Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order and for giving me notice that she intended to raise it. However, I have not been informed of any ministerial statement today on the matter. Perhaps it is worth emphasising that if a new policy or a change in existing policy is to be announced, one would ordinarily hope that the House would hear it first. I am not familiar with the detail of that particular matter, and

29 Jun 2011 : Column 979

therefore I cannot say whether it should so qualify, but the general requirement is very clear. The Deputy Prime Minister will be aware of it and the Leader of the House has regularly heard it and communicated it to ministerial colleagues. I am sure that the hon. Lady will find other ways in which to pursue the matter.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Members of the Cabinet are developing a track record for making statements to the press in the morning, with a Minister coming to the House in the afternoon. I drew your attention to the press conference that the Prime Minister held about the national health service before the statement in the House. Last week, before the Lord Chancellor’s statement about changes in sentencing and other matters, the Prime Minister again held a press conference before the House met and told the public what the Secretary of State later told the House of Commons. My hon. Friends on the Front Bench have provided two further examples. Is it not intolerable that the Prime Minister and the Government show continuous contempt for the House of Commons?

Mr Speaker: The right hon. Gentleman is a very experienced Member. I think that I am right in saying that it is 41 years 11 days since he was elected to the House. He has seen a lot. He will understand that the Chair must consider those matters on a case-by-case basis in that some cases are egregious and others are not. I recall the right hon. Gentleman’s previous point of order. He might recall—if not, I shall tell him—my response to the shadow Leader of the House last week. I said that statements should be made first to the House and that I was perturbed by a growing practice of a written ministerial statement followed by a press conference, and, only after that, an oral statement to the House. I hoped that that practice would be nipped in the bud. On that occasion, I also made the point, the significance of which will not escape the right hon. Gentleman or the House, that if that unfortunate and inappropriate practice persisted, there would be mechanisms available to Members who wished to allocate a considerable amount of parliamentary time on a particular day to the study of the matter of urgency, and that that would cause all sorts of problems with programming Government business, which I know the Leader of the House would not want to encounter. I hope that that is clear to the right hon. Gentleman and the House.

Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Last year, the Government announced the termination of the housing market renewal programme, depriving depressed communities of hope for the future. Here and subsequently in another place, Ministers said that application can be made to the regional growth fund. However, only this week, the chair of the independent evaluation panel, Lord Heseltine said:

“There is no way in which we are doing housing renewal”

or anything of that sort. We are 48 hours away from the deadline for regional growth fund bids. Has the Minister for Housing and Local Government indicated his intention to come to the House and clear up the confusion?

29 Jun 2011 : Column 980

Mr Speaker: The short answer to the hon. Gentleman is that the Minister has not indicated to me any intention to make a statement on the matter. However, until a very few moments ago, the Leader of the House was in his place, and will have heard the start of the point of order. I imagine that the Deputy Leader of the House will communicate the rest of it to him. My advice to the hon. Gentleman, in view of the pressing timetable, is that he might wish to raise the matter at business questions, if he can catch my eye, and secure some sort of clarificatory response from the Leader of the House. He has to wait fewer than 24 hours for his opportunity.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I recently became aware that recently the Liberal Democrats, on a day when they should have been in Parliament representing their constituents, decided to have an away-day in my constituency, and stayed there overnight; I certainly commend them for their taste. I cannot claim to be the most assiduous in this regard myself because I have occasionally forgotten to inform a colleague that I have been in their constituency, but it is, I am sure you would agree, rare that 50 MPs would forget to inform a colleague that they were engaging in political activity in somebody else’s constituency. Could you give any guidance as to what is expected of hon. Members when visiting other people’s constituencies?

Mr Speaker: I think it was what would be characterised by the party concerned as an official visit to the hon. Gentleman’s constituency; in other words, it is not a private activity, and although I do not think it would be reasonable for the hon. Gentleman to expect 50 communications from individual Members who would be attending that gathering, I do think it is reasonable for the hon. Gentleman to expect to be informed in advance by a representative of that party, so I hope that the self-styled voice of Shipley is reassured by my response to his point of order.

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It has emerged this afternoon that the police were informed in the last few days that a court judgment means that the current operation of police bail, which has operated since 1986, has now been thrown up into the air. I have spoken within the last half hour, the West Yorkshire chief constable, who says he may now not be able to recall thousands of suspects who are currently on police bail, and that it is possible that some emergency action or emergency legislation may be needed. We stand ready to discuss any emergency legislation that may be needed to help the police do their business and carry on with the important work that they do, but have you been informed by the Home Secretary that this is an urgent issue, and that there may be a need for a statement to the House?

Mr Speaker: I have not been so informed, and it is not strictly a point of order, although it is a point of very serious and pressing concern to the right hon. Lady and to others, and that concern will have been heard by Members on the Treasury Bench. If she judges it necessary, it might be a subject to which, if she is dissatisfied, she will want to return before long.

29 Jun 2011 : Column 981

Adoption (Leave, Pay and Allowance Arrangements)

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

Mr Speaker: We come now to the 10-minute rule motion, for which the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) has been patiently waiting.

1.52 pm

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Speaker. Follow that, as they say in all the best music halls.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision to equalise leave, pay and allowance arrangements for adoptive parents with those of parents whose children are born to them; to equalise eligibility for adoption leave and pay with that of maternity leave and pay; to equalise the rates of pay for the first six weeks of maternity leave and adoption leave; to equalise the entitlement to allowances for self-employed adopters and self-employed mothers; and for connected purposes.

I want to set out the current position, what these provisions would do and why the Bill is important. It all started in April this year, when I attended the annual delegates meeting of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers and heard the impassioned speeches from delegates who asked for adoptive parents to be given the same statutory rights as parents who have children born to them. I thank Neil Clarkson of USDAW and Adoption UK for their help with the background information, and of course the Library.

The Bill is not about who can adopt and why; it is about how adopters are treated in relation to statutory pay and leave when they do. If they were treated equally, perhaps more would come forward. The issues in my Bill, however, have been effectively overlooked, falling through the gap between the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, but I am pleased that the Government are currently looking at adoption, and the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), who has responsibility for children and families, has assembled a ministerial advisory group. I hope it will consider the measures in the Bill as part of its discussions.

There also need to be improvements in the support available for adoptive parents. That could be achieved by improving training and awareness for teachers, psychologists, paediatricians, social workers and health visitors. As some adopters have found, it is important that there is a greater awareness among professionals of the particular challenges faced by these children and their families.

Briefly, the statutory background is as follows. It was only in 1999 that adopting parents in the UK had a statutory right to any leave to care for their children. The Employment Act 2002 and subsequent regulations introduced a statutory right to paid adoption leave analogous to statutory maternity pay and maternity leave. From April 2003, adopting parents were also entitled to a period of paid adoption leave when the child is first placed with a family. The Work and Families Act 2006 extended statutory adoption pay to 39 weeks from April 2007.

29 Jun 2011 : Column 982

But statutory entitlements to adoption pay and leave are less than those for maternity pay and leave. The reasons for the differences were not specifically addressed in Committee debates. The Government arguably justify the differences on the ground of health, safety and welfare of women who have given birth, but adoptive parents face great challenges too in welcoming a new member of their family. They need time and support to bond with their child, and to understand the sometimes difficult background of their new child.

My Bill asks for the following. First, equal eligibility for maternity and adoption leave. Adoptive parents should be entitled to adoption leave irrespective of length of service, as are pregnant women. Pregnant women are entitled to a total of 52 weeks’ maternity leave, irrespective of their length of service—26 weeks’ ordinary maternity leave and 26 weeks’ additional maternity leave. The statutory entitlement for adoptive parents is also 52 weeks, but they must have completed 26 weeks’ continuous service with their employer.

Secondly, my Bill asks for equal rates of pay for the first six weeks of adoption and maternity leave. Statutory maternity pay is paid at 90% of the weekly average earnings for six weeks, and then the lower rate of statutory maternity pay or 90% of average earnings, whichever is the lower. But statutory adoption pay is paid at the lower rate throughout the 39 weeks of statutory adoption pay.

Thirdly, self-employed adopters should be eligible for a statutory allowance equivalent to maternity allowance. Self-employed adoptive mothers cannot access the equivalent of maternity allowance available to self-employed biological mothers.

What do some employers do now? Some employers have their own contractual policies, which make the entitlements more equal. Many civil service departments and agencies offer enhanced maternity leave and pay provision. But as Adoption UK has found out, many employers enhance maternity but not adoption packages, leading to double discrimination. I can give some examples.

At the Department for Work and Pensions, the eligibility for 52 weeks of adoption and maternity leave is equalised, as are levels of contractual maternity and adoption leave for employees with one year’s service. However, there is still a difference in the rate of pay for the first six weeks for those on the statutory package. At BIS, contractual adoption and maternity entitlements appear to be equalised: 52 weeks’ adoption leave and maternity leave are both entitlements regardless of the length of service. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office offers a statutory package, or contractual maternity/adoption pay, on full salary during 26 weeks’ ordinary maternity/adoption leave, subject to certain conditions including a year’s service. However, on the parliamentary estate, instead of matching the contractual maternity arrangements of six months on full pay, contractual adoption pay gives only two weeks on full pay. In an answer to me, the Department for Education says:

“All staff regardless of the length of service or appointment status are eligible for 28 weeks of maternity or adoption leave on full pay. All staff have the option to follow that with 24 weeks of unpaid maternity or adoption leave.”—[Official Report, 28 June 2011; Vol. 530, c. 758W.]

29 Jun 2011 : Column 983

What does the private sector do? I have heard from the John Lewis Partnership, which says that the eligibility for adoption leave still requires 26 weeks’ service. But it says:

“After a qualifying period of two years, we top up adoption pay to the partner’s contractual rate of pay for the first 14 weeks. We take exactly the same approach with maternity leave.”

The measures in the Bill are important, because it would show that society values adopters. There is a financial and social cost benefit of getting children out of care. In the 2009-10 financial year, around £3 billion was spent on looked-after children. That is a gross figure of £37,000 per child. The sad fact is that there are 64,400 children in local authority care in England. Only 3,200 were adopted during the year to 31 March 2010.

In conclusion, we should recognise and reward adopters, and show them that they are valued as parents, by equalising their entitlements to support. That would support the Government’s aim of increasing the number of adopters. The legislative changes are minor and the financial costs are minimal, and they are far outweighed by the benefits, in both the short and the long term. The changes that the legislation would make to the lives of adoptive parents would enable them to give their children the best start in their vital first year. Local authorities and adoption agencies placing children expect the new parents to take time off work of up to one year, and adoptive parents should be compensated in the way that birth parents are.

Perhaps the next child who is adopted and given a home will become the next Steve Jobs—inventor of the iPad, beloved of many Members—or the next KT Tunstall, the brilliant singer-songwriter; both those people were adopted. As Pablo Casals said:

“Each child is unique; each child is a marvel. We must all work hard to make the world worthy of its children.”

I am sure that the whole House agrees with that sentiment. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That Valerie Vaz, Ann Coffey, Julie Elliott, Yvonne Fovargue, Richard Harrington, Keith Vaz, Julie Hilling, Margaret Hodge, Grahame M. Morris and Fiona O’Donnell present the Bill.

Valerie Vaz accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on 20 January 2012, and to be printed (Bill 212).

29 Jun 2011 : Column 984

Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill

[Relevant documents: The Third Report from the Justice Committee, Government’s proposed reform of legal aid, HC 681, and the Government response, Cm 8111.]

Second Reading

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Before I call the Lord Chancellor, I should say that this Second Reading debate is well subscribed. There is an eight-minute limit on Back-Bench contributions. I ask Front Benchers from both sides to use their restraint, so that more Back Benchers can speak. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] I have never said anything so popular in my life.

Given the number who have subscribed, I ask Members not to approach the Chair to ask where they are on the list; those who have approached or written to Mr Speaker will be on the list.

2.3 pm

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Kenneth Clarke): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I shall try to observe your strictures, Mr Deputy Speaker, but this is a very large piece of legislation; I shall probably have to restrict the number of times I give way to interventions.

I am determined to reform the justice system in this country. Keeping the public safe, ensuring that those who break the law face the consequences and providing swift, cost-effective access to justice are fundamental responsibilities of the state towards its citizens. Yet the last 13 years of government have left us a system whose cost and scale have exploded and whose failings can no longer be tolerated.

In the area of criminal justice, more than 20 new Acts of Parliament, thousands of new criminal offences and a huge increase in the prison population cannot mask very deep flaws in the system. Briefly, our sentencing framework is a mess of byzantine complexity that even trained lawyers and judges—never mind the general public—find confusing.

Our punishments do not work. Community sentences are weak, asking little of offenders, and prisons have become so crowded that there is no space for governors to enforce regimes of meaningful work or reparation. Far too many prisoners are left idle in their cells, often on drugs. For that model, the taxpayer has the privilege of paying out an extraordinary sum—£44,000 per prison place per year. I have just been assured that the Ritz is even more expensive, so I slightly exaggerated, but £44,000 per prison place per year is enough to pay the salaries of two newly qualified nurses or teachers.

Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Lab) rose—

Mr Clarke: I give way to my predecessor.

Mr Straw: I am grateful to the Lord Chancellor. We have heard about this alleged litany of failures. When the right hon. and learned Gentleman was Home Secretary, crime was at a post-war peak on both the measures that the Prime Minister used to discuss crime at questions earlier today. Since then, burglaries have dropped by 70%, thefts by 50%, and crime overall by 50%. Is the fact that the Lord Chancellor never, ever refers to the

29 Jun 2011 : Column 985

outcomes of our record due to the fact that that happened mainly under us or the fact that the process started under his successor, Michael Howard?

Mr Clarke: The idea that I set off a crime wave when I was Home Secretary is a charge that I will answer on some other occasion, frankly. As far as the decline in crime is concerned, the biggest decline has been in theft because car manufacturers made cars more secure. The courts used to be full of taking and driving away offences, but are no longer because it is more difficult to take the cars.

The fall in burglary coincided with an economic boom—one of the consequences that came from it. The 20-plus Bills that the right hon. Gentleman and his predecessors brought before the House—more than one criminal justice Bill a year—and the countless changes in sentences filled up the prisons, but in my opinion had no provable, demonstrable effect at all on the levels of crime in this country.

Mr Straw rose—

Mr Clarke: The right hon. Gentleman is an ex-Front Bencher. I will give way to him later, but I should observe the strictures of Mr Deputy Speaker, although I enjoy debating with the right hon. Gentleman. I should move on a little further into my speech.

As the right hon. Gentleman has heard me say before, reoffending rates are a national scandal; that is why the system is failing. Half of offenders—49%—have been reconvicted, in part because the system is not tackling the underlying causes of their criminality such as drug abuse, poor mental health and inadequate skills. The consequence of that failure is new victims of crime every day. Despite improvement, victims and witnesses too often still get treated as an afterthought, not a central concern of justice. That is why we need intelligent, radical reform of the criminal justice system to protect and serve the needs of law-abiding members of society.

Chris Leslie (Nottingham East) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Lord Chancellor give way?

Mr Clarke: I will later, but let me deal with what we are having to tackle in civil justice. The sad truth is that it, too, has serious weaknesses. Courts should be accessible and efficient, but generally turned to as a place of last resort, not a first choice. But we have a litigious society and far too many cases go down the court route unnecessarily. Last year, more than three quarters of claims in the civil system set down to proceed to trial were settled before the trial took place. Many of those cases might have been resolved earlier, with different approaches aimed at simpler dispute resolution. Ordinary citizens find the law an expensive, daunting nightmare, not a public service.

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): Will the Lord Chancellor give way?

Mr Clarke: I will in a second. Courts are slow and burdened by high costs and bureaucratic processes and procedures. For example, the average length of a public family law case in 1989 was 12 weeks; by 2010, it stood at 53 weeks, with similar cases taking four times as long as they used to.

29 Jun 2011 : Column 986

Chris Leslie rose—

Joan Ruddock rose—

Mr Clarke: I give way to the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie).

Chris Leslie: I am grateful to the Lord Chancellor. Many victims of crime will be shocked at his proposals to limit the freedom of judges to remand a defendant in custody. Why is he limiting and fettering the ability of judges to put those defendants on remand?

Mr Clarke: I was going to argue this later; I will try to avoid repeating myself. I cannot understand why people are so incensed that people who are not going to be sent to prison might not be kept in prison awaiting trial. Every year, 16,000 people are refused bail, kept in prison, convicted and immediately given bail. A quarter of all the people kept in custody are released when they come up for trial. I shall come back to the matter, although I shall try to avoid repeating the same arguments. It seems to me that unless one is trying to fill up the prisons with people, that is one of the more obvious steps we can take. If they are not going to justify imprisonment when they get to trial, it seems to me pointless to refuse them bail, except in the case of domestic violence cases, where we have agreed to make an exception because we cannot grant bail to someone who is going back to live with the alleged victim of the domestic violence.

David T. C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): The Secretary of State will be aware that many people are remanded on bail because they refuse to turn up to court, causing the taxpayer all sorts of expense. Can he assure us that even if the crime committed is not one that would normally result in a jail sentence, people who consistently refuse to turn up to court will be remanded in custody?

Mr Clarke: Without fettering judicial discretion, I think I can give that assurance. There are all sorts of grounds on which bail can be refused. We are saying that where it is likely that a person will not be imprisoned when they come up for trial, they should not be refused bail.

Mr Straw: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr Clarke: No, I am sorry. I respect the right hon. Gentleman, but I must move on.

I have said that ordinary citizens find the civil law a rather nightmarish experience when they resort to it. Thanks to the present scope of legal aid and the way in which the no-win, no-fee system operates, many people and, in particular, many small businesses live in fear of legal action. I accept that access to justice for the protection of fundamental rights is vital for a democratic society—something on which I will not compromise. However, our current legal aid system can encourage people to bring their problems before the courts when the basic problem is not a legal one and would be better dealt with in other ways. The scope of legal aid has expanded too far. It cannot be right, for example, that the taxpayer is forced to pay for legal advice to foreign students whose visa applications are turned down. There are many other examples.

29 Jun 2011 : Column 987

Our legal aid system also faces a completely unignorable problem of affordability. I have listened to arguments in the media today challenging that, but we have by far the most expensive system in the world, after Northern Ireland, where I am sure the same problem will be tackled. It costs £39 per head of population in this country, each year, compared with £8 in, for example, New Zealand, which has a similar system of law. In any circumstances our system would need reform; in the country’s current financial crisis reform is imperative.

I have some advice for Labour Members. I do not usually give gratuitous advice, but I think the Labour party is facing one of the problems that we faced in 1997. It should find the courage to admit that it made some mistakes and left some things in a mess. It has been acknowledged by my opposite number, the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan), that, on Labour’s watch:

“Playing tough in order not to look soft made it harder to focus on what is effective”—

wise words. I thought, when we set off on this process of consultation, I had the widespread support of many Opposition Members. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to reflect on the way in which he started his consideration before he gets on with the rest of the debate.

In fact, when Labour was in office, its strategy for our prisons and our courts was legislative incontinence combined with kneejerk populism. On prisons, the Labour Government made the mistake of being unable to make proper provision for the demand for places that they stimulated. Overcrowding devoured the very budgets that should have been used productively to cut reoffending and improve public safety in a lasting way. What was the final result that we all remember? They had to reduce the release point from two thirds to halfway through the sentence. They then had to resort to the financial chicanery of keeping the cost of building prisons off the balance sheet—the so-called Carter prisons. Finally—the ultimate absurdity—they had to let out 80,000 prisoners early, before the end of their sentence, to offset the cost of the allegedly tougher sentences that they had imposed. That is why we need reform now—to reverse that nonsense.

On wider justice matters, the Labour Government proved little better at getting a grip. They had 30 consultations on legal aid from 2006; they did not act decisively, put the system on a sustainable footing or address the litigiousness to which its excessively widely available funding contributed.

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): My right hon. and learned Friend has had a consultation, to which I hope he has listened, particularly in respect of criminal negligence affecting children with multiple injuries that may have resulted from birth. It is not clear to me yet that the Government have found a way of ensuring that that very deserving and small group of people will have access to justice and to the settlements that they need.

Mr Clarke: We have addressed clinical negligence, a large part of which is now conducted on a no-win, no-fee basis. That is the way we should proceed. Clinical negligence cases of the kind to which the right hon. Gentleman refers are especially expensive and it is quite

29 Jun 2011 : Column 988

difficult to decide whether to proceed with them, so we are making special arrangements, particularly for the expensive medical reports that have to be obtained before a case can properly be decided on. We are making arrangements to make the insurance reimbursable in those cases. I would also like to see a system developed by the NHS litigation authority and the best of the practitioners to exchange expert medical reports at a very early stage, so that we can avoid unnecessary litigation about whether a tragic disaster to a newborn baby was actually a natural tragedy or the result of negligence, and so that such cases need not drag on for the many years that they can take to go through the courts. I accept that that is a special case, and we considered it carefully during the consultation. We made quite a lot of changes during the consultation, some of which were referred to dramatically in outside comment.

Nicky Morgan (Loughborough) (Con) rose

Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South) (Lab) rose

Mr Clarke: I shall take two last interventions, and then I really must move on.

Nicky Morgan: I hear what the Secretary of State says about the failure of the last Government to tackle the burgeoning legal aid system. Did they not also fail to tackle the complexity of other departmental work that our citizens advice bureaux, which do such valuable work, help with—for example, Department for Work and Pensions forms? The Government’s response hints at a review of some of the other parts of legal aid which will inevitably have to be cut. Will the Secretary of State give more detail about that review and about whether the burden will be shared across Departments?

Mr Clarke: Yes, I will. I try to avoid jumping from subject to subject, because it is such an enormous Bill, but I promise my hon. Friend that I shall return to the whole question of alternative forms of advice and the CABs, and make an announcement at a later stage in the proceedings on the Bill.

Bridget Phillipson: Another aspect of the changes to legal aid is the removal of legal aid from women applying for indefinite leave to remain under the domestic violence rule. In an answer to a parliamentary question, the Minister for Immigration reported that only 710 women were granted that, so we are not talking about a considerable number, but they are very vulnerable individuals. Will the Secretary of State think again on that aspect of his proposals?

Mr Clarke: I think that we have responded to that to some extent. The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly), will wind up the debate, and he will have time to consider the matter.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): And so will others.

Mr Clarke: Indeed. Ministers have talked about the matter and considered it carefully, and I leave it to my hon. Friend to give an authoritative reply in his winding-up speech.

29 Jun 2011 : Column 989

I hope that I have already indicated that the mess that we have inherited requires a bold, sustained and principled effort, not salami slicing and half-measures. The Bill is one part of the balanced package of reforms that is needed. Unusually, I made a full statement to the House last week on the subject, and it was debated for one and a half hours, so I do not propose to repeat in depth what I said then. Let me turn to the inevitable controversy that any measures on criminal sentencing are bound to provoke. It is a natural part of contemporary political debate to simplify the subject and to make extremes out of it all. I am resigned to the fact that on law and order issues above all there is a tendency to polarise, and to frame reforms as either dry and tough, or wet, soft and liberal. The truth is somewhere in between. The aim of the measures I proposed was to consult on a balanced package, and it remains so.

The measures address the weaknesses that we inherited. For serious crime, the public must have confidence in the system of effective punishment and just retribution, so my reforms include, for example, introducing a 40-hour working week across the prison estate to introduce productive hard work into prisons in place of enforced idleness.

The Bill toughens community sentences by allowing courts to curfew offenders for longer—16 hours a day for up to 12 months—and to ban them from going abroad. As I signalled last week, we intend to introduce measures to clarify householders’ rights of defence and to consult on criminalising squatting.

The Bill creates a new offence of possessing a knife to threaten or endanger a person, with a prison sentence of at least six months for over-18s to send a clear message to those who possess a knife to threaten others.

We are conducting a review with the intention of replacing the discredited sentence whereby people are locked up for an undetermined and indefinite time—the so-called imprisonment for public protection—with a tough determinate sentencing regime. I propose to deliver a system that offers better reparation to victims. The Bill will replace and augment the Prisoners’ Earnings Act 1996, which the previous Government never implemented—it was a Conservative measure. This will allow us to deduct wages from prisoners so that instead of their just being a drain on the system we can deduct money to help to pay for services for the victims of crime. The Bill places a positive obligation on courts to make offenders pay compensation directly to victims.

Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): The Lord Chancellor mentions the review of indeterminate sentences. My concern is that he will reach the wrong conclusion. When he conducts his review will he look at experience in Northern Ireland, where extended and indeterminate sentences have been available since 2008 but where, crucially, the assessment of danger is left in the hands of judges? It is a smaller system, but in the three years since its introduction there have been only 63 extended sentences and seven indeterminate sentences. Public safety has been combined with manageable numbers: will he look at that experience?

Mr Clarke: We are having a review, so I will look at that. Legislation was enacted in 2003, in the belief that a few hundred people might be affected. It commenced in 2005. The previous Government, of whom the right

29 Jun 2011 : Column 990

hon. Gentleman was a member, tried to reform it in 2008, because it was already out of control. I proposed further reforms in the Green Paper, and a very large number of people in the criminal justice system said that the legislation should be repealed. Last week, I quoted David Thomas, the author of “Thomas on Sentencing”, who described the whole thing as an unmitigated disaster. I will look into the right hon. Gentleman’s suggestion to see whether some aspects of the Northern Irish system might be appropriate.

After punishment and reparation comes rehabilitation to reduce reoffending, which is at the core of our process of reform. Sentences must be punitive and reformative. The Bill will help to ensure that more offenders with drugs, alcohol or mental health problems are addressed and receive treatment at the earliest opportunity.This complicates our efforts—

Chris Bryant: Complicates?

Mr Clarke: Complements—it might do both, but I hope it will complement our efforts to tackle drugs in prison.

Drugs are widely available in prisons, but we shall start by introducing drug-free wings. My single most radical proposal on rehabilitation is a non-legislative change to introduce a fundamental shift in how we approach the issue by paying by results to unlock private capital, benefit from the innovation of the voluntary sector and get the whole system pulling in the same direction. We will pay providers a return on their ethical investment for what works in the public interest: turning criminals into ex-criminals should be an object of the system.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I am interested in the Secretary of State’s comments on the number of people in our prisons who, unfortunately, suffer from mental illness and need support and treatment, which is often inadequate. Will he recognise the greater problem: that many people who need support with mental illness or who are experiencing mental health crises do not get it, and there are insufficient resources and insufficient understanding among the police and others that the real cause of minor offences often is mental illness and nothing else. We need a more sympathetic, supportive and therapeutic approach to dealing with these poor, unfortunate people.

Mr Clarke: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health agrees with the hon. Gentleman and me. My ministerial team and my right hon. Friend’s ministerial team have been holding discussions. My right hon. Friend has a strategy for trying to improve mental health services to the population as a whole. As part of that we are addressing what can be done to help the mentally ill who find themselves in prison. Some of them should be diverted from the criminal justice system altogether; some can be better treated in secure accommodation in the national health service; and many can be treated better than they are at present when being incarcerated in prison is not suitable. I assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend and I share his concern.

Underpinning punishment, reparation and rehabilitation is what might be called system reform—simplification, restoration of discretion to judges and the relief of

29 Jun 2011 : Column 991

unnecessary pressures on the system. At the same time we must take a more robust approach to costs in the system, including that of prison. We have already shown that through competition it is possible to get prison costs down while improving service quality. Key measures in the Bill include reforming the use of remand. I dealt with this a moment ago. I have told the House that preventing reoffending is the central idea of my reforms. One of the main barriers to doing things in the past few years has been the fact that the prisons have been clogged up, sometimes with people who do not need to be there at all. I will not repeat the arguments that I made a moment ago that give rise to the part of the Bill that restricts the power of courts to remand those who have no reasonable prospect of receiving a custodial sentence, with the exception that I have already described of cases of domestic violence.

Mr Straw: In answer to the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies) the Secretary of State said that where a defendant failed to return to court on time, the court would still be able to remand him in custody so that he could get to court. The Secretary of State clearly spoke in error, because if he looks at page 166 of his own Bill he will see that paragraph (5) to schedule 10 makes it absolutely clear that even where a defendant has failed to surrender to bail and has been arrested he cannot be detained in custody to appear in court unless there is a real prospect of his subsequently being sentenced to imprisonment. How will the public be made safer or witnesses protected by that?

Mr Clarke: I will address the extent to which we retain discretion, as determined under the bail Acts, according to which bail is granted or refused. In 2010, more than 16,000 people were in custody but were released when they appeared for trial and either pleaded guilty or were convicted. Continuing a system whereby people are refused bail when everyone knows that they will not be imprisoned if convicted is a very wasteful use of a very expensive place in our prison system.

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con): Someone who breaches bail commits a criminal offence and can therefore, and usually does, receive a custodial sentence, especially if they did not attend court when they should have.

Mr Clarke: I am grateful. My hon. Friend has been in practice much more recently than the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) or I have. We will doubtless continue to study this after the debate.

The sentencing reforms are balanced. Again, I shall quote the words of my shadow, the right hon. Member for Tooting, who when I first published them in the Green Paper described them as

“a perfectly sensible vision for a sentencing policy”,

and they will in my view achieve a very significant transformation.

That brings me to the rest of the Bill covering legal aid and provision on litigation and funding. No Government look to tackle legal aid lightly, but the system as it stands is obviously unaffordable. Labour had 30 goes at fixing it between 2006 and the end of their period in office and we have sought to go back and think about what the taxpayer should pay for by way of

29 Jun 2011 : Column 992

litigation from first principles. Our priority is cases where people’s life or liberty is at stake, where they are at risk of serious physical harm or immediate loss of their home or where their children may be taken into care. After our reforms, legal aid will routinely be available in 25 areas, including for criminal cases, for most judicial review proceedings, for private family law cases involving domestic violence, child abuse and child abduction, for community care, for debt where the home is at immediate risk, for mental health cases and for cases concerning special educational needs. We modified our original proposals in response to consultation, listening carefully to the thousands of responses that we received.

Legal aid will no longer be routinely available in 13 areas, including most private family law cases, clinical negligence cases, non-discrimination employment cases, immigration cases, some debt and housing issues, some education cases and welfare benefits cases.

Mr Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): How does the Lord Chancellor square what he is saying with what Baroness Hale of the Supreme Court has said about this being a ludicrous Bill and how these provisions will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable in society, particularly people from ethnic minorities?

Mr Clarke: I have always had a high regard for Baroness Hale, who is a very distinguished lawyer, and I have heard of her opinions. I shall have to study them and perhaps even meet her to discuss them, because I am surprised by her response. Where we started from was ensuring that we did not damage access to justice for vulnerable people in matters of such importance that society as a whole would want to be sure that they were protected. Either she has misunderstood the effect of our proposals or why we are doing it. We have to get back to spending an affordable amount of money on paying for things that the taxpayer should actually pay for to defend the vulnerable. We all start as lawyers, let alone as citizens, with a slight bias in favour of legal aid because everyone is used to it, but the scale of legal aid has expanded, its scope is too wide and it needs to be reformed.

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): I am grateful to the Lord Chancellor for saying that legal aid will be available to defend the vulnerable. I declare an interest as one who has been a duty solicitor in the police station. I would like him to consult carefully about the practical implementation of proposals to limit legal aid for advice and assistance in police stations, given that his officials no doubt bear the scars of previous implementations that became bureaucratic nightmares. Losing the benefit of the informed legal advice that one needs in the police station can lead to inefficient justice.

Mr Clarke: We will look at that and consider it carefully as we proceed. At the moment, the Bill replicates a provision taken from an earlier Bill by the Labour party. It appears to give a power to take away the right to legal aid. It appears to give a power to take away access to legal advice in the police station. The last Government legislated to do that but never did it. We have no current intentions of doing it. We will consider the issue and no doubt my hon. Friend or others will return to it in Committee. I realise that there has been some concern.

29 Jun 2011 : Column 993

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): At the annual general meeting of Liberty earlier this month, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) said that the Government should reconsider their plans to remove certain categories of social welfare law, at least for a period while Government reforms elsewhere in the system—such as welfare reforms—create increased demand for advice. Will the Lord Chancellor accept that excellent advice from his right hon. Friend and protect those categories of legal aid, at least during a transition period?

Mr Clarke: We have consulted very carefully on legal aid, on both parts. We have made quite significant changes to what we originally proposed. On welfare benefits, we are still of the opinion that the welfare system was not intended to provide a source of litigation where legal advice was required to take an appeal in the last resort to a tribunal. That was not intended to be a legalistic activity but to try to apply what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security is trying to make more comprehensible by dealing with the rules of entitlement to social security in a sensible fashion. I do not think it is a promising area for legal advice.

Joan Ruddock: I was present at Lady Hale’s lecture and wrote down what she said:

“Courts should be and are a last resort but they should be a last resort which is accessible to all––rich and poor alike.”

Let me tell the Lord Chancellor this now: my constituents are people who need advice on immigration, on welfare and on housing and whose very lives can be wrecked by the fact that they cannot get legal assistance. Where am I to send them? How are they to get justice with the provisions in his Bill on legal aid and on no win, no fee?

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. May I remind the House how many Members wish to contribute? Our mission should be to limit our interventions.

Mr Clarke: I have already said that access to justice is fundamental, but the fact is that the taxpayer’s money cannot be used to give access to justice to large numbers of people in large areas of law where the ordinary citizen would not contemplate litigating because the ordinary citizen on an ordinary income would not think that they could afford to embark on it. That is why we consulted very carefully. We concentrated on vulnerable people and on those areas that were of such importance that society as a whole would plainly feel that there was a need to finance people of limited means so that they could have access to justice. I ask the right hon. Lady to judge all our proposals on that basis. Lady Hale seemed to think that we were abolishing other access on the basis that people were using it too much. That is not the reason. But we do have a system that is four times as expensive as that of New Zealand. We have to concentrate the mind and decide what it is justified to expect the taxpayer to pay for.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Clarke: I shall follow your helpful steer, Mr Deputy Speaker, and make progress. I realise that these are important matters, but I could find myself giving way to everyone in the Chamber.

29 Jun 2011 : Column 994

Few of these are easy choices, but they often involve disputes about financial issues rather than life and liberty. It is sensible to give such things as financial disputes a lower relative priority. It is sensible, too, to address areas that the public consider unreasonable. For example, we are cutting out legal aid for squatting. Following representations from the Judges Council, we are ending legal aid for some repeat judicial reviews on immigration and asylum cases that have already had a hearing and where repeated review is being used only to obstruct and delay proceedings.

Across some of these areas, reformed no win, no fee arrangements will be available, but our broader ambition is that people will be encouraged to use alternative, less adversarial means of resolving many of these important problems. For private family law cases, the Government are increasing spending on mediation and legal advice in support of mediation by two thirds, or £10 million, to a total of £25 million a year. Mediation has a high success rate––about 75%––in resolving most of the family disputes that go before it.

We have made no blanket funding exclusions. The Bill establishes an exceptional funding scheme for exceptional cases, administered by a statutory office holder free of ministerial control. That will provide funding for an excluded case where in the particular circumstances the failure to provide support would be likely to result in breach of the individual’s right to legal aid under the Human Rights Act 1998 or European law.

Elizabeth Truss (South West Norfolk) (Con): Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr Clarke: Let me deal with this important point, because I have heard widespread concern, including from my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan), about the future of not-for-profit advice centres. I agree that they do important work in providing quality, worthwhile advice of the kind required by very many people who should not need adversarial lawyers. Legal aid represents only one of several income streams for many organisations, with 85% of citizens advice bureaux funding coming from other sources. Half of all bureaux get no legal aid funds at all. This issue needs to be, and has been, considered on a cross-Government, interdepartmental basis. We are working with the sector and across Government to ensure that the Government reforms help to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the advice services available to the public, and we will provide up to £20 million of additional funding in this financial year to help achieve that. We are also, of course, mindful of the impact of reforms beyond this financial year and will continue to consider the issues arising from that.

Elizabeth Truss: Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Oliver Heald (North East Hertfordshire) (Con): Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr Clarke: Not at the moment; I shall carry on a little further.

In addition to the changes to the scope of legal aid, the Bill includes wider reform provisions, as some reform of the situation that we inherited is urgently and obviously

29 Jun 2011 : Column 995

needed. I do not believe the public understand a system that can pay out millions of pounds from taxpayer-provided central funds to compensate acquitted companies and wealthy people for their legal costs, whether that involves the £21 million paid to the firms in the Hatfield rail crash case, the £18 million paid to a number of pharmaceutical firms accused of price fixing, or the hundreds of thousands of pounds that have on occasion gone to celebrities accused of affray, assault and other crimes.

Part 2 of the Bill therefore establishes that defendants who decline legal aid and pay privately in the higher criminal courts will no longer be able to recover the costs of an expensive private lawyer if acquitted. In the magistrates’ courts, the sums recoverable will be limited to legal aid rates. Firms will be expected to insure against criminal prosecutions, and will no longer be able to recover costs from the taxpayer.

The Bill is therefore about delivering reform across the justice system, and we have tried to think about that in a joined-up way. Let us consider problems often affecting women—about which Lady Hale was concerned when she spoke the other day. For victims of crime, I have recently announced funding for 15 rape crisis centres on a more secure long-term basis than in the past and funding for four new centres. For women using the justice system, in our legal aid reforms we are prioritising those cases where there is greatest risk of harm, retaining legal aid for cases involving domestic violence, child abuse and child abduction, and we have broadened the range of evidence accepted.

In private family law, the taxpayer is increasing funding for mediation and legal advice in support of mediation. More broadly on family cases, part 2 of the Bill extends the powers for courts to require one party to pay towards the other’s legal bills in some cases where resources are not equal. For example, when a couple have parted and the man remains very prosperous whereas the woman is almost penniless and is seeking some remedy, the court will have the power to require one party to pay towards the other’s costs. In public family law, the taxpayer will still be providing more than £400 million for family legal aid.

For female offenders in the criminal justice system, we have not replaced—and I have never proposed replacing—short-term prison sentences with community sentences, but if we can increase confidence that community sentences will be meaningfully punitive, they could make the justice system more sensible in some situations, such as in ensuring that there are decent non-penal options for offenders with caring responsibilities where their being sent to prison would cause chaos for innocent children in their families. In dealing with women prisoners and offenders, we are, in fact, proceeding on a very similar basis to the previous Government.

My vision is a legal system that is substantially reformed. In addition to implementing changes to legal aid and the Jackson proposals on no win, no fee, my Department is developing and supporting work to improve civil legal processes, criminal justice efficiency and family justice. It is a measure of the challenge before us that the Bill, which on any measure is a huge Leviathan of a piece of proposed legislation, is only part of the overall reforms we need to deliver. The changes we are making are, of course, financially necessary, but they will also make the system more sensible and civilised.

29 Jun 2011 : Column 996

I never shrink from robust debate about improvement to important and sensitive public services, and changes in the criminal law have always excited an extraordinary level of controversy, and they always will. If we get this right, however, the prize is a justice system that properly contributes to a safer, fairer society, and a justice system that is user-friendly, that works, that does not deny access to justice and that has less daunting waste, with costs under control. I would, in fact, have liked to introduce such a major reforming Bill 20 years ago, if I had stayed long enough at the Home Office. I now have the opportunity to do so, and I commend the Bill to the House.

2.45 pm

Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): I usually take all interventions, but today I shall try to observe your recent stricture on that, Mr Deputy Speaker, as I know that many colleagues wish to discuss the Bill.

The Government’s approach to criminal justice is in tatters. We have a hotch-potch that does nothing to win the confidence of victims, of people in the justice system or of the public at large. This Bill is controversial as much for what is absent as for what has found its way in. Key policy areas that were consulted on are absent and others are to be the subject of further review, while there are some clauses on issues that were not consulted on at all. The Lord Chancellor knows as well as I do that within weeks, if not days, of this Bill moving to Committee, there will be a flood of new amendments and new clauses. After 13 months, three Green Papers and three consultations, there is no excuse.

Last week, the Prime Minister unveiled the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s legislation in his absence. A number of eye-catching proposals were announced on squatting, self-defence and knife crime. The favourable coverage they received was precisely the Prime Minister’s aim. Suddenly, because of the Prime Minister’s last-minute intervention, the Bill was spun as being tough on crime. Even the words “punishment of offenders” found their way into the name of the Bill, but we must be clear from the start: the clause on knife crime is still a Conservative broken promise. It is not what the party promised in its manifesto. The new offence of aggravated knife possession carries a mandatory six-month sentence, but applies to a much narrower category of cases of those caught carrying a knife. The offence of aggravated knife possession is using a knife to threaten someone, and that is already a crime; the sentencing guidelines already recommend a minimum sentence of six months. It is not even properly mandatory. A court will not have to hand down the sentence; it will be up to the judge to decide, given the circumstances of the case or the offender. Knife crime is a persistent and worrying concern, and it impacts in particular on young people and the disadvantaged. It is unclear how this hollow proposal will help communities blighted by knife crime.

Two other headline grabbers—squatting and self-defence against burglars—are not even in the Bill, but as the Justice Secretary has admitted today, the provisions on self-defence will not be a new law; they are just a reiteration of the existing law. This is yet another chapter in a rather depressing story that has been repeated since May 2010: a string of broken promises on criminal justice. Before the election, there was a commitment to match Labour’s prison building programme. Instead,

29 Jun 2011 : Column 997

spend has been slashed to almost zero. The Tories promised minimum and maximum sentencing, but that has now also been ditched, and the electorate were promised that those caught carrying a knife would face the presumption of jail, yet what we have been presented with is entirely different.

Let me also give an accurate account of our record. The Justice Secretary inherited levels of crime that were 43% lower than in 1997; crime went down under Labour. He inherited a system with a greater focus on diversion for those with mental health problems and drug dependencies. He inherited a capital programme upgrading and expanding our prison estate. He inherited innovative payment-by-results schemes, including the one he now boasts about in Peterborough. Reoffending, particularly among young people, fell under Labour, thanks to investment in effective intervention programmes now threatened by his Government. This Bill risks all that progress.

That has generated an impressive coalition opposed to the plans, from the judiciary, victims groups, legal organisations, charities that act on behalf of some of the most vulnerable in society, and some of the Justice Secretary’s own party’s Back Benchers—but not, I note, from the Liberal Democrat Benches. Briefing note after briefing note from organisations as diverse as Scope and Justice demonstrate that the Prime Minister’s perceived rescue of the justice Bill is fooling no one.

I support penal reforms, but these are the wrong reforms: carelessly thought out, badly framed, confusingly argued, weakly handled and grossly under-resourced from the start. It will be communities around the country that suffer.

Mr Kenneth Clarke: I am glad to hear that the right hon. Gentleman is in favour of penal reform, but he has not, so far as I am aware, made a single suggestion on that. Will he give us one or two examples of the liberal reforms that he has in mind?

Sadiq Khan: The right hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware of our progress in relation to mental health, following the Bradley report, which he has now agreed to follow with a reduced budget. He will also be aware of the work done by Corston on diverting women away from prison, and of payment by results. He knows that he has under-resourced the work that we began, and he is putting our strategy at risk.

Shambolic, last-minute changes to the Bill have left a £140 million black hole in the Justice Secretary’s plans. The Prime Minister has said that that money will need to be found within the Ministry of Justice budget, and the Justice Secretary admitted this morning that he is not sure where he will find it. The House needs to know the exact details. The progress of the Bill depends on knowing where that money will come from, and what implications that might have on other spend.

Why do we have this problem? We have it because the Justice Secretary simply failed to argue his corner with the Treasury. He boasted that he did not wish to be involved in a “macho contest” with Cabinet colleagues over who could have the smallest budget cut. The figures are testimony to that: his budget cut of 23% is one of the biggest in Whitehall. As a result, that is how he justifies his ill-thought-out policies. Cuts to prison, probation and the legal aid budget all stem from his lackadaisical attitude towards the Treasury. He needs to

29 Jun 2011 : Column 998

realise that he is no longer the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but the Lord Chancellor. His justice policy is retrofitted around his prison population reduction target, which is in turn driven by the 23% budget cuts. Our justice system deserves a better advocate.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that in November, he said:

“Let me be clear: had we been in government today, we, too, would have been announcing savings to the legal aid budget”?—[Official Report, 15 November 2010; Vol. 518, c. 663.]

Will he set out precisely from where those savings in the legal aid budget would come?

Sadiq Khan: I have done that before and I shall do so again in a while—[ Interruption. ] I am happy to answer that question.

The Justice Secretary’s remand policies demonstrate how budget cutting is taking priority over the best interests of our justice system. Defendants will not be remanded in custody when there is “no real prospect” of a custodial sentence being handed down. The Government’s victims commissioner, Louise Casey, says:

“Victims’ groups during consultation have expressed alarm”

at those proposals. The Magistrates Association and the Sentencing Council have also expressed opposition. The Sentencing Council states that

“in some cases it will not be clear until the conclusion of the trial/the preparation of the pre-sentence report whether the offence in fact merits a custodial sentence.”

The council reminds us that

“The primary reason for remanding a defendant in custody is that he or she will fail to attend court”;

or that there is a “risk of further offending”; and/or that

“there may be a good reason to believe that the defendant will interfere with witnesses”.

Does the Justice Secretary not realise that that change is likely to deter witnesses and victims from coming forward?

Lords Justices Thomas and Goldring both raised the genuine concern that

“the decision whether or not to grant bail is quite separate from the decision as to the eventual sentence”,

yet they have been ignored. In this Chamber last week, when ditching his 50% sentence reduction proposal, the Justice Secretary said that he had

“paid particular regard to the legal opinions that”


“was getting from serious members of the judiciary and others”.—[Official Report, 21 June 2011; Vol. 530, c. 169.]

It is disappointing that he has ignored not only Lady Justice Hale, but the concerns of the senior judiciary and others on the remand policy, and that he has not removed it from the Bill.

Indeterminate sentences for public protection are notable by their absence from the Bill—that is another example of the shambles that the Justice Secretary is in. He has talked of the need to reform the system of IPPs, the use of which had mushroomed well beyond the original purpose. IPPs have a role as they were originally envisaged, and I acknowledge the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) to reform them.

29 Jun 2011 : Column 999

This Government proposed a new approach to IPPs in their Green Paper, which were subsequently consulted on, as has been said. They favoured raising the minimum tariff to a 10-year determinate sentence before an IPP can be enforced—a length of sentence beyond that handed down for violent and sexual offences including rape and assault. We were opposed to that. However, there is nothing whatever in the Bill about that. The Justice Secretary today confirmed that he will be getting rid of IPPs, but he has also announced an urgent review of them. Has he not pre-empted the outcome of his review? My right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins) raised the interesting point about learning lessons from Northern Ireland, but the Justice Secretary will not do so, because he has already made his mind up, putting cost over the protection of the public.

Labour’s position on IPPs is clear: offenders must be punished and reformed. They must not pose a risk to the public and proper due process must be followed before their release, supported by courses and programmes and an effectively resourced Parole Board, to allow rehabilitation to take place. We will not accept plans that water down the protection given to the public by IPPs. We believe that there is a continuing role for IPPs. They should be reserved for very serious and violent offenders—those who are the biggest risk to the public—as was their original purpose.

The Justice Secretary’s solution appears to be mandatory life sentences for all those deemed to be a serious danger to the public if released. He has no idea if that will lead to the prison population going up or down, and no idea what he will do about those who have served their minimum tariff who are on an IPP. Why is he so unwilling to invest in programmes, courses and the Parole Board to address offender behaviour?

The absence of IPPs from the Bill has created further questions about the Secretary of State’s budget. As a result, the impact assessment is incomplete. Moreover, the Prime Minister last week appeared to announce more mandatory life sentences and longer determinate sentences, and that serious offenders would serve at least two thirds of their sentence. However, those proposals—those new policies—are absent from the Bill. Given that one of the causes of the backlog in IPPs is a shortage of suitable courses and resources for the Parole Board, how does he expect the two-third sentence proposals to avoid running into exactly the same resource issues as IPPs? Utter shambles!

Legal aid is another important issue. Our legal aid system was established as a fundamental pillar of the post-war welfare state. Clement Attlee’s Government rightly recognised that equality in the face of the law should not be undermined by a lack of finance. Therefore, it is bitterly disappointing that the Bill has made only minimal changes to the cuts proposed in the Green Paper. On the day when the Green Paper was published, I accepted that the Opposition, too, would have made cuts to the legal aid budget. However, I asked the Justice Secretary to look again at the areas he was targeting. He has not done so.

As a result, the weight of opposition to the proposals remains huge. He is damned by the numerous campaigning groups representing some of the most vulnerable people

29 Jun 2011 : Column 1000

in society, the 31 charities that wrote last week to



in protest, the Law Society, the Bar Council and other members of the judiciary, and yet he has ignored their concerns—




I will let hon. Members know right now the Opposition’s view of legal aid. We oppose the cuts to social welfare legal aid—the kind of early-stage advice provided by law centres and citizens advice bureaux on debt, housing, welfare benefits and education issues—because of the disproportionate way that they will affect the most needy in our society. The result, as campaigning group Justice has said, will be the “economic cleansing” of our civil courts. Some estimates suggest that more than 700,000 people will have their access to justice taken away.

That is compounded by the disproportionate impact that the proposals will have on women, in particular because of the definition of domestic violence. Once again, this Government are hitting women the hardest.

Ms Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that one problem the Government have so far failed to address is ensuring the sustainability of the law firms, centres and practices across the country? It is not just a question of individuals losing their service; those centres and that provision will be undermined, and in many cases, face collapse.

Sadiq Khan: My hon. Friend is right to remind the House that if we are not careful, the country will become an advice desert for the poor and the vulnerable as a result of that policy.

The previous Labour Government always strove to protect social welfare legal aid. Our March 2010 proposals, which have been strangely ignored by this Government, would have generated savings sufficient to protect social welfare legal aid. The Justice Secretary’s changes will have a huge impact on the viability of many law centres, CABs and high street practices up and down the country that do an enormous amount to provide access to justice for some of our most deprived citizens. Do hon. Members know what the irony of that is? It is that this is the time when they need that advice most. A whole swathe of society is losing the ability to exercise its legal rights, with women particularly affected. The Lord Chief Justice has warned that the proposals will damage access to justice, and Citizens Advice has warned that the cuts will leave hundreds of thousands with nowhere to turn for help and has demonstrated the savings to the taxpayer down the line from early intervention: £1 of legal expenditure on housing advice will save the state £2.34, and on benefits advice the saving is £8.80. So there is a moral as well as an economic case for not cutting in this way. As the Justice Secretary knows, the Lord Chief Justice warned that legal aid cuts risked a surge in litigants in person, with all the associated increase in stress and costs.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Jonathan Djanogly) rose—

Sadiq Khan: The Minister will have a chance to wind up the debate later, but we now have less than four hours remaining, so I will not give way.

The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) mentioned clause 12, which is of real concern and seeks to loosen the systems that guarantee free access to a

29 Jun 2011 : Column 1001

solicitor upon arrest, which were established in the 1980s, when the Justice Secretary was in government—although it was a Labour idea—on the back of a number of high-profile miscarriages of justice. However, he has failed to justify to the House why he is seeking the change in clause 12, which we think should be deleted from the Bill. When the Minister winds up, I hope he will say that it will be deleted before we reach our deliberations in Committee.

The Government’s proposals on civil litigation are driven primarily by their zeal to fix the so-called compensation culture. However, by cherry-picking the Jackson report recommendations, the Bill runs the risk of undermining access to justice, which is something that the introduction of no win, no fee sought to guarantee. We will scrutinise those clauses closely.

Mr Djanogly: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sadiq Khan: I will not.

The Justice Secretary never had a credible strategy for achieving his rehabilitation revolution. His plans are fatally flawed and always were, and he has demonstrated that he is not on the side of victims. His use of language on rape sentencing, his original 50% sentence reduction proposals and the reduction in the use of remand in custody show that in no sense does he understand that victims and witnesses need to have confidence in the justice system and feel that it is safe in his hands. By taking from judges the ability to remand people in custody in cases they think appropriate, and by abolishing IPPs, he has not explained how he will give judges the tools they need to keep communities safe and to cut crime.

Oliver Heald: Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the move towards more mediation in family courts? It is an important area and something that should be welcomed. I do not know whether he would agree, but it is one of the Bill’s central provisions.

Sadiq Khan: In the short time left to me, I am happy to welcome that proposal. As the hon. Gentleman will know, however, we need investment in training mediators. It is all well and good trying to divert people away from the courts, but we hope that the Government will train more mediators.

The Government’s figures do not add up. Overall, 10,000 members of prison and probation staff will lose their jobs, yet the Justice Secretary expects much more for less: more rehabilitation and more treatment for those with mental health problems and drug dependency. But how will that be funded? A chunk of his savings was due to stem from a lower prison population, but given how the Bill has been filleted of its ill-thought-out sentencing proposals, where does he think the prison population will be in two years? Will it be higher or lower? I look forward to hearing the Government’s ideas.

The debacle that is this Bill has shown up the Government’s justice policy for what it is—incoherent, inconsistent and obsessed with cutting costs. It is a shoddy Bill that does not focus on what cuts crime, protects the public, reforms offenders and puts victims first, nor will it continue to ensure access to justice

29 Jun 2011 : Column 1002

for many of the most vulnerable in society, particularly women. The Justice Secretary has failed to accept the alternatives offered to make savings to the legal aid bill and has stuck to his original plans, which will have a devastating impact on the most vulnerable in society. No doubt many Government Members will speak in favour of the Bill. I gently remind them, however, that last month, when we debated the 50% sentencing discount, many of them were marched up to the top of the hill by the Grand Old Duke of Rushcliffe, only for a humiliating march back down again a couple of weeks later. No doubt Government Members now regret making all those loyal contributions. I hope they will think carefully about how they vote tonight. One thing is for sure, however: we intend to vote against a Second Reading for this shoddy Bill.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. There is an eight-minute limit on Back-Bench contributions, but clearly hon. Members do not have to take eight minutes. There is injury time for two interventions, but they do not have to take any of those either.

3.5 pm

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): The Bill deals with two important issues on which the Justice Committee has reported. Sentencing was at the core of our report on justice reinvestment towards the end of the previous Parliament, and it has been the subject of several reports on Sentencing Council guidelines. The Government’s legal aid proposals were also examined in detail in our March report.

The content of the Bill was originally the product of two major and conflicting factors: the need to respond to the financial crisis and the Lord Chancellor’s determination to make the criminal justice system more effective in preventing crime and more cost-effective in the use of resources. We recognise the financial circumstances and we welcome the willingness to think radically. Recently, however, the Bill got ambushed, and some of its content and a lot of its presentation—not to mention its title—were the subject of No. 10’s preoccupation with getting favourable tabloid headlines. Evidence-based policy does not tend to prevail in those circumstances. It is not clear, for example, that the knife crime provisions will add anything to the existing practice of the courts, which take threats involving knives very seriously, and rightly so. Personally I am not so concerned about the dropping of the 50% discounts, which had nothing to do with encouraging appropriate sentencing. The problem is, however, that, although it was unlikely ever to achieve the £100 million of savings that were canvassed for it, the Department is now expected to find alternative savings to replace them.

Thankfully, the baby has not been thrown out with the bathwater. The Lord Chancellor is still pursuing his objective of making community sentences strong and effective enough to win more confidence from both the judiciary and the public. Furthermore, payment by results will, as part of the reform of the probation service’s vital work, continue—we will be reporting on that subject shortly. We are also getting rid of the disastrous indeterminate sentences and replacing them with life sentences in the most serious cases.

29 Jun 2011 : Column 1003

The Bill could, however, have begun a process leading to the commissioning of prison and probation services more locally and by the same body. Until we do that, we will not encourage rational sentencing. Resources will not be available for things such as drug treatment and intensive supervision if they are automatically taken up by the constant expansion of the prison system. Members have a responsibility to use money effectively to prevent crime—that is what we are engaged in—and not to give people the answer that seems the most obvious one. We have a responsibility to prevent them from suffering from crime in the future by spending money as effectively as we can.

The Committee recognises the need to contain and reduce spending on the world’s most expensive legal aid system, but it has serious concerns about some of the groups affected. We suggested alternative ways of making savings, including better court and case management and restrictions on legal aid for judicial review—we welcome the Government’s moves on aspects of that latter point. We were particularly concerned that citizens advice bureaux and neighbourhood law centres would be flooded by demands for legal advice without the resources to help, so we welcome the Government’s initial response to the transition fund and debt advice. However, more will be needed. We welcome the agreement to secure savings in the wastefully inefficient administration of the Legal Services Commission, and we agree with the wider objective of discouraging unnecessary litigation. We are also glad that the Government have responded to our concerns about the definition of domestic violence.

The Government have missed an opportunity in not taking up our recommendation on the “polluter pays” principle. If Departments faced a financial penalty for having too many decisions overturned on appeal, they would change their behaviour and public money would be saved. The Government’s response concentrates on individual cases. This is an overall proposal under which, if Departments rose above a certain threshold, they would have to pay money out of their budgets. That is the only way we will effect the behavioural change and get the right decisions first time.

As I have indicated, I have particular concerns about clinical negligence cases in which determining liability is a complex problem, particularly those concerning children with serious handicaps arising from birth injury. The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) wrote to me about this and said that the Department was discussing with the national health service litigation authority and other stakeholders how the commissioning of reports could be improved with joint reports, and the Secretary of State has also referred to that. However, I understand from my discussions with the NHSLA that that is not proceeding or is not proving to be practical. I hope that the Minister, when he winds up, will explain what is happening on that front. The other element in the Government’s attempt to deal with this problem was retaining after-the-event insurance for cases of this kind, but it is not clear to those who understand the system that there would be a viable market in after-the-event insurance in such a narrow field, when it has been abolished in other areas.

29 Jun 2011 : Column 1004

The Bill introduces some of Lord Justice Jackson’s proposals but not others. The proposals are a package, so if bits of them are missed out there is a real danger that they will not achieve the intended effect.

Jonathan Evans (Cardiff North) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend share my concern, which has also been expressed by the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), about the absence of proposals on referral fees, which have been properly described as a “scandal”? They were a scandal at the time of the miners’ compensation scandal, which resulted in 27 law firms being disciplined. Does he think that that is a missing part of the Bill?

Sir Alan Beith: Yes I do, and I was just coming to that as my final point. First, just let me complete my earlier point by saying that the absence of qualified one-way cost shifting leaves an imbalance in the implementation of the Jackson proposals. It is not even clear from the Bill precisely what the Government are doing.

Finally, let me address what I, too, have described as the scandal of referral fees under which insurance companies and some other bodies, such as trade unions, make money from selling the details and claims of the victims of accidents. It will not be enough merely to ban referral fees, because the Government and the industry must deal with a system of fees that has a fundamental fault. If there is a system of fees in which a lawyer can still make a profit from a relatively small claim having paid hundreds of pounds for the privilege of pursuing that claim, then we have to address the fixed costs as well as the referral fees.

Heather Wheeler (South Derbyshire) (Con) rose

Mr Kenneth Clarke rose

Sir Alan Beith: I must conclude, so I shall give way only to the Secretary of State.

Mr Clarke: The reason why we did not deal with that part of Jackson was because the Legal Services Board had taken it on itself to review the future of referral fees. We now have its report and the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly), and I are considering referral fees. I take on board what my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff North (Jonathan Evans) and the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) have been saying.

Sir Alan Beith: I am grateful to the Secretary of State. I know no one who agrees with the Legal Services Board’s conclusions, but I hope that the matter will be considered urgently to see whether the Bill can be used to complete the process of dealing with what is undoubtedly a scandal, which puts up costs for our constituents.

The Bill is part of a necessary process of reform in both sentencing and legal aid, but it needs a great deal of work before it leaves this House and a great deal of monitoring when it comes into force.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. Before I call the next speaker let me say that a number of Members have complained about the near-sub-zero temperatures in the Chamber—I understand that it is a lovely day outside. I have informed the doorkeepers and this will be rectified.

29 Jun 2011 : Column 1005

3.13 pm

Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Lab): In his closing peroration, the Lord Chancellor said that he wished he had been able to stay on as Home Secretary for longer than he did in the Administration in the early 1990s, so as to introduce a measure of this kind. I have to say to Conservative Members that they are very lucky he did not stay on for longer than the year he was there.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con) indicated assent.

Mr Straw: I am glad to have the approbation of the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) on that.

When he was the Home Secretary, the Lord Chancellor was the last in line of a number of very complacent Home Secretaries who had allowed crime simply to rise and rise. It doubled under the Conservatives, as Michael Howard pointed out, and reached its peak under the current Lord Chancellor. Nothing that he did then, and nothing that he is proposing today, will do anything to make people safer or to cut crime. Indeed, I warn Conservative Members, for whom I have great affection, that in the coming months, if the Bill goes through, they will face—day after day, week after week—stories in the newspapers in which judges and magistrates complain publicly that defendant X or defendant Y should have been remanded in custody awaiting trial but that the courts no longer have any power on that.

I say to the Lord Chancellor, who has some experience of the criminal trial process, that the provisions in clause 73 and schedule 10 regarding restrictions on bail are wholly irrational and take no account whatever of the way in which courts and defendants operate. The court is not going to know whether it needs to send someone to prison until it has heard the full case and the mitigation. If Parliament lays down rules regarding the prospect of a sentence, how is the court to translate that into a real prospect of a prison sentence? What will happen in a case in which there is a low likelihood of a sentence on conviction and the defendant simply refuses to turn up in court? The Secretary of State was obviously completely unaware of the contents of paragraph 5 of schedule 10—I am glad that he is looking at it now—which makes it absolutely clear that even if the defendant fails to appear in court and is arrested, they cannot be remanded in custody unless the court has come to a prior decision that there is a real prospect of their getting a period of imprisonment at the end of the case. That is mad, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman must look at it again.

Simon Reevell (Dewsbury) (Con): I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman has considered sub-paragraph (b), which makes it perfectly clear that if someone has been convicted of an offence in the proceedings, which would include a bail offence, the provision barring the grant of bail does not apply, so if somebody failed to surrender, they would be dealt with as they are now in their absence, and they could be remanded in custody when arrested by the police. The same qualifying sub-paragraph is present on page 168, which deals with bail in other circumstances.

29 Jun 2011 : Column 1006

Mr Straw: I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman has failed to read the “not” in the first line of proposed new subsection (5A):

“A justice of the peace may not remand a person in…custody under subsection (5) if…the person was released on bail in non-extradition proceedings”.

Simon Reevell: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Straw: No, of course I will not. The explanatory memorandum makes exactly the same point.

Let me address the issue of indeterminate sentences for public protection. I entirely endorse what my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) has said from the Front Bench. The Secretary of State made one of his sweeping statements, saying that those sentences have been discredited. No, they have not. Who has discredited them? He has, because he has been forced to save money on indeterminate public protection sentences having had to surrender the 50% cut in the bail discount, as he well knows. IPPs have worked.

The Secretary of State comprehensively failed to answer the hon. Member for Shipley yesterday, when the hon. Gentleman said that the reoffending rate for IPPs has been spectacularly successful—of the 1,449 people released, only 11 have reoffended. The Secretary of State laughs, but what we are dealing with here is the most serious offenders who, under the law, are expected to show that they would go straight, if they were released. He is laughing, but the laugh will be on the other side of the Conservatives’ faces when and if his measures go forward and people are released before it is safe for them to be released and they commit further offences. He will be the person to blame for that.

Mr Kenneth Clarke: The right hon. Gentleman is referring to the 200 people who have been released, but more than 6,000 of them are still in prison with no idea when or if they are going to be released. Their reoffending rate is, I agree, very low, but that is not a justification for the system. The vast majority of respondents to our consultation regard it as something of a disgrace that the measure has been put on to the statute book and is working in this way.

Mr Straw: I take that, as they say in court, as an admission. At long last, the Secretary of State now accepts that the reoffending rate of those released under IPPs is low. Perhaps he will now reassess his ludicrous claim that that policy is not working.

Anna Soubry: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Straw: I am afraid that I have had my ration of interventions.

Let me move on to the proposals for civil litigation reform. I established the Jackson review and fully endorsed its conclusions in January 2010. I welcome the fact that this Government are implementing it, but they are doing so only in part.

I want to pick up on the points made by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) and the hon. Member for Cardiff North (Jonathan Evans) about referral fees and associated matters. As

29 Jun 2011 : Column 1007

colleagues will know, on Monday I published the results of an investigation into what I can only describe as a racket in the motor insurance industry in which almost everyone in the chain, from recovery firms, claims companies, medical experts to insurers themselves, is paying between £200 and £1,000 in referral fees. Everybody in this chain is on the take, and the total is running into billions.

Since Monday, I have been overwhelmed by e-mails, which I am very happy to supply to the Lord Chancellor if he wishes, from members of the public and professionals with even more horrifying detail about the dodgy practices, frauds and near-frauds that are now endemic in this industry, including one from a lady who explained that she “had had an argument with her bicycle”. She was the only person present at the time, she went to hospital and ever since she has been pestered to make a claim.

Jonathan Evans: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Straw: No, I am sorry.

One solicitor wrote to me saying that referral fees are no more than a “form of legalised bribery”. He is right. They are the parasites eating away at the integrity of the whole of the motor insurance industry and associated professions, including lawyers. Their effect is to drive up costs, and therefore premiums, and actively to encourage individuals—

Heather Wheeler rose—

Mr Straw: I am sorry—I am running out of time.

Referrals actively encourage individuals to try their luck in making claims for fictitious or wholly exaggerated injuries. I accept, and do so publicly, that that comes as a result of the Access to Justice Act 1999, which was based on recommendations from Lord Woolf. It gave rise to expectations that have not been met. I was clear when I established Jackson, endorsed it and set up an immediate consultation process that the system needed root-and-branch reform. I am perfectly happy to accept that.

I was glad to hear the Secretary of State’s words about that. With respect to the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly), however, referral fees are not, as he said yesterday, a small part of the problem; they are a central part of the problem. Removing them is not a magic bullet, and other actions will also need to be taken. Unless he deals with referral fees, among other things, as well as changing the whole system, he will not deal with the extraordinary abuse that is taking place.

There are other changes that I ask the Secretary of State to consider. First, there could be legislation, possibly in this Bill, to prohibit the payment of damages for so-called whiplash injuries, save where there is other objective evidence of serious injury, as other jurisdictions have already done. The regulators, the Information Commissioner and Ofcom should crack down hard on the patent abuse of individuals’ personal data. I have taken up the issue, and I hope that, as the Secretary of State responsible, he will do so, too.

29 Jun 2011 : Column 1008

There should be an urgent review of the effectiveness, or rather the lack of it, of the regulation of claims management companies, as established under the Compensation Act 2006. That, too, is not working as effectively as it should. In Blackburn and in many other urban areas, honest drivers with impeccable driving records are facing huge increases in premiums, not because of any risk that they have any control over but because of the level of claims by other people. It is a form of collective punishment, and it needs to be outlawed.

Over the past 20 years, as a result of taxpayer investment in safer roads and driver investment in safer and more secure cars, there has been a dramatic fall in the number of accidents and the number of thefts from vehicles. There should not be a steep increase in the insurance premium—instead, there should be a fall. It is time for major reforms so that, at long last, motorists can benefit from this investment.

3.24 pm

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): As a duty solicitor, I declare an interest in—as in the title of the Bill—legal aid, sentencing and punishment of offenders.

It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw). He reminds me of many a client I have represented in Edmonton police station who fails to accept any responsibility despite the compelling case against them. He fails to accept responsibility despite the fact that two thirds of people reoffend when they come out of prison and most of our prisoners are lying idle in prison. Despite the plethora—the incontinence—of criminal justice legislation, all of which he probably had a part in as Home Secretary and Justice Secretary, victims still feel a lack of proper confidence in the justice system, but he does not accept any responsibility for that.

During the 13 years of the Labour Government, there were more than 20 criminal justice Bills, some of which I had the opportunity to scrutinise. I gave my maiden speech on one of those occasions—the debate on the Violent Crime Reduction Bill. That was in many ways one of the messaging Bills that were very much part of the new Labour project; they simply sent out a message without having any real effect. We also had many a Christmas tree Bill. For example, one of their last Bills, the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, had many pieces of additional legislation tacked on to it as it went through its stages. That is another danger of over-legislation.

The shadow Justice Secretary criticised the Green Paper, consultation and further consultation on the IPP issue. What is he complaining about? Does he want us to move quickly to legislate and run the risks that we have seen before? We have a litany of unimplemented 2003 legislation that we are now having to deal with. That is part of the legacy. That legacy is not only a failure in our prison system and criminal justice system, but a failure of legislation. The right hon. Member for Blackburn and other Opposition Members have to accept responsibility for that.

One issue that will be raised in the consultation is self-defence and defending one’s property. The right hon. Gentleman and others have been involved in discussions about sending out a message on that issue. I encourage him to read the case of R v. Keane or the

29 Jun 2011 : Column 1009

recent case of R


McGrath. Those show that his efforts at messaging and putting more baubles on Christmas tree Bills have not made a jot of difference in terms of changing the existing legislation that applies in that area. We need to learn those lessons well, and this Government are doing that, because it has taken 13 months for us to introduce this criminal justice Bill. I hope that we will not come back next year with another criminal justice Bill, and that we will scrutinise this properly, making any necessary changes and then moving forward.

What we need in our justice system is to get back to the three R’s—retribution, restoration and rehabilitation, which need to be properly balanced. The Bill is not the whole story in relation to what the Government are saying about criminal justice. We would not want that. We do not show our card on the basis of how many laws we pass and the extent of this legislation, for example. Our approach is to do with our intervening early to stop many of these people getting involved in the criminal justice system. It is to do with the way we are dealing with drugs and ensuring that many people more recover instead of getting parked up on methadone. That all matters greatly, as does more structural reform.

In some areas, such as youth justice, the Bill does not have a great number of clauses. There is a recognition of the progress that has been made, including the youth rehabilitation order. That needs to be properly implemented.

One area where there needs to be retribution is knife crime, as I am sure we all agree. In our manifesto, there was a clear commitment to it, so I welcome the intention of clause 113 to make it crystal clear that anyone who threatens with a knife will receive a custodial sentence. I welcome that intention, but I know—sadly all too well in Enfield, where we have had seven fatalities in the past three years and one in the past month, all at the hands of someone with a knife—that any possession of a weapon is in effect threatening. Even if the person possessing the knife does not intend to threaten, he or someone else could well become a victim of its use if he gets involved in any disturbance later.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con) rose—

Philip Davies rose—

Nick de Bois (Enfield North) (Con) rose—

Mr Burrowes: I give way to my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour.

Nick de Bois: My hon. Friend knows that my constituents in Enfield North will very much welcome the mandatory proposals on using a knife in a threatening way, but is he aware that, of those cases followed up involving individuals carrying a knife or using a knife offensively, more than 30% involved people under 18, and that the legislation before us will not apply to such people? Perhaps that is something we should press for.

Mr Burrowes: My hon. Friend may be making an early bid to be on the Public Bill Committee, but we certainly need to recognise, particularly in areas such as Enfield, that such behaviour is prevalent, that sadly all too often those under 18 are involved in gangs and possess knives, and that clause 113 does not apply to them.

29 Jun 2011 : Column 1010

Philip Davies: Does my hon. Friend also accept that the current guidelines for addressing threatening behaviour with a knife state that a magistrates court should refer the case to a Crown court because the magistrates court is not considered to have sufficient powers to punish such people? A six-month penalty could easily become a maximum, rather than a minimum, sentence for the offence.

Mr Burrowes: My hon. Friend makes the point that the current guidance states that such people should receive a serious custodial penalty, and the clause tries to reaffirm that in statute, but we need to ensure that, notwithstanding the worthy intentions of the clause, we do not downgrade the simple possession offence; otherwise a clever lawyer might use it to put in an alternative plea of simple possession, which lends itself to a lesser, non-custodial penalty when compared with the aggravated offence. Ministers may want to pass a note to the Sentencing Council to make it clear that the current guidance on simple possession should remain intact.

I also recognise that there are retributive elements in the Bill. There is the important extension of curfews, which my hon. Friends will very much welcome, and we need to recognise that there are more tools in the box for dealing with matters on a community basis and retributively in order to ensure that liberty is restricted and for a longer period.

The second element of the justice system should be a proper restorative element—the basic requirement of justice to make amends as far as possible. Victims should be central to our justice system, and I hate it when people refer to a victimless crime. It greatly concerns me, because when I see what is happening in Enfield, in particular, and elsewhere, I do not see a victimless crime. That is why I welcome the clause that will ensure a positive and much stronger duty to order compensation for any loss or damage, for personal injury and, indeed, for bereavement or funeral payments.

We all know of cases in which people have waited months and months to hear about a claim to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board for funeral payments, and the Bill will give much greater access to, and opportunity for, compensation involving people who are victims of the most serious crimes. Similarly, there needs to be proper reparation and compensation for minor crimes.

Currently, the compensation order system is seriously underused. Only 18.1% of offenders in 2010 were ordered to pay compensation. That must change and, as a result of this Bill, it will, but I encourage Ministers to ensure that the duty on all courts extends to reparation, so that not just financial but other means of restorative justice are recognised.

Often, when the door is shut on the prisoner, the victim is shut out as well, so we need to ensure that when prisoners are inside they feel a proper sense of responsibility and do not forget that there is a victim. That is why we are implementing the Prisoner Earnings Act. It was enacted in 1996, and ironically we have had a plethora of legislation since, but that good piece of legislation, which Hartley Booth introduced, is now and quite properly going to be implemented.

The Act recognises that we are not going to accept the answer that I received from the Home Office, when I asked it why it was not going to introduce the legislation

29 Jun 2011 : Column 1011

in 2007. The Home Office said, “We don’t think that prisoners will be able to find the work or work enough to make this viable.” We are not accepting that, because this Government have a much greater ambition.

We are not going to let prisoners sit idle in their cells; they will do proper work purposefully, and their earnings will go into a victims’ fund. The expectation is for £1 million: £1 million of ambition that the previous Government did not have; £1 million that will and should go into the hands of victims. We need to ensure proper enforcement, too, so that the current outstanding compensation payments of some £152 million reach the right people.

We need to ensure that there is retribution, restoration and rehabilitation. The rehabilitation revolution will go much further and deeper than simply this Bill, because it will ensure that we have payment by results. The right hon. Member for Blackburn talked about outcomes—from a previous Government who were all about process, targets and messaging. Well, we are into outcomes, but we are into proper outcomes, so we will have not just the Peterborough example, although that is welcome. Our ambitions are much greater than simply to introduce a social impact bond in Peterborough.

Mr Straw: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Burrowes: There is not time, unfortunately.

We will ensure that that is done across the country—paying people to get into work, to stop reoffending and to ensure that they get off drugs. We are driving through a much more ambitious agenda of recovery to stop this everlasting cycle of criminality—being on drugs, committing crime to feed a drugs habit, going to prison and so on. We will break that cycle of crime.

There are concerns, whether it is magistrates wanting to extend the period of imprisonment to the maximum of 12 months or on legal aid, but this is a good Bill that—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order.

3.35 pm

Alun Michael (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): This Bill is a shambles and so is the Lord Chancellor’s approach to crime. Far from being a significant reforming measure, it is an incoherent fragment. The Opposition admire the panache of the Lord Chancellor, who is a much-loved and robust performer and who has sought to rise above the U-turns forced on him by a Prime Minister who is more interested in headlines than in reform, but it does not wash.

The Justice Secretary should take particular note of the criticism from his Back Benchers and the significant criticism from the Chair of the Justice Committee. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) kindly said that he thought that the baby was not totally being thrown out with the bathwater, but I am not sure about that and I am certainly worried about the health of the baby.

When the Secretary of State was Home Secretary, he presided over a crime wave. He also offended virtually every profession in sight, especially the police, by the cavalier way in which he fulfilled his duties. This Bill is a

29 Jun 2011 : Column 1012

shambles, his strategy is in tatters and everyone is in confusion. The main problem is that he has such a piecemeal approach to the issue. The Justice Committee’s report, “Cutting crime: the case for justice reinvestment”, states:

“A piecemeal approach to justice reinvestment is unlikely to work and a holistic approach to reform is necessary, with a very clear and explicit statement of the purpose of the whole system against which organisational aims can be tested to assess their contribution to cutting the extent and seriousness of offending and re-offending.”

This Bill fails that test.

In that report, we also called for better use of resources and a focus by every part of the criminal justice system on cutting offending, because that is what victims want. We keep being told that the views of victims are important, but more than not to have become a victim in the first place, they want to know that they will not become a victim again in the future. Therefore, the purpose of the criminal justice system—and of sentencing—is to ensure that victims are protected from further offending.

Let us cut to the chase—cutting the number of people in prison may save money, but cutting prison numbers to save money is to approach the problem from the wrong end. There is only one acceptable reason for cutting prison numbers, and that is that offending and reoffending have fallen; fewer people are becoming victims; there are fewer offenders who need to be incarcerated; and our streets and homes are safer.

It is a matter of some pride to me that the number of places in young offender institutions has been cut for precisely those reasons. As a result of the work of the Youth Justice Board and the youth offending teams, fewer individuals are reoffending and so fewer places are needed. That reduction in numbers leads to immediate savings, but it is even more significant given that time in custody often acts as a training course in criminal activity for young people. So the long-term benefit of keeping people out of youth offending and preventing reoffending patterns is enormous. That makes it very odd that the Secretary of State will do away with the Youth Justice Board and I urge him to reconsider. I know that he is taking many activities inside the Ministry of Justice—and I am glad that he is encouraging the continuation of those activities and the youth offending teams—but he is taking in people who, as part of an independent body, have acted as the touchstone for success in that aspect of reducing reoffending.

Mr Burrowes: The right hon. Gentleman obviously has great experience and was no doubt the architect of the first such legislation in 1997. He will be interested to know that reoffending rates were very high over the 13 years to 2010, and that is something for which the previous Government should be held accountable. Does he not welcome the fact that in this Bill there is now provision for supervision of prisoners who have a sentence of less than 12 months? That has never happened in the past. Giving supervision to offenders after they are released will no doubt help to reduce reoffending levels.

Alun Michael: I have said for a long time that we should do more to ensure that short sentences work and that they do not accelerate offending. In this legislation, there are things to be welcomed, but the big picture is not bright enough for us to welcome the Bill as a whole.

29 Jun 2011 : Column 1013

Yesterday, in answer to my question, the Justice Secretary said:

“The Sentencing Council is already under a duty to provide information about the effectiveness of sentencing practice”.—[Official Report, 28 June 2011; Vol. 530, c. 738.]

Unless there is a clear focus on reducing reoffending and ensuring that that is understood by sentencers, the Bill will not be effective. That is why I call on the Justice Secretary to change his approach and put a real focus on the work of the Sentencing Council not just to provide information about the effectiveness of sentencing practice but to ensure that sentencing practice is driven in ways in which it can increase the success of the system.

The work of the Youth Justice Board and the youth offending teams shows what can be done if there is a clear and unremitting focus on cutting offending and reoffending. Why not use a new mechanism to focus on the 18 to 25 age group? We are seeing a reduction in the numbers of 18 to 25-year-olds who are reoffending because of the success of intervention with young offenders. Why not learn that lesson and apply it properly to that reduced cohort so that we can further drive down the numbers who reoffend?

The Justice Secretary has admitted that the criminal justice system is fragmented; it does not work as a single system. A series of agencies operate to their own objectives and are held to account for different purposes. Bring it all together. Make it coherent. Let us have some coherent legislation from the Justice Secretary. The criminal justice system should pay attention to the Select Committee’s recommendations on justice reinvestment. The whole of the system should focus on reducing reoffending.

Victims want to feel that they are less likely to be offended against in the future. The Home Affairs Committee heard evidence from people who had been involved in restorative justice and it found that it actually works. When offenders are faced with their offending, they are less likely to reoffend. They are made to engage in relationships, which they have often failed to do in the past and which may have led them into offending in the first place. They do not see the victim as another person.

Although it is essential that we do something about what has been described as relational justice, there is nothing about it in the legislation. Too often, it is low down the agenda. The possibility is there but we are not driving it through the system and getting the benefits. I appeal to the Secretary of State to push relational justice up his agenda.

I also appeal to the Secretary of State to work with the Home Secretary to derive greater success from crime reduction partnerships, which again have been important, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) said in his contribution a few moments ago. We have been successful in reducing crime, but we can go further and go faster if the right mechanisms are used. In this regard, I commend the violence reduction project in Cardiff, which, since I last referred to it in this Chamber, has been endorsed by the World Health Organisation and is the subject of an article in The British Medical Journal. Such acclaim shows that the approach in Cardiff has worked. It has driven down violent crime by 25% more than the cohort of cities with which it can properly be compared. The project works; it reduces offences and protects people from becoming victims. That is what needs to be put at the centre of our criminal justice system.

29 Jun 2011 : Column 1014

I regret that we have a Home Secretary who has failed to defend her budget and is imposing cuts on the police that are too deep, too soon and disgracefully front-loaded, and a Secretary of State for Justice who, by his failure to apply clarity and logic to the challenge of justice reinvestment and effectiveness in cutting crime, is doomed to fail. Sadly, it is the victims and not he who will pay the penalty for that.

3.44 pm

Mrs Helen Grant (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con): I was a legal aid family lawyer for 23 years before becoming an MP, and my husband continues to run our firm in Croydon. I declare an interest in the debate.

The Government’s plans to reform legal aid are brave and bold. The consultation has been taken seriously and important concessions have been made, but I continue to have some serious concerns. The plans rely on people being able to represent themselves, but what about people with learning difficulties, limited English or mental health problems? Those people cannot help themselves; they cannot do it. The plans rely on our hard-pressed voluntary sector dealing with the fallout from the legal sector, but our not-for-profit organisations are already overstretched and under-resourced.

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that many citizens advice bureaux—such as my own, South Hams—receive 55% to 65% of their funding from legal aid and are concerned about the time frame with the proposals being introduced in October?

Mrs Grant: My hon. Friend makes a good point, and change must be paced. Not for profit does not mean “No funds, please.” Those organisations still need cash just to stand still, let alone to deal with the massive glut of cases that will fall into their laps, but I am reassured and encouraged by what my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Justice said about directing an additional sum of some £20 million towards them. That is very positive indeed.

The plans rely on judges, magistrates and tribunal chairmen having the time to assist numerous litigants in person, but I can honestly tell hon. Members that that time does not exist, because judges already have back-to-back lists. Delays in court will become even worse. The plans rely on less dependency on legal proceedings, but as I have said before in the House, mediation is no panacea. It frequently fails, especially in family cases, where there is often an imbalance of power between the parties. Where will all the mediators come from? Who will pay for them?

Oliver Heald: I am closely following my hon. Friend’s sincere and important remarks, but does she not agree that the advantage of mediation is that people are brought together and that disputes are reduced in circumstances of family life, thus achieving something worth while in itself? Mediation is the right way to go, even though I accept that some cases will also need to be litigated.

Mrs Grant: The problem is that not all cases can be mediated, and the difficult ones—the ones that we are dealing with—usually end up in court anyway.

29 Jun 2011 : Column 1015

The plans have telephone advice as an alternative to a trusted and recommended solicitor, but the law is complicated. The law can be an ass, and it is not easy to understand. Having tried to explain maintenance pending suit or some other aspect of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 to a frightened and vulnerable litigant, I can tell hon. Members that it makes clients feel frustrated and confused and leaves solicitors feeling quite inadequate.

The plans badly impact on women, especially in the categories of family, education and housing law. Some 75% of domestic violence victims are women, 90% of single parents are women, and 97% of those who are eligible for child maintenance are women. Women are more likely to be in non-unionised jobs, and men are more likely to be financially better off and able to pay privately.

Over the years, my firm has looked after about 14,000 clients in south London, Surrey and west Kent. The family profile that I describe is, sadly, not unusual. One mother presented with some learning difficulties and a history of self-harm and drug abuse, but says that she is now clean. She has three children, all girls, with three different fathers. The father of the eldest daughter sought a residence order and a contact order. Mother and daughter were resistant in view of the father’s history of bullying and drunkenness. There were no previous injunction orders, but many police call-outs. All the girls were having problems at school, and the middle daughter had been diagnosed with ADHD—attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The school had threatened suspension due to disruptive behaviour. The mother was on income support and was being chased by loan sharks due to debt. She was feeling suicidal and was on antidepressants. All the children were on the child protection register.

When I took instructions from that lady, judging by her physical appearance and demeanour, I thought that she was about 50. It was only when I asked her for her date of birth that I realised that she was just 25 years old. Under the current plans, that highly vulnerable woman would not be entitled to help with residence and contact applications, debt problems or her children’s educational difficulties. That is what family life is like for many in our country. Those are the people who rely on the family courts and legal aid to resolve their problems. Tragically, the children growing up in such families are watching and learning bad behaviour, have absent boundaries, and are breeding future generations of victims and perpetrators. It is a vicious circle.

Legal aid cost £500 million in 1982. The cost is £2 billion today. I make no case for ring-fencing from the cuts, and I see a genuine need for reform.

Mr Kenneth Clarke: I have a high regard for my hon. Friend’s expertise on the issue, which greatly exceeds mine as a result of her practice. The case that she makes is moving, but surely such things do not lend themselves to litigation. Our argument is not that we will leave such people with no support at all, but that legal advice and litigation are not the best way of proceeding to resolve important social and family problems of the kind that she describes.

Mrs Grant: If matters such as residence and contact can be resolved without litigation, as they sometimes

29 Jun 2011 : Column 1016

are, that is a good thing. Unfortunately, a woman in the situation that I have described and a man who has historically been difficult, drunken and abusive might not, regrettably, be able to sort things out.

We must accept that the past 50 years have created a social mess, caused largely by the demise of the family unit and stalling social mobility. We cannot pull the rug from under the feet of 500,000 people who have no genuine alternative. Civil liberty is about the freedom of our nation; civil legal aid is about protecting citizens. For some, civil legal aid is the only sword and shield in their armoury. We must therefore wear kid gloves when handling that delicate aspect of the public purse. For all the above reasons, I hope that further significant changes will be made to this important Bill in Committee and on Report.

3.53 pm

Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) (Lab): Thank you for giving me the opportunity to take part in this important debate, Mr Deputy Speaker. I agree with many of the comments made by the hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant). The Government should listen to her experience and knowledge.

For 60 years, legal aid has provided secure and guaranteed access to justice for those who cannot otherwise afford legal representation, often protecting the most vulnerable in our society. With their reforms, the Government are undermining the principles of justice. The right to access it will become the privilege of the few who can afford it. The more I understand about the Government’s approach to justice policy, the more I realise that there is nothing just about it. Despite receiving thousands of representations from a wide range of organisations expert in delivering legal aid effectively and productively that say this is not the right approach, the Government are not willing to listen.

We know that seeking legal representation is an expensive undertaking. I understand that, but the Government are trying, inexcusably, to put a price on justice, which is embedded in the British democratic system. That undermines us as a free and fair society where all have an equal right to justice. Everyone has the right to be treated fairly under the British legal system. Who someone is, how much they earn and where they live should not be taken into account. The expense of access to our legal system makes legal aid so important. Justice is a right, not a privilege. Everyone deserves their day in court.

The Government have said that they want to ensure through the reforms that legal aid is targeted at those who most need it. They must have made a mistake. Surely that cannot be correct when they are cutting legal aid for the aspects of law that are often the last protection for the most vulnerable in our society: housing, debt, welfare and employment advice. Legal aid has stood up for people and given them the voice that they deserve. I am not sure where the Government expect an alternative to step in to deal with representation and advice in the aspects of law that will be removed from the scope of legal aid provision. Perhaps it is another job for the big society.

When people have to represent themselves in court because they cannot afford the legal fees, something is not right. As with so much of their legislation, the Government have left the most vulnerable wanting. It is

29 Jun 2011 : Column 1017

a travesty that 500,000 people will be denied their right to legal representation and a chance for justice. The Secretary of State has said:

“It cannot be right that the taxpayer is footing the bill for unnecessary court cases that would never have even reached the courtroom door, were it not for the fact that somebody else was paying.”—[Official Report, 15 November 2010; Vol. 518, c. 659.]

I seriously object to that trivialisation of our justice system. The right hon. and learned Gentleman’s reference to “unnecessary court cases” shows where the Government have gone wrong. Debt, social welfare, housing and education law are not unnecessary. They are serious and complex areas of law that deserve their chance in court.

Legal aid provision has improved and strengthened our laws on protections and compensation and given justice to victims of negligence. Legal aid has been critical in many precedent-setting cases, such as the Hillsborough disaster, the thalidomide cases and the Clapham rail crash. Advances in case law as a direct result of legal aid provision have improved protections for everyone. British law is in a better place because of the chance to access legal aid. Although I can sympathise to some extent with the Government’s desire to promote other forms of legal settlement outside a courtroom, such as through mediation, that should be an alternative, not the only option. In my experience, it does not always work.

Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government do not seem to have taken on board the fact that sometimes solving disputes out of court is possible only when the credible sanction of going to court at some stage is available? By taking that away, they undermine the system of mediation in which they put so much faith, and that will lead to miscarriages of justice.

Julie Elliott: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. The stick-and-carrot approach, whereby there is something to make people see sense, agree and discuss things sensibly, often makes the difference between mediation working and not working.

Despite the Government’s laissez-faire approach to access to our legal system and their willingness again to leave the most vulnerable members of our society out in the cold, one of my biggest problems with the reforms to legal aid provision is their economic short-sightedness. The cuts will ultimately lead to higher costs for society. The cost-benefit analysis of the reforms has shown that they are not cost-effective, but short-sighted and counter-productive. The costs to society will have to met elsewhere, by other Departments, including the Department of Health, the Home Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government. It is disappointing that, despite calls for it, no cross-Government departmental review is taking place to assess the inevitable extra costs.

Yesterday, I asked about the matter at Justice questions, and was told that other Departments’ impact analysis of the proposals was “ongoing”. Surely that should have been sorted out before Second Reading. Citizens Advice estimates that £24 million spent annually on debt advice saves the Government some £188 million elsewhere, and that for every £1 spent on legal aid, the state saves £2.34 on housing advice, £7.13 on employment advice and £8.80 on benefits advice.