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Mr. Blunkett: On the latter point, where people cause death and injury to others, we have toughened the lawfor example, in the Criminal Justice Act 2003. I do not need any lectures from Opposition Members about that. I picked up the substantial campaign run by my hon. Friends, especially those representing constituencies in the north-east of England, following some horrendous incidents of inappropriate sentencing and examples of judges' inability to pass adequate sentences. We have given judges the power, which the transport Bill will extend, to give such sentences. My point was that the past 10 years had seen a fivefold increase in the number of minor custodial sentences, rather than fines or community sentences, imposed for similar offences. The sentences had to be minor because the alternative to custody was a fine, and the case was heard in the magistrates court; we must understand the different layers of the system. That diversion to custodial sentences was not justifiable. The Lord Chief Justice, the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and I agree on that. We believe that consistency and transparency, far from failing to provide a deterrent, will help people to understand what will happen in what circumstances.
Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): If my right hon. Friend has 14,000 more prison places and 3,000 more in the pipeline, and £900 million more to spend on prisons and probation, which I very much welcome, and if he is able to free up space by shifting the emphasis to weekend prisons and intensive community programmes, which I also welcome, is there not now scope to close some of the Victorian prisons, especially those in London, that are no longer fit for service?
Mr. Blunkett: With the considerable assistance of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the spending review, I hope to be able to negotiate the means, including bridge funding, to close and dispose of those outdated 19th century prisons that are a disgrace to the 21st centuryone of which, I discovered, although it had been built in 1849, had supposedly been modernised in the 1980s. I hope that we can introduce proposals that will not only bring about a change in the regime and the working conditions of those overseeing the prisoners, but provide an estate that will enable us to achieve the goal that I have set out this afternoon.
Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): A large number of prisoners, both nationally and in the Isle of Wight group of prisons, are from Jamaica. Could more offenders be repatriated to serve their sentences? Will the new service examine the cost-effectiveness of helping the Jamaican Government, practically and perhaps financially, to rehabilitate those offenders?
Mr. Blunkett: We made an announcement in the autumn about the return to country of origin of several hundred prisoners in the prison estate. That is now being undertaken. We are happy to look at how we can assist the receiving authorities in other countries with the continuing rehabilitation of those offenders. Obviously, we also need in place, as we have in the case of Jamaica, new visa regimes to ensure that offenders do not return to this country to commit crime.
Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware of the case of Yvonne Scholes, a constituent of mine, who committed suicide at the age of 16 in Stoke Heath. I welcome the proposals to involve the ombudsman in inquiries into suicides and deaths in custody. What guarantees can my right hon. Friend give us to ensure that the ombudsman's recommendations will be listened to and acted upon at the highest level?
Mr. Blunkett: I well understand my hon. Friend's concern, and the tragedy for the family and others when young people in that age group take their own lives. It is a terrible personal tragedy, and we need to take whatever steps are necessary, including, as far as possible, the mentoring of those entering the custodial estate. The ombudsman's reports, which will now be mandatory in respect of any death in custody, will be published, and my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for correctional services will give a guarantee that we will report back on those deaths and respond to the ombudsman's reports openly and transparently.
Sue Doughty (Guildford) (LD): Returning to the problem of offenders with a history of mental illness, which may have led to their offence in the first place, I welcome the Secretary of State's intention that much more of their care will be devolved to the Department of Health. In the meantime, what plans does he have to reduce the number of people who go through the revolving door of offending, going to prison and getting inappropriate care in prison because the health service has not had the resources to provide the care that they need?
Mr. Blunkett: We have an agreement with the Department of Health for 300 additional posts working specifically on mental health throughout the Prison Service. The crucial issue that the hon. Lady raises is how things are handled when people are released from prison and go back into the community. For long-term offenders, support has been provided by the probation service. For those serving shorter sentences, that has not been available. The proposals seek to redress that balance and ensure that, using a variety of support systems, we can work with the health service and social services in an integrated and joined-up approach to dealing with those long-term problems.
Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): The Home Secretary is well aware of my concerns about the need to tighten up the far too sloppy administration and supervision of drug testing and treatment orders. Given the strong link between class A drug addiction and crime, what comfort can he offer my constituents in Reading whose lives have been disrupted by drug addicts burgling their homes while awaiting a place under a drug testing and treatment order?
Mr. Blunkett: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and I share those concerns. Over the past three or four months we have been examining how we can ensure that the 24-hour referral for probation and the 48-hour referral for treatment can be made a reality. The criminal justice interventions programme, and the new areas that we announced in addition to the original 30, will enable us to monitor how the best practice can be translated to areas across the country that are not part of the criminal justice interventions programme, and to ensure that DTTOs work effectively. Above allI share the concern expressed by my hon. Friendwe shall ensure that when we say that someone is referred for treatment, they do start treatment rather than just have a consultation, and that nobody uses other Acts of Parliament to suggest that an individual who drops out of treatment cannot be reported. The excuses offered to us publicly and privately about why people do not do their damn job properly make us all sick to the hilt.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): That is all very well, but surely there is a real problem of drugs getting into prisons. According to the Department's estimate, almost 50 per cent. of all prisoners will take drugs at some stage during their stay in prison. How are the drugs getting into prisons? That figure is a disgrace. Will the Home Secretary do something about it?
Mr. Blunkett: Of course, that "all very well" related to an entirely different question about treatment in the community, not about prisons, but I take the hon. Gentleman's point. It is clear that prisoners are receiving drugs. We have been monitoring the situation. Fewer prisoners are apprehended and there are fewer drugs in prisons now than there were five years ago, but there are still too many. The figure is not 50 per cent., by the way; the proportion whom we believe have access to drugs at any one time is about 11 per cent.but that is not good enough. It is unacceptable, and the regimes must be tightened to identify those who are bringing drugs in. Obviously, it is those who visit prisoners and those who can provide a way of getting them into the prison estate. I have made it clear to the new management service that we need to use electronic means to detect drugs being thrown over walls and fences, and we need to make better and continuing use of dogs, which had started to be phased out, and, above all, of the testing regime for all prisoners, so that we can get to grips with the problem.
John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): In 2001 the Government decentralised the probation service to 42 local probation boards, to ensure their co-terminosity with police authorities and magistrates courts areas. How does the new regional structure relate to those 42 boards and the future decentralisation of the Court Service?
Mr. Blunkett: Two and a half years ago we created a national body with a devolved administration. The new management role at regional level will continue to co-ordinate those structures, but will do so with the Prison Service and the other agencies and partners involved in rehabilitation and support. That will not disrupt the existing interface with the Court Service; I hope it will improve it by ensuring that, across the 42 regions, people can manage and commission those services more effectively.