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Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): May I join in the general welcome for the statement that we have just received, while echoing the concern of the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mrs. Fitzsimons) in saying that there seems to be very little here for child witnesses in court? I urge the Home Secretary to look at the Scottish experience, and to consider introducing more training for judges in trials involving child witnesses, to discourage defence barristers from bullying the children, from confusing them by using double negatives in cross-examination, and from trying to undermine them by using points of order to create delays before the interrogation starts.
Mr. Blunkett: I can give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that we need to look at those issues, together with the way in which evidence can be presented. Although we cannot avoid cross-examination taking place in alternative ways, we can use simple technology to enable the presentation of the witness's case by very young children to be undertaken more effectively.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): As a member of the Magistrates Association, and a supplemental magistrate on the Ashby-de-la-Zouch petty sessional division in Leicestershire, may I give a warm welcome to the White Paper? It has taken the first non-lawyer Home Secretary for two decades to bring some sense to the judicial system, particularly in relation to the extension of the sentencing powers of magistrates courts from six to 12 monthsand, perhaps, ultimately, 18 months. I also welcome the rejection of the Auld proposal for an intermediate tier of court. May I express a note of concern, however? In his statement, my right hon. Friend said,
Mr. Blunkett: As part of the integration, and as a result of the way in which the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General have been working with us to ensure that access to justice is sealed, we are considering the development of a new local board, which will integrate the work and also have a more powerful local voice to draw together the needs of a local community as well as improve the efficiency of the system.
I welcome what my hon. Friend said about being a magistrate. When I consulted on the Halliday sentencing proposals, there was great scepticism among the magistrates I met as to whether the Government would listen to them, or whether this was a fait accompli. We insisted, on these proposals and on Auld, that there would not be a fait accompli, and I think that we can now reassure those magistrates that we have genuinely listened and responded.
Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove): May I also give a warm welcome to the Home Secretary's sensible proposals today? In particular, many of my constituents will be pleased to learn that he intends to ensure that some prisoners serving a life sentence will actually serve a whole life tariff, and that, in some circumstances in which prisoners would be a danger to the community, they will remain behind bars. There is concern, however, that the powers that he intends to take will be anathema to the European Court of Human Rights, which has so far shown a remarkable determination to remove from his office the right to determine the tariff served by prisoners serving life sentences. Will he explain to the House how he intends to make the proposals robust in those circumstances?
Mr. Blunkett: Let me be uncharacteristically cautious on this matter. There are cases, including Anderson and Taylor, on which considerable public comment has been made, including comment by people who have responsibility in this area, and I do not wish to match that. However, I think it very important that everyone should know that there will be, and I am determined that we find, ways around any blockagewhether a case is taken to Strasbourg or notthat precludes this Parliament from determining that those who have committed the most horrendous crimes should be locked away for ever, given that the sentence was seen as an alternative to putting people to death. I remind those who debate these issuesoften, they are rather contemptuous of the more common language that some of us usethat we in this country are in a position not to put people to death, but to demand a punishment that is clear and decisive, and which protects us from the most horrendous murderers. In that respect, I agree entirely with the hon. Lady.
Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley): I thank my right hon. Friend and his team for the attention devoted in his comments and in the White Paper to the horrendous issue of domestic violence. At the moment, I am dealing with one domestic violence case every two or three weeks.
Mr. Blunkett: Those people deserve every thanks. I have been persuaded by my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-GeneralI give her credit this afternoonthat we should return to this issue with vigour in the autumn. We have already taken steps, such as changing attitudes. Moreover, police throughout the country make the presumption of pro-arrest in relation to domestic violence. Those steps have already begun to make a difference, but voluntary groups and people who give of their time are a godsend to those who face horrendous attack.
Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire): Can the Home Secretary tell the House what he intends to do about the problem of retaining police officers in forces around London who transfer to the Metropolitan police? Anyone in Bedfordshire who joins the Metropolitan police is between £5,000 to £7,000 a year better off because of London housing allowances and the free travel provided within 70 miles of Charing Cross. This is a question of the allocation of the cake, not of its size.
Mr. Blunkett: Yes, it is a real issueone that the White Paper does not addressfor places such as Bedfordshire and the Thames valley. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety and I will discuss with chief constables ways to avoid the problem spreading still further, with ring after ring facing a similar situation as we gradually alter the balance. Having put right the massive recruitment problem in the Met, we need to balance that through retention in the immediate non-Met areas.
Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet): My right hon. Friend will know that I have deep reservations about the prospect of changing the double jeopardy rule, but in the spirit of today's statement, I am prepared to engage in the consultation and give him a chance to convince me otherwise. To start that process, I would like him to expand on two issues. First, how will we ensure that the trial jury at the second trial has not been prejudiced by the pre-trial process of deciding that the evidence is new and compelling? Secondly, what does he mean by new? Does he mean evidence that could not possibly have been submitted at the first trial, or evidence that would have come to light at that trial, had the investigation been extended for long enough?
Mr. Blunkett: My hon. Friend raises very reasonable questions, the first of which I referred to in my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook). On the second question, I believe sincerely that we are, and should be, talking about new evidence that was not available originally. I gave the example of DNA because it has extended our ability to ascertain guilt
Mr. David Borrow (South Ribble): May I raise with my right hon. Friend the problem of the high reoffending rates of young offenders when they leave prison or a young offenders institution? I have seen work done by the YMCA both in young offenders institutions and prisons and on release, and am convinced that a lot of the good work done in those institutions is wasted when young people leave them and return to the environment that put them in prison in the first place. There are schemes that can provide assistance, but unless we remove the need for young people to go back on release to the very environment that created the problems in the first place, we are simply not tackling the root of the problem. I should be grateful if my right hon. Friend would introduce measures to improve the schemes already in place to help young offenders on release.