|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
The decision on the future of the Island Line has been deferred to allow time for more extensive discussion with key stakeholders as to the most appropriate way forward, and recognising the recent Community Rail designation of the railway.[ Official Report, 10 October 2006; Vol. 450, c. 21WS.]
Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con): Is the Minister aware that South West trains have to pass through Dawlish Warren on the coast of Devon? In spite of £9 million being spent by Network Rail and five full-time members of staff on site, trains are frequently stopped by high water and falling cliffs. Is he thinking of giving Network Rail additional money to bypass Dawlish Warren or of providing special armoured trains so that they can use the track in spite of the falling cliffs and the sea water flowing over it?
Mr. Harris: I can reveal to the House that there are no plans for armoured trains in the South West franchise at the moment. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to contact me, I will be happy to look into the matter for him. He will be interested to learn that the moving annual average passenger performance level for South West Trains is 90.1 per cent., and that will go up to 93.3 per cent. reliability by the end of the franchise. The current level compares with a national average of 87.6 per cent., so it is an extremely efficient service.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Gillian Merron): In April this year we introduced free off-peak local bus travel for older and disabled people. As announced in the Queens Speech, we will introduce a Bill that will extend that free off-peak travel to anywhere in England from April 2008.
Anne Snelgrove: The Governments commitment to extending concessionary fares to all pensioners is very much appreciated by pensioners in my constituency, but is the Minister aware that Swindon council is one of several that have changed the definition so that the off-peak period now begins at 9.30 am rather than 9 oclock? That has dismayed my pensioners, who like to get out and about early. Does my hon. Friend know of examples of councils
Gillian Merron: My hon. Friend is a tireless campaigner for her constituents, more than 16,000 of whom benefit from the Governments policy of providing free off-peak local bus travel for older and disabled people. The decision to reduce the discretionary element is a matter for Swindon council, although I expect local authorities to consider the needs of their older and disabled residents very carefully before reducing discretionary concessions. I certainly sympathise with my hon. Friends constituents.
Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): The Minister said that the scheme will apply only to England, but cross-border travel causes huge problems in my constituency and other areas bordering Wales. What discussions is she having with colleagues in the Welsh Assembly Government to ensure that there is a seamless bus transport system from England into Wales and back again? That would be of great benefit to my constituents.
Gillian Merron: I can assure the House that discussions have taken place already with the devolved Administrations. I recommend that hon. Members look carefully at the details of the Bill to be introduced in the very near future.
Mr. Wright: My constituency has a remarkably sophisticated and well integrated community network, with close co-operation between residents groups and the police. On Friday, I shall chair a meeting involving residents groups from the Dyke House, Stranton and Grange areas and various agencies with a view to tackling problems with drugs. Given the strength of my community, will my right hon. and learned Friend press for Hartlepool to be a pilot area for a community justice court?
Ms Harman: The Lord Chancellor will announce details of the new community justice courts shortly, but I should like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work that he has been doing in this area, about which he told the House in a debate in June. He is right to point out that the police and other agencies have done a great deal of work with community organisations. Generally speaking, people feel that the courts have yet to come to the party in that respect, and they still need to see how the courts are involved in the delivery of justice. I take my hon. Friends point, and there will be an announcement shortly.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Will the Minister explain the difference between a community magistrates court and a community justice court? Would it not have been better for the Government to fund the Crown Prosecution Service so that it could serve magistrates courts properly rather than creating havoc in Macclesfield with the new listing system, which is opposed by magistrates, solicitors, police and everyone involved in the delivery of local justice? I have written to the right hon. and learned Lady, but have not yet received the courtesy of a reply.
Ms Harman: I am looking into the situation in Macclesfield and will write to the hon. Gentleman shortly, although the Government have greatly increased the resources going to the CPS. Community justice builds on the best work of magistrates, but there are some additional elements. In the Liverpool community justice centre, for example, local community organisations played a role in choosing the judge, who attends the sort of community reference groups that my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright) described. I believe that the community has a role in making proposals to the court about unpaid work sentences. In that way, the people who suffer from crime will be able to be paid back.
Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): From her visit to Plymouth earlier this year, my right hon. and learned Friend will know that there is a good relationship between councillors and the local community safety partnership. Given our track record in successfully using antisocial behaviour orders, dispersal orders and so on, will she consider setting up community justice courts in Plymouth?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friends work with her colleagues in Plymouth and with all the agencies. It involves not only the police, the prosecutors and the courts but the voluntary sector and local authorities. There is a strong mood in the House, and
we strongly back it, that the courts, while maintaining their strong independence and judging each case individually, must demonstrate more clearly that they understand the preoccupations of the community, and deliver justice accordingly.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Bridget Prentice): There are no specific plans to review the rules governing the commercial court. The commercial court users committee is expected to launch a standing sub-committee shortly to make recommendations for changes to the commercial court guide and for improving compliance with the existing terms of that guide.
Richard Ottaway: I am sure that the Minister will agree that the commercial court has been an outstanding success, contributing huge amounts to Britains balance of payments through invisible exports. However, there is concern that it is not working as well as it might, and that this will jeopardise our position. Will she reflect on the answer that she just gave me and consider reviewing the rules to ensure that the court runs more efficiently? Will she in particular give attention to the length of trials, which obviously adds to the cost and weakens our competitive position?
Bridget Prentice: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right; the commercial court has been doing some outstanding work and deals often with complex and difficult cases. I hope that I can reassure him by telling him that at the end of October a lively symposium was held, which brought together the judiciary, solicitors, barristers, academics and others, and a sub-committee is to be set up to perform a review. Some of the suggestions made at the symposium included listing cases so that proper reading time is available for the legal profession, limiting the length of witness statements and stricter but realistic timetables for cases. I hope that that goes some way to reassuring the hon. Gentleman that we keep the matter under review.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I declare my interest as a barrister, although not in the commercial court. The Minister will be aware of the litigation involving BCCI and the case brought by the liquidators against the Bank of England. She will have read the judgment of the learned judge, who was highly critical of the liquidators misuse of creditors money in order to proceed with that case. What lessons can be learned from that case, and can we act on those lessons as quickly as possible rather than wait for a users committee to review the situation?
My right hon. Friend makes some important points. The BCCI case affected many people in a very difficult and negative way. Mr. Justice David Steel, the judge in charge of the commercial court, said that the BCCI case was such an unusual and exceptional case that there were no direct lessons to be
learned. However, key stakeholders from the legal commercial sector will be part of the review. I hope that we will be able to identify some of those problems. It is a complex case, and we want to ensure that the right solutions are found. We could not have anticipated just how complex some of the issues are, which is why I welcome the sub-committee.
22. Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): What recent discussions she has had with ministerial colleagues in the Home Office on the treatment of people trafficked to the UK for the purpose of sexual exploitation. 
The Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Ms Harriet Harman): In my former role as Solicitor-General, and in my current role as Department for Constitutional Affairs member of the inter-ministerial group on sexual offending, I regularly discuss with my ministerial colleagues at the Home Office the treatment of people trafficked into the UK for the purposes of sexual exploitation.
Mr. Bone: Two hundred years ago, a Bill was about to be introduced to the House of Lords to abolish slavery. Today at Heathrow airport, a person can buy a young woman for between £4,000 and £5,000 to act as their sex slave. There are more than 4,000 such slaves in the country today held against their will, suffering the most appalling violence, intimidation and abuse. Is it not time for the Government to sign the Council of Europe convention on human trafficking to help put to an end this evil trade in human beings?
Ms Harman: The question of the directive will be addressed when we produce our action plan on human trafficking. We have been consulting on it and will bring it out in the new year. We have been taking action on human trafficking over a number of years, and the hon. Gentleman describes the problem rightly and clearly. We have to focus on supporting and protecting the victims, but we must tackle the traffickers and prosecute them. We also have to concentrate on the demand side of the sex trade, because women are being brought in for sexual exploitation, often abducted against their will. It is called prostitution but it is actually rape, and we need to look not only at the supply side but also the demand side. We should look at what is being done in other countries to make sure that we do not have the demand that leads to the exploitation of vulnerable women who are trafficked in to be used for sexual purposes by British men.
Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): What progress has my right hon. and learned Friend made on some of the issues that came out of the successful conference in my constituency that she attended to talk about trafficking? In particular, what progress has been made in making sure that agencies liaise so that when women and children in a country are found to have been trafficked they are properly supported and their cases and concerns are properly dealt with?
Ms Harman: I thank my hon. Friend for inviting me to that conference in her Northampton constituency. She had involved the Womens Institute, for which the matter has high priority. One of the WIs key social objectives is to work with other voluntary organisations, local authorities and agencies on the ground to highlight the problem of the trafficking of young women and children and to stamp it out, so progress is very much under way. I can remember the first time I heard the words human trafficking; the phenomenon is relatively recent in terms of its extent as one of the evil undersides of globalisation, but we have recognised the problem and are taking strong action against it.
Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con): Is the Minister aware that if a trafficked woman seeks refuge she gets a raw deal in this country? As a nation, we are not responding to the Human Rights Act 1998 and giving those women the protection we should give them. Does she agree?
Ms Harman: I agree that protection is patchy. It is not as good as we want in all areas, although I want to mention the Poppy project. In some areas, if a young woman is referred to the Poppy project she will be really well looked after and protected and, in turn, is likely to help the criminal justice and immigration agencies to tackle the source of the problem. We want to make absolutely sure that there is good support for victims across the board, but the other thing we need to do from this countryand are increasingly doingis send a clear message to perpetrators from other countries who want to get into trafficking that there will be severe sentences for those who are caught.
When I was Solicitor-General I referred to the Court of Appeal a case in which the sentence was 11 years; the Court fully understood the message that needed to be sent and increased the sentence for that offender to 23 years and stripped them of their assets all through Europe. It is right that the House should focus on the issue. We have introduced new criminal offences to tackle trafficking, but we must be vigilant and we must also look at the demand side. Many of us find that difficult to contemplate, but we have to face up to it.
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree with the recent report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights that we should see trafficked women not as criminals and immigration offenders but as the victims of a serious crime, and that we should introduce reflection periods to enable them to come to terms with being a victim of crime? In relation to the Poppy project, which we visited during our inquiry, does she agree that we must ensure that there is long-term, secure funding and an expansion of the scheme, as it provides only 25 beds at any one time?
I agree with my hon. Friend. The Poppy project has been very useful, not only in helping the individual women whom it looks after but in working out what more needs to be done, and guiding and helping the Government to develop public policy. The Home Office says that it deals with the immigration status of victims of trafficking on a case-by-case basis.
But as my hon. Friend knows, we have been consulting on that, as part of the development of our UK action plan on human trafficking, in which the Joint Committee on Human Rights has played a key part, and further information will be coming forward shortly.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Is it true that immigration officials recently warned Ministers that every week more than 100 unaccompanied children are illegally brought into the UK? Is the right hon. and learned Lady also aware of the various cases documented by the Soroptimists, including one case of a girl who escaped sex slavery and went to her local GP, who referred her to the police, who brought in social services, who referred the girl to the housing authority, who then referred the girl back to social services? That shows a total lack of co-ordination. Surely that tragic case illustrates the need for a national strategy for dealing with trafficking victims.
Ms Harman: I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new position; I am sure that he will make a very good contribution in that role. He makes an important point about unaccompanied children. Sometimes when unaccompanied children arrive in this country they are here for perfectly normal and innocent reasons, such as visiting a family member, but sometimes they are not, and unaccompanied children are very vulnerable indeed. Sometimes they are referred to social services and put in foster care, only to fall into the hands of their traffickers again. The problem is incredibly difficult to deal with but the hon. Gentleman is right to say that what really matters is proper co-ordination. If a child is passed from one agency to another, not only is that difficult and traumatic but sometimes the child is picked up again by the traffickers.
The hon. Gentleman is right to bring this matter to the attention of the House. I shall be happy to meet him to further discuss our approach to child trafficking, and I look forward to his making a contribution as we develop policy on it.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Vera Baird): The Information Commissioner received 4,599 Freedom of Information Act complaints between 1 January 2005 and 31 October 2006.
Michael Fabricant: I am grateful to the Minister for her answer. She will have read the Select Committee report Freedom of Informationone year on. The Constitutional Affairs Committee received evidence that people had
waited months for the Information Commissioner to start investigating their complaints.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|