Andrew Selous debates involving HM Treasury

There have been 79 exchanges involving Andrew Selous and HM Treasury

Mon 11th January 2021 Economic Update 3 interactions (50 words)
Wed 9th December 2020 Covid-19 Support Schemes: Ineligible People (Westminster Hall) 3 interactions (284 words)
Mon 27th April 2020 The Economy 3 interactions (86 words)
Mon 23rd March 2020 Coronavirus Bill 3 interactions (401 words)
Tue 7th January 2020 Oral Answers to Questions 7 interactions (77 words)
Mon 8th July 2019 NHS Pensions: Taxation 4 interactions (641 words)
Thu 31st January 2019 Equitable Life 3 interactions (80 words)
Wed 16th January 2019 Taxation of Low-income Families (Westminster Hall) 22 interactions (2,344 words)
Tue 11th December 2018 Oral Answers to Questions 7 interactions (62 words)
Tue 3rd July 2018 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (56 words)
Thu 28th June 2018 Improving Air Quality 17 interactions (2,069 words)
Mon 6th November 2017 Paradise Papers 3 interactions (45 words)
Tue 11th July 2017 Balancing the Public Finances (Westminster Hall) 9 interactions (356 words)
Thu 23rd March 2017 Equitable Life Policyholders: Compensation 3 interactions (44 words)
Tue 17th January 2017 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (38 words)
Tue 18th October 2016 Concentrix: Tax Credit Claimants (Westminster Hall) 3 interactions (81 words)
Mon 4th July 2016 Draft Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975 (Amendment) (England and Wales) Order 2016 (General Committees) 4 interactions (1,882 words)
Mon 9th May 2016 Safety in Custody and Violence in Prisons (Urgent Question) 57 interactions (2,754 words)
Wed 20th January 2016 Safety in Youth Custody (Westminster Hall) 15 interactions (3,528 words)
Thu 7th January 2016 Draft Legal Services Act 2007 (Claims Management Complaints) (Fees) (Amendment) Regulations 2016 (General Committees) 3 interactions (640 words)
Fri 4th December 2015 Criminal Cases Review Commission (Information) Bill 3 interactions (1,504 words)
Fri 20th November 2015 Transpeople (Prisons) (Urgent Question) 30 interactions (1,732 words)
Tue 10th November 2015 Prison and Young Offender Institution (amendment) Rules 2015 (General Committees) 6 interactions (2,244 words)
Wed 28th October 2015 Transforming Rehabilitation Programme (Westminster Hall) 15 interactions (2,321 words)
Thu 15th October 2015 Prisons: Planning and Policies (Westminster Hall) 7 interactions (3,030 words)
Wed 14th October 2015 HMP Northumberland (Westminster Hall) 4 interactions (2,084 words)
Thu 17th September 2015 Dangerous Driving Penalties (Westminster Hall) 7 interactions (2,281 words)
Thu 16th July 2015 Sentencing (Cruelty to Pets) (Westminster Hall) 4 interactions (1,170 words)
Wed 1st July 2015 Colin Worton (Westminster Hall) 2 interactions (775 words)
Wed 17th June 2015 Safety in Prisons (Westminster Hall) 11 interactions (1,565 words)
Tue 16th June 2015 Isle of Sheppey (Prisons) (Westminster Hall) 4 interactions (1,948 words)
Wed 25th February 2015 Justice (Ministerial Corrections) 3 interactions (185 words)
Wed 21st January 2015 Justice (Ministerial Corrections) 2 interactions (298 words)
Tue 13th January 2015 Probation Service (Westminster Hall) 14 interactions (1,871 words)
Wed 10th December 2014 Prison Officers (Work-related Stress) 4 interactions (2,607 words)
Wed 3rd December 2014 Justice (Ministerial Corrections) 5 interactions (335 words)
Tue 24th June 2014 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (61 words)
Thu 12th June 2014 The Economy and Living Standards 9 interactions (1,086 words)
Wed 9th April 2014 Finance (No. 2) Bill 23 interactions (1,227 words)
Wed 26th March 2014 Charter for Budget Responsibility 3 interactions (1 words)
Thu 20th March 2014 Amendment of the Law 3 interactions (25 words)
Wed 19th March 2014 Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation 7 interactions (945 words)
Tue 11th March 2014 Oral Answers to Questions 6 interactions (56 words)
Tue 21st January 2014 Pub Companies 3 interactions (70 words)
Tue 10th December 2013 Oral Answers to Questions 11 interactions (101 words)
Wed 27th November 2013 Cost of Living 3 interactions (43 words)
Tue 5th November 2013 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (50 words)
Tue 10th September 2013 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (59 words)
Tue 2nd July 2013 Finance Bill 7 interactions (115 words)
Wed 26th June 2013 Spending Review 3 interactions (20 words)
Thu 13th June 2013 Royal Bank of Scotland 3 interactions (81 words)
Wed 15th May 2013 Economic Growth 11 interactions (104 words)
Thu 21st March 2013 Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation 3 interactions (88 words)
Tue 12th March 2013 Oral Answers to Questions 5 interactions (88 words)
Mon 25th February 2013 Economic Policy 3 interactions (55 words)
Tue 11th December 2012 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (61 words)
Wed 5th December 2012 Autumn Statement 3 interactions (50 words)
Wed 28th November 2012 Transferable Tax Allowances (Westminster Hall) 17 interactions (856 words)
Mon 12th November 2012 Fuel Duty 7 interactions (56 words)
Tue 6th November 2012 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (49 words)
Mon 29th October 2012 Public Service Pensions Bill 3 interactions (43 words)
Thu 28th June 2012 LIBOR (FSA Investigation) 3 interactions (44 words)
Thu 17th May 2012 Jobs and Growth 19 interactions (734 words)
Mon 16th April 2012 Finance (No. 4) Bill 3 interactions (1 words)
Wed 21st March 2012 Amendment of the Law 3 interactions (964 words)
Tue 20th December 2011 Energy and Climate Change 3 interactions (816 words)
Tue 15th November 2011 Fuel Prices 11 interactions (909 words)
Thu 27th October 2011 Eurozone Crisis 3 interactions (31 words)
Wed 12th October 2011 Jobs and Growth 3 interactions (60 words)
Mon 10th October 2011 Eurozone 3 interactions (51 words)
Tue 6th September 2011 Oral Answers to Questions 5 interactions (96 words)
Tue 19th July 2011 Summer Adjournment 3 interactions (386 words)
Tue 28th June 2011 Finance Bill 12 interactions (160 words)
Wed 22nd June 2011 The Economy 3 interactions (41 words)
Tue 21st June 2011 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (58 words)
Tue 8th February 2011 Oral Answers to Questions 5 interactions (53 words)
Tue 18th January 2011 Funding Formula (Westminster Hall) 42 interactions (3,335 words)
Tue 11th January 2011 Bank Bonuses 3 interactions (46 words)
Tue 7th December 2010 Crown Currency Exchange 3 interactions (43 words)

Economic Update

Andrew Selous Excerpts
Monday 11th January 2021

(1 month, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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HM Treasury
Rishi Sunak Portrait Rishi Sunak
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I am happy for the hon. Lady to refer to the answer I gave earlier, but if she would prefer that, rather than give up-front funding guarantees and certainty to the devolved Administrations in a pandemic, we returned to piecemeal funding by announcement, she should please write to me and let me know. The Welsh Government have received over £5 billion in up-front funding guarantees, and as we make announcements it is right that we highlight the amount of additional Barnett funding that flows from those announcements, so that that can be netted off against the guarantee.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con) [V]
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I am delighted to learn that local authorities will be receiving additional cash at the end of this week. Could I please ask the Chancellor to do everything possible to help local authorities to get that money out of the door as quickly as possible, to help businesses’ cash flow?

Rishi Sunak Portrait Rishi Sunak
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I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of speed. We try to keep the guidance the same, and that helps local authorities. Indeed, the guidance for the £500 million discretionary funding will be the same as for the £1.1 billion, and that will help local authorities. They should have the cash by the end of this week at the latest, and I too urge them to get it out as quickly as possible.

Covid-19 Support Schemes: Ineligible People

Andrew Selous Excerpts
Wednesday 9th December 2020

(3 months ago)

Westminster Hall

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HM Treasury
Esther McVey Portrait Esther McVey (Tatton) (Con)
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I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson) for securing this important debate. I am delighted to co-chair the gaps in support all-party parliamentary group. We are all here today bringing the case to this House.

Blue Collar Conservatism, of which I am a founder member, set up the campaign asking for supermarkets to return their covid business exemption, specifically with the purpose that that money would be redirected to those who have had no support during this period. We met with Tesco, Asda, the British Retail Consortium and others. They have done the right thing, stepped up to the plate and committed to returning that money. I pay tribute to those who have done so.

My message to the Minister is that that campaign specifically aimed to redirect that money to those who have not had any money. Having spoken to those firms, that was the basis on which they have handed the money forward. I hope the Minister will act in the same faith and spirit as those supermarkets that handed over that money and support for those people.

I want to mention two big supermarkets that have not yet committed to give that money forward: Iceland and the Co-op. I ask the shadow Minister to tell the shadow Chancellor, who is a Labour and Co-operative Member, to speak to her friends to ensure that the Co-op pays that money back, unless it thinks it is more in need than others. We think it should do the right thing, join in with the other supermarkets and hand that money back.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
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I think we should start by thanking the Government for what they have done to support people through a very difficult time. The Government have spent some £210 billion in dealing with the pandemic. That is an unprecedented fiscal response. We should put on record our thanks for the scale of that intervention towards people who are in more regular employment.

The scale of that generosity brings into question its allocation, when people in so many groups have not received the same scale of Government funding as people in PAYE employment. It is not just about individuals. I have spoken about the events industry before and the exhibition industry. I spoke with the British Events Industry Coalition earlier this week. In the weddings industry, I think of Eggington House in my constituency.

In terms of individuals, we are talking about people who work with a construction industry scheme card, directors who pay themselves through dividends and the newly self-employed. I had a letter today from a driving instructor. He only set up in October 2018. That was not his fault. He has done everything he has been asked and he pays what he should, but he is left out. This affects beauticians, freelance musicians and so many more.

The Office for Budget Responsibility, in its July 2019 fiscal risks report, put the tax reduction for someone on £70,000 being paid through dividends at 11.6 percentage points. That is slightly less tax, but those people are getting very much less than 11.6 percentage points lower than what people are getting through the furlough scheme. I ask the Treasury to look again—it has clever people—and to please remember these 2.9 million people who have been left out so far.

Tracy Brabin Portrait Tracy Brabin (Batley and Spen) (Lab/Co-op)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees.

Yesterday I chaired a meeting of the gaps in support all-party parliamentary group, during which we heard from Andy Burnham, Dan Jarvis and Steve Rotheram about how the metro Mayors are working to support businesses in their areas to plug the gaps left by Government.

Dan Jarvis, the Mayor of Sheffield, explained that an estimated 68,000 people are excluded from support in Yorkshire. At 13.1%, Yorkshire has the highest proportion of new starters in the UK, but because of a fluke of timing they have been thrown into poverty and homelessness, joining the 1 million freelancers now in debt, according to IPSE. Entrepreneurs, business people, creatives and strivers who have worked with their employers and been paid in any way the employer deems more convenient are now paying a heavy price for that flexibility.

I will share a couple of stories. Nicola is 46 and a single mum of two girls in West Yorkshire. She is on a zero-hours contract with a publicly funded charity, working in the supported living sector and paid the minimum wage. She asked to be furloughed but was told that she could not because her job was publicly funded, and was then told that there was enough work. Her application for unemployment benefits was refused as she was still under contract and had received a wage. Nicola was not just excluded from support; she was refused support and had to live on child benefit, going deep into arrears.

Sadly, as Steve Rotheram said yesterday, “whatever it takes” has turned into “whatever we will give you”. Andy Burnham said that it is up to politicians to stand up for people against the machine of Government and to mitigate risk. This is now an opportunity for the Government to listen to the solutions that they have heard this afternoon and put them in place to support the millions who are excluded and who face the hardest and harshest of winters.

The Economy

Andrew Selous Excerpts
Monday 27th April 2020

(10 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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HM Treasury
Rishi Sunak Portrait Rishi Sunak
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The most important economic policy at the moment is to maintain the productive capacity of the UK economy during a period of shutdown. Our interventions are designed to preserve as many businesses, jobs and connections as possible. That is the best way to ensure that the recovery can be as strong as we would all like it to be. For the moment, that is where we will focus our attention.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con) [V]
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I am grateful to the Treasury for the work it has done to keep the economy going. However, I have a tourism business and a leisure business that have been turned down by their banks, even though they are both viable, and they will need more than the £50,000 from the bounce-back scheme announced by the Chancellor today. These are excellent businesses that we must not lose. Will he continue to look further at such cases and consider grants for where there are very difficult situations?

Rishi Sunak Portrait Rishi Sunak
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Without knowing the particular details of those businesses, I can say that many businesses in the retail, leisure and hospitality trade will be eligible for cash grants of £25,000. Also, all businesses can use the furlough scheme, which is significant, and there will be business rates holidays for those businesses. Furthermore, the statutory sick pay rebate scheme I announced earlier will be up and running next month, which will allow businesses to apply for a rebate on their statutory sick pay bill for up to 14 days per employee. That could benefit businesses by up to £48,000 as well. I hope that all those packages put together provide some relief to my hon. Friend’s business and many others.

Coronavirus Bill

(3rd reading: House of Commons)
(Committee: 1st sitting)
(Committee: 1st sitting: House of Commons)
Andrew Selous Excerpts
Monday 23rd March 2020

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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HM Treasury
Eleanor Laing Portrait The Chairman of Ways and Means (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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If everyone takes around three to four minutes, they will all get a chance to come in.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
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I will not detain the House long. I rise to speak to new clause 1, which I understand has been agreed in advance with the Government, and I will move it at the end of this evening’s proceedings.

New clause 1 is very straightforward. It enables the elections to the General Synod of the Church of England to be postponed. Quite recently, we postponed all the elections that we in the House are involved in—the mayoral, local government and police and crime commissioner elections—but the General Synod is the National Assembly of the Church of England, and it is a Church that is episcopally led and synodically governed. The General Synod is a devolved body of this Parliament. It is the first devolved body of the Westminster Parliament and has been since 1919. Synods last five years, just as Westminster Parliaments do. The last one was elected in summer 2015 and therefore would expire this summer. There is no legal power to extend the current General Synod. New clause 1 provides that power by allowing the Archbishops of Canterbury and of York to ask Her Majesty to postpone the date of dissolution by an Order in Council. That order postpones the date of the dissolution of the current Synod for as long as would be necessary by dissolving the convocations of Canterbury and of York. The dissolution of those convocations triggers the dissolution of Synod.

Hon. Members may not know what I mean by convocations, but they are the historical assemblies of bishops and clergy. They go back to the time of Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury, who was enthroned in 668, so convocations give this Parliament a run for its money in terms of historical precedent. That may sound a bit dry, but it is important. This will enable the Synod to deal with important matters, such as the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse. The Church takes that very seriously, and it will need to react to that body’s findings. This will also enable the Synod to move forward with the important work on cathedral finances and governance, which also need to be addressed urgently.

The Church is fulfilling an important role today. It is caring for the vulnerable, and it is reaching out in helping with the delivery of food, such as working with food banks and with night shelters. I commend new clause 1 to the Government and to the House.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP)
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23 Mar 2020, 12:01 a.m.

I rise to speak to new clause 7 together with the new schedule it introduces, which is new schedule 1. May I start by thanking the Clerks and other staff for their extraordinary work in processing so many amendments in such a short time?

The changes that we propose are designed to ensure that the Government’s response is truly for all of society, as the World Health Organisation has urged, and we will do that by seeking to ensure that nobody is excluded from getting the support they need simply by virtue of their immigration status. Our immigration and asylum laws and processes, touching as they do on millions of people right across our country, must be made to help, not hinder, the public health response to coronavirus. If we let down those people who are subject to immigration control, we are letting down the whole country, and if we fail to protect those people, we fail to protect the population as a whole.

The new schedule is in four parts. The first relates to Home Office rules that prevent many people from accessing public funds. Many of this group will already be hugely marginalised, including a very significant proportion of the street homeless and destitute. As matters stand, many more will become destitute because their earnings will stop or sofa-surfing will no longer be possible, and there will be no social security to fall back on. Meanwhile, across the country many shelters providing the only source of refuge are having to close down, either because dormitory conditions are no longer fit for purpose, or because the brilliant volunteers who staff such centres can no longer undertake the necessary work amid this very serious crisis. Suspending the no recourse to public funds rules would be a first but significant step towards allowing everyone to access the financial support and accommodation they need to protect themselves.

The second part of the schedule deals with those who are in immigration detention. At the end of last year, there were about 1,600 people in immigration detention, most of them in immigration detention centres, with a small number in prisons. We know from recently published expert advice that detention centres provide ideal conditions for the spread of the coronavirus, and that 60% of those in such facilities could rapidly be infected if the virus got hold there. In fact, one woman tested positive for covid-19 in Yarl’s Wood at the weekend. Of course, the detainee population will include a significant number with underlying health conditions.

We know now that there is no realistic prospect of immigration removals taking place imminently, and imminent removal is of course the legal threshold for justifying detention in the first place. The clear consequences of these two facts, when we bring them together, is that continued detention is not only morally wrong, but it undermines the public health response to the coronavirus outbreak and is almost certainly illegal. We welcome the fact that the Home Office has started by releasing about 300 of the current estimate of 1,200 people in immigration detention. We ask it to move faster and urgently in getting the other 900 out of there as well.

Thirdly, we turn to the issue of the asylum process. Those working on behalf of asylum seekers are concerned at the lack of communication with them about what changes are being made to these processes. There was a welcome announcement made ending the requirement to access or re-access the asylum procedure by attending at either Croydon or Liverpool, yet this very afternoon I am reliably informed that a new arrival in Glasgow was told by Home Office staff to get a bus to Croydon, essentially, to make an asylum claim. Without support from the Scottish Refugee Council, that individual would be street homeless tonight. That is clearly undermining, rather than helping, the public health approach.

We need the Home Office to look at all asylum processes and procedures, and reporting requirements, interviews and other appointments must all be suspended. We need to look at the state of the asylum accommodation, and at the rules about why asylum seekers who have medical skills are being prevented from working at this particular time. We need to look at asylum support and at support for providing accommodation to the destitute and the homeless.

Fourthly, the proposed new schedule would make provision for those whose visas are about to run out or whose visas have already run out but are prevented from travelling home. Many Members will have been contacted by constituents with concerns about people in that situation. There were reports today about an 80-year-old Ukrainian woman whose visit visa has just expired. Her solicitor phoned the Home Office and was told that she should consider driving home. Clearly, asking an 80-year-old woman to return to Ukraine by car is simply ludicrous. It is time, as our proposed new schedule suggests, for the Government to put in place an automatic extension of leave to remain, at least until September or later, depending on the advice the Government get from medical officers.

I pay tribute to all those who have pushed the Government to accept a more limited time period for the extraordinary powers provided for by this Bill, including my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), while at the same time ensuring that there can be an extension, with appropriate scrutiny and approval by this House. We support the principles behind new clause 2. The provisions that impinge most on civil liberties deserve the greatest of scrutiny. I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah) for tabling amendment 66, and we are grateful to the Government for listening to her concerns.

Oral Answers to Questions

Andrew Selous Excerpts
Tuesday 7th January 2020

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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HM Treasury
Stephen Hammond Portrait Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con)
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7. What fiscal steps he is taking to increase productivity throughout the UK economy. [900042]

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
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12. What fiscal steps he is taking to increase productivity throughout the UK economy. [900048]

Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies (Grantham and Stamford) (Con)
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18. What fiscal steps he is taking to increase productivity throughout the UK economy. [900055]

Break in Debate

Sajid Javid Portrait Sajid Javid
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

7 Jan 2020, 2:49 p.m.

The Government’s fiscal policy will allow for a step change in infrastructure investment, which is what we need to level up and unleash the potential of the whole country. That is why I am open to looking at ideas for new financing instruments, but I would need to be satisfied that they represent good value for money, that they can be sustained for the long term and that they are consistent with our wider fiscal objectives. I would be happy to discuss that with my hon. Friend.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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7 Jan 2020, 2:50 p.m.

Only 15% of people who start their working lives in entry-level jobs progress beyond such jobs by the end of their working lives. In order to deal with that situation, will the Chancellor look again at the national retraining scheme to see what we can do to help people to progress further in work, to reduce poverty as well as increase productivity?

Sajid Javid Portrait Sajid Javid
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7 Jan 2020, 2:50 p.m.

As usual, my hon. Friend raises an important issue. Some excellent work has been done on the issue, including work to which my hon. Friend has contributed. In our manifesto, we set out our intention to have a new national skills fund, which will help to transform the lives of people who are trying to get on to the work ladder, to get new qualifications or to return to work. I know that my hon. Friend will welcome that.

NHS Pensions: Taxation

Andrew Selous Excerpts
Monday 8th July 2019

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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HM Treasury
Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)(Urgent Question
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

8 Jul 2019, 4:22 p.m.

To ask the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to make a statement on the implications for patients of the taxation of NHS pensions.

Elizabeth Truss Portrait The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Elizabeth Truss)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

8 Jul 2019, 4:22 p.m.

The Government keep public sector pay and pensions policy under constant review in the context of the wider public finances. For the majority of savers, pension contributions are tax-free. The annual allowance is a fiscal measure which operates across all registered pension schemes in both the public and private sectors, alongside the lifetime allowance. The measure is kept under review by the Government to ensure that the benefit of tax relief on pension schemes remains affordable.

Some senior clinicians face pension tax charges owing to the increase in the value of their pension accrual. I understand that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care is currently engaged in discussions with senior representatives of the British Medical Association. The Government are taking this issue very seriously, and that is the right place for those discussions to be held. However, the House will recognise that the same tax rules must apply identically to everyone in the same situation, regardless of their employer. It is simply not possible for the tax rules applying to senior clinicians in the NHS to be different from those that apply everywhere else.

I understand that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care is to publish a consultation on proposals for a new 50:50 scheme providing pension flexibility for clinicians in the NHS. The scheme will give senior clinicians in England and Wales more choice in respect of their pension accrual, and will thus control tax charges. Since last autumn, all members of the NHS scheme on the taper have been able to elect for the pension scheme to pay any tax charges now, and so avoid any impacts on take-home pay, in return for an actuarially fair reduction in their pensions.

I recognise the concerns that have been raised, and I assure the House that the Government will continue to monitor the impact of pensions policies on public service delivery.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

8 Jul 2019, 4:27 p.m.

The unforeseen consequences of recent pensions legislation, initially supported in all parts of the House, are now resulting in very worrying consequences for the NHS as hospital doctors who have regularly worked weekend overtime in order to get waiting lists down, are understandably refusing to continue to do so because they are being made worse off as a result. Can we imagine a conversation between couples along the lines of, “So you are leaving me and the children again this weekend to go voluntarily to work to make our family worse off?” It is not going to happen, is it? The same applies for GPs, many of whom are now doing fewer sessions each week than they want to and their patients desperately need in order not to be made worse off by breaching their annual pension allowance.

We do not have conscription for healthcare staff; we cannot force them to do weekend overtime or more sessions than they want to, and it is not surprising that they choose not to if they are being made worse off as a result. For example, in The Guardian this morning we learned of one senior anaesthetist who worked 27 Saturdays last year in order to reduce waiting lists and has now said he cannot afford to work any extra Saturday shifts this year because it would give him a large tax bill he cannot afford to pay.

Very few doctors have earnings that exceed the adjusted income threshold of £150,000 but due to the inclusion of hypothetical pension growth as income, doctors are being affected by tapering. This is different from what the Chancellor said in Treasury questions on 21 May when he said that someone has to be earning over £150,000 a year before the tapered annual allowance affects them. Taxable income and adjusted income are very different as regards pensions taxation.

The Government should also be aware that members of the imposed 2015 pension scheme had no option but to become a member of multiple schemes including the GP CARE—career average revalued earnings—scheme and as a result incur significantly higher annual allowance tax bills than those members who are protected members in only the final salary scheme. This means that all full-time consultants who are a member of more than one NHS pension scheme will be affected by the tapered annual allowance and will need to reconsider how much work they do for the NHS to mitigate these tax charges. Furthermore this punitive pensions tax penalty means that doctors are not just working less but are retiring earlier than they would like to in order to avoid significant additional tax charges. In a survey of more than 2,400 consultants, more than half cited pensions taxation as a reason for their decision to retire early.

I therefore have five questions for the Chief Secretary. As the 50-50 pensions accrual option proposed does not remove the unintended consequences that are forcing doctors to reduce the work they do, can this be included in the consultation so that this issue is raised? Once the scope of the consultation has been extended to cover this essential aspect can it then be launched as quickly as possible? Can the consultation be brief as the issues are well-known and well-rehearsed, and can the Government then respond quickly to it and if necessary legislate given that there is likely to be cross-party support for these important measures to protect the NHS? Can timely pensions statements be provided to all NHS staff who are affected by these measures? Finally, can the Government confirm that they understand the urgency and importance of this issue and that they will act without delay to prevent a deteriorating situation from getting even more acute?

Elizabeth Truss Portrait Elizabeth Truss
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

8 Jul 2019, 4:29 p.m.

The answer to my hon. Friend’s first question is that the Health Secretary is currently in discussions with the British Medical Association and other health representatives about precisely what can be done, and of course the consultation will come out shortly. Some of the issues he mentioned in terms of legislation will clearly be a matter for the new Prime Minister and Administration, but the fact that my hon. Friend has raised this urgent question today will draw to people’s attention the urgency of this issue and one would expect it to be considered very early on by a new Administration. The point I was trying to make earlier is that there is a fundamental distinction between how we deal with the issues in the NHS, on which the Health Secretary is leading, and the broader issue of our pension system, which is there to encourage people to save. That has to be considered in a holistic manner so we cannot just design it around one workforce. It has to be designed to work for everybody in both the public and private sectors. That takes time of course, and we are working through some of the conclusions of the reforms that took place a few years ago.

Equitable Life

Andrew Selous Excerpts
Thursday 31st January 2019

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber

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HM Treasury
Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman
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31 Jan 2019, 12:44 p.m.

And they have been delayed from getting proper compensation for nine years. It is time that this was settled.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
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31 Jan 2019, 12:45 p.m.

We know that many of the victims were retired nurses, teachers and factory or shop workers, and therefore not people of huge means, but one particular group is affected: small business owners who had no choice but to set up a pension. Does my hon. Friend agree that we owe a particular debt of honour to these small business owners who had to set up a pension and thought Equitable Life was a perfectly proper company to do that with?

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman
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And many companies in this country encouraged their employees to invest with Equitable Life thinking that this was a safe haven. In fact I can speak from personal memory, in that I was an employee of BT at the time and we were encouraged to invest in Equitable Life. Thank goodness we had a choice—I made the right choice, but I could be in the position of the victims.

Taxation of Low-income Families

Andrew Selous Excerpts
Wednesday 16th January 2019

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Westminster Hall

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HM Treasury
Chris Green Portrait Chris Green
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that. Behind the scenes in Parliament there is so much good work going on, much of which is cross-party, with different colleagues bringing different perspectives. During these difficult times in Parliament, it would be positive for people to reflect on the important work that goes on behind the scenes, influencing decision makers, much of which is on a cross-party basis.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
- Hansard - -

16 Jan 2019, 10:09 a.m.

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate under your chairmanship, Sir David. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) for opening it so well, to my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), who did so much to launch the report that we are considering today, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green), who was also part of that important work.

I will start by giving credit where credit is due, because it is always important to do that; it is both the polite and the correct thing to do. I therefore say to the Minister, who is a friend in these matters, that we need to put on the record our huge gratitude and appreciation for the 3.4 million jobs created under the Conservative-led Government since 2010. That is 3.4 million people who have the security of a monthly pay packet, who can look after their family, put food on the table and clothe their children. It is hugely important that that is recognised.

Consider youth unemployment rates around the world. I understand that in Greece youth unemployment is at 57%, and it is far higher in France and many other parts of the world. Our youth unemployment rate is a fantastic achievement. There has been a British jobs miracle since 2010 and we need to be hugely appreciative of it and not take it for granted. It has taken a lot of hard work and focus to create the environment in which businesses can flourish.

Universal credit has also been good, in getting rid of the pernicious effect of the old 16-hour rule. My hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) talked about when he was an employer and he gave us the example of employees who did not want to work more than 16 hours a week, as it was not worth their while because they would be so penalised by the 16-hour rule. Universal credit has swept that away. Now, for every extra hour that people work, at least they get something more. Lastly, the increase in the personal allowance has been enormously welcome to the group of people we are talking about.

Many of us—certainly among Government Members, but I think across Parliament—understand the damage that high marginal rates of tax do in discouraging enterprise. Entrepreneurs do not have to set up businesses. It has to be worth their while to do so and if the odds are stacked against them, with regard to the returns they will make, they will not start up businesses. This Government understand that well, and because they do we have created this fantastic environment for businesses, which has created those 3.4 million jobs that I just mentioned. All credit is due to the Government for understanding that.

However, I say to the Minister that businesses do not just exist for their own right and for their own benefit; they exist to benefit society and to benefit their employees. Humans are not resources; they are the point of it all. Businesses are there to benefit their employees, and if we are trapping people in low-paid work, so that they cannot progress in the way that many of us here in Westminster Hall have been able to progress throughout our careers, that should be of acute concern to our friends in the Treasury. I am sure that point is not lost on the Minister.

I reiterate the point that, sadly, the United Kingdom is an outlier in this respect, because the marginal tax rate for a one-earner couple with two children on 75% of the average wage is 73%, which is more than twice the EU average of 22%. No other OECD country treats low-income working families as badly as the United Kingdom does, with regard to effective marginal tax rates and work incentives.

It is really important to put on the record that, notwithstanding all the good work that has been done since 2010, this area is unfinished business. I want the Minister to go back to the Treasury and impress on the Chancellor and his fellow Ministers, who I think have an appetite for this work and do get it, the need to say to officials that more work has to be done in this area, so that everyone can benefit from the fruits of their hard work throughout their working life.

The problem of high effective marginal tax rates does not just affect single earners. It affects a million of them, but we know that there are also 600,000 dual earners who are similarly affected and—really importantly— 900,000 single parents as well. So this is a problem for all types of family structure.

We are not calling for the abolition of independent taxation; I do not think that would be the right thing to do. However, I think it would be right to introduce an element of choice, because Government Members certainly believe that choice is a good thing. It gives flexibility, because families have different priorities and different needs at different stages of their lives. As has also been said before, we are in fact extremely judgmental, because the tax system is very prejudicial when only one member of a couple chooses to work and the other member chooses to care for children or frail elderly relatives.

Chris Green Portrait Chris Green
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I agree that this sense or understanding of the system being judgmental is a problem. Would it not be far better if the system, rather than judging one way or another way, had a far more neutral position, because that would enable individuals and families to make their own decisions?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard - -

16 Jan 2019, 10:15 a.m.

Yes, I completely agree. I think that it comes back to choice and recognising that families face different challenges at different times of their lives, particularly regarding the needs of children, the frailties of elderly parents and so on. I hope that our social care reforms, which are forthcoming, will go some way towards addressing that situation, but the tax system absolutely has a huge role to play in addressing these important issues, which my hon. Friend quite rightly raises.

Effectively, what we are saying through the tax system is that, despite praising with warm words family members who choose to stay at home if they can make the financial choice to do so—not every family has members who can make that choice, but there are families in which one person makes the sacrifice to stay at home, to be with their children or to look after elderly relatives—we think they are making the wrong choice, because we penalise them for doing so; there is no recognition of what they do.

The Centre for Policy Studies, which was referred to earlier, has made a proposal that we should consider, which is to look at the transfer of unused personal allowances. The Child Poverty Action Group—the report that we are considering today looked across the political spectrum; I have great respect for CPAG—made some suggestions about perhaps increasing child benefit for children under five in lower income families. One way that we might be able to fund that—it is a golden rule with me that if anyone calls for an increase in expenditure, my next question is, “Where is the money coming from?”

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard - -

16 Jan 2019, 10:17 a.m.

I see that the Treasury Minister is nodding; let me give him a suggestion, as I have made a call on the public purse. At the moment, we give child benefit to families that have an income of £100,000, where both members of a couple are earning £50,000, whereas that stops at £62,000 when there is only one earner in a family. So there is £38,000 worth of income in respect of child benefit to play with.

The Minister will have to go back to the Treasury and get all his super-clever officials to run those figures through the Treasury modelling system, but there will be some money there that could perhaps be better targeted at child benefit or the transfer of unused personal allowances. We are not being prescriptive here; we want Ministers to go back and look carefully, and reflect carefully, on these matters.

In respect of the work that parents do within the home—looking after children, or looking after frail or elderly relatives—last October the Office for National Statistics said that unpaid household work had a value to the British economy of £1.24 trillion. That is a big figure, as the Minister will appreciate, and just some recognition of the good that is done to society by that work—the costs that are not accruing to the public purse because of it—would be welcome. I think that on average that work comes down to a value of £18,932 per person, which is a significant amount.

Fiona Bruce Portrait Fiona Bruce
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Are we therefore saying that some recognition by the Government of family in the tax system would go a long way towards changing the culture in our society, whereby we ought to value much more greatly that kind of work within the home, which is unpaid but provides so much benefit to society, economically as well as socially?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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16 Jan 2019, 10:19 a.m.

I agree with my hon. Friend, who makes an entirely reasonable request, and I will tell her why it is so reasonable: all our main economic competitors across the OECD do exactly what she suggests. It needs to be said a lot more often in this House that, as I said at the start of my contribution, we are an outlier in not doing this. We have taken for granted the fact that we have independent taxation that quite often ignores the second person in a family if they are not earning, which has led to some perverse consequences. I ask the Minister to go back to the Treasury and ask his officials to contact the economic councillors in British embassies around the OECD to get good data on how other countries do this, whether Finland, France or Germany. Let us look at what those countries do; let us look at how that increases the net take-home pay of lower income families; and let us look at the choices that it gives to those families, and at the overall satisfaction that is derived.

We have been talking about low-income families, and it is important to get on the record that the effects of high effective marginal tax rates can go quite high up the income scale. For example, a single-income family with three children paying rent of £157 a week has a marginal tax rate in 2018-19 of 96%, but that does not come down to 32% until income reaches £40,776. That might sound like a very high income, and for a lot of people it is, but for a person who lives in a high-cost housing area, that income disappears very fast. We need to remember that across large parts of the country, particularly those regions south of Birmingham in which many millions of our fellow citizens live, housing costs are extremely high, and that leaves a much smaller net take-home income for families to pay for all their needs with.

To repeat a point that was made earlier, in 1990 the effective marginal tax rate for a single-earner family on 75% of the average wage with two children in the UK was 34%. Today in the OECD it is 33%. Today in the UK it is 73%. We have diverged massively from our friends and competitors in the OECD since 1990, and I do not think that is because of some malicious plot in the Treasury; I think it has happened in spite of good policies.

Fiona Bruce Portrait Fiona Bruce
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

16 Jan 2019, 10:23 a.m.

Does my hon. Friend think it is interesting that we also have one of the highest rates of marriage breakdown in the developed world? Is there perhaps some interesting connection to be made there?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard - -

16 Jan 2019, 10:24 a.m.

We need to look at everything we can do to strengthen family life, because we know that strong families—healthy, supportive, committed, mutually respectful couple relationships—are the bedrock of our society. As a Government, we used to talk a lot about reducing the couple penalty; certainly when we were in opposition and preparing for Government, that was a significant objective. We have made some progress towards that, given what we have done through universal credit, but it is still a big issue, as all of us see week after week in our constituency surgeries. We sometimes speak to single mums who are on their own, who are not acknowledging their partner because of the loss of income that would entail. That is not a good state of affairs, because there exists a loving, respectful relationship in which mum and dad want to live together, but they are not doing so because they would be penalised. It is all very well for us to talk about people doing the right thing, but for a lot of our constituents that is not possible if they are hit in the pocket. That message needs to hit home.

I will conclude by coming back to the importance of family, which my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton has quite rightly pressed me on. I know that I am pushing at an open door, because I rechecked the excellent speech that the Chancellor made in Birmingham in October. When he listed the principles that inspire him as a politician, strong families and family stability were right up there. I think the Chancellor gets this—I think the whole Treasury team gets this—so I hope that when the Minister responds he will give us a commitment that he will go back to the Treasury, talk to the Chancellor, and do detailed preparatory work and study of other countries to look at how we can make some of these changes. We are not asking the Minister to come up with specific answers today, as we know there is a lot of detailed work to be done, but I hope he will give us an undertaking that he will go back to the Treasury and make sure this work gets underway.

Sir David Crausby (in the Chair)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I had wanted to call the Front Benchers by 10.25, but I will call Sir John Hayes for a tiny contribution.

Break in Debate

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

16 Jan 2019, 10:30 a.m.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir David. I must say that as a feminist, I feel as though I have fallen down some kind of vortex to the 1948 film “Every Girl Should Be Married” in this debate. I fundamentally disagree with many of the arguments that hon. Members have put forward so well; I respect their right to do so, but they have ignored the elephant in the room, which is that lots of the stresses and strains on our society are caused by austerity, not by whether people are married or not. That is a personal choice.

Tax is often thought of as a boring, dreaded thing—a duty to be avoided, something best left to stuffy men in suits. However, like all economic tools, tax is a mechanism that opens up opportunities to shape the kind of society we want to live in. It incentivises good behaviour and punishes what some would consider to be bad behaviour. The UK Government’s tax system remains quite a blunt tool with which to tackle income inequality. It is riddled with loopholes that benefit the wealthy, and according to figures from the Institute for Public Policy Research, the UK is the fifth most unequal country in Europe when it comes to income.

The tax system is very gendered. In its analysis of last year’s Budget, the Women’s Budget Group said that raising the income tax threshold is not a policy that helps women. It argues that 70% of those taken out of the higher rate of tax, and 73% of higher rate taxpayers who will benefit from raising the higher rate threshold, are men. We cannot claim that this will benefit women in any particular way, especially those in low-income jobs. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, minimum household budgets have risen by about a third since 2008 for most types of household. Inflation is sky high, wages are being squeezed and a no-deal Brexit would see an additional 6.4% of lower incomes being spent on food. That is a penalty that most families cannot afford.

I mention families, because they are central to what many Members have talked about. The hon. Members for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double), for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) and others have mentioned universal credit and the impact of the 16-hour rule. Figures from the Church of England show that a single mum with three kids, who is working 16 hours, would have to work 45 hours to make up for the cuts that the Conservative Government have made to the benefits system. What impact would a single mum working 45 hours have on family life? When is she actually going to see her kids? Who is going to tuck them into bed at night? That is not going to happen.

I have been working on a campaign for the removal of the two-child limit in the universal credit system, for which I would welcome hon. Members’ support, if they wish to give it. There was some movement from the Secretary of State last week, but it will still be in place for children born after 6 April 2017. The disincentive within the system is rife. Someone with two children who wants to get remarried, into another family, will lose out, because that will cause a change to benefits. If that person, once they have remarried, wants to have a child in that new family, they will not get the child element of universal credit, which is nearly £3,000. If any Government Member wants to speak to their colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions and get them to get rid of this policy, that would be welcome, because it is a disincentive. If a family has four children, there is actually an incentive under this policy to separate and become two families with two children each, rather than one family with four children, thereby saving a huge amount of money. That needs to be removed from the universal credit system. If hon. Members are serious about it, they need to ask their colleagues in the DWP to do that.

Nobody mentioned the impact of the immigration system on families. I get many people coming to my surgeries who, because of the minimum income threshold in the immigration system, cannot bring a spouse to live here. I met a chap who is working two jobs at the moment, but cannot meet the threshold to bring his wife and his child over from another country. That is separating families. The number of Skype families out there, who are not being well served by this Government, who claim to support families, is an absolute scandal and we should do something about it. The stress of living in poverty probably contributes more to the break-up of families than anything else.

The report by Philip Alston, the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, which Conservative Members never want to mention, says:

“Families with two parents working full time at the national minimum wage”—

that is the Chancellor’s pretendy living wage, because it is not a living wage that anyone can live on—

“are still 11% short”—

11% short—

“of the income needed to raise a child.”

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard - -

16 Jan 2019, 10:33 a.m.

There is no disagreement on these Benches that poverty leads to family breakdown, but in the impact assessment for the Child Poverty Act 2010, brought in by the last Labour Government, there was also a recognition that family breakdown leads to poverty. Does the hon. Lady accept that it is circular and that the one leads to the other, both ways?

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

16 Jan 2019, 10:36 a.m.

I would accept the hon. Gentleman’s arguments far more if he would argue for an end to austerity, for an increase to low wages and for the minimum wage to be equalised. At the moment the thresholds for 16 and 17-year-olds and for 18 to 21-year-olds are very different. The gap between the lowest paid—those on the UK’s pretendy living wage—and the people at the top of the age threshold is increasing. It has got wider over the last three Budgets because increases at the top of the scale have not been met with increases at the bottom of the scale. It should be a fair wage for everybody. A 21-year-old parent does not get enough income in to support a family, and that will bring additional pressures to bear on what they can bring in and provide. People who have spoken today have entirely missed the point.

Treating families as a unit within the tax system, as often happens with universal credit, has been widely criticised by women’s organisations because it removes women’s agency. It also removes women’s ability to provide for their families. Under the universal credit system, a woman is disincentivised from leaving a relationship, because all the money goes to the man—the main earner in the household. I appreciate that the Secretary of State has said that she is looking at this issue, but it creates a risk. That also exists within the rape clause of the two-child policy, where the only way a woman can claim this vile clause is to leave the relationship. Women’s organisations across the board say that the most dangerous time for a woman is when she leaves a relationship; that is when she is most likely to be murdered. There is serious stuff about women’s place in this policy.

I was glad to hear that the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire is not calling for the abolition of independent taxation. I am relieved about that. Individuals should be able to exist within the system by themselves, for a very serious reason, which leads on from my point about universal credit. Incentivising marriage is disincentivising separation. There may be very reasonable grounds for separation, particularly in cases of domestic abuse. The marriage allowance, which benefits the higher earner in a family—almost always the man, as I have laid out—exacerbates inequality. To take this to its logical conclusion, if a man assaults his partner, so she cannot go to work, or he prevents her from working through coercive control and financial control, which we know a lot more about and which the Government have said they want to tackle in the Domestic Abuse Bill, he effectively gets a tax break for doing so. That is why this should have no place in the taxation system. It is important that women have agency and are able to get money in. When money is taken away from women, that agency is removed, as well as their ability to look after themselves.

I had many more things I wanted to say about this policy. I had a whole speech written out about other things. We need to recognise that indirect taxation is also a huge issue. VAT disproportionately affects low-income families. According to the latest figures, those at the bottom end of the income distribution now pay nearly one third of their income in indirect taxes. The poorest fifth pay 31% in taxes such as VAT, alcohol and fuel duties, which is much higher than the 13% paid by the richest households. As I have been sitting here, I understand that the European Parliament has finally agreed to abolish the tampon tax. That is something that the UK Government have now delayed for almost four years. I hope that, now that the Minister has the green light that apparently the UK Government were waiting for, that tax on women will go as soon as possible.

While we can talk about taxes and marriage, the real elephant in the room is austerity and the cuts that have been made to women’s budgets. Women need to have agency; that is the most important thing for families across the UK.

Break in Debate

Peter Dowd Portrait Peter Dowd
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

16 Jan 2019, 10:45 a.m.

No, because I have not got much time and I have given way several times. I have other points to make.

The manifesto is linked to the issue of taxation of families, but it is not just the fiscal issue that we have to identify—that is the problem; it is the wider determinants that go way beyond issues of taxation. The hon. Member for Stafford referred to the Christian background. I think it is in Matthew that Christ says,

“render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”.

Effectively, he was saying, “Pay your taxes.” He is a fantastic role model for people who avoid paying their taxes. The bottom line is that a society can be cohesive only if everybody plays their part in it, whether through paying their taxes, charitable interventions or political inventions of the sort we make every day. That is what we have to do.

In the report, the hon. Member for Congleton talks about fathers being registered on birth certificates. That is fine, but an Office for National Statistics report on registration identified the fact that the vast majority of fathers are registered on birth certificates and that of those who are not, something like two thirds or a third are identified as being very much involved with the family. The idea that the registration of a father on a birth certificate will somehow solve some sort of problem is—I will not say laughable—only one element of the totality.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard - -

16 Jan 2019, 10:47 a.m.

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Peter Dowd Portrait Peter Dowd
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

16 Jan 2019, 10:47 a.m.

I will, but the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I do not have much time.

Sir David Crausby (in the Chair)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

16 Jan 2019, 10:47 a.m.

Order. Interventions should be short.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard - -

16 Jan 2019, 10:47 a.m.

It will be, Sir David. The point that my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) was making was that if registrations take place in family centres, the fathers become more involved in what the family centre can provide.

Briefly, in the impact assessment of the Child Poverty Act 2010, which was introduced by the hon. Gentleman’s party when it was in government, there was a recognition that, although poverty leads to family breakdown, family breakdown also leads to poverty. Is that still the Labour party’s position?

Peter Dowd Portrait Peter Dowd
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

16 Jan 2019, 10:49 a.m.

We would reintroduce the targets that we set in relation to child poverty, which the hon. Gentleman’s Government got rid of. That is what is frustrating—Conservative Members are coming to us with all these ideas that the Labour party had for many years and which the Conservative party got rid of when it came to power. The Government got rid of all the things that hon. Members have been talking about and introduced austerity. They said, “Austerity is here. We’re all going to play our part. We’re all in the boat together,” but in reality, we are not.

Although I recognise many of the worthy points made by hon. Members, that worthiness has got to be put in place, not by mechanisms, but by everybody playing their part in society and paying their taxes, and by corporations not getting tax breaks or being able to avoid this, that and the other. The point that the hon. Member for Stafford makes about tax reliefs is fair; I will potentially look at them.

There is a complicated pattern, and on that basis, although I understand some of the points that the hon. Members for Congleton and for Stafford have made, I would say that actions speak louder than words. We need more action and fewer words.

Oral Answers to Questions

Andrew Selous Excerpts
Tuesday 11th December 2018

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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HM Treasury
Elizabeth Truss Portrait Elizabeth Truss
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

11 Dec 2018, 11:49 a.m.

What is important is that we are achieving better results for 16 to 18-year-olds. We are seeing more young people from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university and improvements in the quality of apprenticeships that are being taken up by young people. We are also putting extra money into the new T-levels, which are due to improve technical education.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

11 Dec 2018, 11:50 a.m.

Our FE colleges are great poverty-fighting institutions that provide vital ladders of opportunity for our constituents. Given that school pay rises have been fully funded and FE has only had 0.1%, is there not a case for parity of esteem for teachers in FE colleges?

Elizabeth Truss Portrait Elizabeth Truss
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It was indeed very good that we were able to give teachers, particularly those on the lowest wages, a 3.5% pay rise this year—the highest pay rise seen for a decade. FE colleges are set up differently. They are independent institutions that have the wherewithal to change the pay for lecturers who work within them.

Break in Debate

Elizabeth Truss Portrait Elizabeth Truss
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

11 Dec 2018, 12:34 p.m.

We are doing city deals right across Scotland and they are having huge benefits for the local economy. We have also announced in the Budget a freeze in whisky duty. The question now is how the Scottish Government will respond to that in their budget tomorrow. Will they cut income tax, and will they also cut business rates?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

11 Dec 2018, 12:39 p.m.

How many more trees will be planted as a result of investment announced in the recent Budget?

Lord Hammond of Runnymede Portrait Mr Hammond
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

11 Dec 2018, 12:20 p.m.

A very large number. I will go back to the Treasury and write to my hon. Friend with a precise figure.

Oral Answers to Questions

Andrew Selous Excerpts
Tuesday 3rd July 2018

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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HM Treasury
Lord Hammond of Runnymede Portrait Mr Hammond
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Obviously, the element of funding that can be provided by net savings from contributions to the European Union will depend intrinsically on the deal that we negotiate with the European Union. We will be working to get the very best possible deal that we can for Britain to ensure that that contribution makes up the largest possible proportion of the additional NHS funding.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
- Hansard - -

T4. Only 15% of people who start their working lives in entry-level jobs in this country manage to rise above that level. This country would be more prosperous and socially just, and would have a bigger tax base, if we could help them. What more can we do to help that segment of the population? [906218]

Elizabeth Truss Portrait The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Elizabeth Truss)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

3 Jul 2018, 11:30 a.m.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The way in which we will get higher wages is by improving productivity and skills, which is why we are investing in a record level of apprenticeships and the national training partnership.

Improving Air Quality

Andrew Selous Excerpts
Thursday 28th June 2018

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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HM Treasury
Neil Parish Portrait Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the Joint Report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Environmental Audit, Health and Social Care and Transport Committees, Improving Air Quality, HC 433, and calls on the Government to adopt its recommendations as part of its Clean Air Strategy.

I very much back speakers on the previous motion in their points about contempt of Parliament when people refuse to give evidence to Select Committees.

I am grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to the Liaison Committee and to the Backbench Business Committee for granting time in this House to debate our report on improving air quality. I thank my fellow Chairs and members of the Health, Transport and Environmental Audit Committees for all their work and help; I also thank the many staff across all the Committees for helping put together the four-Committee report, which is a challenging task.

Last October, we launched a joint inquiry to consider the Government’s most recent plans for reducing levels of nitrogen dioxide. The cross-cutting inquiry examined whether the Government’s plans to cut air quality pollution were adequate. We have concluded that they are not. The UK has failed to meet our legal air quality limits since 2010, and successive Governments have failed to get a grip and improve our air quality. Air pollution is a silent killer. It is the largest environmental risk to public health, costing the UK an estimated £20 billion every year in health impacts. Air pollution affects everyone, from those driving their cars to those who walk or cycle to work—especially in the many hotspots in our inner cities.

I am not saying that the Government have failed to take any action. It is good to see that they have taken on board key recommendations in our joint report, including: consolidating the patchwork of air quality legislation; developing a personal air pollution alert system for the public; making better use of air quality data from local authorities; and making sure that those data are compatible with each other. I also very much welcome the commitments in the latest clean air strategy consultation to cut levels of particulate pollution.

Although those initial steps are welcome, they are not nearly enough. Real change requires bold, meaningful actions, which are absent from the Government’s current approach. In our report, we called for a properly resourced national support scheme to help councils struggling with air pollution. Such a scheme would require far greater cross-departmental working and joint planning—something that, as we highlighted, is severely lacking right now. In addition, we recommended a “polluter pays” clean air fund.

This is not a war on motorists. We envisioned that the fund would be paid for by the automobile industry. I do not want to punish those who bought diesel vehicles that had been recommended by previous Governments; they bought in good faith and will need time and support to rectify the mistakes and recommendations of those previous Governments. I urge the Government to re-examine their decision not to have a targeted diesel scrappage scheme.

Furthermore, we need significant efforts to speed up the roll-out of electric charging infrastructure, which must include more rapid charging points to accelerate the transition to low-emission vehicles across all our towns and cities. It is essential that people should be able not only to charge up their cars, but to do so quickly, otherwise we will not get enough people into electric cars. All that requires a new clean air Act to update and streamline existing legislation. The new legislation could also include measures to ensure that the Government are held to account on environmental issues once we have left the EU. A new clean air Act is absolutely essential, and I ask the Minister today to confirm the timescale for the introduction of such an Act.

I find it disappointing that the Government are not making the automobile industry pay for the damage it has caused. We have already been let down in this regard: when we did not get anywhere near enough compensation out of Volkswagen for the emissions scandal. I am amazed that the German Government were able to get €1 billion, while all we seem to have got are the zeros. The automobile industry has a yearly turnover of some £80 billion.

In recent tests, the majority of the latest 2017 diesel cars are almost four times above the EU’s baseline emissions limit.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I come back to my hon. Friend’s point about Volkswagen and Germany. Would it not be ironic and extremely unfortunate if the German car industry used that €1 billion to leapfrog into clean new-energy vehicles that put them at a competitive advantage, given that there has been no similar payment that could help the UK motor industry?

Neil Parish Portrait Neil Parish
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My hon. Friend makes a really good point. I am amazed: do British lawyers lack teeth? Do Government lawyers lack any sort of drive and ambition? It is not just Volkswagen; others out there could also contribute. If we got funds from them, those could help towards producing cleaner vehicles or helping with air quality in our inner cities and hotspots across the country. It seems so ridiculous to lose that form of money and funding.

Break in Debate

Lilian Greenwood Portrait Lilian Greenwood
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28 Jun 2018, 1:36 p.m.

I thank my hon. Friend. She rightly says that a lot of work has been done in London, yet it still faces a huge challenge on air quality. That is one reason why our Select Committee report on the airports NPS calls for extra safeguards on air quality. Obviously, Parliament did vote for the NPS and the Secretary of State has now designated it, but it is essential he keeps his promises on air quality.

It is also vital that the public sector leads, demonstrating what is possible. The Government could set dates by which their car fleet will all be ULEVs. Local authorities, the NHS and other large public bodies could do the same with their fleets. It is not just on road transport where the Government are less ambitious than they might be. The decision to row back from electrification of our railways in favour of bi-mode trains has worrying implications for air quality, carbon emissions and noise. Of course, our Committee has also published a report on rail investment today. Those look more like decisions taken in isolation than decisions taken under the umbrella of an overarching strategy.

There is a danger that the Government rely too heavily on new technologies to solve our air quality challenges, placing too much emphasis on cleaning up road vehicles and not enough on reducing the number of vehicles on our roads. Improving public transport and encouraging active travel should lie at the heart of any clean air strategy. Our four committees concluded that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Transport must work closely with local authorities to ensure that councils introducing clean air zones receive the support they need to implement complementary measures that encourage car drivers to switch to public transport and active travel, as well as increasing the take-up of electric vehicles. Yet modal shift and active travel—walking and cycling—hardly get a mention in the Government’s draft strategy.

Investment in low emission buses is great but the value of such investments is magnified if local authorities also take steps to encourage motorists to opt for buses rather than making journeys by car. The latest passenger statistics show that bus patronage is falling and rail passenger numbers are also down. It is too early to say whether that is a blip or the start of a trend, but the Government should be concerned. Is the policy response in line with the strategy the Government tell us they want to have? Well, not really—the cost of rail and bus travel are rising faster than the cost of motoring. The Government’s own assumptions appear to show that, as things stand, they accept that their policies will not deliver a financial incentive to encourage or support modal shift. Without some action, whether on fuel duty or charging zones, efforts to tackle congestion or improve air quality are less likely to succeed. It would be helpful if the Government were to articulate more clearly than they have what they want to achieve on modal shift and how they will deliver that, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments today.

The Government also need to create a framework in which local authorities have the resources and powers they need to act. The new expectations on councils on air quality come at a time when they are already facing huge funding pressures. The Government must provide all local authorities breaching nitrogen dioxide limit levels with access to the financial resources they need to tackle them. Responsibility for providing those resources should not lie only with the public sector: following the principle that the polluter should pay, the private sector should be asked to contribute to a clean air fund. As hon. Members have said, Volkswagen and other car manufacturers that cheated emissions tests should be held to account. Our Select Committee has repeatedly raised this issue with Ministers and the lack of action is deeply disappointing.

Policies and action at local level also need supporting national polices and a public debate that makes it less difficult to implement things that may not be universally popular. Our ambitions for cleaner air, with the associated public health and environmental benefits, cannot succeed without action by local authorities, businesses and communities. The sustained improvements we have seen in air quality in the past can be continued only if Government action—legislative, policy, taxation, and spending—is co-ordinated and working in tandem with other players. By failing to act in a joined-up way, the Government are not just undermining their air quality strategy; they are missing opportunities for synergies that would help deliver on other policy goals. For example, many of the policies needed to tackle urban congestion could also help to improve air quality, and tackling both could have a positive effect on the local and national economy. A significant increase in active travel could make a difference to policies on tackling obesity, improving mental health and building better communities. Action on air quality could help to reduce carbon emissions. The realisation of the wider benefits cannot be left to happen by chance.

Action on poor air quality is long overdue. There are things we can do—this is not a problem without a solution—but if the Government do not show leadership, nothing will change. We have passed the point where more of the same will do the job; the courts have made that clear. Bold, ambitious and innovative polices are needed to create the right framework for action—a framework within which national policies support and encourage the right kinds of action at a local level. The Government have launched a consultation on their clean air strategy, but its lack of focus on transport emissions looks complacent, falling well short of what we recommended in our joint report. I hope that Ministers will heed our calls today and redouble their efforts.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
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28 Jun 2018, 1:40 p.m.

During the inquiry, we learned from Professor Holgate, the lead clinician from the Royal College of Physicians, that poor air quality is the second biggest cause of avoidable mortality in this country, after smoking. It cuts short some 40,000 lives a year, and we know from the British Heart Foundation and others that even a day’s exposure to elevated levels of poor-quality air can increase the likelihood of a heart attack.

Were any of us to go into our local GP surgery, we would very likely see in the leaflet stands or on the walls information on helping us to reduce our alcohol consumption or to cut back smoking or give up altogether, and hopefully we would see some information on coming off illegal substances. All are public health risks that are well known and well understood, and information on them has reached the level of our local surgeries. I challenge any Member present to go into their local GP surgery and see what they can find about what to do about poor air quality, the second biggest cause of avoidable mortality in our country. We need to do more. GPs are under pressure and there is an awful lot that they need to do. We need education in the medical schools, we need the royal colleges to get on top of the issue and we need Public Health England to take a lead in this policy area. I shall say more about the latter shortly.

I occasionally feel that the issue of poor air quality is set up as a battle between the air-quality zealots on one side and on the other those who champion lower-income motorists and people struggling to get around in their ordinary lives. That is a completely false way to look at the issue. Let us consider for a moment a woman who has to drive a van—probably a diesel van—for her living. She is often stuck in traffic but it is the only way that she can earn her living to put bread on the table for the children. It is possible that she lives near a busy road and her children go to a school that is also near a busy road. That lady needs to earn her living. She needs that van—it is probably the only van that she can get hold of to do her work—but at the same time her health is being damaged. So it is not about the people who are concerned about this issue on one side and on the other people who just see it as a bore from well-meaning busybodies who want to interfere and make their lives more difficult. It is a more nuanced and complicated issue than that. We have to help people to live their lives in an affordable manner so that they can earn their incomes without suffering huge damage to their health. I direct the House’s attention to what the California Air Resources Board did with a targeted scheme to help people on lower incomes to move to cleaner and less polluting vehicles.

If one thing comes out of my speech today, for the House and anybody who may be listening to it outside this place, I want it to be the fact, which is almost unknown and unrecognised by the public, that people in their car are up to 10 times worse off in terms of the damage being done to their health than they are outside on the street. It is the complete opposite of what most of our constituents believe. They believe that if they are in their car with the air conditioning on, they are relatively protected from all the horrible fumes outside.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Ind)
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28 Jun 2018, 1:45 p.m.

I thank my political neighbour for giving way. I suffered from breathing fumes in traffic jams when driving my car on holiday. I did not know that my chest problems were to do with breathing fumes. The simple technique of making sure that when we use our air conditioning, we press the button that recirculates the air inside the car rather than drawing in polluted air from outside, is very important. It would be helpful if that information was given to people.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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28 Jun 2018, 1:45 p.m.

I am grateful to my parliamentary neighbour for giving us that personal example of how he was affected.

I am afraid that the bad news does not stop there. Professor Holgate also told us that even in buses and taxis, for which researchers have done similar measurements, people are two to three times worse off than if they were walking on the street. Of course, we absolutely need to encourage more bus travel, hopefully in clean buses—perhaps electric or hydrogen-powered—but we have to look at how we travel around our big cities, particularly as we arrive in major towns, the traffic slows down and we all get stuck in it. If people knew the facts and were aware, there would be a demand: when people stood for the local council or for Parliament, they would be asked, “What are you going to do to help to make this issue better in my local area when you get on to the council?”, or “What is Parliament going to do about it?”

Mary Creagh
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28 Jun 2018, 1:47 p.m.

I passionately agree with the excellent points that the hon. Gentleman is making, but does he agree that we need fundamentally to rethink how we think of traffic? When people say that they are stuck in traffic, they are traffic—they are part of the congestion. When I cycle to work in the mornings, I am not stuck in traffic because I am part of a cycling stream that is going around the people who are stuck in their vehicles. If we want cities where people can move and breathe, we need fundamentally to rethink what traffic looks like.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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28 Jun 2018, 1:47 p.m.

I completely agree with the hon. Lady. In another guise, I co-chair the all-party group on cycling, so I absolutely get the importance of cycling and walking. They are not just good for our health and do not just cut congestion and pollution, but are good for our mental health, helping us to socialise and build community. There are so many reasons why what the hon. Lady said is absolutely right.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
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28 Jun 2018, 1:48 p.m.

My home is on the west coast of Scotland, where I am lucky to have incredibly clean air, but when I am down here I normally walk or cycle to Parliament. If anyone else present suffers from asthma, they will know what a bad winter I have had, almost continuously since last November. It is no good telling people to get on their bikes or to walk when that then exposes them. We need to deal with the traffic to allow safe cycling.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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28 Jun 2018, 1:48 p.m.

I could not agree more. As someone who over the Easter recess cycled from my home to my constituency office along the busy A5, with juggernauts going fairly close to me, I completely understand what the hon. Lady says. We need safe cycling, and all the evidence shows that more people will cycle if it is safer. That is especially true for children going to school from all the new housing developments. When we build new housing, it is essential that we have safe cycle routes to the schools. That will result in healthier children, less childhood obesity and better communities.

Let me go quickly through the full list of health problems associated with poor air quality. It includes: premature birth; reduction in foetal growth; low birth weight; increased risk of death during the first year of life, particularly from respiratory illnesses; exacerbation of the effects of respiratory infections in young children; and effects on the normal growth of lung function during childhood. There is really shocking evidence that if a child’s lung capacity is damaged when it is young, it may never recover. From a social justice point of view, it is even worse, because it is the poorest kids who are breathing in the worst air. That is why this issue matters so much.

The list also includes cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, hypertension and stroke. Poor air quality also leads to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; pneumonia; accelerated decline in lung function and lung cancer in adulthood; the development of early onset asthma, which the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) mentioned just now, as well as exacerbating asthma in those already living with the condition; impaired cognition; dementia—a big Canadian study showed a link with dementia; and other neuro-degenerative disorders as well as type 2 diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome. I think that we can say that that is a pretty concerning list.

Public Health England is a very fine body, which I admire very greatly. Its chief executive, Duncan Selbie, does very good work, but we need more action from the organisation. It needs to be engaged in this issue. What it has done so far has been quite high level and quite strategic; it has not really come down to the level of the citizen, which is where we need it to be active.

One recommendation of the joint report of the Select Committees was that Public Health England should deliver an effective and appropriate campaign by this September, but Public Health England has told us that that is not possible in the timescale. That is despite the fact that the World Health Organisation has called this issue a public health emergency. I ask PHE to redouble its efforts on this issue and really try to get this information down to local levels so that people are, first, informed and, secondly, know what they can do to protect themselves best, and to stop being part of the problem and to start contributing to the issue.

I was pleased to see in the foreword to the Government’s 2018 clean air strategy, the statement by the Secretary of State that there would be a new goal that takes into account the World Health Organisation guidelines. There was also a commitment to primary legislation. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley), cares a lot about these matters. When he responds, could he please give us a little bit more detail on this issue? There are specific World Health Organisation guidelines on the amount of particulate matter—PM2.5 —that we should not exceed on a daily basis. When the Government talk about taking into account the guidelines, I hope that they will go into that level of detail, bearing in mind what I said about the briefing from the British Heart Foundation about the increased risk of heart attack from elevated exposure to poor air quality just within a 24-hour period.

Winter pressure in the national health service is a huge issue that concerns every single Member here and I know the national health service is taking it extremely seriously as we head towards next winter. I have just been in the Upper Waiting Hall speaking to Dr Hugh Coe from Manchester University as part of evidence week, which is a very welcome intervention, as the top academics and scientists who know about these issues take the time and trouble to come down to Parliament to brief Members so that we are properly informed and can make good decisions on these matters. Dr Hugh Coe confirmed what the clinical chair of Bedfordshire clinical commissioning group said to me quite recently, which was that part of the increase in winter pressures, much of which is caused by older people going into hospital with respiratory problems, is from poor air quality. When we have cold weather in winter, the air is clammy and a bit foggy, which means that the pollution gets stuck in it. We breathe it in. It affects us more as we breathe it in. The same happens when it is very hot in the summer because the sun exacerbates the pollution. Again, I do not think that it is well known that there is this link between poor air quality, higher levels of respiratory problems and the winter pressures that we are all concerned about—a further reason for action.

My final issue is how we energise this issue at a local level. The Government talk about monitoring levels of air quality around schools. I would add old people’s homes as well. There are many other places where it is very important that we know the level of air quality. That information is really important to inform local residents, so that when they are looking to elect people to public office, either to Parliament or to local authorities, they can let them know how seriously they take this issue and the fact that they want something to be done about it.

Finally, we had a meeting on air quality and active travel in my constituency not so long ago. An older lady who had never smoked and who had led a pretty healthy life came up to me and said, “I am here today. I have just been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Where did that come from?” She had never smoked. The chances were, I am afraid, that she got it from breathing in poor quality air. That will greatly affect the last years of her life. Sometimes we talk in statistics and percentages, but I want to end my contribution with that one lady and the impact on her remaining years.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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Order. Just a gentle reminder that if we stick to 10 minutes each, I will not have to impose a time limit. There is another debate to follow this one.

Break in Debate

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire) (SNP)
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28 Jun 2018, 3:24 p.m.

One of the first big steps forward on air quality came after the great smog of 1952, when 4,000 people died within five days and 8,000 died in the following weeks. From that came the Clean Air Act 1956, which reduced pollution, particularly from coal, coming from industrial and domestic sources. However, in the 50 years since, traffic pollution has soared. Some 70% of UK towns and cities are defined as unsafe, with 37 out of 43 clean air zones failing on nitrous dioxides. There is a road in Lambeth that, every single year since 2010, has reached the number of breaches it is allowed in a year by the end of January.

The issue is not only about nitrous dioxides. Particulates have been mentioned—the 10 micrometres, and, more particularly, the 2.5 micrometres. These tiny particles get much further into the lungs and cause more damage. As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) mentioned, that damage particularly affects children and older people. Some 4.5 million children—a third of them—are exposed to unsafe levels. If they live near a busy road, they have twice the rate of respiratory problems. We are talking not only about asthma, the obvious one, but about reduced lung development and—if mothers were exposed during pregnancy—reduced brain development. Such things will lay down the quality of a child’s life before they are even born. Among older people, particulates increase the deterioration in lung function, as well as causing ischemic heart disease, increased rates of dementia and stroke.

Pressure in this country has developed only because of the threat of legal action from the EU last year; the can has been kicked down the road for years. The UK and eight other countries are facing legal action from the EU unless they get serious and radical. We would consider countries such as Germany and France, particularly Germany, to have good public transport. There is a particular need to invest in trains and trams—and in rural areas, in buses. Since transport was deregulated in the 1980s, Strathclyde in the west of Scotland has gone from having an integrated network of trains, tubes and buses to simply a free-for-all of ancient diesel buses all crowding the same roads. We have gone backwards in the past 40 years, and we need to go forwards. In rural areas, it is buses that are important. When it is just left to private companies, small villages quickly lose their bus services, which is not acceptable. We should be radical, and we should look at cities such as Copenhagen, which ripped up a ring road and turned it into a safe cycle route. We need things like that.

We heard from the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) that the cost of lung disease caused by poor air quality is £20 billion, yet we invest less than 5% of that amount in active travel infrastructure. As I said in an intervention, it comes down to health in all policies.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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28 Jun 2018, 3:25 p.m.

The hon. Lady has mentioned Copenhagen. Is she aware that 30% of all journeys in Amsterdam are by bicycle, compared with 2% in London? That came about through a real effort of political will many years ago to recreate the city to be fit for cycling.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
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28 Jun 2018, 3:26 p.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. My understanding is that 50% of journeys in Copenhagen are now made by bicycle. But this does require investment in infrastructure.

The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) mentioned a new tunnel at Silvertown. The Clyde tunnel was finished in 1963 and it consists of two circular tunnels, with the road deck about a third of the way up and room for cyclists, pedestrians and ventilation underneath. That was back in the ’60s. We need to make sure we are not investing in hugely expensive tunnels that go against active transport.

It is about health in all policies. Decisions are made in silos, even in this place. We make decisions on different days that counteract each other, which is frustrating. If we had physical health and mental wellbeing as an overarching principle like human rights, people sitting in our town halls and here would focus not on cars, on how they drive and how they park—that is the focus in our towns and cities at the moment—but on people. We would design safe, segregated cycle routes, and we would have much wider pavements on which children could ride their scooters, and on which people with prams or wheelchairs would not be crowded out—people would not need to step into the roadway to pass them. When we have such glorious and, in Scotland, very unusual sunny weather, it would also create an environment in which cafés could be outside. People would walk around their town centres and meet their neighbours, which would contribute to a sense of belonging and community. I would love to see health and wellbeing as the driving force in every decision made by town halls, national Government and Westminster on how we design our towns and cities.

Paradise Papers

Andrew Selous Excerpts
Monday 6th November 2017

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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HM Treasury
Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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6 Nov 2017, 3:58 p.m.

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, we are committed to country-by-country reporting, which we will push forward with multilaterally. As for our future trade treaties, they are for the future and for the Department for International Trade.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
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6 Nov 2017, 3:58 p.m.

Low rates of tax and growing tax revenues depend critically on every penny of tax due being paid. What is the position if someone receives a fee, then sends it to a trust fund in Mauritius only to receive the money back as a loan?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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6 Nov 2017, 3:58 p.m.

I cannot comment on a specific tax structure put to me in these questions, other than to say that if it falls foul of our very rigorous disguised remuneration arrangements—some of them are being put in place by the latest Finance Bill—the people involved should clearly expect to receive a hand on the shoulder from HMRC.

Balancing the Public Finances

Andrew Selous Excerpts
Tuesday 11th July 2017

(3 years, 8 months ago)

Westminster Hall

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HM Treasury
Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con)
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11 Jul 2017, 10:29 a.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) on securing this really important debate.

Everyone who argues for a splurge on public spending needs to explain where that money will come from. It comes either from increasing taxes or from more borrowing. If we increase taxes, that dampens the economy and takes away people’s hard-won earnings. If we borrow, it drives up interest rates. At the moment, we are very fortunate, in that we have hard-won respectability in the financial markets, which has kept interest rates incredibly low. At a time when the Bank of England is warning banks to increase their capital and about the level of household debt, the risks of increased interest rates to households and mortgage holders are great indeed. We must be mindful of any idea of increasing public spending, given the constraints.

When it comes to tax, we need to look at reforming the system and particularly at how taxation of multinationals works. Amazon pays very little tax in this country and hardly any business rates, yet it is killing our high streets. That is not fair. We need to rebalance the tax system to make a level competitive playing field, not just on our high streets but across the piece in business, so that we have more fairness and all businesses can succeed and compete equally.

Finally, we have a productivity challenge. We must get more investment into the real economy, which is why there should be a much greater focus on both sides of the House. We owe it to all our citizens to do all we can to get the nation a pay rise.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
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11 Jul 2017, 10:33 a.m.

Economies that lose control of their finances lose control of their destiny and that is why it is absolutely right to focus on living within our means. Conservative Members believe that the best way to do that is to power up an enterprise economy. We all hate austerity; we believe in prosperity. We believe in creating businesses and helping them to grow and expand to create the wealth to fund public services so that we can see them grow and develop.

We must be conscious that as a country we need not only to live within our means but to help our lower paid workers to have the means to live. I am proud of what the Government have done with the national living wage because we want well-paid jobs and decent public services. Productivity is the absolute key to higher wages, often for lower paid workers—a good movement, “Be the Business”, has been launched by Charlie Mayfield today. Technical education is at the heart of that, so the Government are putting it to the front. Dealing with extortionate housing costs in London and the wider south-east is also key to the productivity issue, because high housing costs are a drag on the economy. Our national productivity infrastructure fund, focusing on transport, digital, research, investment and housing, is absolutely the right way forward. We should have common purpose across the House; we must all focus on driving up the country’s productivity.

I am proud that, as a result of the hard things that the Government have had to do, the richest 1% are paying more in tax than happened under Labour and that income inequality is at its lowest since 1986—according to the Office for National Statistics, not the Conservative research department. Finally, the Government have taken 75 measures to raise an extra £140 billion in tax.

Joan Ryan (in the Chair)
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11 Jul 2017, 10:33 a.m.

I will now call the Front-Bench spokesmen. If they take eight or nine minutes each, Mr Harper will have one minute at the end.

Break in Debate

Peter Dowd Portrait Peter Dowd (Bootle) (Lab)
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11 Jul 2017, 10:38 a.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your stewardship today, Ms Ryan. I welcome the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to his position. I have no doubt we will have many of these debates in future. I thank the right hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) for tabling this debate on this important issue and on the need for Governments to balance the books. I also thank hon. Members for inviting me to the 1922 Committee. It is a pleasure. That was a joke—give it a bit of thought and try to keep up.

It is worth looking at the Conservative Government, in which the right hon. Member for Forest of Dean was a Minister for six years when all those decisions were made. Since coming to office, the Conservative Government have consistently failed to balance the books and to abolish the deficit, despite continually pledging to do so.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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11 Jul 2017, 10:39 a.m.

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Peter Dowd Portrait Peter Dowd
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11 Jul 2017, 10:40 a.m.

May I get further into my speech? I will then be happy to give way.

First, it was promised that the deficit would be abolished by 2015. Then it was pushed back to 2020. We have now been told by the Chancellor that it is likely that it will not be abolished until 2025. The phrase used in the Conservative manifesto—hon. Members will appreciate that I read it avidly—was

“by the middle of the next decade”.

A full 10 years after the former Chancellor originally pledged to do it, and a full 15 years since the Conservatives started making the promise, the books still will not be balanced.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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11 Jul 2017, 10:40 a.m.

Does the hon. Gentleman think that our task of reducing the deficit would have been easier or more difficult if we had acceded to the Labour party’s continual requests for more spending and its opposition to every single reduction in spending that we put through?

Peter Dowd Portrait Peter Dowd
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11 Jul 2017, 10:41 a.m.

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I am not going to get into hypotheticals or “what ifs” in this debate. We are looking to the future. That was promised. [Interruption.] I am sorry; I did not hear what was said. That was promised, but the Conservatives failed to deliver. I do not think that there is a case in modern political history of a British Government so regularly failing to meet their own economic targets.

Equitable Life Policyholders: Compensation

Andrew Selous Excerpts
Thursday 23rd March 2017

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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HM Treasury
Fabian Hamilton Portrait Fabian Hamilton (Leeds North East) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), with whom I have worked for the past few years as—I should declare this—the co-chair of the all-party group on justice for Equitable Life policyholders.

I am very sad that after so many years of debating this issue in this House, we are back once again talking about the continuing losses suffered by hundreds of thousands of Equitable Life policyholders. As we have heard, they invested in the world’s oldest life assurance company in the belief that they would be able to have a comfortable old age, but instead, after a lifetime of saving, they find themselves sometimes destitute, and often much poorer through no fault of their own.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
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Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the issue is not just one of restitution for our constituents who have lost out, but one of confidence in the whole savings culture for future generations, which is very important, and that the two issues are linked?

Fabian Hamilton Portrait Fabian Hamilton
- Hansard - - Excerpts

Indeed, I do agree, and I will go on to say something about that, but there is also a third dimension, which is that we have a moral duty to ensure that the Equitable Life policyholders are compensated.

How have we arrived at this situation at this point in time, 17 years after Equitable closed its doors to new investors, and seven years after the previous Government promised to ensure that the losses incurred by Equitable policyholders would be compensated? My first involvement in the Equitable saga was to speak in an Adjournment debate that I secured in Westminster Hall on 24 June 2009. In that debate, I spoke about the serious issues facing all our constituents since the crash of Equitable Life, following its inability to meet its obligations and the promises it had made to investors over the decades. Equitable Life started selling pensions as early as 1913, but it was not until 1957 that the society started selling its now infamous guaranteed annuity rate pensions, which promised a clear and unambiguous return on the capital invested. That carried on until 1988, when the society realised that its rates were so good and so far ahead of the rest of the market that they were, in reality, totally unsustainable. In December 2000, Equitable Life was forced to close to new business.

Oral Answers to Questions

Andrew Selous Excerpts
Tuesday 17th January 2017

(4 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber

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HM Treasury
Mr Gauke
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We are likely to build more affordable homes in this Parliament than have been built since the 1970s.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
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There are currently 87,000 ultra-low emission vehicles on our roads, but the Committee on Climate Change says that we need 1.7 million by 2020. What more can the Treasury do to help us to reach that challenging target?

Lord Hammond of Runnymede Portrait Mr Philip Hammond
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I recognise my hon. Friend’s concern. This matter was on my agenda when I was Transport Secretary in 2010. The roll-out of ultra-low emission vehicles has been disappointing—it has not been as fast as I would have hoped—and that will be one of the issues we consider as we try to respond to concerns about air quality, which have been reinforced by recent court decisions requiring the Government to review their approach on that.

Concentrix: Tax Credit Claimants

Andrew Selous Excerpts
Tuesday 18th October 2016

(4 years, 4 months ago)

Westminster Hall

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HM Treasury
Fiona Mactaggart
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One consequence for a number of children is that they have lost their entitlement to free school meals, so they have suffered doubly as a result of what has happened to them.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
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The right hon. Lady is being extremely generous in giving way, and we are all grateful to her. I had a case in which a single mother was accused of living with a former tenant who had moved out in 2014. Does the right hon. Lady not agree that although issues must be investigated, to do so on the basis of allegation, without evidence, and to stop payment, is not really a satisfactory way for Concentrix or anyone else to operate?

Fiona Mactaggart
- Hansard - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I will try to make some progress, so that he can see what I want to say about that kind of issue. Decisions were certainly made on the basis of inadequate evidence, in a way that I believe was actually illegal under the Tax Credits Act 2002, and should not have been permitted.

Draft Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975 (Amendment) (England and Wales) Order 2016

Andrew Selous Excerpts
Monday 4th July 2016

(4 years, 8 months ago)

General Committees

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HM Treasury
Andrew Selous Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Andrew Selous)
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I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975 (Amendment) (England and Wales) Order 2016.

Good afternoon, Mr Wilson. May I say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon? I hope this measure will not detain the Committee for too long.

The order is part of the Government’s ongoing commitment to keeping safeguarding measures in step with developments elsewhere. The amendments contained within it seek to maintain the balance between the rehabilitation of offenders and the need to protect the public.

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 seeks to aid the reintegration into society of offenders who put their criminal past behind them. It does so by declaring certain cautions and convictions as spent after a specified period of time. Once a caution or conviction has become spent, an ex-offender is not required to declare it when entering most kinds of employment or applying for insurance, for example, and it cannot be taken into account; that is, ex-offenders are treated as if they had not been charged with or convicted of an offence at all.

Research has consistently shown that obtaining employment is an important factor in reducing the risk of offending. However, there must, of course, be a balance to ensure that members of the public are adequately protected. To that end, the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975 creates exceptions to the 1974 Act so that in some circumstances all spent as well as unspent convictions and cautions must be disclosed and may be taken into account when assessing a person’s suitability for certain positions. When, for example, a person applies for a job listed in the exceptions order, the employer is entitled to ask about certain spent convictions and cautions as well as those that are unspent.

The areas of activity included in the exceptions order require a high degree of trust and often involve vulnerable persons. It is therefore right that an employer should know a person’s fuller criminal history before an offer of employment is made and that consideration can be given to any necessary safeguards to be put in place. It is the exceptions order that sets out the exceptions to the general protections under the 1974 Act.

The Police Act 1997 is the related legislation that sets out the process for the issue of criminal record certificates, otherwise known as standard disclosure, and of enhanced criminal record certificates. Standard disclosure contains details of a person’s unprotected spent cautions and convictions; enhanced disclosure includes, in addition, any information that the chief officer of police considers relevant to the particular application. Disclosure certificates are issued by the Disclosure and Barring Service.

The 2016 order will introduce three amendments to the exceptions order. The first is designed to align the exceptions order with the Police Act 1997 (Criminal Records) Regulations 2002 in relation to certain regulated activities with children; the second creates exceptions for certain roles in the Independent Police Complaints Commission; the third relates to judicial appointments, which are already covered by the exceptions order, to allow for wider disclosure of criminal conviction information.

There is an anomaly between the exceptions order and the connected Police Act 1997 (Criminal Records) Regulations 2002 that needs to be rectified. The 2002 regulations cover both regulated activity relating to children that is unsupervised and carried out on a frequent basis, such as teaching, and any activity that would be defined as a regulated activity relating to children if it were done frequently, such as the provision of health and palliative care to children who are sick or disabled, or childminding on a one-off basis during school holidays. Currently, however, only activity carried out frequently is covered by the exceptions order. The purpose of the amendment, therefore, is to align the order with the Police Act regulations so that positions involving unsupervised work with children on an infrequent basis are eligible for enhanced criminal records checks.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission was established by the Police Reform Act 2002 and became operational in April 2004. The IPCC’s primary statutory purpose is to secure and maintain public confidence in the police complaints system in England and Wales. It makes decisions independently of the police, Government and interest groups. It investigates the most serious complaints and incidents involving the police across England and Wales as well as handles certain appeals from people who are not satisfied with how the police have dealt with their complaints.

The IPCC is currently undertaking a three-year programme of change and expansion, which means that, by the end of 2017, it will independently investigate all serious and sensitive cases. That expansion has increased the number of cases and breadth of matters being investigated, which includes an increased number of allegations of child sexual abuse and exploitation and allegations concerning the abuse of vulnerable adults. The amendment to the exceptions order will commit the IPCC to ask for and take into account the unprotected spent convictions and cautions of those staff and commissioners who have contact with vulnerable adults or who have access to sensitive and personal information relating to children and vulnerable adults.

Contact with children by commissioners and other IPCC staff is already covered by other provisions in the exceptions order relating to regulated activity. Similarly, the IPCC will be able to ask for disclosure of such information when recruiting to those roles. It is important that IPCC staff and commissioners undertaking that work should be subject to disclosure of unprotected spent cautions and convictions to assess their suitability for those roles. The amendment to the exceptions order provides for that.

The Judicial Appointments Commission is an independent commission established under the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 to select candidates of good character for judicial office in courts and tribunals in England and Wales. Prior to the Act, appointments were made by the Lord Chancellor. Magistrates fall outside the remit of the JAC. They are appointed by the senior presiding judge, but they are assessed for suitability in the same way as judicial appointees. Judicial appointments are already covered by the exceptions order, which means that the JAC is currently entitled to ask candidates for details of their unspent convictions and those spent cautions and convictions that are not protected from disclosure, and it can take that information into account.

I need to explain what we mean by protected cautions and convictions. It used to be the case that where an occupation or activity was listed in the exceptions order, full disclosure of all spent cautions and convictions was required. In May 2013, however, following a Court of Appeal judgment that was upheld by the Supreme Court, the Government amended the exceptions order to provide that certain old and minor spent cautions and convictions were protected from routine disclosure and criminal record certificates—in other words, they are filtered from certificates and they do not have to be disclosed by individuals; nor can they be taken into account by employers.

Since the change in policy, the JAC has therefore been entitled to take into account only unprotected spent cautions and convictions. However, the Lord Chief Justice has asked for the commission to be added to the limited number of roles—for example, the police—for which it is considered necessary and proportionate to be allowed to request the disclosure of all cautions and convictions, including those that are protected. The JAC is clear that disclosure of old and minor cautions and convictions is required to mitigate the risk to the integrity of the judiciary, should details of an appointee’s previous caution or conviction subsequently emerge. That is because of the unique position of the judiciary and magistracy for which the significance of a caution or conviction is considered much greater. It is a requirement that judges be of good character, and were that good character not possessed, there would be potential damage to the public’s confidence in their constitutional function. The amendment will allow full disclosure of spent cautions and convictions by disapplying the provisions of the exceptions order that would otherwise protect certain such cautions and convictions from disclosure.

Before the Government agreed to support such a change, we asked the commission to put in place a clear and transparent recruitment policy for the treatment of old and minor cautions and convictions to ensure that all applications would be treated objectively and fairly. Proper and balanced consideration will be given to any old and minor spent convictions that are disclosed, and they will not automatically preclude an applicant from taking up a judicial appointment. The JAC good character guidance has been updated, and if Parliament approves the amendment, that guidance will be available to candidates once the order comes into force.

The instrument illustrates our commitment to update legislation when necessary to protect the public, in line with the latest analysis of risks. It is focused on maintaining the correct public protection balance. The amendments to the exceptions order are limited in scope but will ensure that employers can request and take into account the convictions and cautions of individuals who work closely with vulnerable people and those investigating child abuse, and will preserve the integrity of the judiciary.

Jo Stevens Portrait Jo Stevens (Cardiff Central) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Wilson. I thank the Minister for outlining the order, which will make amendments to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 in relation to current regulated activities under the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006, in that certain members of staff and commissioners of the IPCC, and candidates seeking appointment to judicial office, will have to have an enhanced criminal records check. The Minister outlined a further category in relation to the Police Act 1997.

I understand that there has been no public consultation on the Judicial Appointments Commission amendment but key stakeholders were consulted. I, too, have consulted key stakeholders. Will the Minister explain why there was no public consultation on that amendment and identify the key stakeholders that were consulted about the amendment?

The order extends the number of roles for which employers will be entitled to know about spent convictions. Will the Minister please outline what support and/or guidance the Government will give to employers to ensure that that change does not result in a blanket refusal to employ people with spent convictions who are legitimately seeking to lead law-abiding lives? There are many ways in which risk can be managed; the challenge is knowing about it and dealing with it rather than avoiding it altogether. I am concerned that employers may feel that the best approach is to eliminate risk completely by not employing people who have criminal records.

Although it is extremely important that we do all we can to facilitate the employment of ex-offenders, we know that public safety must always be paramount. Subject to the Minister’s clarification on those issues, the Opposition welcome the amendments, as they ensure that further checks will be carried out into the backgrounds of those who are working with vulnerable people and on extremely sensitive issues to assess their suitability for such roles.

Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson. I support entirely the aims of the order and my Front-Bench colleague’s position, not least on the provisions about the protection of children, which I think we would all agree is crucial. However, I have become aware of an unusual case in my constituency that I want to share with the Minister, because it shows that some inconsistencies exist within the current system of sensitive occupations for which convictions may or may not have to be disclosed. If I might put that case to the Minister, perhaps he will come back to me in writing or express his views on it, because I think it is worth looking at.

The case concerns a constituent who has served extensively in the British armed forces, including as a Royal Military Police officer, and has also been on detachment to police forces in other countries around the world. He served with distinction and in fact has been commended for his work both with the RMP and when attached to an overseas police force, but unfortunately, he received a relatively minor conviction as a teenager, I believe involving the theft of a motor vehicle. From what I gather about the case, he is completely reformed and had served with distinction in the forces and in those roles. He wanted to serve in the police force in this country, not least given his experience, but he has been told at various points that that would not be possible because that would involve the disclosure of that relatively minor offence from his teenage years and because of the risk that that may pose.

There does seem to be an inconsistency, however, because although he was allowed to serve as an RMP officer and with a police force in another country, he appears to be barred from joining the police force in this country. Indeed, when I have spoken to police officers who know him, they argue he is exactly the sort of person they would want to recruit, not least given his extensive experience and commitment to the role, but they cannot do that because of those inconsistencies. Interestingly, he applied and got accepted for and now works as a prison officer, which one would argue is an important and sensitive role for which such matters should be disclosed.

I accept that such cases are extremely rare and often extremely unusual, but I would appreciate it if the Minister would look into that and the wider consistency of application. I think my constituent feels that there is at least an inconsistency if not an injustice which means he cannot apply to be a police officer. I say that while fully agreeing with the Minister that this is an important order and I entirely support the principles behind it.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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I will do my best to respond to the various points made in the debate. The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth raised a valid, real-life case from his constituency and I will ask the police Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), to respond because, as I am not the policing Minister, I am not qualified to speak about the police’s requirements. However, the point made about the gentleman serving as a Royal Military Police officer and currently being a prison officer is valid, so I will ask my right hon. Friend to write to the hon. Gentleman on that.

I want to reassure the hon. Member for Cardiff Central as strongly as I can that I am absolutely passionate about ex-offender employment and I am doing everything I possibly can to get employers to realise that there is a good business case for it. We have many successful examples of ex-offenders who have gone on to be extremely valuable members of staff. Indeed, what I hear by and large from employers is very high-quality feedback: people have really appreciated being given that second chance and taken full advantage of it. That tends to benefit employers in terms of the length of time employees stay and the commitment they show. I do not believe that anything in the order will put that in doubt in any way.

The hon. Lady made the valuable point that the order is about giving employers knowledge, but we ask them to assess intelligently the information provided to them. She made a good point about disclosure not automatically leading to a blanket ban. That is very much the case in terms of judicial appointments.

If I may, I will write to the hon. Lady about consultation on the JAC. I know informal consultations took place and that there was wide support. I also know concerns had been raised by the Lord Chief Justice on seeking the changes as far as the Judicial Appointments Commission is concerned. I hope that that has reassured the Committee. As I said, I commit to write back to the hon. Lady on that.

Question put and agreed to.

Safety in Custody and Violence in Prisons

Andrew Selous Excerpts
Monday 9th May 2016

(4 years, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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HM Treasury
Andy Slaughter Portrait Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab)
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(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Justice if he will make a statement on safety in custody and violence in prisons.

Andrew Selous Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Andrew Selous)
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Before I move on to the substance of the question, I would like to update the House on events that occurred at Her Majesty’s Prison Wormwood Scrubs over the weekend. On the morning of Friday 6 May, prison officers refused to enter the prison, citing health and safety grounds. Later that day, an agreement was reached between the National Offender Management Service and the Prison Officers Association. All officers have returned to work, and the prison is running a normal regime. The National Offender Management Service and the Prison Officers Association are jointly committed to resolving any outstanding health and safety concerns at HMP Wormwood Scrubs. On Sunday 8 May, two members of staff at Wormwood Scrubs were assaulted and taken to hospital for treatment. We do not tolerate any violence against our hard-working officers. The alleged perpetrator now faces a police investigation that could lead to criminal charges.

Moving on to the wider question, I take safety in prisons very seriously. Reducing the harm that prisoners may cause to themselves or to others is the Government’s top priority in prisons. The most recent statistics on safety in custody show that levels of self-inflicted death, self-harm and violence in prison are too high. The figures demonstrate the very serious challenges facing the prison service. There is no single, simple solution to the increase in deaths and violence in prisons. Those trends have been seen across the prison estate, in both public and private prisons and in prisons both praised and criticised by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons.

We have already taken a number of steps to address the problems. We have recruited 2,830 prison officers since January 2015; that is a net increase of 530. We are trialling the use of body-worn cameras in prisons. We are strengthening the case management of individuals who risk harming others. We have introduced tough new laws under which those who smuggle packages, including packages containing new psychoactive substances, over prison walls will face up to two years in prison. We have reviewed the case management process for prisoners who are assessed as being at risk of harm to themselves, and we are implementing the recommendations.

It is, however, clear that we must do more. We need to reduce violence and prevent drugs from entering prison. We must do better at helping prisoners with mental health problems. We must ensure that prisoners can be rehabilitated so that they are no longer a danger to others. That is why the Government are committed to fundamental reform of our prisons. We have secured £1.3 billion to modernise the prison estate, and we will give greater autonomy to governors so that they are truly in charge. I look forward to setting out our plans in greater detail shortly.

The problems are deep-seated, and there are no easy answers. However, I assure the House that the Government will not waver in their determination to reform our prisons, so that they become places of decency, hope and rehabilitation.

Andy Slaughter Portrait Andy Slaughter
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for that response, but I fear that it was exactly what we have heard time and time again at the Dispatch Box. I hope that he will concede that the situation in our prisons on the youth estate is very serious, and that the recent incidents are part of a pattern of unacceptable conditions and unacceptable violent behaviour. It cannot be right that prisoners, staff and, ultimately, the public are at risk from the Government’s failure to get a grip on the crisis in our prisons. That makes it all the more surprising that the Secretary of State is not here today. We are all, whatever our view, engaged in the referendum campaign; that is no reason for him to neglect his responsibility as Secretary of State.

Yesterday, as the Minister said, two prison officers were hospitalised after being assaulted while they were on duty at Wormwood Scrubs prison in my constituency. Our thoughts are with them and their families. That is a reminder of the difficult and dangerous job that officers do every day, often hidden from the public gaze and without the acknowledgement that they deserve. The attack was entirely predictable—so much so that two days earlier, as the Minister acknowledged, 70 members of staff at Wormwood Scrubs had walked out because they did not feel safe. Although Tornado officers were sent into the prison on Saturday, they were withdrawn on Sunday, which was when the attacks happened. What specific steps are being taken to ensure safety in HMP Wormwood Scrubs? I am told that drugs, phones and even knives are being thrown over the walls because of insufficient patrolling of the grounds and cell searches caused by insufficient staffing numbers. Will additional officers be provided to undertake these basic tasks until order is restored and a review of staffing at this and similar prisons is undertaken?

What happened at Wormwood Scrubs is not an isolated incident; it is typical of the dangers and problems across the prison and youth estate. In the past few days, reports on Lewes and Leeds prisons have told a similar story. Last week, it was revealed that the Department is about to take over the management of Medway secure training centre following the “Panorama” exposé of the appalling conduct of G4S and some of its staff in running that institution, including allegations of serious violence against children.

Fourteen prison staff are assaulted every day. There were 4,963 assaults on staff by prisoners in 2015, compared with 3,640 in 2014, which is a 36% increase in attacks. Prisons are now violent and dangerous places. Serious self-harm and suicides are at record levels. We have heard for a year that the Government wish to transform our prisons, but words are no longer enough. Now is the time for action before more prisons become ungovernable and there are more serious injuries or—God forbid—the death of an officer on duty.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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This Government are not in denial about the situation, we have not been idle in seeking to address it and we do not lack vision or political will on the issues that the hon. Gentleman has quite rightly raised. I assure him that the Secretary of State takes this issue extremely seriously, and it is our top priority as far as prisons are concerned.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that the work that prison officers do—day in, day out—across our country is, by its very nature, hidden from public view. They are outstanding public servants who do amazingly good work, which, unfortunately, is not seen or perhaps not as fully appreciated by most of us as it should be.

The nature of the offenders in custody has changed. Today, about 30% more people are sentenced to prison for violent offences, and prisoners often act more spontaneously and more violently to achieve their objectives than they did in the past.

On recruitment, I repeat what I said: we have been recruiting at full strength for the past two years. We have recruited an extra 2,830 officers since 2015, and we are continuing to recruit at that level to make sure that our prisons are adequately staffed.

Cheryl Gillan Portrait Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con)
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The Minister knows that we are gradually understanding more and more about the violence that affects our prisons. Violence can sometimes be due to the inappropriate handling of prisoners with mental health problems or, indeed, those on the autism spectrum, and just small changes can make a difference to the behaviour of such individuals. Does the Minister welcome the National Autistic Society’s initiative for some of our prisons to have autism awareness accreditation, particularly Feltham young offenders institution, where it is making a difference, and will he assure me that he will look at fully rolling out this programme across the prison and custody system?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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First, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for her extensive knowledge of this issue and, indeed, for the legislation that she initiated in this House. It was a great pleasure to visit HMP Feltham with her. I can tell the House that Feltham is now the first autism accredited prison in the whole world, which is something I am extremely proud of. This good work must not stop at Feltham: we need to spread it across the prison estate. She is absolutely right that this is one part of reducing violence across the estate.

Joanna Cherry Portrait Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP)
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Inspectors have warned of “Dickensian squalor” inside Wormwood Scrubs, following a scathing report that revealed that the jail is rat-infested and overcrowded, with inmates spending up to 22 hours a day locked in very squalid cells. Overcrowding and poor conditions exacerbate the risk of violence not only to staff but to other prisoners. It is clear from a recent statement from the Prison Governors Association that understaffing is still an issue. Will the Minister assure us that the ideological drive to cut public services and to shift to private sector provision will not further jeopardise staff and prison safety?

Will the Minister also look to the example of the Scottish Government? Their approach of recommending a presumption against shorter sentences of three months or under has led to the numbers of such sentences plummeting, and the reconviction rate is at a 16-year low. Will he take steps to follow their lead in creating a presumption against short sentences and investing instead in robust community sentences in order to address the underlying causes of crime more effectively?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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I visited HMP Wormwood Scrubs a week or so ago. We have an excellent new governor in the prison, who has a good record and I believe has the best possible chance of making sure that it improves on those issues. There are 15 officers over and above the benchmark level within Wormwood Scrubs. The drive to greater governor autonomy will help to deal with a number of the issues. The Government are currently consulting on sentencing issues.

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis (Banbury) (Con)
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I thank my hon. Friend for the interest he has in prison security, and, indeed, for the action he has taken on it; the Justice Committee shares his interest. Today I met the prisons and probation ombudsman, who told me that on current estimates 61% of inmates take psychoactive substances. What consideration has my hon. Friend given to enlarging smoke-free zones in prisons, and to what extent does he feel that that might help with the problems?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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My hon. Friend, who is very knowledgeable on these issues as a member of the Select Committee, is absolutely right to point the finger at the terrible damage caused by new psychoactive substances. I agree that rolling out smoke-free prisons across England and Wales will help us to reduce that damage—we know that those psychoactive substances are sometimes smoked openly, with prisoners pretending that they are smoking tobacco. I am with her in wanting to see the roll-out progress, but we will only do that in a measured and safe way.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab)
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The independent monitoring board for Leicester prison published a damning report about conditions there this morning. The report pointed to all the matters that the Minister has raised—rising levels of violence, use of drugs and mental health issues. This issue is about increasing staffing. Although the Government have increased the number of prison officers, there are clearly not enough. What further steps can be taken to help the officers at Leicester prison?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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My commitment to the House is to carry on recruiting at the increased level of activity that there has been for the past few years. It is proving successful. It is a challenge, at some specific sites in London and the south-east more than at others, but we are managing to make progress. There is the budget to carry on employing prison officers and I am determined to carry on with our recruitment objectives.

Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I call Alex Chalk.

Break in Debate

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer (South East Cambridgeshire) (Con)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

The Minister mentioned the importance of dealing with mental health in prisons. On Friday I met a justice of the peace in my constituency who talked about the good work done by the liaison and diversion services. He encouraged me to encourage the Minister and the Secretary of State to extend those services and ensure that more community orders have as a condition that people get the help they need.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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My hon. and learned Friend, who is also extremely knowledgeable on these issues, is absolutely right. The Government are committed to making sure that there is universal access to a mental health assessment from the moment that anyone encounters the criminal justice system. I also point her to the co-commissioning that is going to happen between governors and NHS England on mental health and drug abuse services. That will also be very beneficial.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I have no doubt that the Minister wants to sort this problem out, and his account of a passion for reform, decency and hope was compelling, except for the fact that it has not worked. Since 2012, the number of assaults in prisons has doubled, as have the number of assaults on staff. Although he talked about recruiting more staff recently, total numbers of staff have fallen. Those staff are frightened—brave prison officers are scared to go to work. What can the Minister say to stop them feeling frightened?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

The right hon. Lady is right to say that confidence is an extremely important commodity as far as the day-to-day work of prison officers is concerned. She has been involved with these issues for many years, and she will know that the Prison Service has been affected in a major way by waves of drugs. In the early 1990s, and before that, such things had serious implications for prisons, and led to riots and serious assaults in high numbers. We have a two-year violence reduction project. It would not be helpful now to give the House a shopping list of individual measures, but detailed, serious work is taking place across the estate, including the violence diagnostic tool and many other measures to help back up hard-working prison officers. The body-worn camera initiative is also proving valuable, and we hope to say more about that soon.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Mrs Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Con)
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Does the Minister agree that the prevalent use of lethal highs, in particular “spice”, in HMP Northumberland in my constituency, is one clear cause of the increase in violence and unpredictable behaviour among our prison population? What are we doing to try to reduce dramatically the numbers of those goods?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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It was a great pleasure to go round HMP Northumberland with my hon. Friend not long ago, and I commend her for calling these terrible drugs “lethal” highs. From 26 May they will all be completely illegal when the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 is enforced. That is very welcome, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right. We will not waver in our determination to crack down on those substances.

Ian Lavery Portrait Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for an amicable meeting last week about HMP Northumberland. The common denominator throughout the whole prison estate across the country is simply a lack of manpower. That is causing the violence—whether it be prisoner on prisoner or prisoner on staff—mental health issues and the problems with alcohol, “spice” or whatever. The Minister has said that this issue is challenging. What extra measures can he take to ensure that plenty of staff are employed in prisons to maintain a safe environment for everybody on the prison estate?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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My door is always open to the hon. Gentleman, and if he has further concerns about HMP Northumberland, he is welcome to come and see me again. If we analyse what has happened across the prison estate, we see that the increase in violence has taken place in prisons where there has been an increase in the number of officers and in prisons where numbers have stayed the same, and where there have been reductions. He is right to say that we need adequate levels of staff, which is why I give him the commitment that I have already given the House that we will carry on recruiting at our current level, which included a net increase of 530 officers last year.

Richard Drax Portrait Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con)
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I have asked the Minister to come and visit young offenders at Portland, and I hope he will do so shortly. There was an unpleasant riot the other day, and prison officers were put in danger. I pay credit to all prison officers who work like a forgotten army behind the scenes. Portland is a fairly old structure, and the number of floors—there are four or five—is a particular concern because there are not enough officers to man them all at the same time. That puts those officers at risk, and allows prisoner free rein where they perhaps should not have it. Will my hon. Friend look at that issue and increase the number of prison officers at the young offenders institution as fast as we can?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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It would be a pleasure to visit HMP-YOI Portland with my hon. Friend in due course and I note what he says about the design of that particular prison. The £1.3 billion commitment provides the Government with the opportunity to get the best design knowledge from around the world to ensure that the new prisons we build are as safe as possible. That will also enable us to cease to operate some prisons where assaults and bullying take place in part because of poor design.

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab)
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In the first five years of this Government, the number of prison officers fell by 41%. In the sixth year of this Government, assaults on prison officers rose by the same percentage—41%. The Minister mentions that prison officer numbers are increasing, but he uses a figure based on the past couple of years. Will he tell me how many prison officers there were in 2010 and how many there are today?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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I do not have those particular figures to hand for the right hon. Gentleman, although my memory is that he has asked me that question before and that I have written to him with the answer. I will dig out the letter I sent to him; maybe it went astray. Speaking as a current prisons Minister to a former prisons Minister—I know he cares as deeply about these issues as I do—he will know that these issues are not easy. He knows that his own Government faced considerable difficulties on exactly the same issues. What is not in doubt is this Government’s utter determination, through the prison reform programme, to get on top of them.

Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - Excerpts

The right hon. Gentleman was chuntering repeatedly from a sedentary position that he knew the answer to his own question, which is probably very wise and knowledge of which will enable us all to sleep much more soundly in our beds tonight.

Philip Hollobone Portrait Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I commend my hon. Friend for his work as prisons Minister. He takes his role extremely seriously. I think my constituents will be very surprised to hear quite how much stuff is being thrown over prison walls: mobile phones, drugs, lethal highs and knives. Surely in 2016 we have the ability to stop this happening, or at least to minimise it? What plans does the Minister have to tackle this issue?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

These issues are not easy. Our prisons are not like the Eden Project: they do not have a dome over the top of them. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to get things over a prison wall, as I saw when I went around HMP Rochester last Thursday morning. My hon. Friend raises an important issue. All of us, particularly as Members of Parliament, have a role in getting the message out in our communities that new psychoactive substances are lethal. They do terrible harm to the loved ones of families who inadvertently bring them into prisons. We need local communities to work with us and the police to try to stop the terrible flow of evil drugs over prison walls.

Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

The Minister is absolutely right: prison officers do an exceptionally difficult job. They need and deserve our fullest possible support. That has to be more than a platitude. For that to be the case, staffing levels have to be addressed. The other issue that has to be addressed is prison overcrowding. The prison population is now in excess of 90,000 inmates. In the past 15 years, the length of sentences has gone up by 33%. Can the Minister assure me that, as he tackles this issue, he will look at it in the round; that he will look not just at prisons in isolation but at how they interact with police, prosecution and court authorities?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his praise for the work of our outstanding prison officers. We are consulting on sentencing issues, which have a bearing on overcrowding. We are also determined to bring down reoffending. Our success in reducing reoffending will help to reduce overcrowding.

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst (Rochester and Strood) (Con)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for his comments today and for his support with regard to our concerns about HMP Rochester and the Medway Secure Training Centre. I also thank him for his very speedy meeting with me and the governor of HMP Rochester earlier this year. The Minister will know that Medway Secure Training Centre was at the centre of abuse allegations. Will he confirm when the Medway improvement board report will be published? My constituents want reassurance that action and improvements have taken place, so that young people are safe in Medway.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

I commend my hon. Friend for her serious interest in and support for the three prisons in her constituency. I was in HMP Rochester on Thursday morning, and I commend, in particular, the outstanding work of its governor and head of security to combat the constant pressure of drugs coming into the prison. On Medway STC, about which we will be saying more shortly, the Secretary of State and I have met Dr Gary Holden and the Medway improvement board, which was appointed by the Secretary of State. We will be making further announcements on its findings in due course.

Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

A constituent came to see me this weekend to express her fears for her son. He is in prison and every day she expects to get a phone call saying he has been murdered. What reassurance can the Minister give my constituent that prisoners, while serving their time, do not live in fear of their lives?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

The whole prison reform agenda speaks directly to the issue of violence. Our vision for prisons is one where prisoners engage in meaningful, relevant education and in skills training that is linked to skills needed in the local community and which will help them to get a job. Our vision also includes a commitment to keeping family relationships strong. If we can do those three things, we will reduce frustration, levels of violence and the number of assaults.

Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris (Swansea East) (Lab)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

Wormwood Scrubs has been described by the Prison Officers Association as

“flooded with drugs, mobiles phones and weapons”

and by the chief inspector as having cells so bad you would not keep a dog in them. Does the Minister still think that this prison is fit for purpose?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

HMP Wormwood Scrubs is an older, Victorian prison facing various challenges. I went around it recently, and as I said, I have confidence in its very good new governor. The hon. Lady mentioned mobile phones, which we have not talked about much so far. As the Prime Minister announced on 8 February, we are committed to working with the mobile network operators, which also need to rise to their responsibilities to help us fight the scourge of mobile phones in prisons.

Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

In the last four years, there has been a rise in levels of violence against prison officers owing to understaffing and the fact that there are not enough rehabilitation programmes. Is it not time to re-evaluate how we decide who to send to prison and, when we do send them to prison, to make available proper rehabilitation provision?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

Decisions about who goes to prison are obviously for our independent judiciary, but the hon. Lady is absolutely right about the need for better rehabilitation. We are determined that time in prison is not wasted but is productive, relevant and beneficial to prisoners and to the wider community in terms of keeping us all safe when they come out.

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

Parc prison in Bridgend has an excellent reputation for its rehabilitation work, including its drug rehabilitation work, but it needs the support of the local police force, South Wales police, if it is to tackle the smuggling in of drugs and the throwing of drugs over the wall. It gets that help. What is the Minister doing to make sure that police forces across the UK work with their prison forces and officers? The number of attacks on prison officers and by prisoners on prisoners is increasing, and unless prisons work with police forces to arrest those guilty of smuggling drugs into prisons, we will be wasting our time.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

I thank the hon. Lady for praising the work of HMP Parc in her constituency—in particular, I would praise the outstanding family work done by Corin Morgan-Armstrong—and I am grateful to her for raising the issue of good co-operation with the local police. I am pleased it is working well in her area, but she is right that it varies across the country. It is an issue that I take extremely seriously and about which I have regular conversations with the policing Minister.

Marie Rimmer Portrait Marie Rimmer (St Helens South and Whiston) (Lab)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

It is no mystery why assaults on prison officers, assaults between prisoners and suicides have increased in prisons. Only last week, a report came out showing that every factor had gone up. It is no surprise when staff are cut by a third. I was very pleased to listen to the Secretary of State and I applauded him, but I am disappointed that he is not here today. The vision for the future is good, and I support it, but we cannot wait for jam tomorrow. We need more action now. We are still 7,000 down on staff numbers. We need an increase in the number of officers now. It is not safe for them to go into work now, and it is not safe for the prisoners themselves. We need more action today. I ask you what you intend to do now as a matter of urgency?

Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I intend to do precisely nothing, other than to ask the Minister to tell the House what he and the Government will do.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

The hon. Lady is a member of the Select Committee, is very knowledgeable and takes these issues extremely seriously. One issue not yet mentioned today is that we are significantly improving prison officer training. It has increased from six to 10 weeks, and we are providing officers with the additional skills they will need to be able to cope. Training on its own, of course, is not enough, which is why I reiterate to the hon. Lady the commitment I have made several times today to carry on recruiting at the rate we are recruiting to get up to the benchmark level. In December 2014, the number of vacancies for prisoner officers was 5%; it is now 2%, and I want to see it at 0%.

Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Jenny Chapman (Darlington) (Lab)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I have heard these sort of remarks from the Minister so many times—too often to have any confidence that he is going to do anything at all about this problem. It is a problem of this Government’s making, when they let far too many officers go in the first half of the last Parliament. Now the Minister’s problem is not just about numbers; it is about the experience of staff. We now have experienced inmates and inexperienced staff—and this is what happens as a result. What is the Minister going to do not just to get the number of officers in, but to ensure that they are properly trained, supported, mentored, developed and assisted in their early years of learning jail-craft? If he carries on as he is now, these problems will never be resolved on his watch.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

The hon. Lady is right about the importance of jail-craft. I point her to the recent chief inspector’s report on Glen Parva prison, in which it was noted that the new officers were treated as an asset because of their enthusiasm and the new skills that they brought, rather than being viewed as in their probationary period and thus not able to add very much. If establishments get the right attitude and use the enthusiasm of the new recruits, it will be helpful.

Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

This is an interesting debate, particularly when we discuss how people on all sides are affected, whether they be people working in prisons, prisoners themselves or their families who are worried about the conditions within the prisons. In common with my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes), I have had constituents coming to see me to make representations about Strangeways prison in Manchester. They fear that the culture is not in place to ensure that mental health is something to be dealt with positively by the prison rather than simply being controlled because of the Minister’s targets.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

I recently visited HMP Manchester in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, and I would like to pay tribute to the outstanding work of prison officers there, facing some challenging prisoners. We are absolutely committed to improving mental health in prisons. NHS England is taking on an extra 20 case managers this year for adult secure services. We have co-commissioning coming up, and we take mental health issues extremely seriously.

Rupa Huq Portrait Dr Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton) (Lab)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

The Minister is well aware of the Justice Select Committee’s inquiry into prison safety, which addresses the issue of violence. Members might have noticed that on Friday, the news slipped out that the Medway Secure Training Centre, which was mis-run by G4S, has now come into Ministry of Justice hands. The next day, a report came out on Rainsbrook, showing endemic use of force and restraint. Surely the logical conclusion is that the MOJ should now take over Rainsbrook private youth prison.

Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - Excerpts

Order. I have a strong sense that Members will be approaching the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee to seek a debate on these matters. I say that because quite a lot of what we have heard has been nearer to debate contributions than to questions. I hope I can make that point gently.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

No Governments comment on leaks, wherever they come from. We will have more to say about Medway in due course, and, indeed, about all three secure training centres, because, as the hon. Lady has said, some of the issues that apply to Medway are clearly relevant to all of them.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mrs Trevelyan) mentioned “spice”. Officers at Holme House prison, which is in my constituency, have ended up on sick leave because of the effects of smoke from this substance. Others have been injured while trying to deal with violent prisoners, some of whom are taken to hospital after using the substance, thus putting officers and health staff at risk. When will the Government put the right systems in place to stop such substances getting through security and into prisons?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

We are investing in new technology, and we are trialling a full body scanner to detect “spice”, “black mamba”, and other types of new psychoactive substance which are concealed within the body. I believe that the smoking ban will help in time, once it has been rolled out to prisons in the hon. Gentleman’s area and throughout the country. Unfortunately, as he will know, “spice” is often smoked openly by prisoners pretending that it is tobacco.

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

Prison officers at HMP Lancaster Farms, in my constituency, will have observed the events at Wormwood Scrubs over the weekend with trepidation, because the situation there is reflected across the country. The situation at Lancaster Farms was so bad that prison officers went to the local paper to expose the issue of drugs in prisons and the need for more officers. Will the Minister commit to putting more money into prison staffing so that staff can go to work and feel safe?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

I should point out to the hon. Lady that the Prison Officers Association reached an agreement with the National Offender Management Service. We will definitely keep all the issues at Wormwood Scrubs under review, and, as I have said, we are continuing to spend more money on prison officers in order to recruit up to the benchmark. We are continuing to recruit at the rate at which we have been recruiting for the last few years.

Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I share the concern expressed by many other Members about prisoners with mental health issues, the risks that they pose not only to themselves but to others and the effect of staff cuts on that situation.

I have corresponded with the Minister about a constituent of mine who has endured a lengthy bureaucratic process relating to his potential transfer to a secure mental health unit that would be more adequate to his needs. I am sorry to say that his family received a call this month telling them that he had killed himself, only to be told half an hour later that he had not. That is an extraordinary situation. I should like the Minister to investigate it fully, and also to look very closely at the case that is being made for my constituent to be transferred from HMP Birmingham, where he is currently being held.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

I apologise to the family, through the hon. Gentleman, for the fact that they were given such terrible news, which clearly was not true. If the hon. Gentleman wants to write to me again about the issue, or even to come and see me about it, I shall be more than happy to discuss it further with him.

Safety in Youth Custody

Andrew Selous Excerpts
Wednesday 20th January 2016

(5 years, 1 month ago)

Westminster Hall

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
HM Treasury
Christina Rees Portrait Christina Rees
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention.

The Government must understand that a fundamentally different approach to youth justice and custody is needed. Young people and children need to be supported and helped. The idea that young offenders should be punished, locked away and forgotten about or, worse, mistreated, is morally reprehensible and entirely counter-productive. However, just months ago, the Chancellor announced cuts of £9 million to the Youth Justice Board, despite warnings from the Local Government Association, the Association of Youth Offending Team Managers and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services that that would lead to an increase in the number of young people in custody. Coincidentally, the £9 million that is being taken away almost exactly matches the amount that the Government have wasted on a failed procurement process to outsource fine collection—a clear case of misplaced priorities and ideology taking precedence over sound, evidence-based policy making.

The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 states that the principle aim of the youth justice system is the prevention of reoffending. However, currently two thirds of offenders under the age of 18 reoffend within a year of release. Behind every one of those figures is a victim, or victims, of crime. How can young people be rehabilitated when there are so many failings within the youth justice system —when it is not even a safe environment for them?

The media reports of what happened at Medway clearly demonstrate a deeper crisis in our youth custody system. Government cuts and a refusal to address the issues properly are creating a perfect storm of overcrowding, understaffing and poor resources. First and foremost, we urge immediate action to put all G4S-run prisons, secure training centres and detention centres into special measures so that the safety and competence of each facility can be urgently assessed.

The Government have the power, under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, to intervene in contracted-out STCs. Therefore, as we outlined in our recent letter to the Secretary of State, we urge the Minister to put in management teams alongside existing staff at those facilities—teams with experience of working with vulnerable children. The reforms to youth justice made by a Labour Government, requiring agencies to collaborate in preventing youth offending, reduced both youth crime and the numbers of young people in prison. We would further extend that model by piloting a new approach for 18 to 20-year-old offenders. That would incentivise local authorities, the police and the probation services to work together, to identify those at risk of engaging in criminal activity and to divert them on to a more constructive path.

I want to pose the following questions to the Minister: how many children are currently in Medway STC; and have any been sent there since 30 December? What action did the Ministry of Justice take between 30 December and 8 January? Since 2010, how many times have contract breaches occurred at secure training centres run by G4S under contract with his Department? What was the budget of the Youth Justice Board in 2009-10 and 2014-15; and what is the estimated budget for that body in 2015-16? Has the Minister considered writing to the local safeguarding children board to see whether it will order a serious case review of the allegations regarding abuse at Medway secure training centre? I also remind him of the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) in her intervention.

Andrew Selous Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Andrew Selous)
- Hansard -

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Wilson. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) on bringing this important debate before the House. She said that complacency is never an option in such matters, and she is absolutely right. I assure her that that is exactly the attitude we have in the Ministry of Justice. We also made the broader point that, if we want people to behave well in custody, we should treat them well. She is absolutely right as far as that is concerned.

The hon. Lady spent quite a lot of her speech talking about “Managing and Minimising Physical Restraint”—understandably, following the shocking revelations we saw in the “Panorama” programme. Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons described “Managing and Minimising Physical Restraint” as a significant step forward; but of course we acknowledge that more needs to be done. However, I can tell the hon. Lady that detailed action plans are being agreed with individual sites on its implementation, and additional training and support are being provided. We want to get things to a really high standard, and of course it is not good enough just to have good training; we must ensure that the officers on the ground actually implement what they have been trained to do.

The hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Neath (Christina Rees), who spoke for the official Opposition, mentioned the Youth Justice Board budget. The YJB has, as part of general Government savings—as, unfortunately, the country continues to live beyond its means—reduced its administrative expenditure by restructuring to become more efficient; but in doing that, it has been able to focus more resources on monitoring in the youth estate, despite falling numbers of people in youth custody. It is important that that should be on the record.

Jo Stevens Portrait Jo Stevens
- Hansard - - Excerpts

The Minister said there was more monitoring of secure children’s centres in youth custody services. If that is the case, why and how did what we saw at Medway on the “Panorama” programme happen?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

The hon. Lady asks the central question of the whole debate. I can tell her that I have thought long and hard about it since the “Panorama” revelations. I do not know whether she was in the House for the urgent question when my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice set out in some detail the considerable monitoring arrangements we have. Yet the fact is that they did not detect mistreatment and prevent it from happening. As the Minister responsible for youth justice, I have absolutely fully taken that on board and can assure her we will continue to review seriously how we monitor to ensure we do not find out that terrible things are happening from an investigatory television programme. I will elaborate further during the course of my speech.

My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell), who is a valued member of the Justice Committee, rightly drew attention to the issue of mental health. I can tell him and other Members who properly drew attention to that issue that a comprehensive health assessment is completed for every young person on arrival in custody. This includes an immediate assessment of needs during the first day or night, followed by a more comprehensive assessment as part of their induction programme. If an alternative placement is deemed appropriate, this will be referred back to the youth justice board placement team for consideration in consultation with healthcare professionals.

I can also tell the House that each site has healthcare teams and in-reach teams that provide appropriate treatment for young people with mental health issues. I get the seriousness and importance of this issue and will continue to work with colleagues in the Department of Health to ensure we keep a relentless focus on mental health.

John Howell Portrait John Howell
- Hansard - - Excerpts

When he gets back to the office, will the Minister look at the transfer of people and how often the transfer of the information about their mental health does not actually follow them on time?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

My hon. Friend raises an important and serious point. Yes, of course I will look into that matter. We have to have a joined-up system as far as health needs are concerned. He makes a valuable point.

My hon. Friend also made points about young adult provision. I know the Select Committee is looking at that at the moment, but I can tell him that a Government consultation on the management of young adults was paused while the Harris review was completed. This is now being reconsidered as part of our wider prison reform strategy work and alongside the youth justice review, about which I will say more in a few moments.

The hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Marie Rimmer), who is also an extremely diligent and engaged member of the Justice Committee, asked a general point about the threshold for custody for children. The threshold is high and the courts must state in open court why a youth community sentence with high-intensity supervision and surveillance is not appropriate. I will point out, as have others during this debate, that the under-18 youth custody population has halved in the past five years.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Kelly Tolhurst) for her contribution to the debate. She is not only the local Member of Parliament who represents Medway, but a ward councillor in that area, so she has detailed local knowledge that we all respect. I have had frequent dealings with her since the revelations came to light. I also thank her for praising the vast majority of decent staff who work very hard in a challenging environment. She was right to put that on the record, and I do so as the Minister as well. We will be relentless in dealing with staff who fall below the very high standards that we rightly expect of them and will continue to demand.

I thank the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) for her contribution. She pointed out that my domain as the Minister extends to England and Wales, and not to Scotland, but generally we take a serious interest in what happens in criminal justice matters and in the youth estate north of our border with Scotland. I have spent time with Scottish academics and others trying to learn what we can from the Scottish prison system, so I thank her for her contribution this afternoon.

The hon. Member for Neath, who speaks for the official Opposition, asked me a large number of questions, which I will do my best to answer this afternoon. I will write to her if I do not answer them all—she posed her questions just before my own contribution, so I will not manage to answer all of them. In general, I repeat what the Secretary of State for Justice said during the urgent question:

“the care and supervision of young offenders in custody is not good enough.”—[Official Report, 11 January 2016; Vol. 604, c. 573.]

We recognise that. That is why the Secretary of State has commissioned the youth justice review. There will be an interim report in due course and a final report in the summer. It is the right thing to do.

The hon. Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) asked her hon. Friend the Member for Neath to ask me how many of Lord Harris’s recommendations had been implemented. The answer is more than half, but I would ask the hon. Member for Cardiff Central to look at our wider prison reform strategy, more of which will be unveiled over the coming months. She and others will see much in that that speaks to the important points that she and others have raised this afternoon.

The allegations made by the BBC in the “Panorama” programme on 11 January were profoundly disturbing and have quite rightly generated concern about the safety of young people detained at Medway. Let me put on the record, as the Justice Secretary did, my thanks to the BBC for the work it has undertaken to bring the serious allegations to light, although it should not have taken an investigatory television programme to do so.

We take all allegations about mistreatment of children in custody extremely seriously and make sure that they are swiftly referred to the local area designated child protection officer for immediate action. Although it would be inappropriate for me to comment on specific allegations while the investigation by Kent police and Medway Council is under way, I can assure Members that we place the highest priority on the safety of the children and young people committed to our care in custody.

It may be helpful for me to outline in further detail the action taken since the contents of the “Panorama” investigation were first reported. First, G4S suspended all seven staff members named by the BBC on 30 December 2015 and referred the allegations to Medway Council’s local authority designated officer, who is responsible for overseeing safeguarding concerns about children across the local authority, and to Kent police. G4S has subsequently dismissed five staff members, and three more are suspended.

Kent police and Medway Council’s child protection team have launched an investigation that will determine whether there is any evidence to justify criminal proceedings against anyone involved. Five members of staff have been arrested and bailed while police inquiries continue. It is important that the police are now able to complete a full and thorough investigation into each incident and to pursue all necessary lines of inquiry. I can assure Members that the Ministry of Justice and the Youth Justice Board will support and co-operate with their inquiries to the fullest possible extent.

Our immediate priority has been the safety of the young people in custody at Medway. As the Secretary of State indicated in his statement to the House on 11 January, we are meeting Lin Hinnigan, the chief executive of the Youth Justice Board, regularly to make sure that all necessary action to ensure the wellbeing of young people at Medway is being taken. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons and Ofsted also visited Medway on 11 January to meet representatives of G4S, Medway Council and the Youth Justice Board, as well as the children detained there. The findings of HMIP’s report are being considered carefully by the Secretary of State and me.

The YJB, which is responsible for commissioning the youth secure estate, has also taken immediate steps to safeguard the children and young people placed in Medway. It might be helpful for me to outline those steps to the House. The YJB has, with immediate effect, ceased new placements of young people to Medway until further notice—that addresses one of the shadow Minister’s questions. The YJB sought urgent assurance from the G4S director of Medway that the centre had safe staffing levels following the suspension and dismissal of staff. That assurance was received on 31 December and is being kept under review. The YJB has increased both its monitoring activity at the centre and the presence of other of its staff members, including senior managers.

I am concerned that the allegations were not readily identified by the checks and systems that we already have in place. It is clear that my Department and the YJB need to work together to make sure that monitoring in the youth secure estate is more effective and robust. We expect the highest standards from all the providers who operate the youth secure estate. We expect staff to want to work with children, to have the skills and training to engage with children positively, and to act with professionalism and integrity throughout. We expect our providers’ management teams to rigorously supervise their staff and drive a positive culture throughout their organisations.

Jo Stevens Portrait Jo Stevens
- Hansard - - Excerpts

There will be children in Medway and other secure training centres who are repeat offenders, but it seems to me that the real culprit here is G4S, which is a persistent offender in failing to deliver Government contracts to the required standards. I am concerned about whether G4S should be awarded any further contracts, or should even be bidding, until all the outstanding issues with the company—the Serious Fraud Office inquiry and the investigation into Medway—are resolved. Will the Minister please address that specific point?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

I hear what the hon. Lady says and, given what has happened, I understand the strength of feeling on this issue. Nevertheless, I repeat what I said earlier: it is important that we allow Medway Council and Kent police to investigate fully what are, at the moment, allegations, albeit extremely serious ones. We should wait for the results before we do anything else.

The YJB has increased the availability of the independent advocacy service provided by Barnardo’s. It will now be available on site six days a week, compared with three days a week previously. All youth offending teams that are responsible for those currently held at Medway secure training centre have been contacted and asked whether they have any concerns about individual children or young people. The YJB will consider, on a case-by-case basis, any specific action that needs to be taken to meet the particular needs of each individual child or young person, including, where appropriate, reviewing their placement at the centre. The YJB has also contacted the families of each child and young person at all three secure training centres to explain the actions we have taken and to give them a contact point at the YJB.

I shall outline the key safeguarding and monitoring arrangements that already exist in secure training centres, which we have now reinforced at Medway in the light of the recent allegations. First, YJB monitors are appointed at all STCs to monitor and report on the performance of the establishment. Monitors will investigate and report on allegations made against custody officers and, where necessary, suspend and revoke custody officers’ certificates to work. Barnardo’s staff are also in place at all STCs to provide independent support and advice to young people through its independent advocacy service. Young people can raise any issues or concerns through either the YJB monitors or the advocacy service provided independently by Barnardo’s. There are clear processes in place that enable staff to raise concerns.

The YJB’s service specifications and commissioning arrangements for the secure estate make it clear to providers that there is an expectation that children’s welfare and safety is paramount when they are in custody. That expectation has been strengthened and reinforced in the specifications for new STC contracts and as part of the provision in young offender institutions. All persons in charge of secure establishments have a statutory duty to ensure that their functions are discharged having regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. They must also participate as a member of their relevant local safeguarding children’s board. In line with statutory safeguarding guidance, each secure establishment must have an annually reviewed safeguarding policy and a member of the senior management team with responsibility for implementation of the policy. The policy should promote safeguarding and wellbeing by covering issues such as child protection, risk of harm, restraint, separation, staff recruitment and information sharing.

Each local authority has a designated officer to whom concerns about children’s safety that arise from the behaviour of adults must be referred. That is in addition to the requirement for those working with children to report to the local authority any concerns about a child they believe to have been harmed or at risk of harm. All safeguarding managers in young offender institutions are expected to attend the Working With Young People in Custody training programme, which includes modules on child protection and safeguarding. The head of safeguarding will be supported by an establishment-based qualified social worker from the local authority.

As many Members know, there is now a higher concentration of violent and high-risk offenders in the youth secure estate who present complex risks and needs. The level of violent incidents remains a concern, and one to which there is no single, simple solution. For that reason, we have in place a wide range of measures to manage safety and stability. That begins with the placement of young people. The YJB actively manages where young people are placed to support custodial providers, who in turn manage their regimes locally to keep children safe. In young offender institutions in particular, we are working to use more mental health support and psychological services to better manage and support those detained. We are also implementing a range of tools for staff to manage conflict more positively and deal with challenging and complex children. All the while, we have a zero-tolerance approach to violence and are seeking to increase children’s engagement in education to give them a greater opportunity of making progress during custody and on release. For example, in young offender institutes we now require 30 hours of education a week, which is a significant increase.

Wayne David Portrait Wayne David
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I welcome many of the positive proposals that the Minister is making, but will he give us a commitment that, if it is clearly demonstrated that certain organisations that run STCs are in breach of their duty of care to young children, they will be formally excluded from future bidding processes?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

As I said earlier, for now, we should wait for the result of the investigation by the local authority and the police. I have already said that we have the power to strike off someone from being a custody officer. We have statutory powers and we are not afraid to use them in pursuit of our serious duties regarding the care of these young people.

The managing and minimising physical restraint policy that I mentioned earlier sets out that robust local governance arrangements should be in place to enable those running secure establishments to identify any poor practice. A weekly use-of-force meeting takes place in all establishments using the MMPR policy, and it is regularly attended by a YJB performance manager. During the meeting, which is attended by senior managers in the establishment, along with the YJB, CCTV footage of all incidents is reviewed, anything that happened in the lead-up to an incident is discussed, and any training that might be required to handle incidents better in future can be identified. Those arrangements were already in place at Medway. If there is an incident that warrants referral, we would expect an establishment to refer it to the local area designated officer at the local authority. If that is not done by an establishment, the YJB’s performance managers can make referrals themselves.

As the Secretary of State made clear in his statement on 11 January, it is a matter of record that there have been earlier examples of where G4S has let down the Ministry of Justice and those in our care. But there are also examples of innovative and high-quality institutions run by G4S. I recognise in particular that unacceptable incidents and practices were identified in Ofsted’s inspection of Rainsbrook last year. In that case, the monitoring arrangements in place were effective. The YJB monitor was aware of each of the incidents as they occurred, took the appropriate action and highlighted them to the inspection team. The YJB immediately required G4S to address the issues swiftly and effectively. G4S put in place new leadership, and the YJB agreed an action plan to improve recruitment and training.

I am pleased to tell colleagues that Ofsted’s latest inspection of Rainsbrook shows significant improvement, with improved findings for both safety and care of young people. Although the report identified two serious incidents of staff misconduct since the previous inspection, in both cases, G4S took action and dismissed the members of staff involved before the latest inspection took place.

Jo Stevens Portrait Jo Stevens
- Hansard - - Excerpts

Although the problems at Rainsbrook have been identified and welcome steps have been taken, the Government allowed G4S to renew its contract at Medway. Will the Minister explain why it was allowed to renew that contract when it has a history of problems running a secure training unit at Rainsbrook?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

There was a competitive bid to run the contract. Ministry of Justice officials, who are wholly independent from Ministers, scrutinised all the bids using set criteria. They demanded higher standards than we currently have in the STCs. We are satisfied that there was a robust, proper, independent and legal process.

Following the re-tendering of the Rainsbrook STC last year, we selected a new provider, MTCnovo, to take over the running of the centre from May 2016. The YJB put in place an enhanced monitoring plan that aims to support G4S to continue to make the required improvements, as well as supporting MTCnovo as it takes over delivery. We are clear that standards must continue to rise before MTCnovo takes over the contract.

Although youth offending has fallen, reoffending rates have remained high, particularly for those leaving youth custody. We acknowledge that violence in custody has risen and that we are dealing with an increasingly challenging cohort of young people in our custody. As I said earlier, there are no simple solutions to that, which is why the Secretary of State and I agree that the youth justice system requires reform.

As Members will be aware, we asked Charlie Taylor, the former chief executive of the National College for Teaching and Leadership, to conduct a review of youth justice. He is looking at the evidence and current practice in preventing youth crime and rehabilitating young offenders; how the youth justice system can most effectively interact with wider services for children and young people; and whether the current arrangements are fit for purpose. The review will publish an interim report shortly and conclude this summer.

I recognise and share Members’ concern about the allegations featured in the “Panorama” programme, but hope I have reassured colleagues that young people’s safety and wellbeing will remain central to how we look after young people in custody. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood said, the vast majority of those working in the youth justice system display high levels of professionalism and dedication in working with young people from particularly complex and challenging backgrounds. They are committed to the rehabilitation and support of the young people in their care.

Marie Rimmer Portrait Marie Rimmer
- Hansard - - Excerpts

Will the Minister please consider introducing a duty of candour for custodial institutions, as has been introduced in the health service?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

I am aware that a duty of candour has been introduced in the NHS to good effect, I believe. I commit to look carefully at the lessons learned from its introduction in the NHS to see whether one could be applicable to the youth justice system.

I am clear that the provision of safe, decent and secure environments is an essential foundation for achieving our objectives to protect the public and reduce reoffending. We will continue to challenge the youth justice system to provide the best possible support and the highest levels of care for young people in youth custody.

Judith Cummins Portrait Judith Cummins
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I thank all Members who spoke in this debate. Their contributions reflect the seriousness and importance of the issue of ensuring the safety of children in custodial institutions. We all acknowledge the need for high professional standards when looking after our children and young people in custodial institutions. I ask the Minister to take very seriously the concerns that were raised about the continuation of G4S’s contract.

When looking at the issue of child safety in our custodial institutions, the concerns about children with complex needs or mental health problems must be looked at in detail and treated appropriately, particularly those pertaining to the issue of restraint in our custodial institutions. It is important that the Minister addresses our concerns about the cuts to the budgets of the Youth Justice Board and local authorities. Thank you, Mr Wilson, for treating me kindly today. I thank all Members present.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered safety in youth custody.

Draft Legal Services Act 2007 (Claims Management Complaints) (Fees) (Amendment) Regulations 2016

Andrew Selous Excerpts
Thursday 7th January 2016

(5 years, 2 months ago)

General Committees

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HM Treasury
Andrew Selous Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Andrew Selous)
- Hansard -

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Legal Services Act 2007 (Claims Management Complaints) (Fees) (Amendment) Regulations 2016.

May I say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Gillan? I have been at an all-party group meeting chaired by you before, but not a Delegated Legislation Committee, and I am sure it will be an equally pleasurable experience.

In January 2015, the legal ombudsman began considering complaints from consumers about claims management companies. The Legal Services Act 2007 (Claims Management Complaints) (Fees) Regulations 2014 enable the Lord Chancellor to charge fees to regulated claims management companies to recoup the costs of the legal ombudsman’s work in handling such complaints. It is right that the costs of handling such complaints fall on the claims management sector and not on the taxpayer.

The draft regulations before us amend the level of fees set out in the 2014 regulations for the financial year beginning 1 April 2016 and for subsequent years. Revising the level of fees will ensure that the Lord Chancellor can recover the full costs of the legal ombudsman dealing with complaints about the claims management industry in the 2016-17 financial year. In the first nine months of operation of the complaints scheme, the legal ombudsman dealt with fewer cases requiring an ombudsman decision than expected. However, the number of initial consumer contacts and inquiries to the scheme has been substantially more than envisaged, and the legal ombudsman has been working to raise awareness and assist claims management companies in better complaints handling procedures.

In light of its experience so far, the legal ombudsman has revised downwards its estimate for the number of cases that will require ombudsman resolution during the next financial year and therefore its expected costs. However, in addition to the legal ombudsman’s expected costs for 2016-17, we also need to recover a shortfall in the amount invoiced in 2014-15 and 2015-16. That was the result of greater numbers of market exits than estimated in the fee model. That means that the total cost to be recovered from the market for 2016-17, which is around £2.3 million, remains broadly similar to that for 2015-16. However, due to the contraction in the market, fees have had to be increased.

The claims management sector has acquired a poor reputation as a result of a small number of companies engaging in poor business practices. The legal ombudsman provides redress for consumers of regulated claims management companies, including the potential for awards of compensation, and will continue to assist the claims management regulator in driving out poor standards and practices in the market.

Members may be aware that a fundamental review of the regulation of claims management companies is being undertaken. It is considering the powers and resources that are required for a strengthened regulatory regime and what other reforms may be necessary, and the review is due to be completed in early 2016. As such, I cannot say any more at the present time.

I know that Members welcome the fact that the legal ombudsman can now deal with complaints about claims management companies. It is therefore right that the legal ombudsman’s costs relating to regulated claims management complaints continue to be met by the claims management sector, in the same way that the costs relating to complaints about the legal services sector are met by that sector. I commend the draft regulations to the Committee.

Karl Turner Portrait Karl Turner (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

It is always an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mrs Gillan. The Opposition do not take issue with the regulations; on the contrary, we welcome them. The only criticism we might have had is that they seemed to take a long time to be implemented in the first place. If memory serves, they were first discussed in February 2012 and were implemented in August last year.

I have only one question for the Minister: given the shortfall of £500,000 in the first year, what steps will he take to ensure that we do not see a continuous shortfall and a ratcheting effect, requiring us to come back to Committee, perhaps annually, to increase fees? With that said, we have nothing further to add.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

I am grateful for the shadow Minister’s support for the measure. To answer his question, we will do our best to estimate as accurately as we can the correct level of fees to cover any shortfalls. We think we have done that as accurately and carefully as we can for the next financial year, but we will keep the matter under review and keep looking at what happens within the sector.

Question put and agreed to.

Criminal Cases Review Commission (Information) Bill

Andrew Selous Excerpts
Friday 4th December 2015

(5 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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HM Treasury
James Berry
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is right. The knowledge that the CCRC will obtain a court order if a request for voluntary disclosure is refused will certainly provide encouragement where needed. All the private bodies I have listed may have that one piece of information that will establish that someone serving a prison sentence has been wrongly convicted. The chairman of the CCRC himself has said that

“you can be confident that there are miscarriages of justice that have gone unremedied because of the lack of that power”

to obtain disclosure from private bodies. My hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove has promoted this Bill to end that unacceptable situation and I thank him for doing so. The Bill deserves the unanimous support of this House.

Andrew Selous Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Andrew Selous)
- Hansard -

Let me start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (William Wragg) on bringing this important Bill before the House and on his excellent speech. I also thank those other Members who have spoken in support of the Bill, including the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David), who spoke on behalf of the official Opposition.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission performs a vital function in our justice system. When thinking about criminal justice, we tend to focus on the front end and concerns that the processes involved in bringing criminals to justice and ensuring that victims are properly supported are as effective and efficient as possible. Sometimes we tend not to focus on the times when those processes go wrong—when, for whatever reason, someone is convicted who was, in fact, innocent. The purpose of the CCRC is to ensure that those people have someone to turn to who will thoroughly investigate and consider their case and, if there is a real possibility that their conviction would not be upheld, refer their case to an appeal court. I know that Members will agree with me about the importance of the commission’s investigations, and that it should have all the powers it needs to inform them.

The commission’s counterpart in Scotland—the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission—was established with the power to compel both public and private organisations to provide it with the documents or other material necessary to its investigations. The Bill’s provisions would put the CCRC for England, Wales and Northern Ireland in the same position. To avoid confusion, I should point out that the term “person” in the Bill should be read as covering a body of persons corporate or unincorporated. That means that the measure covers all natural and legal companies, including companies and partnerships, except those serving in public bodies.

In practice, when the Scottish commission notifies a private sector body or individual that it wishes to inspect relevant material, a reminder of the statutory power to make an application to court is usually sufficient to secure voluntary compliance. The Scottish commission advised us that there has been only one case in 15 years in which a request to inspect material has led to contested proceedings in court.

Hon. Members may have seen the Justice Committee’s 12th report of the last Session, to which colleagues have referred, on its inquiry into the Criminal Cases Review Commission. One of the Committee’s most urgent recommendations was that the commission should have the powers that this Bill will give it. It argued:

“The extension of the CCRC’s section 17 powers to cover private bodies is urgently necessary and commands universal support.”

The absence of a power to obtain material from the private sector has often operated to the disadvantage of applicants to the commission. The problem has become more acute in recent years. The difficulties are best illustrated by some examples from cases that have been reviewed by the commission. The first example relates to a media organisation. Shortly after trial, a newspaper published an interview with a complainant in a rape case. It was important for the commission to establish whether she entered into negotiations to sell her story prior to giving her evidence. It could be argued that the defence was unfairly deprived of an opportunity to cross-examine her regarding her motives for making the allegations. In a case where the conviction rested solely on the complainant’s testimony and credibility, this was particularly important. Despite repeated communications with the relevant journalist and the legal department of the newspaper, no response was received and the issue could not be resolved.

The second example involved an organisation in the banking sector. In respect of a serious fraud investigation, considerations of customer confidentiality were cited in response to the commission’s requests for information, despite the commission providing assurances about how the information would be handled and disclosed. The assertions made by the applicant could not be proved or disproved.

The third example demonstrates the problem as it relates to companies that have no direct involvement or interest in a case. In a drug importation case, the commission sought timetabling and cargo information from a ferry company. In the event, the company volunteered the information, but the commission could not have compelled it to do so. If the information had not been obtained, the commission’s overall decision on the case would have been less robust.

Companies sometimes refuse to provide details of employees. For example, in a murder conviction, the commission contacted a bank to seek the employment details of a former employee, a witness at trial, as the information was directly relevant to the credibility of the employee’s testimony at trial. After long correspondence, the police liaison officer for the bank agreed to provide the information requested, although there was no obligation to do so. However, the decision to co-operate with the commission was expressed as being only because the employee had left their employment in the bank.

In the past, the commission has seen a good level of co-operation in respect of its requests for case files from solicitors who represented applicants at trial and/or on appeal. Such requests are supported, as necessary, by waivers of legal professional privilege. In part, this level of co-operation has been thanks to the relevant professional codes of conduct that apply to solicitors. However, in more recent times—perhaps owing to pressures on legally aided defence firms—the commission has faced greater difficulties. It is often readily apparent that requests from the commission are placed at the bottom of a solicitor’s list of priorities. My hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove made that point.

Files held by social services, schools and the NHS have been obtained and examined by the commission under the provisions of section 17 in other cases. However, the complainant in one case under review had been referred to a private sector counselling clinic, and despite lengthy correspondence, access to the private counselling records was denied. The significance of this information in relation to the complainant’s credibility and the safety of the applicant’s conviction remains unknown.

Charitable bodies such as the Samaritans, ChildLine and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children often hold vital information relevant to commission reviews, particularly in cases of intra-family sexual abuse. Such organisations may agree to assist when the consent of the individual concerned is obtained. If consent is not forthcoming, such organisations will generally decline to provide the commission with the information on the basis of confidentiality.

Campaign groups sometimes hold information vital to the progress of a review. In one case, a miscarriages of justice campaign group had gathered witness statements that were of apparent relevance to allegations of police misconduct. The organisation failed to respond to repeated commission requests and the statements were not obtained. The case was referred to the Court of Appeal in any event, but the statements may have provided useful additional support.

It is only right to acknowledge that the overwhelming number of private individuals approached by the commission agree to be interviewed, but some simply refuse to assist. The reasons for refusal are manifold. Some individuals do not wish to be bothered and are indifferent concerning the outcome of the commission’s investigations. Some may be hostile to the commission. Some come from gangs and may be reluctant to talk to the commission for fear of reprisals.

A key aspect of the commission’s work is the re-examination and retesting of material from crime scenes. With the abolition of the Forensic Science Service, such material will be held by private companies and may not be available to the commission. We therefore need the Bill.

The final example relates to the experts who appear as witnesses at trial. Many of them keep personal notes in addition to their professional notes and reports. Forensic medical examiners may receive information or notes from victims of crime during the course of their examinations. Short reports and second-hand accounts within NHS files are generally provided to the commission as a result of section 17. The original contemporaneous notes of interviews recorded by clinicians are not. That type of information is private rather than public, and the commission therefore cannot require its disclosure. The Bill will change that.

The commission will not simply be able to demand information or documents from private organisations or individuals. The Bill will require it to apply to the Crown court for an order, which will ensure that it can use the power only when a judge agrees it is necessary for the carrying out of its functions. We intend, once the Bill has received Royal Assent, to ask the criminal procedure rule committee to make rules of court that will ensure that, where appropriate, the court holds an inter partes hearing, giving the private organisation or individual the opportunity to make their case as to why disclosure should not be required.

The Government support the Bill because we believe that the provisions are necessary and that the terms of the Bill will ensure that the powers are used appropriately and proportionately. I therefore commend it to the House.

William Wragg Portrait William Wragg
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I thank hon. Members on both sides of the House, my hon. Friend the Minister and the Opposition Front Benchers for their support this afternoon. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63).

Transpeople (Prisons)

Andrew Selous Excerpts
Friday 20th November 2015

(5 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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HM Treasury
Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Justice if he will make a statement on trans prisoners.

Andrew Selous Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Andrew Selous)
- Hansard -

I begin by offering my sincere condolences to the family and friends of Vicky Thompson. Her death, like all others in custody, is a tragedy, and we are totally committed to reducing the number of deaths in prison. Each one is investigated by the independent prisons and probation ombudsman and is the subject of a coroner’s inquest. We believe that Vicky Thompson was being looked after in accordance with the relevant procedures, but that is now a matter for the ombudsman and coroner. While their investigations are ongoing, it would be wholly inappropriate for me to comment on the circumstances of her death.

I would also like to mark the fact that today, 20 November, is designated as transgender day of remembrance and to reflect on the violence still suffered by members of the trans community.

On the specific issue of transpeople in prison, prison service instruction 7/2011 sets out the National Offender Management Service’s policy on the care and management of prisoners who live, or propose to live, in the gender other than the one assigned at birth. Prisoners are normally placed according to their legally recognised gender, which means either the gender on their birth certificate or the gender on their gender recognition certificate. However, the guidelines allow some room for discretion, and senior prison staff will review the circumstances of every case in consultation with medical and other experts in order to protect the physical and emotional wellbeing of the person concerned, along with the safety and wellbeing of other prisoners.

While the most appropriate long-term location for a transgender prisoner will be considered in accordance with the procedures outlined above, the usual practice is for them to be held in a supportive environment, away from the main regime of the prison and protected from risk of harm by other prisoners. The risk-assessed daily regime will be structured to give the prisoner exercise and recreation and some measure of planned, supervised contact with other trusted prisoners. Where relevant, clothing and toiletries are provided to enable the prisoner to present in their acquired gender, consistent with the arrangements set out in the prison instruction.

More generally, prisoners who are transitioning are entitled to live in the gender they seek to acquire. Prisons must produce a management care plan outlining how the individual will be managed safely and decently within the prison environment, with oversight from psychologists, healthcare professionals and prison staff. A review of the current policy began earlier this year, and revised policy guidance will be issued to reflect NOMS’ responsibilities to transgender offenders in the community, as well as in custody. The intention is to implement the guidance in due course.

The management and care of transpeople in prison is a complex issue, and the review is using the expertise developed by NOMS practitioners, as well as engaging with relevant stakeholders, including those from the trans community, to ensure that we provide prison staff with the best possible guidance. The Government are committed to tackling all forms of discrimination and the underlying cultural attitudes that underpin inequality, so that everyone, regardless of gender, race or background, is given the opportunity they deserve.

I can also announce to the House that Kate Lampard has been appointed interim chair of the independent advisory panel on deaths in custody. She is a former barrister previously appointed by the Secretary of State for Health to provide independent oversight of the NHS investigation into Jimmy Savile and by Serco to lead the Yarl’s Wood investigation.

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith
- Hansard - - Excerpts

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting the urgent question, on this, trans memorial day, which, as I am sure you know, given your interest in the matter, is when we remember all those who have lost their lives because of prejudice and persecution of the trans community, on which issue the shadow Women and Equality team is working closely with the shadow Justice team. I am grateful for their support. It is unfortunate that the Secretary of State could not be here, but I would like to thank the Minister for the tone of his response. On behalf of the Labour party, I want to put on the record our sincere condolences to the family, boyfriend and friends of Vicky Thompson, who died on 13 November in HMP Leeds.

On 3 November, I raised on the Floor of the House the issue of Tara Hudson, a young trans woman placed in a men’s prison. It is a tragedy that, within three weeks of that date, we are once again discussing the issue of trans prisoners.

Statistics released last month by the Ministry of Justice show that 186 people took their own lives in prisons in England and Wales in the 12 months to the end of September 2015. That equates to one prisoner taking their own life every four days. Will the Minister confirm that tackling the issue of suicides in prisons is a serious priority for his Department? With the number of prisoners who have died in prison having risen to the highest level for a decade, it must be right for the Government to take action and assess what steps should be taken to address the problem.

The safety in custody statistical bulletin also revealed that the number of self-injury incidents reported in prisons in England and Wales rose by 21% in the 12 months to the end of June 2015. At a time when the prison population is increasing with overcrowding in cells on the rise, and the number of individuals coming forward for gender reassignment surgery is also increasing, placement of transgender prisoners on the prison estate is likely only to increase. The Minister has already touched on the issue, but will he confirm whether the National Offender Management Service will begin to record the number of transpeople who are in custody in prisons, and will he commit himself to making those figures public?

Earlier this week, the Justice Secretary confirmed in a letter to the Justice Select Committee that he had nominated a preferred candidate for the role of Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons. Will the Minister confirm that whoever is ultimately appointed will make tackling the rise in prison suicides a top priority? Will he agree to meet the Opposition Front-Bench team and leading trans awareness organisations to discuss the issue?

Prison understaffing is a serious problem. Will the Minister confirm that the spending review will not lead to more cuts from the MOJ staffing budget and that adequate transgender and equality training will be offered to all MOJ staff who need it? I welcome the fact that the Minister has confirmed that his Department is reviewing these matters, but will he go further and publish the terms of the review so that the House and the public can be reassured that the issue is being assessed with the seriousness that it deserves?

Finally, does the Minister believe that the policy guidelines on placing transgender prisoners in the estate are adequate? If so, does he think that the guidelines are being applied consistently and appropriately?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

I shall do my best to respond to all the points that the shadow Minister has raised. I must correct one figure: she said that there were 186 suicides, but that figure is likely to include natural-cause deaths as well. She will know that we have an increasingly elderly population in prison, which accounts for part of that rise. Of course, even one self-inflicted death in prison is one too many. I want to assure her and the House of the seriousness with which the Secretary of State, I, and the whole of NOMS take the issue.

Let me repeat that we are currently reviewing prison service instruction 7/2011. I hope that the hon. Lady will be reassured by the fact that members of the trans community are involved in the process. I stress that rehabilitation is at the heart of what we do in prisons, so it is hugely in our interest to have every prisoner in an environment where they have the best chance to rehabilitate. We need to be mindful of the safety of trans prisoners, and of all prisoners, and of our wider legal obligations. I repeat that rehabilitation is at the heart of everything we are trying to do within our prisons.

The hon. Lady mentioned overcrowding and prison officer numbers. Our sustained recruitment campaign for prison officers is bearing fruit in a significant net increase in prison officers, as I told the House at the last Justice questions. We continue to recruit prison officers, which will make it easier to deal with a number of the issues that the hon. Lady raised.

The hon. Lady asked if she could come and see me. My door is always open to Members, and I would be more than happy to meet her on this issue. I repeat that decency for everyone we have care of in custody is at the heart of what NOMS does. I recently visited Leeds prison, where the tragic event took place. I have every confidence in the governor, Steve Robson, of whom we can all be proud. He is a decent, humane man, who I am sure will have tried very hard to do the right thing.

On self-inflicted deaths in prisons generally, we are taking a number of actions because of the seriousness with which we take the issue. We are reviewing the assessment, care in custody and teamwork process, and we hope to implement improvements to it early in the new year. We have put additional resource into our safer custody work, which deals with these issues, and we have held a number of national learning days, run jointly with the Samaritans, who are expert in this area, and I attended one of those days myself.

Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - Excerpts

Order. I am keen to accommodate the interests of colleagues, but we do not want the exchanges to be unnaturally prolonged, as we need to return to other important business. Short questions and short answers would help.

Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

LGBT prisoners are among the most vulnerable in the prison population. One of the biggest challenges of the review is how to overcome ignorance. Will my hon. Friend reassure me that he will implement in full any recommendations of the review that seek to tackle and raise awareness and understanding of transgender issues?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. I hope that she took heart from what I said at the end of the statement about dealing with the cultural attitudes that can cause problems in this area. I have also had discussions with my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) in her capacity as Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee.

Wes Streeting Portrait Wes Streeting (Ilford North) (Lab)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I also express my condolences to Vicky Thompson’s family. Without making any judgment about the circumstances of her death, I simply restate the concern about her being put in a men’s prison in the first place. Although I welcome the Minister’s tone, I want to press him a bit further on the statistics and say that it is important that he commits himself to publishing information about the number of transpeople in prisons. Also, given the experience in the United States of sexual assault on trans prisoners and how they are treated, will he look not only at the numbers, but research the experiences of transpeople in prison and make that information publicly available?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman that assurance, and I apologise for not having said that in response to the shadow Minister.

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

Does my hon. Friend believe that we can do more to show how much we value the work of prison officers? This distressing case illustrates the challenges that they face every day, and I am not sure that people outside understand how difficult their job is.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. We should all spare a moment to think of the prison officers who daily try to prevent these tragic events and have to deal with them when they happen. When such tragic events happen, it has a huge emotional impact on prison officers. We should do our best to ensure that we look after prison officers in such circumstances.

Meg Hillier Portrait Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for his fulsome answer; I have no doubt about his good faith in relation to the review and the work being done. However, is not the root cause and problem that there are not enough prison officers to support all prisoners, and particularly those who are vulnerable to attack or suicide?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

The hon. Lady is right in that, two years or so ago, there was an unexpected increase in the prison population at a time when a quite significant number of prisons had been closed, and we were not able to move prison officers from the prisons that were closing to where the new capacity was being provided. We recognised that, and straight away we embarked on a very significant recruitment campaign. The good news is that it is now bearing fruit.

Philip Hollobone Portrait Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My constituents know that the Minister is taking this issue extremely seriously, as he does all matters to do with Her Majesty’s prisons. What is the difficulty, however, about publishing the number of transgender people in prisons, and what are the merits and demerits of establishing a specialist unit to deal with these extremely vulnerable people?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

I committed myself to providing the information on numbers in answer to an earlier question, but I assure my hon. Friend that decency is at the heart of everything that we do. We are reviewing this issue with outside stakeholders, and if we need to think again about our provision and the way in which we deal with these issues, we will consider doing so.

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

Along with, I think, everyone else in the House, I am grateful to the Minister for his sober, sympathetic and serious response. Does he agree that the finest memorial to Vicky Thompson—the finest tribute to her memory—would be for us to ensure that no one else has to die such a lonely death? Does he also agree that, while the number of prison officers may be an absolute figure, we need not just prison officers but specialist helpers? We need mental health advisers and medical support. We cannot simply go to prison officers and say, “We want you to do more”; we must give them more, to prevent such an horrendous tragedy from occurring again.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

I agree with every word of what the hon. Gentleman has said. We are very well supported by mental health experts in prisons, and he is right to mention the work done by, for instance, psychologists, and indeed by a range of healthcare professionals. They are integral to the prison team, whose members work hand in glove with them, and they will be at the heart of issues such as this in the future.

Philip Davies Portrait Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

Vicky Thompson’s death is a tragedy. Leeds is my local prison, and a number of my constituents work there. I strongly endorse what was said by both my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) and the Minister about the work of prison officers. Can the Minister tell us what counselling they will receive as a result of having to deal with terrible incidents such as this, which are also tragedies for them?

I should inform the House, for the record, that Vicky Thompson was a constituent of my hon. Friend and parliamentary neighbour the Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins), and I have spoken to him about the case. I know that he would like it to be made clear that if Vicky Thompson’s family need any assistance at this time, they should contact him, and he would be very happy to offer it.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

I am grateful for what my hon. Friend has said about our hon. Friend the Member for Keighley. I discussed this matter with him earlier, having noted his constituency interest.

We take seriously our obligation to provide the right level of emotional support for prison officers after events such as this. Help and counselling will be available to any who need assistance after this or similar events.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My thoughts are with the family and friends of Vicky Thompson. We debated the issue of the serious shortage of prison officers and mental health specialists in prisons back in the summer. Will the Minister work specifically with the trans community on the needs and risks assessments for specialists in prisons?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

The hon. Lady has made a good point. I will speak to the officials who are conducting the review. As I told the House earlier, members of the trans community are involved in the review, but if we can add anything to it, I shall be open to that.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

Does my hon. Friend agree that the reasons why anyone decides to end his or her own life are often very complex, and that that applies just as much to prisoners—and just as much to transgender prisoners—as to those outside prisons? Should we not all be wary of reaching conclusions without being in possession of all the facts?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

I agree with my hon. Friend. I note that the Samaritans has said that the media should avoid speculation about “triggers” for suicide, and I think we should be guided by what they say. As for my hon. Friend’s main point, he is absolutely right: our duty in prisons is to give everyone a hope and a future in their rehabilitation, and that is what we are determined to do.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I find it shameful, and a bad reflection on the House, that in transgender awareness week, and on Transgender Day of Remembrance, we are here not to celebrate people’s right to self-determination, but to mourn the death of Vicky Thompson. I was reassured when the Minister said that the Government were conducting a review of gender detention policy to ensure that decision making would be uniform in future. May I suggest that he work closely with the Women and Equalities Committee, which is taking evidence on issues affecting transpeople in the criminal justice system?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

I will draw the hon. Lady’s helpful suggestion to the attention of the officials who are conducting the review.

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove (Corby) (Con)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

Our prison officers do a very difficult job. What support and training are offered to help them to deal appropriately with transgender prisoners?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

We are increasing the length of prison officer training, and we have embedded our equalities duties at the heart of what we do. During the time for which I have been prisons Minister—a little over a year—I have been hugely impressed by the essential decency of everyone in the National Offender Management Service, which runs throughout the heart of the organisation.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

Frances Crook, the chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, has warned that

“both men and women transgender people in prison need expert and sensitive support in order to ensure that they can access the full regime and remain safe. Their identity should be accorded proper respect.”

What is the Minister’s Department doing to provide even greater support for transgender people in prison, and to fulfil those needs?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

I know Frances Crook well, and I listen to what she says. We try very hard to provide appropriate and decent care for every prisoner. We are reviewing the policy, but, as I said earlier, we are prepared to learn. We want to get this right, and we will take on board all that Members have said today.

Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Today you allowed me to put an urgent question to the Secretary of State for Health for the second time in two months, and for the second time in two months he did not bother to turn up. Can you advise me whether a Secretary of State is normally expected to attend the Chamber when an urgent question is put by his or her counterpart? Can you also advise me on how we can get the Secretary of State out of his bunker in Richmond House so that he can answer legitimate questions put by Members?

Prison and Young Offender Institution (amendment) Rules 2015

Andrew Selous Excerpts
Tuesday 10th November 2015

(5 years, 3 months ago)

General Committees

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HM Treasury
Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Jenny Chapman (Darlington) (Lab)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the Prison and Young Offender Institution (Amendment) Rules 2015 (S.I. 2015, No. 1638).

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. The statutory instrument was brought to our attention by Members in the other place who felt that the House should be made aware of the changes. I share their concerns, and will briefly explain the changes. They are the Government’s reaction to a court judgment, and I think that they have done their best and have tried hard to react in a way that is proportionate and contains safeguards. The amendment we are considering increases the period before which a review of the decision to segregate a prisoner, independent of the prison, is required, from 72 hours to 42 days. After the first external authorisation, the amended rules require the Secretary of State’s authorisation to be sought only every 42 days, which seems a rather long time.

Although I concede that the Government have done their best, the Opposition have some concerns that are not addressed. We are seriously concerned that the amendment goes beyond what was clearly intended in the enabling legislation. There are well-known risks of solitary confinement to which we want to draw the Government’s attention and there has been a lack of external consultation on the measures. I appreciate that that is because the amendment is in response to a court judgment and that there has not been time, but we need assurances that such external consultation will take place. The Government need to be more mindful of the big difference between internal and external authorisation of solitary confinement.

Given their experience, I am sure that members of the Committee will be familiar with some of our concerns about solitary confinement. The judgment to which the Government responded considered evidence from both international and domestic experts about the risks to the physical health, mental health and life of a prisoner who is subjected to prolonged periods of solitary confinement. The evidence included the disproportionate number of self-inflicted deaths in segregation—there were 28 such deaths between 2007 and 2014. It also included the harmful psychological effects of isolation which, experts estimate, can become irreversible after about 15 days. The symptoms of solitary confinement range from insomnia and confusion to hallucinations and psychosis, and the negative health effects can occur after only a few days, increasing with each additional day in confinement.

It is impossible to see how an extended period of 42 days, which surpasses even the 28-day review period in Scotland, can be justified, in light of the purpose of the mechanism and the risks associated with segregation. There is a risk that the 42-day period will be too long for the most vulnerable prisoners. I have some case studies from the prisons and probation ombudsman on deaths in segregation units, which suggest that many of those who die would not get to 42 days.

It is important to remember that the rules will apply to young offenders as well as to adults. One case study, from the Howard League, shows how in Feltham, in October 2014, a 17-year-old boy disclosed that he had been segregated for good order and discipline for eight days. He reported being confined to his cell for 23.5 hours a day. I appreciate that the rules proposed by the Government require visits from health and other professionals, but although healthcare visitors had seen this person every day, that involved just opening the door to his cell and not going in to spend time with him. He said he felt depressed but had not reported that to healthcare visitors. He also said he thought he was segregated because he had had too much canteen, but had no knowledge of any formal investigation or adjudication charges.

There is a danger that although the Government’s proposals look good on paper, because they are not consolidated into a single set of rules—they amend things all over the place—they will not be implemented as I am sure the Minister hopes they will be. He will know that there is a real difference between issuing a Prison Service order and what happens in practice. We need assurances that the implementation will be closely monitored.

In another case study at Werrington prison in January, a 15-year-old boy with learning difficulties was placed in a segregation unit for over a month and simultaneously placed on closed visits. He was confined to his cell for 22 to 24 hours a day. The deterioration in his behaviour was one of the reasons that led to his segregation, which is often, if not always, the case. That was a direct consequence of the prison’s failure to provide him with his prescribed medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and the failure to provide the correct quantities of his medication at the correct intervals. This young person ended up in segregation and his already fragile mental health became more damaged.

I turn to examples from reports by the independent monitoring board and Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons. HMIP’s annual report 2013-14 concluded:

“Too many prisoners in crisis were held in segregation in poor conditions and without the exceptional circumstances required to justify this.”

The IMB’s report into Whitemoor prison criticised the way in which the segregation unit is run, describing it as

“the warehousing of the mentally vulnerable.”

The IMB report into Highpoint prison for 2013-2014 said:

“The Board still has grave concerns regarding prisoners with quite severe mental health problems being located on the”

unit,

“sometimes for long periods of time whist they are assessed for transfer to a more appropriate placement. This often involves having to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act, and this involves securing funding and specialist treatment from the appropriate Healthcare Authority”—

that obviously takes time, but the

“Board continues to stress that these situations are intolerable, both for the staff who have to deal with these very disturbed individuals and the prisoners themselves.”

Staff working in segregation units do outstanding work in the most difficult circumstances. Seg is the first place I ask to see when I visit a prison because it is a good indicator of the overall health of a prison to look at the board to see how many people are in seg and how long they have been there, and to talk to staff about the circumstances.

The IMB report into Lancaster Farms prison for young adults reported frustration at its view that at times the segregation

“unit holds a number of problematic or vulnerable prisoners, needing careful management, who are difficult to relocate on normal residential units. The time taken to transfer some of these prisoners to other prisons providing the required interventions is unacceptably long.”

There is a direct relationship between overcrowding in an establishment and understaffing and use of seg. It is about not just wanting to use the bed space in the seg, but the regime not being able to deal with unruly prisoners in a more desirable way, and having to remove them and keep them somewhere else.

In a case study from the prisons and probation ombudsman, Mr A was moved to the segregation unit after he was found in an off-limits part of the prison, arousing staff suspicions that he was smuggling in illegal items. The staff who found him reported that he seemed frightened and was shaking. When moved to the seg, he quickly began to protest about his situation. He became disruptive and, shortly afterwards, started self-harming using a plastic knife. Staff began the assessment, care in custody and teamwork—or ACCT—procedure, but did not consider it necessary to move him to another location. As a result of further threats to smash up his cell and to self-harm, prison staff removed all non-fixed furniture from his cell, leaving him with only a mattress. All his clothing and standard bedding were removed and he was given a tear-proof tunic and blanket. After the removal of furniture from his cell, prison staff failed to follow the proper protective arrangements including failing to observe Mr A with the required regularity. Later that evening, he was found hanging in his cell, having made a ligature from his tear-resistant blanket. That case demonstrates that even with the best internal safeguards in place, these things are not always carried out in the way the Minister would like. I have my doubts about whether, without the external scrutiny, we will see the kind of implementation we all want to see.

I have one last case study. Upon arrival in prison, Mr D requested vulnerable prisoner status because of his size—he was 5 feet tall and weighed 6 stone—and because other prisoners knew about his background. He was housed in the segregation unit while his suitability for the vulnerable prisoner unit was assessed, which was not ideal. A week later, he was moved to the vulnerable prisoner unit but, following an incident in which he threatened to jump from a landing, he was moved back to the seg. While he was in the seg, staff opened ACCT procedures twice. On both occasions, staff filled in a form with details of the exceptional circumstances that justified keeping him in segregation while subject to ACCT procedures. Both times, the reason given was that no other location was suitable. No details were given about which other locations—for example, the healthcare unit—had been considered and why they were unsuitable. Two days later, he was moved to the seg unit for the second time and found hanged in his cell.

It would help if we had a little more information about how some form of external monitoring of these measures could be done quickly, even before the Government consult externally, which I assume the Minister intends to do. Paragraph 7.6(e) of the explanatory memorandum says that prisons must do all they can to “facilitate involvement” of the independent monitoring boards in the segregation review boards. I want to know exactly how that will happen, because it is a very easy thing to say. We are aware that IMBs vary in their—how shall I put this?—challenge and scrutiny of regimes with which they have perhaps been associated for a great number of years. We need to ensure that the external challenge is a real challenge.

The explanatory memorandum also says that offenders concerned in the seg will be able to “make representations” to the review board. Will they get any support to do that? If a prisoner has been in solitary for some time, their capacity to represent themselves and make their case would be enhanced by some form of assistance. What does the Minister think that might look like?

As I have said, we need to look at consolidating the rules, because it will not be straightforward for governors or staff to implement the changes if they are not presented in a user-friendly way. I am not aware of any intention to provide additional training on the measures. If that were possible, it would be incredibly helpful, in order to ensure that the changes are implemented in the way we would like them to be.

The big issue, however, is the lack of external consultation and challenge. It is all very well presenting what seems a quite reasonable response to a court judgment, saying, “We will do this properly. We will involve professionals. We will involve healthcare. We will be mindful of the impact on mental health,” but if the Minister is prepared to see people held for 42 days without external challenge, it is only right that Members are made aware and given the opportunity to challenge him and, hopefully, elicit some reassurance and commitments to which we can hold him in future.

Andrew Selous Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Andrew Selous)
- Hansard -

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I will do my best to address the various concerns raised quite properly by the shadow Minister.

This measure will amend the prison and young offender institution rules on the removal of prisoners from association—known as segregation—for the maintenance of good order or discipline or in the prisoner’s interests. It provides that the removal for more than 72 hours must be authorised by the governor, and that the governor must obtain leave from the Secretary of State for longer-term segregation beyond 42 days. The changes were proposed in response to the findings of the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Bourgass case on 29 July, which held that, under the previous rules, the governor could not lawfully authorise segregation beyond 72 hours.

Prisoners may be placed in segregation for two main reasons: under prison rule 55, as a punishment following an adjudication, or under prison rule 45, for purposes of good order and discipline or the prisoner’s protection. The measure applies only to rule 45 and its equivalent rule for young offender institutions. The purpose of segregation under rule 45 is to temporarily remove from general association with their peers any prisoner whose behaviour presents a risk to the good order and safety of the establishment. Prisoners may also be segregated in their own interests.

Of course, segregation must be a last resort and for the least time necessary. The prisoner must be returned to the normal location as soon as it is safe and practicable to do so. Every effort is made to keep prisoners out of segregation and to ensure that, where they are segregated, they can be managed out again as quickly as possible. Various alternative schemes have been developed to manage disruptive prisoners without recourse to segregation, ranging from behavioural management systems on normal location to a series of close-supervision centres for the most disruptive prisoners. Despite the alternatives, many prisons could not function without a system for segregating prisoners.

Segregation under prison rule 45 is never used as a punishment. Discipline issues, including disruptive and violent behaviour, may be dealt with through a range of sanctions under the separate internal prison disciplinary system, or through application of the incentives and earned privileges scheme. Prisoners may be segregated under prison rule 45 only where their behaviour or the risk to them is such that it cannot safely be managed on normal location.

The initial decision to segregate a prisoner for up to 72 hours is taken by a prison governor, with advice from a healthcare professional who has assessed the prisoner’s health and wellbeing with regard to their being segregated. That must be done within two hours of the prisoner first being segregated.

Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Jenny Chapman
- Hansard - - Excerpts

Will the Minister explain what a healthcare professional’s assessment should entail?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

I am not a clinician, but, as I will explain, the assessment involves a nurse and a doctor seeing the prisoner every three days to assess their mental state, wellbeing and ability to function well under the segregation regime. If the shadow Minister will allow me, I will say more about the healthcare aspects of segregation in due course.

The prisoner may be returned to the normal location at any time within the initial 72-hour period, if that is considered appropriate, but if they are to remain segregated, a segregation review board must be convened before the 72-hour period elapses to determine whether that is needed. The segregation review board is a multidisciplinary board, comprising an experienced prison governor, who chairs the board, a healthcare professional, and, if the prisoner is at risk of self-harm or suicide, the appropriate case manager. The prisoner will also normally attend. The board should also be attended by a member of the independent monitoring board and other prison staff who know the prisoner and his or her circumstances, as well as a member of the chaplaincy team, the prisoner’s offender manager and a psychologist, if necessary.

The purpose of the segregation review board is to consider and discuss fully all the factors in favour of or against the prisoner’s continuing segregation and, if necessary, to continue to authorise segregation for further periods of up to 14 days at a time. Prisoners held in segregation are not kept in isolation and meaningful contact with other prisoners and staff in the unit is actively encouraged. While a prisoner is segregated, he or she must be visited daily by the governor with responsibility for the segregation unit, by a member of the healthcare team, by a doctor every three days, by the chaplaincy team and by segregation unit staff. At other times, the prisoner will be visited by and have the opportunity to speak to the independent monitoring board member and the governor in overall charge of the prison.

As far as possible, segregated prisoners have access to a regime that is comparable to that on normal location. This includes the usual basic entitlements to social and legal visits, religious services, access to the telephone, showers and exercise in the open air and, where possible, access to a gym. Where possible, association with other segregated prisoners will be facilitated. In addition, they are provided with reading and hobby materials and, where appropriate, in-cell work and education. All prisoners have access to a dedicated Samaritan phone and access to Listeners—the peer support scheme where prisoners help each other on such issues, which is very effective. Access to privileges under the incentives and earned privileges scheme is also possible, depending on the prisoner’s IEP level and compliance with behavioural targets while in segregation. This can include additional facilities, such as in-cell television and radio or CD players.

Prisoners entering segregation are screened to pick up any physical or mental health issues and to assess a prisoner’s ability to cope with segregation. Prisoners are seen daily, as I have said, by a healthcare professional and, every three days, by a doctor. Alternatives to segregation are always sought for prisoners with mental health problems. Location in a healthcare centre or closer management on normal location may be possible. As a last resort, those prisoners with mental health problems placed in segregation will be supported by a mental health in-reach team, and prisoners at risk of suicide or self-harm will have a mental health assessment if placed in segregation and will be observed in line with their individual assessment, care in custody and teamwork plan. The amended rules and new policy introduced following the Supreme Court ruling provide further safeguards.

Rule 45, as amended, provides that governors will need permission from the Secretary of State to segregate for a period longer than 42 days—in practice, from deputy directors of custody—and these reviews continue at 42-day intervals. After six months, a director of the National Offender Management Service must review continuing segregation. For young people, we have halved those time periods to 21 days and three months through policy changes.

We have made other changes to the segregation policy, strengthening guidance to ensure that prisoners are given sufficiently detailed reasons for their segregation and have the opportunity to make meaningful representations against their segregation.

Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Jenny Chapman
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I do not recognise the picture that the Minister paints of life in a segregation unit, but that is not the point. Why does he think that, prior to the judgment, it was seen as desirable, even though it was not implemented in reality—which, I guess, underlines the point I am making—that external authorisation should be sought after 72 hours?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

As I am saying, there is a whole series of checks: at 72 hours, at 14 days, after another 14 days, at 42 days and at six months. In addition to the daily healthcare visits and the visits from a doctor every three days, there is monitoring and oversight of the policy by various other members of prison staff, which I shall come on to.

The Government consider the changes to prison rules and the associated changes to the National Offender Management Service policy on prisoner segregation to be essential, not only to the smooth and safe running of our prisons, but to assuring the wellbeing of those prisoners whom it is necessary to segregate. The Supreme Court judgment of 29 July held that the existing practice whereby a prison governor authorised the segregation of a prisoner beyond 72 hours on behalf of the Secretary of State to be unlawful, given the construction of the prison rules. Up to that point, governors had always authorised segregation beyond 72 hours.

Following the Supreme Court judgment, we considered two broad options to comply with it. The first option was to implement an independent review process under the then existing rule 45(2) that would allow an official, who was external to the prison, on behalf of the Secretary of State, to authorise segregation beyond 72 hours and each subsequent period up to 14 days. Consideration was given to these decisions being taken by someone external to the prison, such as the independent monitoring board, the independent adjudicators, the deputy director of custody, or a central committee of caseworkers. There are a number of problems with that option. It would mean that a person who is detached from the detailed circumstances of the case and the day-to-day prison environment would be taking a decision. Such a system would not allow the prisoner the opportunity of making real-time representations against his or her segregation.

Each option would present considerable logistical and resource problems, given that approximately 24,000 segregation decisions of this kind are made every year. It is clear that any decision taken by a body independent of the prison at this stage, with such large numbers of reviews, would need to be taken on paper alone, given the sheer volume of cases, and therefore would add little to the quality of decision making.

The decision to segregate a prisoner can often be a fine balance between what is in the best interests of the individual prisoner, and the interests and safety of the wider population of the prison. That decision is often informed by a detailed, hands-on knowledge of the dynamics of the prison at a particular period and how a prisoner’s behaviour may be safely managed within that specific dynamic. The existing system of internal authorisation by the governor is taken on the advice of the segregation review board, which consists of a range of people who know the prisoner and the prison, and to which the prisoner is able to give a first-hand account of his or her views, which is particularly important given that prisoners often have poor written and language skills.

The second option considered how greater procedural fairness could be achieved within the existing authorisation process, including by amending the prison and YOI rules to allow governors to authorise segregation beyond 72 hours for periods of up to 14 days.

After careful evaluation of all the evidence, it was decided that the second option—a decision taken by the governor on the advice of the multi-disciplinary segregation review board—provides the best and safest system of ensuring that segregation decisions are fair and proportionate, and protects the interests of the prisoner concerned as well as the wider population of the establishment. Further safeguards and enhancements to the procedural fairness of the overall system were also made, as I described earlier, including two additional layers of review by experienced senior officials outside the prison. That provides important additional safeguards. This is a comprehensive system of review with the necessary checks and balances in place to ensure that both prisons and prisoners are safeguarded.

Following the Supreme Court judgment in July, the Government have taken immediate action to ensure that a lawful and procedurally fair system is in place. We are confident that it is the best and safest system for prisoners in segregation. It was decided that, because of the urgency of the situation, it was not possible to undertake consultation widely before the rules came into force. The shadow Minister and others will be pleased to know that a consultation process began on 9 September, with a closing date of the end of October. I assure Members that their comments will be taken into account fully during the current segregation policy review and will inform the need for any possible further amendments to that policy or the prison and YOI rules. Any amendments that are necessary, including further possible amendments of the rules, will be taken forward as part of that work.

It is vital that prisons can manage the most challenging behaviour from prisoners through a safe, fair and lawful system of segregation. These amending rules and the supporting NOMS segregation policy provide such a system. I hope that Members agree that these measures provide a sensible, safe and proportionate response to the Supreme Court judgment.

The shadow Minister asked how we will ensure that the rules are adhered to. There is significant external monitoring. The NOMS audit team will monitor adherence to the process. The deputy directors of custody—in effect, the immediate line manager of governing governors of prisons—regularly visit segregation units, in addition to the 42-day check that they must make. The independent monitoring boards—which are, of course, external to prison—and volunteers from the local community also regularly visit. The governing governor will visit care and separation units weekly at the very least.

The shadow Minister also asked me about support for making representations. Our policy requires an officer or governor to support a prisoner in making representations, particularly where there are language problems or learning disabilities. That support will involve sitting down with them and helping them to write a statement, if that is needed. I hope that hon. Members can see that we are taking a fair and proportionate approach to this serious issue. These are serious matters, and we need to get them right. I commend the rules to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That the Committee has considered the Prison and Young Offender Institution (Amendment) Rules 2015 (S.I. 2015, No. 1638).

Transforming Rehabilitation Programme

Andrew Selous Excerpts
Wednesday 28th October 2015

(5 years, 4 months ago)

Westminster Hall

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
HM Treasury
Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Jenny Chapman
- Hansard - - Excerpts

That is absolutely right. There was an opportunity to trial the programme. Labour was in favour of pilots, in which so many lessons could have been learnt and problems avoided. Everyone said that there would be a problem with IT—it does not take a rocket scientist to spot that. That was so predictable and so avoidable. With time and training, we could have avoided the problems we are now experiencing.

We cannot just say, “We’ll sort it out as time goes on, but it’ll take a couple of years to put it right.” Problems are being caused now, and problems in probation are a risk to public safety. The Minister needs to get his head around those issues urgently. If necessary, he needs to put in resources to deal with them—because, my God, he will be putting in resources if things go wrong! Let us not wait for that to happen.

My hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) powerfully outlined the folly of splitting the service. The inspectorate agrees with her, and says that the speed of transition has left staff feeling that they have not been informed about new working processes. Many still do not understand the rationale behind those processes. To their credit, the workforce are hugely motivated and experienced, and have the very best values. They will work incredibly hard to make the changes work, but we haven’t half made their jobs that much harder by going about it in this way. There is only so much that even that workforce can take. I urge the Minister to address the problem of staff morale quickly.

My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones) was right that time is being wasted because new tasks are not being integrated with old systems. Staff in court do not have access to the information they need. Things are having to be done on paper and uploaded later, creating extra tasks and unnecessary administration. Information is having to be inputted repeatedly in different places. All that nonsense could have been avoided. Heaven knows, the IT was bad enough before we started this process and needed to be addressed, but imposing a new structure on a system that was already feeling the strain was simply reckless and unnecessary. The Minister could have got the same outcomes in a safer, better way.

There are significant staffing gaps, but efforts to fix them have been too slow. It is shocking that the service can be restructured at breakneck speed, but the hoped for gains, such as involving the voluntary sector and providing proper, meaningful supervision for short-sentence prisoners, appear to be happening incredibly slowly—so slowly that we cannot see them.

Many new processes simply take longer and are more complicated than the previous arrangements. Every serious case review I have ever read has looked at communication problems as a factor leading to that serious case arising. In probation, communication is not a luxury or something it would be nice to get right; it is at the very heart of it all, and probation officers, workers in the CRCs and anyone else working with an offender must be excellent at communication. They therefore need to be given the right systems and support, but that is not happening. That is dangerous, and the Minister needs to get on to it straightaway.

This debate is not simply a rehashing of previous debates between me and the Minister about how ridiculous this whole project was—it is not our greatest hits. Rather, it is about problems with implementation. The decision on the transforming rehabilitation programme has been taken, so now we must make sure that, however chaotic the system is, we can support the workforce to make the programme work and make it safer for our constituents.

I have asked the Minister many times—as I asked his predecessor, the current Attorney General, when the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014 was in Committee—about co-location. I have had many assurances that NPS and CRC staff will be co-located. I thought that would be a good way of dealing with some of the problems with communication, as in the past those supervising an offender would have shared an office or have had a good relationship because they would have been used to dealing with one another. Will the Minister say how often co-location is not happening? I suspect that it is more the norm that staff are sited in differed locations. How quickly does he intend to address that? It is perhaps the key to making the system safer.

There are many current problems. Inspectors often find that they are identifying the same challenges now as in earlier inspections, and that the work to put those right, as was identified in the Minister’s letter to the Chair of the Justice Committee, is not having the desired impact. The Government need to do more than they have already said they will to put those problems right. The pre-allocation stage is not streamlined and so is too time consuming. What will the Minister do to streamline that stage, which is a crucial part of the process? There are now, effectively, two risk screening tools, the case allocation system and the offender assessment system. Many staff in both the NPS and the CRCs are expressing serious doubts about the value of completing the risk of serious recidivism tool at the pre-allocation stage.

That issue has been raised repeatedly with Ministers, including when the 2014 Act was in Committee. Unfortunately, at that stage Members were given no information about the new risk assessment tool and were forced to take it on trust that it would be workable and that we would not need huge investment in training on it. I am not convinced that we were given the most candid or well-informed responses in Committee. The Minister needs to add looking urgently at that risk assessment tool to his to-do list.

My hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) quoted Ian Lawrence, the head of the National Association of Probation Officers—we never know, he might just be listening—on staff morale, which my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton also talked about. Morale is at an all-time low. The system is under huge pressure, with 98% of staff saying that they have no confidence in the Government with regard to administering the programme effectively. That cannot make the Minister feel too good about himself. I am not here to add to his woes, but he needs to consider the burden he is placing on staff in the sector. They have a breaking point, and I do not want to see any more good, experienced staff leaving the service because they have no confidence in the Government’s intentions on responsible supervision of offenders in the community. Will the Minister address those points?

Despite the gloss that the Chair of the Justice Committee placed on the mood in the voluntary sector, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations seems to see things slightly differently. The largest membership body for the voluntary sector, it has conducted a survey of how its members feel. We need to take the evidence of that survey very seriously. It found that the pace of change has been slow. Organisations have not been involved, leaving them unsure about whether they will be involved in service delivery at all, and so unable to plan strategically or make decisions on staff. Few voluntary sector organisations have said they have been able to secure contracts to deliver services, which is especially the case for smaller ones. All is not as it seems, and it is certainly not as was promised.

The Government promised to put the third sector at the heart of probation, but the promise was obviously false, as that has not happened. Will the Minister therefore let us know what he is doing to put that right and ensure that the voluntary sector plays a significant role? We want to get the benefit of all the talent in, and experience of, working with offenders that we have up and down the country, but many people who could offer a great deal are, frankly, being shut out. They were not shut out before, because trusts went to great efforts to work with smaller local providers.

I must ask the Minister to respond to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) about Askham Grange prison. I have visited it myself. The best governor I have ever met is running the prison, along with another prison, and is getting tremendous outcomes. We should support that establishment, expand its work and share the good practice there more widely. To close it would be an absolute travesty.

On freedom of information, there is one question the Government have not answered. During the legislation’s Committee stage, the Opposition argued for the Government to bring contracted providers within the ambit of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. We know how the Lord Chancellor feels about FOI, having shifted responsibility for it to the Cabinet Office, but I would be interested to hear the Minister’s thoughts. In moving an amendment in Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) said we needed extra scrutiny via FOI, but sadly the Government voted that amendment down. Has the Minister considered whether the issue needs to be looked at again and whether these organisations are making themselves as open and transparent as possible? I would suggest they are not.

To conclude, I want to pray in aid the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), who, to his credit, has showed huge interest in all things related to justice. He was a member of the Justice Committee, and he had some quite insightful things to say about the Government’s programme. He said:

“The losers are the ex-offenders, the community…all of us…who must pay the costs in reoffending, more prisons and more sentencing. Surely, there is a better way to go about this—one that would show some respect for those who have given their lives to the probation service and who in a decent and professional way try to improve people’s lives, rather than working solely for private sector companies whose main interest is making money out of the system.”—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 13 January 2015; Vol. 590, c. 236WH.]

That was his way of putting it, and I would add that the system we have is simply chaotic. We knew things would take time, but it is dangerous to let too much time to go by without intervening. The plans were poorly conceived, and they have been irresponsibly executed. I therefore encourage the Minister to respond to my questions and to the seven or eight suggestions and requests made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon.

Andrew Selous Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Andrew Selous)
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As always, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Nuttall. I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) on bringing this important issue before the House. I think this is the first Westminster Hall debate he has initiated, and he conducted himself extremely well. I am also grateful to all the other Members who have taken part. I will begin by trying to address as many of the specific points Members raised as I can, before getting on to the bulk of my remarks.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether using oral reports was resulting in more risk. In all cases where a report is undertaken at court, a risk of recidivism assessment—a risk of harm screening—is undertaken.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about FOI requests and transparency. I can tell him and all other Members present—my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), who chairs the Select Committee, and others also asked about this—that the Government have committed to publishing management information detailing the performance of the CRCs and the NPS. Members will not have to wait long for the next release of that information. We are committed to transparency, because we have to proceed on the basis of results and how we are doing, and we will take corrective action where necessary.

The hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) spoke very knowledgably in a debate we had on prisons earlier this year, and she has a serious interest in all these matters, which I greatly welcome. She asked a number of questions, but particularly about Askham Grange. The women’s prison estate is the responsibility of the Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and Family Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage). However, I can tell the hon. Lady that any decision to action the closure of Askham Grange will be taken only when the new resettlement model recommended in the women’s custodial estate review has been implemented and we are satisfied that the new arrangements give women the opportunity to demonstrate their suitability for release. Having said that, I acknowledge the outstanding work that is clearly being done at Askham Grange. I also recognise the uncertainty felt by the staff concerned. Where prison establishments have closed, we have always taken good care to preserve skills and keep them in the system, and to give people the opportunity to transfer.

The hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) rightly asked about the Welsh language. The Working Links service directory is being translated into Welsh, which I am sure she will welcome.

The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones) asked whether there was confusion over the allocation of offenders. The pre-sentence case allocation system is based on a score for the risk of recidivism and harm. That score clearly defines whether an offender is to be allocated to the NPS or the CRC, so I do not fully recognise his description of confusion.

A number of Members asked about possible redundancies in the probation service. CRCs are contractually required to maintain a professional and appropriately skilled workforce to deliver the services set out in their contracts. That is being robustly managed by the National Offender Management Service. Furthermore, any probation staff who were employed as at 31 May 2014 will, if they are eligible for voluntary redundancy, be entitled to the enhanced voluntary redundancy terms, as set out in the national agreement on staff transfer and protections, where a voluntary redundancy situation arises. Those terms stand unless otherwise renegotiated in accordance with applicable employment law.

The hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), in what I thought was a thoughtful and good speech, rightly made the important point that the reoffending rate has remained too high for too long. He is absolutely right, and I can assure him there is no divide in the Chamber about that: we recognise that fact, and we are determined to do something about it, working first in the prison system and then in the probation service.

In an intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) rightly mentioned the importance of family relationships, and I want to reassure her that I do get that. My enthusiasm for the issue is shared by the chief inspector, who highlights it on page 62 of his annual report for very practical reasons. He notes that the majority of accommodation for those leaving prison is provided by family members, as are a lot of employment opportunities. If we keep those family links strong, it will help in rehabilitation.

The Chair of the Select Committee made a very balanced speech, for which I am grateful. He said he had recently attended a conference on these issues. I am sure he will, like all good Select Committee Chairs, proceed according to the evidence. I would not expect him to do anything else or to give me, as a Minister, an easy time. I know he will continue to hold the Government to account, depending on what happens.

My hon. Friend mentioned problems with ICT. It is fair to say that those problems were there before, and I will say a little in my remarks about what we are doing to address them. I have already mentioned the issue of transparency, which he raised.

Robert Neill Portrait Robert Neill
- Hansard - - Excerpts

In terms of being held to account, the Minister has undertaken to give us updated performance data, which I am sure the Select Committee will welcome. One issue the Committee raised was that, given the commitment to largely local delivery, the new arrangements should not disrupt local partnership arrangements that are working well, particularly where CRCs are covering quite wide areas. Will the Minister make sure that we also have up-to-date data on that, and that the issue continues to be monitored closely, because we clearly do not want things that work well on a multi-agency level to be disrupted?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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I am grateful to the Chair of the Select Committee for raising that important point, which other Members also raised. What I would say to everyone here today and to all those who are listening to the debate, or who will be reading it later, is that the voluntary sector is a precious asset. We do not have a right to it. These people have shown good will, and many of them have given up their time and shown a serious commitment to helping us with these issues. We have a duty to nurture and treasure them, and I want to make sure that we use them as effectively as possible—and sometimes perhaps a little more strategically than we have done. However, I do get the importance of valuing the voluntary sector.

I want now to move on to my substantive remarks, about the reason for introducing the reforms. The reoffending rate has decreased by 2.3 percentage points since 2002, to 25.3% at the end of September 2013. However, the group of offenders with the highest reoffending rates remains those sentenced to less than 12 months in custody. Almost 60% of those adult offenders go on to reoffend within a year of leaving prison. They are the one group that previously remained out of scope for statutory supervision and rehabilitation in the community. As many have said and as I am sure we all agree, that statistic is evidence that a new approach was needed. We came to office in the previous Government determined to change that and, as a result, implemented the transforming rehabilitation reforms, better to focus the system on reducing reoffending, protecting the public and providing greater value for the taxpayer.

The key point is that we would not have had the money to introduce supervision for the under-12-month group without the reforms. No Member who has spoken has mentioned that. We could not have done what everyone has called on us to do without putting in a lot of extra money that was not available.

Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Jenny Chapman
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I want to put that right: the proposal that the Opposition made at the time was backed by the chief officers of probation trusts, who were willing within existing budgets to take on that responsibility, and in some cases were already doing so. What has been happening was not necessary.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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I disagree with the hon. Lady that it could have been done within existing budgets, because it meant 45,000 extra offenders a year having probation supervision. That is why we needed to bring other players to the table.

The Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014 made a number of changes to the sentencing framework, most notably by providing that everyone released from short sentences will now receive 12 months of supervision in the community, which did not happen before. That, as I mentioned, represents some 45,000 offenders, so we needed to make significant structural changes to both the probation and prison services. Offenders who pose a high risk of serious harm to the public, or who have been convicted of the most serious offences, are being managed in the public sector under the National Probation Service, which sits within the National Offender Management Service. Medium and lower-risk offenders are being managed by the 21 community rehabilitation companies, which remained in public ownership until 1 February, when eight new providers took ownership of them and began running them.

The CRCs are being run by a diverse group, including a range of voluntary sector providers with experience in rehabilitating offenders. Those providers will be remunerated via a system that rewards them for reducing reoffending: payment by results.

Wayne David Portrait Wayne David
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Will the Minister give way?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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I want to make a little progress, but if I have time later I shall willingly give way.

There was also substantial reform of the prison system. To support improved rehabilitation outcomes, the prison estate was reorganised to facilitate a through-the-gate model, whereby offenders are given help and support from within custody into the community that they will return to on release. We established a network of 89 resettlement prisons in what has involved a large-scale reorganisation and reconfiguration of the prison estate. Short-term prisoners and prisoners in the last 12 weeks of their sentence are being housed in those prisons where CRCs provide a through-the-gate resettlement service, including support to offenders for accommodation needs, employment brokerage and retention, finance and debt advice and support for sex workers and victims of domestic violence.

How is the new probation system performing? We have heard a lot of attacks on it this morning. Members will know that the transition took place on 1 June last year. Based on the wide range of information that we published this July, performance is broadly consistent with pre-transition levels. Probation staff in both the NPS and the CRCs have worked hard to implement the reforms and we will continue to support them as the new ways of working become embedded.

Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Jenny Chapman
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Will the Minister give way?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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I want to do something that the hon. Lady called on me to do—to thank the probation staff who have worked very hard through a difficult time. Change is never easy, particularly if it is being applied to people under a new organisation. The staff continue to work hard and to engage proactively with the reforms.

Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Jenny Chapman
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The Minister said that we have been attacking the probation service. I want to make it crystal clear that we are not attacking the probation service. We are attacking him.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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I mentioned that the hon. Lady has been attacking the reforms. I was explaining why we needed them, and that performance has been broadly consistent, which is no mean achievement through a period of substantial initial change.

Liz Saville Roberts Portrait Liz Saville Roberts
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Will the Minister give way?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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I am going to talk a little about Wales, which I am sure the hon. Lady would like me to, as several Welsh Members have spoken in the debate.

The owners of Wales Community Rehabilitation Company are a shining example of collaborative working. The contract to run the CRC was awarded last December to Working Links, which is a public, private and voluntary company working in strategic partnership with Innovation Wessex, a probation staff mutual. I want innovative responses to causes of crime such as addiction and lack of housing, employment and skills, which the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd mentioned. One of the keys to maximising innovation is through the widest possible participation of supply chain partners. Working Links owns the contracts for three CRCs in total, and in Wales has signed contracts with St Giles Trust and Safer Wales to support their through-the-gate services. Furthermore, Wales CRC has also continued with a number of existing supply chain partners, such as Turning Point and the Pembrokeshire Care Society, which were inherited from Wales probation trust. That kind of cross-industry collaboration will help to build a better justice system through the sharing of evidence and intelligence developed from innovations across the sector to deliver better justice outcomes.

Several hon. Members spoke about employment, training and education and we will continue to focus on those. In Wales a working group has been established to map employability provision across Wales. The group includes the National Probation Service, Wales CRC, the Department for Work and Pensions and other employment, training and education providers. It is another good example of the collaborative partnership working that the Select Committee Chairman and others have called for in the debate. We want to ensure that it continues in the same way.

I never miss an opportunity to celebrate the excellent work that our probation staff do. They are on the frontline, delivering services that help to keep us all safe. I would therefore like to highlight the fact that the 2015 Probation Officer of the Year award went to a member of staff from Wales CRC, Wendy Hyett, for her excellent diversionary scheme for women offenders. I was pleased to present her with that award.

The transforming rehabilitation reforms have made substantial changes to the way in which offenders get help, in the through-the-gate process and in the community. The reforms are still bedding in, and while they do that we are turning a greater focus on the rehabilitation of offenders in prisons. As the Secretary of State and I have said before, reform of our prisons is a key area of focus, and we have made it clear that our current prison system fails to rehabilitate offenders or to ensure that criminals are prevented from reoffending. Our prisons must offer offenders the opportunity to get the skills and qualifications they need to turn their lives around. That will be a continued focus for us, along with a focus on education and keeping family links strong.

I am grateful to all hon. Members who have taken part in the debate. I will write to those whose specific concerns I have not been able to deal with, and I assure the shadow Minister and all those present that we shall continue to monitor the progress of CRCs robustly. We have very robust contract management for every CRC and will hold them to account on what they have said they will do. We shall carry on publishing the data at quarterly intervals, and the next release of that data will be soon.

Stephen Kinnock Portrait Stephen Kinnock
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I thank the Minister and all hon. Members who have attended the debate, which has been excellent. The fundamental point that the Opposition would make is that there is nothing wrong with experimentation and innovation, but that there is a fundamental structural problem now: the splitting and fragmentation and the proliferation of providers have created lack of clarity and are increasing bureaucracy and inefficiency. The Conservatives are always keen to cut red tape and bureaucracy, but the reforms are having the opposite effect. The Government are applying a false economy and are playing with fire, with the risk to public safety. We urge them, constructively, to create a cross-party taskforce and work in partnership to build a streamlined—

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).

Prisons: Planning and Policies

Andrew Selous Excerpts
Thursday 15th October 2015

(5 years, 4 months ago)

Westminster Hall

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
HM Treasury
Charles Walker Portrait Mr Charles Walker (in the Chair)
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Before I call the Minister, I remind Members that we will hear from the Chair of the Committee for a few minutes after the Minister has finished his speech.

Andrew Selous Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Andrew Selous)
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It is a pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I thank the colleagues who have spoken so knowledgeably in this debate; I know that they all care deeply about the issues, and I am grateful for their remarks and the expertise that they bring to our proceedings.

Let me start with the issue of prison reform, about which much has been spoken. It is true that our thinking on the issue is emerging and developing; I am grateful to the hon. Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) for her support for what she has heard so far. As she and others have said, it is clear that our current system fails to rehabilitate offenders and ensure that criminals are prevented from reoffending. Our prisons must offer offenders the opportunity to get the skills and qualifications that they need to turn their lives around, particularly qualifications that have value in the labour market and are respected by employers.

Key to the reforms that we are putting in place is the role that prison governors play in helping drive through change. We have many dedicated and hard-working governors—I had the pleasure of going to a Prison Governors Association meeting on Tuesday—and the Justice Secretary and I want to ensure that those who run establishments are more autonomous and accountable but also demand more of our prisons and of offenders. Currently, governors do not have control over what happens in their prisons. We want to give governors that control, and we want to incentivise and reward them for delivering the right outcomes.

The Secretary of State has also acknowledged that working conditions in much of the current prison estate—particularly older Victorian prisons, which have high levels of crowding, as the Chair of the Committee and others have mentioned—are not conducive to developing a positive rehabilitative environment. He has made clear his ambition to replace ageing and ineffective Victorian prisons with new prisons that embody higher standards in every way they operate. On the final comments made by the hon. Member for Darlington, we are actively considering all those issues and have set out the direction of travel. Over the past five years, we have sold 16 prisons, considerably more than in the previous 20 years or so. Our record has been one of taking action where we need to, and we are actively considering all those issues.

The money we make from selling off old prisons should be reinvested in commissioning a modern, well-designed prison estate that designs out the faults in existing structures that make violent behaviour and drug taking harder to detect. The Government recognise fully that the private sector has innovated well, particularly in its use of technology in prisons, and that there are opportunities to innovate further across public sector prisons.

We must also tackle overcrowding, which the Chair of the Committee also quite properly mentioned, with sufficient places to meet demand that all provide a safe and decent living environment. We have recently delivered 1,250 new places in the four new house blocks at Peterborough, Parc at Bridgend in south Wales, Thameside and the Mount outside Hemel Hempstead, and we are currently building a 2,106-person modern fit-for-purpose prison in north Wales. We recognise the Committee’s concern about the impacts of a rise in the prison population. The need to be prepared for unexpected rises in demand will always be necessary. As the Committee recognised, we keep the capacity for each population cohort under review and rebalance the estate as required.

I move now to the issue of education and employment, which has quite properly featured highly in this debate. Prison should offer offenders the chance to get the skills and qualifications that they need to make a success of life on the outside—a second chance to make the best of the education that, in many cases, they did not get when they were younger. That is a crucial area of our reform agenda, and the Secretary of State and I are putting in place steps to help make prisons places of purpose by increasing education and employment opportunities for offenders. That includes working with other Departments, such as the Ministry of Defence, to expand work opportunities.

I also pay tribute to companies such as Halfords. I have mentioned the academy that Halfords runs in Onley prison, where instructors and prisoners work together in a well-equipped workshop. They all wear Halfords sweatshirts, and prisoners go out on day release to work in Halfords stores. After they complete the course, on release, there are jobs available for them as bicycle mechanics in Halfords stores. That is an excellent model providing employment on release, and it is exactly what I want to see a great deal more of.

Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Jenny Chapman
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The examples that the Minister cites are entirely appropriate and excellent, but they are just examples. The situation is patchy. What plans does he have to make that kind of experience the norm? My observation is that it is incredibly difficult to create such models of good practice throughout the country. It is something that Ministers have struggled with ever since I can remember.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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The hon. Lady is absolutely right. We need to do better, and I am extremely ambitious and impatient to do more. I assure her that I regularly raise the issue with my officials, and I will continue to do so, because I share her impatience at the scale of the challenge. We need to act at pace to do something about the issue.

That said, work in prisons continues to grow steadily, with 14.9 million hours worked across the estate in 2014-15. However, as I said, I am determined to do much more. Increasing numbers of prisoners are also engaged in learning, but Ofsted inspections confirm that one in five prisons has an inadequate standard of education provision and another two fifths require improvement. That is why the Secretary of State has asked Dame Sally Coates, a distinguished former headteacher, to chair a review of the quality of education in prisons, which will report in March 2016.

The review will examine the scope and quality of current provision in adult prisons and young offender institutions for 18 to 20-year-olds. It will consider domestic and international evidence of what works well in prison education and identify options for future models of education services in prisons. In the meantime, work is already in progress to improve the quality of learning and skills in prisons, including: finding ways to improve class attendance and punctuality; collecting better management information, which is key; improving support for those with learning difficulties and disabilities, including mental health issues, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) raises rightly and regularly; and developing more creative and innovative teaching.

On that point—I have mentioned it before—Swaleside has a good maths and English programme in the physical education department, of all places, that has been particularly successful at helping harder-to-engage prisoners improve their English and maths skills. That is exactly the sort of thing that I am talking about, and we need more of it.

In August last year, we introduced mandatory assessment of maths and English for all newly received prisoners, so we now have a proper baseline measure of prisons’ standards of literacy and numeracy. We have also invested in a virtual campus, a secure web-based learning and job search tool, currently available in 105 prisons to support prisoners’ education.

In addition to education inside prison, the Government also fully support prisoners using temporary release to take up work, training and educational opportunities in the community as well as to maintain ties with families. Although that should never come at the expense of public protection, it is a powerful tool for reintegrating offenders back into the community and preparing them for release. All the measures taken since the ROTL review in 2013 focus on minimising the risks taken in allowing temporary release and ensuring that releases are purposeful. The latest data show a 39% reduction in recorded instances of ROTL failure. We agree that ROTL can be a useful resettlement tool; it is important not to let abuse by a small number of people undermine it. We will review the impact of the new measures in 2016, so we can be sure that the public is protected while avoiding unnecessary restrictions on purposeful rehabilitative ROTL.

I turn to young people and young adults in custody. Although fewer young people are committing crimes for the first time, those who enter the youth justice system are some of the most troubled in our society, and too many go on to commit further offences. The significant reductions in volumes mean that the youth justice system now faces very different challenges. We need to consider whether the structures and delivery models created in 2000 are appropriate to meet the challenges of 2015 and the changes to the public service landscape. We also need to ensure that the youth justice system provides maximum value for the taxpayer. In recognition of the continued significant reductions in the number of young people in custody, as well as the scale of the financial challenge, we will not pursue plans to build a secure college, although we remain committed to improving education for all young offenders.

Robert Neill Portrait Robert Neill
- Hansard - - Excerpts

May I raise one point on young offenders in particular? The Minister is right to highlight the changes that have been made and the reduction. The report from Lord Harris of Haringey highlighted the particular need for work to be done with those vulnerable people at risk of harm in custody. When will the Government make their response to the report?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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We have promised a response in the autumn. We are actively considering that extremely important report, about which I will say a little in a moment if my hon. Friend, the Chair of the Justice Committee, will allow me.

In September, we announced a departmental review of the youth justice system, led by Charlie Taylor, the former chief executive of the National College of Teaching and Leadership. I recognise the importance of clear responsibility for the young adult offender group. We have therefore appointed a deputy director of custody for young people, within NOMS, as senior lead on operational policy on young adults. We are also working to improve the evidence base around what works best with young adult offenders. That includes developing and testing a tool to screen for emotional and social maturity, which should help us to understand need better and better tailor services and interventions for young adult offenders in prison or in the community.

The shadow Minister quite properly raised prison safety. The safety of our staff as they deliver a secure prison regime is an absolute priority. We are tackling dangerous new psychoactive substances, to help drive down the number of assaults and violent incidents. Measures have been taken to help deter prisoners from violence. For example, we brought in, for the first time ever, a joint national protocol between NOMS, the Crown Prosecution Service and the police, to ensure that there is a nationally consistent approach to referral and prosecution of crimes in prison. That is a really important mechanism. It is a significant change and will play its part in reducing violence in prisons.

The Serious Crime Act 2015 has brought in two new offences. Unbelievably, it was not an offence to possess a knife in a prison—if you can believe that—without authorisation. That has now changed. We are bringing in a new offence of throwing or projecting any item over a prison wall. The link to violence is very clear; it is mainly drugs that are thrown over the walls, and we know that new psychoactive substances are involved in provoking many violent incidents. That is why such measures are important.

We are bringing in other measures to record and understand the incidents of violence in prisons and the response to those incidents. We are developing a violence diagnostic tool, to enable better analysis at national, regional and local levels, and operational guidance for governors, to advise staff in prison on how they might better manage both potential and actual violent incidents. We are also piloting body-worn cameras in 22 public sector and two private sector prisons. I visited Glen Parva recently and was impressed by what I saw. The staff told me that they felt a lot safer; the prisoners also told me that they felt a lot safer, which is important. We will evaluate that early next year. We do not underestimate the hard work and challenges faced by our prison staff in dealing with serious violent incidents. We will continue to support our staff and help them to maintain safe and secure prisons.

The issue of self-inflicted deaths was rightly raised earlier. Whenever a prisoner takes their own life, it is a shocking and tragic event that is felt round the whole prison. We take our duty to keep prisoners safe extremely seriously. On any given day, prison staff provide crucial care to more than 2,000 prisoners at risk of self-harming. At times, that means someone literally sitting 24/7 outside a cell door, if necessary. We continue to make every effort to improve the care that we provide to vulnerable prisoners and learn from every individual incident.

It is too simplistic to attribute self-inflicted death or self-harm to staffing reductions or benchmarking. Deaths have occurred in contractor prisons, which have not been subject to reductions, as well as public sector prisons. All prisons are required to have procedures in place to identify, manage and support people who are at risk of harm to themselves. NOMS has put in place additional resources to undertake this safer custody work. NOMS is also reviewing the operation of the case management process for prisoners assessed as being at risk—procedures for assessment, care in custody and teamwork, known as ACCT. It is considering the recommendations of the Harris review into deaths of young adults in custody, about which the Chair of the Justice Committee rightly asked.

The Committee expressed concerns about staffing. The prison system has been under some pressure as a result of a rise in the prison population, combined with staffing shortages. That is most notable in London and the south-east, where the economic recovery may have contributed to a higher than anticipated staff turnover. Immediate action was taken early in 2014 to manage those recruitment shortages, including an accelerated recruitment campaign, the introduction of the Her Majesty’s Prison Service reserves, and staff sent on detached duty to the prisons with the greatest shortages. In the 12 months to June 2015, 2,230 new prison officers began training. Of those, 1,820 were new recruits and 410 were existing NOMS staff who have regraded to become prison officers. In the past 12 months to June 2015, there has been a net increase of 420 prison officers. Those officers will go at least some of the way to dealing with the issues of violence and safety that have been raised throughout the debate. We are also looking to recruit a similar number this year with our ongoing recruitment campaign.

There are, however, establishments where it remains hard to recruit. To address that issue, NOMS has looked at a number of options based on evidence, such as turnover, volume of vacancies and reward in other industries. A decision has been made against organisational objectives, Government policy on public sector pay and financial affordability, to improve our reward offer for prison officers at those sites. NOMS has worked, and will continue to work, to support its staff and provide them with the skills and development opportunities that they need to perform their duties with confidence and the necessary skills.

I shall quickly touch on the role of the external monitoring bodies. I wrote to the Chair of the Justice Committee in July, clarifying that the reference in the NOMS original response to the Justice Committee to a review of the independence of all criminal justice inspectorates was made in error, for which I apologise. A corrected version of the NOMS response has now been relayed in Parliament. I assure the House that in the absence of such a review, both the Secretary of State and I remain absolutely committed to safeguarding the imperative of an inspectorate that operates, and is perceived to operate, fully independently of both the sponsoring Department and the organisations in its remit.

The last major point I want to cover concerns our transforming rehabilitation reforms. As the Committee will know, reoffending has been too high for too long, which is why we have reformed the way that offenders are managed in the community. The transforming rehabilitation reforms seek to get the best out of the voluntary, public and private sectors to help offenders turn away from crime. These reforms mean that for the first time in recent history, virtually every offender released from custody will receive statutory supervision and rehabilitation in the community, including those offenders sentenced to less than 12 months in custody. We expect the new providers to make real contributions towards reducing reoffending, and we are closely monitoring their progress. The reforms have made substantial changes to how we manage offenders in England and Wales, and I am proud to be part of the team that has made those changes happen.

Of course, there remains much work to be done as we embed these reforms, and I take this opportunity to thank probation and prison staff for their continued hard work. They are doing a magnificent job, and they deserve our congratulation and recognition.

Regarding work, I agree with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell). I was interested to hear about the experience in German prisons; the Singaporean prison system also places a very high emphasis on both getting prisoners into work in prison and getting them into employment afterwards. I am grateful to him for making that point.

The hon. Member for Darlington was absolutely right to refer to the tragic death of Lorraine Barwell. It was an horrendous incident and I can assure the hon. Lady that it was taken extremely seriously within the Ministry of Justice; reviews are ongoing and a charge of murder has been brought. The flag on the Ministry of Justice flew at half-mast on the day of the funeral. The hon. Lady’s comments were absolutely right. I myself have said it many times before and I say it again now: prison officers are on the front line, keeping us all safe. We owe every one of them a debt of duty. They may not be in the public eye in the way other front-line professionals are, but what they do is every bit as important. We need to recognise that on every occasion.

Thank you very much, Mr Walker; I am very grateful for having had the chance to respond to the debate. I hope that I have managed to respond to all the points raised this afternoon. If I have not done so, I will gladly write to hon. Members.

Charles Walker Portrait Mr Charles Walker (in the Chair)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

Mr Neill, perhaps we can hear from you for a few minutes in summary.

HMP Northumberland

Andrew Selous Excerpts
Wednesday 14th October 2015

(5 years, 4 months ago)

Westminster Hall

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HM Treasury
Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Mrs Trevelyan
- Hansard - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman anticipates the next part of my speech.

Sodexo has recently invested in ion scanners, which have a good track record for identifying cocaine and some amphetamines, but they are considered less accurate at picking up heroin and legal highs. I am concerned that the continuing supplies of legal highs, most especially Spice, which are making it through to prisoners, despite regular hauls of drugs—through stuffed toys, inside mobile phones and the like—means that usage is prevalent throughout the prison, putting other prisoners and officer safety at risk.

The reality is that there is a violent culture between prisoners that is heavily exacerbated by the drugs trade. A prisoner who “buys” Spice from a fellow inmate will have strict instructions from his dealer to get his girlfriend or his mum to make payment outside the prison walls to a colleague of the drug pushers. Failure to make payments ensures that a drug-addicted prisoner’s life will be made a misery and his family will be put under pressure or assaulted.

The latest HM Chief Inspector of Prisons report indicates that in prisoner surveys, more prisoners than the comparator said it was easy to get illicit drugs and alcohol in the prison. The average positive random mandatory drug testing rate for the six months to July 2014 was 11.7%, higher than the national average of 8.9%. Illicit drugs such as Spice and illicitly brewed alcohol have been identified as problems. The inspector also praised the prison staff for the drug strategy, which firmly integrates drug reduction as a key target.

I understand that suspicion drug testing has been restarted following a break due to a lack of staff last year, but I am not certain that all requested tests are completed in a timely fashion. The inspector of prisons has recommended that mandatory drug testing should be appropriately staffed to ensure tests are completed within prescribed time scales, and I would be grateful for assurances from the Minister that he is now certain that this key recommendation is being fully implemented.

I ask the Minister to investigate whether the levels of drugs seized compared with the levels of continuing drug abuse are at an acceptable ratio. Will he consider bringing back drugs dogs to increase the chances of catching those poisons before they can get to prisoners? I am keen to hear from the Minister how the Department assesses whether any prison is managing its drugs problems in individual prisons across the country’s full estate of 136 prisons, and whether there is any best practice guidance or mandatory levels that the Minister expects his prison governors to achieve in reducing the quantity of toxic substances reaching our prisoners.

On my most recent visit to HMP Northumberland, prison officers showed me the new portable body cameras that they are trialling—it is one of 30 prisons to do so. There was a really positive vibe from the officers about their effectiveness in reducing antisocial behaviour among the inmates; the threat of being recorded seemed to remind them that poor or threatening behaviour is just not acceptable. Body cameras have been used by the police for some time now, and a recently published study found that equipping them with body cameras reduced their use of force by around 50%, while complaints against them by the public dropped by almost 90%.

Those startling figures were revealed by a research study conducted by the University of Cambridge, based on a 12-month trial conducted among police officers in Rialto, California. The dramatic results have led to calls from police chiefs throughout the country who are keen to equip their officers with cameras, especially in the light of increased tensions between police and local communities. The year-long study, which began in 2012, had its findings published in the Journal of Quantitative Criminology in November and answered the hotly debated topic of whether cameras can reduce both police force and the number of complaints filed.

I urge the Minister to look closely at the data from the prisons that are currently testing body cameras, and I encourage continued and extended use of the technology if the results are anything like as good as those for the police. I was pleased to hear from prison officers that Sodexo has purchased the cameras that are currently in use at HMP Northumberland. It absolutely wants to be able to continue to use them for the foreseeable future. What is the Minister’s assessment of the trial of body cameras to date? When does he intend to determine whether their use should be made permanent?

Although it is an excellent decision for the health of prisoners and officers alike, the impending ban on smoking in prisons is going to bring some serious problems to HMP Northumberland, and no doubt to every other prison. Most legal highs are taken by being smoked, so prisoners will stop getting not only their nicotine fix but other drug fixes. I am deeply concerned about the short-term risks to officers’ safety as inmates suffer from no doubt very real withdrawal symptoms, about the new culture of smuggled smoking paraphernalia, and about the health and potential fire risks. The cigarette, the box of matches, the lighter, the bag of loose tobacco and Rizlas will no doubt threaten to become new prison currency for prison officers to manage.

The Prison Governors Association has cautiously welcomed the move to ban smoking from 2016, but has called for the ban to be implemented in a safe and staged way, because 80% of prisoners smoke. Even as the ban on smoking in cells is due to come into force before the end of this year, it is of grave concern to all those who will have to manage these changes, knowing the behavioural impact it will certainly have. I have watched family members give up smoking, and even with all the support around them it has never been easy—sometimes it was deeply unpleasant for the rest of us—so how much harder will it be for those incarcerated, for whom a tab is a comfort and boredom-filler through the long days inside? I would appreciate assurances from the Minister, along with details of the tangible policy plans that are being set in place to manage the transition to a smoke-free prison estate.

Last, but definitely not least, are my concerns for the safety, both real and perceived, of visitors to the prison, be they chaplains, readers, educationalists, or support workers for those preparing to seek work when they leave HMP Northumberland. Over the past 18 months, I have received repeated calls and emails from individuals concerned about the level of officer cover during their visits.

For example, where two officers used to be present during chapel services, there is now only one. Historically, if a prisoner started to misbehave, he would have been removed, leaving other participants to continue their faith practice peacefully. With only one officer on duty that is no longer possible, so the calm and contemplative time supposedly provided by such services is broken and continues to be disrupted. As a result, fewer prisoners now come to chapel services and have less contact time with faith leaders, who have a vital role to play in supporting their spiritual and personal wellbeing.

My concern for the safety of volunteers is a challenging issue to solve, since the director of HMP Northumberland informs me that the current number of prison staff meets—indeed, slightly exceeds—the standard NOMS ratios for prisoners in the estate. Because of the geographical size and layout of the prison—a large RAF base in a former incarnation—the need for officers to manage the movements of prisoners and to monitor them means that there just are not the numbers to provide the level of cover to get prisoners to voluntary activities like faith services or to provide support at a practical level in chaplaincy activities and other provisions.

The huge reduction in staff numbers last year has also led to a decision to provide Manchester college’s education and training programme over four days rather than five. Although prisoners are still able to access the same number of hours per week, it is done over four days, leaving Friday, Saturday and Sunday without constructive activity to focus on. I can only imagine that three long days at a stretch with little to do is less than conducive to best behaviour, and the Sunday outing to chapel might easily seem like an opportunity to release frustration—an opportunity that was previously less abused. Given that HMP Northumberland is now supposed to have a working prison ethos, does the Minister believe that it is doing enough? Can it possibly meet the aim of five days’ full working and training opportunities with staff numbers that are so physically stretched by the nature of the geography and layout of the prison?

HMP Northumberland has some unique challenges to address. Although I am impressed by the steps now being taken, after four turbulent years, to move forward and find new training and work opportunities for the prisoners, will the Minister come and see for himself how difficult that will be to achieve in practice without continued investment in manpower and training for better safety and a sense of security for all those who work and volunteer there? I am grateful to have had the opportunity to raise this issue, which is of concern to many of my constituents. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response, with the hope that some of my concerns might be unfounded or resolvable.

Andrew Selous Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Andrew Selous)
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As always, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mrs Trevelyan) on securing what I think is her first Westminster Hall debate. If I may say so, she gave a very polished performance, finishing exactly halfway through the time allotted for the debate. I will do my best to address all the points she raised. She spoke about the volunteers who visit the prison, and I gather that she is involved in helping at the prison herself. I thank and commend her not only for being a visitor but for doing something practical to support the prison.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that safety is central to everything we are seeking to achieve in prisons. I welcome this debate as an opportunity to highlight the activity that is underway at HMP Northumberland to maintain safety and decency and to tackle violence. I am aware that my hon. Friend recently visited the prison—as she has over many years—and met the director and staff. Sodexo has been running prisons for many years and has responsibility for three other prisons in England: Bronzefield, Peterborough and Forest Bank. HMP Northumberland is a category C training prison. It is a very large site holding more than 1,300 adult male prisoners and, she said, it also holds a number of often vulnerable prisoners, mainly those with a history of sex offending.

Ian Lavery Portrait Ian Lavery
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I have met the Minister on numerous occasions and those meetings have always been positive. Is he aware that, because of the lack of staff, there is integration of the seriously vulnerable prisoners among the ordinary prisoners? That is causing great concern for safety—mainly for the sex offenders. One thing that has been reported to me on numerous occasions that is absolutely unacceptable is that the food given to some of these vulnerable prisoners has often contained human faeces.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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I am really appalled to learn of that. The hon. Gentleman has raised some detailed points; if he will allow me, I will get back to him. In response to the request by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed that I visit the prison, I would be delighted to do so. That would give me the opportunity to look further into the specific concerns raised, quite properly, by the hon. Gentleman.

The transition from a public sector prison to a private provider is complex and should not be underestimated. A transfer from a public to a private prison has happened only once before, with HMP Birmingham. Such change is unsettling and the transition takes time. As with the experience at HMP Birmingham, the transition at HMP Northumberland presented some challenges for the new provider, which I acknowledge. That was also picked up in the report by the chief inspector of prisons published earlier in the year. The prison has taken action to address the chief inspector’s recommendations, which included completing a review of its induction unit. That has resulted in moving the induction unit to a larger location in the prison, with improved capacity and improved classroom facilities. The National Offender Management Service and Sodexo have worked closely in partnership, particularly during the transition period.

I am aware that concerns have been raised about the numbers of staff at the prison. The merging of two prisons led to a duplication in some services, such as catering and facilities management. Since Sodexo became responsible for the prison, it has implemented new structures and new ways of working that have resulted in fewer staff being necessary to operate the prison. In total, 210 staff left the prison on voluntary exit terms and there were no compulsory redundancies.

In order to provide assurance, bidders were required during the competition to submit a detailed response, which was assessed by a team of assessors made up of operationally experienced governors. Sodexo had to show that it had built its staff profiles and to demonstrate the expertise of the team that designed them and the governance process that assured the design. It had to show that it had taken into consideration environmental and other factors and operational resilience.

Sodexo subsequently reviewed its staffing levels at the prison and decided that a further 16 permanent staff were needed, and I am pleased to say that it has now filled all those vacancies. As my hon. Friend said, the current staffing levels are considered to be sufficient to run a safe, decent and secure prison, and they are kept under review. Sodexo informed us that a total of 402 full-time equivalent staff are employed at HMP Northumberland, of whom 372 worked at the prison before the transition, so their valuable experience has been retained. The majority of the existing senior managers have a wealth of custodial management experience within public sector prisons, and the new director who joined the prison earlier this year, of whom my hon. Friend spoke highly, has extensive custodial management experience, including in the public sector.

HMP Northumberland continues to take staffing issues seriously. It is undertaking a consultation programme with staff to identify and address any further issues that transpire as a result of the transition to Sodexo. HMP Northumberland is addressing the transition issues positively, and I am grateful for the leadership, resilience and professionalism that staff have shown in maintaining delivery at HMP Northumberland under these changing circumstances.

My hon. Friend raised concerns about safety. I cannot emphasise strongly enough how importantly the Government take the issue of safety for all prisoners and staff. Violence in prisons is wholly unacceptable and we treat any assault extremely seriously. Any prisoner who commits an act of violence can expect action to be taken against them, which may include a loss of privileges or sanctions under the prison disciplinary procedures. Where appropriate, they may face criminal charges and prosecution.

We are under no illusions about the scale of the issue. Assaults in prisons increased from 14,664 in 2013 to 16,196 in 2014. Some of that increase is due to an improvement in the reporting of assault incidents following changes in data assurance processes, but those reporting improvements do not account for all of the increase. Serious assaults, including those on staff, rather than other prisoners, have risen even more. They have increased by 35%, from 1,588 assaults in 2013 to 2,145 in 2014. The increase in serious assaults is completely unacceptable. We are, however, holding a more violent prisoner population: the number of people sentenced to prison for violent offences has increased by 30% in the past 10 years.

In addition, the illicit use of new psychoactive substances, or NPS, has been a significant factor. I refer to them as “lethal highs”, and I encourage my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Wansbeck to use that term. Getting the language right helps us in this incredibly important battle. There is strong evidence that the increase in the illicit trade and misuse of synthetic drugs or new psychoactive substances is linked to the recent increase in violence across the prison estate. HMP Northumberland is also experiencing the effects of such substances, as my hon. Friend said. It has increased its levels of target searching and enhanced its security procedures for visitors to help to address this issue. To answer my hon. Friend’s specific point, we will introduce mandatory drug testing for NPS for all prisons when new contracts are agreed early next year. In the interim, we will shortly trial NPS testing as part of mandatory drug testing in some prisons. NPS are also an increasingly prominent problem in the community at large, and hon. Members will be aware of the Government’s new legislation to control such substances.

During the transition period, HMP Northumberland retained its own drug dogs. All drug dogs at HMP Northumberland are accessed through the north-east drug dog scheme. Drug dogs will be provided to the prison in response to its individual needs. I can tell my hon. Friend that dogs have now been trained to detect new psychoactive substances. A meeting was held this month between the prison and the drug dog unit to agree the way forward and ensure that adequate drug dogs are available to the prison.

We have taken the decision to ban smoking in closed prisons. Let me assure my hon. Friend that banning smoking will be done in a way that ensures operational stability. We will draw on the lessons we can learn from elsewhere, including Canada and New Zealand, where smoking bans have been successfully introduced. The ban should also be a gain in tackling NPS misuse, and as the roll-out of the smoking ban proceeds we should see reduced NPS misuse.

Violence reduction remains a key priority for HMP Northumberland and activity to address that issue is reviewed on a regular basis. Sodexo has already made improvements, including installing CCTV in part of the prison. It has also introduced more structured interventions towards the perpetrators of violence. The National Offender Management Service has a programme of activity in train across both public sector and private prisons to tackle violence in prisons. Action taken includes issuing new guidance to governors to support the development of their local violence reduction strategy. There is currently a pilot of body-worn cameras across 24 establishments, including HMP Northumberland. We are building on the existing evidence of significant benefits in prisons that already have experience of using them. The evaluation report for that scheme will be available in March. When I have been to prisons recently and seen them, I have been extremely impressed. Staff and prisoners told me that they feel safer as a result of their use, but we must obviously wait for the full evaluation.

There were two new offences in the Serious Crime Act 2015: being in possession of a knife or other offensive weapon within a prison without authorisation, and throwing items over a prison wall without authorisation. The first of those offences is already in place and is actively being used, and the offence of throwing items over prison walls will be introduced shortly. It is aimed at the criminal gangs that are throwing packages containing illicit drugs into prisons. It will attract up to two years in prison on conviction. Both offences are intended to send a clear message to offenders that we are not prepared to tolerate that type of criminal behaviour in and around our prisons.

A joint national protocol conducted by NOMS, the Crown Prosecution Service and the police was published in February with the purpose of ensuring a nationally consistent approach to the referral and prosecution of crimes in prison. The protocol sets out a requirement for prisons to submit a prison community impact assessment, with each case referred to the police, which will explain the impact the offence has had on the establishment and will ensure that it is properly understood and taken into account in the determination of referred cases.

Deaths in prison custody have risen over time. With the overall ageing of the population, there is an increasing number of elderly prisoners. Of the four deaths in the past year that my hon. Friend referred to, three were from natural causes and one was self-inflicted. Of course, that is one too many. In every case, the prison has worked on the recommendations made by the prisons and probation ombudsman on the deaths, and action been taken. For example, the prison has reinvigorated its local personal officer policy to provide clarity for staff on their role in supporting individual prisoners who are at risk.

NOMS is also taking forward a programme of work to address the rise in self-inflicted deaths. A review of compliance and delivery of the assessment, care in custody and teamwork process has taken place and is due for completion shortly. Multi-agency work is being undertaken on the person escort record, which accompanies individuals transferred between police stations, courts and prisons.

We have heard some criticisms of the prison today. I can tell my hon. Friend that the hours out of cell are 10 hours on Monday to Thursday, with eight hours on Friday and seven and a half hours at the weekend. That is an average of nine hours during the week.

There have been some significant successes. For example, the prison has almost doubled the number of prisoner work hours since Sodexo took over. We should be grateful for that achievement. As my hon. Friend rightly said, productive work is important in ensuring that we have a safe and secure prison. The prison has achieved Red Tractor accreditation for its horticultural food produce and it undertakes various charitable works for the local Northumberland community. It runs a bicycle repair workshop on behalf of the Margaret Carey Foundation and refurbishes bicycles for use in developing countries, so some positive things have happened since Sodexo took over.

I absolutely accept the points that my hon. Friend raised, which we take seriously. I look forward to visiting the prison, hopefully with her, at some point in the not too distant future.

Question put and agreed to.

Dangerous Driving Penalties

Andrew Selous Excerpts
Thursday 17th September 2015

(5 years, 5 months ago)

Westminster Hall

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HM Treasury
Philip Hollobone Portrait Mr Philip Hollobone (in the Chair)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

Were the Minister kind enough to finish his remarks no later than 4.26 pm, that would allow Mr Sharma three minutes to sum up and one minute for me to put the motion to the Chamber.

Andrew Selous Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Andrew Selous)
- Hansard -

As always, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. Thank you for the efficient way in which you have chaired our proceedings.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma) on securing this important debate. The seriousness with which dangerous driving is taken is evident from the strength of feeling among Members on both sides of the House. I pay tribute to him for his persistence and for how he has brought this matter before the House. Indeed, I thank all hon. Members for the non-party political way in which these serious matters have been addressed.

My hon. Friend was right to say that it is not possible for us to imagine the pain of the families who have lost loved ones to such terrible experiences. I regularly meet victims, and I will continue to be available to do that to try to give myself the best possible idea of what they have been through. He mentioned the 102,000-signature petition, which is a significant achievement. I note that he has been to see the Prime Minister. The shadow Minister spoke about the Prime Minister’s supportive attitude on this matter.

I am also grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning the case of my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), whose constituent, a teacher, was killed on account of someone browsing the internet while driving a lorry—an atrocious thing to have done. My hon. Friend the Member for Reading West asked three particular questions and, yes, the five issues that he raised are being considered as part of the Government’s review. Secondly, I hope to be able to move to the public phase of the review soon, and we will do everything possible to attract the widest public attention. Thirdly, the reforms are likely to require legislation and so will be debated by Parliament. All hon. Members will have a chance, as they have had this afternoon, to put the views of their constituents in that debate.

Jim Fitzpatrick
- Hansard - - Excerpts

The Minister says that he hopes the review will move to its public phase soon. Can he be more specific about the definition of “soon”? When I was the Minister for a time, a civil servant drafted an answer for me that said, “The answer to the parliamentary question will be published in the autumn.” I asked, “When is the autumn?” They said, “23 December, Minister.” I said, “Well, that’s usually Christmas.” They said, “It’s the end of the autumn Session, Minister.”

The word “soon” is even less specific than “autumn” and certainly “this year.” It would be nice to know whether that means the calendar year or the parliamentary year.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

The hon. Gentleman is a former Minister, and he knows how such things work. I am sorry that I am not able to be more specific, but I can tell him and every other Member here that I get it. There is clearly huge concern on both sides of the House about dangerous driving. A commitment has been made to have the review, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that my officials and others are working on that in earnest. I would be extremely grateful if he were good enough to accept that for now.

The hon. Gentleman made an excellent speech, and he is right that we all want safer roads. He spoke about the language we use in such matters, and I agree that using drink, drugs or phones does not make it an accident. Getting the language right matters, and I hugely agree that enforcement is critical, as my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West also said. As a former road safety Minister, the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) brings great experience and knowledge to this debate. The issue of prevention resonated most strongly with me, and the public reporting of drivers who break the rules is an interesting idea. He also said that the punishment should fit the crime.

I assure hon. Members that Ministers and officials in the Department for Transport will be sent the transcript of this debate so that they can study what has been said, because that is an important aspect of our proceedings. The hon. Gentleman specifically asked about prosecutions and, despite the increased number of cars on our roads, the number of incidents and, more significantly, the number of deaths on our roads have fallen very significantly. As a result, there are fewer prosecutions for causing death by dangerous driving, but the sentence length has increased, which is part of a long-term trend.

I listened with great interest to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham). Safety near schools is incredibly important, and I commend her for continuing to campaign on that issue. She made an important point, which links to the point raised by the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse, about the need for effective enforcement. Again, I will ensure that that point is passed on to the Department for Transport.

The three Es mentioned by the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West)—education, engineering and enforcement—are right. She also made a useful contribution to our proceedings. My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) told us of a personal experience from his constituency. He speaks as a member of the Select Committee on Justice, so I welcome his contribution. I am struck that 63% of respondents in his constituency expressed a fear of road traffic crime. I agree that that is a significant finding, and one of which we should take note.

John Howell Portrait John Howell
- Hansard - - Excerpts

That was 63% across the UK, not just in my constituency.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

I thank my hon. Friend for that correction, which makes the finding even more significant. Like him, I was deeply shocked by the case he mentioned of someone driving at more than twice the legal speed limit through a red light, killing someone, and the sentence that was passed down. I tell him, and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire, that sentencing guidelines make it clear that driving without care in the vicinity of a pedestrian crossing, hospital, school or residential home are all to be taken into account as aggravating factors when determining an appropriate sentence. I note her further comments on these matters.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey) also made an excellent contribution, and he highlighted the tragic case of Sean Morley. We were all extremely moved by his description of the highly distressing circumstances of that utterly terrible case. I have taken very careful note of what he said.

Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore), in another powerful speech, told us of an horrific incident in which a couple riding a tandem bicycle were tragically killed in his constituency. He said that the former Secretary of State for Justice, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), has visited the spot. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood that the similarities between a knife, a gun and a car are fairly strong when it comes to taking someone’s life or causing horrific injuries. I note the judge’s comments in that case, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s persistence in raising such matters. He said that the Justice Secretary can raise the maximum penalty, but that is not correct; it is actually for Parliament to set the maximum penalty for an offence, but I understand his point.

The hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Douglas Chapman), who speaks for the Scottish National party, talked about the reduction of the legal alcohol limit in Scotland. Those powers are devolved to Scotland and are the responsibility of colleagues in the Department for Transport. I will pass on his comments.

The shadow Minister also has a long-standing record of personally campaigning on dangerous driving. He told us that he has previously been to see the Prime Minister, which led to a change in the law. I pay tribute to him for that, and for the contribution that he has made on the issue. A recent inspection report on Crown Prosecution Service practice has recommended better training and more specialist road traffic prosecutors. I am sure that he will be grateful to know that, and I will write to him on the further specific details for which he asked.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to go in some detail through the matters brought before us in this debate. On the particular case that my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West brought before the House, the driver entered a guilty plea to a number of offences, including two counts of causing death by dangerous driving and driving while disqualified. He received a sentence of 10 years and three months on 16 April 2014, and he was banned from driving for 15 years.

Turning to the specific issues that my hon. Friend raised, he will know as well as I do that sentencing is a matter for judges, who are independent. The judges decide on a sentence, having considered the full details of the case and the offender. They are best placed to decide on a just and proportionate sentence. The duty on the courts is to follow guidelines or, if they do not, to say why. That leads to greater transparency in the sentences likely to be imposed, and will hopefully lead to increased consistency in sentencing practice.

As my hon. Friend mentioned, the appeals procedure allows the Attorney General to make a reference to the Court of Appeal in serious cases if a sentence is unduly lenient, or if the offender believes the sentence is unduly harsh. In this case, the offender appealed the sentence. I was particularly struck by the care taken in the case by the Court of Appeal to consider not only the appalling driving involved but the harm that it had caused to the families. I know that the appeal would have been a difficult experience for the families, and I hope that its dismissal has brought some reassurance.

A reduction for an early guilty plea is not just about saving money and time; it is designed to ensure that wherever possible, victims, their families and witnesses are not required to relive or be cross-examined about dreadful events in court. It can also lead to swifter justice. In keeping with the current law and guidelines, the driver in this case had his sentence reduced for pleading guilty to the offence at an early stage. A guilty plea at the earliest opportunity will normally attract the maximum sentence reduction of one third, but judges retain discretion in regard to that reduction. In this case, as the evidence against the driver was overwhelming, the judge exercised that discretion and did not apply the full discount. Taking account of a lesser discount for the early plea, the 10-year sentence imposed is close to the 14-year maximum penalty for the offence. The Court of Appeal gave a clear judgment upholding both the sentence and the judge’s decision not to grant the full reduction for the early guilty plea.

Turning to my hon. Friend’s calls for changes in the law, I should say that he raised two main points. The first relates to the imposition of maximum and minimum penalties; the second is that when more than one person is killed, the court should make the sentence for each additional death follow on from the first, so that they are served consecutively rather than concurrently. On maximum penalties, it is worth stressing that although sentencing is a matter for the courts, setting the framework within which the courts work is for Parliament. The 14-year maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving was set by Parliament to cover the worst imaginable case of that specific offence.

When deciding what sentence to impose within the maximum available, the court is required to take account of all the circumstances of the defence and any mitigating or aggravating factors. Where there is more than one victim, that will be taken into account and will aggravate the seriousness of the offence, meriting a longer sentence. The sentencing guidelines for causing death by dangerous driving specifically mention that the courts should take account of the higher harm caused by the offence where there is more than one victim. That is exactly what the court did in this case; it took the very high harm caused by two deaths, applied a smaller than normal reduction for the early guilty plea and arrived at a sentence close to the maximum.

It would be contrary to our system of justice to impose a maximum penalty for any death in any circumstances, in road traffic or in any other offence. The Government do, however, want maximum penalties that allow the courts to respond appropriately to the full range of cases as they are likely to take place. Where there is a clear failing in the law, Parliament has moved to remedy it. In the past, where offenders have left a victim with serious injuries, the maximum penalty for the offence has related to the driving, not the harm caused.

In the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, a new offence of causing serious injury by dangerous driving was created, with a five-year penalty, as the Opposition spokesman told us. That change in the law means that there is now a range of offences and maximum penalties dealing with dangerous driving that more properly reflect the harm caused. In addition, under the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015, the maximum penalty for disqualified drivers who kill or cause serious injury has been increased. The previous maximum was only two years for causing death, but it has now been increased to 10 years. The measure came into force in April 2015. I hope that hon. Members will see that there has been action in response to the quite proper parliamentary pressure in that area.

I am aware of your strictures, Mr Hollobone. Everyone else has obeyed them, so I feel that I should as well. I could say more, but it is right that I give the remaining time available to my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West. I thank him again for what he has said. I realise the strength of feeling on this extremely important matter, and I will continue to engage with him and other hon. Members on it.

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - Excerpts

We have had an excellent debate involving some excellent contributions from across the House. I agree with all colleagues who have made the point that there is cross-party consensus on this issue. Those watching this debate and those here today are seeing Parliament at its very best: we are debating issues that matter to all our constituents, and we want to find a common solution.

We have heard examples of too-lenient sentences being handed out, and we have heard of judges who think that the sentencing regime is not strong enough. I refer to the point made by the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick): the social mood has changed absolutely, and we need to go with that. What we are hearing from across the country, through colleagues and in the petition, is that the country wants stronger sentencing for such offences. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood made the very good point that there is a grave sense of injustice in the judicial process right now. That absolutely must change.

I am delighted to hear from the Minister that there will be a review outcome soon; I hope that that means before the end of this calendar year. I am delighted that it will be widely publicised, and I am pleased that it will require legislation, because that will give all of us the chance to debate these matters again in detail. He is absolutely right that judges decide sentences, but he has also made the important point that the framework for that is set by Parliament. That is what we are here to do, listening to the wishes of our constituents across the country.

I am pleased that the Minister has listened, and I know that he has kindly agreed to meet with the families after this debate, but ultimately it is about ensuring that the punishment fits the crime. That is what we all want, and I hope that when the legislation is reviewed, that is what we will all get.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered penalties for dangerous driving.

Sentencing (Cruelty to Pets)

Andrew Selous Excerpts
Thursday 16th July 2015

(5 years, 7 months ago)

Westminster Hall

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Andy Slaughter Portrait Andy Slaughter
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As always, the hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I hope the Minister will address all those issues in full, including the use of current sentencing powers—not only custodial and financial penalties but preventing offenders from keeping animals and monitoring repeat offenders.

Returning to my point, will the Minister commit to reviewing the existing regulations on the sale and breeding of cats and dogs? This has been an interesting week for animal welfare campaigners, who know that they can always rely on the Labour party. Perhaps they can now also rely on the Scottish National party, but no other mainstream political party can equal our track record on delivering for animals, be they domestic pets or wild animals. Whether it is legislating on hunting with dogs, fighting to protect wild animals that are being exploited in circuses or introducing the Animal Welfare Act, we have a strong legacy.

When the Animal Welfare Act was published, my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), the then Minister with responsibility for animal welfare, said:

“Once this legislation is enacted, our law will be worthy of our reputation as a nation of animal lovers.”

Almost 10 years later, we need to ensure that the Act is working properly in relation to sentencing guidelines, and I offer the Minister our full support in ensuring that that is still the case.

I end by quoting Gandhi:

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

I am glad Bridget is recovering from her traumatic experience and I am glad there are some good stories, but in preparation for this debate I read some harrowing stories of animal cruelty. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s proposals for how we can discourage and punish such cruelty where it continues.

Andrew Selous Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Andrew Selous)
- Hansard -

It is, as always, a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer) on securing this important debate. He is right that the needless suffering of animals is always a concern, whether that suffering is deliberately inflicted, accidental or the result of negligence, and whether the animals are domestic or wild. It often happens because people are unaware of the effect of their behaviour, and sometimes simple steps can be taken to prevent animals from coming to harm—indeed, he set out a number of steps in his excellent speech.

The suffering of pets can cause considerable distress to their owner as well as to the animals themselves, as this debate has made clear. At a recent constituency surgery, a widow came to see me who strongly believes that her dog was stolen. In the two or three times that she has been to see me since, it has been vividly impressed on me that, to her, that is akin to a family bereavement. She lives on her own, and her dog was her only companion. We need to recognise how greatly the loss of a much loved domestic pet affects our constituents. Victim personal statements mean that courts, at the discretion of the judge, are able to consider the degree of harm caused by an offence, and they are open to statements from pet owners in such horrific cases.

I welcome this debate, which I hope will raise awareness of our responsibilities and of the legal measures that are available to us. The Ministry of Justice is responsible for ensuring that the courts have the powers they need to deal appropriately and proportionately with all the cases that come before them. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is responsible for animal welfare issues more widely, including ensuring responsible pet ownership and the wider protection of our pets and wildlife. The Animal Welfare Act is the main legislation that protects the welfare of animals, and the Government reviewed the operation of that Act in 2010. A report was prepared by DEFRA and shared with the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The report concluded that the Act had

“a positive impact on animal welfare. It has successfully brought together a number of different pieces of legislation into a comprehensive whole providing a duty of care for those responsible for animals.”

The report did not suggest that the available penalties are inadequate.

Legislation sets maximum penalties that the courts may apply. It is for the courts—usually magistrates courts in animal welfare cases—to take a view on what sentences should be given in individual cases, having heard all the evidence and taken account of the circumstances of the case. In coming to a view, the courts are helped by the sentencing guidelines produced by the independent Sentencing Council. The council, set up under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, consults widely before issuing guidelines, which are available on its website. Sentencing guidelines set out a recommended range of sentences and aggravating and mitigating factors that may make the sentence more or less severe in particular cases. The courts have a duty to follow the guidelines unless, exceptionally, it would not be in the interests of justice to do so.

Guidelines do not exist for every offence, but there are specific guidelines covering offences in the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. The Sentencing Council recently consulted on updating guidelines in response to changes to the 1991 Act contained in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. Sentencing guidelines for magistrates include guidelines for offences of animal cruelty under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. They help magistrates impose proportionate and consistent penalties. The guidelines were last updated in 2008 and reflect the current penalties available.

The Government’s responsibility is to ensure that courts have the powers to impose appropriate sentences. To that end, the Animal Welfare Act 2006 makes it an offence to cause any unnecessary suffering to an animal, with a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment, an unlimited fine, or both.

Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
- Hansard - - Excerpts

After this debate, will the Minister reflect whether the guidelines for magistrates are robust enough to encourage them to give out the correct sentence? We have heard of a number of crimes of premeditated poisoning for which no one has been given a custodial sentence on being convicted. Might he reflect on those guidelines and write to me with those reflections?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Hansard -

I am more than happy to do so. I meet the Sentencing Council reasonably regularly, and I will ensure that a copy of this debate is sent to the council so that it is well aware of the widespread interest in these matters in Parliament.

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 also makes it an offence to fail to provide for an animal’s welfare needs, attracting a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment, a fine, or both. The courts also have powers to disqualify someone from owning an animal in future. Where they have that power but do not impose such a disqualification, courts must state why.

The Government have introduced new measures to tackle antisocial behaviour by allowing police and local authorities to issue warning notices to low-level offenders who allow their dogs to worry others. Dog owners, for example, could be asked to go on training courses with their pet. Those new measures form part of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.

Figures taken from the court database do not show that the courts are finding that their powers are inadequate. There have been around 2,000 convictions annually under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 in recent years. In 2014, some 959 cases were proceeded against; 800 people were found guilty, 78 of whom received custodial sentences. The average sentence was about three months.

My hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Julian Knight) suggested that a higher penalty might have a deterrent effect. Research shows little evidence that this is the case; rather, it is the likelihood of being caught that has the deterrent effect. On that note, I particularly commend what my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood is doing in his constituency with GPS tracking, which might provide evidence and act as a significant deterrent in his area.

We should concentrate on ensuring that animal cruelty is not overlooked or tolerated and that offenders are brought to book. The RSPCA and others provide us with valuable help to ensure that that message gets through loudly and clearly. I agree with the Scottish National party spokesman, the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), on the important role of education in that respect.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood told us at the beginning of this debate that there have been some horrific incidents in his constituency involving antifreeze. I cannot comment on individual cases, but it is illegal under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to poison wild animals, and under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to poison domestic ones. Whether the poison is intended for domestic or wild animals, its use is an offence in either case. There are offences and penalties to tackle such behaviour, and where it occurs it should be reported to the police or the RSPCA. Once again, I congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing this important debate before the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered sentencing for cruelty to domestic pets.

Colin Worton

Andrew Selous Excerpts
Wednesday 1st July 2015

(5 years, 8 months ago)

Westminster Hall

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Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley
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I thank my right hon. Friend for making that point. He really gets to the crux of the matter: how we find the mechanics to solve this issue? How do we ultimately address it?

I hope that the Whips Office carries back to the Northern Ireland Office a very strong message. Heads have to be put together between the Northern Ireland Office and the Justice Ministry to find a way of resolving this legacy case once and for all. Resources are found for all sorts of things in Northern Ireland, and indeed, for all sorts of things across the United Kingdom. It would be very easy to solve this matter, and I hope that that message is carried back. My right hon. Friend has probably predicted the entirety of the speech of the Minister today. I understand why Ministers could be tied to such a degree, but there has to be some recognition that the devolved Administration have flexibility. They have the ability to find a mechanism—a special measure— through which they could address this case. I hope that they do. I hope that they are given the encouragement, and, if you like, the cover to allow them to act in this way, sure that what they are doing is right and what they are doing is proper.

Andrew Selous Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Andrew Selous)
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Good afternoon, Mr Gray. It is, as always, a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) on bringing this debate to the House. I am aware that he has championed Mr Worton’s case in the House on previous occasions, and he continues to do so. I very much recognise the challenges that Mr Worton has faced. He has suffered a great deal as a result of the terrible events of 8 November 1983, and no doubt has suffered a great deal as a result of the appalling loss of his brother, one of 10 Protestant workmen killed by the IRA at Kingsmill in 1976. Equally, our thoughts today are with the family of Adrian Carroll. Mr Carroll, a 24-year-old Catholic man, was murdered on 8 November 1983. He was shot outside his home in the city of Armagh as he returned from work. It is important, when we speak of these cases in the House and elsewhere, that we remember the pain and the ongoing needs of all those who have to live with the deadly legacy of Northern Ireland’s troubled past. The families who lost loved ones carry their burdens to this day, and those burdens do not get any easier.

On 21 June 2011, the Northern Ireland Justice Minister, David Ford, made a statement to the Stormont Assembly on Mr Worton’s case. Although I have no doubt that Mr Ford is better versed in the detail of the case than I am, the fact is clear that Mr Worton was acquitted of any involvement in Mr Carroll’s murder at the first instance. Unfortunately, the matter of Mr Worton’s clear acquittal is more straightforward than the issue of compensation. As the hon. Member for North Antrim made clear, Mr Worton has been campaigning for many years for compensation for unlawful detention, and his case has been considered by successive Secretaries of State and Ministers in the devolved Administration. I am aware that Mr Worton applied for compensation in 1992, but failed to qualify for the statutory scheme in operation at the time, because he was not convicted.

An application was also considered under the ex gratia compensation arrangements in place at the time. Those were set out in 1985 in a written House of Commons statement by the then Home Secretary. The Home Secretary’s statement provided that compensation could be paid to individuals who had spent time in custody following a wrongful conviction or charge where that had resulted from serious default on the part of a member of a police force or another public authority. The statement also confirmed that in exceptional circumstances—in particular, where facts emerged at trial or on appeal that completely exonerated the accused person—compensation could also be paid. That is opposed to having been acquitted because the prosecution had failed to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

Successive Secretaries of State reviewed Mr Worton’s case for an ex gratia payment. They concluded that Mr Worton’s case did not meet the serious default or exceptional circumstances criteria. I am aware that the then Secretary of State’s decision was judicially reviewed, and in February 2010 a court upheld the decision of the Secretary of State to conclude that there was no serious default on the part of the police.

On devolution of policing and justice in 2010, responsibility for any ongoing consideration of Mr Worton’s application for compensation transferred to the devolved Administration and, in particular, to the Northern Ireland Department of Justice. At that time, Justice Minister David Ford advised that he would look again at Mr Worton’s case to consider whether an ex gratia award of compensation would be appropriate. I am aware that Minister Ford considered all available evidence, including official advice, and the outcome of the historical inquiry into Mr Carroll’s murder. Minister Ford subsequently met Mr Worton, on 17 April 2013, and confirmed that he was not entitled to compensation under the statutory scheme or the ex gratia scheme. It has been made clear to Mr Worton that consideration will be given to any new information that might affect his case.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for North Antrim for bringing forward this debate, and to colleagues from across the House for their thoughtful and considered comments. This is clearly a difficult case, and I am sure that the Northern Ireland Department of Justice, as the responsible office for consideration of cases such as this, will note with great care the comments made today. I simply conclude as I started, by remembering all the families who lost loved ones as a result of Northern Ireland’s troubled past.

Question put and agreed to.

Safety in Prisons

Andrew Selous Excerpts
Wednesday 17th June 2015

(5 years, 8 months ago)

Westminster Hall

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Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Jenny Chapman (Darlington) (Lab)
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It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone.

I approach the debate with a heavy heart. The Minister is the fourth prisons Minister whom I have had the pleasure of shadowing since my appointment. Issues such as the one we are discussing have been part of our debates throughout that time. It has never been easy and I have never been able to arrive in such a debate and say, “I am glad that things are improving.” I have never felt so concerned about the situation in the prison system. I would like debates to be more focused on rehabilitation, dignity for victims and work in our prisons, because those are the things that we should be discussing. Instead, we are continually forced by the reality on the ground to concern ourselves with understaffing, overcrowding and, increasingly, violence. The Minister cares deeply about that—he often looks at me, plaintively, as if saying, “I care about this too.” I know that he cares, and I am pleased that he does. Surely the number of Members—including, pleasingly, new Members—who have felt the need to come to this Chamber for the debate shows the level of deep concern in the House. I hope he will be generous in allowing interventions.

I congratulate my new colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell), on her election and on securing the debate. It was a pleasure to listen to her thoughtful opening speech. I look forward to working with her on such issues in the months ahead. Her constituents will be proud of her speech today, as will her predecessor.

The speeches we have heard from hon. Members capture the concern that is felt about the state of our prison system. Violent, overcrowded and understaffed prisons do nothing to challenge offender behaviour or to protect victims of crime. We have heard examples of exactly what was achieved by the prisons policy of the previous Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), who is no longer in the Chamber, spoke about release on temporary licence and overcrowding. She is completely right. She has great experience of serving as a magistrate in Manchester, and has frequently seen the problems upon release and the difficulties in securing the important staged release. Sadly, that has been mismanaged too often and is now unavailable to too many inmates.

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) spoke about death in custody, which he cares deeply about. Sadly, he is getting more and more experience of dealing with the relatives who have suffered such a tragedy.

The hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) spoke about governorship. Clearly, there is a problem with resources in the prison system, but the problems faced by the Minister will not be dealt with simply by increased resources, even if were he able to secure them. Governorship is very important. There is too high and too frequent a turnover of senior staff in our prisons. The average tenure is far too short, especially when compared with, say, the length of tenure of a leader in an education establishment. On average, the tenure of leaders in educational establishments is nine years, whereas the tenure in prisons is about three years. That has to change, and it would not require additional money. The Minister could instigate that kind of change very quickly.

We would like boards to be established to provide an opportunity for stakeholders across the community to get their expertise in the running of prison establishments. We have seen that boards can be very effective for colleges, schools and hospitals. It would change completely the way in which an establishment is managed. Prisons should be managed with continuity and expertise and should be inspected rigorously. The Government could make that change quickly and at no cost, and it would be an effective way of changing the culture within our jails. We know that prison culture is important in preventing violent incidents.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) made a good observation about stress at work and the dangerous and monotonous work that prison officers often undertake. We would not tolerate nurses, health professionals or teachers being subjected to violent incidents, but often, precisely because it is a prison officer affected and the incident takes place in a closed environment, the press do not get so agitated, the issue is rarely debated properly in the prison and the Government do not feel moved to do much about it. We need a change in attitude from the Ministry of Justice. It is not tolerable that people should be asked to go to work in such circumstances, and it has gone on too long. The Minister is nodding, but this is not new—we have not suddenly noticed it happening. It is a trend that has been getting worse and worse for a long time.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) always speaks with great passion. He quite rightly identified the problem with probation. The chaos and the looming crisis are not restricted to the closed prison estate. We are not resolving issues inside prisons, and so those issues are being left to the probation service, which is under increasing strain and has endured a completely needless and distracting reorganisation in the past two years. It is less and less able to deal with the more difficult problems with which it is confronted.

Rehabilitation is not a light bulb moment—it is not a case of holding one course and then someone is somehow mended. That is not what happens. It is day after day of challenges and problems, of slipping back, then making progress, then slipping back again. When we say, “There will be more courses, we will have work in our prisons and that will somehow solve deeply rooted psychological problems,” it shows that we do not properly appreciate that. We need to get real.

The way to help put people back together is having good behaviour modelled day after day by prison officers, yet more and more they are being shut out of the rehabilitation process. Prison officers are there on the wings when someone’s visit does not take place, or when someone has clearly been taking drugs, or is doing things they should not, or losing their temper. Yes, we need professionals—psychologists, social workers, educational experts—in there as well, but prison officers are there all the time, and should be showing people how to keep their temper, how to treat people with respect or how to deal with difficult conflicts without resorting to violence. However, they are not able to that, because there just are not enough of them, and the ones we have are too often less experienced about prison life than the prisoners they are supposed to be holding. We have learned that from governors and from Nick Hardwick, the excellent inspector of prisons. I urge the Minister to look at that with a great deal more urgency than he or his predecessors have shown to date.

Last week, a report from the prison and probation ombudsman showed a rise in deaths of inmates in segregation units. That was deeply shocking for people who work in the system. I encourage the Minister to think carefully about the impact that working on a wing on which someone has committed suicide will have on that unit’s staff, and to look at the support those staff receive from their employer.

I welcome the Government’s important plans to ban legal highs and prohibit their production. They are a significant and growing problem in our prisons, leading to bullying, intimidation and violence. The inspectorate has found that they are increasingly a great risk in our prisons—it estimates they have posed that risk in around a third of prisons in the past year. Legal highs do not show up in mandatory drug testing and are not being caught in the way they should because of staff shortages. Will the Minister tell us what, beyond all the usual stuff that we have all heard before, the Government are going to do about legal highs inside the prison estate? This is an issue of prison culture. There must be a zero tolerance approach, and we have to mean that—I have been in too many debates in which a Minister has reassured me on just about everything and then nothing seems to change.

On staffing, will the Minister tell us how many prisons are currently reliant on detached duty? Officers on detached duty go into prisons where they are not familiar with the establishment, with the other staff or with the inmates. It is a big, expensive problem that he needs to turn his mind to very quickly.

Most importantly, will the Minister tell us what he is going to do to tackle the rising level of violent assaults on prison officers? It is unacceptable to send public servants into a dangerous workplace, day in, day out, in fear of their safety. No wonder so many are either leaving the service, taking sick leave or becoming ill at work because of stress.

Once again, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for York Central for securing this debate, which has given us the chance to put serious concerns to the Minister. I am pleased to see so many Members here. We have given the Minister enough time, so he needs to respond to the questions we have raised. I also hope he will take some interventions.

Andrew Selous Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Andrew Selous)
- Hansard -

As always, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) on a very polished opening speech. She raised a number of important issues, which I will do my best to address in the time I have.

The hon. Lady talked about the importance of probation supervision. The transforming rehabilitation reforms mean that people with sentences of under 12 months now get probation supervision—they did not in the past. She also talked about mental health issues, so I am sure she will warmly welcome the liaison and diversion services that are spreading across the country; they were introduced by the previous Government and we are continuing them. We would all agree with her that prevention is better than cure, and we all want to see fewer people committing crime and going to prison.

The hon. Lady talked about prisoners being locked up for 23 hours a day. That relates only to a very small proportion of prisoners in operational emergencies. Even in planned restricted regimes, prisoners get considerably more than one hour out of their cells.

Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Jenny Chapman
- Hansard - - Excerpts

Will the Minister give way?