Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses(Questions 20-39)



  20. How far are you hoping that courts will decide on non-custodial sentences, where they are appropriate? You are bursting at the seams now.
  (Mr Narey) We are bursting at the seams and it is somewhat of a puzzle to me because in 20 years in the prison service I have never had such a unanimity of message from the Home Secretary and the Lord Chief Justice about not using short sentences. There are still very many short sentences. If only a third of sentences of under six months were converted to community penalties, my population would fall by more than 2,000.

  21. Is there a reluctance in a climate where there is so much concern and fear of crime that those who are responsible for sentencing feel it is appropriate in the circumstances I have mentioned and in the climate for custodial sentences to be passed?
  (Mr Narey) There is clearly something in England and Wales about using custody. We use much more custody than anywhere else in Europe, although much less than the USA. That must be something about confidence in community penalties. I am not suggesting for a moment that we have the prison service that I remotely want. There is a lot wrong with it, but in part I think it is because prisons look a lot better to sentencers than they did. The prison population was significantly restrained when we had slopping out, when prisons were foul places that literally smelt. They do not look like that now. There is quite a lot of education. Visitors to prisons see a lot of people getting their first ever basic skills education and getting lots of qualifications. They see lots of people being detoxed and getting off drugs in circumstances where it is very difficult to do that in the community. When I speak to sentencers, as I do quite frequently, they tell me that that is one of the reasons why they are more attracted to custody because they think it will do them some good. My view is I do not think anyone should be sent to prison just because it will do them some good.

Bob Russell

  22. How many of these thousands of new cells being built are safe cells?
  (Mr Narey) Nearly all the 2,400 cells we are building are in very low security accommodation. We will be pushing prisoners through from the secure end of the prison estate into the temporary units. They are not safe cells in the way that you describe them but the prisoners we will be putting in there will be very low risk in terms of suicide.


  23. Mr Boys Smith, how are you proposing to spend this extra money, assuming some of it comes your way?
  (Mr Boys Smith) Some will come our way and Mr Gieve a moment ago referred to the £700 million that that is likely to involve. We will spend it broadly in the way that we spent the money that was secured in the claim on the reserve for the financial year just gone by, which is through a combination of IND activity and to top up the budget for asylum support. It is that in particular that, in base line terms, is deficient and will need topping up again therefore for the current financial year before we get into the new spending review period.

  24. I know this is very difficult to estimate but do you anticipate that over the next three or four years the number of asylum seekers is going to rise or fall?
  (Mr Boys Smith) You say it is difficult to estimate; I think it is impossible to give any certainty about. We are now taking a large number of measures. Some are incorporated in the Bill that Parliament is now considering. We are taking a number of operational measures, some in northern France that have been recently announced following the talks the Home Secretary had with M. Sarkozy. In addition to that, increasing measures taken within the organisation further to speed up decisions and so on, all of which I hope will enable us better to deliver the new target that we have been and that was announced in the spending review White Paper, which is to bear down on unfounded asylum claims. I think ministers will be very anxious to underline the word "unfounded" because they are not trying to stop people coming here with legitimate asylum claims.

  25. You would anticipate a big fall in the number of unfounded asylum seekers?
  (Mr Boys Smith) We are doing a lot of things that should have a beneficial impact. We also need to bear in mind that running counter to that may well be quite unforeseeable international migratory pressures that we simply cannot anticipate. We are doing lots of things that are designed to have that impact. We are making some real, impressive progress on a number of fronts. I do not know what the international picture will be but we will continue to strive to deliver the target of reducing the unfounded applications that we are to have in the new period.

  26. Mr Lyon, how are you going to spend the extra money?
  (Mr Lyon) The first priority is funding the settlement that we have had with the Police Negotiating Board, which is now agreed. The target is to implement that next April. That is going to cost £115 million next year rising to 200 million by the end of the spending review period. The second priority will be to maintain police numbers which are targeted to reach a record high of 130,000 by next April. The third priority will be the funding aspects of the police reform programme which were set out in the Government's White Paper last December.

  27. That would be the community officers and so on?
  (Mr Lyon) That is a whole range of things, including improving the professionalism and training of the police service itself and community support officers—in particular, civilian support officers and custody officers, for example—and funding additional technology to improve the fight against crime.

Mr Cameron

  28. I am looking at page 189 of the annual report. How can you make sure that the money will get into policing and crime fighting and will not be eaten up by increasing prison places and increasing asylum funding? In the last two years, there seems to have been a 500 per cent increase in spending on asylum and a 25 per cent increase in spending on prisons; whereas the spending on reduction of crime and fear of crime has gone up a bit. How are you going to stop those pressures that are out of your control from eating up the money that you have been given?
  (Mr Gieve) The top line here, which is policing and crime reduction, has gone up quite a lot, about £500 million last year, and in addition to these plans we have some more money for policing in the budget this year.

  29. That is a ten per cent increase against the asylum numbers.
  (Mr Gieve) It is a quantum leap. The background to that is that we effectively took over a part of the social security budget a couple of years ago when we changed the arrangements for asylum support. But you are right, we have also invested very heavily in staff over the last few years and we are not expecting that to continue.


  30. The Lord Chancellor wants an autumn progress report as well as a spring one. Does that fill you with dread?
  (Mr Gieve) An autumn progress report on what?

  31. I am told he wants all departments to publish an autumn progress report on targets.
  (Mr Gieve) It does not worry me at all. The Treasury are now saying they are going to publish a quarterly or even monthly progress report on their website, so transparency is fine.

  32. That is a lot of boxes to be ticked though, is it not?
  (Mr Gieve) If we are talking about progress on our targets, I do not think it is a matter of ticking boxes. It is a matter of high level but basic management information. We need to know how we are doing against our targets and we will have the information. There will be some parts of it where we are dealing with national statistics which have their own timetable for publication, but subject to that there is no problem.

  33. How many targets do you have?
  (Mr Gieve) We have just published a PSA which has ten targets.

  Chairman: There are lots of supplementary ones underneath though, are there not?

Mr Cameron

  34. There are 17 targets on pages 16-19.
  (Mr Gieve) 17 was in our last public service agreement, which is what we are reporting on in this report, but ten in our new one. You are absolutely right. There is a plethora of targets underneath that. We have yet to agree with the Treasury what the next layer down, which is the service delivery agreement, will contain. At an operational level, different units have different operational targets. I have not got a number for every target in the whole group.


  35. One can have too many targets, can one not?
  (Mr Gieve) Yes.

  36. Have you?
  (Mr Gieve) No. You can have too few targets as well. If you try and compress everything into one or two—and I have heard various gurus say you should never have more than three or four targets—in a group as diverse as the Home Office that is a recipe for disaster because you will distort the priorities. The ten that we have now agreed for the future do cover the main outcomes which the public and ministers want us to achieve. If we make progress on those ten, we can genuinely claim to have had success.

  37. Everybody understands and probably subscribes to the Government's desire to focus on outcomes rather than processes, but one hears it alleged sometimes that if you set targets that are too ambitious you set yourself up for failure or else you have a distorting effect on other aspects of your output.
  (Mr Gieve) That is obviously a risk. There are lots and lots of risks in setting targets. Possibly, you will not get the right ones and then you will distort behaviour or alternatively you will not get the right measures and you will create perverse incentives and so on. I am not saying we will escape all of that and we are continually trying to improve the measures and the targets themselves, but if you look at our new PSA there will be quite a widespread consensus that these are the things we should be trying to achieve. You may want to go on with particulars. I have some form on this because I was last in the Treasury which introduced the system of public service agreements. I am now hoist with my own petard.

  38. I have heard one Permanent Secretary say they are a pseudo management device so not all of your colleagues are quite so enthusiastic.
  (Mr Gieve) I think that is true. All of the colleagues here are very enthusiastic. Traditionally, Sir Humphrey would have said it was bad for government and insane for the Civil Service and ministers to sign up to targets like these because they are eminently missable. These are mostly not completely in our gift. They are what we are trying to achieve but they will be the product of what we and a lot of other people do. They are all extremely challenging. On the whole, I take the view that that is what makes them worthwhile.

  39. Some in the past have been purely fatuous, have they not, on the grounds that they are not entirely within your gift? Was there not one on reducing the level of car crime?
  (Mr Gieve) We still have one like that. We have a vehicle crime target and we are supposed to be reducing it.

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