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National Offender Management Service

6. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): What the cost will be during (a) 2003-04 and (b) 2004-05 of establishing the national offender management service at (i) national and (ii) regional levels. [148328]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins): The costs of establishing the national offender management service have yet to be finalised, but the costs of setting up the implementation team will be met from existing budgets.

John McDonnell : What mechanism will be put in place to overview the implementation of the new service so that the burdens and costs do not fall on front-line staff and detract from front-line service delivery? Given that there have been budgetary problems at the London probation service over the past three years, will my hon. Friend meet me and London colleagues to discuss the implementation of the new service within the London region?

Paul Goggins: Martin Narey has been appointed as the chief executive of the national offender management service and I will chair the service's board to oversee the implementation of the new approach. Far from drawing resources away from the front line, the whole purpose of the service is to make more resources available to the front line. The organisation will begin with a budget of £3.2 billion, which is £900 million more in real terms than was spent on prisons and probation in 1997. My hon. Friend requested a meeting, and I will, of course, be delighted to meet him.

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): Is it not the case that the biggest financial effect of the creation of the national offender management service is that it will act as a smokescreen for a massive U-turn by the Home Office on prison and sentencing policy? How much money will the strategy of replacing 13,000 prison sentences and 60,000 supervision orders with fines save

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the Home Office in the coming year? Does the Minister really think that a policy that leaves thousands of criminals at large on the streets represents a sensible way of saving money?

Paul Goggins: Let me make it clear to the right hon. Gentleman that there has been no U-turn in relation to sentencing policy. Indeed, we will make available about 80,000 prison places, which is certainly far more than his Government left in place in 1997 and 3,700 more than is the case now. There is no question of a U-turn. Those places will be there and available to be used as appropriate. However, we want to ensure that custody and community sentencing are tightly focused on the right people, and the national offender management service will enable us to do that.

David Davis: Much of the money that is spent on the Prison Service was put in place by us—or certainly the plans were. As for the notion that there has been no U-turn, the Minister clearly has not read the Carter report, which we set up and was the precursor to the national offender management service. On page 2 of his report, Carter complains that as many as half of all burglars go to jail on first conviction, but presumably that figure will reduce under the new regime. Does the Minister really believe that more than half of convicted burglars should go free?

Paul Goggins: A rather interesting statistic is that people committing motoring offences are four times more likely to receive a custodial sentence than they were before. In relation to the legacy that the right hon. Gentleman's Government left behind, I made it clear that we are now spending—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let the Minister reply.

Paul Goggins: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. We are now spending £900 million a year more in real terms than we were when the right hon. Gentleman's Government left office. That means that 11,000 additional staff are in the prison and probation services, working to an objective—which I hope he shares—of reducing the reoffending rates of those in our correctional system.

Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware that I welcome the new system? It will be an improvement on that suggested by the Conservative party, which wants people to go to prison just long enough to lose their jobs, homes and relationships. Therefore, they will be guaranteed to come out and reoffend. He will be aware that a key aspect of the service will be better education and better liaison with work and job opportunities and housing at a local level. Will he therefore tell me how the new system organised regionally will be able to work most effectively with local authorities, which is where the test cases will be when prisoners are released from custody?

Paul Goggins: My right hon. Friend has put his finger on a couple of important points. The fact that short-term prison sentences are often disruptive and take people away from their homes and their jobs does not help to keep them out of trouble in the long run. We are rightly focusing the resettlement strategy much more

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locally, and there will be regional organisation. We hope very much that voluntary and community organisations will come forward to be active partners at a local level in making sure that we get reoffending rates down.

Prisoner Education

7. Mr. David Rendel (Newbury) (LD): How many hours per week on average prisoners spent in education in 2003. [148329]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins): The average weekly figure for 2003 was 9.49 hours. This does not include distance learning, private study or learning that takes place on the wings, for example, through peer support schemes.

Mr. Rendel: As a result of a question that I asked Mr. Narey, the then director general of HM Prison Service, the 53rd report of the Public Accounts Committee in 2001–02 stated:

Given that 50 per cent. of released prisoners reoffend within two years and that 80 per cent. of prisoners do not have the writing skills even to fill in a job application form, why is the Minister doing so little to increase education in prisons?

Paul Goggins: The 53rd report of the Public Accounts Committee was right, but the hon. Gentleman was wrong to say that little is happening. Last year, 41,000 basic skills qualifications were gained in our prisons and we anticipate that 50,000 will be gained this year. He is right to suggest that better education and more qualifications will equip people to get jobs and stay out of trouble. That is our objective and we are delivering on it.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley) (Lab): My hon. Friend knows that I visited Lancaster prison a few months ago and that I was impressed by the education facilities provided for some of its prisoners. It is important to reduce and stop reoffending, so will he tell us when such facilities will be increased and thus become available to all prisoners throughout the country?

Paul Goggins: I know about my hon. Friend's visit and I was grateful for his positive remarks afterwards—he is right. We have put in place education and skills co-ordinators in all our prisons to ensure that all prisoners have the opportunity to learn and develop skills. As we move forward with the new national offender management service, we want the joining up of education in our prisons and that for offenders in the community. As we do that, I think that we will get even better results.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): As the ability to read and write is a crucial ingredient of people's prospects of employment after imprisonment, will the Minister tell us what efforts the Government are making, and whether they have made any impact on the high percentage of prisoners without those skills?

Paul Goggins: The hon. Gentleman is right. The improvement of literacy and numeracy is fundamental.

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The numeracy and literacy rates in our prisons are deplorably low, which is why we are investing £59 million a year in education in our prisons. That is beginning to yield results because, it is anticipated that 50,000 basic skills qualifications will be gained in prisons this year. That represents an amazing step forward that we want to sustain and improve on. He is right that, if we continue to make such improvements, we will increase the chances of people staying out of trouble.

Child Sexual Abuse

8. Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): If he will increase the length of sentences for those convicted of sexually abusing children. [148330]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart): Yes; the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which comes into force in May 2004, introduces new offences of sexual activity with a child and causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity that are punishable by a maximum of 14 years' imprisonment. These will widen the scope of offending behaviour and replace existing offences, which carry maximum penalties of two and 10 years.

Mr. Barnes : I am not someone who naturally looks for longer sentences to fill up prisons, so I am conscious of earlier remarks about the national offender management service. Longer sentences are advantageous in the cases of children who have been sexually assaulted because they protect children in our communities and give more time for the treatment of offenders so that they can overcome their obsessions. Does the Minister agree that they are preferable to the publication of offenders' names and addresses, which could lead to vigilante activity?

Fiona Mactaggart: My hon. Friend is right, which is why action was taken in the Sexual Offences Act. In addition, relevant provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which comes into effect at the end of the year, will ensure that dangerous offenders—specifically sexual and violent offenders—will not be released until the Parole Board has decided that their risks are manageable in the community.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet) (Con): Is the Minister aware of a case in Mold Crown court last week in which a man who was convicted of having unlawful sex with a 14-year-old girl was not only sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment—I make no comment on whether that sentence was the right length—but forbidden from using the internet, I hope and presume, ever again? As that was probably the first time that a judge has made such a restraining order, will she welcome it and encourage other judges to do the same in similar cases in which paedophiles or sex offenders are convicted?

Fiona Mactaggart: I welcome the judge's decision. He recognised how the internet can be used in such cases. Sentencing in an individual case is a matter for the courts and not for politicians. The judge in that case, Judge Daniel, said that it is time to re-examine the law so that harsher penalties can be handed down to men who

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pursue 14-year-olds. I am proud to say that that has been done and that, from May, harsher penalties will be available to the courts.

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