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Young Offender Institutions

7. Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury): What action he is taking to improve conditions in young offender institutions. [21150]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Beverley Hughes): With the creation of the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales in April 2000, we are already beginning to transform conditions for young people under 18 in young offender institutions. There is also a manifesto commitment to build on the Government's youth justice reforms to improve conditions for 18 to 20-year-olds in custody. That group is already benefiting from money from the last spending review, including money for drugs treatment and offending behaviour programmes. In addition, the Prison Service has allocated a further£15 million over the next three years to improve standards in young offender institutions.

Dr. Murrison: Sir David Ramsbotham will no doubt feel that his newspaper article today is vindicated by the complacency of the Minister's response. How many prisoners and young offenders are in overcrowded accommodation? Does the hon. Lady agree that the prison health service is a desperately failing service, and that the only way to secure decent rehabilitation is through decency in custody?

Beverley Hughes: I do not have the figures for the proportion of young offenders being kept two to a cell designed for one, but I will write and let the hon. Gentleman have them. As for the prison health service,I know that he is new to the House, so he may not have been so aware of conditions in young offender institutions and prisons generally before he became a Member of Parliament. As a result of 18 years of Tory neglect of the Prison Service, it will take some time to improve conditions. Health provision in 1997 was dire, but we have begin to transform that. There is a new partnership between the Prison Service and the health service, and significant new money has gone into improving health care, particularly mental health care. We have a strategy for tackling the high number of suicides and cases of self-harm that took place 1997, and I am pleased to say that the number is coming down year on year. Unlike the Tory Governments of the past, the Government are implementing a commitment to decency in prison.

Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley): Does my hon. Friend agree that a lack of basic skills is often a contributory cause of the social exclusion that leads to offending, and that improving skills is important in helping young people to return to a positive role in society? Will she undertake to ensure that education continues to be given a high priority for young people in young offender institutions?

Beverley Hughes: My hon. Friend is right. Recent studies by the Youth Justice Board and Her Majesty's inspector of prisons revealed details that confirmed what we already knew impressionistically: more than a third of young offenders have a reading age of seven or lower, half are functioning below the numeracy level of a seven-year-old, and the majority were not in school before

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they came into custody. We are beginning to put that right, with a new partnership with the Department for Education and Skills and a variety of educational programmes and training, to make sure that when young offenders have to be in custody, they begin to address some of the failure to achieve educationally that was a characteristic of their lives before they came into prison.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking): Let me remind the Minister that after nearly five years of a Labour Government, 19-year-old boys at the Feltham young offender institute are still getting less than three hours a day of purposeful activity, and are still spending 16 hours a day locked up in their cells. The Minister herself has described that as unacceptable, the head of the Prison Service has said that it is regrettable, and I think that it is utterly shameful. Is not the former chief inspector of prisons right to say that there is no direction in the Prison Service? Does the Minister accept that such uncivilised treatment of young offenders does nothing to help them become useful members of society on their release?

Beverley Hughes: The difference between the Governments whom the hon. Gentleman supported and the present Government is that we are doing something about the situation in Feltham. His own record does not bear much scrutiny, either. Because of his day job, so to speak, he knew for many years about the situation at Feltham and other young offender institutions, and he said and did nothing about it. Furthermore, his facts are wrong. As a result of additional resources and an action plan to improve the situation at Feltham, time out of cell in Feltham B—that is, for the 18-to-20-year-olds—is up to six and three quarter hours a day on weekdays, with purposeful activity averaging more than 20 hours a week. A new regime was implemented on 2 July to take that forward. I am not saying that Feltham is as we want it to be, but it has progressed a lot further than it ever would have done under a Tory Government.

Traffic Wardens

8. Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey): If he will extend the role of traffic wardens to include all road and car matters; and if he will make a statement. [21151]

The Minister for Police, Courts and Drugs (Mr. John Denham): The White Paper "Policing a New Century" set out our proposals for creating community support officers who could be given road traffic powers. We will consider how police traffic wardens might most appropriately be integrated into those proposals and what additional functions they might assume in the light of responses to the White Paper. Any necessary new powers will be set out in the Police Bill.

Mr. Wyatt: The Minister will know that in Swale we have a form of joint provision, as Kent constabulary and Swale borough council are jointly running a sort of front desk for local community policing. If he is looking for somewhere for a pilot scheme, could it be introduced in Swale? The rest of the country could then follow.

Mr. Denham: We shall certainly be looking for progressive and far-sighted police forces and local authorities to propose initiatives that will help us to

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implement the White Paper. Although final decisions have not yet been taken, it is fairly clear that a substantial number of the duties that currently tie up the time of full-time trained police officers—they include, for example, stopping the traffic so that traffic surveys can take place—could be competently done by a properly managed person with the right responsibilities. That is the sort of thing that we would be very willing to discuss with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Andrew Rosindell (Romford): I welcome any initiative that will increase the number of police on our streets, but does the Minister accept that traffic wardens are no substitute for properly trained police constables? Will he undertake to consider the situation in outer London boroughs such as Havering, where we have rising crime, fewer police and a yob culture? Does he not believe that we need more police to deal with that?

Mr. Denham: That is why I am confident that in the early part of next year, we will have record numbers of police officers in England and Wales. We are on target to have 130,000 police officers in England and Wales by April 2003, so there is absolutely no doubt that the Government are committed to delivering more police officers, and are doing so throughout the country. It is also the case, however, that some jobs that currently tie up the time of professional, fully trained police officers could be done by community support officers, traffic wardens and others. We must have more police officers, but we must also make the best possible use of their time.


9. Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): What recent discussions he has had with other Departments about the review of the extradition system. [21152]

The Minister for Criminal Justice, Sentencingand Law Reform (Mr. Keith Bradley): The interdepartmental working group that was set up to review extradition law met recently to consider the responses to the consultation on "The Law on Extradition—A Review", which were published on 24 October. The Government intend to introduce legislation to modernise and simplify our extradition laws in this parliamentary Session.

Dr. Lewis: Given that the House of Lords European Union Committee has withheld approval of the proposed EU arrest warrant because it seriously fears that British citizens will not get a fair trial under its provisions,why was the Prime Minister in such a tearing hurry to sign up to the warrant on Friday, although only a fraction of the 32 crimes listed under it have anything whatever to do with terrorism?

Mr. Bradley: My understanding is that the House of Lords did not take the view that the hon. Gentleman describes, and that it was on the basis of a technicality that it did not proceed with the scrutiny. As he will know, the European arrest warrant was not adopted at Laeken, and the matter will be further considered through the European Parliament.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): My right hon. Friend will know that there are considerable

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reservations about the implications of the European arrest warrant, which seems to include a list that wouldmake people liable for the "crimes" of abortion, homosexuality—and criticising European institutions. [Laughter.] I hope that my hon. Friends will find that as funny when the warrant is put into operation. Is my right hon. Friend aware that I have received today a letter from his ministerial colleague saying that some of the information given to the Committee last week was inaccurate, because a retrial will not be guaranteed? If that is the case, can we please have an undertaking that Britain will not accept this very dangerous measure?

Mr. Bradley: My hon. Friend is wrong: the proposals do not include euthanasia and abortion. I hope that when we introduce the Bill, she will consider it carefully.

Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset): Can we be clear? Do the Government intend to introduce the European arrest warrant in English law through the forthcoming Bill on extradition? If so, are they committed to ensuring that it will never be used to arrest someone for something that is not a crime in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Bradley: The situation is very clear. We shall wait until the European arrest warrant has been agreed, and then we intend to introduce legislation to effect it. When we do that, the hon. Gentleman will have adequate opportunity to consider the detail.

Mr. Letwin: I am grateful for that answer, which could be paraphrased as "No". Let me ask a second question. Are the Government committed to ensuring that the European arrest warrant is never used to arrest someone in this country to face trial in another country where there would be a presumption of guilt?

Mr. Bradley: I am tempted by the hon. Gentleman's questions, but I stress that we need to wait until the details of the Bill are published. He will then be able to consider it fully, and I am sure that he will.

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