Justice Questions

24th April 2018

David Gauke answers questions to the Ministry of Justice.

Prison Officer Recruitment

3. What progress his Department is making on recruiting 2,500 new prison officers. [904896]

6. What progress his Department is making on recruiting 2,500 new prison officers. [904899]

Retaining and recruiting engaged and motivated staff is critical to delivering the solutions to drive improvement across the service. Between the end of October 2016 and the end of March 2018, we have increased prison officer numbers by 3,111 full-time equivalent staff. This is already significantly over our target of 2,500 additional staff by the end of December 2018. Investing in the frontline is vital for safety, rehabilitation and security, which is why we are spending £100 million a year in additional prison officers.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer and commend him for the work that he has done on recruitment. Can he confirm when we can expect to see the new officers on the landings?

I can tell my hon. Friend that 90% of the 3,111 will be on the landings by the summer, and all will be in place and operational by the end of the year.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. Will he update the House on the progress being made towards the new key worker model and the impact it is having on prison officer recruitment?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that point. The key worker model is crucial. It will allow prison officers to spend more time, both on a one-to-one basis and with small groups of prisoners, improving staff-prisoner relationships. That can help us reduce both violence and reoffending. Some prisons, such as HMP Liverpool, are already running that scheme, and I look forward to more prisons fully implementing that over the months ahead.

Many of Dartmoor prison’s prison officers live in Plymouth and have told me of their concern that prison officer cuts, inexperienced new staff and increasing retirement ages are causing stress and concern. Can the Minister reassure me that there is a proper plan to address staffing and morale in our Prison Service?

There is already a proper plan to address that point about staffing. That is why the numbers are going up, and that is the point I am setting out. The numbers are at a five-year high. We are ahead of what we promised in October 2016. I am pleased that we are doing that and we will continue to recruit new prison officers—net new prison officers—into the Prison Service.

What additional training will these new officers be given to deal with the scourge of the availability of drugs in our prisons throughout the United Kingdom?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We are refreshing the way that training works for prison officers. It is very important that we deal with the issue of drugs, which has been a real game-changer in its effect on prisons. As we change and refresh our training process, we need to ensure that new prison officers have the skills they need to deal with drugs.

The net increase in the number of prison officers is very welcome, and I particularly welcome the Secretary of State’s reference to a key workers scheme, but does he agree that the mix of the workforce is important? Successful key worker and personal officer schemes will depend on having experienced staff, because they are best able to develop relationships with prisoners and deal with violence, the risk of suicide and other issues. Will a strategy now be put in place for the retention of existing staff, perhaps with incentives to encourage good people to remain in the service?

My hon. Friend is right; it is important that we not only recruit new staff, but retain existing staff. We are working closely with those prisons that are failing to retain staff. It is worth pointing out that in 2017 the percentage of prison officers in bands 3 to 5 who left the service was 9.7%—higher than we would like it, but not particularly out of line with other employers. Prison officers do a very valuable job, and we need to recognise that, support them and encourage those who have a lot to offer to continue to serve.

I am astonished that the Secretary of State can come here and appear somewhat triumphant. Let us be absolutely clear: this Government cut 7,000 prisoner officers, so there are still 4,000 fewer than there were in 2010. When does he expect prison staff numbers to return to 2010 levels?

I suspect that you, Mr Speaker, would stop me if we started a debate on the state of the public finances in 2010 and the difficult decisions that had to be taken as a result of the situation we inherited. The reality is that since October 2016 we have been recruiting more prison officers, we are ahead of what we said we would do and we are continuing to recruit prison officers. That is really important to ensure that prisons operate as they should.

Hansard

Upskirting

12. What his policy is on creating a specific sexual offence of upskirting. [904905]

22. What his policy is on creating a specific sexual offence of upskirting. [904918]

I share the outrage at the distress that this intrusive behaviour can cause to victims, and I am determined to ensure that they can be confident that their complaints will be taken seriously. I am sympathetic to calls for a change in the law, and my officials are reviewing the current law to make sure that it is fit for purpose. As part of that work, we are considering the private Member’s Bill that is being promoted by the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse).

It is appropriate on this day to refer yet again to the statue of Millicent Fawcett, and I shall channel my inner Millicent Fawcett by asking the Secretary of State this question. Nearly 100,000 members of the public have signed a petition calling for upskirting to be made a specific sexual offence, and MPs from all the major parties have signed an early-day motion that makes the same call, so why is the Secretary of State still refusing to act? We really need to ensure that our law reflects that of Scotland, where provisions on upskirting have been incorporated in the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009.

Let me also acknowledge the unveiling of the Millicent Fawcett statue.

As I have said, I am sympathetic to the idea of our taking action in this regard. There are instances in which people have been successfully prosecuted for upskirting in the context of outraging public decency, and voyeurism can also apply under the Sexual Offences Act 2003. However, those offences do not necessarily cover every instance of upskirting, which is why there is a strong case for looking at the law and considering whether we need to change it.

I, too, am using my inner Millicent Fawcett courage to raise this issue. In Scotland, the offences of upskirting and downblousing are covered by the 2009 Act. Surely the Secretary of State accepts that the same could be done in this country.

We are looking very closely at the Scottish legislation and experience. It is true that a very small number of prosecutions have been brought under that legislation. I want to reassure people that successful prosecutions have been brought in England under the existing law, but I think that there is a case for making sure that we have legislation that deals with this offence specifically.

I think that we all receive correspondence about this regularly. As other Members have done, may I encourage the Secretary of State to look at what has been done in Scotland, where we have shown leadership? The House is clear about the need for action—the will is there, so we must act.

We are looking very closely at how the Scottish legislation has operated to establish whether, if there is a gap, that represents a way in which we can address the matter.

Hansard

Prisons: Drug Smuggling

20. What steps the Government are taking to prevent the smuggling of drugs into prisons. [904915]

We have invested in improving security through the use of body searches and metal-detecting technology in every prison. We are also trialling new X-ray body scanners to reveal more hidden items. We have invested £3 million to establish national and regional intelligence units in Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service which, with prisons, probation and law enforcement partners, are building intelligence about the highest-risk offenders.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. My local newspaper, Clacton Gazette, recently ran a story about the use of drones to deliver drugs into prisons. Short of shooting the damn things down, what is the Department going to do about that?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and his suggestion. We are taking decisive steps to tackle drones bringing contraband into prisons. Under Operation Trenton, Prison Service and police investigators intercept drones and track down the criminals behind them. There have been at least 32 convictions to date, with those sentenced serving in total more than 100 years in prison.

Topical Questions

T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [904919]

I am delighted to announce that we have met and exceeded our October 2016 target of recruiting an additional 2,500 prison officers, with 3,101 full-time equivalent staff joining the prison workforce seven months ahead of schedule, 90% of whom will be on the landings by the summer. Prison officers are some of our finest public servants, and I am happy to see individuals seeking out a career in our Prison Service. Along with the rest of the workforce, those bright new recruits will ensure that prisons are safe and decent, tackle the unacceptable levels of drugs in prisons and cut the rate of reoffending.

Will the Secretary of State outline what steps are being taken to secure employment opportunities for prisoners?

My hon. Friend is right to raise that. One of the best ways in which we can reduce reoffending is by increasing employment, which is why we have the New Futures Network coming in. I am keen to focus on ensuring that we provide employment opportunities to prisoners as much as possible.

The Windrush scandal is one of the cruellest examples of unaccountable state power targeting the vulnerable, defenceless and innocent that I can remember. Senior figures describe our immigration law as complex and unintelligible to everyone but working specialists, so I was disappointed to hear the Home Secretary say yesterday that people affected by the Windrush scandal will have “no need for lawyers”. I am sure that the Justice Secretary will understand why those words will not do, so will he guarantee today that all those who have been put into this situation will have access to the necessary legal advice to help them when they need it most?

The Home Secretary set out a comprehensive plan yesterday for how we will make the process much easier for those who have been affected. For example, those who have retired to another country will be able to obtain British citizenship much more easily to allow them to come here without great difficulties involving visas and so on. The Home Secretary also set out how we are going to put in place arrangements to ensure that there is compensation for those who deserve it.

The Government’s reckless approach to our justice system means that criminal barristers have now been forced into co-ordinated action and are refusing to take up legal aid work due to changes to the advocates’ graduated fee scheme. Against all convention, the Government have denied parliamentary time to debate that properly. The Criminal Bar Association made a formal request that the Ministry of Justice delay, withdraw, amend or reconsider the implementation of the statutory instrument. If the Government will not listen to the views of parliamentarians, will they at least listen to barristers, put the new scheme on hold and set about fixing it?

On parliamentary time, my understanding is that we are waiting for information from the Labour party. On the substance of the issue, let us remember that reforms to the AGFS were worked out with the Bar Council and the Criminal Bar Association. The reforms are necessary to ensure that legal aid funds are distributed in an appropriate way, and that is why the reforms are being made.

T3. In the spirit of your advice, Mr Speaker, can the Secretary of State confirm whether or not the Ministry of Justice will object to the Second Reading of the Service Animals (Offences) Bill on Friday? [904921]

As the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer) pointed out, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs leads on this matter. The Government continue to look at this issue.

Northern Ireland has just undergone the longest rape trial in its history, resulting in the acquittal of four men. The Department is carrying out a major review of that trial because of subsequent problems flowing from it. Will the Government—the Department—make a submission to that review, particularly looking at whether the accused should not be named until after a verdict is published?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. This is a long-standing and very sensitive issue, one my predecessors have looked at closely. We continue to look at it; there are arguments on both sides, and we need to examine the cases carefully before we rush to any judgment on this.

Nick Hardwick, the former head of the Parole Board, made the case yesterday that it should be required to publish comprehensive explanations for the decisions it takes and that it should make public the names of the people who are making those decisions. May I urge my right hon. Friend to follow that advice as he undertakes his own review?

My hon. Friend is right to point out that I am undertaking my own review of that. The first step is to address the decision of the High Court on the existence of rule 25, which prohibits, in essence, any information being provided on Parole Board decisions. We will do that, but we also need to look more widely at how the Parole Board rules work—that includes the issues of transparency and of how the Parole Board can reconsider cases in particular circumstances.

In October last year, the Government announced that they planned to increase the maximum penalty for death by dangerous driving. They also said that they would create a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving. Six months on, we have still not seen any action. Will the Minister tell the House just when these vital changes will be implemented?

We will be updating the House in due course.

A year ago, virtually to the day, the legislative provisions of the Prisons and Courts Bill, which are necessary to implement Lord Briggs’s review of civil court structure, were lost in the Dissolution of Parliament. These important reforms are pressing and needed. Can the Secretary of State update us on when the Government intend to reintroduce legislation to enable the reforms to be progressed?

What I can say at this point is that I think we need to bring forward a number of aspects of that to help to modernise our court system. I hope to be able to make progress on that in the coming months.

Hansard

 

Surgeries

David holds regular surgeries at various places in the constituency, including Rickmansworth, South Oxhey, Berkhamsted and Tring. 
 
Forthcoming dates:

2018

19th October, South Oxhey
26th October, Berkhamsted
9th November, Rickmansworth

Call 01923 771781 to make an appointment.

Record of surgeries

 

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