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Foreign National Prisoners

12. Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Which three nationalities comprise the largest number of foreign national prisoners; and how many prisoners of each such nationality there are. [288149]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Maria Eagle): As at 31 March 2009, the top three foreign nationalities held in prisons in England and Wales were Jamaica, with 1,099 prisoners; Nigeria, with 855 prisoners; and Ireland, with 620 prisoners.

Mr. Hollobone: Should we not be sending these countries a bill for the incarceration of their nationals in our prisons? Is not this foreign prisoner scandal an absolute national disgrace, given that 13 per cent. of the prison population in this country is made up of people from other countries, who should be returned to secure detention in the countries from which they came?

Maria Eagle: I shall desist from answering the hon. Gentleman's first question about sending bills. [Hon. Members: "Why?"] We do not have a policy to do what he suggests. However, we deport foreign national prisoners where we have the chance to do so. In 2007-08, we deported 4,200 foreign national prisoners, and this year we aim to deport 5,800. We do our best to divest ourselves of foreign national prisoners, where it is lawful and practicable to do so. We are also negotiating prisoner transfer agreements with relevant countries. I should also point out that we currently have fewer foreign national prisoners in our jails than most other European countries.

International Criminal Jurisdiction

13. Sarah Teather (Brent, East) (LD): What recent representations he has received on the jurisdiction of UK courts over cases involving crimes under international law committed in other countries. [288150]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Claire Ward): The Government receive many representations from time to time about the jurisdiction of the UK courts for particular categories of crimes under international law. We have recently received
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representations about genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, and we have responded positively to those issues.

Sarah Teather: Does the Minister believe that someone such as Felicien Kabuga, a major financier of the Rwandan genocide, should be brought to justice for his crimes? If so, why has she been unwilling to bring non-residents into the legislation on genocide and war crimes? Surely, if such war criminals are present in the UK, they should not be given sanctuary, regardless of whether they are resident.

Claire Ward: It seems that, yet again, the hon. Lady is unable to welcome the significant move that the Government have made on this issue, which has been welcomed by a large number of her colleagues in the other House and by outside organisations. We have taken considerable steps forward on this issue. We are not persuaded that it is necessary to change the relevant definition from "residence" to "presence", as such suspects are not using the UK as a safe haven in which to hide. The current law on these crimes applies to residents, but we have stated that we are willing to examine the definition of resident and clarify it to ensure that the sort of cases that have been discussed could well be captured by "residence" in future.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): May I make another representation to my hon. Friend? The Israeli settlers in the west bank and Golan Heights are committing crimes under international law, so will she assure me that such settlers who visit the UK will be arrested and charged here?

Claire Ward: Obviously, any decision to prosecute would be a matter for the prosecuting authorities, and it would be inappropriate for me to comment on that specifically.


14. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with the Magistrates Courts Authority on the implementation of sentencing guidelines for shoplifting. [288151]

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): The Magistrates Association has made clear its preference for charges of shop theft to be prosecuted in court. As the hon. Lady is aware, earlier this week I published revised operational guidance to police forces to restrict the use of fixed penalty notices for shop theft to first-time offenders who are not substance abusers where the value of the goods is less than £100 and where the goods have normally been recovered.

Miss McIntosh: I am most grateful to the Lord Chancellor for that reply and for the statement that he issued last week. He has said on numerous occasions that the sentencing guidelines are about to be amended, so when does he expect that the amendments might reach the public eye?

Mr. Straw: I will write to the hon. Lady about that. I thought that her question was about the revised guidance to the police forces, for which she has been campaigning
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for some time. The effect of the restrictions that I announced yesterday on penalty notices for disorder will be to ensure that a greater number of those prosecuted for shop theft end up in court.

Drugs (Prisons)

15. Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con): What plans he has to reduce levels of drug taking in prisons. [288152]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Maria Eagle): We have made great progress in reducing drug misuse in prisons. Drug misuse, as measured by random mandatory drug testing, is down by 63 per cent. since the 1996-97 financial year. Record numbers of prisoners are engaged in drug treatment. Prison drug treatment funding has increased year on year since 1996-97-a thirteenfold increase-and record numbers are engaging with such treatment.

Mr. Streeter: Is it really a good idea for the Government to spend £4 million on installing automatic vending machines in many prisons, including Dartmoor prison just outside my constituency, to supply methadone to prisoners? Is that really the best way to bear down on drug abuse?

Maria Eagle: The reference to methadone dispensers-which are medically arranged treatment programmes for prisoners that ensure that each prisoner gets only the correct dose of their maintenance treatment-as vending machines is a travesty of the truth. Vending suggests selling-that is what the word means-and there is no question that the Prison Service deals in such behaviour in our prisons.

Topical Questions

T1. [288126] Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): Yesterday I published the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, which includes major reforms in respect of the civil service and the ratification of treaties, ends the curious election of hereditary peers to the House of Lords, and provides for peers to resign, to be suspended or to be expelled. Further proposals for the long-term reform of the Lords will be brought forward in the autumn. With yesterday's announcement, nearly all the proposals put to the House on 3 July 2007 have either been implemented or are well in hand in being implemented.

Andrew Mackinlay: As we will not meet for about three months, will the Justice Secretary tell us how the promise-that an equivalent to the oath will be administered at the Iraq inquiry-from the Prime Minister and Sir John Chilcot can be delivered? We need to know now, not three months down the road and a long way into the Chilcot inquiry.

Mr. Straw: I assume that the equivalent to an oath is that those who are witnesses-I expect to be one myself-will be invited to indicate that they are about to tell the truth. That is how it will work. If there is any difference, I will write to my hon. Friend.

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T2. [288127] Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con): Given the increase in tribunals practising sharia law in this country, can the Secretary of State or one of his excellent Ministers explain how that dovetails with the law of the land? How is it compatible with our commitment to human rights and, for example, the equality of women under the laws of this country?

Mr. Straw: Any domestic tribunal, as the so-called sharia courts are, has to comply with the law of the land, and the statutory basis with which they have to comply is an Act passed under the last Conservative Administration -the Arbitration Act 1996. This Government have no less an interest than any other party in seeing the strictest observance of British law by everybody who is resident in or subject to this jurisdiction, regardless of their confessional faith.

T7. [288132] John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): Despite the efforts of various bird-brained councillors who have not yet got the gist of the Department's excellent new guidelines on the staking of graveyards, does the Minister welcome the fact that the Co-operative funeral service has now agreed to fix any gravestone wrongly staked over the past 10 years and consider any in its jurisdiction that have been staked at all?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Bridget Prentice): As always, my hon. Friend is assiduous in pursuing this issue, and rightly so. I am absolutely delighted that the Co-op-of which I give notice I am a customer-is taking on board what he raises. I have written directly to the chief executives and leaders of local authorities, and I hope that they will take the issue seriously. I will make sure that they follow the guidance properly and do not allow views about health and safety that are unhelpfully politically correct to overcome what should be a sensible, straightforward and sensitive way of dealing with the matter.

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): I welcome the two written statements about legal aid that were made yesterday. One insisted that best-value tendering will not go ahead until pilots have been examined, and the other was on family law. On the very controversial issue of family legal aid, however, what will the reworking of assumptions and the further analysis amount to? What will the key considerations be?

Mr. Straw: From work done in the Legal Services Commission, it became apparent last Friday that there were problems in the analysis-although not in the basic data-that required reworking. That was why the announcement was deferred, but I say to the right hon. Gentleman and the House that there has been an extraordinary increase in expenditure on family legal aid. It is now up to £582 million-an increase of 25 per cent.-even though the case load has declined by 11 per cent. This is not a service that has been underfunded, but it is an area of legal process that has become over-elaborate. All those participating in the system have a responsibility to make it less elaborate, in the interests of the public and the children concerned.

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): In 2006, the Information Commissioner's Operation Motorman referred to hundreds of journalists who had got information
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on people from private detectives by illegal means. Those journalists, and the newspapers that they work for, have not been named. Has the Justice Department been involved in that cover-up? Can they be named, so that the people who were the victims of those illegal activities can have some remedy against those newspapers and journalists?

Mr. Straw: To the very best of my knowledge, my Department has not been involved in any way in the matter. My hon. Friend asks about naming the individuals involved, and he may wish to consider making a freedom of information request to the Information Commissioner.

T3. [288128] James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): May I ask the Secretary of State to return to the issue of trainee probation officers and to clear up a point of confusion? I think that he accused my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) of exaggerating the figures, but is it not true that around 1,000 trainee probation officers qualify each year for about 250 jobs? Does not that mean that hundreds of people trained up by the Government do not get jobs?

Mr. Straw: I think that the hon. Gentleman's suggestion of the figures is slightly wide of the mark. I have accepted already that some trainee probation officers will qualify, for whom positions are unlikely to be available this year. That is due to a combination of the tighter financial climate and the recession, which means that fewer existing probation officers are moving on to other jobs. I am on the case and I am discussing the matter in detail, with the probation trade unions above all. We are anxious to use the full resources of the National Offender Management Service to ensure that qualified trainees are provided with employment wherever possible.

Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): The Justice Secretary and I have been in correspondence about the possibility that a prison will be built in Scarisbrick in my constituency. I have received assurances from him that there will not be a Titan prison or any other sort of prison there, but it would appear that my Tory councillors will not accept that until they hear categorically that there will not be a prison in Scarisbrick. Will my right hon. Friend give me that assurance?

Mr. Straw: There will not be a prison in Scarisbrick.

T4. [288129] Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): Twelve days ago, the Government accepted amendments in the House of Lords to abolish seditious and criminal libel. Those amendments had been sought for a long time by bodies such as PEN, Index on Censorship and Article 19; I am a trustee of the last of those organisations. May I ask the Secretary of State to ask his officials to liaise with them all to ensure that maximum publicity is given to the fact that we are going to change our law, and to set an example to those countries that maintain and use such laws?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Claire Ward): The Government have accepted in principle the amendments tabled to the Coroners and Justice Bill. Among other things, the amendments will extend abolitions
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to the offences to Northern Ireland, and pick up some of the mixed consequential amendments and repeals to various linked statutory provisions. We will also look at debating and discussing some of those issues with other partners and outside stakeholders.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): I return to the question of compensation for pleural plaques victims. If someone worked for a UK Government Department, such as the Ministry of Defence, in Scotland or Northern Ireland, they would get compensation, but if they worked in England or Wales, they would get nothing. What is the practicality and fairness of that?

Mr. Straw: Even before devolution, there were differences in the civil law as well as the criminal law north and south of the border. That has just been a fact of life. The courts are therefore well used to dealing with some differences, which have differences of outcomes for individuals.

T5. [288130] Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): HMP Wellingborough is having a methadone dispenser put in. Following what my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) said in an earlier question, could the Justice Secretary explain why a dispenser is better value and better for the prisoner than going to see the medical officer? I wonder whether the Secretary of State, Lord High Chancellor and Deputy Prime Minister could answer that.

Mr. Straw: This is a most extraordinary confection of a story developed by some Opposition Members. I shall explain: prisoners can get methadone, whether it is dispensed through a machine or manually, only when they have been to the medical officer. What happens-I have seen this in operation-is that the dispensing machines are put in by the health service to control the issue of methadone, so that only those prisoners who have been prescribed it medically, by a medical officer, can receive it. There is an iris scan, and if the machine recognises the prisoner, his or her dose is dispensed. They have to drink it in sight of a prison officer and a medical orderly, so there is no chance-no chance-of deception of the kind that, I am afraid, takes place all too frequently otherwise in prison, especially with drugs.

Jessica Morden (Newport, East) (Lab): What discussions has the Department had with the Crown Prosecution Service over the proposed restructuring of the Forensic Science Service? Given that we are looking at hundreds of jobs under threat and the closure of excellent laboratories such as the one in Chepstow, where many of my constituents work, does my right hon. Friend agree that we should look at the full repercussions for the CPS before any decisions are made by the Home Office?

Mr. Straw: I am very happy to pass on to my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General the concerns that have been expressed by my hon. Friend about the position of the FSS. Those concerns, if I may say, have also been expressed to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle). My hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Jessica Morden) will understand that decisions on that are matters for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

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T8. [288134] Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): What action is being taken by the Ministry of Justice to address the particular needs of former armed service personnel who have been shown to be suffering from combat stress and who are caught up in the criminal justice system?

Mr. Straw: We are taking special measures to help former service personnel who are caught up in the criminal justice system because we recognise-indeed, this has emerged this morning-that the results of combat stress can often emerge many years later, and in unpredictable forms, including in offending behaviour that simply was not there before and during an individual's service in the armed forces. I am very happy to write in more detail to the hon. Lady to set out what we are doing.

Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Lab): I was alarmed about the case of a constituent of mine who was the victim of an assault and robbery at a cash machine. The criminal who committed the crime was given a suspended sentence. Will my right hon. Friend look at the case if I send details to him?

Mr. Straw: Yes, I will.

T9. [288135] Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): The people outside the House must be involved in rebuilding our broken political system. Will the Secretary of State support a citizens convention to help to map out the path for constitutional renewal, instead of leaving it solely in the hands of politicians?

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