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Maria Eagle: I am aware of those figures because my Department, having compiled them very carefully over the last few months, published them. The hon. Gentleman is right that there are 954-just short of 1,000-such people who have not been successfully returned to custody after their licence has been revoked, which is 0.7 per cent. of the total. He is also right-we do not wish to be complacent-that the police and criminal justice system is seeking those who have not been returned to custody and will do its utmost to get them back into prison, which is where they belong.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): My hon. Friend must be aware that the public and victims of crime quite rightly do not like or understand it when people on licence go on to commit further crimes. What can we do to tighten up the licence system to ensure that paedophiles-and certainly rapists-do not commit further crimes. In the case of murderers, we know that some have gone on to murder again. What can the Minister do to tighten the rules, tighten the licences and put the credibility back into the system so that the public can begin to understand that we are taking it seriously?

Maria Eagle: I accept that it is nothing to be proud of when serious further offences are committed by people on licence. However, the figures on serious further offences being committed and convicted show only 0.35 per cent., so while I do not wish to sound complacent in any way, we must bear in mind the overall context, which I think is important. Much tougher and better arrangements for public protection have developed over the last 12 years: through multi-agency protection, public protection arrangements, and arrangements for IPP prisoners-those given an indeterminate sentence for public protection-those who were previously released without any supervision are now supervised regularly and can be recalled to prison if their behaviour gives any cause for concern. As I said, we are not complacent and we need to do more, but the position now is much stronger than it has ever been before.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): Just two weeks ago, the Justice Secretary told us that 1,000 criminal fugitives were in breach of licence conditions, so how many have since been caught?

Maria Eagle: I cannot provide a precise figure because the police are out in their different areas trying to find the people who have not yet been found. What I can say very clearly is that in 1997, when the Government took office, under 30 per cent. of those whose licences were breached were recalled to prison. The figure is now 99.3 per cent., which is by all accounts an improvement.

Mr. Grieve: Is not the truth that the Justice Secretary and the Minister have taken their eyes completely off the ball? Yesterday, the Parole Board complained that compensation claims from prisoners had reached new heights. Can the Minister confirm that the Government have increased prisoner legal aid by £20 million at the same time as they have cut front-line probation services by £21 million? Is not the truth that the Government are more interested in fuelling the compensation culture than in protecting the public?

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Maria Eagle: That is absolutely not the case. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made clear last week, we are tightening legal aid in respect of claims of that kind.

The legal profession likes to pursue such claims. Conservative Members say that we should not, as they put it, cut legal aid, yet they complain when spending on legal aid goes up. They cannot have it both ways. We are cracking down on legal aid for prisoners with trivial and non-serious complaints, and we will continue to do so. We spend more on legal aid than any other country in the world, but we must ensure that we target our expenditure on those who need it most.

Electoral Reform

6. Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): What recent assessment he has made of the merits of proposals for reform of the electoral system for general elections. [288143]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. Michael Wills): Last year the Government published a review of voting systems. The review considered the experience of the systems introduced in the United Kingdom since 1997, and found no definitive evidence that one system was better or worse than another. The debate on the respective merits of different electoral systems continues, and last month the Prime Minister confirmed that the Government would set out proposals for taking it further.

Sir Robert Smith: When there has been such a breakdown of trust between the electorate and those elected to serve them, it is surely fundamental that the Government should consider reform of the system that links the electorate to the people elected to serve them. The Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill was published on Monday. Does the Minister not think it rather absurd that a Bill that is intended to reform the constitution does not deal with that link between the electorate and their elected representatives?

Mr. Wills: I do not think it will surprise the hon. Gentleman to learn that I do not agree with him. The Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill tackles a range of issues that many Members on both sides of the House believe should have been tackled a long time ago. It transfers power from the Executive to the legislature, and I would expect the hon. Gentleman to welcome that.

The hon. Gentleman will be well aware-particularly if he has read the review of voting systems that the Department published last year-that all voting systems have their proponents and their various merits and disadvantages. We need a proper public debate, and we are ensuring that one is held.

Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Lab): Of course a proper public debate is important, but does my right hon. Friend agree that, whatever system we have and whatever reform takes place, it is also important that we retain the constituency link and constituency representation? What we do not want are any list systems.

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Mr. Wills: I entirely agree. We believe that the link between Members of Parliament and their constituents is fundamental to the health of our democracy, and we certainly propose to retain it.

David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): Does the Minister not concede that one of the worst aspects of the first-past-the-post system is the fact that it reduces the entire general election to a fight for a few swing votes in a few marginal constituencies? That in itself alienates a vast number of electors. It also leads to a large number of safe seats, which has led to a degree of complacency that has not exactly helped the House in the last few months.

Mr. Wills: We could have a protracted debate about the merits of the different systems, but I think that the hon. Gentleman is forgetting something fundamental, which relates to what his hon. Friend the. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith) said a moment ago. What matters in this country is what the electorate think. In my experience and, I think, that of most Members, the electorate have a habit of getting what they want-and anyone who thinks that there are any safe seats anywhere in the country nowadays is profoundly mistaken.

David Howarth: But the electorate do not get what they want. Will the Minister not at least concede that another bad aspect of first past the post is that we inevitably elect Governments who are unpopular at the moment when they are elected? At the last general election, nearly two thirds of the electorate voted for a party other than the party that the Minister represents. Should there not be at least a consensus between all parties that Governments should be more popular at least when they are first elected?

Mr. Wills: I think that the hon. Gentleman is forgetting the experience of countries that operate the system of proportional representation that he wants. Parties that secure no more than 5 per cent. of the vote can determine the Government. How can such a Government be popular?

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): There is, of course, a far more fundamental problem than that of proportional representation: the very integrity of our electoral system. While Conservative Members welcome the measures that the Government have taken-indeed, we have pressed the Government to take such measures as individual voter registration to combat electoral fraud-the system that we are in discussing is in danger of having its integrity questioned. It has already been described as being akin to that in a banana republic. An electoral commissioner has said that it is childishly simple to commit fraud. Why will not the Government, before the next general election, look at the package of measures that we propose to tighten postal voting and the production of identification at the ballot box to make sure that our system's integrity is protected against fraud?

Mr. Wills: I have too much respect for the hon. Lady to think that she believes the rubbish that she has just uttered. If she had read the reports from the Electoral Commission, and the most recent one from the commission and the Association of Chief Police Officers, she would
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know that their conclusion was that the incidence of fraud is declining. She is right on one thing; even a single incident of fraud is one too many. But she well knows that we are not complacent and she knows all of the measures that we have introduced, including postal vote identifiers. She knows that we are introducing individual voter registration, not because the Conservative party is pushing us but because it is the right thing to do.

Youth Justice

7. Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): What recent steps he has taken to divert children and young people from the criminal justice system. [288144]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Claire Ward): Our approach is set out in the £100 million youth crime action plan. Last year the number of children and young people entering the criminal justice system for the first time fell by 10 per cent. Since 2000, the proportion of young offenders who reoffend has fallen by 6.6 per cent.

Ms Keeble: I welcome those figures, but is my hon. Friend aware of the report from the Prison Reform Trust that shows that of the young people locked up by the criminal justice system, 75 per cent. are either on remand or end up with a non-custodial sentence? What steps are being taken to reduce these figures?

Claire Ward: My hon. Friend is quite right to raise the issue of custodial sentences for young people. The Government believe that diversions are necessary to remove as many children and young people as possible from custodial sentences, which is why we are looking at out-of-court disposals, a proportionate and efficient means, in appropriate cases, of dealing with low-level offending by mainly first-time offenders. We also know that as a result of out-of-court disposals, reoffending is much lower among juveniles.

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Does the Minister agree that young people are far more likely to end up in the criminal justice system if they are not in employment, education or training and that the big increase in NEETs has been a major failure in the Government's pursuit of both social justice and community safety?

Claire Ward: The Government are doing an enormous amount for young people right across all Departments. We think it is appropriate for children and young people not to enter the criminal justice system if it is inappropriate for them to do so, which is why we are developing as many out-of-court disposals as we can to meet the needs and to allow other parts of the system, such as health and education, to work with those young people outside of custodial sentences.


8. Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): What mechanism exists for the management of contracts awarded to public sector bidders for the management of market-tested prisons. [288145]

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The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Maria Eagle): Responsibility for the management of all prisons rests with the directors of offender management and the Ministry of Justice. Each public sector prison, including those successful in a market test, is managed via a service level agreement between the relevant director of offender management and the prison.

Mr. Bone: HMP Wellingborough is being market-tested and a good bid is being put together by the local governor and the prison officers, who have ignored their national union's advice on working together. If the bid is successful and the prison has its own market plan, how does it fit in with the overall system? Is it separate?

Maria Eagle: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his persistence on this matter. In our Adjournment debate, he described himself as an ideological Thatcherite but then went on to argue for keeping his prison in the public sector, which is an interesting example of the Conservative party facing both ways. None the less, I wish to assure him that we welcome good public sector bids. If HMP Wellingborough produces such a bid and wins, I will be very pleased.

Pleural Plaques

9. Mr. Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow) (Lab): When the Government plan to publish their decision following their consultation on pleural plaques. [288146]

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): On 30 June, the Government published to the House two reports on the medical aspects of pleural plaques, one from the chief medical officer's expert adviser and a second from the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council. The Government will give further consideration to the issue of compensation for people diagnosed with pleural plaques before publishing a final response after the recess.

In addition, we are actively considering measures to make the United Kingdom a global leader in research on the alleviation, prevention and cure of asbestos-related diseases, and to help speed up compensation claims for those who develop serious asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma. The latter includes examination of the process for tracking and tracing employment and insurance records, as well as looking into the support given to individuals who are unable to trace such records.

Mr. Hepburn: Will the Secretary of State assure us today that pleural plaques sufferers will not be tret any differently in terms of compensation regardless of whether they lodged their claim prior to the 2007 Law Lords judgment or after it and of whether they live in Scotland, England, Wales or Northern Ireland?

Mr. Straw: As I said, we are giving active consideration to that. I understand my hon. Friend's concern, but we have to make our own decisions in this jurisdiction. I am sure that, in turn, my hon. Friend will wish to pay very careful attention to the conclusions of the expert appointed by the chief medical officer and to IIAC; they came to unanimous conclusions, including those backed by the three trade union representatives.

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Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): Following on from the Scottish Government's decision to legislate in this area, did the Secretary of State note the recommendation of the relevant Department in the Northern Ireland Assembly that there should be a change in legislation to allow those with pleural plaques to sue in the courts and get compensation? Also, following on from what the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Hepburn) said, whereas the regions of devolved government will have taken action to redress this terrible injustice to those who suffer from pleural plaques, will it not be perverse if the only area where people cannot claim is England and Wales?

Mr. Straw: As I said, or implied, in answer to my hon. Friend, it is the essence of devolution that different decisions can be made. It would be very curious indeed if the result of devolution was that each jurisdiction had to follow the decisions of the other. We are seeking to consider the evidence very carefully, and I commend the evidence of the chief medical officer's expert's report and IIAC to all hon. Members, whichever constituency they represent.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab): I hear what my right hon. Friend says about the medical evidence of IIAC, but will he look further at medical evidence during the recess, because I can tell him that the consultant who leads the charge for a national centre for asbestos-related diseases says that he believes that pleural plaques are a disease, and he sees people on a daily basis, a proportion of whom are affected by pleural plaques to the degree of having breathlessness? Will my right hon. Friend look again at fresh medical evidence over the recess?

Mr. Straw: I would be delighted to do so. In particular, I would like to facilitate a serious discussion at medical level between the medical practitioner expert to whom my hon. Friend referred and the expert appointed by the chief medical officer, because his conclusion and that of IIAC are obviously at variance at present.

National Security and Intelligence Services

11. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on proposals in his Department's White Paper on constitutional renewal on parliamentary oversight of national security and the intelligence services. [288148]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. Michael Wills): As part of my duties, I have wide-ranging discussions with ministerial colleagues, including on all the proposals in the constitutional renewal White Paper.

Andrew Mackinlay: Have I missed something, because it was proposed in the White Paper that there should be examination of the parliamentary oversight-of which there is none-of the security and intelligence services? The Justice Secretary has in his various ministerial portfolios always alluded to, and mooted, such oversight, and on 22 July 2008 the Prime Minister promised a joint parliamentary committee on strategy-

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): Is there a question?

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Andrew Mackinlay: My question is: have I missed anything-did the hon. Lady not notice that? What is happening-because nothing has happened? We have this White Paper, and the new Bill is out, but there is no mention at all of national security.

Mr. Speaker: I am sure that the reply will be very much more succinct than the question.

Mr. Wills: I shall do my best, Mr. Speaker. The answer, in short, is that for once my hon. Friend has missed something. We did call for greater accountability for the Intelligence and Security Committee, which does provide parliamentary oversight, and we are delivering it. We are doing so in terms of nominations and we are about to do so in terms of public hearings. We are beefing up the Committee-there is now a new general investigator post and the number of staff has increased by a third.

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