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Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): We see today more bureaucratic madness from the Home Secretary, who seems to have forgotten that prisons should have as one of their functions real deterrence. Can we move from the presumption of early release to a system in which early release must be earned by prisoners; can we have prison regimes that are tough, educating and rehabilitating; and, above all, can we have more testing and more treatment for drugs?

Mr. Blunkett: I thought for a moment that I was about to be attacked for being too liberal, but the hon. Gentleman finished his oration by asking me to do what I have just said we are doing, and intend to do more intensively and vigorously and with more joined-up policy. We will also do it with a lot less bureaucracy, because of joining the headquarters and services together, which will cut out duplication.

Mr. David Borrow (South Ribble) (Lab): May I raise the issue of the role of the voluntary sector in prisoner rehabilitation? In 2002 I visited about a dozen projects run by the YMCA inside and outside prison. They were excellent and added to the work done by the public sector. I should like to raise with the Home Secretary

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two issues that were raised on that occasion. First, there was a need for ongoing funding. Most of the projects were short-term pilots that came to an end. If the voluntary sector is to have a key role in the process, the funding needs to be long term and built into the mainstream. Secondly, does he recognise that the voluntary sector can often add to the process things that excellent organisations such as the probation service cannot add, because it can win the confidence of offenders in a way that organisations that are seen as part of the state find difficult?

Mr. Blunkett: I agree entirely that mentoring and voluntary support are crucial. Such support can be provided on a long-term basis and relate to individuals. For obvious reasons, the professional services cannot provide such support in the same way on a daily basis. There is a serious issue about short-term funding; in other words, I am implying that we have too many pilots and not enough marshals.

Mrs. Annette L. Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): When does the Home Secretary anticipate that custody plus will be implemented, and what level of resources will be allocated for that implementation?

Mr. Blunkett: We intend to implement custody minus first, not least for the reasons that I have been spelling out this afternoon in terms of providing an easy, effective and visible way of dealing with breaches. We intend to pilot custody plus in 2005 and, subject to the spending review, to implement it more widely from 2006. The matter is subject to discussions with the Treasury over the next six months, however, so I am not prepared at this juncture to give the hon. Lady the detail, which I have not yet discussed with the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): We have moved from zero to 100 people in effective drug treatment by GPs in my constituency in the past six months. That represents a very substantial saving to the taxpayer. The Home Secretary may care to get some independent auditing done of the precise savings as a contribution to the cost of this welcome announcement.

A second such saving would come from sorting out the current mess with regard to the collection of fines—one of the biggest bugbears for my constituents and me. Would it not be sensible to introduce a fines system in which we do not spend a fortune trying to chase people who do not pay fines, but use the minimum wage, which we introduced, as a way of making people contribute through community work an amount equivalent to the fine? If they refused to do so, we could put them in prison. Will the Home Secretary undertake to advance that principle in discussions with the Department for Constitutional Affairs, in order to sort out that bugbear of mine, which my constituents share?

Mr. Blunkett: I have the same bugbear, although I have to say that I am deeply relieved that my hon. Friend's constituency legitimately fell into the second round of the criminal justice interventions programme, which has made my life a lot easier.The substantive point that he makes is entirely right. As part of our report, we are accepting that we should place people in

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compulsory work if they are unwilling to pay the fine. Above all, the fine should be paid, so the prison sanction should be used. The Carter report makes it clear that there will not be a short-term gain in terms of relief of pressure on the prisons. Initially, we will have to send people to prison more readily in order to get across the message the fines are not an optional extra, but a punishment. The Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and I will discuss the matter, and if we could link that issue with ability to pay and what are called "day fines", which work effectively across Europe and reflect the likely number of days for which somebody would be put into prison, which are translated into the amount of money earned in those days and into the fine itself, we might start to make some sense of a new fines system that really works.

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Points of Order

2.5 pm

Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You may remember that on 11 November, I raised a point of order concerning News International. Since then, I have written to Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of the parent company, seeking clarification of some points. However, as a result of that point of order, other matters came to my attention that I felt I should draw to the attention of the House and on which I felt that I should ask Mr. Speaker to offer a ruling.

I have been aware for a couple of years that a small number of journalists tape record conversations with Members of Parliament. Although I am raising this issue in relation to Members of Parliament and other people who work in the House, I shall also raise it with the Press Complaints Commission, as the point on which I seek Mr. Speaker's guidance is the question of conversations recorded without consent in this House.

May I suggest that anyone in the House of Commons should tape record a conversation in only one of two circumstances? The first and most normal circumstance would be where they have gained the consent of the person involved to making the tape recording. The only other circumstance, which should be extremely rare, is where the tape recording is made without such consent in order to reveal a serious wrongdoing, by which I do not mean some minor matter of personal relationships that are not of significance. I am advised that if a tape recording were made without consent and a third party were then allowed to hear it, a criminal offence might have been committed by the person who made the recording.

The final point that I should like to draw to your attention, Madam Deputy Speaker, is that following my earlier point of order on 11 November, an approach was made to me on behalf of a News International newspaper suggesting that I should state "my negotiating position". Make what you will of this, but I have no negotiating position other than to get News International to deal properly with its internal problems and not to try to warn off MPs while they are properly investigating problems in the newspaper industry. The suggestion made to me is rather difficult to understand and a bit worrying. I understand that News International people have also been suggesting that the figure that I mentioned when I raised my point of order and referred to a £500,000 payment that it made was incorrect. New International is suggesting that the figure was only £80,000, but I think that it should be put on record that it is not my understanding that that is a true reflection of the costs.

My aim in raising this matter is to ask Mr. Speaker to consider it and perhaps to come back to the House on the recommendation concerning tape recording. May I also suggest that it might be useful to discuss the matter with the chairman of the Lobby journalists?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): The hon. Gentleman has raised an important issue, and I have no doubt that Mr. Speaker will give serious consideration to the points that he has made.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I hope that you

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will agree that this too is an important point of order. Last night, this House passed a programme motion on the Traffic Management Bill providing that proceedings should be completed by Thursday 12 February and that the Committee should have leave to sit twice on its first day, thereby implying some sense of urgency. Although Opposition Members would have liked more time, we understood that there would be at least five weeks, or 10 days, of Committee proceedings, starting next Tuesday, 13 January. I have now been told that the Government will not allow the Committee to begin until Tuesday 3 February, which will give the Bill just two weeks in Committee rather than the five that we had expected. Under Standing Orders, as the guardian of Back Benchers, do you have any power to order the Committee to meet sooner? The Government's behaviour on this Bill is particularly cynical and manipulative, because by having an early Second Reading they prevented the Select Committee from scrutinising it. They are now intent on preventing the Standing Committee from doing its work of scrutiny. We are familiar with this Government's guillotines truncating the torsos of Bills, but they are now, by guile, extending the guillotine to the legs as well.

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