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David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): I thank the Home Secretary for giving us an advance copy of his statement.

There are aspects of the statement that the House should welcome. I join the Home Secretary in his praise for the staff of the Prison Service, the probation service and the Youth Justice Board. The Opposition have long

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supported the work of the YJB and are glad that it is working successfully. The proposals to use the private and voluntary sectors in assisting the probation service represent an intelligent way forward. Indeed, I welcome the Home Secretary's conversion to contestability, which, I understand, is the current new Labour word for privatisation.

We also welcome the principle of localisation in the correctional service—something else that we have long called for—but it is difficult to understand how it will work with the current pressures of overcrowding in the system. How will a localised service deal with a prisoner who lives in Devon but serves his time in Durham because of overcrowding?

Let us understand what the report really is. It is the inevitable result of six years of failure. It is the inevitable result of six years of inconsistency and incompetence under the Government, and it is the inevitable result of a Home Secretary who talks tough on sentencing, who creates more crimes and more imprisonable offences but does not build enough prisons to house the increasing number of criminals and is then surprised when his prisons overflow and he is forced to put criminals into police cells, sometimes costing more than putting them up at the Ritz.

Of course we welcome the 14,700 extra prison places, many of which were due to Conservative plans and investment, but at least 8,000 more places than the Prison Service can manage will still be needed by 2006. At worst estimates, that figure reaches 22,000. That is why the chairman of the Parole Board says that home detention orders and parole decisions are made not to get the right outcome, but to alleviate overcrowding. The probation service and the Prison Service are now so overstretched that they cannot do their jobs properly. More than half of prisoners reoffend within two years of their release. Nearly three quarters of young offenders reoffend, setting many of them off on a lifetime of criminality.

Will the Home Secretary, as part of the review, commit himself to delivering a reduction in reoffending rates? Specifically, in a week in which it was revealed that one in four teenagers commits a crime, where in today's statement is a concrete proposal that will reduce reoffending among young offenders.

Mr. David Hinchliffe (Wakefield) (Lab): A short, sharp shock.

David Davis: The hon. Gentleman wants a short, sharp shock. I am sure that he will get one shortly from his Whips.

Of course we welcome the 4,300 extra staff in the probation service, but their hands are tied by the Home Secretary. Only last week, a senior member of the probation service told me:

The Home Secretary's taste for central control is the reason why the approaches that worked abroad failed in Britain. He mentioned with approval in his statement the intensive change and control programmes. After spending many tens of millions of pounds on those

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courses, which work abroad, why are they not working here? Recently published figures show that 70 per cent. of prisoners who have been on such courses were reconvicted after nine months. For the Government, those courses represent an early route out of prison, but for the prisoners themselves, they have all too often been an early route back.

The Home Secretary quite properly talks about the 50,000 prisoners who will receive basic skills training—we welcome that—but does he not realise that, with current prison overcrowding, prisoners are often moved on before their training is complete? He also points out that 50,000 prisoners have received clinical detoxification, but only 5,000 have undertaken drug rehabilitation programmes. I can think of no better evidence to support our calls for a 10-times increase in the number of residential rehabilitation programmes, especially for the young. Will the Home Secretary finally heed our calls?

The Home Secretary said that he will examine linking fines with the ability to pay as an alternative to custody, but the House will need to be reassured that fines and community penalties will not be used to replace custodial sentences merely because the Home Secretary has already filled our jails. Does he still believe that the punishment should fit the crime, or does he believe that it should fit the number of empty cells? Is he is proposing to replace custodial sentences with fines? That is what the Carter report says, and it would mean reducing prison places by 13,000 by 2009. At the same time, he estimates a reduction by 60,000 in those under supervision in the community. Let us understand that: replace prison and replace supervision with fines. Today, one in three fines are uncollected—fines totalling £276 million are outstanding.

In the 2002 White Paper, the Government promised us root and branch reform because

That was five years after they came to power—quite an indictment of their own record. Make no mistake, the statement is an admission of failure by the Home Secretary. Still too few criminals are caught. Still too few criminals are convicted, and too few criminals are prevented from reoffending. On the basis of today's report, it looks as though too few criminals will be properly punished in the future.

Mr. Blunkett: I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the start of his response to the statement, which I found deeply encouraging. However, the remainder was deeply discouraging. The fact of the matter is that we are trying to ensure that all those with a part to play can engage in avoiding reoffending—I stressed that reoffending was at the absolute core of the proposals in the report. People who come out of prison should receive housing and heath care and should continue the training and education that they received in prison because such people often do not get that when they return to the community.

I stress that the decentralising measure is specifically designed to ensure not that we cause difficulty by overcrowding, but that when people move from one place of custody to another or from custody to the

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community, their programme goes with them so that they are managed as offenders rather than by two separate services. That is why it makes sense to join up the services and decentralise them so that that may be offered locally, to build on some of the experiments that have taken place with not-for-profit and voluntary organisations, to work with people who come out of prison, and to work alongside the probation service. The measure will help us to avoid reoffending and to reduce the number of people who must be sent to prison, thus reducing the pressure on prison places.

More prison places are needed and 3,700 additional places are in the pipeline, including those created by the new prisons at Ashford and Peterborough. Some 2,750 probation officers are in the pipeline over the next two years in addition to the 4,300 whom I mentioned. Substantial investment is going into the programmes that I outlined for education, training and health care. The projections made by Patrick Carter and his colleagues suggest that the totality of the prison population will be reduced by 13,000 by 2009. That reduction would be achieved by a combination of avoiding variation and inconsistency in sentencing, a change to the way in which we handle community rather than custodial sentences with rigorous action for breaches, and the new experiment that I mentioned on satellite tracking and peer mentoring. The scheme in Florida in which 30,000 people were on satellite tracking was a tremendous success. I am happy to learn about what works from Europe and the United States rather than about what does not work. It is clear that short sentences do not prevent reoffending, which is why I said that I thought that sensible and effective community sentences represented a much better option.

The projections are largely based on ensuring that variations and inconsistencies are eliminated. Sentence drift over the past 10 years has meant that three times as many people who come in front of magistrates now are sent into custody while twice as many people are sent into custody by the Crown court. There is enormous regional variation in the number of people sent into custody for such reasons as motoring offences. There was an interesting debate on that in the House yesterday and comment in the press, so I shall draw attention to the facts. There has been a fivefold increase in the number of males who are sent to prison for motoring offences compared with 10 years ago and a fourfold increase in the number of women. There can be no justification whatsoever for that, which is why it makes sense to ensure rigorously that fines work and to replace low-level short-term prison sentences with effective community sentences. When the Criminal Justice Act 2003 went through the Commons in the autumn, the Opposition welcomed measures such as custody minus to ensure that people are given a chance to redeem their behaviour, although they are automatically transferred to prison without going through the system again if they do not do that.

All of that adds up to a sensible approach, and I must tell the right hon. Gentleman that, unlike him, it does not pose completely contradictory questions. That approach does not query why I do not send more people to prison while at the same time asking why I do not ease prison overcrowding, nor why I do not do more with people in prison, including those on drugs, and whether I will send more people to prison in the first place, or

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whether I will spend more on residential places outside prison and, at the same time, more on people who are already in prisons, which already provide residential drug treatment and rehabilitation. The system will represent a complete transformation from that of seven years ago when virtually no one received education, training and work programmes, when there was no comprehensive health policy on mental health or drug addiction and when people left the service without supervision. All the measures that we are putting in place must be built on with an end-to-end change to the way in which offenders are handled. I hope that more people will be handled in the community and prevented from reoffending and, above all, that fewer people will have to be sent to prison in the first place and that there will be a reduction in crime rather than people rejoicing at having to be ever-increasingly tough on those who commit crime.

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