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Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I am also grateful to the Home Secretary for early sight of his statement, which I welcome. I also welcome Patrick Carter's report, which is damning in its analysis yet progressive in its recommendations. I also welcome the proposed National Offender Management Service, but given that the Prison Service and the probation service have widely differing cultures and ethos, will there be a merger of the best of both disciplines rather than one taking over the other? Will he clarify how the regional structure will not jeopardise local multi-agency functions? Given that the probation service is in meltdown—both financially and due to the scant support that it is able to offer tens of thousands of offenders—what immediate steps can he announce to rectify the situation, improve resourcing and, incidentally, improve the court system at the same time?

I, like the Home Secretary, believe that sentencing must be that which works. Given that a great many first time offenders are unlikely to reoffend, will he confirm that there will be greater emphasis, backed with resources, on pre-trial diversion? Will he confirm that his objective will be community sentences, which are credible to the public because they are relevant and visible to local communities in terms of including restoration and reparation? Will he examine again, as many people have asked him to, the provision for drug treatment in the community, which is inadequate at the moment?

Does the Home Secretary accept that no matter how much the education and training provision for those who must be in prison for the protection of the public has improved, it is still patchy and requires further improvement? Does he accept that adequate capacity in the Prison Service must exist in each region to match local needs so that prisoners are not moved from place to place but held securely in a meaningful corrective regime?

When will the Home Secretary be able to give us more details of the independent inspection regime? Does he agree that successive inspectors of prisons have performed an invaluable service to this country by pointing out the deficiencies in the present system? Will he confirm that prison deaths will be investigated with

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immediate effect by a body that is independent of the Prison Service and, indeed, the new National Offender Management Service?

Mr. Blunkett: I welcome the hon. Gentleman's positive approach to the report. Although it sometimes pains me to agree with Liberal Democrats, it is a helpful sign that we may work across parties to get the system right. I confirm that we will draw down on the best practices and the best operational management of both services when we integrate them. I confirm that we will co-ordinate from a regional level rather than running the service. There will be a commissioning organisation to encourage and support best practice locally while people integrate and draw their practices together.

I confirm that we will develop an independent role for the ombudsman to investigate all deaths in custody. It is a tragedy when any death occurs and although there was one fewer death in the past 12 months than during the previous year, there are still far too many, so we need to ensure that we learn lessons. We will continue the work of the independent inspectorate. Rod Morgan, on the probation side, and Ann Owers, on the prison side, have done a first-class job in delivering that independent view and in encouraging us to do better. Whatever framework is put in place to mirror the new service, I have every intention of that work continuing.

The emphasis of the service will be to ensure that we avoid reoffending, and we will draw down on practices employed elsewhere to achieve that. I intend not simply to replace short-term custodial sentences, but to monitor the community sentences that we spelt out in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and the intermittent custody to be piloted in the two prisons that I mentioned so that we avoid the problem encountered with fines. Breaches have not been followed through and the fine system used by magistrates has deteriorated over many years. That has resulted in a drift into custody rather than into alternative sentences. I hope that we will work together in making the system more effective.

Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, which will help to build on the substantial fall in crime that has taken place over the past five or six years. His commitment to replace short-term ineffective sentences with community punishments is bold and welcome. It will take time to get all that sentencing into place and to build up public confidence, so for a long time there will be a significant number of short-term prisoners. They are currently the worst served in our prison system and in rehabilitation afterwards. Will he assure us that there will be a particular focus on the position of those who will remain short-term prisoners within the prison system and that the new system will effectively integrate not just Prison Service management and probation, but drug treatment, employment services, housing, health and other services that need to work together to ensure that those prisoners are rehabilitated?

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Mr. Blunkett: Yes, I can give my right hon. Friend those assurances. Intermittent sentences and the new custody minus programme relate to short-term sentences. They will automatically ensure that people know that there is a penalty for breach and will make a difference for magistrates and district judges who use those alternatives. With the exception of breaches, for which we should step up the threat of custody, satellite tracking and home domestic curfew could be an alternative to custody where bail would otherwise be an issue in terms of remand. We expect imaginative and effective experiments in that. I strongly welcome, as members of the Home Affairs Committee will, the commendation of that Committee's Chairman.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): Could a particularly careful look be taken at the benefits of intermittent custody and more flexible regimes for women prisoners, bearing in mind the desirability of keeping women in touch with their families, especially if very young children are involved, and that women prisoners tend not to serve sentences for the violent offences that cause most concern to the public?

Mr. Blunkett: I am up for that, if I can be colloquial for a moment. The experiment at Morton Hall will be crucial. We have just over 5,000 women prisoners, which is an increase of well over 40 per cent. in the past five or six years. It is extremely worrying. Many of those women are in prison for drug-related offences. We need to route back those who are, for instance, picked up as mules from other parts of the world and to get behind the problem in terms of the organised criminals who misuse and abuse them by engaging them in such criminality. Intermittent sentences and custody minus will help us to do that and will help people to avoid reoffending.

Mr. Keith Bradley (Manchester, Withington) (Lab): I welcome the statement, but seek clarification on the youth justice system. I welcome the integration of probation and prison services. Is there a similar plan to reorganise youth offending teams to be better co-ordinated with the regional structure that the Home Secretary proposes? Similarly, will the inspection service, which he will announce later, also include the inspection of youth offending teams?

Mr. Blunkett: My right hon. Friend has considerable experience of that subject. On the latter point, the inspection regime has been extended to the Youth Justice Board and the youth offending teams. We expect that to be part of the announcement on the inspection regime.

On my right hon. Friend's first point, it is critical that we get the integration with the experimental child trusts at local level and with the Connexions programme right, without losing the focus of youth offending teams and affecting the work that has to be done with those who are engaged in, or about to be engaged in, criminality. I do not want to lose the connection, which he rightly highlighted, between managing the regime as a whole and co-ordinating from the regions. However, I do not

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want to lose the new engagement with other children's services, which will also be crucial if we are to avoid reoffending.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): What will be the net increase in public sector posts, broadly defined? The Secretary of State announced the creation of the National Offender Management Service and 10 regional bodies on top of the existing probation and prison services and the Youth Justice Board. How many more public sector posts have been created, and what is the best estimate of the net increase in cost to the public sector?

Mr. Blunkett: There will be 2,750 more probation officers on top of the £100 million investment this year, which will bring into the probation service a further £110 million investment over the next two years. With those 2,750 jobs, there will be an unspecified number of additional jobs within the Prison Service to match the 3,700 places—[Interruption.] There are grumbles from the Opposition. Those are public sector posts.

David Davis: Answer the question.

Mr. Blunkett: I am giving the right hon. Gentleman the answer.

There will be fewer administrative and managerial posts. We are creating 10 management posts across England and Wales and are intent on amalgamating the central office functions of prison and probation, thereby bringing about a dramatic reduction in those who do an excellent and important job, but who are not at the front line. There will be a reduction and I am happy to return to the House to discuss the estimate of public saving that can be reinvested in ensuring that we clamp down on criminality.

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