There have been 26 exchanges between David Hanson and Ministry of Justice
|Tue 8th October 2019||Prison Officers: Pension Age (Westminster Hall)||3 interactions (34 words)|
|Thu 3rd October 2019||Ministry of Justice Spending||3 interactions (1,313 words)|
|Wed 24th July 2019||Female Offender Strategy: One Year On (Westminster Hall)||5 interactions (643 words)|
|Tue 9th July 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||9 interactions (131 words)|
|Tue 11th June 2019||Imprisonment for Public Protection (Westminster Hall)||11 interactions (1,110 words)|
|Wed 5th June 2019||Rehabilitation of Offenders||3 interactions (70 words)|
|Tue 4th June 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (45 words)|
|Tue 14th May 2019||Prisons and Probation||7 interactions (1,207 words)|
|Tue 23rd April 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||7 interactions (39 words)|
|Thu 28th March 2019||Disclosure of Youth Criminal Records (Westminster Hall)||7 interactions (1,788 words)|
|Tue 12th March 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||7 interactions (81 words)|
|Tue 5th February 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (28 words)|
|Tue 18th December 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (21 words)|
|Tue 13th November 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (39 words)|
|Tue 9th October 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (40 words)|
|Mon 10th September 2018||Victims Strategy||3 interactions (26 words)|
|Tue 10th July 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (42 words)|
|Tue 5th June 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (43 words)|
|Tue 24th April 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (9 words)|
|Thu 29th March 2018||Leaving the EU: Justice System (Westminster Hall)||11 interactions (1,796 words)|
|Tue 6th March 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (47 words)|
|Tue 23rd January 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||5 interactions (32 words)|
|Tue 5th December 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (84 words)|
|Tue 21st November 2017||European Union (Withdrawal) Bill||7 interactions (81 words)|
|Tue 31st October 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||5 interactions (63 words)|
|Tue 5th September 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (72 words)|
I will just give my second reason, which is that allowing private companies to make a profit out of the incarceration of human beings is simply immoral.
Order. We have seven speakers, so if everybody takes about eight minutes we should be able to get everyone in comfortably for the winding-up speeches.
Let me say what a pleasure it is to follow the right hon. Member for Delyn (David Hanson), who speaks with such authority, particularly on prisons. It was a privilege to serve alongside him on the Select Committee on Justice.
It is important to put this debate on spending into context by setting out how much money we are talking about and where it sits in the grand scheme of things. The useful briefing provided by the Justice Committee makes it clear that the MOJ’s resource budget for 2020-21 will be a little over £8 billion. True, the total amount spent will be a little more, due to annual managed expenditure, but the departmental expenditure limit is about £8 billion. To put that in context, total Government expenditure is anticipated to be over £850 billion, the point being that, whether it is a little less or a little more, the MOJ’s budget is at or around 1% of total Government expenditure. That may or may not be remarkable in and of itself, but the items that the MOJ has to fund and secure could not be more important in our society.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about the funding of prisons, and while that is critical, what he did not touch on—this is no criticism of him—was legal aid. The danger when discussing legal aid is that there could be a misconception in society—which could even be reflected among the relatively modest number of hon. Members present in today’s debate—of legal aid and access to justice as a “nice to have” rather than a fundamental and essential part of a functioning democracy.
That critical nature was recognised back in the 1940s, when British politicians were grappling with what the shape and nature of the welfare state should be. At that time, they considered the NHS, but they also considered the provision of legal aid to people of all means to be a critically important duty. In reaching that conclusion, they no doubt drew on some of the learning that came from Magna Carta, which said:
“We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.”
Those ancient words convey something extremely important: if we are to be equal before the law, we must have access to the law. And so it was that, in the White Paper that preceded the Legal Aid and Advice Act 1949, these words appeared:
“no one would be financially unable to prosecute a just and reasonable claim or defend a legal right”.
That must be the underpinning of a fair society. If people are granted rights by this place, they should be able to prosecute and defend them.
What has happened since 1949—no doubt, to cater for the increasingly complex world—is that the rights available to people are themselves more complex, whether it is to do with the employment sphere, protecting data or securing contact arrangements with children, which may be increasingly complicated, with one parent living abroad and so on. However, securing those rights is no less important now than it was then. The Supreme Court gave a trenchant judgment back in 2017 in the Unison case, when it had to consider whether employment tribunal fees were set too high. Ultimately, it concluded that they were, but the point that Lord Reed made—I am not quoting but paraphrasing—was that unless every person can get access to justice, the laws made in this place are liable to become a dead letter. He said that the work done in this Parliament would become nugatory and, in a memorable phrase, that
“the democratic election of Members of Parliament may become a meaningless charade.”
In those powerful remarks, Lord Reed encapsulated a fundamental truth, the importance of which I suspect hon. Members from across the House will have experienced in their constituency surgeries. I had a constituent—I will not name her, for reasons that are obvious—who faced a very upsetting set of circumstances. Her child was subject to contact arrangements made in a French court, which meant, putting it very simply, that she was unable to have access to her child, because there was a conflict-of-laws issue that needed resolving. Of course, she could not get legal aid to help her with that. Ultimately, she was assisted by a lawyer who gave tens, if not hundreds, of hours entirely pro bono to assist her. Justice was done because that lawyer was able to show that she had indeed been wronged by the courts process and that her rights needed to be asserted.
I want to take this opportunity, if I may, Madam Deputy Speaker, to pay tribute to all those lawyers up and down the country who give of their time to speak truth to power, to redress grievances and to do so entirely free of charge. They really do heroic work. It is unfashionable in this place to pay tribute to lawyers, but those who work pro bono are some of the best in our society.
The total budget for legal aid is at or around £1.7 billion, and I want to conclude by putting that figure into some context. To the Syrian crisis alone the UK will be giving—in a gesture that is no doubt entirely appropriate and that entirely speaks of our humane and responsible nature as a nation—something like £2.7 billion. That may be entirely appropriate, but we should not neglect the legal aid budget. I do, of course, declare an interest as a legal aid lawyer, but that experience has taught me that, unless we properly resource legal aid, there will be a number of outcomes.
First, there will be the sorts of cases I referred to a few moments ago, with individuals being denied justice. Secondly, there will be an increase, which we have already seen, in litigants in person, who have to contend with an extremely alien and sometimes forbidding environment—a situation, by the way, that several judges find extremely difficult to deal with, despite their best efforts. The third and most important thing is manifest injustice. I went along to the Gloucester Law Centre, and it was really troubling to hear from hard-working and dedicated lawyers that they do what they can but that they recognise there are large areas that simply cannot be addressed.
The fourth thing—we do not want to scaremonger, but we must keep this in mind—is that if people cannot get access to justice, there is always a risk that they will take justice into their own hands. Although I suspect that the British people do not get quite as exercised about issues of legal aid as they might about the health service or education, they do recognise injustice when they see it. We all recall the case of Liam Allan, a young man who had been accused of rape. It emerged that, because of failings in the prosecution, critical text messages on the mobile telephone in that case were not disclosed. When they were, it emerged that he had been wrongly charged, and he was ultimately acquitted. When the British people became aware of that, they were rightly horrified, and the Government and the House have a duty to ensure that they will not be horrified in future by people not being able to seek access to justice.
I know that the Government are doing fantastic work in this field and that the overall budget has gone up by £4.9 billion. I also know from speaking to my hon. Friend the Minister’s predecessor that early advice and assistance have been given very close focus. As my hon. Friend begins his ministerial career, which I know will be long and successful, I urge him to give the closest possible attention to access to justice. We cannot have a society where the finest courts, which we have, and the finest judges, which we have, are truly accessible only to those with the means to pay. If we want to continue to be a shining light, with an international reputation for upholding the highest standards, those standards and that justice must be available to all.
Order. Before I call the next speaker, I should say that I am sure everybody has noticed that four Members—from the Labour Benches, sadly—have made interventions in the debate and have now left the Chamber. That is not acceptable. I hope that the Whips in the room will take up the matter.
Some 62% of women in prison are serving short sentences. My right hon. Friend talks about drug and alcohol programmes and early interventions. Does he agree with me that it would be better to invest in early intervention and community sentencing, and introduce a presumption against short sentences to make sure that women get the support that they need, rather than custodial sentences?
I thank the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) for setting the scene, and for her contribution. We live in a world where “equality” is a buzzword. We should strive for equal pay for equal labour, for the right person to get the job regardless of their gender and for all jobs to be open to any gender. However, being equal does not mean being the same. That is why we need a dedicated strategy for female offenders. That is what I want. The pressures and outcomes are vastly different and need specialised attention.
The issue is complex and I can see where difficulties arise in a family scenario. Whether we like it or not—we probably do—there is a need for compassion and understanding in the process. There is the option of a curfew. That causes difficulties if an offender’s child gets sick and needs to go to hospital. Another issue is the burden of fines and the effect that they can have on the child. It is difficult to find alternatives to prison, but we must look for them. However, I firmly believe that if dependent children are a factor, we must strive to do what we can for the family unit while still ensuring that the duty to justice is met. We do not say it should not be met; we are saying it needs to be looked at differently. We must ensure that any punishment dished out to female offenders affects their children as little as possible.
Figures show that 54% of female offenders have children under the age of 18. Having their mother in prison can be a difficult experience for children. Those are complex issues, but some families have to face them; that is what the debate is about. However, we can and should explore alternatives to prison to ensure that children are affected as little as possible. I agree with Lord Farmer’s report citing the importance of maintaining family ties for female offenders to ensure that they do not reoffend. He says that prisoners who receive family visits are 39% less likely to reoffend and that that is even more important for women than men. Women make up just under 5% of the prison population in England and Wales. Yet they are more likely than men to reoffend. For that reason it is paramount that we focus, in the time they are in prison, on trying to prevent female offenders from reoffending.
There is a problem that needs attention. Serving short sentences could cause women to lose their jobs and could have other big effects on their lives. Reports indicate that in that situation inmates are more likely to be exposed to mental health issues and to self-harm. Those issues are specific to the female population. I do not say those things do not happen to men, but the numbers I am aware of through the stats and information we have indicate to me that we have to do something for them. If we want to stop them reoffending, we must ensure that prison does not seriously damage female offenders to the point where they do reoffend. Damaged people are more likely to break the law, owing to a sense of hopelessness. That is a fact.
It is, however, striking to read the stories of women finding prison an experience of being treated better inside than outside. According to the Prison Reform Trust, 57% of women prisoners have experienced domestic abuse. Prison can therefore be both a positive and a negative experience. It is important that the Government work to stamp out domestic abuse in the UK and help women escape from their abusive partners and find an alternative to resorting to prison to escape the abusive partnerships they are trapped in.
I concur with the Magistrates Association, which has highlighted the importance of making appropriate community sentences available for all. It has said that the justice system must be part of the process of early intervention, by supporting proper signposting or diversion where appropriate—not simply for women, but for all of those for whom it is suitable.
Time has beaten me, so I shall say only this. We have to do better at intervention, especially when statistics tell us that there is less chance of reoffending and more stability for children with the approach in question. I sincerely believe that the punishment must fit the crime regardless of gender, but there must be a red-line standard that is not crossed for female offenders.
As we survey the decaying embers of a dying regime reaching its inevitable conclusion, it is good to see the shadow Secretary of State showing that he is waving and not drowning, as he desperately tries to draw attention to the fact he is full of vim and vigour. As he will know, we are currently reviewing legal aid thresholds and exceptional case funding. We are bringing special guardianship orders back within the scope of legal aid, and we are looking at legal support action plans.
I am unclear, the more I listen to Labour Front Benchers, about why they assume that the only way to provide legal support is to fund it through legal aid. We will shortly have a question on law centres and, for me, there have to be a number of ways to provide legal support. [Interruption.] “And for us,” I hear the hon. Gentleman say from a sedentary position, and I am pleased to hear that.
I am pleased to have announced plans to streamline probation delivery, through the National Probation Service, to build on the role of the private and voluntary sectors in driving innovation and to better support skilled probation officers. These changes will allow the public, private and voluntary sectors to play to their strengths and ensure stronger supervision and support for offenders. We are now developing the commercial and operational frameworks that will underlie the future system, and we are planning for the transition. We are undertaking a full programme of market engagement to inform our plans, in addition to engagement with probation staff and trade unions.
First, “Transforming Rehabilitation” introduced bold reforms, and steps have been taken to ensure there is more innovation within our system, but I recognise that significant elements of it are not working as needed, which is why we have made the changes.
On the right hon. Gentleman’s point about costs, it is worth bearing in mind that we originally expected to spend £3.1 billion on community rehabilitation companies over a seven-year period, and we now expect to spend £2.7 billion over the same period. In other words, over the lifetime of the contracts, we now expect to spend £405 million less on CRCs than originally forecast.
Break in Debate
This is one of the rare occasions when I have to say that I disagree with my hon. Friend. For prolific offenders of minor crimes, it is my view that a non-custodial approach is the right one, but we need to ensure that that works effectively. That is why I have announced reforms to probation. One problem we have at the moment is that such offenders get a short custodial sentence, which only disrupts lives but does not allow any opportunity to do any work on rehabilitation.
I certainly will. We have recently announced an extension of the community sentence treatment requirement pilots. That is the direction that we need to be going in to address some of the substance abuse and mental health issues that often lie behind these prolific offenders who do cause great difficulties for society. If we want to reduce reoffending, we need to focus on that group and take effective, evidence-led measures.
Thank you very much, Sir Edward, for calling me first. Owing to unavoidable complications at home, I will have to leave early; I apologise to both Front Benchers that I will not be present for the summing up, but I look forward to reading what they have to say. IPP sentences are an issue on which I have long campaigned and I would not have missed this debate for the world, so I am so grateful to you for allowing me to take part.
It is a great pleasure and honour to follow the excellent speech of the hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi). He has said almost all that needs to be said, so I do not think that colleagues will have any difficulty in keeping to the time limit that you suggest, Sir Edward. He is right, and he fairly said that both sides of the House have been at fault on this difficult issue.
IPP prisoners and their families were the victims of fairly catastrophically bad policy making in the first place. When that was seen and, to my great delight, the system was changed in 2012 by those of us who were then in power—not that I was at the time, directly, but I was a civil servant working in the field—a residue was left because the changes were not made retrospective. As the hon. Gentleman said, that has left the fate of these people as a stain on our system. They are the victims of poor policy making, but also of enormous churn at the Ministry of Justice.
As ever, it is a great pleasure to see my dear friend the prisons Minister in his place. I hope that he will be allowed to stay in post long enough to sort out this matter and several others—including children’s criminal records, about which I will talk to him later. It is very important that we get on quickly with the reforms that my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) posited when he appeared before the Select Committee on Justice in July 2016. In answer to my fairly brusque questions about whether he would
“consider changing the release test or other legislative change”
to help IPP prisoners, he told me that he was “actively considering” it. Unfortunately, the following day he was moved on. That has been the picture of my attempts to get Ministers to engage with the issue over the past four years, so I very much hope that we will hang on to the present Minister long enough for him to do something about it.
The test for the release of IPP prisoners is very high. As Dr Harry Annison of Southampton Law School noted in written evidence to our Committee, IPP sentences fall
“little short of life imprisonment”.
As I said in my intervention earlier, I am particularly concerned about those convicted of arson offences. The Committee heard evidence about a man who was convicted for a minimum of 10 months in 2006 and was not released for 11 years. I also remember from when I was in practice an extraordinary case of an individual who had been convicted for setting fire to a pair of church curtains and was still in prison very many years later; the reasons and lifestyle that had led to the original offence really did not make him a continuing risk to society. The hon. Member for Slough has already spoken, as I am sure other hon. Members will, about the horrific despair of individuals in prison who do not know when they will be released. It is Kafkaesque, and it is not acceptable in our criminal justice system.
IPPs were used far more widely than was intended. They were often given to offenders who committed low-level crimes with very short tariffs of less than two years. They were handed out at an extraordinary rate when they were first introduced. They proved very difficult to understand, they left victims and families uncertain about how and when people would be released, and they have led to real inconsistencies in sentencing. The sentence created its own complexities that were not fully foreseen when it was conceived. The test for release was set at a very high threshold, which has led to real problems with mental health, suicide and self-harm; the hon. Gentleman has already gone into those, so I will not.
There is good news, however: since 2017, there has been a concerted effort by the Prison Service, the probation service and the Parole Board to progress cases. In 2017-18, the Parole Board ordered the release of more than 900 IPP prisoners, including the re-release of some who had been recalled. The hon. Gentleman asked the Minister to go into recall in some detail; that is important across the Prison Service in general, and particularly with this cohort, for which there are real concerns about how the recall system is being used.
There is a great deal more to do. Immediate action could be taken, without legislative change, on treatment programmes. The Parole Board and prison psychologists have gone to enormous lengths to say that there are options other than treatment programmes that demonstrate the case for release, but boards remain very influenced by programmes that offenders have undertaken.
I am concerned generally about treatment programmes and their evaluation. We held up the sex offender treatment programme as a gold standard for many years, and then we got rid of it overnight and brought in new systems because it was proved not to work. I was interested by the response to a recent freedom of information request from Transform Justice, which showed that 95% of accredited programmes have no impact evaluation. I am really worried about the undue weight that boards are placing on programmes that have not been properly evaluated. The lack of provision of such programmes is effectively keeping people in prison without real evidence that it is the right place for them. May we please have urgent action, Minister, on treatment programmes and their evaluation, as well as real direction, so that we do not over-rely on programmes that have not been fully evaluated?
In the “Prison Population 2022” report, which the Justice Committee published in March, and in the Government response, which they very kindly gave us yesterday, there is a great deal of common ground between the Government and the Justice Committee. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), the Chairman of the Justice Committee, will go into them further, but there are very good practical suggestions in the report from the Howard League and from the Parole Board itself on how to deal with IPP prisoners. I encourage the Minister to take all of them on board. However, I have to say that I, along with others on the Justice Committee, would go further. We think that these prisoners represent such a blight on our justice system that legislative change is the only way forward.
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has zoned in on what should be the two central pillars of our justice system. Does he agree that wider society needs to see rehabilitation—the second pillar that he talked about—as one way to help to reduce the risk of reoffending, so that people can have more confidence in the justice system?
The right hon. Gentleman is speaking with his characteristic eloquence. Kevin Willis, a constituent of mine, has served 13 years in custody, which is the equivalent of a 26-year determinate sentence, after being sentenced to an IPP with a four-year tariff. As the right hon. Gentleman indicated, Kevin Willis committed a serious crime and deserved to go to prison. However, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that this kind of legal limbo, whereby Kevin has no idea when or even if he will be released, is unconscionable? Also, members of the public will find it hard to understand why some people serve only half the sentence that is announced on the steps of a court, while others seem to serve many multiples of their sentence. That is another problem that affects faith in the justice system.
As always, Sir Edward, it is a pleasure to see you in the Chair. I congratulate the hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) on securing an important debate on an important subject.
I am delighted to see the Minister in his place. He has had a long and distinguished career at the criminal Bar, so he will know, as well as any of us who have seen this type of sentencing in practice, that this is an unconscionable situation, which is the result of a policy in the past that was well-intended but, frankly, an error. That error was corrected, but not corrected retrospectively, hence the decision reached by the High Court and the Supreme Court that they could not interfere with sentences that, at the time they were issued, had been lawfully given, as the then Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, said. However, that does not remove the political and moral conundrum that faces us.
The right hon. Member for Delyn (David Hanson), a fellow member of the Select Committee, very fairly points out, as we accept in our Select Committee report, “Prison population 2022”, that there will indeed be a number—perhaps a significant number, but I suspect not a majority—of IPP prisoners who are unlikely to be safe to be released in any significant period of time and perhaps never. I suspect they are a minority, but there will be some. Nobody has an issue with that, but certainty is important for them and for the victims of their grave crimes, so that they know that that will be the case.
Break in Debate
I agree that in the appellant procedure there will often be that check and balance, but this is slightly different. This would be a change in the law and legal framework to alter the position from the one that applied when the offender was sentenced, to the position now. Whether we like it or not that is a departure, and we must be careful to avoid setting inadvertent precedents.
We must be able fully to reflect on the assessment of risk that was made by the learned judge at the time of sentencing. In other words, how does a court properly assess the length of a determinate sentence—that, presumably, is the aim of right hon. and hon. Members—and decide whether or not to take the further step of imposing a life sentence, which might be appropriate in some very serious cases? I do not pretend that these issues are easy, but neither is it a matter that the Government should do nothing about. Other measures we are taking are already yielding significant results, not just in reducing the number of prisoners held under this regime, but by ensuring that more eligible prisoners can be considered as quickly as possible.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), Chair of the Justice Committee, mentioned the remarks of the then Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, who spoke not just about changing the statutory provision, but about changing the test for release, which is important. I think he would concede that the test for the release of prisoners held under this sort of regime must be as consistent as possible, bearing in mind the different classes of prisoners who are held in custody either on minimum terms or subject to parole.
We must take great care not to create too many different tests that could mean that one group of prisoners could be treated in a different or more favourable way than another group. I do not say that the argument has no merit, but there are difficulties in creating potential inconsistencies. It is beholden on me, both as a lawyer and now in this position of great responsibility, to ensure that the unforeseen consequences that occurred with this policy making do not repeat themselves thanks to any change we may make.
Let me develop the point about the ways we can best support prisoners to show that they can safely be released—that is the solution that stares us in the face regarding so many people in that position. As the hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) laid out well, ensuring public protection from violent and sexual crime must be paramount, and our continuing efforts to rehabilitate prisoners subject to this regime are bearing fruit. We have seen a dramatic fall in the IPP prison population over the past years, and the figures cited by the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves), and others, are correct. It is a dramatic fall, although I accept that there is still a significant cohort, and we must also not forget that a number of IPP prisoners have been recalled—I will come to that in a moment. However, progress is being made in the right direction.
In January 2016, more than three years ago, a joint HM Prison and Probation Service and Parole Board action plan was drawn up to deal with IPPs. Initially it was primarily focused on improving the efficiency of the parole process, because at that time there was a significant backlog in listing oral hearings for IPP and life-sentence prisoners. As a result of receiving additional resources and changing some of its processes, the Parole Board and the public protection casework section of the Ministry of Justice made progress, and their combined effect was to eliminate that backlog. Simply having a more efficient system resulted in a significant improvement to the pace with which IPP prisoners were released. Following those improvements, the plan was expanded to include a greater focus on those prisoners who, even with a much more efficient parole system, needed additional support to reduce their own risk and secure a release decision from the board.
What was done? A central case file review, by senior psychologists, of IPP prisoners who had not made the anticipated progress achieved considerable success. Out of 1,365 completed reviews, 233 prisoners in these most challenging cases achieved release, with a further 401 achieving a progressive move to open conditions. We have put in place enhanced case management for the most complex cases, so that a multidisciplinary team can work together to remove barriers to progression.
The joint IPP action plan has also overseen further improvements to the process and, perhaps most significantly, we have opened three new progression regimes, building on the success and the outstanding reputation of the first such regime, which was established at Warren Hill. Those sites operate a staged regime of increasing freedom and responsibility, allowing evidence to build on offenders’ ability to manage their own risks. The rate of release from a progression regime is higher than the average release rate across all Parole Board hearings, which is something that, I think, all right hon. and hon. Members will welcome.
As comprehensive as the plan and the opportunities it provides to IPP prisoners is, the decision actively to engage with efforts that promote rehabilitation, and so demonstrate that there can be safe release back into the community, must ultimately be for each individual prisoner. In my view, that is why Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service change programme, in delivering a new offender management model, is fundamental, not only for IPP prisoners but for all offenders. With increased staffing, and the introduction of the key worker role in all prisons, staff will be better equipped, and given more time, to work with individuals who may not be engaging in the way they need to do to reduce their risk.
We are aware that some prisoners may well have become demoralised, with no fixed date of release and the prospect of a further parole hearing currently not holding much hope for them. Here, the key worker will need to get alongside the prisoner and build hope from the foundation of a strong relationship, encouraging them to grasp the opportunities that are available.
The right hon. Gentleman asks that question again, and I take it fairly and squarely. The answer must be that it will be on a case-by-case basis, because each prisoner has an individual story and set of needs, and that does not merit a one-size-fits-all approach. Frankly, the cohort we are now dealing with will probably be the tougher end of the spectrum. I think that the right hon. Gentleman conceded quite properly that there will be a cohort of IPP prisoners who may never be released because of the seriousness of the offences and the risk they still pose—I know he accepts that. Therefore, I cannot give him a figure or a timescale, but I can say that the work that is going on has shown a vast increase in the pace with which we have achieved release and resolution. The model we are now adopting will, I believe, lead to even greater engagement.
As the months go by, the right hon. Gentleman can, of course, hold me to account, and if there is no progress he will rightly ask me the questions and I, independently, will ask civil servants why the initial progress has not been maintained. As a member of the Justice Committee, he will hold me to account for that.
I want to deal with more of the figures we were looking at. We have rightly heard about the overall unreleased IPP population. About 200 of that cohort of 2,400 have yet to serve their minimum tariff. As I said, we have made progress in reducing that population. In 2017-18, the Parole Board progressed to open conditions or released about three out of every four IPP prisoners who appeared before it.
As I was saying, the cohort becomes increasingly challenging, which will require increasingly intensive rehabilitation. Rehabilitating, and assessing the risk presented by, these prisoners, many of whom, sadly, have committed serious sexual offences against children, is particularly challenging. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) opened his remarks by referring to that sort of horrendous offence and the need for public protection. It should be acknowledged that some IPP prisoners may never be released because the risk they pose is just too great for safe management in the community.
We are working to reduce the incidence of self-harm among IPP prisoners as part of our prison safety programme and here, again, the key worker will perform a vital role. Additionally, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service is improving the process for people at risk of suicide or self-harm. We have improved prevention training for nearly 25,000 prison staff and have refreshed our partnership with Samaritans for three years, with £1.5 million in funding to support the excellent listeners scheme, through which prisoners are trained to provide support to their fellow prisoners—peer-to-peer support that we all know works in so many settings.
Working to address broader mental health issues in the IPP population remains important. Since last April, we have a new national partnership agreement for prison health. Mental health services are available in all prisons. Turning for a moment to the issue of women IPP prisoners, I am glad to say that they have a dedicated senior psychologist providing a specific progression pathway, and support from a multidisciplinary team to deal with some of the mental health challenges they face.
The commissioning of mental health services by NHS partners is based on a local assessment of health needs, and the services are provided to prisoners on the basis of individual need, which, when we think about it, has to be right. The one-size-fits-all approach does not work, as we know, when it comes to mental health. Independent professionally trained clinicians carry out assessments, and no one is refused access where there is an assessed need. We are well aware that many of those serving IPP sentences experience mental health difficulties, and part of the action plan aims to ensure access to appropriate treatment. An example that I mentioned earlier is the case file reviews carried out by senior psychologists. Alongside those who have been released or moved to open conditions, 54 of those reviewed have been transferred to secure hospitals, where they can receive the best treatment for their needs.
The issue of recall has properly been raised. With regard to the test of recall, it is important to reiterate that it is stringent when it comes to IPP offenders. They can be recalled only when their behaviour and the nature of the licence breach indicate a causal link to their original offending and that the public are at risk of further serious, violent or sexual offending. That is a different, and more stringent, test for recall than that which exists elsewhere in the system.
Work is being done to ensure that recall is properly focused only where it is necessary to protect the public, and efforts are being made to keep offenders on licence in the community wherever possible. Those efforts include the creation of new guidance for probation officers on licence variations of alternatives to recall, and on best practice in the management of offenders on licence, to improve their compliance and prevent the risk from escalating.
A new power to release IPP prisoners on the papers is being used for those on recall. The Parole Board has introduced a quicker, 48-hour turnaround time to consider licence variation requests from probation, to support continued management on licence in the community. We are investigating the rise in the number of IPP prisoners on recall, to see how that rate can safely be reduced and, citing the hon. Member for Ashfield, to get the balance right between the need to protect the public and the need to rehabilitate offenders.
A number of cases were raised with me. I agree that that of Wayne Bell is concerning and I understand that he is now receiving treatment for his mental health issues in an appropriate setting, which is welcome. The troubling case of Tommy Nicol was properly raised. My predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), met with Donna Mooney, Mr Nicol’s sister, earlier this year. We remain in contact with her at an official and, I very much hope—although I am a new Minister—a ministerial level. We have another meeting with her planned for the autumn. It is a particularly tragic case, but I assure right hon. and hon. Members that we will continue to work with her to address the concerns that she raises with such dignity and clarity.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), who sadly has been called away, asked about the work led by the University of Southampton. We are very much aware of the work of Professor Harry Annison, who works in partnership with the Prison Reform Trust and has already given us an important insight into the impact on families of their loved ones serving IPP sentences. I am looking forward to seeing the conclusions of the next stage of his work, which is currently being supported by IPP and family leads from Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service. With regard to the entire IPP population and the action plan, although I am not able specifically to indicate the number currently subject to that action plan, I assure the House that it is having a wide-ranging effect and will continue to be implemented.
I have lived with the IPP regime for much of my professional and political life. I am profoundly grateful to the hon. Member for Slough for having raised this issue today, allowing us to debate it in a calm and considered way that reflects the genuine concerns of the families of people who are subject to that regime, but also understands the enduring and important function that the justice system plays in protecting the public from serious and violent offences. I believe that the best approach is for us to continue our successful efforts to help those offenders rehabilitate, and redouble those efforts whenever necessary and whenever an offender wishes to engage. That will provide the best chance for those prisoners to become once again law-abiding members of the very communities that we are seeking to protect.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is the Chair of the Justice Committee and a barrister of long standing at the criminal Bar. He is absolutely right to talk about the test of relevance. It is not the purport of any inquiry ambit or the function of any inquiry chair to adopt a floodgates approach to the disclosure and use of spent convictions. In the other place, the noble Baroness Barran put it very well when she set out to their lordships a flowchart of the way in which a particular decision about the use of spent convictions would be taken. She said:
“The first question is: does the individual have spent convictions, yes or no? If the answer is yes, are they relevant? Will they be treated anonymously? If they apply for anonymity, will that be agreed to? Further, even if it is not anonymous, is the hearing held in private or in public? If it is held in private, could the information then be published?”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 May 2019; Vol. 797, c. 1792.]
I thought that that was a clear exposition of the framework within which a decision maker would carry out their function when it comes to spent convictions. In other words, that is the sort of filter that I think meets the concerns not only of Members in the other place but of Members in this House.
I was talking about future inquiries, and was saying it is likely that other inquiries may need to consider spent criminal records, as these can be key to determining whether authorities have acted reasonably in assessing and responding to risk. The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 affords offenders protection from having to disclose their convictions and cautions, once those convictions and cautions have become what is termed “spent” under the Act. That is the point at which the offender has become rehabilitated. The exceptions order to that Act lists activities or categories of jobs where those protections are lifted so that offenders, if asked, need to disclose their spent convictions.
The primary rationale behind the exceptions order is that there are certain jobs—positions of public trust, for example, or those involving unsupervised work with children—where more complete or relevant disclosure of an individual’s criminal record may be appropriate to mitigate risks to public safety. The exceptions order is not limited to employment purposes, although that is its primary use. The amendment proposed here is not employment-related, but related only to the consideration of evidence of spent convictions and cautions in inquiries that are caused to be held under the Inquiries Act 2005.
The right hon. Gentleman raises a very proper point, and I can assure him that the work that his Committee has done and the campaign to ban the box are matters that I and my colleagues in the Department are considering very carefully indeed. I will chart the changes that we have already made to the 1974 Act and the direction of travel later in my remarks, but I would say to him for that in the flowchart that I have outlined, the sort of concerns that he properly raises about an individual’s employment prospects could be raised in the inquiry before the Chair, when the Chair decides whether to publish the information or to retain anonymity. So there will be safeguards designed to protect against the sort of mischief that he properly probes me about.
I am pleased to hear about that example at Anglia Ruskin University. Our litigants in person strategy is a very important part of what we do. We have been spending £1.5 million a year hitherto. As part of the legal support action plan, we will improve that to £3 million a year and work with judges to ensure that all litigants in person are supported during the court process.
I am sure we were all shocked by the example raised by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh). My first decision was to ensure that the inquiry panel was established, and it will look carefully at what the Children’s Commissioner has to say. The right hon. Gentleman is right to point out that children should always be at the heart of the decision-making process in the courts, and I will look carefully at what the Children’s Commissioner has said.
There is an important debate to be had about the involvement of the private sector and the voluntary sector in our justice system. It is right that we ask ourselves: how do we provide high-quality public services? How do we encourage innovation in order to raise standards? And how do we deliver the best possible value for money for the taxpayer? In answering these questions, there will always be debates about whether the private sector or the voluntary sector does too much or too little: do we make use of these sectors in the right way? Do we have the right incentives? And do we have the right supervision? In reaching a fair-minded conclusion, we should approach the evidence in a fair-minded way, looking at good and bad examples, and acknowledging where things work well and where they do not.
I have to say that such a balanced approach was entirely lacking in the speech we have just heard from the shadow Secretary of State. In a fairly lengthy speech, he had time to address this in a proper, balanced way. Instead, what we heard was simplistic, dogmatic and bombastic. The only thing anyone on this side of the House will remember about his speech is his abiding hostility to the private sector. Mind you, at least we will remember something from his speech, which, given his reputation, is more than he will ever do.
On prisons, the hon. Gentleman repeatedly made reference to the difficulties with HMP Birmingham. There is no doubt—I acknowledge this—that Birmingham was a failing prison and the standards at the time of the inspection were unacceptable. Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service had been working closely with G4S to try to resolve the issues, but it became increasingly clear that G4S alone was not able to make the improvements that were so badly needed. That is why we took the decision to step in, doing so at no additional cost to the taxpayer. It was right that we did that. The point I want to make is that where we believe it is right to step in and where we believe the private sector is not the right answer, we will step in.
HMPPS did have concerns about how Birmingham was operating and the way it was working, and HMPPS was working closely with G4S to try to address this. It became clear, when the inspection was undertaken, that we were required to go further and that the level of intervention we had previously put in was insufficient. That is why we took the steps we did. We stepped in, putting one of our best prison service governors in charge, alongside a strong senior management team and 30 additional experienced staff. I would like to thank all of them for their hard work since we took that decision to turn around a complex and challenging establishment.
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Order. As colleagues can see, we have a good number of contributors to this debate. I do not want to impose a time limit, but I would encourage colleagues to speak for about eight minutes each. In that way, we will be able to get everybody in comfortably.
It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Delyn (David Hanson), my very well respected colleague on the Justice Committee. I am always immensely grateful for the contribution that he and other Members make to the work of our Committee. There might be the odd difference in nuance and tone, but there is broad agreement between us in the factual conclusions of our Select Committee reports. They are cross-party reports, and they are based on evidence, so I am with him on many of the points that he made.
In fairness, it is right to say that the Secretary of State has struck exactly the right tone. I congratulate him on doing so. It is not the first time in recent weeks that he has made an important speech on prisons policy and on other matters. The tone he struck in looking at the evidence has all too often been missing from the debate on prisons and on justice policy more generally on both sides of the political divide. I therefore welcome his tone and approach, and I broadly agree with where he is coming from.
There is not, to my mind, a need for a rigid, ideological division. There are differences on the evidence on prisons and probation. I think that the evidence of a mixed prisons economy makes it clear that good work is done in a number of private sector prisons. There are failures in those prisons, as there are failures in public sector prisons—the evidence provided by the chief inspector demonstrates that clearly. The issue is not who manages prison contracts—perhaps with the exception of facilities management failures, a specific area—but what we expect prisons and their staff to do on behalf of society and to achieve with the people sent there by the courts on behalf of the state. It is what we do to help them to ensure that prisoners are kept safely and decently, protecting the public, deterring reoffending and turning around the lives of those who go to prison so that they are less likely to reoffend and there are fewer victims of crime as a result.
Under Governments of all parties, we have not managed to achieve that satisfactorily for the past few decades—it is not a short-term thing—and investment is needed in some cases. I welcome the additional prison officers, but greater thought is needed, not just in the House but by society as a whole, about what we expect prison and the justice system to do. Ultimately, we can never make prisons places of rehabilitation and reform unless they are safe—when my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) was prisons Minister he got that absolutely right—but, realistically, we cannot do that unless we continue to put in the number of people that we currently do. To achieve that in a safe fashion that has public confidence, it is critical that we spend much more time and energy in our debate finding robust and viable alternatives that punish people in the community, rather than simply warehousing them in prison institutions, which is counterproductive for everyone. I very much welcome the Government’s willingness to look again at the presumption against shorter sentences, as has happened elsewhere.
There are important things in the prisons debate, but I, too, am not going to dwell on them as much as other matters. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) is going to speak about prisons in particular, but I want to return, as the right hon. Member for Delyn did, to transforming rehabilitation and the probation system.
This morning, the Justice Committee heard from Dame Glenys Stacey, the chief inspector of probation, for the last time, as she is coming the end of her three-year tenure. She has done an excellent job. She has been robust and frank, and she has spoken truth to power, as an inspector should. She has not pulled her punches when necessary. The evidence that she has found is entirely consistent with evidence that the Select Committee found in a number of its reports, particularly one that we have recently published. It is entirely consistent, too, with the findings of the National Audit Office and those of the Public Accounts Committee. When, separately, four bodies produce reports based on essentially the same evidence and come to the same conclusions, the Secretary of the State and the prisons Minister—I warmly welcome him to his post—who have been brought up professionally to work on evidence, know that it is time for change.
I submit urgently to the Secretary of State that, whatever the good intentions behind the transforming rehabilitation programme, partly because of the pace at which it was undertaken, and partly because of the intrinsic nature of the probation service as a social service, which is different from the Prison Service in many ways, it has failed to achieve many of the laudable objectives set for it. It has not created greater diversity of provision and, above all, it has not succeeded in bringing the voluntary sector into probation work in the way that had been hoped. Most importantly, it has—like it or lump it—lost the confidence of many sentencers. If we are to achieve the objective I mentioned of developing robust alternatives to custody so that we do not overcrowd our prisons, it is critical that we have a system of supervision in the community, either as an alternative to custody or on release from custody, that commands the confidence of the sentencer—the judge and the magistrate —as well as of the public. It is very clear that that has not been achieved under the current arrangements.
The point about risk is an important one, as our report stressed. On all the evidence that we heard, the division of risk at the point of sentence and on the basis of the offence is, in reality, arbitrary. It is a snapshot in time that is then frozen for the rest of the offender’s supervision, whereas in reality the evidence is clear that risk will change. If the supervision goes well, it will decrease, but in certain circumstances it may increase. This is not an efficient division of risk to have. It is interesting that a different approach has been taken in Wales. One of the reasons that is worth looking at is that it could enable us not to have that arbitrary division of risk. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friends will look at the practicality of how that works out, because this is a critical issue.
Another significant thing that Dame Glenys stressed to us is the way in which the contracts were written. The problem is that probation work—which is, of its nature, dealing with people with complex circumstances in quite often changing and difficult environments—cannot easily be distilled into a set of contractual requirements, which might be easier to do, in some circumstances, within a closed institution.
The current contractual systems model does not succeed in achieving either innovation or the sharing of good practice, because there is no reward for either of those things. The Secretary of State’s review and consultation now gives us an opportunity to look at that. He was right to terminate the CRC contracts early, because they were simply not delivering what had been sought and intended. It is clear, on the evidence, that just recreating them would not be the answer. It would be more sensible to look at alternatives that, on the evidence, address the systemic problems that we now know are there but were perhaps not foreseen at the time.
There are areas that need to be looked at in relation to people with particular vulnerabilities—for example, the particularly high number of young offenders with black and minority ethnic characteristics going through our probation system, and the particular difficulties of female offenders, many of whom, of course, have themselves been victims of abuse or other types of offence in the past. There is the real problem that we have with through-the-gate services, where clearly not enough is being done to discharge people from prison into circumstances where they will not be tempted to fall back into reoffending. I hope, in particular, that when the Secretary of State looks at new models for dealing with probation services, he will look specifically at the need to secure accommodation for people on release. Indeed, securing accommodation for people who are being supervised in the community as an alternative is central to the probation process. All the evidence clearly says that the best means of keeping out of trouble are a home, a job, and a family or support system relationship.
We now have 4,300 additional prison officers, which is the highest level since 2012.
We have fewer officers than in 2010. There was a reduction from 2010 to 2012, but we have now turned that around, with the 4,300 extra officers, meaning we can now roll out the key worker programme, which is central, as it means we have the ratios we need to have one prison officer allied with four prisoners to make sure we deliver the work on rehabilitation.
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The big change that has been introduced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is to ensure that education in prison is linked to employment. This involves talking to the local job market, ensuring that we provide the skills that match that market and, above all, ensuring that we have safe, decent prisons so that we can remove the prisoners from their cells and into work and education so that we can get them into jobs. That reduces reoffending by an average of 7%.
I am delighted that Labour Members are working with us to try to get a good Brexit deal in place, and if we can get such a deal, we will be able to continue through the transition period. In a no-deal situation, however, it will become significantly more difficult because we will have to fall back on older and more cumbersome ways of moving prisoners. That would not be good for us or for Europe.
I could not agree more with the right hon. Gentleman. It is right that young people should be cut some slack generally, but it is not right that some people are cut greater slack than others. That is what I found very disturbing about his report. I was particularly disturbed by his section on Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, where the numbers of people in the community and the numbers in the criminal justice system are truly astonishing. I was also disturbed by the effects on black women in the criminal justice system. I encourage anyone interested in this area to read his report properly, because there are some burning injustices in how the system operates. Like him, I have two teenagers at home at the moment, and how they behave and the risks they take are always a worry. We really do not want silly behaviour to ruin the rest of their lives. I cannot commend his marvellous report highly enough.
I am concerned that over the years, those of us who have campaigned in this sphere have not had big enough asks. I remember getting very cross, when I was first elected to this place, when campaign groups said, “Let’s ask for convictions to not be in boxes or asked about after two years.” I thought, “God, that is two years of a young person’s life when they should be working, going to university, getting car insurance and all the rest of it.” Those are not years or time that they should have to wait. The period when a young person comes out of the criminal justice system is the most important time that we have as a society to set them right and help them into a useful and fulfilling life. We cannot slam them by making box-ticking get in the way of everything they do.
In the report, we made recommendations. One was on consistency with the aims of the youth justice system, and it is important that we view this as part of a holistic whole. The hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge talked passionately about the impact on employment. Clearly the Ban the Box campaign should be extended to all public sector vacancies. The Government should consider making it mandatory for all employers. Why do we have boxes? What are they for?
We made a recommendation on the impact on education, housing, insurance and travel, stating:
“We recommend that educational providers do not automatically use information about spent criminal records to deny access to courses…We urge providers to do everything they can to support students with childhood criminal records”.
Local government guidance for housing authorities should be amended as a matter of urgency. Guidance from the Association of British Insurers could easily be strengthened to leave insurers in absolutely no doubt that they must not expressly or implicitly request customers to disclose spent offences. With travel, we recommend that where there really are safety concerns, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office should raise them with relevant Governments. If there are safety issues, that is different, but that is not the case in the vast majority of cases. The 2014 revisions on rehabilitation periods do not go nearly far enough. For some detention training orders and youth rehabilitation orders, the rehabilitation periods have increased to a completely disproportionate level.
The Committee concluded that the operation of the filtering system is wholly inappropriate for the records and should be radically revised. The Law Commission’s detailed and authoritative report on non-filterable offences is excellent and we endorse its conclusions. We discussed the potential advantage of allowing an application to have a record sealed, and I suspect the Chair of the Committee mentioned it at the beginning. I am sure the Minister will talk to us later about his plans for revising the filtration system. We hope that the recommendations of the right hon. Member for Tottenham in the Lammy review will be taken into account in the production of a new and more appropriate system.
Our final recommendations were about the disclosure of police intelligence and the discriminatory impact of the disclosure regime. I endorse those recommendations absolutely. I have trespassed a long time on this debate, and I thank you for your indulgence, Mr Walker, given I arrived late. This report is one of the best pieces of work that has been done by the Justice Committee. I very much hope that the recommendations are taken into account. Next week, I am going with a group of concerned colleagues who span the whole political spectrum to see the Home Secretary about this issue. I very much hope that the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office are able to work together at the pace of the faster, not the slower, of those two great Departments and that we will sort this out once and for all.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David.
Let me begin by emphasising two guiding principles for the United Kingdom’s judiciary. The first is:
“It shall be the principal aim of the youth justice system to prevent offending by children and young persons.”
The second is:
“Every court in dealing with a child…shall have regard to the welfare of the child.”
I do not believe that a single hon. Member present would disagree with those principles.
The Government’s response to the Justice Committee’s report acknowledges the over-representation of BAME and looked-after children. Since my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), who has superior knowledge, has already spoken about the incredibly important issue of the over-representation of BAME children in the youth justice system, I will focus on the issues that the Committee raised about discrimination against looked-after children in the judicial system. The sum of the Government’s response to the discrimination against those children is acknowledgment but nothing else. As for children with mental health issues or issues such as autism, they appear, sadly, to have been forgotten in the Government’s response, as they have been in the Government’s justice policy. I do not believe that that is acceptable.
Looked-after children in care are some of the most vulnerable people in our society. They have been removed from their homes because life there is no longer beneficial or safe for them, and many have been abused physically or mentally—often both. It is difficult for adults to come to terms with abuse, but for children it can often be impossible to understand what has happened to them and how they feel. It is often those who are closest and most trusted by these children who commit these abuses. These young people deserve care and understanding, but unfortunately the current system of disclosure of youth criminal records does not deliver that.
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, as ever, Sir David. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), the Chairman of the Justice Committee, for securing a debate on an important report. I pay tribute to all the Members who have spoken today and, indeed, all members of his Committee for their work. It is a pleasure as always to serve opposite the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi). I know and welcome her commitment to this area of work, and to working collaboratively and in a bipartisan way when we have a common goal to achieve.
The Chairman of the Select Committee and many others present today have worked hard to champion the potential of children who offend, and their capability to move on from their previous behaviour to live rich and fulfilled lives—and, indeed, to make our shared commitment to rehabilitation a reality. My hon. Friend is right to say that although the issue is technical and legal, it is about more than that. It affects real lives and, as hon. Members have said, continues to affect them for years after the offence is committed. We are grateful for the Committee’s recommendations. My hon. Friend set out with his typical eloquence and polite forcefulness how the system operates and what he feels does not work well. As hon. Members have said, at the heart of the debate there is a question of balance—striking the appropriate balance, as the shadow Minister said, between protecting the public and giving young people the opportunity for rehabilitation and to have a second chance and a future.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice recently set out his vision for a criminal justice system and the principles that should be at its heart. I am clear that the criminal justice system must have multiple aims—to deter, to ensure that there is both punishment and rehabilitation, and to protect society from crime. That means the system must be proportionate and, in the case of disclosures, relevant to those objectives. My right hon. Friend set out the need to move away from debates about soft or hard justice, and to think instead about smart justice that achieves what we would all want for society. That means knowing that, alongside appropriate safeguarding measures for children and vulnerable people, employment for those who have previously offended can support public protection. There are, as the right hon. Member for Delyn (David Hanson) said, few better tools for reducing reoffending than a regular pay cheque. We have made it clear that we want more employers to look past someone’s offending history and see their future potential, and I believe that rehabilitating people and getting them into employment is the best outcome for us all.
When she took office in 2016, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made a pledge that the Government would fight against social injustice and give people back control of their lives. She set out a vision whereby all British citizens could go as far as their talents take them. Nothing should hinder that, and it should also apply to children who commit crimes or make an error. This must be reflected in the disclosure of criminal records.
I agree with the core position laid out by the Committee: employers should not regard the disclosure of a criminal record as an automatic barrier to employment. A balanced judgment should be exercised, having regard to factors such as a person’s age at the time of the offence, how long ago it was, and the relevance to the application or post in question. The Committee’s report goes beyond this and rightly highlights the need for proportionality, clarity and fairness, as well as seeking to ensure that the systems designed to protect the public and facilitate rehabilitation keep up to date with the reality of the modern world.
The Secretary of State for Justice has already identified that one of the best ways to help those who have offended to get meaningful employment is by working more closely with employers and expounding the benefits of hiring those with criminal convictions. That is why—to address one of the key themes in hon. Members’ speeches—I am happy to see the Government leading by example by rolling out Ban the Box across the civil service in 2016 and continuing to encourage its implementation across both the public and private sectors.
Whenever I see the right hon. Member for Delyn in a debate that I am speaking in, my heart both rises and sinks. It rises because he brings great expertise and knowledge of this subject; it sinks possibly for exactly the same reason, as I know he will ask me various challenging questions. He asked a number of questions, and I will try to answer some of them—if I do not answer them all, I will happily commit to write to him next week with detailed answers.
I take the right hon. Gentleman’s point. I am not aware of any Government Department not doing it. There may be some roles, perhaps in the policing or security aspects of Government, where there might be more complex considerations. I undertake to write to him with a clarification on that in due course, when I will answer a number of his other questions.
First, I make it absolutely clear that no decision on sentencing policy will be driven by anything other than public protection. That is the key in any sentencing decision. Secondly, I make it absolutely clear that we are fully behind the Home Secretary and the work that is being done on knife crime and we want to make sure that judges have the full powers at their disposal to deal with people who are wielding knives.
As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, this is something that we are continuing to look at very carefully and we are continuing to learn both from what has happened in Scotland and the evidence that suggests, on the basis of a study of 130 different characteristics in 300,000 separate offenders, that people are more likely to reoffend with a short custodial sentence and therefore that tens of thousands more crimes are committed every year by the wrong use of a custodial sentence.
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That is a very good challenge. My hon. Friend specifically raised Albania, with which we have a prison transfer agreement in place. I met the Albanian Minister of Justice two weeks ago. We need to ensure that more returns take place, but we are well ahead of Italy and Greece on returns to Albania.
I call David Hanson—in a sentence.
It is largely to do with degradation across the estate, but we have had significant improvements in the performance of Amey recently, and we have of course taken Carillion back in-house so a Government company is now operating there. We therefore expect improvements to go with millions of pounds of extra investment into the estate.
I know that my hon. Friend does wonderful work with the prison in her constituency. As she says, we need to take action, and we are taking action. There have been 40 convictions of people using drones, and we have imposed 140 years’-worth of prison sentences. No one should be in any doubt that importing drugs into prisons with a drone is a very serious crime, and I am pleased to say that, thanks to the Department’s work since 2015, we are getting on top of the problem.
First, that is classified information, but, secondly, the answer is not that many prisons. It is very expensive equipment to use, but we are looking at an electronic fencing technique which has been deployed in Guernsey. We can learn a lot from Guernsey prison: if that electronic fence in Guernsey works, it is a good cheap solution. We would need to check its technical specifications and then we could look at rolling it out.
I will resist the temptation to offer to resign on every single issue within my Department, but I repeat that I will resign if I do not turn around those 10 prisons by August. Why were those 10 prisons chosen? They largely focus on Yorkshire and London. There are many other challenged prisons in the system. Which is challenged day by day alternates a great deal—it depends on the particular population—but I do not think that anybody would suggest that prisons such as Wormwood Scrubs, Nottingham and Leeds, which are among the 10 prisons, are not very seriously challenged prisons.
I am pleased to say that, at the most recent Budget—I do not wish to get involved in the next Budget and the spending review, on which I am confident—we got a great deal of investment into the prison estate, which makes a huge difference. The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise the issue of the future budget, but watch this space and see how our negotiation goes.
We work across government on this matter and are considering a number of proposals across government, including with BEIS, on how we can encourage employers in this area, including on apprenticeships. Let me make a point I have made before: employers are increasingly looking at employing ex-offenders. We should all welcome that, and I would be supportive of any constructive steps to progress this.
That is a good point. One thing we announced when I launched the education and employment strategy was the fact that the public sector—the civil service—was taking people on. We had a pilot in the north-west of England, which we are now extending to other parts of the United Kingdom. The Prison Service also takes on ex-offenders. The right hon. Gentleman is right to highlight this, and the public sector has a role to play in the area, too.
I can give my hon. Friend exactly that assurance. I am grateful for the work that many charities have done to help us to prepare the strategy, and I look forward to them continuing to play a central role as we deliver it.
The right hon. Gentleman, a former holder of the office I now hold—if rather more senior and distinguished—is absolutely right to highlight that important role. We have launched the consultation on the independent public advocate today, in parallel with the publication of the strategy. We will await the results of the consultation to see exactly how the scope and nature of that role is determined, which will of course then inform the funding required.
My hon. Friend raises several important points, and I will try to address one or two of them. On the need for us to work across Government, many issues are not just for the Ministry of Justice, but for the likes of the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Education. It is also the case that we want to work upstream, because if we can address the complex problems that exist, we can stop people committing crimes in the first place.
The right hon. Gentleman is correct to say that the Through the Gate service needs to improve, and we are engaging with CRCs on that issue. We recognise it does not meet the standards we require, and it is important that we engage. We have been clear with the CRCs that they need to improve their performance, and we are in commercial negotiation with providers to secure the quality of services, including Through the Gate services, that we need.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for visiting Pentonville prison. I was lucky enough to be there two weeks ago, and I pay tribute to its excellent governor for the very good work he is doing. It is one of the most testing, busy London local prisons, and it faces a huge number of issues, but protecting prison officers is fundamentally about having a predictable, stable regime, enough prison officers on the landing, the right kind of training and relationships to calm things down, and, ultimately, protection.
The right hon. Gentleman is a very experienced predecessor in my job. Clearly there is a strong correlation with these new psychoactive substances; it is difficult otherwise to account for the huge rise in violence. The substances seem to drive both self-harming behaviour and extreme violent behaviour. I will give a written answer on exactly when we will fulfil the body-worn camera programme.
I am aware of the case and I was very pleased to discuss it. Police dog Finn did a remarkable thing, and I know that he has been recognised for his work. The Government are looking at the issue.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and the importance of that point cannot be overstated. I am absolutely confident that the Minister gets that point entirely, because we saw utterly disgraceful attacks by some of the press upon the judiciary for carrying out their constitutional task. Those words should never have been said, and I am glad to say that the current Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor has made very clear his support for the independence of the judiciary and the respect with which that independence should be treated. I know that the Minister entirely shares that view.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) is quite right. Broad wording on such a political topic lays the judges open to such things, because if they are obliged to act according to the clause that I mentioned—as they will be if it is passed in its current form—they will inevitably run the real risk of being accused of having taken, in effect, political decisions. That is why the President of the Supreme Court spoke in the way she did. She said:
“We don’t think ‘appropriate’ is the right sort of word to address to judges. We don’t do things because they are appropriate, we look at things because they are relevant and helpful. We do not want to be put in the position of appearing to make a political decision about what is and is not appropriate.”
That is exactly the point that my hon. Friend made so powerfully.
I know the clause is being debated in the other place, but as it stands it just does not give judges the protection to which they are legitimately entitled. I hope the Government will address that as a matter of urgency. That is not only the view of the current President of the Supreme Court; it has been echoed by her predecessor, Lord Neuberger, and by the previous Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd. That is overwhelming and compelling evidence that there has to be movement on this point. It is time for the Government to do that. I suspect they would find good will across the House if they could find a means of properly addressing those concerns of the judiciary—one has to stress that those are their concerns.
The Attorney General said it was not the Government’s desire to put judges in that position. I entirely accept his good faith in that. He said:
“We will continue to work with them to provide the necessary clarity.”—[Official Report, 22 March 2018; Vol. 638, c. 389.]
That is good, but it has to be translated into legislation that is fit for purpose. We are not at that stage yet, and we need much more clarity. I hope that the Minister will be able to deal with that point and take it back to the Attorney General and those dealing with the Bill.
The issue of how we deal with the ECJ is important, but we also need to be realistic. If we want to continue some of the partnership arrangements we have, there will have to be dispute resolution processes. All the agreements will need an arbitral mechanism. I hope the Government will take on board the strong views of legal practitioners across the country that a desire to displace any role for the ECJ—as opposed to removing “direct jurisdiction”, to use the Prime Minister’s phrase, which is a different concept—may create more difficulties than is worthwhile. There are perhaps some limited areas, such as the interpretation of specific matters of financial services regulation and some matters of data regulation, where there might be sense in making a pragmatic compromise rather than having to set up a number of ad hoc arbitral mechanisms such as tribunals or whatever we might call them. That is a key and pressing issue.
There are other issues that concern the Committee on how we will deal with criminal justice and judicial co-operation. They have already been addressed at some length, and I know other colleagues will deal with them today. The point I stress is that the Prime Minister has already indicated her firm and resolute intention to have an ongoing agreement so that we can share in police and judicial co-operation and security co-operation. She is absolutely right to do that, and I support her in doing so, but we have to be realistic. If we are to benefit from such things as the European criminal records information exchange system, the work of Europol and the information exchange that is so critical to the pursuit of modern crime—whether that is terrorism or organised crime of other kinds—we have to have our data arrangements aligned. That must inevitably mean following the EU27’s data regulation and any jurisprudence that subsequently develops that touches on that. Otherwise, with the best will in the world, the police and security agencies in those EU27 countries, which include some of our most vital partners, will not be able to share information with us lawfully. We do not yet have clarity over how that will be dealt with, and we must have that swiftly.
There is also the issue of civil and family justice co-operation. I mentioned the importance of the civil sector, but we have to ensure that we have a firm arrangement for the mutual recognition and enforcement of judgments. That is certainly important for the commercial litigation sector, but it applies to all contractual arrangements. If someone has a contract, they want to be able to sue if it is breached. There needs to be a remedy that can realistically be enforced. We must have more clarity on that. As I have observed on more than one occasion, there are literally thousands of UK citizens—as it happens, most of them are mothers—who benefit from the ability to have maintenance payments enforced against former partners now living in other EU jurisdiction countries. It is unconscionable that those people, working hard under difficult circumstances, would lose the ability to have those payments enforced by a simple blanket mechanism. Warm words are not enough. That needs to be sorted out before we finally leave, whether that is in transition or the end state.
I hope that is a sufficient overview of some of our areas of concern and why we are pressing the Government on them. I look forward to the Minister’s response and the other contributions from colleagues on some of the other specific areas of this important debate, which I have no doubt the Justice Committee will return to in the coming weeks and months.
Order. Before I call the next speaker, I remind everyone that the Front-Bench speeches will start at 2.30 pm on the dot. We can comfortably accommodate all speakers if Members restrict themselves to no more than seven or eight minutes. I call Victoria Prentis.
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As I said, I am very relaxed about European Court of Justice jurisdiction generally, but the hon. Lady and the Committee report make a case, specifically with regard to matters of procedure or even jurisdiction, for there being no reason for the Government to be overly concerned with the role of the Court at all.
The Chair of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, also rightly flagged up the issue of clause 6 of the exit Bill. I agree that it is unhelpful and needs to be strengthened; instead of guiding or directing judges, it seems to be buck passing. We need to protect judges from accusations of making political decisions, as the hon. Member for Cheltenham rightly explained.
The right hon. Member for Delyn flagged up the question of whether all this can be managed in less than two years. I stand to be corrected, but with justice and home affairs being areas of shared competence, I understand that agreements on participation in some of these schemes may well need approval both from the EU institutions and from individual member states. Conceivably, in some of those member states, that could mean parliamentary ratification or even a referendum. Will the Government give some clarity on whether that is their understanding, and on what contingency plans exist for that possibility?
That is a very fair point, and I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in that regard. What are the contingency plans if it becomes apparent very soon that we will not be able to secure all these arrangements within the current proposed timeframe?
Finally, although justice is a devolved matter and Scotland has its own distinct legal system, it will be UK Ministers doing the negotiating. As ever, I take the opportunity to exhort the Minister and her colleagues to work as closely as possible with counterparts in Edinburgh, to make sure that the implications for the Scottish justice system are properly taken into account and reflected.
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My hon. Friend should not assume that those points have not yet been considered. We are moving from an EU perspective to discuss these issues, and they will be considered.
I expect that the deal, of which that will form part, will be put to Parliament.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) rightly identified the importance of mutual enforcement and the mechanism to secure our future relationship. She asked for specifics in relation to the future relationship. The Government are looking at a number of options and are confident that an option will work. There are examples out there that other countries have used, and we would like a bespoke arrangement that works for our country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham made an important point about the independence and integrity of our judges. I agree that it is not for them to make political decisions in exercising their independent function as the judiciary. As a barrister, I regularly referred to foreign law—I am sure he has, too—in support of points I made in courts for a number of years to support or distinguish cases. That is not an unusual feature of what goes on in our tribunals.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and others for the very active campaign that they are leading. I would of course be delighted to meet them to discuss that law.
As we have discussed, very significant sentences of up to 10 years can already be imposed for this kind of action, but I would be delighted to discuss the issue in more detail with the right hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friends.
My hon. Friend is spot on. These vulnerable children require the very best care, particularly for their mental health. In negotiations with the main contractor, I rule out absolutely nothing if the contract obligations are not being met.
Order. The right hon. Gentleman needs to focus his supplementary question exclusively on the Oakhill secure training centre in Milton Keynes.
The right hon. Gentleman, as a previous Minister responsible for the institution, will acknowledge that the contract is subject to a series of obligations. It was signed in 2004 and lasts for 25 years. I am fully aware of the need to improve standards at Oakhill. I rule absolutely nothing out, and I have already met senior people at G4S to point that out.
Yes, I do agree. I think it important for Ministers and officials in the Prison Service to trust the professionalism of governors who are in charge of individual establishments, which is why, as national contracts for particular services expire—for example, maintenance, repairs and food procurement contracts—we will seek opportunities to devolve them to establishment level.
Ultimately, I am responsible for the Department and the services that it provides. As is the case with every inspection report, the Prison Service will take action to remedy the problems identified by the chief inspector, and a new scanner to detect drugs has already been installed at Holme House.
I accept that we should not take unnecessary risks, but it seems to me that we could deal with that. I confess that I am not completely across the content of the Data Protection Bill—I hope the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me—but it seems to me that we could make sure we deal with that concern in that Bill, and Ministers on the Treasury Bench will no doubt listen to that point.
My final point is about something that has been brought up on a number of occasions. One benefit I have from being on the Back Benches is that I do not feel the necessity to defend every aspect of Ministers’ behaviour, particularly things they did before they were Ministers. The case that keeps being cited—[Interruption.] The Ministers on the Front Bench are looking very worried now, because they do not know what I am about to say. I happen to think that the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union was not correct in the case he brought against the Government, and I happen to think that the Prime Minister when she was Home Secretary was right to defend it.
We also dealt with any potential defects in the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 in the ground-breaking legislation this House passed more recently, the Investigatory Powers Act 2016. I am reasonably familiar with that legislation: I had to consider it when I was a member of the Government, and dealt with how we approached the House. The way we proceeded with that legislation was by bringing forward a Bill that was in good shape at the start of the process, and then having a very thorough scrutiny process across parties. The Opposition took a sensible, grown-up approach on it, because it was very important legislation. We dealt with the concerns, and that is the right way to proceed. This House is perfectly capable of dealing with such concerns, and this House is the right place to deal with them.
The Modern Slavery Act 2015 is a model for legislation to deal with people being kept in servitude, and, similarly, the Investigatory Powers Act is ground-breaking, world-leading legislation on how to balance individual freedoms and rights to privacy with the legitimate rights of the state to ensure it protects those citizens from those who will do us harm. This House and the other place got the balance right in that legislation, and we should have more confidence in the ability of ourselves as parliamentarians.
The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), who speaks for the SNP, harrumphed a little a bit—she is not in her place to harrumph again, probably—when my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) spoke about this House being the place where we guarantee those freedoms. She was not hugely impressed by that argument, but the two examples I have given show that we should have a bit more self-confidence about this House being the place where we defend those essential rights. I therefore commend the Bill in its present shape to the House and hope that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee do not press their new clauses and amendments to the vote.
I rise to speak to new clause 79, which is in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends and hon. Members from other parties.
First and foremost, I recognise that the UK has voted to leave the European Union. It is an outcome that I did not vote for, but it is the position in which we find ourselves. It is now incumbent on us to strengthen this legislation ahead of our exit from the Union. We can only achieve this fully by recognising what European integration has done for us over the past 40 years, and the ways in which we can help one another.
Before entering Parliament, I was an employment rights lawyer for many years. I represented trade unions and their members for 10 years. More recently, I ran my own business providing advice on maternity discrimination and flexible working to mums and families. So I know at first-hand how many of our employment rights come from Europe. As my explanatory statement points out, my new clause would ensure that Parliament was kept abreast of changes in EU provisions regarding family-friendly employment rights and gender equality, as well as committing the Government to considering their implementation.
It is clear that working parents and carers in the UK are struggling. The Modern Families Index 2017, which examined the lives of 2,750 working parents and carers, found that more than a third of working families say that they do not have enough time or money for their family to thrive. Half of parents agreed that their work-life balance was increasingly a source of stress. A third said that work had a negative effect on their relationship with their partner, and a quarter said that it led to rows with their children. One in 10 parents would consider resigning from work without having another job to go to. Research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission shows that 54,000 new mothers in Britain may be forced out of their jobs each year as a result of pregnancy and maternity discrimination. The Fawcett Society, Working Families—the work-life balance charity—and trade unions, among others, continually fight to protect against these types of discrimination.
We have a collective responsibility to ensure that we help to protect the rights of workers and employees amid the cut and thrust of the Brexit negotiations. People voted to leave the EU for many varied reasons, but they did not vote to be worse off. Our laws on these matters must be no less favourable than they would have been had the UK remained a member of the EU beyond exit day. Indeed, the EU may well go on to legislate in ways with which we do not agree. The wording of new clause 79 is clear; it is there to inform, not to commit.
As many of my hon. Friends pointed out during the previous Committee sitting, we must make every effort to keep this House fully aware of the advancements that occur in Europe. To be clear, the new clause is not about binding the UK into implementing future EU directives in the family-friendly employment and gender equality space. Rather, it would ensure that Parliament was informed of any developments and would commit the Government to considering their implementation.
In the Prime Minister’s Florence speech, she signalled that the UK and the EU will continue to support each other as we navigate through Brexit. I have much to say on the work that we have collectively achieved in Europe, strengthening workers’ rights, maternity rights and employment practices. For example: the 1976 equal treatment directive established the principle of equal treatment for men and women in access to jobs, training and working conditions; the 1992 pregnant workers directive provided for statutory maternity leave, protected the health and safety of pregnant workers and breastfeeding mothers, prohibited dismissal due to pregnancy or maternity, and introduced paid time off for antenatal care; the 1993 working time directive provided a maximum 48-hour working week, and the right to rest periods and paid holiday; the 1996 parental leave directive provided for the right to unpaid parental leave, as well as time off for dependants; and the 1997 part-time work directive prevented part-time workers from being treated less favourably than full-time employees. All these measures have helped to improve the work-life balance and family-friendly employment rights in the UK, and it is vital that we do not fall behind Europe in the years ahead. To dismiss the last four decades of progress without looking to the future would set a dangerous precedent, which fills me with deep concern.
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The point is that these broad and general rights are ripe with value judgments. Quite often, they are not appropriately dealt with by six or seven elderly white judges in a Supreme Court; they are better resolved on the Floor of this House and by a democratic vote in this Parliament.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we need to reduce the stress and trauma experienced by victims and witnesses. We are doing a range of things. First, we are establishing model waiting rooms for victims and witnesses so that they will feel less stressed and more comfortable, meaning that they are more likely to give compelling evidence. Secondly, in the courtroom itself, we are rolling out section 28 measures for pre-recorded cross-examination to Crown courts nationally. This autumn, we will extend that to victims of sexual offences or modern slavery offences in Leeds, Liverpool and Kingston upon Thames.
We changed CRC contracts earlier this year to better reflect the fixed costs that they were incurring. However, payments to CRCs are still below our original forecasts.
The answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s last question is that we expect them to use that money to improve the delivery of services and to match the best CRCs, such as Cumbria, which recently received a very impressive report from the inspectorate. We did not award the CRCs a specific sum, but agreed to alter the contracts in such a way that we accepted a greater proportion of their costs as fixed. The figure of £277 million that is in public circulation is an estimate of how that adjustment might increase the total contract value, but that is based on certain assumptions about volumes and payment by results, and I reiterate that payments will still be well within the forecast budget.
We are now substantially better informed.
The right hon. Gentleman, as a former prisons Minister, is well aware that the job of tracking down and arresting criminals is one for the police service, not the prisons Minister. In response to his other question, we are looking at various types of technology to disrupt drones flying into our prisons to deliver contraband.