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Double Jeopardy

11. Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet): What plans he has to change the law in respect of double jeopardy. [5150]

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The Minister for Criminal Justice, Sentencing and Law Reform (

Mr. Keith Bradley): The Government's manifesto includes a commitment to reform the double jeopardy rule in cases involving murder, and the Government will do so when parliamentary time allows.

In the meantime, we will be giving careful consideration to Sir Robin Auld's recent recommendation that the reform should apply to a wider range of offences.

Dr. Ladyman: I know that my right hon. Friend is very anxious to take the House with him in this matter. Does he agree that the provision of information is vital if he is to do so? Yet when I asked how many cases the change in the law is likely to lead to, I was told that the number is not known because the police do not investigate after an acquittal. When I asked how many cases per year fall within the sentencing category, how many lead to convictions and how many of those convictions are overturned on appeal, I was told that the answer was available only at disproportionate cost. Before we overturn a rule that has served us well for 900 years, will my right hon. Friend make sure that that information is made available to the House?

Mr. Bradley: I am well aware of my hon. Friend's careful consideration of this matter. He has partly answered his own question about the likely number of cases. The information is not available because the police do not generally seek fresh evidence against someone who has been acquitted of an offence. However, in evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, the Director of Public Prosecutions suggested that there might be a handful of cases involving murder each year.

Norman Baker (Lewes): Does the Minister realise that the proposed change in the law is very controversial? Will he give an undertaking that if the Government are determined to make the change, it will be limited to murder cases? In the event of a second trial, what criteria will be applied to ensure that individuals do not have the threat of an infinite number of trials hanging over them?

Mr. Bradley: As I said, we are carefully considering the views of Sir Robin Auld, and those of the Law Commission, on whether double jeopardy reform should be extended. We are consulting on those proposals at the moment and we will make our views known in due course.

The Law Commission has said that if a second trial is to proceed, there must be compelling new evidence of guilt and the court must be satisfied that it is in the interests of justice to quash the acquittal. We will be considering the Law Commission's views as part of our consultation before final proposals are introduced in legislation.

Metropolitan Police (Recruitment)

12. Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West): What further action he is taking to increase recruitment into the Metropolitan police. [5151]

The Minister for Police, Courts and Drugs (Mr. John Denham): Recruitment to the Metropolitan police has been aided by the crime fighting fund, by the

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national recruitment campaign, by the provision of free rail travel within a 70-mile radius of London and by the increase last year in London allowance for post-Sheehy officers.

Mr. Thomas: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that the particular challenge in recruitment to the Met in attractive, highly desirable, outer-London suburbs such as Harrow is the high cost of property, especially for first-time buyers? Is he aware also that that issue is beginning to affect the retention of officers after two or three years service, when they may be attracted by cheaper property prices in other police force areas? Will he keep under close review the question of whether further investment in key worker housing is necessary both to retain police officers and to help with recruitment in suburbs such as my own?

Mr. Denham: My hon. Friend makes very good points. We are certainly keen to understand and respond to all the reasons for police officers leaving the force early. Wastage of officers remains very low, but we do not want to lose a single officer unnecessarily. On housing, I am sure that my hon. Friend will welcome the Government's initiative to enable 550 London police officers to buy first homes with financial assistance over the next three years.

Mr. John Horam (Orpington): Will the review of the resource allocation formula used by the Metropolitan police lead to an increase in police numbers in outer-London boroughs such as Harrow and Bromley?

Mr. Denham: Consultation is taking place on a new formula for the allocation of police officers in London boroughs, which was suggested by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. As that consultation is still under way, it is too early to be certain about what the final allocation will be.

Ms Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East): While I welcome the initiatives that have been taken to increase Metropolitan police recruitment, police have been moved from the boroughs to central London because of the higher security levels, leaving those boroughs under- resourced. Are there any specific initiatives to address that issue?

Mr. Denham: Everyone welcomes and acknowledges the reassurance role that the Metropolitan police service has been playing since 11 September, and I think that that reassurance has had a significant impact on the sense of public security. However, I assure my hon. Friend that the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis is very clearly aware of the need to ensure that effective normal policing arrangements are in place during this time.

Metropolitan Police Training School

13. Angela Watkinson (Upminster): What the maximum capacity of the Metropolitan police training school was in each of the last three years; and what percentage of trainees completed the course successfully in each of those years. [5153]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (

Beverley Hughes): I understand from the commissioner that the capacity of the Metropolitan police service training school for 2001–02 is 2,600. No maximum capacity was set in previous years. The percentage of recruits successfully completing training for each of the past three years is 92 per cent. in 1999; 93 per cent. in 2000; and 94 per cent. in 2001.

Angela Watkinson: I thank the hon. Lady for that reply. Will she please comment on the likely impact of the drop-out rate on the ability to reach the targets for increased police numbers, particularly in that other attractive outer-London constituency of Upminster, which suffers very badly from the leeching of resources into inner London?

Beverley Hughes: The commissioner fully expects to recruit up to 2,500 police officers this year. That number will both cover wastage and enable, by March 2002, an increase in strength of more than 1,000 officers, helping to reach the total target of 26,650 officers. The commissioner therefore expects that that number will more than meet demand.

Intensive Supervision and Surveillance Programme

15. Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell): If he will make a statement on the intensive supervision and surveillance programme. [5156]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Beverley Hughes): The intensive supervision and surveillance programme is a Youth Justice Board initiative funded by the Home Office. It is targeted at the 3 per cent. of young people who are responsible for about 25 per cent. of juvenile offences, providing the courts with a robust community-based alternative to custodial sentences and remands.

Mr. Challen: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Is she aware that my colleagues and I in Leeds are holding an inquiry into drug abuse in Leeds, and that one of the issues that has already been raised is the fact that the families, and especially the parents, of drug users experience great stress, particularly when their offspring go to prison? We therefore truly welcome the type of initiative that she has outlined.

Beverley Hughes: I thank my hon. Friend for his support. The initiative is very important for the reasons that he has identified. The programme has two elements—intensive monitoring by electronic tagging or voice verification and very highly structured individual programmes with intense supervision and surveillance. It is a very robust alternative to custody. I hope that the initiative will prove as successful nationally as the Rotherham pilot showed it to be locally, not only in keeping young serious offenders out of custody but in substantially reducing their offending.

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Prison Reform

17. Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey): If he will make a statement on his priorities for tackling prison reform. [5158]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Beverley Hughes): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for this question. We do not often get a question on prison reform at Home Office questions, yet it is an issue that hon. Members need to take more seriously.

Our priorities are maintaining the impressive improvement in the record on escapes and doing much more to reduce the rates of reoffending of prisoners and so protect the public. That means continuing to improve the quality and quantity of literacy and numeracy education, tackling levels of drug abuse and delivering more intensive programmes on reducing offending, while treating prisoners with decency.

Mr. Wyatt: I thank my hon. Friend for her reply. Perhaps it is because I have three prisons in my constituency that I have more than the average interest. We have had three bad cases involving paedophiles. One was exceptionally awful, in which a paedophile sentenced to a four-year term in prison was given 18 months off for remission, having received no education or psychiatric care. He returned to the community almost the same as he was when he left. Will my hon. Friend give such cases renewed thought? I look forward to changes in the way in which paedophiles are treated in prison.

Beverley Hughes: Alongside the provision of more offending behaviour programmes in prison, the Prison Service has a target to deliver a substantial number of sex offender treatment programmes. That is linked to a more co-ordinated strategy in terms of multi-agency protection panels and continuing work with sex offenders in the community when they are released from prison. This is an important priority. We must ensure that when offenders leave prison, they are as well equipped as possible to ensure that they do not reoffend. For sex offenders, that is a particularly important part of our public protection strategy.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): How can the Minister and the Prison Service be taken seriously on prison reform when Downview prison was re-roled from a category C/category D prison—it had a splendid scheme, RAPT, for dealing with drug offenders—to a women's prison, with just five weeks notice? The offenders being treated on all the programmes to which the Minister has referred

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were scattered to the four winds throughout the Prison Service, thereby losing the benefits of all those programmes.

Beverley Hughes: I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about the need to re-role Downview, and he has spoken to me about this. One of the fundamental responsibilities of the Prison Service is to respond to the summation of decisions of the courts. The number of women being sent to prison on sentence and on remand is increasing rapidly—much more rapidly than the general rise in the prison population. The Prison Service must respond to that. Were the numbers of women sent to prison to stabilise or reduce, I, for one, would be glad. We must respond to the decisions of the courts, and we had to re-role a prison to take the 4,000 women who are now sent to prison by the courts.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford): Should not the priorities be the safety of prison staff and, among prisoners, the eradication of drug dependency, as well as improved education? On the last point, is my hon. Friend shocked by the high levels of illiteracy in our prisons? Should not those levels be eradicated first?

Beverley Hughes: Yes, I am shocked. It is important for hon. Members and the general public to appreciate that those whom the Prison Service receives are, on a range of indicators, some of the most socially excluded and disadvantaged people. That is not to excuse their offending, but to try to show that the problems with which the Prison Service has to deal are multiple and serious. Levels of drug-related offending are high, but the Prison Service is making massive strides in trying to help prisoners to make up some of their deficits. The number of literacy and numeracy qualifications now awarded at basic level 2—the lowest level for employability—is considerable. The focus on rehabilitation and resettlement is something that we want to continue.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): What steps will the Minister take to ensure that the increasing number of women prisoners can keep in touch with their children during their sentence?

Beverley Hughes: There has been a worrying reduction in the number of visits received by prisoners over the past couple of years, and I am watching that closely. In particular, I am considering a pilot scheme in one region, in conjunction with a major voluntary organisation, to see whether we can provide better facilities in prison and, more importantly, make the links with agencies in the community, so that prisoners' family contact, especially with children, can be maintained. The hon. Lady is right to say that that is an important factor in the effective resettlement of prisoners, and maintaining links with family is an important priority for us.

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