Rory has met with representatives from Highways England to discuss their plans for the A66.
Mr Stewart has campaigned for better roads for Cumbria since his election in 2010 and has been monitoring the situation on the A66 for some time. He arranged this meeting with representatives from Highways England in order to hear their plans for reducing accidents and to receive an update on the dualling of the carriageway.
Jackie Alan presented her proposals to Rory, which included improvements to a number of junctions between Brough and Penrith. He was then updated on the progress of the project to dual the Trans-Pennine section of the A66. This follows an earlier meeting in which Rory and Highways England discussed the impending closure of the A66 for seven consecutive weekends starting 7 September 2018. These £5 million works will see reconstruction and resurfacing between Kirkby Thore and Low Moor and will bring the section up to modern standards. Rory took this opportunity to share communities’ concerns about the impact that these works will have on their homes and businesses.
Commenting on this meeting, Rory said “We have had an extremely useful and productive meeting. I am satisfied that there are plans in place to improve the A66 and I was interested to hear developments to the ambitious plan for its dualling. I would like to thank Jackie and her team for meeting with me and for pledging to keep the public well informed of future developments”.
Rory met with a group of 16 National Farmers’ Union members to discuss the needs and concerns of Cumbrian farmers.
Mr Stewart opened the meeting by praising the farmers who are working together to isolate the affected area of bTB and applauded their own personal efforts in industry participation stating that “the current model being used to eradicate bTB has only been possible because of the joint effort between the Animal and Plant Health Agency and individual farmers”.
Rory said “Agriculture is essential to our economy. More than any other area, Cumbria relies on this industry and anything that has a detrimental effect on it will have catastrophic consequences”.
The group discussed the current issues surrounding Brexit and what outcomes the various deals would have on the agricultural industry in Cumbria. There were strong concerns in the room regarding a ‘No Deal’ Brexit and what that meant to farmers on the ground. The group also questioned the lack of agricultural White Papers; stating more that policy documents produced by the Government on agriculture would help the general public understand the size and importance of this industry.
Finally the group discussed Upland farming and environmental schemes that many of the members are involved in and asked how they could help to impress on the government the changes needed to be made so they could support both environmental schemes and also run successful uplands farms.
The meeting finished positively with the group thanking Rory for all his support. On leaving the meeting Rory Stewart said: “With a clear message from both the NFU and the government we can ensure agriculture is in the public eye and support this essential industry in Cumbria and the rest of England”.
Rory visited Winters Park Residential Home to meet residents and discuss care issues with the Manager.
Winters Park Residential Home, run by Susan Thompson, General Manger, is located in a peaceful part of Penrith and supports up to 40 residents at any given time. Mrs Thompson was pleased to show Mr Stewart around the home, introducing him to a number of residents. Mr Stewart was delighted to have conversations with some of the residents, discussing a variety of topics from the Black Watch, whom Mr Stewart served with, to the world cup and which teams would make the final.
After the tour, Mr Stewart discussed with Susan Thompson the current issues surrounding the running of residential home and how ensuring the happiness of the residents is always their top priority.
Mrs Thompson praised her staff and the dedication they put into looking after the residents. After the visit she said: “The residents and staff at Winters Park very much appreciated the visit we had from Rory. He engaged with several residents which proved extremely interesting. A very pleasant and interesting morning for our home”.
Rory Stewart said: “It was wonderful to meet staff and residents at Winters Park. The Home has a very lovely atmosphere, and I very much enjoyed meeting everyone. I would like to say thank you to Susan and her team for all their hard work, strength and devotion”.
Rory met with Rose Rouse last week to welcome her to Eden and congratulate her on her new role as Chief Executive of Eden District Council, which she started at the beginning of July.
Mrs Rouse, a former Corporate Director with Worcester City Council, said her main role over the next few months was to ‘get to know people'; not just in the Council, but in the communities she is working for. Mrs Rouse also said she was looking forward to continuing to engage with her teams and build a team focused on good communication and a can do attitude. She also stated that she was encouraged by the ideas already coming forward from Council staff.
Mr Stewart and Mrs Rouse discussed the difficulties the Council faced in Eden including strategic housing, and planning and development. Mrs Rouse, who spent time working at the Cumbria Police Headquarters earlier in her career, said she believed in planning for the future, and said she was already impressed by the recent developments she has seen in the town including the leisure facilities and the growth of alternative food shopping.
Kevin Beaty, Eden District Council Leader, joined Mr Stewart and Mrs Rouse to discuss the Penrith Master Plan. Mrs Rouse spoke about how the plan was ‘morphing and changing’ constantly to represent the views of the community. She said: “People drive change, retaining the working age population in Eden by providing the necessary services, homes and shopping facilities will support the area”.
Mr Stewart said “I am delighted with Mrs Rouse’s appointment. It is important that we continue to ensure Eden is supported to grow and achieve its economic potential. This is a challenging time for Eden, but I am confident that with Mrs Rouse at the helm, these challenges will be well managed, with the interests of the communities at the heart of any decision making process”.
Rory visited Langwathby School’s ‘Art Mart’ weekend to support the annual event, in which the School is transformed into an Art Gallery. Art Mart brings artists from all over Cumbria to showcase their work alongside that of the children from the School.
The event, which is in its 23rd year, displays over 320 paintings and works of art which are produced by 40 different artists, from around Cumbria, which are both amateur and professional . The event is put together by a team of volunteers and supported by the whole community. The event raises money for the school’s arts and creativity fund and last year raised £4000. The School uses the money to pay for the children to have visiting artists to the School ranging from clay throwing to felt work.
Hazel Feddon, committee member and senior teaching assistant at the School said: “The event started in one room with 20 paintings and has grown to what it is now, there is even a waiting list for artists to be able to join the event. We are really thrilled to have ex-students exhibiting their work. This really shows how the funds have helped our children to find their passion for art”.
Rory enjoyed a relaxing walk around the event, discussing art with other visitors and exhibiting artists. Rory especially enjoyed the Special Exhibition room which this year housed a ‘Wood Themed Exhibition’ which displayed various artists work and also woodwork created by the children of Langwathby School.
On leaving the event Rory said: “what a fantastic demonstration of a community coming together to support their local School. Not only does it show community spirit, but a strong desire to ensure their children have a chance to develop their own skills though creation. This event is truly inspirational, and I hope it continues to go from strength to strength”.
Rory visited Rutter Falls Self Catering Holiday Cottages on Saturday to discuss the business’ successful use of ultrafast broadband.
Since his election in 2010, Rory has made increased broadband coverage a central priority and, to that end, he has consistently lobbied the government, councils and providers. One of the results of these efforts has been the Connecting Cumbria project, which was launched in 2013 as a partnership between Cumbria County Council and BT. It is designed to bring superfast broadband coverage to 95% of homes and businesses in Cumbria by the end of 2018 and has enabled some 700 fibre structures so far. Coverage, at present, is at 93%, with 127,000 homes and businesses having already benefitted from the scheme.
Rutter Falls Self Catering Holiday Cottages, run by Jim and Jane Wilson, has recently taken advantage of the scheme and, as a consequence, they are able to run their business more efficiently and offer ultrafast broadband as a further attraction to guests. Rory was keen to hear more about their experience as, during his visit, he was shown the benefits of a Full Fibre network connection.
Commenting on his visit, Rory said, “Fast and reliable broadband is vital for our rural areas; our small businesses depend upon it and our communities need it. It was a very great pleasure to spend time at Rutter Falls Holiday Cottages and I was fascinated to hear about how Jim and Jane are making the most of their ultrafast broadband connection. A lot of important work is taking place as part of the Connecting Cumbria programme and I am delighted to see the continuing success of Openreach’s Full Fibre network. I will continue to push this scheme and I want to see more areas benefit from this cutting-edge technology.”
Rory, David Gauke, Lucy Frazer and Edward Argar, spoke in the House of Commons to answer Justice Questions on 5 June. Watch it here:
Mr Virendra Sharma (Ealing, Southall) (Lab)
T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.
The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Mr David Gauke)
Today, I have announced an additional £30 million investment in our prison estate, including £16 million to improve facilities at 11 of our most pressed prisons. Some £6 million will enhance security and tackle those co-ordinating drug dealing from inside through scanners, better searching and phone-blocking technology. Since February, 12 such serious criminals have been targeted for disruption, with nine already having been transferred to other parts of the estate, including more secure prisons.
The Government are conducting a review of the impact of the swingeing cuts to legal aid since 2012, but they have so far refused to say whether more funding will be made available for legal aid. Will the Secretary of State confirm that additional funding will be made available if it is found to be required, or is the review simply an exercise in moving legal aid funding from one cause to another?
The purpose of the review is to assess what we need to do. That is the correct way to go about it. Obviously, we will need to engage with the Treasury in terms of future spending reviews, but we have a serious piece of work, with very substantial engagement with stakeholders, on which to make an assessment of how the legal aid system is working.
Scott Mann (North Cornwall) (Con)
T4. Will the Minister give an update on how restorative justice programmes are being rolled out and how they are being used for public good and environmental measures?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Edward Argar)
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the important role of restorative justice. The Ministry of Justice supports the provision of victim-focused restorative justice as one of a range of measures to help victims to cope with and recover from crime. A recent evaluation showed that 85% of victims who participated in restorative justice said they were satisfied with the experience, which can, of course, bring benefits to the community as well.
Richard Burgon (Leeds East) (Lab)
In my first two questions today, I focused on the widespread failings of privatisation in our justice system. I have written to the Secretary of State about the close relationship that his Department has with outsourcing giant Serco, a relationship that is ever closer given that his new Minister was once its spin doctor-in-chief. Will the Secretary of State confirm to the House today that he has reorganised responsibilities in his Department, so that his new Minister in charge of youth justice will not be involved in any way in any of the young offender institutions that Serco manages?
There has been no reorganisation of responsibilities. There is no conflict of interest here at all. The suggestion that because somebody has worked in the private sector for such a company, there is a conflict of interest is not accurate. The hon. Gentleman’s hostility to the private sector, in this sector and across the piece, is symptomatic of why the Labour party should be kept as far away from the Government Benches as possible.
Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con)
T6. Although the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2017 has received Royal Assent, families of missing people are still unable to make applications to become guardians of their loved ones’ affairs. Will they be able to do so before the end of this calendar year?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight this important issue, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) for successfully piloting the 2017 Act on to the statute book. Department officials are currently drafting rules of court regulations and a code of practice, so that those drafts can be finalised and consulted on. I am keen that we make as rapid progress as possible.
Liz Twist (Blaydon) (Lab)
T2. An increasing number of cases have been reported in the press where victims of serious crime, including a man who was deliberately infected with HIV, are not getting the compensation they are entitled to because of minor unspent convictions. Will the Minister commit today to reviewing the rules governing the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority to ensure that victims are not denied compensation for having minor unspent convictions?
The hon. Lady highlights an important issue. As she will be aware, the rules that govern how the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority operates are set by this House, but it operates entirely independently of Ministers in its awards and in its application of those rules. She highlights an important issue, which I know the Secretary of State will have heard very clearly.
Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Ind)
T9. Do Ministers agree that the Sentencing Council has shown great leadership in acting swiftly to address the growing threat of fentanyl and other synthetic opioid drugs by issuing guidance last month? Will the Minister continue to work with me to raise awareness of this deadly drug?
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Rory Stewart)
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his campaigning on this issue. As right hon. and hon. Members are aware, fentanyl is an incredibly dangerous drug, because in minuscule quantities, it can do more damage than heroin and cocaine. We have had nearly 240 deaths in Britain and the United States has had up to 20,000 deaths in a year from fentanyl, so the recent actions from the Sentencing Council and the Crown Prosecution Service to clarify how noxious this substance is are welcomed, and I repeat my tribute to the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD)
T3. While I understand why the Government are spending £7 million on installing in-cell telephones in prisons as part of a drive to improve rehabilitation, will the Government also look at whether there should perhaps be additional funding for the healthcare system within the court system? Ministers will be aware that Tony Fitzsimons, the chair of the Lay Observers National Council, has highlighted concerns that people are not getting the care that they need in courts. I am happy to write to the Minister about this issue.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Lucy Frazer)
I would be very grateful if the right hon. Gentleman could write to us. We are in the middle of a £1 billion court programme, which includes a number of things, such as technology and improving other services such as family rooms, where people can spend time with their families. We are looking at a number of things that I am very happy to talk to him about.
Mr William Wragg (Hazel Grove) (Con)
Following the Chequers statement, will my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor lay before the House details of what active provisions his Department is making for a deal not being secured with the European Union?
At the Ministry of Justice, we are very much working to ensure that we get the best, and the right, deal for our country, but like all competent Departments, we are also working to ensure that if there is no deal, we are ready for it. We have £17.3 million extra from the Treasury to look into this and ensure that we have the right Brexit scenario.
Karen Lee (Lincoln) (Lab)
T5. Research by the Howard League shows that Her Majesty’s Prison Lincoln’s population is currently 138% more than its certified normal accommodation capacity. I hear about this at first hand because a close relative of mine is a senior prison officer. What measures does the Minister have in place to address prison overcrowding and the dangerous conditions that it creates both for prisoners and staff?
First, my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor announced this morning an additional £16 million to invest in decency—that is, bringing cells back into operation that have been taken out and making sure that the basic fabric is repaired. However, the most important thing is the building of 10,000 new prison places, beginning with Wellingborough and Glen Parva and moving on, to provide exactly the decent conditions that the hon. Lady raises in her question.
Alex Burghart (Brentwood and Ongar) (Con)
On Friday, we had an important debate in this House about telephony in prisons. On the back of that debate, will the Minister set out what more we are doing to tackle drugs in prisons?
Tackling drugs in prisons involves dealing with how the drugs get into the prison—either over the wall or on a person—the demand in the prison and the way that we search people within the walls. All these things need to be done simultaneously—supply, demand and searching—and the key to this is training, training, training.
T7. Following the question from the hon. Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy), campaigners supporting missing people and their families are concerned, despite assurances that a timetable for implementation of the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2017 would be set out before the summer. Will the Minister give the families the assurance of a specific timetable for the implementation of this vital Act and clarify when the rules of court will be published?
I entirely understand the concern of the hon. Lady, many hon. Members and many members of the public about this issue and their determination to see this delivered. I share that determination, but it is important that, while we work at pace, we ensure that the rules of court are correct. I am determined to make sure that we do everything we can to speed it up.
Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
What analysis has the Ministry of Justice done on how well the public sector is doing in taking on ex-offenders in employment? Does the Minister agree that we cannot just exhort the private sector to step up to the plate in this area if the public sector is not leading by example?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight this point. Indeed, many parts of the public sector are stepping up and doing that—the Prison Service itself takes people on. We have a pilot programme in north-west England that is focused on this. My hon. Friend is tireless in campaigning for employers to take on ex-offenders, and I commend him on his activity.
Gerald Jones (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab)
T8. Family drug and alcohol courts have widespread support among lawyers, judges and policy makers, and they deliver far better outcomes for children and families than other options do. Despite that, the service faces closure because of funding cuts. Can the Secretary of State guarantee funding today to safeguard this vital service?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that the family drug and alcohol courts do great work. The fact that the Tavistock and Portman Trust is not going forward with the programme will not affect any of the existing courts. It is disappointing that the trust has chosen not to continue with the programme, and we will continue to look at the provision of this important service.
Sir Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con)
On behalf of the Government, I stood at the Dispatch Box beside the Treasury Bench and promised the country that we would have a victims law. May I ask the Minister where that victims law is?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that question, and I know that the House is grateful to him for his work and his tireless campaigning in this area. We have made it clear that we are committed to bringing forward a victim strategy this summer, which will look at both legislative and non-legislative options for delivering what he mentions. I would be delighted to meet him to discuss it further.
Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab)
T10. In the light of the tragic hit-and-run accident in Coventry some time ago, in which two children were killed and a family devastated, are there any plans to review the law and sentencing in that area?
Absolutely. We remain very committed to this. We have undertaken extensive consultation on extending the maximum sentences for causing death by dangerous driving, and we are looking at those for causing death by careless driving. We intend to introduce legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows.
Several hon. Members rose—
I think single-sentence questions are now required.
Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab)
In the light of the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham), when is the Secretary of State going to reply to my letter asking when longer sentences for causing death by dangerous driving will be introduced into legislation, as was promised in October last year?
I refer to my previous answer. This is a priority for the Government, but we need to find the right legislative instrument for doing it. Be in no doubt—it will happen.
Ruth George (High Peak) (Lab)
Pursuant to the Minister’s response about the issue, raising the small claims limit for employers’ liability will affect about 40% of claimants, many of whose employers claim that those individuals contributed to their own accidents through negligence. How are they supposed to stand up, unrepresented, to their employer and their insurance company?
The entire purpose of the small claims court is to make sure that minor injuries—in this case, the claims limit was set in 1991 at less than £1,000 and will rise to £2,000—are dealt with without lawyers. The same thing happens in most of our European partner countries. Norway is a very good example of a model in which exactly such cases are taken through without lawyers, up to a much higher value than would be the case here.
Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab)
The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. and learned Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer), wants to close the magistrates court in Cambridge. What assessment has she made of suggested ways to keep a magistrates court in Cambridge, and when will she make a decision?
The decision about the magistrates court in Cambridge will be for me to make. I want to look at all the evidence and the representations that have been made, and I will make a decision in due course.
Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab)
According to the Public and Commercial Services Union, there are almost 1,200 staff at the Ministry of Justice on poverty pay. Will the Minister support the union’s 5% pay claim for all public sector workers?
I have already set out the figures in relation to pay, and I think the hon. Lady will find that they are not at 5%.
Sarah Jones (Croydon Central) (Lab)
Jerome Rogers from New Addington in Croydon committed suicide when he was 20 years old, after being hounded by bailiffs who broke regulation after regulation in their horrific handling of his initial—very small—traffic fines. Jerome’s family will be in Parliament next week for a meeting of the all-party group on debt and personal finance, and there is a programme about his life, “Killed By My Debt”, on BBC 1 next week. Will the Minister please meet Jerome’s family?
The hon. Lady makes an important point, and she will be aware that we are looking at the question of the small number of bailiffs who are not acting appropriately. I would be very happy to meet her and the family.
Finally—in a sentence, I am sure— Mr Barry Sheerman.
Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)
Will the Secretary of State do something about the way in which we treat miscarriages of justice in this country, and will he meet the all-party parliamentary group on miscarriages of justice to discuss it?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the case that was before the Supreme Court recently. We shall see where that leads, but I am sure that a member of the ministerial team would be delighted to meet the all-party parliamentary group.
It is a sunny afternoon. A young man, returning from work overtakes on a highway, and runs into a car, killing the other driver. The young man misjudged whether it was safe to overtake but he was sober, and not using a mobile phone. What sentence should he receive?
The children of the victim feel that the punishment should fit the consequences of the crime – he took a life and, like any murderer, he should face a life sentence. Other members of the public feel that the punishment should be sufficient (perhaps eight years) to make other drivers think twice before driving carelessly. The lawyer argues that it is only murder if you set out intentionally and unlawfully to kill another person. This was a momentary lapse of concentration, not an intentional act, and the key question is culpability not consequence. This is, therefore, not murder but careless driving and the young man should spend perhaps two and a half years in custody.
The parents of the young man feel that what happened was terrible, and that their son will be sorry for what he did for the rest of his life. But he didn’t ever mean to do it. In fact, he did what almost all of us have done as drivers at one time or another. Putting him in prison will not bring the dead man back to life. It will cost the taxpayer tens of thousands of pounds. And it won’t protect the public because he doesn’t pose any threat to the public. All it will do is lose the young man his job, his home and his relationship, and damage his mental health. So there should be no prison sentence at all.
What is the right answer in this case? We sometimes talk as though this could be answered by pure logical thought. But in truth this question – life, eight years, two years, or no years – is unanswerable, because our values and attitudes are irreconcilable on this issue. We might disagree about what prison is, what it could be, and what it ought to be. Some of these are questions of fact. Is a prison a good way of punishing someone (is it too hard, or is it too soft and how would you measure that)? Is putting one person in prison a good way of deterring someone else from committing a crime (and how do you calculate the sentence you need to act as an effective deterrent)? Is prison a suitable place for rehabilitating or changing the behaviour of offenders (or does it in fact make people worse)?
But some of these are questions of values. Do you believe that there is a fundamental and unbreakable ethical principle which means that prison ought only to be used for one particular purpose – only for rehabilitation, or only for punishment (Kant argues, for example, that because a human being should always be treated as an ‘end in himself’ never as a means to an end, you must never punish one person as a means to deter another person from committing a crime, nor to prevent the same individual from committing a future crime. Bentham would argue exactly the opposite)?
And what aspect of the crime are you punishing? Does the guilt depend largely on the intention of the individual – whether they intended to kill? How much weight should be given to what the driver knew about the danger of the road? How much to what they didn’t know, but ought to have known? And is it only the conduct of the driver that matters, or should the punishment also be proportionate to the consequences (should a careless driver be punished more for killing twenty children in a school bus, than for injuring one pensioner, if the careless driving were the same in each case)?
Our views about crime and punishment change over time. Our society passes more lenient sentences on some crimes than they did in the past (forgery, for example, which used to be punished with the death penalty); others receive much tougher and longer sentences (our prison population is twice what it was forty years ago, and now includes prisoners who are over a hundred years old). Until quite recently, there was no offence of death by careless driving at all. Now the maximum sentence is five years. The maximum sentence may soon be life. But the heart of the tragedy is not philosophical but personal.
Take a moment to reflect on what it means to be a judge – dealing with cases, where they feel the horrifying consequences of the act – the sudden death of a loved one, but where they also know that almost all of us have driven carelessly at one time or another, and were lucky not to cause damage. They are forced to pass a sentence, knowing that there can never be a right answer to the question. Take a moment too for the parents of the young man, who see their son inadvertently kill someone through a momentary act of foolishness and being locked in a prison. And take a moment, for the families of the victim, who lost, in a sudden moment – and forever – someone they loved so deeply. The central purpose of our democracy is to understand these differences, and respond to them, but it can rarely, finally, resolve them.