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10 Nov 2009 : Column 153

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): Several years ago, the amount per capita spent on education in the secure estate for young offenders was considerably below that spent on the average secondary school student, despite the high rates of illiteracy and the lack of job skills among young offenders. Has that situation changed? If not, why not?

Maria Eagle: The amount of money spent on education in both our young offenders estate and the adult prison estate has risen significantly in the intervening years. There is further to go, and more can be done to assist young and adult prisoners to ensure that they acquire the skills and training that will help them live a more honest life when they come out at the end of their sentences.

Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): Does spending two thirds of the youth justice budget on putting young offenders in custody when two thirds of young offenders come out and commit another offence represent good value for money, or could local authorities with a devolved budget do better?

Maria Eagle: It is for the courts to decide how to sentence those who come before them. The number of young people first entering the criminal justice system is down by 10 per cent. in the past year; reoffending is down by 20 per cent. since 2000; the rate of reoffences classified as serious is down by 20 per cent; the frequency of reoffending is down by a quarter, and the number of offenders who reoffend is down by more than 6.5 per cent. That is a record that the House should applaud.

15. Mr. Rob Wilson (Reading, East) (Con): What steps his Department is taking to reduce reoffending rates of young offenders. [298579]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Maria Eagle): To save time, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I just gave the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell).

Mr. Wilson: Reading young offenders institution runs some fantastic programmes, which help to lower reoffending rates. However, I was extremely concerned to learn from a recent parliamentary answer from the Minister that offenders in Reading prison spend less than one hour a day on education and training. Does she agree that formal education and training should not be neglected as part of the overall package?

Maria Eagle: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Although we have made much progress-increasing the amount of spend on adult education by more than 15 times since the Government came to office-more can be done, and we intend to ensure that we do it.

Multi-agency Protection

18. Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of multi-agency public protection arrangements in the management of serious offenders. [298582]

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): Prison, police and probation services are now required to work together rather than in isolation to assess and manage the risk presented by known offenders in the so-called MAPPA system. In 2008-09,
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of the 10,924 sexual, violent and other dangerous offenders managed at MAPPA levels 2 and 3, with multi-agency intervention and resources, 48 were charged with a serious further offence. Not least in the light of the Sonnex case, we are constantly making efforts to strengthen the MAPPA system.

Philip Davies: The Secretary of State has met the family of the 10-year-old boy who was abducted and raped by Stephen Ayre in my constituency several years ago. Even though the right hon. Gentleman would not release the internal report into the event and the failings of the Prison Service and the probation service, will he explain what measures the Department is taking to pay compensation to the families of people who suffer from such appalling mismanagement?

Mr. Straw: Compensation is a matter for the courts. There is no-and never has been-statutory responsibility directly on the Government in respect of victims. Very occasionally victims in such circumstances can get compensation, but I am sorry to have to tell the hon. Gentleman, as successive Governments have said, that it is a matter for the courts, and clearly within rather narrowly defined circumstances.

Criminal Trial Acquittals (Costs)

19. Chloe Smith (Norwich, North) (Con): Whether he plans to bring forward proposals to ensure that defendants who are acquitted in criminal trials receive costs in all cases. [298583]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Bridget Prentice): I congratulate the hon. Lady on her rise to Parliament. I hope that she will attend Justice questions regularly. I refer her to the answer that I gave a short time ago: defendants who are acquitted in criminal trials should normally receive their reasonable costs, unless the court decides otherwise.

Chloe Smith: I listened to the Minister's response to my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), prior to her complimentary remarks, for which I thank her very much. But surely the Criminal Cases (General) (Amendment) Regulations 2009 do indeed prevent an acquitted defendant from recovering their costs?

Bridget Prentice: As I have said, it is essential that we target our resources effectively. Costs are available to defendants in criminal cases in the Crown court where they have been acquitted, but those costs are staged at the level of legal aid costs. In other words, they should get the same as they should get had they been legally aided.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): It is not legally aided.

Bridget Prentice: Of course they are not legally aided-that is the point-but the level of costs that they will get back from the taxpayer from central funds will be the same as if they had been legally aided. That is fair both to them and to legally aided defendants.

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Mr. Speaker: Order. I very gently say to the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) that the shadow Justice team, of all shadow teams, should behave in an orderly manner.

Prisoner Transfer Agreements

20. Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): If he will make it his policy to negotiate prisoner transfer agreements with the three countries with the largest foreign prisoner populations in England and Wales. [298584]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Maria Eagle): It is Government policy to negotiate prisoner transfer agreements, particularly with those countries with large numbers of nationals in our prisons. As of 30 June 2009, the three countries with the largest numbers were Jamaica, Nigeria and the Republic of Ireland. We have prisoner transfer agreements with the Republic of Ireland and Nigeria. A prisoner transfer agreement was signed with Jamaica in June 2007 but has yet to be implemented as the Jamaican Government need to introduce enabling legislation.

Mr. Hollobone: Given that we have a prisoner transfer agreement with Nigeria, will the Minister tell the House how many Nigerians are serving time in jails in England and Wales and why those people are not returned to their country of origin?

Maria Eagle: Currently, the arrangements require the consent of prisoners to be transferred. Nigeria is a signatory, so we can now transfer prisoners voluntarily to serve their sentences at home. We are negotiating a compulsory transfer agreement. Enabling legislation is at the committee stage in the Nigerian National Assembly, so I hope that in due course, in the not-too-distant future, we will be able to transfer prisoners whether or not they agree to the transfer.

Topical Questions

T1. [298590] Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): In June, I announced a review of schedule 21 to the Criminal Justice Act 2003 in the light of considerable concern about the starting point for determining the minimum term for murder using a knife, which is currently 15 years. Following this review, which included the necessary consultation, I can now tell the House that I propose to introduce a new adult starting point of 25 years for murder using a knife or other weapon carried to the scene with the intention of use as a weapon. A statutory instrument introducing this change will be laid before Parliament by Christmas and will be subject to debate in both Houses soon after.

Mark Pritchard: In order to protect freedom of speech and safeguard community cohesion, will the Justice Secretary put in place measures that prevent Muslim groups and organisations who condone or encourage
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violence against Muslims who convert to other religions or leave the Islamic faith-so-called apostates-from receiving public money?

Mr. Straw: Such arrangements ought to be in place currently, and there is very careful analysis by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, but if the hon. Gentleman has any examples, I am very happy to follow them up on his behalf.

T4. [298593] Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): What is the Government's most recent assessment of the success in ensuring that justice is seen to be done under the community payback and community cash-back schemes, particularly in Wolverhampton and the west midlands?

Mr. Straw: The community payback and community cash-back schemes have, I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend, been very successful. Using the minimum wage as the multiplier, I can tell him that in the west midlands, about £2.5 million-worth of unpaid labour has been carried out, involving many schemes. One of the great things about community payback is that the public can literally see offenders carrying out this work on their behalf, and increasingly they can choose which schemes the offenders should undertake.

T2. [298591] Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): Now that we know that shop theft costs a shocking £5 billion a year and is on the increase, especially among middle class women, will the Justice Secretary please extend the review of out-of-court disposals, which he has just instigated at the request of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Association of Chief Police Officers, to include the use of penalty notices, which should not be used in cases of persistent shop theft?

Mr. Straw: The review will indeed include penalty notices for disorder. As I have made clear to the hon. Lady-and I commend her campaign on proper compliance and a restriction on the use of PNDs, especially in respect of shop theft-I am as concerned as she is about any circumstances in which penalty notices for disorder are used for repeat offenders. The number of convictions over the last eight years has increased. The introduction of so-called out-of-court disposals is nothing to do with the prison population. Before we introduced the out-of- court disposals, most of these offenders were not dealt with at all by the police, and that was wholly ineffective. I accept that there is a problem, and we must consider it actively.

T5. [298594] Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): On the same theme, will my right hon. Friend's review of police cautions establish the legitimacy of these cautions, because they are a useful part of the criminal justice armoury? Will he also make it clear that the outrageous cases, such as the barmaid who was glassed and raped, can never properly be subject to police caution?

Mr. Straw: I am as surprised and shocked as anybody else by the fact that cautions have been used in indictable-only offences such as rape. Such decisions can be made only by the crown prosecutor-it is a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions. The review will indeed
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include that issue. These cautions and other out-of- court disposals were designed for lower level offences that, in the past, were not the subject of any effective police action. In the period in which we have introduced them, the number of convictions has increased significantly.

T3. [298592] Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): A constituent's son was tragically murdered. The mother applied for compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, but was refused-including help with funeral expenses-because he had had convictions in the past that were nothing to do with his murder. Does the Secretary of State agree that it appears that we place a lower value on life when it comes to those who have made a mistake in the past and paid for those crimes?

Mr. Straw: I understand the concern of the hon. Gentleman and the family he is representing, but it has long been accepted, as part of the criminal injuries compensation scheme, that people who are the victims of crime but have themselves been offenders with relatively serious, unspent convictions cannot benefit from compensation which is available, fundamentally, for innocent members of the public.

T6. [298595] Natascha Engel (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): Now that my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Ms Butler) has been made the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, with responsibility for youth citizenship, what does that mean for the Youth Citizenship Commission? More importantly, I desperately need to know who to lobby on the issue of reducing the voting age to 16.

Mr. Straw: The appointment of my hon. Friend is very good news. In any event, we are already pursuing the recommendations of the Youth Citizenship Commission. As for votes at 16, opinions differ. This is a free country, and there are free opinions in the Government on this issue. I take a slightly different view on this, and it was striking that in the opinion poll that the YCC conducted only those aged 16 and 17 showed a majority in favour of votes at 16-and it was only a narrow majority-and the other groups favoured 18. This is a debate that will run and run.

T7. [298596] Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): Mr. Speaker, you will be horrified to learn that last year up to 40,000 assault cases were dealt with only by a caution, in spite of official guidance stating that they should be used only for low-level offending. Will the Justice Secretary tell the Crown prosecutor that such abuse of the system should be ended forthwith, and that cautions for assault cases are totally inappropriate?

Mr. Straw: I have, indeed, just said that. I point out to the hon. Lady, however, that violence against the person as a category includes, at the one end, grievous bodily harm, which is very serious, and, at the other end, common assault, which until 1998 was regarded by the party of the previous Administration as not important enough to be a recorded offence. In my view, we need graded advice that clearly distinguishes on the one hand between common assault-it might literally be just a tap-and grievous bodily harm and actual bodily harm on the other hand.

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T8. [298597] John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): The graveyards of Britain are still littered with inappropriate and unsafe stakes. Will the Minister consider giving another significant kick to the cemetery authorities that have failed in their duty to remove the stakes?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Bridget Prentice): I will take great pleasure in giving that kick to those authorities. My hon. Friend has campaigned long and hard on that issue, and he is absolutely right. We have sent out guidance on at least two occasions, and if necessary we will do so again and hope that, this time, they pay some attention.

T9. [298598] Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Although the number of deaths on our roads is at its lowest since records began, every life lost is one too many. The grief of families, however, is made worse when frequently they do not know what has happened to the driver of the vehicle in which their loved-one died. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is necessary for sentencing in all court cases in which a life has been lost, irrespective of the charge or whether the person has pleaded guilty, to be done at the Crown court?

Mr. Straw: I cannot say that, because it would raise bigger issues. However, I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman that bereaved victims in such circumstances have every right to know the outcome of the case. There should be a duty on the prosecutors and police, with help from Victim Support, to see that they do.

Emily Thornberry (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab): Since Ben's death, Debbie and George Kinsella have been campaigning for an increase in sentences for those guilty of knife crime. I know that my right hon. Friend has had meetings with the family, and with their priest, Father Jim Kennedy. On their behalf, and that of the people of Islington, I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement today.

Mr. Straw: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I know how hard she has sought to represent the bereaved Kinsella family and the community. As I explained to the House in my statement, schedule 21 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 provides for a minimum starting-point tariff of 15 years for adults. In the light of the Kinsella murder and the sentences, understandable concern was raised about the fact that the starting point was too low for knife murders involving people who have gone out with a knife with the intention of committing a serious crime. I am glad to say that, in the light of the review, I propose to raise the tariff to 25 years. I am afraid that nothing can undo the loss suffered by the Kinsella family, but it does at least show-I hope-respect for them and the community that it has been possible to respond as we have.

Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): What prisoner exchange relationships do we have with Venezuela? I have an 18-year-old constituent awaiting trial there. His mental age is below 18, and we are worried about whether he is going to get a fair trial. If he is convicted, is there any mechanism to bring him back to the UK, so that he can finish his sentence here?

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