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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (David Cairns): The Government are committed to tackling people trafficking, and we have made that issue a priority in our presidency of the EU, resulting in the adoption of a UK-drafted action plan on trafficking at a Council of Ministers meeting earlier this month.
Mr. MacNeil: Does the Minister accept that the see no evil, hear no evil approach is not a sufficient answer to torture flights and people trafficking on Scottish soil? What is he doing to stop such criminal activity, bearing in mind Lord Woolf's words last week about torture being one of the most evil practices known to man? Will the Minister encourage the police to investigate any suspicious flights and not pass by on the other side on this issue?
David Cairns: We have made the attack on people trafficking one of the priorities of our presidency of the EU. Three important strands need to be put in place to deal with it. First, we need domestic legislation, which we now have in place. Secondly, we need the law enforcement agencies to work in a coherent manner throughout the UK; we will do that through the Serious Organised Crime Agency. Finally, we need co-operation across Europe and beyond because many people who are trafficked come into this country not only from the EU but from Africa.
Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): People trafficking is a big issue not only in Scotland but throughout the United Kingdom. A big problem is the accommodation in which those who are trafficked live. Will my hon. Friend use his influence with local authorities and housing associations to find out whether local authority environmental officers check out people who have been put in local authority housing?
David Cairns: People trafficking is a crime and anyone who puts up those who have been trafficked commits a crime irrespective of the standard of the housing. To that end, we should look to some of the work of Glasgow city council, which is running a pilot programme to examine the impact of people trafficking. That shows the need for a joined-up approach between the various agencies of the council and the law enforcement authorities. People trafficking is modern slavery. As someone once said:
Mr. Carmichael: Does the Secretary of State accept that there is a genuine consensus between all parties in Scottish politics that a removals policy for asylum seekers who have children that involves dawn raids is irreconcilable with a policy of treating children according to their best interests? Will he assure hon. Members that he will represent that view in Government and ensure that, throughout the United Kingdom, we have a removals policy that is, at the very least, humane in its treatment of children?
Mr. Darling: As my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality said when he visited Scotland recently, it is unfortunately necessary to remove people who no longer have a right to remain in this country and who have exhausted all the appeal processes. No matter what policy is in place, if someone's application has failed, that must be tackled. I agree that, especially when children are involved, we must be sensitive and the policy must be humane. I also agree that the same policy must apply throughout the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality made that clear.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Bridget Prentice): An independent review of legal aid procurement by Lord Carter of Coles was launched following the publication of a fairer deal for legal aid on 5 July 2005. Lord Carter will produce a plan to reform the way in which criminal defence and civil legal services are procured with legal aid in early 2006.
Miss McIntosh: As a non-practising Scottish advocate, I follow the question of legal aid for criminal cases closely. Will the Under-Secretary assure hon. Members that, in the rush to save money by slashing the legal aid budget, the legitimate preparatory work that junior counsel in particular perform at the Bar in England will be recognised as well as their travel expenses so that they are not forced into a position whereby they have to withhold their services because their costs are not being met in full?
Bridget Prentice: I do not accept the hon. Lady's description. We have no intention of slashing the legal aid budget. We want to rebalance it. I assure her that Lord Carter of Coles will take into account the position of junior barristers as well as that of everyone else in the legal aid system.
Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West)
(Lab): As a non-practising solicitor in England and Wales, I urge my hon. Friend to examine closely, when the results of
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the Carter review are produced, the distribution of criminal legal aid between very few highly paid barristers and the junior Bar, which loses out. I urge her to try to get a much better balance for the junior Bar to stop some top counsel making rather a lot of money out of the legal aid system.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) refers to an important part of what Lord Carter will tackle. We are well aware of the amount of the budget that is being spent on high cost criminal cases. We are also aware of the position of those who are relatively new to the Bar and those who have been juniors for a long time. Lord Carter has been made aware of all those issues by the Department and through talking to practitioners.
Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): The Minister says that she does not recognise the description given by my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh), although I thought that it was pretty accurate. Let us see if she recognises this one. At the recent Legal Aid Practitioners Group conference, the director, Richard Miller, said in relation to legal aid:
"I am frustrated that apparently rational people can believe that a business can survive when its overheads are increasing and its income frozen . . . In no other business or profession would this be tolerated."
Bridget Prentice: I cannot give the hon. Gentleman every single detail of that at the Dispatch Box today, but I hope that we shall be able to have that conversation in the course of further debates. I very much intend to save the legal aid budget. However, I do not intend to allow criminal legal aid to grow like Topsy while the civil budget is being squashed. I want to ensure that we rebalance those arrangements. I work closely with Richard Miller and other people from the LAPG, and have long conversations with them about how we can best achieve that.
Vera Baird (Redcar)
(Lab): First, the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) was misquoting Miller if he was alleging that he was talking about crime. He was talking about civil legal aid, not about crime at all. Quite rightly, my hon. Friend the Minister has pointed out that there is a coincidence of interest between the Government and the LAPG on that issue. Of course, there has been something of a row between the Bar and the Government about who is responsible for the increase in costs. Will the Minister make the good point to the House that the Government have now accepted that there should be legal aid impact assessments on all new laws, so that it will be clear if a new criminal lawwe all need new criminal laws; we all want to get more
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people convictedis going to have a knock-on effect on legal aid, so that that can be provided for. The situation would then be clear, and there would be no need for any bitterness.
Bridget Prentice: My hon. and learned Friend makes an important point. We have indeed introduced the legal aid assessment test, thanks to conversations that we have had with the LAPG. Every Government Department will now have to account for any of the funds that would be needed in legal aid, should they introduce any such legislation. Of course, we in the Department for Constitutional Affairs will be happy to help other Departments to find alternative ways of regulating the system so that people may not necessarily have to go through the court system.
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