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Pleural Plaques

14. Mr Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow) (Lab): What recent representations he has received on compensation for people with pleural plaques. [2229]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Jonathan Djanogly): Let me first recognise the hon. Gentleman's relentless campaigning on compensation for pleural plaques sufferers. I recently answered two written parliamentary questions relating to pleural plaques, and Ministers have received a number of letters from hon. Members and their constituents.

Mr Hepburn: I thank the Government for standing by the previous Government's commitment to compensate past pleural plaques victims, but will the Minister go one step further, as Labour did when in office, and give a commitment that if any new medical evidence comes forward on the condition, the issue will be reopened?

Mr Djanogly: The issue was considered extensively in the last Parliament. A public consultation was carried out, and authoritative medical reports were prepared by the chief medical officer and the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council. The Government consider that in the light of that evidence, it would not be appropriate to overturn the House of Lords 2007 judgment that the condition is not compensatable under the civil law of tort. However, of course, if the situation were to change, we would look at it again. If new medical evidence emerges that suggests that the existence of pleural plaques is an actionable cause and that the condition counts as compensatable damage, it will be open to claimants to pursue an action under the law of tort.

Rape Convictions

17. Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): What the conviction rate was for cases of rape reported in Liverpool, Wavertree constituency in the last 12 months for which figures are available. [2232]

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Kenneth Clarke): Conviction rates are based on the proportion of defendants proceeded against who were found guilty. I can tell the hon. Lady that 44 defendants were proceeded against in the Merseyside police force area in 2008 and 13 were found guilty, giving a conviction rate of 30%. Court proceedings data are not available at parliamentary constituency level.

Luciana Berger: As the Secretary of State has just highlighted, the conviction rate for rape in my constituency is already dangerously low. Can he give us a definitive answer as to why rape defendants should be afforded greater protection than defendants accused of other serious crimes?

Mr Clarke: There are some relevant arguments on both sides, and other arguments that-with respect-are less relevant. I do not think that the conviction rate for rape is affected by whether the defendant had anonymity up to the trial. Nor is a woman's decision to complain affected by whether the man's name will be published in the newspaper immediately. It is important to ensure that all cases of rape are reported by victims who are then treated properly and that cases in which the evidence is sufficient are prosecuted and convicted. I trust that that will be pursued in Merseyside. As I say, some 30% of those charged are convicted, and I shall not dilate further than I did earlier on the particular nature of rape allegations, which are rather different from the
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allegations of normal violent crime or theft- [ Interruption. ] No, the nature of the issue before the jury is very different in such cases. The best analogy is with other sexual offence complaints made against teachers and others, in which anonymity is given to the victim but not to the person accused, and some Members have argued for that to be reconsidered.

Prison Capacity

18. Mr David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): What his policy is on increasing prison capacity; and if he will make a statement. [2233]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Crispin Blunt): I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave to the hon. Member for North Durham (Kevan Jones) earlier.

Mr Evennett: I thank the Minister for his response earlier and agree with the comments that he made. Does he agree that the successful reduction of reoffending levels requires a long-term focus rather than a series of short-term piecemeal proposals? The Labour Government had short-termism and failed.

Mr Blunt: I agree with my hon. Friend. I am afraid that we have seen too much focus on the pursuing of political positions and influence by the media. What we have to do now is take advantage of the change in Administration, and the fact that we have a coalition Government, to try to take the political heat out of the issue, and achieve consensus on a long-term strategy to address reoffending.

Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): The Justice Secretary is reported as saying that millions of pounds could be saved by jailing fewer offenders and slashing sentences. Does the Minister accept that our first duty is the protection of the public and that we must provide prison capacity accordingly?

Mr Blunt: Yes, but I do not entirely recognise the hon. Gentleman's presentation of my right hon. and learned Friend the Justice Secretary's comments over the weekend. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the first objective is public protection, and if we are to protect the public of tomorrow, so that there are fewer victims, we have to ensure that we have a justice service that will deliver a reduction in reoffending rates and can divert people from offending in the first place.

Victims of Crime

19. Esther McVey (Wirral West) (Con): What steps he is taking to ensure that the interests of victims of crime are effectively represented in the criminal justice system; and if he will make a statement. [2234]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Nick Herbert): The coalition Government's aim is to establish a criminal justice system that rebuilds public confidence in the system and ensures that our streets are safe. The rights and welfare of the victim are vital to this. The Government are dedicated to ensuring support for victims and witnesses.
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We want to involve voluntary sector victims groups more and harness their ideas and innovation to help us to improve support.

Esther McVey: A constituent of mine, Jean Taylor, set up the charity, Families Fighting for Justice, after the murder of her son and daughter. Can the Minister assure her, and many others in similar situations, that these charities, which are filling the gaps in the justice system to provide support for victims of crime, will have sufficient transparency and lines of communication open to his Department in order to carry out their work?

Nick Herbert: I am happy to assure my hon. Friend of that. Charities and voluntary groups set up to promote the interests of victims are immensely important, and I would be delighted to meet the group concerned. Consistent with the proposals for a big society that we have been setting out for some time, we want to find ways to ensure that such groups have a voice, and give victims a voice, in the criminal justice system.

Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Lab): What are the Minister's plans for the future of the National Victims Service?

Nick Herbert: We are reviewing all these arrangements to promote the interests of victims. I welcome the appointment of the Victims Commissioner and the work she will embark upon. We are aware of the important work that the National Victims Service is planning to do.

Topical Questions

T1. [2240] Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Kenneth Clarke): The Ministry of Justice is responsible for the entire justice system, including the courts, prisons and probation services. Over the past four weeks, since taking office, I have sought to look at the major issues facing the Department and have worked closely with my ministerial colleagues to identify policy objectives and where savings can be made, given the current economic circumstances. We are conducting a full assessment of sentencing and rehabilitation policy to ensure it is effective in deterring crime, protecting the public, punishing offenders and cutting reoffending, while ensuring good value for the taxpayer. We intend to concentrate on the needs of justice while ensuring that legal aid works efficiently and that taxpayers' money is well spent. In addition, I would like to inform the House that the Prime Minister has asked me to be the Government's anti-corruption champion.

Andrew Rosindell: I thank the Secretary of State for Justice for his answer, although he did not mention his Department's responsibility for the British Crown dependencies of the Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey, Sark and Alderney. He will know that the previous Government were rather negative towards the loyal subjects in the Crown dependencies. Will he confirm that the new Conservative-led Government will be positive towards them and value their contribution to the British economy?

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Mr Clarke: I recognise the important and very enjoyable responsibility I had for the Crown dependencies when I was Home Secretary, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government give a high priority to ensuring that the relationship with the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man is completely satisfactory. I am surprised that responsibility has found its way to the Justice Department-perhaps it was not considered carefully enough by the previous Government. I only raise the possibility that we will have a look at the allocation of responsibilities between Departments to find which allocation best suits both Her Majesty's Government and the Governments of the Crown dependencies.

T2. [2241] Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): Ministers have referred to the recommendation in the Stern report on false allegations of rape. What are their plans to address the other 22 recommendations in the report?

Mr Clarke: The recommendations were only made recently, but I agree that there is no point looking at one aspect of the subject without looking at the others. I think the whole House agrees that we should do everything possible to protect the victims of rape, to enable proper allegations to be brought and to enable justice to be done, so that those responsible for this serious crime are brought to justice. I only mentioned one aspect of Baroness Stern's report, but the whole report is indeed important.

T5. [2244] David T. C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): A High Court judge, sitting on the board of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, recently told all MPs that they should be treated in exactly the same way as every other public servant. Will the Minister therefore consider publishing the travel and accommodation expenses and allowances of High Court judges so that we can find out whether we are indeed matched pound for pound with their lordships?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Jonathan Djanogly): The Lord Chief Justice decided that, from the start of the new legal year in October 2009, the expenses claims of High Court judges and above should be recorded in such a way that they can be attributed to individual judges and published at regular intervals. The first set, covering October to the end of December 2009, was published in March, and the next set, covering January to Easter, is due to be published in July. Figures for the summer term will be published in the autumn.

T3. [2242] Mr Graham Allen (Nottingham North) (Lab): May I congratulate the Secretary of State on his appointment? As a fellow Nottinghamshire MP, may I ask him to have a look at a problem that eluded his three predecessors, which is the creation of a community court in the city of Nottingham? People in Nottingham want the community court and people in the communities want it. However, it seems that the legal establishment in Nottingham does not want a community court. Will he use his good offices to make that wish come true in an area that is, as he knows, fighting crime very well?

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The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Nick Herbert): I am aware of the operation of the community court up in Liverpool, which I have visited, and the community court in Red Hook in New York, which pioneered this system of community justice. They are indeed interesting, and we should look at their success carefully. I am afraid that I cannot give the hon. Gentleman any commitment on Nottingham, but we are interested in and aware of the importance of community courts.

T6. [2245] Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): May I congratulate the Justice Secretary on his new position? Can he explain what the coalition Government's position is on self-defence in the event of burglaries in one's own home and the level to which we can defend our properties? I understand that we have undertaken a review of the position, and people would like clarification, following a number of Back-Bench Bills from Government Members.

Nick Herbert: I can tell my hon. Friend that we are reviewing the law and its interpretation carefully, and we will explore all the options before bringing forward proposals. We must ensure that the responsible citizen acting in self-defence or for the prevention of crime has the appropriate level of legal protection.

T4. [2243] Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): Will the Lib Dem-Tory Government be legislating to give prisoners the vote?

Mr Kenneth Clarke: The previous Government were considering the question carefully, and we are still carefully considering our policy on the issue.

T7.[2246] Mr Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton) (Con): What plans does the Justice Secretary have to reform drug rehabilitation in our prisons, so that we see fewer offenders languishing on methadone prescriptions than under the previous Government, and more going clean on abstinence-based programmes?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Crispin Blunt): Clinical guidance for the treatment of heroin addicts in prison has been updated to reinforce the expectation that prisoners jailed for more than six months should not be maintained on methadone unless there are exceptional circumstances. We recognise that continuity of management of drug users is a key challenge. The work of Lord Patel's prison drug treatment strategy review and last year's review of the drug interventions programme will help us to strengthen arrangements between prisons and the community. However, I absolutely acknowledge my hon. Friend's great concern about the issue.

T9. [2248] Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): In a recent case, a Salford man had committed a rape and was bailed, but then committed a further rape, and the police believe that there are further victims of this man. Can the Secretary of State explain why the Government have committed in their coalition agreement to extending anonymity to such defendants before all the evidence is heard? Can he also say who will now be consulted for that evidence? [Official Report, 24 June 2010, Vol. 512, c. 1-2MC.]

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Mr Kenneth Clarke: With great respect, I find it very surprising that so many questions are being raised about a proposition that has been before the House, on and off, for the past 20 years and is not easily resolved. We will, of course, look at all arguments, including the experience of the case to which the hon. Lady has referred, but that is only one of the considerations to be taken into account. There will undoubtedly sometimes be cases where the publication of the name of the accused person gives rise to other people coming forward with well-founded complaints against that person. We will have to see whether there is any evidence that such cases are a significant proportion of the total cases of rape. We shall also have to consider the arguments on the other side, where a woman can make an anonymous complaint, the man can eventually be convicted, after going through a long and probably rather destructive ordeal, and the woman retains her anonymity as she walks away, with her ex-boyfriend or ex-husband left to live with the consequences.

Hon. Members: What?

T8. [2247] Mr Gary Streeter (South West Devon) (Con): Given that it is a surprise to some of us that so many drugs enter our prisons every day through a variety of methods, what steps will this exciting new Government take to try to crack down on this abuse of Her Majesty's prisons?

Mr Blunt: Plainly, this issue is not new, and there have already been reviews of how drugs get into prisons. We are going to examine this matter and, as I have said, it will be a priority of mine. I am minded to try to ensure that prisoners have the opportunity to get on to abstinence-based programmes successfully and safely, within the prison estate, and to ensure that they do not get knocked off course by the availability of illegal drugs in our prisons-

Mr Speaker: Order. I am sorry to interrupt. It is understandable that Ministers should look backwards at those questioning them, but they must face the House.

Mrs Jenny Chapman (Darlington) (Lab): Seventeen-year-old Ashleigh Hall, who lived in my constituency, was murdered last year by Peter Chapman, who is now serving a life sentence. While in prison, Mr Chapman has been writing to Ashleigh Hall's parents and family. Does the Minister think that that is acceptable?

Mr Blunt: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for bringing that to my attention. Perhaps she could write to me with the details of the case. Obviously, on the face of it, it sounds unacceptable, and I would be pleased to look into the matter.

T10. [2249] Mr David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): What is the legal aid funding allocation per head in England and Wales, and how does it compare with legal aid funding in other countries?

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