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House of Commons

Tuesday 18 December 2012

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Business Before Questions

City of London (Various Powers) Bill [Lords] (By Order)

Second Reading opposed and deferred until Tuesday 8 January 2013 (Standing Order No. 20).

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Indeterminate Sentences

1. Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): What the Government’s policy is on the use of indeterminate sentences for public protection. [133865]

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Grayling): The widely criticised indeterminate sentence of imprisonment for public protection was abolished on 3 December. It has been replaced by a new regime of mandatory life sentences, which apply to anyone who is convicted for a second time of a very serious sexual or violent offence, and tough extended determinate sentences.

Kate Green: In a written answer published on 19 October, I was informed that 193 prisoners over the age of 60 were serving indeterminate sentences for public protection. Approximately 25 elderly high-risk prisoners are expected to be released in Greater Manchester, some of whom will have higher than average social care needs as well as a need for specialist supervision. What discussions have been taking place with local authorities about where those individuals are to be accommodated, and who will bear the cost?

Chris Grayling: As the hon. Lady will know, the probation service regularly engages in detailed discussions with local authorities to try to establish the right ways of dealing with individual offenders. In many parts of the country there is integrated offender management, which is designed to ensure that we provide the best possible support. My plans for a rehabilitation revolution will step up the support provided for such people, and will, I hope, ensure that we address issues such as where prisoners are to live after leaving prison.

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Mr Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): On 25 April 2010, Irene Glen from Littlehampton opened the front door to her former partner Sean Benn. He came in and, with a kitchen knife, stabbed Mrs Glen 10 times. She was flown to London for several hours of emergency surgery, and mercifully survived. Sean Benn was convicted of wounding with intent, and was sentenced to detention in a secure hospital under the Mental Health Act 1983. On Thursday, a tribunal will consider whether to release him, a mere two years after that horrific attack. Mrs Glen believes that he may attack her again, and is terrified for her life. What can she do to prevent Sean Benn from being released, and what can we do to protect my constituent?

Chris Grayling: I shall look carefully at the case to which my hon. Friend has referred. Matters relating to release are handled independently by the different tribunals and assessment services that are there to decide whether it is safe to release a prisoner, and I should obviously be concerned to hear of circumstances in which a potentially dangerous prisoner was to be released. My Department will certainly be able to discuss with my hon. Friend whether there are any ways in which we can help either to support his constituent or to influence the process, should that prove necessary.

Age of Criminal Responsibility

2. Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): What consideration he has given to reviewing the age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales. [133866]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Damian Green): The Government are not considering reviewing the age of criminal responsibility. They believe that young people aged 10 and over are able to differentiate bad behaviour and serious wrongdoing.

Mr Sheerman: That was a very disappointing answer. The fact is that in England and Wales we lock up more children than any other country in Europe. We imprison four times as many young people as Portugal, 25 times as many as Belgium, and 100 times as many as Finland. I make no apology for the fact that in 1999 we changed the law to reduce the age of criminal responsibility from 14 to 10, but is it not about time that we accepted the recommendation of people throughout the civilised world that it should be at least 12? Why do the Government not agree with the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), who believes that that change must come about?

Damian Green: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman found my reply disappointing. I think it entirely appropriate to hold children aged 10 and over to account for their actions, and to allow the criminal courts to decide on an effective punishment when an offence has been committed. It is important to communities, and particularly important to victims, to know that young people who offend will be dealt with appropriately.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that restorative justice, a flagship policy of this Government, is particularly effective for children around the current age of criminal responsibility?

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Damian Green: I agree, and that is why I made the point to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) that it is for the courts to decide the appropriate punishment. That might well be the use of restorative justice, which is particularly effective with young offenders.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I declare my interest as a special constable with the British Transport police. Although the age of criminal responsibility is 10, effectively many police officers will not do anything in the case of a miscreant under the age of 16. May we have a change to the law, whereby if a police officer were to issue a fixed penalty notice for somebody under 16 who committed antisocial behaviour or a crime, it would be served on their parents or guardians so that they would ensure that their children behaved properly?

Damian Green: I am always interested by the expertise my hon. Friend brings to this issue, given his welcome work as a special constable. I shall certainly consider his suggestion seriously.

Dangerous Driving

3. Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): What steps he is taking to address harm and injury caused by dangerous drivers. [133867]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Damian Green): The Government have legislated to create a new offence of causing serious injury by dangerous driving. The new offence is subject to a five-year maximum prison sentence and was implemented on 3 December 2012.

Mark Pawsey: My constituents, Mr and Mrs Galli-Atkinson, who have campaigned for safer roads for some time, point out that in cases in which a driver causes death while over the drink-drive limit but in which there is no evidence of careless driving, the only charge available to the police carries a maximum sentence of six months’ imprisonment, a fine and disqualification from driving. The law should reflect the fact that driving under the influence of drink or drugs severely impairs a driver’s reaction time. Given that the Crime and Courts Bill is currently going through Parliament, will the Minister find time to address that important issue?

Damian Green: I know that my hon. Friend has rightly campaigned hard on this subject. I am not entirely persuaded that there is such a gap in the law. If the driving is below the appropriate standard, a variety of offences are available, including causing death by careless driving while under the influence. If the driving had not been affected, it would not be right for the driver to be charged with anything more than a drink-driving offence.

Chris Leslie (Nottingham East) (Lab/Co-op): Is the Minister not aware, however, that there is still a problem, in that the penalties imposed by the courts for driving without insurance are sometimes lower in cost than buying that insurance in the first place? Will the Minister take steps to address that anomaly, as too often there is a perverse incentive for young drivers in particular to avoid paying their car insurance, taking the risk that the penalty will be less than the costs involved?

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Damian Green: The hon. Gentleman makes a serious point. The cost of insurance is one reason we have just published a consultation paper on whiplash claims, in which fraud is most commonly committed, an effect of which is to drive up insurance costs for respectable drivers. That could conceivably encourage the bad behaviour that he suggests.

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): In reference to the Minister’s comment about whiplash claims, false claims do much to discredit and undermine those who suffer real injuries as a result of dangerous driving. In Northern Ireland, where the costs are much higher than in comparable regions in Britain, what discussions have taken place with the Minister of Justice regarding whiplash claims?

Damian Green: I am sure that the Minister of Justice in Northern Ireland will have seen the Government’s consultation document and I hope that he, along with Members of this House, will welcome it. I would obviously always be willing to speak to him further about it.

Probation Service

4. Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the probation service. [133868]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Jeremy Wright): As Minister with responsibility for probation, I have had the opportunity to see the hard work and dedication of many probation officers and I do not think the probation service always gets the credit it deserves for helping to keep the public safe. Probation officers will continue to have a key role. However, reoffending rates are still too high and we need to explore new ways of delivering rehabilitation and reducing reoffending.

Roberta Blackman-Woods: I am sure that the Minister is aware of the most recent report from the inspectorate of probation, published today, which shows that vulnerable and troubled young people are not being adequately supported by the care or probation system. How will the Minister respond to the serious resource issues raised in that report?

Jeremy Wright: The hon. Lady is right to draw attention to that report, which deals with the interests of children who have been in care. We will study it in detail and respond accordingly, but the report makes the point that this is not simply about money—it is also about attitudes. A great deal of work needs to be done to ensure that we meet our very important responsibility to those children who have been in care, who have particular requirements. We will consider the report and respond accordingly.

Mr Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): One of the particular pleasures that I had as Minister with responsibility for probation was to attend the awarding by the British Quality Foundation of the gold medal to the probation service. I know that the Minister and his colleagues are preparing exciting proposals with great opportunities for the development of probation as a profession, but further measures will be needed to support that, which I hope he will consider alongside the proposals that he will announce in due course.

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Jeremy Wright: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who knows of what he speaks. The important point is that we need to recognise the achievements and the contribution of probation officers, alongside making sure that we introduce new and good ideas into the process of rehabilitating offenders. I will consider carefully what he has said and we will look at what we can do along the lines that he suggests.

Mr Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): Will the Minister confirm that it is his Department’s intention to brief the press this afternoon at 4 o’clock on possible privatisation of the probation service, a day in advance of advising the House?

Jeremy Wright: The right hon. Gentleman will have to wait and see exactly what we propose and exactly when we propose it, but what he has just described is not going to happen.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): Does the Minister agree that the new court and probation service delivery model, by which probation staff have to provide a statement on the day that a plea is taken, ensures that we get a swift, transparent response on the day?

Jeremy Wright: I certainly agree that we want to ensure that justice is swifter and that where possible the probation service produces reports as quickly as it can. My hon. Friend will know from his experience of practising in the courts that probation officers often produce reports in very short time frames, which I am sure is of great assistance to the courts and to be commended.

Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): I echo the words of the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt)—there cannot be many times when I have said that—and the Minister who commended the probation service for its fantastic work, which was recognised last year by the British Quality Foundation gold medal for excellence. Can the Minister confirm that the much delayed probation review will not be announced this week, as mentioned by the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd), and will not lead to the break-up of the excellent probation service or its privatisation?

Jeremy Wright: This is a good time of the year for patience and I urge the right hon. Gentleman to be patient. It will be important in what we do, first, to recognise the key role of the probation service, as he says, and secondly, to do better than we have done on reoffending. When, as now, 50% of those released from prison reoffend within 12 months and a third of those on community orders do the same, we must look at ways of doing better.

Whole-life Tariffs

5. Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): If he will make it his policy that courts will continue to have the power to impose whole-life tariffs for the most serious offences. [133870]

10. Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): If he will make it his policy that courts will continue to have the power to impose whole-life tariffs for the most serious offences. [133875]

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19. Mr David Amess (Southend West) (Con): If he will make it his policy that courts will continue to have the power to impose whole-life tariffs for the most serious offences. [133885]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Jeremy Wright): There is settled policy in England and Wales that some offences are so grave that they are deserving of imprisonment for the rest of the offender’s life for the purposes of punishment and deterrence. The Secretary of State and I take the view that whole-life tariffs should remain an option for sentences in appropriate cases.

Henry Smith: What other measures has my hon. Friend taken to ensure that appropriately long sentences can be given by the courts, particularly for violent and serious sexual offences?

Jeremy Wright: My hon. Friend is right to be concerned, particularly about those types of offences; they give the public a good deal of concern, too. That is why this month we have implemented new sentences, which will allow for a mandatory life sentence for a second serious violent or sexual offence, and for extended determinate sentences for the first or the second offence which is a serious offence and merits it. Those are new sentencing proposals produced by this Government to reflect exactly what my hon. Friend has identified.

Mr Leigh: There was some concern that the measure might be struck down by human rights legislation. One of the reasons for all the alienation of people from politics is that they feel that we are no longer in control of our destiny. Will the Minister today proclaim that we are the free Parliament of a free people and it is here that the liberty of the individual is determined, not by some foreign court?

Jeremy Wright: The good news for my hon. Friend is that on this issue at least we are in agreement with the European Court of Human Rights, because it has upheld our view that whole-life tariffs are an appropriate disposal in the right cases. Let me make it clear to him—I think that I also speak for the Secretary of State—that for as long as we are Ministers in the Department, its policy will remain that whole-life tariffs should be available.

Mr David Amess (Southend West) (Con): In the light of what my hon. Friend has said, will he reassure me and the British public that under this Government the criminal justice system will treat convicted criminals in a firm but fair way?

Jeremy Wright: Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. We are doing two important things in that regard: first, toughening up the sentencing regime so that the right people go to prison for the right length of time; and secondly, ensuring that there is more emphasis on rehabilitation and reducing reoffending. That is the way to avoid the misery that communities incur as a result of reoffending, to avoid making more victims and to avoid extra cost to the taxpayer.

Jenny Chapman (Darlington) (Lab): Simon Crisp groomed boys on the internet and possessed and distributed indecent images of children, and earlier this year he was

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sentenced to an indeterminate sentence. However, had he been sentenced after 3 December, he would not have received an indeterminate sentence, because the Government have abolished them. Does the Secretary of State think that it is right that, thanks to the Government’s decision, there will no longer be anything anyone can do to keep an offender in prison at the end of their sentence even if they are still a risk to children?

Jeremy Wright: Extended determinate sentences, which we have brought in to replace IPPs, can include an extended period of supervision at the conclusion of a custodial period. We have done that to deal specifically with cases that cause great concern, such as sexual and violent offences. The hon. Lady is right to be worried, but she is wrong to suggest that no provision has been made to replace what IPPs did.

Rehabilitation of Offenders

6. Mr Marcus Jones (Nuneaton) (Con): What steps he is taking to reform the rehabilitation of offenders by supporting people leaving prison who have served less than 12 months. [133871]

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Grayling): It might be helpful if I put the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) and other Opposition Members out of their misery and told them exactly what we are planning to do. As the House knows, I intend to apply payment by results to the majority of rehabilitation work conducted with offenders in the community. This rehabilitation revolution will stimulate innovation and open the delivery of services to a wider range of providers with the skills needed to change an individual’s behaviour and reduce offending in future. I aim to extend those services to cover those sentenced to less than 12 months in prison. I intend to hold a series of initial discussions with stakeholder groups tomorrow and to publish early in the new year a detailed consultation paper that will serve as both a response to the previous consultation paper and a direction for our reforms.

Mr Jones: I thank my right hon. Friend for that response. How will he work with local authorities, social housing providers and other partners to ensure that suitable housing is available for ex-offenders?

Chris Grayling: One of the things that I believe are very important as we build a system of mentoring for former offenders is that there should be someone working alongside them to ensure that they have somewhere to live when they leave prison. Of course, the Department has worked closely with the Department for Communities and Local Government to address homelessness with a strategy that contains a number of measures to help ensure suitable accommodation for offenders, such as flexibility in the universal credit system so that short-sentence offenders do not lose their tenancies when they spend a short time in prison.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement that prisoners should be met at the gates by mentors—I am not sure whether he is volunteering to be one of them. Some 35% of prisoners have a drugs problem. Has he seen the latest Home

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Affairs Committee report, which suggests that prisoners should be compulsorily tested on exiting prison so that they can be given the support they need in the community as he has so rightly recommended?

Chris Grayling: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman’s sentiment with regard to drugs, prisons and when offenders move back into the community. I have spoken to prison officers who are deeply frustrated by the fact that treatment begins in prison but then stops at the prison gate. I can assure him that one of the things we are working on is ensuring that the conditionality we introduced to surround our rehabilitation revolution will mean that treatment flows through the prison gate and continues after the prisoner has been released.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): Can I ask the Secretary of State specifically about what he and his Department are doing to support former members of the armed forces who are in prison? I am thinking particularly of those who have served on operations. How is the Department helping them with rehabilitation and making sure that support mechanisms are in place so that they can get on with their lives and do not reoffend?

Chris Grayling: I regard it as a national shame that so many former members of our armed forces are in our prisons. I have discussions with the Minister with responsibility for veterans issues, my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois). I see the issue as something that we need to take forward in the next few months. It is certainly sitting high in my in-tray as a priority for us all.


7. Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): What steps he is taking to tackle reoffending. [133872]

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Grayling): I refer my hon. Friend to the answer that I gave a few moments ago. We intend to apply payment by results to the majority of rehabilitation work conducted with offenders in the community as soon as we can.

Jeremy Lefroy: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer and for the one he gave my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones). Reoffending is to some extent also linked to lack of preparation prior to release. As a member of an independent monitoring board, I noted that we placed a great emphasis on induction and less on “outduction”—preparation prior to release. What is my right hon. Friend doing in that respect?

Chris Grayling: Our aim is to deliver a service that flows through the prison gates. One of the failings of the current system is that, as the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) said a moment ago, there is not enough co-ordination between what happens in prison and after prison. The contracts that we build will begin while an offender is in prison and will see them through the prison gate to ensure that the continuity to which my hon. Friend refers is present.

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Andy Sawford (Corby) (Lab/Co-op): Given the abject failure of the payment-by-results programme that the Secretary of State introduced in his previous role as Minister with responsibility for employment, does he not recognise how incredibly worried people in Corby and east Northamptonshire will be that his new privatisation —the new payment by results—will be equally damaging for offender management?

Chris Grayling: I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the Work programme. About 200,000 people who were long-term unemployed have started work through that programme. The Labour party has been utterly disingenuous in how it has argued around the figures. There are people with first-rate expertise out there, particularly in the voluntary sector. I will be seeing such people tomorrow to talk about how we can help offenders participate. Those people can bring real expertise to make sure that reoffending rates, which are much too high, come down.

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): When are the Government going to produce a strategy on dealing with women offenders and reoffending by women?

Chris Grayling: Our aim is to do so early in the new year, but we do not want to rush it. I recognise that there is a need to differentiate the needs of women in prison from those of men in prison. The challenges are different and our responses should be different. One of my early steps in recognising that was to separate ministerial responsibility for men and women in prisons so that we could place a proper focus on the latter and their distinctive needs.

Legal Aid

8. Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab): What his policy is on legal aid. [133873]

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Grayling): Legal aid is a fundamental part of our legal system, but resources are not limitless. Publicly funded legal support should be reserved for those who need it most—for the most serious cases in which legal advice and representation are justified. It will continue to be available in cases where people’s lives or liberty are 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.

Ian Mearns: The Secretary of State said that the legal aid system is a fundamental part of the justice system, but we are witnessing a massive erosion of legal aid. Given the attacks on legal aid, on no win, no fee claims, on the Human Rights Act and on judicial review, and the drainage of resources at community legal advice centres and citizens advice bureaux, which are so important, particularly at the moment, do this Government truly believe at all in access to justice for all?

Chris Grayling: Of course we believe in access for justice, but we have to face the reality that we have had by far the most expensive legal aid system in Europe. At a time when we are still dealing with the financial debris left behind by the previous Government, it is impossible to avoid some tough decisions.

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Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): Reforms to legal aid to date have focused on civil legal aid. Future reforms will have to move on to criminal legal aid and, in particular, criminal contracting. Will my right hon. Friend therefore please say whether he has a timetable for criminal contracting?

Chris Grayling: Inevitably, we cannot avoid considering all the financial issues that face the Department. We are focusing on delivering the changes that we must soon introduce on civil legal aid; a number of measures need to come before this House in the next few weeks. That, for now, is our prime focus.

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): To avoid a 12th defeat in the other place on the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, the Secretary of State’s predecessor promised this House that he would not cut legal aid at first-stage appeal in welfare benefits cases if a point of law were involved. The proposals finally brought forward were so inadequate that two weeks ago their lordships voted them down and told him to come back with something better. Now we hear that the Secretary of State, in a fit of pique, intends to do nothing at all. Why is he breaking a promise to Parliament and to some of the most destitute and vulnerable people in the country?

Chris Grayling: As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, we have promised to consider the decision by the Lords. I was a little surprised to see the rather unusual step taken in the other place of voting down a statutory instrument that was granting a concession, but we will of course review the issue and decide how to proceed.


9. Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): If he will take steps to ensure that prisoners serve full sentences as handed down by the courts. [133874]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Jeremy Wright): As my hon. Friend knows, prisoners are released in accordance with the legislation laid down by Parliament, and Parliament has consistently taken the view that most custodial sentences should be served part in custody and part under supervision in the community. Sentencers are fully aware of this when determining the appropriate length of sentence in each case. However, the good news for my hon. Friend is that on 3 December the Government implemented changes which will mean that some of the most dangerous offenders may serve their custodial terms in full.

Philip Davies: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for small mercies. However, according to the Ministry of Justice, somebody sentenced to prison for six months can be released within six weeks, somebody sentenced to prison for a year can be released within three months, and somebody sentenced to prison for two years can be released after just seven months. Does my hon. Friend think that that carries the confidence of the public at large, and if not, what does he intend to do about it?

Jeremy Wright: The principle of some of a sentence being served in the community is, as we have discussed before, in my view a good one, because it enables us to

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have a hold over the individual when they come back out into the community. However, my hon. Friend will be pleased to learn that I am looking at ways in which early release in certain circumstances can be earned rather than automatically granted.

Sentencing Guidelines

11. Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): What his policy is on sentencing guidelines for the most serious and violent offenders. [133876]

18. Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East) (Lab): What his policy is on sentencing guidelines for the most serious and violent offenders. [133884]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Jeremy Wright): Severe maximum penalties are available for the most serious and violent offenders. Sentencing guidelines are a matter for the independent Sentencing Council. Guidelines provide non-exhaustive lists of common aggravating and mitigating factors, and courts retain discretion to treat the particular circumstances of individual cases.

Geraint Davies: There is significant concern in Swansea about violent offenders being let off lightly, because the prisons are over-full with people who do not pose a significant risk to the community and because magistrates and judges are being pressurised to reduce costs. Will the Minister ensure that enough investment and priority is given to keeping violent offenders in jail for long enough that they are rehabilitated and do not go out and reoffend?

Jeremy Wright: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are very keen to see that violent offenders serve appropriate sentences. The length of sentences is going up and not down. He is not right to suggest that prisons are over-full. There is still capacity within the prison system to take those who ought to be there. I remind him that the only Government in recent history who had to let offenders out of prison because they ran out of space were the previous Labour Government whom he supported.

Emma Reynolds: In July, a young constituent of mine tragically lost his life when he was fatally stabbed outside a nightclub in Wolverhampton. Although I understand that the Government have introduced minimum sentences for those who threaten people with knives, will the Minister consider introducing tougher and clearer sentences for those criminals who maim and kill people with knives?

Jeremy Wright: I understand exactly what the hon. Lady has said and my sympathies go to her constituent’s family. It is right that we look again at the range of sentencing options available for offences involving knives. This is an endemic problem and one that we need to tackle, particularly among young people who persist in the wrong belief that they are safer carrying a knife than being without one. We have to look at this again and we will.

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Courtroom Security

12. Steve Rotheram (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of security arrangements in courtrooms. [133877]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mrs Helen Grant): The security of our courtrooms and courts is a serious matter. Regular assessments take place at least once a year and they are monitored at cluster, regional and national level to aid in the continual review of security.

Steve Rotheram: A suspect who had been released on bail entered Liverpool Crown court with a knife he had smuggled through security checks and threatened to kill himself in the dock. Tragedy was averted on that occasion, but will the Minister outline what steps she is taking to instruct security staff to be extra vigilant during their searches of suspects on bail?

Mrs Grant: We are aware of that serious incident and I assure the hon. Gentleman that a full review of security has taken place at Liverpool Crown court. An action plan for improvement has been put together and good progress is being made. Training in search procedures for all G4S staff was provided last summer and its effectiveness is being monitored. Security arrangements are now operating to a required standard, but remain under careful review.

Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Lab): Security in courtrooms is one of the issues of great concern to victims and witnesses. The announcement of the new part-time victims commissioner is imminent—they will do just 10 hours a month—but does the Minister think that the new part-time commissioner will have time to consider security in courtrooms as part of this Government’s approach to partly putting victims at part of the heart of the justice system?

Mrs Grant: Victims will certainly be part of the heart of the justice system. An announcement will be made imminently to confirm the name of the new victims commissioner and I look forward to working with her very closely indeed. [Hon. Members: “Her?”] A lot of work is being done to improve security and safety in courts in addition to what I and the victims commissioner will do. Work has been done to improve security, including improvements to buildings, improved ways of working and improved education and training. The provision for the presence of a court security officer and enhanced risk management have also been helpful additions. We will continue to make sure that security is a priority.

Mr Speaker: I look forward to hearing further details in due course, if we have not already heard all of them.

Criminal Justice System (Women)

13. Mr Rob Wilson (Reading East) (Con): What steps his Department is taking to address vulnerabilities faced by women involved or at risk of becoming involved in the criminal justice system. [133878]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mrs Helen Grant): The Government are committed to reducing offending and reoffending by women. We have a cross-government programme of work that seeks to address issues associated with offending, such as drugs, alcohol, mental health needs, domestic and sexual violence, accommodation and education.

Mr Wilson: I thank the Minister for her answer. Alana House in my constituency is a community centre supporting women experiencing problems whose behaviour has shown them to be at risk of offending. It has been particularly successful in providing the courts with a useful alternative to custodial sentences and helps vulnerable women to tackle their problems. The centre is in danger of closing. Will the Minister agree to visit Alana House to see the valuable work that the centre does, and to work with me to help ensure that this valuable community resource remains open?

Mrs Grant: I know that my hon. Friend cares deeply about Alana House and its future in his Reading constituency. He has already discussed the matter with me on a number of occasions. The National Offender Management Service has funded women’s community facilities successfully for a number of years and Alana House has been provided with funding of £111,000 for 2012-13. From 2013-14, probation trusts will commission these very important services for women. They are required to provide gender-specific services and if those services are not sufficiently robust they will be challenged. It is too early to say what that will mean for Alana House, but I can tell my hon. Friend that I would be happy to visit the facility.

Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op): The Corston report highlighted the need for women’s centres to work with women offenders and those at risk of offending. What is the Government’s current policy on continuing to provide support to such services?

Mrs Grant: As I said, that funding will continue. The National Offender Management Service has funded women’s services very successfully for many years. The funding for women’s services will continue at the same level, but from 2013-14 probation trusts will commission these vital services.

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): Does the Minister agree that one of the best ways to ensure that women do not enter the criminal justice system is to use restorative justice more imaginatively for out-of-court disposals? Will she give a commitment to examine that in detail, particularly for women offenders?

Mrs Grant: Yes, I am happy to give that commitment.

Prison Work

14. Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): What progress he is making on providing work for prisoners. [133880]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Jeremy Wright): Getting more prisoners working longer hours is a key priority for the Government. Enforced idleness does nothing to help prisoners lead law-abiding

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lives on release. The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to hear that we are making good progress. Last year, public sector prisons delivered more than 11.4 million hours of work in production and service areas—an increase of 800,000 hours on the previous year’s figures.

Jonathan Reynolds: PVC Recycling in my constituency runs a groundbreaking scheme in conjunction with the Prison Service and provides offenders with paid work for sorting through plastic composites. I am told that those skills are much in demand in the private sector when people finish their sentences. The work stops a huge amount of material going to landfill or being exported to the developing world. Will the Minister look at whether that scheme can be expanded, because I am told that there is considerable scope for expansion to prisons across the country?

Jeremy Wright: Yes, I will certainly look at that. We are keen to see the expansion of exactly that kind of work, for the reasons the hon. Gentleman gives. It is good for prisoners because they learn the hard skills of a trade and the softer skills of going to work in the morning and working a proper day, and we all benefit if offenders have the skills they need to ensure that they do not reoffend on release. I will look at what he has described. If we can find a way of expanding it, we will.

Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is entirely right to make prisoners work, and that the enforced idleness that there has been in prisons has to be reversed because that will lead to prisoners getting gainful employment on release?

Jeremy Wright: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. It is right, and it is what the public expect, that prisoners do something productive while they are in custody, rather than simply sitting around in their cells. That could involve a range of things such as work, education or drug treatment, but he is right that his constituents and mine would expect them to be doing something.

Probation Service

15. Mrs Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab): When he expects to announce the Government’s response to the consultation on the future of the probation service. [133881]

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Grayling): As I indicated a moment ago, following my meetings tomorrow with a series of stakeholders, I will finalise a paper setting out my proposals for delivering a rehabilitation revolution. The paper will include a response to the previous consultation on probation reform and set out how my proposals have developed. It will be published early in the new year.

Mrs Glindon: The Secretary of State will be aware that Northumbria probation trust has received the best inspection results so far from Her Majesty’s inspectorate. How will he ensure that probation trusts continue to be effective in protecting the public and reducing reoffending after the review, given that it is proposed that offender management will be fragmented across a wide range of providers?

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Chris Grayling: As I have indicated, we have some high-quality probation professionals in this country. It is a profession that will remain important to us. We need specialist skills, particularly in the protection of public security, risk assessment and harm prevention. Such skills will remain integral to the way in which a public sector probation service works.

Restorative Justice

16. Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): What plans he has to extend the use of restorative justice. [133882]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mrs Helen Grant): The Government published their restorative justice action plan for the criminal justice system on 19 November. It will improve the victim’s awareness of and access to restorative justice. We have also introduced legislation to put restorative justice on a statutory footing.

Paul Goggins: I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. I welcome the Government’s action plan, to which she referred, including the clear commitment to the needs of victims. However, if she and her colleagues are to embed restorative justice at the heart of the criminal justice system, she will need to find additional resources. Will she make a commitment now to allocate to restorative justice some of the extra money that has been raised from offenders through the extended victims surcharge?

Mrs Grant: We are already doing so.

Community Sentences

17. Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay) (LD): What steps he is taking to improve community sentences. [133883]

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Grayling): The Government are determined to ensure that community sentences are effective at punishing and rehabilitating offenders. We have increased the length and duration of curfews and given courts greater flexibility to impose programme and treatment requirements. We are also making the delivery of community payback swifter and more intensive. Provisions in the Crime and Courts Bill will ensure that new community orders contain a punitive element, give courts new powers to monitor the location of offenders electronically, and, following on from the comments of the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins), increase the use of pre-sentencing restorative justice.

Stephen Gilbert: I welcome the steps that my right hon. Friend has outlined. Newquay, in my constituency, sees a large and welcome influx of visitors each year, a minority of whom commit antisocial behaviour. What assurance can my right hon. Friend give me that community sentences will be served in the areas where the crimes occur?

Chris Grayling: That would of course be the norm, but the most important thing is not geography but that punishment takes place. Given the circumstances that

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Newquay faces, I hope that the addition of a punishment to a community sentence will be a timely reminder to a lot of young people of what they can and cannot do. That approach will create a system that is better and more appropriate for Newquay.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): Wales probation trust has carried out excellent community-related work with local voluntary services in north Wales. Will the Secretary of State confirm that he sees a role for probation services in the brave new world to which he has referred?

Chris Grayling: I can absolutely do that. I have visited the Wales probation trust and am impressed by what it has done, and I am absolutely committed to seeing high-quality, specialist public sector probation officers continuing to deliver the support that we need them to deliver, particularly to prevent harm from coming to members of the public.

Topical Questions

T1. [133890] Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Grayling): Today, in accordance with the timetable set out in its terms of reference, the Commission on a Bill of Rights has delivered its final report jointly to the Deputy Prime Minister and myself. The Government thank the commission for the diligent manner in which it has discharged its task. It reflected the remit set out in the coalition’s programme for government of establishing a commission to examine the creation of a British Bill of Rights that

“incorporates and builds on all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, ensures that these rights continue to be enshrined in British law, and protects and extends British liberties.”

The House knows very well my strong views on these matters, and we will now give the report careful consideration.

Mrs Hodgson: What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the medium to long-term demand on the youth justice system, given that the budget for early intervention work such as helping troubled families and supporting teenage drug and alcohol programmes will have been cut by 40% by the end of this Parliament?

Chris Grayling: I think the hon. Lady misunderstands the position. The Government are putting a huge effort into tackling the problems in troubled families, with work taking place in the Departments for Communities and Local Government and for Work and Pensions. I hope that we can make a real difference by reducing offending. The contribution of restorative justice will make a difference, and our rehabilitation revolution will help to ease pressures on our criminal justice system.

T2. [133891] Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): Last week, the Public Accounts Committee published its report on the Ministry of Justice’s language services contract. It concluded, among other things, that Applied Language Solutions does not have enough interpreters available to meet demand, and that the interpreters who are provided

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do not all have the necessary qualifications. Does the Secretary of State intend to implement the Committee’s recommendations to address those pressing issues?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mrs Helen Grant): Interpreting services in court are at a 95% success rate, and the National Audit Office has said that we should go on and implement the proposals fully. The contract is saving us £15 million a year of taxpayers’ money, and as long as we continue to work with interpreters—we have already had an important meeting with them—the new system will be more sustainable, effective and transparent than the old one.

Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): The British Human Rights Act provides protection against cruel and inhumane treatment, including the right to a fair trial, the right to life, the right to family life and freedom of expression. It makes explicit the fact that Parliament is sovereign, and that even the Supreme Court cannot trump Parliament. Bearing that in mind, will the Justice Secretary make it clear that it is the British Human Rights Act that he so opposes, or is it the British courts that interpret the law? Which of the rights in the British Human Rights Act would not be included in his Bill of Rights?

Chris Grayling: The original human rights convention was a laudable document written when Stalin was in power and people were sent to the gulags without trial. Over 50 or 60 years of jurisprudence, the European Court of Human Rights has moved further and further away from the goals of its creators, and I believe that this is an issue that we have to address in this country and across Europe.

Sadiq Khan: I know that the right hon. Gentleman has done the primer, but I did not mention the European convention or the European Court—I mentioned the Human Rights Act. Will he answer a simple question? Will he confirm that were it not for the Human Rights Act, the extradition of the Asperger’s-suffering Gary McKinnon to the USA could not have been stopped by the Home Secretary?

Chris Grayling: I am a bit puzzled by the right hon. Gentleman’s comment, because the Human Rights Act enacts the convention in the law of this country. I think, and many in the House agree, that the remit of the Court has expanded beyond its creators’ original intention, which is why we need reform.

T3. [133892] Simon Wright (Norwich South) (LD): Will the Secretary of State seek to make an example of some of the best practice work experience schemes for serving prisoners such as the big society award-winning custody and community project at Norwich’s Chapelfield shopping centre, which is highly effective in cutting reoffending?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Jeremy Wright): I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that we want more prisoners to have experiences, such as the one he mentions, in the right controlled conditions, and we want to make sure, as I said, that prisoners have experience of work as well as of work experience.

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T6. [133895] Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): The prisons Minister recently met council leaders from north Wales to discuss the long-standing issue of a prison in the area. Will he meet north Wales Members of Parliament to keep them in the loop on his thinking, or does he intend not to keep them informed?

Jeremy Wright: As I recall, almost all the council leaders who came to see me on that occasion were Labour council leaders, so I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman has a communication problem with his own councillors. This is going to be part of a much wider consideration of the prison estate that we will undertake. As soon as we are in a position to make decisions we will attempt to keep informed all those who need to be informed.

T4. [133893] Jessica Lee (Erewash) (Con): At this time of year, our thoughts often turn to those who are living on their own and are more vulnerable. Will my right hon. Friend set out what support is being offered to groups such as the Erewash community safety partnership in their fight against antisocial behaviour and to the efforts of all to bring the perpetrators of antisocial behaviour to the justice they deserve?

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Damian Green): I am happy to join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the Erewash community safety partnership, and to reassure her that this is one of the many areas where the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice are working together closely. She will know that last week my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary published a draft Anti-Social Behaviour Bill, which aims precisely to help community safety partnerships put victims at the heart of their response to this problem. The Ministry of Justice is funding a number of organisations, including Victim Support, that are working to the same end.

T8. [133898] Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): I know that the Minister responsible for probation has had the opportunity to visit Manchester and see for himself the intensive alternative to custody programme, which is co-ordinated by the Greater Manchester probation service and has achieved significant reductions in the rate and seriousness of offending. Will he and the Secretary of State make a clear commitment that, under the new commissioning arrangements, whenever they are announced, that tremendously important initiative will continue?

Jeremy Wright: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising that, and I certainly enjoyed my visit to Manchester, where I could see that a great deal of good work was being done. He can take reassurance from the fact that the system we will roll out will reward those things that work. If the intensive alternative to custody programme is as effective as it appears to be, it will work and it will be rewarded.

T5. [133894] Mr Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton) (Con): The Bill of Rights commission report that has just been published has split views on many issues, but a majority think that the status quo is unstable and, interestingly, a majority want further reform of the Strasbourg Court. What reassurance can the Secretary of State give us that

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he remains committed to defending the House from the creeping usurpation of democratic power by the Strasbourg Court?

Chris Grayling: I can give my hon. Friend an absolute commitment. The Conservative party—although not the Opposition, from what we have heard today—is committed to the need for change and to ensuring that international human rights frameworks do not inappropriately intrude on the democratic decisions of this Parliament.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Does the Minister agree that an essential part of probation for reoffenders is monitored interaction within the community, and that community service can be a useful tool for reintegration in society?

Jeremy Wright: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we must ensure that prisoners reintegrate. That work should start when prisoners are still in custody and continue through the gate into the community. We want to see more of that and will encourage it in any new system that we design.

T7. [133897] Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) mentioned the victims commissioner. Will she update the House on what progress has been made towards the appointment of a victims commissioner, and when that appointment is likely to take place?

Mrs Grant: I look forward to announcing the name of the victims commissioner within the next few days.

Mr Speaker: We are now all agog.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Very agog, Sir. Will the Secretary of State say when he plans to end the scandal of making welfare benefit payments to prisoners serving a sentence?

Chris Grayling: That is a matter for the Department for Work and Pensions but I am absolutely of the view that benefit payments should not be made to serving prisoners. I hope and expect that the DWP will deal with that issue. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has already taken steps to ensure that the system we inherited, in which that kind of thing could happen, comes to an end.

T9. [133899] Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree that although judicial review is important, in many circumstances its use can become excessive?

Chris Grayling: I absolutely agree. The proposed consultation and the measures that we set out last week, which we think will make a difference as a first stage towards reforming judicial review, are essential. We must bear in mind that only one in five judicial reviews succeed. They are a huge burden on our justice system and a price the nation has to pay. We will be looking at whether further changes can be made to ensure that we protect the integrity of judicial review as a valuable tool for challenging the Government, while not allowing it to continue as a tool that can be abused.

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Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): The most vulnerable people in my constituency will suffer most from cuts to legal aid. Is it not the case that under this Government there is one law for the few who can afford expensive legal advice and another law for the rest?

Chris Grayling: It is noticeable that time and again in these sessions we hear what are effectively spending commitments from the Opposition. They want to spend more money on legal aid, despite the fact that—by their own admission—they left us with no money in the bank. The hon. Gentleman must accept that we have to take tough decisions to reduce the cost of the most expensive legal aid system in Europe, and we will take those decisions.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): Many of us who were young advocates took work from legal aid at the start of our careers. If that work goes, will my right hon. Friend look at promoting mediation across all departments—welfare departments, health tribunals and the works—to help young aspiring advocates and barristers make up the income they will undoubtedly lose?

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend’s point about mediation is important and highlights the fact that when dealing with the financial challenges we face, the Government must look for innovative new ways of doing things. Mediation is certainly one of those.

Yvonne Fovargue (Makerfield) (Lab): How many people do the Government expect to be able to challenge welfare benefit decisions at the highest level on a point of law in the future if they continue to claim that it is too difficult to find a way to identify cases and provide legal aid, despite the Minister’s reassurances to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill Committee?

Chris Grayling: We are still in discussions about how to respond to the vote in the House of Lords, but we must accept that there are limits to what the Government and the taxpayer can provide in terms of legal support. There will always be limits to what the state can do, and we are trying to find the right balance in exceptionally difficult financial circumstances.

Priti Patel (Witham) (Con): This week the public learned that the legal aid bill for the radical cleric Abu Qatada stands at over half a million pounds and is still rising. Will my right hon. Friend put an end to that misuse of public money?

Chris Grayling: I would make two points to my hon. Friend. First, whether we like it or not, we will always, in the interests of justice, have to provide some support to people whom we find distasteful. Secondly, the reality is that I share her concerns. I have already commissioned a review of aspects of our legal aid system in which I believe there are public confidence issues. I hope to give my thoughts on that front in due course.

Mr Bob Ainsworth (Coventry North East) (Lab): The Courts and Tribunals Service has admitted that there is a 55-week wait for appeals on employment and support allowance in Coventry. That is higher than the 37 weeks

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admitted by Ministers and higher than the national average. What will be done to end that disgraceful state of affairs?

Chris Grayling: We are doing two things, but the right hon. Gentleman needs to bear in mind that the backlog has existed not just under this Government, but under his Government. The reality is that we are dealing with a very large number of cases. We are working hard to improve decision making within Jobcentre Plus, and have taken on board the recommendations of Malcolm Harrington to improve the process. One challenge we face is that when we are taking tough decisions on benefit entitlement and when people are free to appeal, there will always be a propensity to do so.

Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): Will the Secretary of State ensure that charities and voluntary organisations can continue to provide their services for the rehabilitation of offenders?

Jeremy Wright: I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. We want to encourage the good work that is already being done by a large number of voluntary and community sector organisations to provide the expertise that all hon. Members want incorporated into the rehabilitation revolution. Yes, we want to see more of that.

Mr George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab): The Secretary of State seemed to confirm a moment ago in a reply to the hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel) that the legal aid bill for Abu Qatada came to half a million pounds, as has been reported in the newspapers. Will he therefore explain why he refused to provide that figure in a written answer to me last week?

Chris Grayling: I will have to look into that. I am not aware that I have refused to provide anything. The figure has been made publicly available.

Mr Speaker: Well, the plot thickens.

Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): Last year, the number of applications for permission to apply for judicial review in immigration and asylum cases reached a point at which they represent more than three quarters of the total number of such applications. What will my right hon. Friend do about that growing issue?

Chris Grayling: Our consultation includes proposals to introduce a series of limitations in the judicial review process, particularly to stop people coming back again and again looking for new legal nuances to launch a new case. I believe, as does the judiciary—this has been highlighted in a number of recent cases—that judicial review is simply being used as a vehicle to delay being deported from the country, which is wrong.

Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): The all-party parliamentary group on child protection is conducting

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an inquiry into the review of family justice and the Government’s proposed reforms. We have today heard that in most situations the judge did not meet children in the looked-after system before making decisions about their lives. Is it not time that judges who work on family justice cases are dedicated to family justice rather than dealing with other cases, so that we can ensure that they are properly trained and can communicate properly with children?

Chris Grayling: It is not for me specifically to instruct the judiciary on how they handle cases—the independence of the judiciary is a feature of our system. However, I am sure the hon. Lady’s comments will have been heard by those who lead the family division. It is very much a matter for judges to decide how best to ensure that they have the right mix of experience.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): Topically, Liz Calderbank, the chief inspector of probation, has today produced a report into what she calls the depressing and flawed care system, in which too many young people in care end up in the youth justice system. What part are Justice Ministers playing in the Department for Education review of vulnerable children placed a long way from home, often in inappropriate children’s homes and other accommodation?

Chris Grayling: We are doing two things. First, we are undertaking a complete review of how we detain young people. I am uneasy—to say the least—about a system that costs a substantial amount of money and yet has a high reoffending rate. I do not believe we are getting it right, and we are looking to introduce a process in the new year to address how we detain young people. Secondly, I am in regular contact with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education. I believe we are due to meet to discuss those issues in the next few days.

Mr Speaker: Last but not least, I call Steve Rotheram.

Steve Rotheram (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): After a lengthy campaign, tomorrow the High Court will hear the application from the Attorney-General to quash the original verdicts into the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans at Hillsborough in 1989—

Mr Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman must resume his seat. My strong sense—I do not have advance briefing on the detail of the matter—is that the issue that he is raising could well be sub judice.

Steve Rotheram indicated dissent.

Mr Speaker: Order. It is not a matter to be raised now, so we will leave it there. I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman.

Steve Rotheram rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. That is the end of it. We must now move on.

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Points of Order

12.34 pm

Mr Rob Wilson (Reading East) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During Prime Minister’s questions on 24 October 2012, the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams)—I have given her prior notice of this point of order—made the serious accusation on the Floor of the House that a relationship existed between:

“Virgin Care donations to the Tory party, the number of Virgin Care shareholders on clinical commissioning group boards and the number of NHS contracts that have been awarded to Virgin Care”.—[Official Report, 24 October 2012; Vol. 551, c. 919.]

That assertion appears to have been picked up from a blogger who has since apologised and withdrawn it. The hon. Lady’s remarks carry a very serious and clear insinuation of a potentially corrupt relationship between Virgin Care, the Conservative party and the award of NHS contracts. However, when I checked the Electoral Commission’s online register of political donations, I found no record of any donation by Virgin Care to any political party. Is it not the tradition for a Member who has perhaps inadvertently made false claims or assertions on the Floor of the House to come to the House at the earliest opportunity to set the record straight?

Mr Speaker: What I say to the hon. Gentleman is twofold. First, I hope and am confident that the hon. Member has given proper notice to the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) of his intention to raise this point on the Floor of the House.

Mr Wilson indicated assent.

Mr Speaker: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that. Secondly, with specific reference to the hon. Gentleman’s question, right hon. and hon. Members must take responsibility for the accuracy of what they say in the House—the Chair cannot take over that responsibility. His point will have been heard by the hon. Member and by others, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for putting it on the record.

Steve Rotheram (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab) rose—

Mr Speaker: We are not going to have a debate about the matter that the hon. Gentleman could not raise. However, if he wants briefly to raise a point of order, he can.

Steve Rotheram: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I understand your concerns about raising matters in this House that are sub judice, and I would never put you, as the Speaker of the House, in that position. My question was going to be that whatever the outcome, every eventuality should be afforded to the families and that the Secretary of State should be considering a possible outcome in which the families would need support from the public purse for any inquest that might follow on from any decision in the High Court tomorrow. That is all I was asking.

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Mr Speaker: I understand what the hon. Gentleman is asking and what he describes as all he was asking, but I am afraid that the operation of the sub judice rule is not undertaken or applied on a selective basis entertaining various hypothetical scenarios. If a matter is sub judice, and I am so advised, it is sub judice. It is not open, in such circumstances, for a Member to pick upon an aspect of the matter that he thinks it timely to raise. The ruling I gave was on the basis of advice at the time, and I believe it to be correct. If I were incorrect, I would be very happy to say so to the hon. Gentleman. He is indefatigable in the pursuit of this issue and properly so, but he will accept that we must operate on the basis of the rules. He has said his piece, I respect that, and that is the end of it.

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Grayling): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. It might be helpful to say that my Department is mindful of the financial pressures faced by the Hillsborough families. We all recognise the very difficult circumstances they have been through, and they are certainly in our consideration.

Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Is that sub judice?

Mr Speaker: That is not sub judice; it is a relatively unusual way for the Secretary of State to voice the Government’s thinking on this matter. I thank him in the spirit in which his comment was made. There is no doubt that if the Government have got further and better particulars on the matter, at some point that will become clear. We will leave it there and I thank him.

Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have never raised a point of order before, but I feel that I must today. I tabled a question for today’s questions regarding the family justice review. The question was approved by the Table Office and successfully drawn as No. 5 in the ballot, but it was withdrawn by the Ministry of Justice, because it deemed it to be irrelevant to its Department, despite the fact that it had been corresponding with me on this matter since last June. My constituent, Mr Neil Brotherton, who is trying to improve children’s access to their family when their parents separate, was to have been here today to hear the Minister’s answer. Will you advise me, Mr Speaker, on what course of action I may now pursue, not just for Mr Brotherton, but for other constituents?

Mr Speaker: I am happy to oblige the hon. Lady. I am sorry that it was her first point of order, but I am quite certain it will not be her last. My response to her point of order is twofold. First, my understanding—I do not wish to be pedantic, but I think it is factually correct and an important point—is that the question was not, as she put it, withdrawn, but transferred. Secondly, on how she should proceed, I would say that she is an ingenious Member and will know that there is plenty of scope for tabling questions, seeking Adjournment debates and raising matters during oral questions, and there are also the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee, so there are plenty of facilities open to her.

Although the Table Office seeks to advise hon. Members where there is a risk of an oral parliamentary question being transferred, the prediction of the allocation of

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ministerial responsibility is not an exact science. It is for the Government to decide where responsibility lies for answering a question, and I do not intervene in such decisions. I recognise that they can be the source of frustration or irritation, but they are not matters for the Chair. Furthermore, for the hon. Lady’s benefit and that of the House, I must make the specific point that nothing disorderly has occurred.

Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker: I am not sure there is a further to that point of order, but the hon. Lady has been in the House 25 years, so we ought to give her the benefit of the doubt.

Joan Walley: I, too, had an oral question down for answer during Justice Question Time, but was told at the last minute that it had been transferred to the Cabinet Office, because the Minister without Portfolio, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), who is now dealing with it, was unable to answer it as part of the Justice Front-Bench team. Will you have regard to the difficulty of raising issues on behalf of our constituents owing to internal transfers within the Government?

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order, but my earlier statement still applies: it is a matter for the Government. I say that not least because we are in the presence of the esteemed Minister without Portfolio, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke)—[Interruption.] No, there is no need for him to rise from his seat at this point, though it is always a pleasure to listen to him. Nevertheless, I attach great importance to early decisions on transfer. If a question is to be transferred, it is for the convenience of the Member and the House as a whole that the decision be taken and the Member notified at an early stage. After his 42 years in the House, I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would be the first to assent to that uncontroversial proposition.

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Welfare Cash Card

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

12.42 pm

Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the introduction of a welfare cash card; and for connected purposes.

The principle of the Bill is to encourage responsible spending by welfare claimants, ensuring that taxpayers’ money is spent wisely and for the purpose it is intended. It will alter the spending habits of a minority who for far too long have taken advantage of the system, getting something for nothing. Consequently, I believe that it will change the perception of benefits in this country for the better. Politicians, the media and those from varied walks of life have been complicit in tarring as idle all 5.88 million recipients of one or more benefits from the Department for Work and Pensions. In fact, however, the time someone finds themselves on benefits is the time strivers and low-paid workers most need a supportive society where they are given the respect most deserve in trying to make work pay.

It is 70 years this month since the Beveridge report identified the five giant evils that plagued society: disease, want, ignorance, squalor, and idleness. Members on all sides of the House will want to praise successive Governments for their advances in eradicating these evils, but one remains prevalent today. The “something for nothing” culture encouraged by the previous Labour Government created a two-tier benefits system in which the strivers and low paid-workers were penalised for the idleness of the shirkers.

The Bill seeks to work alongside the Government’s welfare reforms to support those hard-working families who strive to be self-supporting by ending the “something for nothing” stigma of the welfare system. The introduction of a welfare cash card on which benefits would be paid would enable claimants to make only priority purchases such as food, clothing, energy, travel and housing. The purchase of luxury goods such as cigarettes, alcohol, Sky television and gambling would be prohibited. When hard-working families up and down the country are forced to cut back on such non-essential, desirable and often damaging items—NEDD items, as I call them—it is right that taxpayer-funded benefits should be used to fund only essential purchases.

No doubt, Opposition Members will say that people would be too ashamed to carry a welfare cash card, but I want to discount that argument immediately. If people did not want to be recognised as being unemployed, jobcentres would cease to exist as people would not visit them for fear of being seen in them.

Owing to the differing circumstances involved, this measure would not affect the basic state pension or disability benefits. For all other claimants, however, this move towards responsible spending would support the introduction of universal credit and the change from fortnightly to monthly welfare payments. It would place a focus on the financial planning that will be crucial in ensuring that out-of-work families take charge of their monthly spending. The welfare cash card would encourage that by prohibiting the purchase of NEDD items, thereby increasing the funds available for purchasing food and

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other essential commodities. It would mould financial responsibility for all claimants and provide an opportunity for out-of-work families to take charge of their finances just as they would need to when they got back into employment.

A stigma around those on benefits is commonplace, but that is neither accurate nor fair to low-paid workers who rely on the extra support that the welfare system offers. We need to stop the damaging perception that all benefit recipients are financially reckless. If taxpayers can be safe in the knowledge that claimants can no longer purchase NEDD items at the taxpayer’s expense, the concept of welfare will be viewed once again as a responsible way for people to get back on their feet. That is what the welfare state was intended to be: a safety net in times of need; a hand up, not a hand-out.

Beveridge had such a high opinion of society that he thought nobody would want to choose not to work. The last decade has proved otherwise, however, with the previous Government allowing an epidemic to fester. It is now time to modify the system so that this socially destructive state-funded way of living is no longer an option. Surely we should aim to introduce measures to enable society to be supportive and respectful of those struggling to succeed, which is what this form of financial monitoring could achieve.

Furthermore, the welfare cash card has the potential for more social good, not least by assisting efforts to eradicate child poverty. Statistics show that over 1.26 million claimants have children. Prohibiting the purchases of NEDD items such as cigarettes and alcohol would leave more money for priority purchases for children, who should not be the ones to suffer as a result of their parents’ irresponsible spending. To put this in monetary terms, the Office for National Statistics has calculated that the average household spends £48 a month on cigarettes, alcohol and narcotics. If the Bill created even the slightest chance of raising those children out of poverty, or of reducing the chance of them going to school hungry or being subjected to secondary inhalation of smoke, I would argue that it was worth while.

A ban on cigarette and alcohol purchases would also inevitably impact on NHS costs. This is not to suggest that welfare claimants are purposely taking advantage of the NHS, but a reduction in smoking-related and alcohol-related admissions would be a natural by-product of the welfare cash card. Smoking-related illnesses are estimated to cost the NHS at least £2.7 billion a year in England alone, with the same cost attached to alcohol-related harm. With that figure expected to rise to £3.7 billion by 2015, it is simply wrong that the state is inadvertently fuelling the problem by allowing the use of welfare payments for the purchase of NEDDs.

The Bill is about safeguarding the use of taxpayers’ money and supporting claimants in managing their

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own incomes. In the 21st century, it is right that we should maximise the benefits of technology for increased efficiency and reduced bureaucracy. In doing so, we would join Australia and the USA in leading the way in which welfare payments are made to claimants. In Australia, a five-year pilot of the Basics card is under way, and in America, the 47 million recipients on the food stamp programme receive their credits on an electronic benefit transfer card.

A welfare cash card would be a sensible step forward as we move towards universal credit. The cash card would operate like any other bank card utilising the chip and PIN payment method. There is also scope to use the cash card to increase the use of public transport, through an integrated travel pass, to assist travel needs.

This is about benefit distribution and spending, not about benefit allocation. Whatever the amount that is received on welfare, it is paramount that we are sure that it is being used in the best way to benefit society. The Beveridge report modelled a welfare state using the insurance contributions an individual pays to support them when they fall on hard times. At a time when it is not uncommon for families to have third-generation benefit claimants, who have never made these insurance contributions, this model is becoming increasingly unviable and the need for reform is urgent.

This Bill would promote financial planning and spending by those in society who have fallen on hard times and require support from the state. It backs those hard-working families who feel penalised for going to work, such as the single mum in my constituency—a low-paid shop worker on income support, juggling child care but going to work because she believes it is better to work than spend a life on benefits.

We must change this vision of the benefits system. We must change this perception to support those in society who need the benefit system to help them get on and work hard in life. The welfare cash card does just that: it is not about dividing to rule, but ending Labour’s divisive two-tier benefit system and the damaging perception that accompanied it. It backs the low-paid workers and supports all jobseekers to spend responsibly, take control of their finances and get back on their feet. The welfare state can no longer be seen as getting something for nothing: it must deliver on Beveridge’s vision of a temporary security net by using benefits to create a striving society.

Question put and agreed to.


That Alec Shelbrooke, Jessica Lee, Nigel Adams, Gareth Johnson and Kris Hopkins present the Bill.

Alec Shelbrooke accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 25 January 2013, and to be printed (Bill 112).

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Justice and Security Bill [Lords]

[Relevant document: The Fourth Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Legislative Scrutiny: Justice and Security Bill, HC 370]

Second Reading

12.52 pm

Minister without Portfolio (Mr Kenneth Clarke): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Since we first consulted on the Bill and during its passage through the House of Lords, it has aroused quite a bit of passion and debate among those interested in the subject. The first aim of my speech will be to try to satisfy the House that most of the passion and debate turns on the very important detail of the way in which the Bill’s processes will work. No doubt, the detail will be considered at great length in Committee rather than today. I believe that I can demonstrate that there is no real division on principle between the Government and most of the people who have debated this matter. The Government are just as committed as any other Member of either House of Parliament to the principles of justice being done in civil cases, the rule of law and the accountability of our intelligence agencies both to the courts and to Parliament. I believe that accountability will be improved by the Bill.

Our intelligence services comprise brave men and women, and we all realise they do essential work in helping to protect us against the great threats to this country. We also insist that they should respect and follow our values when carrying out their work, and they are properly accountable to the law and Parliament. I think the best people in the intelligence agencies are anxious to be able to demonstrate that, to protect their reputation and taxpayers’ money for claims made against them.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD): Before my right hon. and learned Friend embarks on a more detailed consideration, I wonder whether he understands that the amendments made in the House of Lords have been regarded by many people as being entirely favourable and reasonable. Will he confirm whether Her Majesty’s Government will accept those amendments and will remain open to any further amendments, particularly those with the purpose of extending the discretion of the courts?

Mr Clarke: I shall come on to the detail a little later in my speech and I want to start, if I may, by reiterating the case in principle. I will deal with the amendments later, and we will accept some of them, but express our doubts about others. We will come back with a detailed response in Committee. I think the people who moved those amendments were pushing at an open door in terms of judicial discretion, but they were desperately anxious to dot every i and cross every t. In some cases, we are going to have to consider whether they put the right dots on the right i’s and crossed the right t’s. I shall deal with that. I quite understand that the Joint Committee on Human Rights came forward with recommendations that commanded wide support in the House of Lords—and, no doubt, in this House, too—but Ministers need to address them properly. If we wish to come back to some of them, we will explain in detail the reasons why.

Let me get under way. It was about a year ago when the House—

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Dr Hywel Francis (Aberavon) (Lab) rose

Mr Clarke: I will give way to the Chairman of the Joint Committee, but I will not start a rash of giving way at this early stage of my speech.

Dr Francis: Do I detect from the warm way in which the Minister responded and referred to the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights that he will be minded to accept many of its recommendations?

Mr Clarke: Minded to? Certainly—we will accept some of them. I speak warmly of the Joint Committee because I do not believe it was pursuing objectives that differed from mine or those of my colleagues. I think it will probably fall to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire) to explain in Committee why we are not wholly convinced that every one of the amendments is quite right, or even that some of them would have the effect that the Joint Committee proposed. I will not, however, get into that level of detail so early in a Second Reading speech, if I may be allowed not to do so.

We discussed the Green Paper about a year ago, and I recall that it was a comparatively non-controversial occasion. Such was the general satisfaction and understanding on all sides that I left the Chamber wondering whether I needed to have bothered to make an oral statement. Quite a lot has happened since then, but I trust it has not shifted the opinion of the Members who joined in the debate at that time, particularly that of the shadow Justice Secretary, the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan). I still strongly agree with what he said, which I shall quote:

“We need, as a matter of urgency, to bolster the safeguards and scrutiny mechanisms concerning issues of security and intelligence.”—[Official Report, 19 October 2011; Vol. 533, c. 901.]

I am glad to see the right hon. Gentleman nodding his head in response to his own quotation. I was glad to read in a recent interview in The Guardianthat he still believes that, as he said:

“In two and a half years’ time, it could be me in that seat making that tough decision. So it is very important for ministers to have the opportunity to protect sources, to protect delicate operations and all the rest of it. They shouldn’t be jeopardised by a civil action.”

I will not comment on the right hon. Gentleman’s political optimism and ambition to occupy any seat at all, but he is certainly right, in my opinion, to identify a serious problem with the current arrangements. At the moment, total secrecy is all that happens to the sensitive intelligence information in far too many cases and no judicial judgment is pronounced on the merits of plaintiff versus defendant. I believe that the present system needs to be reformed urgently. That is why the principle of the Bill is certainly necessary.

In support of the need for change, let me remind the House of a letter written to The Times newspaper last month by a number of individuals for whom I personally have the greatest respect. The signatories included the former Lord Chief Justice, the noble and learned Lord Woolf; the former Home Secretary, Lord Reid; and my right hon. Friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, a former

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Lord Chancellor. I am sure we all agree that all those people are totally committed to the rule of law and the principles of justice. In their letter they explained:

“In national security matters our legal system relies upon a procedure known as public interest immunity…Under PII, evidence which is deemed to be national security sensitive is excluded from the courtroom. The judge may not take it into account when coming to his or her judgment.”

This procedure, they say, is

“resulting in a damaging gap in the rule of law.”

They are right to say that.

In my opinion, it has become well nigh impossible for British judges to untangle, and adjudicate on, claims and counter-claims of alleged British involvement in the mistreatment of detainees. If we, as citizens, want to know whether the Security Service could challenge and rebut what is claimed against it, no judge can give us guidance as things stand. Some of the allegations of British involvement in the mistreatment of detainees are really serious, and I do not think that the system should continue to prevent judges from scrutinising the secret actions of the state in such cases.

Hazel Blears (Salford and Eccles) (Lab): Not only will judges not have the full information, but when cases are settled, adverse inferences will inevitably be drawn about behaviour that may or may not have taken place, and that affects the reputation of our agencies. Is it not therefore essential that we can get to the heart of the matter, so that the agencies can at least put their case?

Mr Clarke: I entirely agree. We keep being reminded of that. The fact is that the reputational damage is probably more significant than the millions of pounds that have been involved in some of these cases, and we need to ensure that some way can be found of trying them.

Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way—on that point?

Mr Clarke: Let me just explain. All of this is relevant.

Some of our critics appear to be arguing decisively that the status quo is somehow defensible and should continue, but I believe that that position is untenable now. It is simply not possible for a judge to hear these matters, and, as was pointed out by the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears), all kinds of insinuations are made about cases in which it ought to be obvious to everyone that the intelligence agencies were in no position to call any evidence that would seriously address the issues.

The serious evidence that might be called and might be relevant—I am not commenting on the merits of any individual cases—might relate to the precise nature of the British intelligence agencies’ involvement in the issues concerned. What did our agents know about either an individual or an organisation at the time when the events being described were taking place? What collaboration was taking place between the British Government and partners in overseas agencies, and what information was being shared? Those are all very

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sensible questions, given the nature of some of the claims that have been made about the behaviour of British agents.

As I have told the House before, I do not think that any country in the world would tolerate a legal system in which our spies and our agents and their collaborators cheerily appeared in open court, in front of the parties, their lawyers and the press, and gave evidence on these matters. It would be exceedingly damaging. Public interest immunity, on which people now rely, has one obvious defect. If a Minister obtains it, that means that the material is entirely excluded from the court, and neither party can rely on it.

What continually happens, certainly in relation to defence evidence, is that—although there has been no proper hearing of all the evidence—the parties settle, the taxpayer pays up, claims are made which are damaging to the reputation of the service and no one knows whether or not they are justified, and we have to move on from there. I want us to reach a point at which cases are not being settled simply because our court procedures are not capable of allowing sensitive national security material to be heard in the few cases in which it is plainly relevant. It has always been obvious to me that what is needed in civil actions of this kind is the very limited use, in exceptional cases, of the closed procedures that were created by the last Government, which would enable a High Court judge to consider all the evidence from both sides, but to do so in necessarily closed conditions if national security was at risk.

Mr Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con): What inference does my right hon. and learned Friend think the public will draw if the Government win a case involving the closed material procedure in which the other party has had no chance to see or challenge the evidence—secret evidence—that the Government have introduced in support of that case?

Mr Clarke: The inference I would draw is that at least a judge, doing the best that he or she can, has had a chance to consider the evidence, and has delivered a judgment. If the judge is not allowed to consider the evidence, obviously no useful judgment can be pronounced at the end of the case. Of course it would be very much better if the evidence were given in an open procedure—in normal cases, the openness of justice is one of the proudest boasts of our system—but in cases in which national security will be jeopardised if evidence is given openly, it must be ensured that the evidence can be given in the best possible circumstances in the light of the obvious limitations of the case.

British judges are quite capable of deciding whether or not national security is involved. British judges do not need us to lecture them on the rule of law and the duty to be impartial between the parties. British judges will want to hear evidence openly if they think that that can possibly be practicable. British judges will be able to judge—they do it all the time—the weight to be given to evidence. Once the judges discover who was the source of the information, people can be challenged about the reliability of that source. Of course the system is not ideal—if we could only persuade all the country’s enemies to close their ears, there could be a perfectly ordinary single-action trial and we could hear everything—but I

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believe that the Bill will move us from what is currently a hopeless position to a better position that will allow us to hear the judgment of a judge in appropriate cases.

Mr Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware of a criminal trial that took place some years ago in Caernarfon Crown court in north Wales, involving the damage to second homes, in which MI5 officers gave evidence behind a screen? Their anonymity was not compromised, and nor were the interests of the state.

Mr Clarke: Nothing in the Bill will affect the criminal law. No one will be prosecuted on the basis of secret evidence. However, there are plenty of cases—for instance, those involving MI5 or involving victims of certain types, such as vulnerable victims—in which it is proper to screen witnesses from public view, or otherwise protect them. The Bill, however, has nothing whatever to do with criminal cases.

The purpose of closed procedures is not just to ensure that no one can see what the agent looks like; there are some cases in which we cannot let people know what the agent was doing. The plaintiff may have been compromised as a result of terrorist or other activity, and he and his friends may be dying to know how they were caught. What were the British agents doing that put them on to it? They want to know who shopped them, and that will make things very difficult for a person who they come to suspect is the source of the material that is emerging. As I think everyone knows perfectly well, it is not possible to share that information with the parties in each and every case of this kind. However, while some people might consider it satisfactory to say “Well, in those cases the Government never defend themselves and we just pay millions of pounds”, I really do not think that we need tolerate that situation any longer.

Dr Francis: Given what he said earlier about closed material procedures, how would the right hon. and learned Gentleman respond to what Lord Kerr said recently in the Supreme Court? He said:

“The central fallacy of the argument”—

the Government’s argument, that is—

“lies in the unspoken assumption that, because the judge sees everything, he is bound to be in a better position to reach a fair result. That assumption is misplaced. To be truly valuable, evidence must be capable of withstanding challenge.”

Mr Clarke: I was intending to return to the details of closed material procedures later. We could easily trade quotations, because various judges and legal authorities have expressed different views.

Closed material procedures sometimes achieve success. We have them now—the previous Government introduced them—and as I shall say later, as I should save it until I get to the relevant part of my speech, there are cases in which the special advocates have overturned the Government’s case. The most well known case is that of Abu Qatada, who won in a closed material procedure before a British judge only about a month ago—

Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): It is being appealed.

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Mr Clarke: Of course it is being appealed, but that does not alter my point. Depending on which side one is on, it is no good saying that we cannot have closed material procedures if the wrong side is going to win. In that case, the Government lost and Abu Qatada won using a special advocate and a closed material procedure.

Mr David Davis: On exactly that point, my right hon. and learned Friend—and he is my friend—said that these proceedings were created under the Labour Government. They were, and there are now 69 special advocates, 32 of whom are experienced in closed material procedures. The vast majority of them—nearly all of them—oppose the Bill as they think PII works better than the procedure they have been operating for the past few years. Why does he think that is?

Mr Clarke: The special advocates surprised me with the ferocity of the evidence they provided. They start from the side of the argument that challenges the security services and is suspicious of what goes on, and judges have told me—some have said this publicly—that they underrate their effectiveness in such actions. They are used to practising the present law and I assume that their position is that the present law is perfectly all right and that they wish to continue with it. I am surprised by the adherence to PII, which has not hitherto been evident.

Let me give the example of another case to show that special advocates can successfully challenge the evidence put forward in closed proceedings by claimants. Ekaterina Zatuliveter, the Russian girlfriend of a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament, won her deportation case after a closed hearing in which a special advocate challenged the argument that she was a threat to national security and should be deported. It is simply not the case that in closed procedures it is impossible to challenge these points. Such cases are comparatively new, as no one dreamed we would have such litigation until 10 or 15 years ago.

The claims are getting steadily more numerous as we have an attractive jurisdiction in which the person against whom one makes allegations will probably not be able to call any evidence and one will be paid millions of pounds. The best way forward is the one that has been successfully used in the two cases I have already cited, which is, despite our very limited experience, having closed proceedings and special advocates. It is less than ideal, but it is justice, not secrecy. Secrecy is what we have at the moment, with an uncertain and debatable outcome in all these cases.

Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Lab): The right hon. and learned Gentleman is correct to say, of course, that the previous Labour Administration introduced closed material proceedings in 1997, with support from all parties, as I recall. They have worked. Will he confirm that in at least seven of more than 30 Special Immigration Appeals Commission cases since the beginning of 2007, including the two he mentioned, the court has found against the Government and in favour of the potential deportee?

Mr Clarke: I accept the right hon. Gentleman’s statistics. I cannot confirm them, as I do not have them myself, but they sound wholly credible. As he said, a Labour Government introduced these procedures—it might have been him—

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Mr Straw: It was me.

Mr Clarke: It was he, as Home Secretary, who introduced them. They arose partly at the behest of human rights lobbyists who are now vehemently opposing the Bill. It was the intervention of human rights activists in the case of Chahal in the late 1990s that saw the system of closed hearings develop, but some of the same people are now arguing that closed material proceedings put the Government above the rule of law.

As I have already said and as the right hon. Gentleman has with authority confirmed, people have been successful in fighting the Government in these civil actions under the closed material proceedings, as the number of claims goes—

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD) rose

Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con) rose

Mr Clarke: Let me move on, because I am probably moving on to the point of concern—

Sir Alan Beith: On this point.

Mr Clarke: All right.

Sir Alan Beith: My right hon. and learned Friend referred to the ability of the special advocate to challenge the evidence. Lord Kerr, in the remarks quoted earlier, talked about gisting and whether it was possible for the special advocate to confirm or correct with the other party whether he was in a particular place at a particular time, because that had come up in the evidence. We need to consider a little more carefully that ability to check back with the person who would normally be instructing the advocate but cannot because he is a special advocate.

Mr Clarke: I shall turn to some of this detail, but gisting is allowed under the Bill. The judge will have all the powers he requires to recommend gisting once he has heard the secret evidence.

Mr Leigh: My right hon. Friend is very generous in giving way and I understand the dilemma he faces, but is it not a fundamental principle of British jurisprudence, defended by this House for 500 years, that a defendant should have sight of the evidence used against him that might affect his liberty?

Mr Clarke: In a criminal case, that is so. That is why we cannot prosecute some people we really should, because there is no way to reveal the evidence against them—if it cannot be revealed to a judge and a jury, he is untouchable under the criminal law. We are talking about civil actions, sometimes involving people with tenuous connections with this country who have come to this country and sought damages from a British court for what they say is the misbehaviour of the intelligence agencies of the Government. I have tried to explain why it is impossible to follow the normal and desirable rules of civil justice and hear it all in the open. We must find some way in which these cases can be resolved by a judge in a way that is consistent with our principles of justice without at the same time jeopardising national security. That is the straightforward dilemma.

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Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con) rose

Mr Clarke: I shall give way one last time, and then I must press on to the JCHR’s amendments.

Robert Neill: Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that although the proposed system is not perfect and never can be in litigation, it is surely preferable to have that than a system where an ex parte application for PII can be made without the defendant having any notice of any kind and without anybody, not even a special advocate, being able to test the material?

Mr Clarke: The time has come for reform. The present system is not defensible, in my opinion, and my hon. Friend confirms that all kinds of features of PII are hopelessly unsatisfactory. We have to deal with them.

Let me move on—

Mr Tyrie: Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way one last time?

Mr Clarke: I keep giving way one last time, so, with apologies to my hon. Friend, let me turn to what I think is the subject matter of the serious debate that has been taking place since we consulted on the Green Paper.

It was our intention from the start to consult on the Green Paper. As what we are doing goes to the fundamentals of our legal system and our rule of law, we actively sought the widest possible support for what we are doing. Even before the Bill was introduced and before it went through the Lords, we narrowed its scope to make quite sure that CMPs could be made available only when disclosure of the material would be damaging to the interests of national security. Green Paper language that slightly implied that the police, Customs and Excise and all sorts of other people might start invoking them has gone completely away. We removed the Secretary of State’s power to extend the scope of the Bill by order, and excluded inquests after a campaign led by the Daily Mail got widespread support in this House. As I have already said, we never even contemplated that our proposals should cover criminal cases.

We also conceded—this is the key point, which I think we are still debating with most of the critics—very early on, after publishing the Green Paper, that the decision whether to allow a closed material procedure or not should be a matter for the judge and never for the Minister. That is an important principle and it is what most of the arguments, even about the JCHR’s amendments, are all about. We have all, I hope, now agreed that it is a judge’s decision whether or not to hold closed procedures. The question is how far we need to keep amending the Bill to clarify this and how we avoid unnecessary consequences if we overdo it. I shall return to that.

That is what most of the debate was about in the House of Lords and it is the point of the JCHR’s report. When it came to a Division in the House of Lords on the principle of closed material procedures, the Government had an enormous majority. The Labour party did not oppose the principles of CMP, even though it was a Back-Bench Labour amendment which the other place voted down. I trust that the Front-Bench Labour team and the right hon. Member for Tooting continue to be of that opinion. Unless his undoubted

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radical left-wing instincts have got the better of him, I do not think that is the position of any party in this House.

The concern of the House of Lords and of the JCHR was that the judge should have a real and substantive discretion about whether a CMP is necessary in any case. Many Members of the upper House made their support for CMPs contingent on changes being made to increase judicial discretion and ensure that it was clear on the face of the Bill that CMPs would be used only for a very small category of exceptional cases.

I begin by making it clear on behalf of the Government that I agree that the judge should have discretion. I agree that we should be talking about a small number of cases where any other process is impossible and it is necessary for it to be handled in this way. A strong and compelling case was made by those who argued that we ought to trust our judges to decide the right way to try the issues in any particular case. I agree. The debate—I suspect it will be the same debate today as it was in the House of Lords—starts from the fact that the Government’s case is that the Bill as it stood already accepted that principle. As we were defeated, we will consider what more we can do by way of reassurance. People are deeply suspicious of anything in this area and they are convinced that, despite what we put in the Bill, the judge will somehow be inhibited by what the Government propose to do.

Our judges are among the finest in the world. They are staunch defenders of the rule of law, and they have shown time and again that they can be trusted not to endanger the national security of this country. I know that they can be—

Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr Clarke: If it is on a British process, not a Strasbourg one.

Mr Cash: It is on the Law Lords themselves in the past and now the Supreme Court. Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that there are divisions of opinion even at the highest level about the extent to which such decisions should ultimately be made by the most senior judges or Parliament, and that there are very senior judges who take the view that Parliament, not the judges, should decide these questions?

Mr Clarke: There are other occasions on which we shall no doubt debate parliamentary override of the courts of law. I realise that that is a matter dear to my hon. Friend’s heart. In the Duma it would be carried nem. con. The Russian Government would be utterly delighted to hear the principle of parliamentary override brought into our legal system in this country. I think the House of Commons should be hesitant. There may be senior judges who think that that should apply. The process that we are applying is different. The Government’s case is based on trusting the judges to use the discretion sensibly. That is what I think we should do, but of course I address seriously the views that were put forward.

I want to make it clear, to go back to what the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) asked me earlier, that the Government will not seek to overturn the most important amendment—the

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most important, in my opinion—made by the House of Lords that the court “may” rather than “must” order a closed material procedure upon an application. I do not see how we could give a wider discretion than that.

We will also accept that any party, not just the Government, should be able to ask for a closed material procedure. I think it highly unlikely that any plaintiff will be in any situation to start arguing that he wants to protect national security, but if people want that, they can have it. More importantly, the court of its own volition should be able to order a closed material procedure.

A further series of amendments were made which we still need to look at more closely. We have time to look at them closely and the others will be addressed by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup in Committee. We are not against the principle, but we are not sure that the amendments add anything. I shall give the reasons in a moment.

Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to question the Minister. My main concern is where the discretion is being applied. Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman clarify for me the position of families of armed forces personnel who have been illegally killed, or people who have been injured and wish to take out court cases? How will the new arrangements apply to them, and how will it be possible to ensure transparency in the courts?

Mr Clarke: I answered that in the written question that the hon. Lady put to me. She is welcome to put an oral question to me at Cabinet Office questions, now that she has discovered who is handling the Bill. Most such Ministry of Defence cases do not give rise to national security considerations, and the Ministry of Defence does not expect to start invoking closed material proceedings. One cannot anticipate it, but it is possible that the circumstances of the tragic death of a soldier might involve some highly secret operation, and then the situation might arise. We have not had problems on this front so far and the expectation is that it need not arise. If it were to arise, there would still be the judgment of the judge and a decision in the case.

I am trying to think of examples that could conceivably arise. If a soldier was killed and it was alleged that that was the result of some actionable negligence, which apparently we are now going to allow people to argue in our courts, and that took place in some highly secret operation in some unlikely part of the world, I cannot rule out a CMP application being made. The Ministry of Defence is more robust than I am. I am told that it does not think that most of these cases involve national security at all.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley), the Minister outlined extreme circumstances of an injury to a British soldier. Would the same process apply if there was embarrassment over arms sales to a particular country, where those sold arms had been used to deny the human rights of many others, against the policies and wishes of this country, and there was a desire not to make that too public?

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Mr Clarke: It sounds as though it could be criminal action in that case, which the provision would not apply to. It would be for the judge to decide whether what is being protected is embarrassment for the Government or national security and the interests of the nation. We can all start dreaming up—I did it myself a moment ago—fanciful cases where such a situation might arise. The judge would have to decide whether national security was at risk. It is a two-stage process, which I will not argue at length today, but what happens is that the judge can allow the closed material proceeding. At the end of the closed material proceeding he can revoke it, he can say that the proceedings should be gisted, he can say that the documents should all go in, but perhaps redacted in key places. There is wide discretion before he goes back to the open session. If a Government at some time want a closed hearing, they will get it only if they can satisfy the judge that national security is at risk.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): The right hon. and learned Gentleman will have seen the strongly worded letter from the Cabinet Secretary for Justice in the Scottish Government outlining his serious concerns about the Bill. The Scottish Government have made it clear that they want nothing to do with it as it applies to their jurisdiction. Will the Minister ensure that he respects their position?

Mr Clarke: Constitutionally, I will respect the Scottish Government’s position. If they think that Scots are not ready for decisions in these cases and wish everything to remain shrouded in secrecy and mystery, so be it. That is a matter for the Scottish Government. It seems to me that would be the result if they will not move with what I think is the obvious response to the needs of recent cases.

To return to the detailed amendments, let me explain where my reservations come from. The House of Lords decided to get carried away with the discretion. I have already accepted the widest discretion, but they then wanted to start setting out in the legislation factors that the judge ought to take into account. We are considering that, and I can assure Members that there will be a response in Committee. The Lords obviously do not trust judges as much as I do, because they wish to start setting out factors. However, if we set out factors in the legislation, they must be the right ones. If they are not, they can give rise to other problems.

For example, some of the amendments made in the House of Lords—I am leaving aside whether some of them are necessary—would require the judge to consider and exhaust alternatives to closed material proceedings in every case in order to prove that the case could not be tried in any other way. It sounds attractive, but in some cases it would be obvious to the judge from the start that a closed material procedure was necessary. As the independent reviewer of terrorism litigation, David Anderson, explained to the Joint Committee on Human Rights,

“there is no point in banging your head against a brick wall… if the exercise is plainly going to be futile.”