House today that he has reorganised responsibilities in his Department, so that his new Minister in charge of youth justice will not be involved in any way in any of the young offender institutions that Serco manages?

There has been no reorganisation of responsibilities. There is no conflict of interest here at all. The suggestion that because somebody has worked in the private sector for such a company, there is a conflict of interest is not accurate. The hon. Gentleman’s hostility to the private sector, in this sector and across the piece, is symptomatic of why the Labour party should be kept as far away from the Government Benches as possible.

T6. Although the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2017 has received Royal Assent, families of missing people are still unable to make applications to become guardians of their loved ones’ affairs. Will they be able to do so before the end of this calendar year? (906377)

My hon. Friend is right to highlight this important issue, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) for successfully piloting the 2017 Act on to the statute book. Department officials are currently drafting rules of court regulations and a code of practice, so that those drafts can be finalised and consulted on. I am keen that we make as rapid progress as possible.

T2. An increasing number of cases have been reported in the press where victims of serious crime, including a man who was deliberately infected with HIV, are not getting the compensation they are entitled to because of minor unspent convictions. Will the Minister commit today to reviewing the rules governing the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority to ensure that victims are not denied compensation for having minor unspent convictions? (906373)

The hon. Lady highlights an important issue. As she will be aware, the rules that govern how the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority operates are set by this House, but it operates entirely independently of Ministers in its awards and in its application of those rules. She highlights an important issue, which I know the Secretary of State will have heard very clearly.

T9. Do Ministers agree that the Sentencing Council has shown great leadership in acting swiftly to address the growing threat of fentanyl and other synthetic opioid drugs by issuing guidance last month? Will the Minister continue to work with me to raise awareness of this deadly drug? (906380)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his campaigning on this issue. As right hon. and hon. Members are aware, fentanyl is an incredibly dangerous drug, because even in minuscule quantities, it can do more damage than heroin and cocaine. We have had nearly 240 deaths in Britain and the United States has had up to 20,000 deaths in a year from fentanyl, so the recent actions from the Sentencing Council and the Crown Prosecution Service to clarify how noxious this substance is are welcomed, and I repeat my tribute to the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue.

T3. While I understand why the Government are spending £7 million on installing in-cell telephones in prisons as part of a drive to improve rehabilitation, will the Government also look at whether there should perhaps be additional funding for the healthcare system within the court system? Ministers will be aware that Tony Fitzsimons, the chair of the Lay Observers National Council, has highlighted concerns that people are not getting the care that they need in courts. I am happy to write to the Minister about this issue. (906374)

I would be very grateful if the right hon. Gentleman could write to us. We are in the middle of a £1 billion court programme, which includes a number of things, such as technology and improving other services such as family rooms, where people can spend time with their families. We are looking at a number of things that I am very happy to talk to him about.

Following the Chequers statement, will my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor lay before the House details of what active provisions his Department is making for a deal not being secured with the European Union?

At the Ministry of Justice, we are very much working to ensure that we get the best, and the right, deal for our country, but like all competent Departments, we are also working to ensure that if there is no deal, we are ready for it. We have £17.3 million extra from the Treasury to look into this and ensure that we have the right Brexit scenario.

T5. Research by the Howard League shows that Her Majesty’s Prison Lincoln’s population is currently 138% more than its certified normal accommodation capacity. I hear about this at first hand because a close relative of mine is a senior prison officer. What measures does the Minister have in place to address prison overcrowding and the dangerous conditions that it creates both for prisoners and staff? (906376)

First, my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor announced this morning an additional £16 million to invest in decency—that is, bringing cells back into operation that have been taken out and making sure that the basic fabric is repaired. However, the most important thing is the building of 10,000 new prison places, beginning with Wellingborough and Glen Parva and moving on, to provide exactly the decent conditions that the hon. Lady raises in her question.

On Friday, we had an important debate in this House about telephony in prisons. On the back of that debate, will the Minister set out what more we are doing to tackle drugs in prisons?

Tackling drugs in prisons involves dealing with how the drugs get into the prison—either over the wall or on a person—the demand in the prison and the way that we search people within the walls. All these things need to be done simultaneously—supply, demand and searching—and the key to this is training, training, training.

T7. Following the question from the hon. Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy), campaigners supporting missing people and their families are concerned, despite assurances that a timetable for implementation of the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2017 would be set out before the summer. Will the Minister give the families the assurance of a specific timetable for the implementation of this vital Act and clarify when the rules of court will be published? (906378)

I entirely understand the concern of the hon. Lady, many hon. Members and many members of the public about this issue and their determination to see this delivered. I share that determination, but it is important that, while we work at pace, we ensure that the rules of court are correct. I am determined to make sure that we do everything we can to speed it up.

What analysis has the Ministry of Justice done on how well the public sector is doing in taking on ex-offenders in employment? Does the Minister agree that we cannot just exhort the private sector to step up to the plate in this area if the public sector is not leading by example?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight this point. Indeed, many parts of the public sector are stepping up and doing that—the Prison Service itself takes people on. We have a pilot programme in north-west England that is focused on this. My hon. Friend is tireless in campaigning for employers to take on ex-offenders, and I commend him on his activity.

T8. Family drug and alcohol courts have widespread support among lawyers, judges and policy makers, and they deliver far better outcomes for children and families than other options do. Despite that, the service faces closure because of funding cuts. Can the Secretary of State guarantee funding today to safeguard this vital service? (906379)

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that the family drug and alcohol courts do great work. The fact that the Tavistock and Portman Trust is not going forward with the programme will not affect any of the existing courts. It is disappointing that the trust has chosen not to continue with the programme, and we will continue to look at the provision of this important service.

On behalf of the Government, I stood at the Dispatch Box beside the Treasury Bench and promised the country that we would have a victims law. May I ask the Minister where that victims law is?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that question, and I know that the House is grateful to him for his work and his tireless campaigning in this area. We have made it clear that we are committed to bringing forward a victim strategy this summer, which will look at both legislative and non-legislative options for delivering what he mentions. I would be delighted to meet him to discuss it further.

T10. In the light of the tragic hit-and-run accident in Coventry some time ago, in which two children were killed and a family devastated, are there any plans to review the law and sentencing in that area? (906381)

Absolutely. We remain very committed to this. We have undertaken extensive consultation on extending the maximum sentences for causing death by dangerous driving, and we are looking at those for causing death by careless driving. We intend to introduce legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows.

In the light of the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham), when is the Secretary of State going to reply to my letter asking when longer sentences for causing death by dangerous driving will be introduced into legislation, as was promised in October last year?

I refer to my previous answer. This is a priority for the Government, but we need to find the right legislative instrument for doing it. Be in no doubt—it will happen.

Pursuant to the Minister’s response about the issue, raising the small claims limit for employers’ liability will affect about 40% of claimants, many of whose employers claim that those individuals contributed to their own accidents through negligence. How are they supposed to stand up, unrepresented, to their employer and their insurance company?

The entire purpose of the small claims court is to make sure that minor injuries—in this case, the claims limit was set in 1991 at less than £1,000 and will rise to £2,000—are dealt with without lawyers. The same thing happens in most of our European partner countries. Norway is a very good example of a model in which exactly such cases are taken through without lawyers, up to a much higher value than would be the case here.

The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. and learned Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer), wants to close the magistrates court in Cambridge. What assessment has she made of suggested ways to keep a magistrates court in Cambridge, and when will she make a decision?

The decision about the magistrates court in Cambridge will be for me to make. I want to look at all the evidence and the representations that have been made, and I will make a decision in due course.

According to the Public and Commercial Services Union, there are almost 1,200 staff at the Ministry of Justice on poverty pay. Will the Minister support the union’s 5% pay claim for all public sector workers?

I have already set out the figures in relation to pay, and I think the hon. Lady will find that they are not at 5%.

Jerome Rogers from New Addington in Croydon committed suicide when he was 20 years old, after being hounded by bailiffs who broke regulation after regulation in their horrific handling of his initial—very small—traffic fines. Jerome’s family will be in Parliament next week for a meeting of the all-party group on debt and personal finance, and there is a programme about his life, “Killed By My Debt”, on BBC 1 next week. Will the Minister please meet Jerome’s family?

The hon. Lady makes an important point, and she will be aware that we are looking at the question of the small number of bailiffs who are not acting appropriately. I would be very happy to meet her and the family.

Will the Secretary of State do something about the way in which we treat miscarriages of justice in this country, and will he meet the all-party parliamentary group on miscarriages of justice to discuss it?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the case that was before the Supreme Court recently. We shall see where that leads, but I am sure that a member of the ministerial team would be delighted to meet the all-party parliamentary group.