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Westminster Hall

Thursday 17 November 2005

[Mr. Edward O'Hara in the Chair]

Rehabilitation of Prisoners

[Relevant documents: First Report from the Home Affairs Committee Session 2004–05 HC193-I, and the Government's response thereto, Cm 6486.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Coaker.]

2.30 pm

Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): I am pleased to initiate this debate on the Select Committee's report on the rehabilitation of prisoners. I should say at the outset that the Committee's interest in the topic was stimulated by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), who was a formidable prisons Minister in her time. She encouraged the Select Committee to take an interest in the topic but, for personal reasons, she had to leave the Committee shortly after the inquiry started. I hope that she feels that we have looked into the issues that she raised.

The report is lengthy and covers a large number of issues, so it might be helpful if I set out the main theme that I want to refer to in my opening comments. It is pleasing to see so many hon. Members here on a Thursday afternoon when there is a one-line Whip. It shows that the subject is of interest—[Interruption.] Some of my hon. Friends did not realise that there was a one-line Whip. I hope that they do not leave too soon.

The central issue in the report is that we know from many sources, including the social exclusion unit, that a released prisoner's ability to get a job, to have a home to go to and to maintain family ties is critical to the likelihood that they will not reoffend. Everyone accepts that the rate of reoffending by released prisoners is far too high. In simple terms, that means that far too much crime is committed in our communities by people who have already served a custodial sentence. We need to improve our ability to reduce reoffending.

Our report acknowledges the importance of the strands that I mentioned of work, housing and family ties—it also looks at other issues such as drug treatment—and we make recommendations on all three. I would like to acknowledge at the beginning—I will not deal with them in detail—the submissions that we have received for today's debate from Citizens Advice, Action for Prisoners' Families and the Local Government Association; they reinforce the importance of those issues.

There is important work to be done in all those areas, but the central theme of our report is how well or how badly the prison system prepares prisoners to get a job on their release. I shall concentrate most of my comments on that theme. Housing and family ties are extremely important and changes must be made; drug treatment needs to be improved; but it was on how well our prisons do in preparing people to work that we felt that the gap was largest between what is happening in our prisons today and what needs to be happening in the prison system in future.
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I know that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) shares my personal commitment to these issues. We both spoke recently at the launch of an Exodus project by South East England Development Agency which was aimed at prisoner rehabilitation. We both have an interest in the matter, but the gap between what the Committee found when going round prisons and taking evidence and the picture described in the Government's response to our report is uncomfortably wide. If this debate has one effect today, I hope that it will be to encourage her to look again at what is happening in our prisons and the way in which they are or are not preparing people for work. The Government's response does not reflect the very difficult reality that we found.

I want to make a few other background comments. Overcrowding was an issue that came up a lot during our inquiry and we describe some of the difficulties that arise from prison overcrowding. We acknowledge that the Government have put a new sentencing framework in place and we hope that if public confidence can be built up in that framework it will reduce the number of people who go to prison unnecessarily. We highlight our belief that a lot more should be done to reduce the number of people who go to prison on remand and do not ultimately serve a custodial sentence. We also highlight the large number of women going to prison for minor crimes. All those issues have an effect on prison overcrowding.

As far as we could see, on any reasonable projections prison overcrowding is with us for the foreseeable future. It is difficult to foresee in the next 10 years either the number of people sentenced falling rapidly or the number of prison places increasing quickly so that we will not be living with overcrowded prisons. A culture seems to have grown up in the Prison Service that we shall be able to deal with issues such as work when the prisons are less overcrowded. The Select Committee says that that view must be challenged. We must find ways in which to improve the ability of the prison system to help prisoners find work, even though for the foreseeable future prisons will be overcrowded.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): I thought that the right hon. Gentleman would be interested in some figures. In March, when the Government wrote their response to the Select Committee, there were 75,187 prisoners. This month, the figure has increased to 77,683—a net increase of 2,496 prisoners. All the problems that existed when he investigated the system and when the Government replied in March have now increased by that amazing leap.

Mr. Denham : Fluctuations will happen from month to month. We said in the report that the Government's longer-term projection shows the prison population stabilising at about 80,000, which will be the maximum capacity of the prison system. That depends on some fairly optimistic assumptions about sentencing patterns. Even that would represent a prison system that was functionally overcrowded. The message from our report is that, unfortunately, we must assume that that will be part of the backdrop for the next five or 10 years. We must then consider what we need to do to make the system work better.
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We acknowledge the importance of drug treatment. I hope that hon. Members will speak on that issue during the debate. We must be careful not to create a situation in which the quality of drug treatment on offer to offenders in the prison system is of lower quality than the drug treatment that is offered to those who are entering the criminal justice system for the first time. There has been a substantial investment in drug treatment in some high-crime areas. I welcome that, but it is odd to have an apparent improvement in the quality of drug treatment available to newer offenders when we are failing to deal effectively with drug treatment for those who are already in the prison system.

At least three offenders out of five reoffend within two years. The number is often more for young offenders, which has a high cost for the individuals and society. Let us consider three strands that concern work. First, what do prisoners do when they are in prison? Secondly, what links can prisoners maintain with work outside, while they are in prison? Thirdly, how can they secure jobs on their release from prison? The Select Committee asked many prisoners to complete a prison diary. We carried out that innovative research because we considered that the average information on purposeful activity that was available from the Home Office did not reflect the many individual stories that we heard from prisoners about the activities that were available to them, the amount of time that they spent locked in their cells, and so on.

The Government can reasonably say that our exercise was not entirely valid statistically, but it highlighted the fact that substantial numbers of prisoners do not have access to purposeful activity and spend much of their time not gainfully employed. A lot of activity that is described as purposeful may be necessary within a prison such as cleaning the floors, but it does not equip them to obtain a job when they are released. The averages in respect of such activity tend to blur the way in which the system is failing a substantial number of prisoners. As the Government acknowledge, that may be worse for short-term prisoners and remand prisoners, who none the less are equally likely to reoffend and whom we should not write off within the prison system. If there were weaknesses in the Select Committee's prison diaries approach, I hope that the Home Office can rectify them by making sure that it is monitoring individual prison lives and not looking only at the overall averages.

We found that little in the prison regime equipped prisoners directly with the discipline or skills that were likely to improve their employability on release. That is a somewhat harsh statement because significant improvements have been made, for example in adult basic education in prisons. We acknowledge that in the report, and it is important. There is a big gap between providing that and giving individuals the confidence and the skills to get a job on release. We found that the nature of the prison regime does little to prepare people for the world of work.

The report is called "Rehabilitation of Prisoners", but many prisoners have never been habilitated in the first place—I hope that that is not an appalling use of the English language. They have never had steady skilled jobs, brought in regular money and all the rest of it. It
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may be that their time in prison is one of the first opportunities to bring some discipline and work-related learning into their lives.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend is talking about the rehabilitation of offenders and the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. In 2002, the Home Office produced a report entitled "Breaking the Circle: A report of the review of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act", which made proposals to improve the chances of those who had offended. The report's recommendations have yet to be implemented or turned to by the Government. Is that not the case?

Mr. Denham : As we say throughout our report, a number of good policy and strategy papers have been produced by the Government: by the policy unit at No. 10; by the Home Office; and by the Prison Service. If they were put together as a policy framework on paper, they would add up to a pretty good picture of what ought to be done. The difficulty is that many of them have not been fully or energetically implemented.

I remember going to one young offenders institution. There was a clear awareness among the young people we talked to about what type of skills would enable them to make an honest living when they went out. They could see the difference between those courses that enabled the boxes to be ticked and the national vocational qualifiations gained, and the sorts of skills that would enable them to get work, given that they had a criminal record. There is too little tailoring of the courses and training available to what would genuinely make prisoners employable.

More fundamentally, very few prisons offer the discipline of what the report calls a nine-to-five working day. We were impressed by what we saw at Coldingley in Surrey and by what we saw in prisons in Sweden and in Germany, which had what in the jargon is usually called "an industrial style of prison work". Such examples are very much the exception in our prison system and although there is a prisons industry strategy, which is supposedly being implemented, we found no real sense of energy, urgency or drive to put that type of widespread change in the prison regime into place.

We suggested that there could be new innovations; an agency could be set up to develop public-private partnerships for prison industries. That was given a half-hearted welcome in the Government's response; I hope that the Minister will be able to say more about the likelihood of its happening. The first core message is that unless we have a way of changing the fundamental regime in most of our prisons so that they offer a real work-like experience, it will be difficult to equip people with the disciplines and skills to find work outside.

I say in passing that we recommended that the economic potential of higher employment among people who are released from prison should be investigated. That was rejected by the Government, which is a shame. We said at the time of writing our report that it was slightly odd to be producing large numbers of unemployable people out of our prisons to be unemployed at the same time as attracting significant numbers of economic migrants from eastern European accession states or from around the world. We might
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win more resources for prisons if the full economic potential of making greater use of our prison population was fully taken into account.

There have been missed opportunities. I am told by people in business that 18 months ago one could make a good business case to an employer for employing ex-offenders because there was a labour shortage. Not enough was done at that time, and today people tend to say, "Well, there's a pretty large pool of people from the eastern European accession states, with skills, who can come here quite cheaply." The business case is now moving against the Government. However, even at this late stage, it would make sense for the Government to make a full economic assessment of the advantages to the British economy of ensuring higher employment rates among ex-offenders.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman made an important point when he outlined one of the economic benefits of training prisoners. Is there not another economic benefit, in that, according to all the evidence, prisoners are much less likely to reoffend if they find employment after leaving prison? That reduces all the costs associated with their offending.

Mr. Denham : The hon. Gentleman, who is a very constructive member of the Committee, is absolutely right; there is something about the economics of the entire system that strikes one as decidedly odd. It costs an enormous amount of money to run the prison system—the cost is well over £30,000 per individual in the system per year—yet we do not do half enough to ensure that offenders are not likely to be equally expensive when they come out because they reoffend. So, my first point is that the prison regime needs to change, not bit by bit, but starting with a fundamental rethink by the Government and a real drive to change the nature of the prison regime.

My second point is about the links between work and prisons while prisoners are serving their sentence. When we went to Germany, we saw the Tegel prison in Berlin. Committee members of all parties were impressed by the extensive system of day release for work in Berlin. It was at a level of security clearance that would not be allowed in this country. In other words, day release for work is not restricted to the category D prisoners whom we are used to going to work from our open prisons.

This is a difficult issue for Governments and Oppositions, because if a prisoner offended while out of prison, it would guarantee tabloid headlines, widespread criticism and all the rest of it. None the less, in Germany we were told that Tegel prison managed to operate the system with remarkably low offending rates by prisoners, even though those prisoners had a higher level of security risk than those whom we allow to go out of prisons. That is something that the Government should seriously explore.

One gets the impression—the Minister may be able to help us on this—that the Government have given a pretty blanket no to other than category D prisoners going to work outside prison, unless it is a prisoner on one of the new short sentences. I hope that that is not the case, because innovative thinking is necessary. Not everybody can be accommodated within ideas such as
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weekend prisons, which are now being piloted. Prisoners who are able to sustain a job while serving their prison sentence are much less likely to offend.

My final point is about securing employment at the end of the prison sentence. The evidence seems to be pretty clear that if prisoners know that they have a job to go to and can work towards it, they are more likely not only to go into that job but to be in that job in a year or two's time. The innovative work by National Grid Transco has demonstrated that beyond reasonable doubt. That model needs to be extended more generally.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton) (Con): I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman for not being able to stay for the rest of the debate for constituency reasons. Will he comment further on the National Grid young offender programme? If reoffending is reduced to about 7 per cent.—a massive reduction on the average for young offenders—surely the scheme could be self-funding, if it were rolled out across more than the 15 prisons that are now part of the National Grid scheme. Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that the Prison Service has taken that to heart? Although it responded to his report, the right hon. Gentleman's comments in that report were quite worrying to those of us who hoped that the scheme would be fully embraced by the Prison Service.

Mr. Denham : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point. I am sorry to say that I am not satisfied with where we are with National Grid Transco, despite its proven track record, despite its ability to produce some remarkably low reoffending rates—among young offenders, who have a higher recidivism rate than adult offenders—and despite being financed entirely by the private sector, to the tune of about £10,000 per prisoner. The Committee was not convinced at the time, and I have not been since, that the Prison Service has taken on what is necessary to make the model spread.

There is not, to be fair, an absence of warm words about National Grid Transco from Ministers—from the Home Secretary and everybody else—but at the moment everything is being done other than the provision of funding or listening to National Grid Transco to find out how the model could be replicated. The private sector initiative is an odyssey, developed among the business community of our country. The problems seem not just to be an absence of Government funding for the programme but a desire in the Prison Service to invent a different way of doing a similar thing, involving the learning and skills councils, Jobcentre Plus and the whole panoply of state institutions. They may work perfectly well outside prisons, with different objectives, but are less likely to be able to engage with the private sector and make sure that the Transco model works.

The model probably only works for major corporate employers, and is not so easy for small and medium-sized enterprises to adopt. A quick and fundamental reassessment of the relationship between the Prison Service and the Transco approach to employment is needed if the benefits of the scheme are not to be lost. We found no hostility in our evidence sessions. Everybody
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we spoke to from the Prison Service was positive about the initiative, but nothing seems to be happening. We need some central drive to make sure the model is spread.

I made a point earlier about the business environment becoming more unfavourable, largely because of EU expansion and the ability to attract people into jobs that could not be filled a couple of years ago. For an employer to employ an ex-offender is less obviously sound business than it was a couple of years ago. It is important that we move quickly to embed the Transco model in the rehabilitation programme in this country before the opportunity slips away.

I will not give more details about the Transco scheme. It is familiar to some Members and it is described in the report, and I suspect that others wish to speak about it this afternoon. It is perhaps symptomatic of a slightly "not-invented-here" response, which came up on a number of occasions during our inquiry when we were putting radical and innovative proposals and ideas to officials. I hope that the Minister will lend her considerable authority to an urgent review of what is happening.

In my remarks to my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor), I referred to the various reports that have been produced over the years—the social exclusion unit report on reducing reoffending or, now, a national action plan on reducing reoffending. Those are not being driven through the system with great energy. Many have the right aspirations but no time scale, ill-defined resources and unclear delivery mechanisms. We will have to move faster if we are going to reduce reoffending rates.

When we were doing our report, we were in the early stages of the establishment of the National Offender Management Service, which is still working its way through the pipeline. As a Committee, we took the view that the principle behind NOMS was right—a system that starts from the assessment of the needs of the individual prisoner or offender and goes right through to rehabilitation. I would make the point that NOMS cannot easily be effective unless we are able to change the regime within the prisons and the arrangements that are available to get prisoners into work. NOMS will only be able to work with what it is given; at the moment those tools look inadequate.

David Taylor : My right hon. Friend has reached the important section of the report that deals with end-to-end sentence management. Does he not agree that until about 10 years ago probation officers expected to be closely involved in routine contact and sentence management? They would also write to, ring and visit prisoners, and that greatly helped the rehabilitation process. However, budgetary restrictions and overheads associated with the setting up of NOMS seem to be preventing them from doing that currently. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is not a new idea, but it needs to be reintroduced with proper resourcing?
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Mr. Denham : Of course, there has been a dramatic expansion in the number of probation officers over the past few years, but of course that goes with a greatly increased prison population compared with 10 years ago.

My point is that unless the people working in NOMS can get support—for example, from an expansion of the National Grid Transco scheme—so that they can direct prisoners towards jobs and be sure that they are doing them, it will be difficult for them to do what is being asked of them in respect of getting people back into work. The Committee supports the broad change of direction in the development of NOMS, but we must ensure that it has the tools to work with.

We must—this is by the bye—also remove from the system some of the sillinesses that gets in the way of delivering a coherent approach. I do not know whether it is still the case, but we were told that prisons scored half a mark on the rehabilitation target—whatever that was—for managing to get a prisoner an interview with a jobcentre. We can best do without that sort of box-ticking target that reveals nothing at all about how likely it is that the prisoner will end up getting a job; I suspect that my hon. Friend the Minister agrees with me on that. We must concentrate on measuring things that really make a difference to the life of the individual prisoner.

Work is central to the prison regime, and to achieving its objectives. I do not wish in any way to diminish issues to do with drug treatment, housing, family contact and so forth, but if we do not get the work strand right, it will be difficult to deliver on other things. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to look again at what is happening. Is the pace of change fast enough? Is there sufficient focus in the prison system on this critical issue?

Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): A Basic Skills Agency report found that up to 80 per cent. of prisoners were functionally illiterate. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that that is also a main contributor, and that it needs to be dealt with even in advance of the work strand?

Mr. Denham : That is an interesting point. Functional illiteracy among the prison population is a major issue; it is one of the indicators of likelihood of offending. We acknowledge that the Prison Service has made great strides in the past few years in terms of adult basic education and skills. About 10 per cent. of all adult basic education qualifications are achieved in prison; that is significant.

The difficulty is that, if we look at this matter from the point of view of the individual, making somebody functionally literate may be a necessary step towards enabling them to get a job, but it is a long way from getting them into a job. Gaps appear to open up in the process when we look at the career of an individual offender and ask, "What happens next?" The way the system is managed, the Prison Service can tick its box and say, "We've got this prisoner to the level of adult basic skills that is necessary," but the next bit might not happen. That process probably creates a slightly more literate reoffender, rather than somebody who will go on to get a job.
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The important thing is to join up the system. We should not move away from the focus on adult basic education as a starting block, but neither should we limit the system so that when people get to that educational level there is no further progression in respect of real work-related skills. Adult basic skills are an essential element of this system, but perhaps the system is not quite right at present because the focus has been almost exclusively on it, rather than on the things that need to follow on from it.

I have spoken for longer than I intended. I hope that I have set the scene in terms of some of the main themes in our report.

2.59 pm

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): I am delighted that we have this opportunity to debate the report. It is an important report, and I support all its conclusions, and the gist of what its Chairman, the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), has been saying.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the impetus that my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) gave to the Committee in terms of this report. When she was Prisons Minister, she was renowned for the number of prisons she visited, and I am sure that the present Minister is also no slouch when it comes to visiting prisons. Given the number of prisons that the Committee visited in the course of producing this report, I like to think that we have done justice to the impetus that my right hon. Friend has given us. I pay tribute to the energy, commitment and hard work that the Chairman has put into the report and the work behind it, which I am sure hon. Members will have been impressed with today.

As an Opposition spokesman, I had occasion to visit prisons, and before that I frequently visited them in a professional capacity. Every time I went into a prison I was impressed when I saw prisoners engaged in what is termed "purposeful activity". Unfortunately, that was often not enough. By the same token, I never failed to be anything but depressed when I saw, as I did all too often, prisoners either hanging around on wings or locked up in their cells. One of the most frequent causes of complaint to me from prisoners was the inordinate length of time that they spent banged up in their cells. I believe that there have been improvements in that regard, but much more needs to be done.

It seems to me that time spent either hanging around on prison wings or simply locked up in cells is unlikely to have much rehabilitative effect. I, and I think most members of the public, would prefer to see prisoners who have to be in prison doing something constructive that will give them a better chance of staying out of trouble in the future. I am sure that all forms of rehabilitative activity have their place, including addressing offending behaviour, but the strongest and most useful form is working.

As I suggested to the right hon. Member, there is a good deal of evidence to show that prisoners who work in prison and go into work as soon as they leave prison are much less likely to get into more trouble. There are no panaceas for reoffending, because in many cases prisoners have led disordered lives, have come from
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unfortunate home circumstances or have personality problems or other cause of their offending. However, if they get into the habit of work while they are in prison, the chances of their staying out of trouble once they come out are much increased.

Susan Kramer (Richmond Park) (LD): The hon. Gentleman may not know that Latchmere resettlement prison, which is in my constituency, has a very low reoffending rate of about 25 per cent., even though the prisoners are mostly long-term servers and have therefore committed some of the most serious crimes. The last year or 18 months at Latchmere is used to get them not only into work but into work in the community where they will be living. That enables them to take on financial responsibility for their families ahead of rejoining them, and thus to reintegrate into the family circle.

There are only 207 places at Latchmere, the largest of the three resettlement prisons. Does the hon. Gentleman believe that, combined with his other proposals, the expansion of resettlement prisons of this kind could make a real difference to reoffending rates?

Mr. Clappison : I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that contribution. We could not visit all the prisons and we did not visit Latchmere, but it sounds as though it is doing important work. It certainly supports the Committee's view on this issue. I am sure that what the hon. Lady said is right. I believe that the Home Office has evidence from research done a few years ago into the value of employment on release which shows that it reduces the risk of reoffending by between a third and a half, which I think is better than any other form of rehabilitative activity.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Perhaps I may introduce chapter 12 of the report, which is about women in prisons. Stroud is next door to the constituency of the hon. Member for Northavon (Steve Webb), who has Eastwood Park prison in his constituency, which has had some difficulties over the years. When I have been there, I have realised that a particular issue about women in prison is how often they are moved around the system. Sometimes that adds to the problem of never being able to go home; such women may have been living with a violent partner, so they may have to be thinking of starting another life.

I agree entirely with what the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) says about needing to prepare people for when they leave prison, through work and work-related activities. However, that is particularly difficult for women, who, as they are moved around the system, do not know exactly where they are likely to be released. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Government have to pay really close attention to that, because such women are the most vulnerable?

Mr. Clappison : The hon. Gentleman makes a valuable point about women and work. Moving women around the system is undesirable also because it tends to break up the contact between the woman, her home and any children involved. I was going to mention later, but shall mention now, that the Committee has suggested that the Government should set a target for reducing the number of women prisoners. I do not know whether that is seen as radical or not.
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As the hon. Gentleman will know—he takes an interest in these matters—the number of women prisoners has gone up by more than the proportion of prisoners as a whole. That is somewhat surprising, given that women, as we all know, are much less likely to commit violent or sexual offences and are probably much less threatening offenders. The increase has never been properly explained, but if we all put our minds to it we could find a way of reducing the number of women in prisons or help them by putting them in prisons nearer their homes. We could also look into the question, which will come about through intermittent custody, of women spending only part of their time in custody and being able to keep in touch with their families more.

Mrs. Gillan : Given the work that he has done on the Select Committee, does my hon. Friend agree that when women are put in prison, there is a disproportionate effect on their families?

Mr. Clappison : Absolutely.

Mrs. Gillan : Often, the children have to be taken into care and that starts the cycle again. It is therefore imperative either to try to keep women in the community so that their families can remain intact, or at least to arrange things so that there is a continuation of family care, so that we do not put a new generation at risk or risk the family being totally broken by the time the woman comes out of custody.

Mr. Clappison : I am absolutely delighted that my hon. Friend, who serves on the Opposition Front Bench, is putting forward what are undoubtedly very important public policy reasons for trying to deal with women in a different way, as far as is possible. Those are important points, and my hon. Friend made them extremely well.

Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend, the Chairman and other members of the Select Committee on focusing on this important issue and the way in which they have done so.

I want to discuss transfers, a problem that is not restricted to women. If I read the report correctly, a recurring concern of the Committee is the rather ad hoc and premature process of transfers. If I read the Government's response correctly, they do not recognise that as a major problem. Is my reading accurate and is my hon. Friend satisfied with the Government's response?

Mr. Clappison : My hon. Friend makes an important point; he has an important interest in this issue because of his background. He is absolutely right. The Government's response was depressing on that issue. However, I should be fair to them. My hon. Friend may not be aware—it was not part of our report—that the Home Secretary came before our Committee last month. I put to him that very point about the high and increasing volume of transfers, which shuttle prisoners around the system and disrupt their chances of getting any education or worthwhile work activity. To be fair to the Home Secretary, he was far more responsive to the Committee than were the somewhat defensive remarks in the Government's response to the report.
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I am not making a partisan point, but it is fair to say that the Government's response to the report was a little too defensive on a number of issues. Other things that the Government have been doing and saying have been slightly more encouraging.

To come back to my main point about work, if one baldly asked the question, "Are we doing enough to provide work for prisoners in prisons?", the answer would have to be, "No, we could all do much more." I agree with the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen that we need a greater sense of urgency from the Government and more practical results. I do not doubt that they have good intentions, but they need to be translated into results.

Our report makes uncomfortable reading as far as purposeful activity is concerned. In paragraph 37, we said:

In paragraph 28, we noted that the Prison Service admits that it is has met its key performance indicator only

I should add that the key performance indicator for purposeful activity is hardly one that sets the world alight. For all the forms of purposeful activity—which total about 30, including work, education, washing the floor and all the rest of it—the Government set a total of 24 hours a week for prisoners. That has been met only once in the last eight years. I suggest to the Minister with all due respect that the solution is surely not to abandon the key performance indicator.

The report also says that

I know that the Government's response rejected our comments on that. However, when a target is not met the solution is surely not simply to get rid of the target and then choose other targets which people think might be met; surely it is to make more effort to reach the target.

The Government have good intentions, and I give them credit for taking an interest in the subject, but we need a commitment to carry those good intentions through. What the Committee said, and what the Chairman of the Committee said in his opening remarks, is also supported by the conclusions of the prison industries review and the prison diaries, to which he referred and which is a worthwhile experiment. The prison industries review, instituted by the Government, supports the conclusions that we reached.

I can do no better than to quote paragraphs 153 of our report, which said:

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We go on to suggest that all this shows that involving prisoners in work schemes has not been given sufficient priority.

Drawing on what we say in the report, what the prison industries review said and what the prison diaries also revealed about the lack of sufficiently serious work, I emphasise three points. They are implicit in our report. First, I believe that work in prison should resemble as closely as possible work outside prison. That is why it is so important that more prison workshops are up and running and that more of the work is in workshops where prisoners receive training rather than do functional activities concerned with prison life itself, such as mopping floors.

I do not shy away from the question of paying prisoners an appropriate rate for their work. That could be of benefit to everyone. It might enable some prisoners to pay compensation to their victims. If it gets the prisoners into the idea that they can earn money honestly as opposed to dishonestly, that can only be a good thing for the future. It is interesting that in the comment that I have seen on our report in the press and elsewhere there was not the reaction that some people might have thought. The public would accept that paying prisoners and getting them into the idea of making an honest living is a good thing, which in the long run could save a lot of money.

Secondly, I believe that work in prison should, as far as possible, include the training of prisoners in appropriate skills; that is self-evident. Thirdly—this point has already been made by the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen and the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer)—work should be linked wherever possible to employment outside prison.

I echo the remarks that the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen made about the Transco approach; the whole Committee was impressed by that. I believe that the Prison Service's "custody to work" initiative deserves support. I praise the Government for setting it up, but I hope that they will follow it through and support that approach. I draw some encouragement from what the Home Secretary said when he appeared before the Committee, but he and the Government will be judged on what flows from the report, on the progress made in establishing more work in prisons, on giving prisoners training and on linking all that, as far as possible, to prisoner employment on release.

Again, I make common cause with the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen. I do not shy away from more day release if it is necessary to get prisoners into jobs at the end of their sentence. I do not believe that that is a soft option, and I certainly agree with the right hon. Gentleman about trying to implement such schemes as much as possible, and not finding obstacles to put in the way.

We visited a prison in Germany that ran an extensive day release work programme. More than 70 per cent. of prisoners on the scheme who went through the training in prison, some of whom went on to day release, continued to work for their employer when they were released from prison.
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So, there are strong public policy reasons for supporting the scheme. There is a great deal to be gained. I do not think that giving prisoners work in prison is a soft option. I do not think that it is a soft option to reward prisoners, or let them out of prison so that they get used to work. There could be a great deal to be gained from that. One has to be realistic; such schemes will not solve all reoffending. However, they are by far the best way of reducing the reoffending rate and the best way of giving some prisoners a second chance, particularly the younger prisoners. There are great benefits for us all. I certainly impress on the Minister the gist of what the Chairman of the Committee said.

The Government need to have a sense of urgency about the issue. They need determination to translate their intentions into results. We need workshops in prisons and we need prisoners to work. We will wait to judge the Government on that, but there needs to be real commitment. The test for the Government will be whether they can translate their intentions into practical consequences, whether they can sweep away the obstacles to getting prisoners into work and whether giving prisoners training gets the priority that most right-thinking members of the public would say that it deserves.

3.18 pm

Mrs. Janet Dean (Burton) (Lab): I am pleased that we have this opportunity to debate the report on the rehabilitation of prisoners, and I, too, commend my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, for his hard work in conducting the inquiry.

Recommendation 122 of the report summarised the changes needed to improve the prospects for rehabilitating prisoners. In order of priority, they are: "(i) a major drive to provide work and work-like regimes and training within prisons; (ii) an extension of this provision and other rehabilitative interventions to short-term and remand prisoners; (iii) significant improvements to drug and alcohol treatment; (iv) independent inspection of mental health provision; and (v) specific provision to address the needs of minority and vulnerable groups."

One of the main conclusions of the Committee is that the overcrowding in our prison system has a hugely damaging impact on the delivery of rehabilitative regimes across the prison estate. Overcrowding means that it is less likely that prisoners will be held in prisons close to their home, and that will restrict contact with family and friends, as well as making it harder to have a coherent pre-release strategy.

Overcrowding means that it is less likely that prisoners will be engaged in purposeful activity, as other hon. Members have mentioned. The Government acknowledged in their response to the report that the Prison Service has regularly missed the target for purposeful activity in recent years. Overcrowding also produces a so-called churn in the system, whereby prisoners are moved at short notice to other establishments, thereby interrupting the work that has been done with those prisoners. Having said that, I agree with my right hon. Friend that we can consider how to improve matters in spite of overcrowding.
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Conclusion 5 of our report says:

We were impressed by the way in which transfers take place in Germany. Where the prison system is based on the federal system, prisoners are transferred back to their home region when they are convicted. It brings all the advantages that would benefit the rehabilitation of prisoners in this country, such as reducing transfers during sentence, allowing prisoners to retain links with families and enabling sentence and rehabilitation planning, including settlement on release.

The Committee's report stressed the need for real work opportunities in prisons, as others have mentioned. In conclusion 29, we stated:

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen said, we were impressed by what we saw on our visits to Her Majesty's prison Coldingley, where prisoners can obtain transferable qualifications and skills and gain experience in a real working environment. I was pleased to read in the Government's response to the Committee's report that the prison has now adapted its regime to allow part-time working, with time given to other rehabilitative activities, including education. The report recommends that the Coldingley system be used as a model for other prisons, as well as expanded to cover prisoners who are reluctant to take on prison work.

Members of the Committee were impressed also by the collaboration with private companies such as Transco, bringing skills training into prisons and young offenders' institutions. The scheme not only makes the rehabilitation of those serving custodial sentences more possible, but it can address the skills shortage in many places.

Besides the development of more work opportunities, the Committee also felt that there should be pilot schemes that pay prisoners more realistic wages. The schemes should not make the prisoners better off while in prison, but give them the experience of paying tax and living costs, and thus better prepare them for life outside prison. More realistic wage levels could help to address the concerns of some private businesses that prisons can undercut the prices at which businesses produce goods.
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One major cause of criminal activity is drug addiction, and I am pleased that the amount of Government money made available to offer treatment to those in our communities who wish to get off drugs has increased dramatically in recent years. However, the majority of prisoners have drug and alcohol problems, and they should be addressed. That applies to short-term prisoners as well as those serving long sentences.

In conclusion 75, the Committee stated:

Although the Government did not accept mandatory drug tests for all prisoners, their response to the Committee's report provided the reassurance that screening procedures on admission shall identify drug misusers. I welcome that, and I am also pleased by the Government's statement that following a pilot in 2004, a drug rehabilitation programme for short-term prisoners specifically is being introduced.

Progress is being made. The OASys model enables better information about prisoners to be transferred with them between establishments and when they leave prison. Will the Minister confirm whether the roll-out of connectivity between the Prison Service and the probation service is now complete?

One of my main concerns, which is highlighted in the Committee's report, is the increase in the number of women prisoners and the even greater isolation they can have from their families. Although it is true that only 6.1 per cent. of the prison population are women, the annual average number of women prisoners has increased by a massive 173 per cent. since 1992, compared with a 50 per cent. increase in the number of male prisoners during that period. In the 10 years from 1994, the average number of women in prison in England and Wales rose from 1,811 to 4,487. Most of the women prisoners are mothers and primary carers, so many children are affected by the absence of their mother. More than 30 per cent. of women prisoners have suffered sexual abuse.

The majority of women prisoners are in prison for non-violent offences and are therefore not a danger to others.

Mrs. Gillan : The hon. Lady touches on a point that is close to my heart. Does she agree that it is worrying that about a third of women prisoners lose their homes and possessions? When they come out of prison, they have no home to go to and their possessions have usually been disposed of.

Mrs. Dean : Yes, I would agree with that. Isolation and imprisonment for women causes more problems because most of them have primary caring responsibilities. They might be escaping abuse in their home, and if they come out and find that they have no home and that their children have been taken into care, it is even more difficult for them to get back on their feet.

We must look at better ways of punishing women than just locking them up. We need to consider more effective community punishments for women and men; we cannot keep on building prisons. Intermittent custody offers the greatest benefit to women prisoners because it enables them to continue to mother their
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children. However, they have the greatest problem in accessing such an option because there are fewer women's prisons and a relative sparsity of offenders. Many women would have to travel long distances to reach their place of custody.

The answer may be to provide small local units or it may be to restrict the number of women given custodial sentences, which is what the Committee suggested. I hope that a new sentencing regime will provide more opportunity for community sentences.

Mr. Hurd : The report acknowledged that there is a public relations challenge in getting across to the public that community sentences are not a soft option. Does the hon. Lady feel that the Government have taken that on board, and did the Committee come up with any constructive ideas on how that message could be put across?

Mrs. Dean : I think that the hon. Gentleman has been reading my notes because I was just about to say that we need to ensure that the general public are made aware of the benefits that community sentences can bring. The hon. Gentleman will note that conclusion 11 states:

In that respect, I commend the work of SmartJustice, a representative of which I met the other day. SmartJustice is a five-year campaign supported by the Network for Social Change and run under the auspices of the Prison Reform Trust. It is involved in increasing public awareness of alternatives to custody and working with the popular press to take a less punitive and more rational approach to crime. It gives talks on crime and punishment throughout the country to a wide variety of groups, including community and civic groups, such as rotary clubs, faith groups and schools.

SmartJustice for Women is a targeted campaign that was launched at Holloway prison on 27 July. I believe that the Minister was present on that occasion. SmartJustice says that it is involving women's groups in the campaign, including Soroptimist, the townswomen's guilds, the National Federation of Women's Institutes, the Mothers Union, Maternity Alliance and the National Council of Women. I hope that those involved will be instrumental in raising public awareness of the alternatives to prison. I hope also that, through better sentencing and rehabilitation of prisoners, more treatment for drugs, improved education and, in the long term, through tackling the root causes through early education and tackling deprivation, we can at least stabilise the prison population.

3.31 pm

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): The hon. Member for Burton (Mrs. Dean), my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) and the other members of the Home Affairs Committee, under the chairmanship of the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), have done the House a considerable service
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with their report on the "Rehabilitation of Prisoners". It must make a welcome change for them—a release—from having to carry out pre-legislative scrutiny on yet another asylum and immigration Bill or yet another criminal justice Bill. That seems to be their normal diet.

I take an interest in this subject partly because I practised as a barrister for a number of years and represented a number of people who then went to prison and partly because the first non-governmental organisation that I ever subscribed to was the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, but most importantly, in the context of this debate, because I have Bullingdon prison in my constituency. I want to comment on Bullingdon in more detail later.

We must recognise that the punishment element of prison is the loss of one's freedom. The punishment is going to prison. Prison itself should not be a further punishment. The punishment should be the removal of freedom. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere said that quite often, if prisoners are given good treatment, we have to deal with the type of knee-jerk reaction found in the Daily Mail or The Sun. However, we have moved on from Victorian times. We are now in the 21st century and we need to trumpet clearly the message that the punishment is the removal of freedom.

We must also recognise that the average stay of most people who go to prison is 23 months. Although they may be taken out of the community for a period of time, it is not necessarily that long. At present, we have a vicious circle of overcrowding and transfers in the prison system that make it much more difficult to help to rehabilitate offenders and, as a consequence, too many of those in prison reoffend once they leave.

We have not yet heard much mention of the recent report by the social exclusion unit, but I think that it shows that more than half—some 58 per cent.—of all prisoners are convicted of another crime within two years of release. Tragically, that figure is as high as 72 per cent. in the case of young men aged between 18 and 20. Those figures are tragic for us as a community. They mean that, clearly, prison is not succeeding in rehabilitating people.

The social exclusion unit made several recommendations, particularly with regard to helping ex-prisoners to find jobs. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere said, getting a job on release reduces the risk of reoffending by between one third and a half. Most of the recommendations from the social exclusion unit have not been implemented. We need to hear much more clearly from the Government what strategies they have for reducing overcrowding and reducing the need to transfer prisoners constantly between prisons in the system, and what more they are going to do to help to ensure the working of rehabilitation programmes in prison.

Paul Boateng is now the high commissioner to Pretoria, but when he was Minister of State at the Home Office, he said, in a Prison Service briefing in June 2000:

We would be interested to hear from the Government what the strategic developments are.
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The prison population is now at a record high, at somewhere near 77,000. It has grown by more than half in the past decade, and numbers are rising by an average of 250 prisoners a week. The Select Committee states in its report that

It goes on:

There seems to be a vicious circle of overcrowding, which leads to transfers, among other things. The combination of overcrowding and transfers makes it difficult to rehabilitate prisoners, which means that prisoners leave prison not having benefited from the experience very much, and that leads to high reoffending rates. That is crazy, and something needs to be done about it. I shall make a few suggestions.

I am sure that most colleagues will think that my first suggestion is reactionary, so I shall start with that one and come on to the more liberal ones shortly. There are many foreign nationals in our prisons—some 10 per cent. of the prison population—and I suspect that that is a consequence of an increase in drug trafficking, more people involved in drug offences and so on. However, there is no justification for keeping overseas nationals in our prisons. When they finish their sentences, the burden should be on them to demonstrate to the courts why they should not automatically be deported to the country from which they came.

Mrs. Gillan : My hon. Friend might be interested to know that foreign nationals make up more than 10 per cent. of the prison population. At the end of March, when there were 9,194 foreign nationals in prison, the figure was 12 per cent. The Home Office does not have a grip on the situation: at any one time, there are some 1,200 people in prison for whom it has not been possible to ascertain a nationality, so the figure is even larger than the one he quoted.

Tony Baldry : Whether the figure is 10, 11 or 12 per cent., it is a significant percentage. We should make it clear that the burden will be on overseas nationals who have committed offences to convince the courts that they should not automatically be deported to the country of their citizenship at the end of their sentence. Then, if they are inclined to reoffend, they are less likely to reoffend in the United Kingdom. It is as simple as that. Any foreign national who breaks the law in this country such that it merits their going to prison forfeits their right to remain in the country.

Much good work is being done with the rest of the prison population.
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Mr. Denham : I have a genuine query. Although I chaired the Committee, I may have misunderstood the report. My understanding is that those who are sentenced to more than two years generally are deported at the end of their sentence, and that the problem with those who are sentenced for less than two years is that the courts rather than politicians have judged, on the basis of various international conventions, that that is not a sufficiently serious sentence to deport. I may be wrong about the law on that, but perhaps the obstacle is the court's interpretation, not of the convention on human rights but of other international conventions.

Tony Baldry : The right hon. Gentleman reinforces my position. At present, the courts decide whether a person should be deported, and the sentencing practice of judges in such cases varies greatly from Crown court to Crown court. We should change the position, by statute if need be, so that there is a presumption that any foreign national whose offences in this country merit a prison sentence should be deported at the conclusion of that prison sentence.

Bullingdon prison is in my constituency. It is a sizeable local prison for men and one reason why I wanted to take part in this debate is that I do not think that those who work in the Prison Service have their achievements trumpeted often enough. Being a prison officer or prison governor must be a tough job. Prison staff work with people who, by definition, do not want to be where they are. They must often deal with people who are vulnerable and who have a history of personality difficulties. Treating them with dignity and firmness must often be testing, particularly if prisons are overcrowded.

Bullingdon prison makes every effort to try to help people to prepare themselves for the world outside. For example, it involves the St. Giles Trust, which has a contract to provide accommodation advice to prisoners. Interestingly, much of that advice is given by prisoners who have been trained to NVQ level 3 by the trust. It does its best to provide education and work opportunities. As Sue Saunders, the governor of Bullingdon prison, explained:


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The prison has

Sue Saunders continued:

As a consequence, a third job fair is planned for early next year.

Bullingdon prison also runs a two-week debt management course every eight weeks that covers income and expenditure budgeting, how to read statements and payslips correctly, and the importance of saving and planning finances. Trading standards at Oxford county council runs a bespoke money management course at Bullingdon consisting of four two-hour sessions each on budgeting, banking, accounts and borrowing.

That all seems excellent and well in support of what the Prison Service now has as part of its motto: unlocking potential and releasing success. It was not, therefore, surprising to me that Martin Narey, the chief executive of the National Offender Management Service, gave Bullingdon prison a glowing reference in his report, in which he said:

local prisons—

Martin Narey thought that the multi-skills workshop at Bullingdon was "first class" and commented that it was

What he says after that, however, is the sting in the tail that causes me concern:

It is sad that the work of a local prison where, by every standard, the governor and the prison staff are doing excellent work in terms of advice on housing, rehabilitative training and getting people back into the world of work within the available resources is undermined by a combination of overcrowding and prisoners being all too frequently moved around the prison system. That is genuinely tragic.
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Martin Narey concluded his report with comments, which should be trumpeted, about the governor and staff at Bullingdon prison, praising

I have a footnote on that. I frequently find myself to the left of the Labour party, which is an increasingly uncomfortable position. Martin Narey argued two years ago for Bullingdon to remain in the public sector, and it has. I believe that prisons should be in the public sector, for this reason: my experiences with the proposed accommodation for asylum seekers at Bicester was searing, for whenever I sought information from the Home Office about what was being proposed, I was told that it was commercial in confidence. I emphasise that, because last time I said it, the Hansard reporter recorded it as "commercial incompetence".

One of the institutions that should be most transparent in its activity and delivery in our society is a prison. We should know what is happening in prisons in terms of the inputs and their outcomes. I have yet to be persuaded that handing institutions such as prisons over to Group 4 Securicor enhances the rehabilitative process of Her Majesty's prisons. However, that is just a parenthesis. There is no necessary consequence that private is good and public is bad. I believe that those who work in the public sector in prisons do a good job.

The thrust of my submission to the House this afternoon is simple. The best way to get the prison population down is to stop reoffending. If those in prison ceased to reoffend, our prison population would drop considerably. If consistent efforts were made at rehabilitation and ensuring that those who left prison had a better chance of accommodation, employment and life skills, the likelihood of their reoffending would drop and thus the probability of our prison system being overcrowded would be reduced.

Although Ministers do not have it entirely in their gift to control the total prison population, the Prison Service could certainly make greater efforts to ensure that people, whether men or women, do not spend the whole of their prison experience being shunted around from one prison to another. Each prisoner should be treated as an individual. The Home Office and the Prison Service should take pride in ensuring that people leave prisons with the best possible skills and qualifications in order to tackle the rest of their lives crime free and in society with the rest of us.

3.51 pm

Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): I congratulate the Select Committee on its excellent and timely report. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) for securing the debate. I am interested in the subject because I have a community prison, a high-security prison, a women's prison and a youth offending centre in my constituency.

Does my hon. Friend the Minister concur with the sentiments about women prisoners outlined in paragraph 297 of the report? It says that the

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In paragraph 308, the Select Committee suggests that offending behaviour programmes need to be adapted to meet the specific needs of women prisoners and, in particular, to take note of their life experiences and the fact that many of them are victims of abuse, and that that can be a long-term problem.

Such comments are echoed by the governor of the women's prison in my constituency. She has explored with me ways in which the Government can deal not only with the mental health problems that many women prisoners experience, but how their self-esteem can be improved. She argues that, unless women's self-esteem is improved and they are more independent when they leave prison, they are likely to reoffend. The governor expressed concern about the lack of emphasis that is placed on women in prison to prepare them for work. Too often, programmes focus on developing basic skills. Some women will need that training, but insufficient emphasis is placed on their being prepared for work outside prison or on linking any of the schemes within prison to outside employers.

I draw attention to the work of SmartJustice. In my constituency, it has been working with the prison as well as it can to implement the new sentencing regime, so that community sentences are considered more appropriate for women. Hon. Members have said that prison is an inappropriate punishment for women, particularly when they are not a danger to anyone except themselves. When their children have to be taken into care, that has enormous ramifications for their family and wider society. I should appreciate the Minister explaining how the Government will carry out the Select Committee's recommendation of setting a target to reduce the number of women in prison.

I wish to make a few comments about education. It is clear from visiting prisons in my constituency that the Government are putting additional resources into prison education. That has been particularly successful in the teaching of basic skills. However, we have some way to go in terms of making vocational education in prison work, and particularly in ensuring that it leads to a job outside prison. Several Members have commented on the Transco scheme, and I would like the Minister to say whether that will be rolled out across the country. It seems to be particularly successful in reducing reoffending rates. It is also important in that it connects prisoners to work and to work environments when they are in prison.

We have all read reports that show that although prisons can train prisoners and give them qualifications, including vocational qualifications, that will not necessarily lead to them getting a job outside prison. I would like the Minister to comment on how vocational education will be monitored, especially in terms of the extent to which it reduces reoffending and leads to prisoners finding meaningful work.

3.56 pm

Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): I did not serve on the Committee, I have no prison in my constituency and, as will become painfully obvious, I do
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not know a great deal about this subject, but I am drawn to it by the simple statistic that three in five prisoners reoffend within two years. That starkly highlights that the problem we are discussing represents a great waste of both money and lives. I congratulate the Committee on throwing a spotlight on this important issue.

I listened closely to the opening remarks of the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), and it seems to me that there is a major cultural problem within the Prison Service that needs to be tackled. I noted that there were comments throughout the report—more in regret than anger—that the Government might not attach great enough priority to that issue; in particular, there was concern about the dropping or reclassifying of targets, such as public service agreement target 5.

One of the keys to making progress on rehabilitation is getting to know our prison populations better. Information technology has an important role to play in that. I read with interest about the OASys programme, and I look forward to the Minister's comments on the process of connectivity in that respect, not least because I suspect that I am not the only Member present who has concerns about the track record of the Government in implementing and co-ordinating IT programmes, particularly through the Home Office.

I was shocked by the statistics on drugs. Regardless of whether 55 per cent. or 80 per cent. of prisoners enter prison with serious drug or alcohol problems, it is clear that drugs use is a major driver of reoffending, and tackling it must therefore be at the heart of any Government strategy to get serious about the problem that we are discussing.

Susan Kramer : I have talked with my local prison governor, the local police and local community safety staff. Although a lot of extra money has been made available for drug rehabilitation for prisoners, similar programmes with the same kind of energy do not seem to be available for tackling the alcohol problem that so many prisoners have and that is far more widespread than drug problems.

Mr. Hurd : I thank the hon. Lady for that comment. I am not in a position to address her point, but I hope that the Minister will do so in her closing remarks. Although the report places a heavy emphasis on drugs, arguably, it does not place enough emphasis on alcohol.

I welcome the introduction of drug rehabilitation for short-term prisoners. I would like the Minister to expand a little on the comments that the pilot that triggered the expansion of the programme was helpful. What is the statistical evidence about the effectiveness of such programmes?

I also welcome the Government's comments on the targets for increasing capacity in terms of drug rehabilitation. However, as we have grown to learn, targets are one thing, and meeting them is another. I would also be grateful if the Minister could update us on the progress that has been made, particularly in achieving the March 2006 target of 9,000 offenders on drug rehabilitation programmes.
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Overcrowding seems to be a hugely important issue that is clearly undermining the whole process of rehabilitation, and I agree with the comments of the previous speakers. As a society, collectively, we need to get more comfortable with revising the culture of sentencing. We need to go back to the basic principle that prisons should be for those who are dangerous to the community. I would like to associate myself with those saying to the Government that a significant effort needs to be put behind the message that community sentencing is not a soft option.

There seems to be no getting away from the need to increase capacity in our prisons and to build new prisons. I will be interested to hear how the Minister refutes the charge, which is regularly made, that the Government prison-building programme is a case of too little too late. I would be interested to hear her views on the degree to which the Government are prepared to involve the private and voluntary sectors in that expansion of capacity.

Lastly, I would like to introduce a separate concept—apparently absent from the report and from the work of the Committee—which is the possibility that increasing an offender's awareness of the impact of their crime on victims could have a beneficial effect on future behaviour and reduce the likelihood of reoffending. I do not know whether the Committee addressed that issue—I have not had time to read all the submissions—but I point the Minister to the work of the Sycamore Tree Project, which is under the umbrella of the Centre for Justice and Reconciliation. There seems to be some statistical evidence that such an approach can introduce significant changes in attitudes to offending, putting us back on the path to recognising that we must get people off the conveyor belt of crime if we are to reduce our prison population.

4.2 pm

Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): I too welcome the report and add my congratulations to the Committee and to the Chairman. My party's position on such matters is close to theirs.

The prison portfolio came to me recently—I am recent altogether. Early on I sponsored a visit to Parliament by an American author, Michael Jacobson, who had written a book on downsizing prisons. The prison population in New York, I think, dropped dramatically. Part of that was to do with not putting people in prison in the first place if their crimes were so minor that they were better treated by community sentences or restorative justice, as many Members have said. Also, those offenders would then not be going to crime schools. There is an advantage from that point of view. What was clear from my meeting, which I sponsored with a Labour and a Conservative Member, was that we all agreed, much as has been the case in the Chamber today.

There is a great consensus that prison does not work and that the offending rate—60 per cent. recidivist—is not a way forward and has led to the overcrowding. The political climate in which we work outside such discussions here is not helpful and is destructive of what many Members have said about getting across the message that community sentences are tough. They are not soft on crime or prisoners. Politicians are going to
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have to grow up if we are to join hands across the issue and deal with some of the necessary measures for prisons.

When speaking to people, I have used an example. How well developed would a human being be if they were locked in a room, not talked to and not given skills? Would they be a well developed human being who could retake their place in society or would they be irresponsible for the rest of their lives, a burden to the state and almost certainly reoffend? If people are talked to, they understand the message; they do not have a problem with that.

On Tuesday or Wednesday of this week I went to an all-party parliamentary group where the Home Secretary signalled that he was moving towards the sort of proposals that we have been talking about. That is welcome, and I look forward to the Minister's comments on that.

I have been to Holloway prison and I was impressed with the governor and with the work being done with the women there. However, it was clear to me even as a novice that the sentences that women were given—mostly under six months—were incredibly detrimental to a sensible way forward. A sentence of that length is not long enough to get them off drugs or give them educational skills, but it is long enough for them to lose their homes and possibly their children, despite best efforts and a new 24-hour reception centre at that prison, which is next door to my constituency. I also commend the work of SmartJustice, whose members I have also met. It is doing a fantastic job.

At Holloway, I spoke to a group of women called "the listeners", who have volunteered to listen to other women prisoners who need someone to talk to. They do not proffer advice. These women were serving two, three or four-year sentences, possibly longer. I sat down and talked to them for a while, and every one of them wants to have a career in counselling; two were taking university degrees. It is a real step forward. I would say that a good percentage of those women will not reoffend, because they have something to look forward to—a place in society. That is to be welcomed.

We have all said today that the system is not working. We must realise the benefit for society of placing rehabilitation at the centre of the prison system. Only then will we see a dramatic drop in rates of reoffending, which I understand costs about £11 billion.

Hon. Members have touched briefly on education, but, as the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) said, education alone is not enough. People must be given the fundamental skills with which to move on, not simply to get back into work but to understand what they are doing.

It is a tremendous leap for someone who is not used to a working life to go from three and a half hours of work activity in prison to an eight-hour working day. Members of Parliament may not understand that, because we do a much longer day. I was interested in what the right hon. Gentleman said about the German system, which seems very advanced, but I wonder whether letting prisoners out on day release would begin to be acceptable politically. As I have said, unless we learn not to attack one another for mentioning such things, we shall never get anywhere.
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We must expand the number of prisons involved in commercial work.

Mr. Clappison : I am listening carefully to the hon. Lady. She mentioned prisoners being let out on day release and the German example. I do not have the details to hand, but I believe that in the German case, where a lot of prisoners were going out on day release, the rate of offending by such prisoners for absconding or the like was very low.

Lynne Featherstone : We can learn our lesson from Germany. It is clearly succeeding where we are not. Extending the use of tough community sentences will be good. There can be no better way to rehabilitate prisoners than by moving them into the community. That is the best place for them.

In conclusion, we need to help offenders, in particular young people, to avoid reoffending by increasing the resources for education, training and skills. Basic literacy, numeracy and communication skills are incredibly important. This is a complex world and, although simply having a job is a start, the likelihood of keeping it without other support is slim. We do not want people to slip backwards.

I look forward to hearing the Minister address some of the points that I have made and would welcome hearing what action she proposes to take, what funding is proposed and what the time scale is for action and change. I would also welcome an assurance that downgrading targets will not be the Government's answer to not reaching them. At present that is a significant failing.

4.10 pm

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): I do not know where to start. I usually do not have the luxury of so much time on my feet, but hon. Members will be pleased to know that I do not intend to take advantage of it. I too am interested to know what the Minister has to say about the report. I appreciate that the Minister who will respond to the debate does not have direct responsibility for prisons.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart) : I share it.

Mrs. Gillan : The Minister shares responsibility with Baroness Scotland in another place. No insult was intended to the Minister; I was not quite sure which of the two had the main responsibility in the Department. There is no doubt that the Minister has a job on her hands, as has Lady Scotland. The evidence for that is in what I consider to be one of the most comprehensive reports by the Home Affairs Committee for some time.

The right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) is to be congratulated—I merely echo the words of other hon. Members when I say that—on the scope and breadth of the report and the depth in which the Committee has examined the issues and problems affecting prisons. In common with a couple of my hon. Friends, I also started my career in prisons. As a young articled clerk I was dispatched off to Brixton nick, as we
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used to call it in those days, to visit clients of ours who had fallen on hard times. I am afraid that many clients of the firm to which I was articled ended up spending much longer periods of time at Her Majesty's pleasure.

What struck me 12 months ago when I was given the brief of visiting prisons is that they have not changed that much. That is quite frightening. I appreciate that it is mostly dictated by the physical nature of the prisons—the fact that so much of the estate is made up of old-fashioned Victorian establishments. However, there was a definite feeling of déjà vu when I walked into the first of the prisons that I visited. There was a lot of déjà vu when I entered Holloway—although I was particularly impressed by some of the work being done there, not least the work to deal with mental health problems.

The report, to which the Department responded in March, makes pretty uncomfortable reading. There is no doubt that although great strides are being made in some respects, there are enormous problems, and the Government need to tackle them before there is a catastrophe—although the current offending rate is itself a catastrophe.

As my party's spokesmen on the subject, I want to say that too many people take a neanderthal approach to the subject. They say, "Prison works. Lock them up. Throw away the key." They forget, first, that those in prison are human beings, and, secondly, that there is a cost to society. If anyone says, when I come up with ideas for rehabilitation or keeping people out of prison, that I have gone soft and am left-wing and wet, it is not true. It costs more than £37,000 a year on average to keep a man in prison. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but every prison place that she has had built since 2000 has cost £99,839. That is a significant cost to the taxpayer.

To those costs must be added the cost in human misery and family break-up, the cost to victims of crime, and the cost to the economy as a whole. I am not going soft when I suggest that perhaps we should not lock too many people up, or that we should do something with them when they are inside. I do not subscribe to the views of people who say, "Shut them in a room, take away their television, don't give them education; they must pay their debt to society." They are paying their debt to society by being inside a prison. I do not think that anyone in this Chamber would want to spend more than a few hours inside any of our prison establishments.

In England and Wales we have the highest imprisonment rate in western Europe, with 145 people in prison per 100,000 of the population. That is more than France, which has a rate of 91 per 100,000, and Germany, which has a rate of 96 per 100,000. According to the most recent figures that I have, which are for 2003, the average age of those sentenced to custody was 27. More alarmingly, nearly one quarter of our prisoners are 21 or under.

As we have discussed, the number of women in prison has doubled over the past decade. Before I came into the Chamber, I checked how many female prisoners were in our establishments on 11 November, and it was 4,599. That is a considerable figure, compared with previous years. More frighteningly, Home Office research shows that approximately 66 per cent. of those women are mothers. In that respect, the point that I tried to make
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in an earlier intervention is very pertinent. It is estimated that more than 17,000 children each year see their mothers put in prison. When we separate them from their mothers in that way, there is a risk that they will end up on the conveyor belt to crime. One of the social characteristics that identifies people who finally end up in prison is that they are victims of family break-up, and, in this case, it is the state that has broken up the family. With more than 17,000 children a year affected, we are very much preparing the seed bed in which we will grow our future prisoners, and we should not be doing that.

Prison has a poor record in reducing reoffending. Three out of five prisoners, or 61 per cent., are reconvicted within two years of being released. The frightening thing is that for young men and boys under 21 the reconviction rate stands at 73 per cent. That means that we have put a phenomenal percentage of people in prison, done nothing with them and then allowed them to come out and return to their life of crime.

Everyone who has spoken in the debate has mentioned the serious problem of overcrowding. At the end of August, 81 of our prisons—57 per cent. of the estate—were overcrowded, 13 were at more than 150 per cent. of their certified normal accommodation and 11 had populations over their operational capacity. The situation has not got better; indeed, it has got worse. As I said when I intervened on the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen, 75,187 people were in prison when the Government responded to the report in March. By 11 November, that figure had increased to 77,683—an increase of 2,496. Usable operational capacity stands at 78,341, and that means that there are only 658 places left, which is quite alarming. Far from home detention curfew being used to free up capacity in our prisons, there has been a drop in the imposition of HDCs; there were only 3,178 on 11 November, compared with 3,417 in March.

If we compare the prison population now with that 12 months ago, we see that there is an enormous difference. In November 2004, there were 75,023 people in prison. In the Minister's March response, the figure was 75,352, so the prison population was holding steady. I had discussions with various people in the prison sector, who were all a bit surprised by that. They could not understand why the figure was holding steady; they had expected an increase and did not know why there had not been one. Of course, the increase has now kicked in in spades, judging by the figures on the Home Office website.

The overcrowding of the prison estate is very much linked to the issues of reoffending and rehabilitation. If the system is overcrowded and has no capacity, and buildings are used that are not fit for purpose or have been patched up rapidly—that has had to happen as the prison population has increased—it does not provide an environment in which modern interventions can be made in prisoners' lives to enable them to go outside and become useful members of society.

The Minister plans to build more prisons, which I thoroughly commend. What sort of innovative thinking is she putting into that? I have looked at examples of new prison builds produced by the Design Council.
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They are not perfect, but they have a particularly interesting concept. The current prison system—I know that I am generalising—is 80 per cent. about security and 20 per cent. about learning, but the Design Council was looking at designing buildings that would create an environment 80 per cent. about learning and 20 per cent. about security, because some of the security problems in the old hospital-style prison system can be designed out of buildings.

The Home Secretary addressed the all-party group on penal affairs in the Moses Room the other day. I went along and was pleased to hear that he had a vision. He started by saying that he intended to re-examine the entire prison estate. I would like the Minister to put some flesh on the Home Secretary's vision, which was welcomed by all parties in both Houses of Parliament—Members of both Houses were there—because it is yet another vision. I hope that the Minister will forgive me, but I am slightly tired of visions; I have been hearing about them since the Carter report two years ago, and I do not see that vision being translated into action on the ground.

Mr. Denham : I would like to reinforce that point. I hope that this view came across in my earlier comments. The story that we have had from Ministers, particularly in the past six to nine months, and the Home Secretary's important speech to the Prison Reform Trust, set out a vision of how the system should be, which accords with a great deal in the Select Committee report. We need to acknowledge that getting to grips with the system and the people who run it, many of whom are good people, is an enormous change management job for Ministers. The Prison Service is a huge organisation that is very complex and difficult to manage. Our report was aimed every bit as much at getting the people who run the system to see the possibilities as at criticising what Ministers were saying to us.

Mrs. Gillan : I am sympathetic to that intervention. I agree entirely. I suppose that I should have said this at the beginning, but I am worried that we are talking about the rehabilitation of offenders against a background of unprecedented change and movement within the prison and probation services anticipated by Ministers, but against the background of the vision in the Carter report two years ago. When I go around prisons and when I talk to probation and prison officers, prisoners and prisoners' families, I do not see, two years down the line, the results that were expected from the major change management programme.

The administrative centre was set up at extraordinary cost, but there has been little communication with the people who work in the system. I might return to the issue of the National Offender Management Service and where it is going. The Minister has an opportunity to respond on that as well.

Many hon. Members spoke about women in prison. I want to touch on the issue of women and children. Some 57 per cent.—nearly six out of 10—of women released from prison in 2002 were reconvicted within two years of release. Those are the latest figures that I have. I understand that that is an improvement. It was better at
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one stage, but there were fewer women in prison. We now have larger numbers of women to set the targets against. What frightens me, particularly with women—although the same applies to men—is their dislocation from home and the disproportionate distance from their family and support structures at which they are held. Many are damaged individuals who have been living with domestic violence or in violent relationships, are single mothers or have been tied up with groups of people such as drug dealers, but nevertheless they are held an average of 62 miles from their home environment. That is not conducive to their resettling and coming out of prison to a productive life.

I alluded to the fact that a third of women in prison find that they have lost their homes and possessions. I want Members to think briefly about the effect on a woman who finds that she has lost absolutely everything, even the family photograph of her grandmother who is dead, or any small personal possession that means something to her. If we are to concentrate on rehabilitation, the state has to consider how to preserve somebody's life.

Many such women find that their flat has been cleared out by the housing authority, their life packed up in a black plastic bag, and their memories, everything that held them and their anchors thrown away. That is difficult for a sane person to deal with. However, it is very difficult for someone whose mental health is fragile. That takes me to my next point. I am greatly concerned not just about drugs and alcohol but about the mental health of our prison population. Many prisoners have mental health problems and it is obvious that the percentage is much higher in the prison population than in the general population.

It is alarming to know that 72 per cent. of male and 70 per cent. of female prisoners have two or more mental health disorders. That is a frightening statistic. To put it bluntly, it tells me that we no longer treat the mentally ill in a hospital environment, but lock them up in prison. From going round some of the establishments it has been obvious to me that, despite the best efforts of prison governors, staff and those dealing with mental health issues, many people who are incarcerated should not be in prison in the first place. They are certainly not in an environment where they will get the correct interventions.

I was at one young offenders institution the other day, which shall remain nameless. I was told of a young man who was so badly brain damaged and ill that no mental health establishment would take him. Although he had finished his sentence, he was still effectively in prison. That is pretty frightening in the United Kingdom in 2005.

The number of staff working in mental health also concerns me. About 300 mental health in-reach staff work in and across the prison estate in England and Wales. I query whether that is enough, considering the statistics. Effectively, 50,000 people in prison have mental health issues that need dealing with. The problem is that when those inside a prison deal with people with mental health problems, they do exactly the wrong thing.
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Prison regimes do little to address the mental health needs of prisoners. Research has found that 28 per cent. of male sentenced prisoners with evidence of psychosis reported spending 23 hours or more a day in their cells, more than twice the proportion of those without mental health problems. If we are to talk seriously about rehabilitation, the Government have to get a grip on that.

We have talked about moving prisoners around the country. The evidence that I found with the Select Committee is that there is so much churning and, because of overcrowding, people get moved at short notice. Indeed, I came across a situation the other day when six weeks before the end of a sentence a prisoner was moved 100 miles away. All the efforts that had gone into preparing them for release were destroyed. The drugs and alcohol treatment programmes in the prison system are not only inadequate but they are interrupted by the churning. The more overcrowding there is and the more that prisoners have to be moved around the country, the more interruption there is of the very programmes that will facilitate a reduction in reoffending.

I would like to know how many prisoners are moving around the country at any one time. That might be apocryphal, but when the overcrowding figures were two or three away from the total capacity of the prison system a prison officer said to me, "Well, we do not know how many are sitting in vans and being run between prisons and between courts". So, we could well be in the danger zone without knowing it. It is a problem and it needs to be addressed.

Education and training are the key. We have heard many tributes today to the Transco programme. It has been the thrust of most of today's contributions that education, training and real commercial work is where we should be looking. I have looked at the Transco programme and I cannot speak too highly of Dr. Mary Harris, who has done a first-class job. The programme is being spread out into 15 prisons, but I thought it was being spread out into a lot of industry sectors. The last time that I looked at the plans and the last time I talked to Dr. Harris, I understood that there were plans for it to be spread out.

I think that the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen hit the nail on the head when he said that we might have missed the boat on this. There is evidence that many more people are coming in to work in the trades that would have been suitable for prisoners. I hope that the Minister will comment on that and perhaps set out what she thinks we could do to address the matter at this stage, bearing in mind the background.

I took on board the right hon. Gentleman's request for an economic study from the Minister. He gave me the impression that he was referring to one on a national basis. I would go further and ask for it on a local basis, for the simple reason that when I visited a prison in Doncaster I was impressed with the emphasis that it put on training for skills that would be relevant to the new and expanded airport. The local economy is important when we consider which training programmes would be suitable.
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Mr. Denham : We were given an example as a Committee. We went to Aylesbury young offenders institution, where people made the point that there was an enormous demand for labour at the Heathrow fifth terminal project but that the institution did not have the capacity to do training in the relevant skills. That was a good case of where people could have been supplied into a major project, which will employ tens of thousands of people over years. However, there is no ability in the system to spot the opportunity to put the investment in place and to meet the demand.

Mrs. Gillan : Let me take the right hon. Gentleman back. I talked about the prison estate, the Design Council and new prison build. Another thing I picked up going round the prison system, is that when we build new prisons we are not building the warehousing and the workshop units that can go with them. Companies can go to such units to provide training or real work in the prisons. More thought must go into prison design, particularly if we are really to focus on rehabilitation.

On basic skills—reading and writing—there is the work of something such as the Shannon Trust, which encourages prisoners to teach prisoners. There is a huge stigma about illiteracy; if people cannot read and write, they do not always want authority figures to teach them how to do so. Work such as that of the Shannon Trust is excellent. It will help with rehabilitation, but it is not the entire key. Operations such as the training operation run by my constituent, Harry Quinton, in various prisons are very helpful. I have seen the work that Amersham and Wycombe college, which is in my constituency and is just down the road from the Minister's constituency of Slough, does in prisons. I have been very impressed by that. Thought must be given to what each individual wants.

That brings me to the NOMS situation and the Carter report. Like many people who take an interest in the subject, I was most impressed by the Carter report. The principle behind the report is right. I hate the term "end-to-end offender management". It depersonalises things; it is new Labour speak. However, I like the idea that once individuals are in the custody of the state, the state will assess their needs and track them through the system; and that even if individuals manage to break out of the system, when they come back they are captured and the information that the system has on them is reapplied. It is not rocket science.

I cannot believe that the Prison Service system cannot get prisoner A from B to C accompanied by his or her file. Having spoken to people in the Prison Service, I know that prisoners can arrive at a prison very late at night without the accompanying documentation. For instance, a woman may arrive at 10 pm and say, "I have two children; what has happened to them?" That happens now. We need a system, particularly if the state is acting in loco parentis, that takes an individual's needs into consideration and looks at that person's long-term needs.

Assessment is the key. I thought that NOMS was going to give us that, but two years down the line it has not done so. It has given us metamorphosis. It has given us a series of restructured bureaucracies, including
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regional offender managers. It has not communicated with prison officers or probation officers. The probation service is almost in emotional meltdown. I hope that the Minister will consider the problem.

We have a system that holds more than 75,000 individuals in prison, and the staff are demoralised. We have one of the highest levels of sickness among front-line staff, and we have a high turnover of prison governors. The average length of stay for prison governors is about 18 months. Indeed, and with respect, we are now on our seventh Prisons Minister since 1997. Continuity of care in the system seems to be sadly lacking. I am holding back, Mr. O'Hara; I have used much stronger language on other occasions about the fact that the system is falling apart.

We also need desperately to consider the position of foreign nationals. We have more than 9,000 of them in our prisons. That was mentioned earlier, and it has been addressed. We need innovative thinking. It will be no surprise to the Minister that we have more than 2,500 nationals from one country. We should have real negotiations with that other country, perhaps about building a facility in that country and letting people serve their sentences there.

No foreign national who has served a sentence here should be allowed to languish in prison because the Government have not deported them, even if there is a deportation order; they deserve to be released back into the community. They may have lost the right to be here, but in some cases they cannot be returned to their home country. I perfectly understand that.

Restorative justice was mentioned earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd), whose family has taken a distinguished interest in it for many years. I think that restorative justice is rather exciting. It shows people the effect of their crime, which can stop them in their tracks. I would like to go further, and consider something like the North Carolina system. There, before a person is tried, a form of restorative justice is used whereby the criminal and the victim agree to meet and decide on a course of action and restoration. It does not replace the criminal justice system, because if the person who has allegedly committed the crime breaks his or her agreement with the victim, he or she will stand trial in the normal fashion and face the penalties of the law. That sort of innovative system must be considered carefully.

The prison system is dangerously full and over-stretched, and there is every indication that the situation has deteriorated since the Committee made its evaluations and the Minister responded. We need a Minister who will take a grip on this area, starting, as the Home Secretary said, with the rationalisation of the prison estate, and take a cold, hard look at the costs in human misery and the financial costs of the way in which we treat prisoners in prison and how we put them back into society. We must be better placed in 2005 to turn people out of prison with the potential to be net contributors to rather than net drainers on our society.

The new technology may help the Minister, and I encourage her to visit Salford and the Group 4 Securicor satellite tracking pilot, because satellite tracking
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combined with the tag is the way forward for keeping people out of prison. It may even be the way forward for controlling truanting children. Truanting is where the conveyor belt to crime starts. If one could use new technology to check that a child goes to school, one could perhaps intervene early enough to prevent the prison population from expanding.

The Government, sadly, have had eight years. I thought that with their rhetoric before they came to power in 1997, they would at least have taken a healthier or more successful approach. Sadly, "tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime" has resulted in an explosion in the prison population, and that has resulted in more individuals reoffending. That is recognised within Government and throughout all parties represented in this Chamber.

I hope that there will be some co-ordination. I hope that you will forgive me for saying so, Mr. O'Hara, but it might take a good woman to do the job. There are two good women now in charge of prisons. I know that that makes uncomfortable reading, but I have known the Minister for many years, and I should like to think that she and her colleague in the other place could make a difference. I am very interested to hear what she has to say.

4.43 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart) : I thank the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) for the gracious remarks at the end of her speech. I have really enjoyed the debate, because it has reminded me that when I first took on this responsibility, I was somewhat of an oddity. When I spoke to anyone about what we did in relation to prisons, I asked, "What impact did it have on reoffending?" Sometimes, if not always, people were surprised by that total focus.

An aspect of government, which was highlighted by what my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) said about the size of the change programme, is that one can forget such drive and the point at which one started. I should like to say thanks to all hon. Members who have contributed to this debate, because my pointy stick, which is concerned with how much difference can be made to reoffending, has been sharpened by today's events.

The clear vision set out by the Home Secretary in his speech to the Prison Reform Trust on 19 September has helped. He said that we must see radical improvements in the delivery of sentences, focusing on how best to tackle the individual's offending behaviour. One problem with this mass system, which was obvious from what the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone) said, is that it sometimes misses out the impact on the individual. We must focus on that. We must have clear goals for a sentence, and ensure that there is a plan for a particular offender's sentence which reduces the likelihood of their reoffending.
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That is not an easy challenge. As hon. Members have said, offenders are drawn disproportionately from the most socially excluded members of society. They have often experienced long-term disengagement from services, and they have histories of poor relationships with those who might help them. By tackling some of the educational, housing and health inequalities from which they suffer, we aim to help them to re-establish themselves and to contribute to society. We cannot deal simply with those disadvantages. I welcome the way in which the debate has focused on employment out of all the issues highlighted in the Select Committee report, which was pretty wide ranging. It is right that our debate did so.

How have we done so far? Hon. Members referred to our targets. The 2004 Home Office strategic plan set out our target to reduce reoffending by 10 per cent. by 2010. We believe that we can meet that target. Adjusting for the changes in the population, 3.2 per cent. fewer prisoners who were discharged in 2001 were reconvicted within two years of release, compared with the position in 2000.

The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham referred to the datedness of the figures, an issue that was raised in the Committee's report. At the moment, we use a very brutal measure of reoffending—the two-year reconviction rate—to measure our success against public service agreement targets. We need to get better at this. The research report on frequency and severity has been received and the recommended methods are being applied to larger data sets so that we can decide whether there are different ways of measuring reoffending, as the Committee recommended. We will have to use the standard reconviction rate. That is our PSA target. We are not trying to duck those targets. We have not missed anything that we have changed. We must examine such issues as the severity and frequency of offending and the length of time before reoffending and see whether we can do better.

We have had to invest as well as set the target for reducing reoffending. Spending on our prisons has increased by more than 25 per cent. in real terms since 1997. We now spend £300 million a year on rehabilitation regimes in prisons, and our spending on probation has also increased by 39 per cent.

We recognise that extra resources are not enough, so we have made three radical changes in our approach to working with offenders. First, we have changed the structure of sentences. For the first time, reform and rehabilitation is a statutory purpose of sentencing, to which the courts must have regard when handing down a sentence. Community sentences will be better targeted on rehabilitation as well as on punishment, so a young person can be required to take education classes or attend a drug course as part of a community sentence.

All prison sentences will be followed by a much longer period of supervision in the community. Hon. Members referred to work in prison and in the community not being joined up. The change will allow rehabilitation work begun in prison to be carried on in the community, creating the throughput that the Select Committee report implied was necessary.
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As I said, my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen focused on the job part of the job-home-family equation in reducing reoffending. He was anxious that there was a gap between reality and the report, and that what prisoners did all day did not always match the report of what they had done. That is one of the reasons why we have done one of the things about which my right hon. Friend is also a bit suspicious: we have focused a lot of the work on what has to be done in prisons, because we know that that is sustainable. We have sought to make sure that if someone's positive activity is working in the prison kitchen, they will get a qualification to accompany that. If they do cleaning, which a lot of the positive activities involve, the prisoner can get some of the NVQ cleaning qualifications. I recognise that such qualifications are not as high level or likely to lead to substantial incomes as some of the industry schemes. Nevertheless, we know that we can sustain them and that they can provide people with employability.

One of the points that the Select Committee made was that a specialist agency should be created outside prison industries to co-ordinate investment and marketing for prison industries. We share the concern that we should draw on the expertise of the business world for that, and we have been restructuring prison industries to help us seek more commercial partners for support. A new sales and contracts scheme has been developed and is working with the private sector to develop the case for involving commercial partners. That seems to take very long, but we have to do it well.

In the south-west, a pilot is developing a regional strategy for prison industries that will respond better to the needs of business and offenders there. The Isle of Sheppey project has considered the issue in the context of market testing and trying that within a cluster of prisons.

Hon. Members referred to the importance of locality; we are getting clever about that. Commercial partners are being engaged to update the workshops at HMP Wymott; the Committee and hon. Members mentioned such workshop investment. My right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen talked about the employment opportunities that terminal 5 creates. In the south-east, the regional offender manager is leading work on engagement with construction industries.

We are making progress, although perhaps not as much as everybody in this Chamber wants. However, the picture is better than is suggested by what I have heard from hon. Members. We have heard a lot about Germany, which does some of these things well. However, every day, more than 1,500 prisoners do real work outside prisons for more than 500 different employers. We want to improve that figure, but let us not forget what we have already been able to do. Many longer-term prisoners will be given such an opportunity before they are released.

Mrs. Gillan : Those 1,500 prisoners are generally long-term prisoners close to their release dates, so that work is part of the rehabilitation process. Is the Minister satisfied that at any one time—even taking into account cleaning and laundry work, as well as that done in prison industries—only a third of those held in our
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prison establishments are working? Does she think that that figure will remain about the same or will she try to improve on it? It is only a third.

Fiona Mactaggart : We need to do better. Work is not the only positive activity. For a number of prisoners, education is a critical part of positive activity. We have made real progress in making education more work-like. It is important to recognise that most people in prison fell out of the education system. If education is education-like, such prisoners have absolute expertise in taking no notice of it because that is what they have done all their lives. If we just offer them education that looks like education in schools, it will slide off the sides. So we have been trying to use education that is like work to engage prisoners. For example, I saw in a prison that I visited not long ago a build-a-kitchen project. It was designed to help young offenders meet their basic skills requirements in literacy and numeracy, but they were not told that. They were told that they could get on to a popular scheme—there was a waiting list for it—to learn how to build a kitchen. Young men quite like the idea of learning how to build a kitchen, and, in the process, they were able to acquire key stage 1 and 2 qualifications. In addition to work, we are improving education by making it work-like.

People have asked whether we are meeting targets on purposeful activity, or whether dropping programmes meant that we had conceded that we were failing. The outturn in 2004–05 was 24.2 hours. Everybody knows that this year, to date, there has been a substantial increase in the number of people in prison—that has been a subject of this debate. However, the average increased to 25.4 hours during that period. I agree that that is not enough. Nevertheless, it is a significant percentage increase at a time when the system is under a great deal of strain. It is a 5.8 per cent. improvement on 2003–04, so we are going in the right direction.

I do not believe that we can offer a nine-to-five day in prisons. In fact, I do not want to make that the focus of how we deliver programmes. We need to focus on more purposeful activity, on work and on real skills that will enable people to be more employable, and we need to build relationships with employers. However, if the only way that we can succeed is by offering nine-to-five employment, that will create significant strains on prison regimes.

I am interested to learn of prisons—and they exist—where the regime has been adapted to enable prisoners to do real work on night shifts. We are capable of adapting, but we cannot have that as the core target. If we do, we will be less inventive and make less progress.

Mr. Denham : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for dealing with this point head on. In many ways, nine to five is an illustrative phrase rather than a detailed timetable to be met. Prisons are 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week operations. There is all sorts of flexibility. Does she accept that it is important for the Government to promote a concept of what a prisoner's typical week should be like in terms of their activities and quality use of time? No one really minds whether it is nine to five or different times of the day, but it is difficult to accept that a regime in which different activities are scattered
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somewhat haphazardly through the week will provide the routine and discipline that are necessary to equip prisoners for the world of work outside.

Fiona Mactaggart : My right hon. Friend is right that things such as predictability and organisation, and teaching prisoners to organise themselves, are critical. I have been involved with the National Grid Transco scheme from the beginning, and was probably the first constituency MP to hand out certificates to graduates. I was pleased to hand out some certificates earlier this year, including one to Karen Bignall, who I suspect is the first black woman gas engineer. I was very pleased to give her a certificate.

Mrs. Gillan : She was probably better than the men.

Fiona Mactaggart : She certainly ran the team—that was obvious. She was older than the others, and she kept them in their place in an impressive way. I heard something interesting from a Transco foreman that made me think that perhaps we should not be paying for Transco's training programme. The foreman said, "We want more of these people because, unlike most teenage boys, these ones get up and arrive on time." Why is that? Because we send them there with prison officers; let us be clear about that. They get up and arrive on time. They are carefully selected, of course, and that is perfectly reasonable. One result is that it means that other offenders want to get into the selection band, too, and that is an important tool if we are to affect behaviour.

It is true that the scheme is not as widespread as we would like. It was in place in five prisons at the time of the report; now, it is in place in 15 prisons in England and Wales, and in one, I think, in Scotland. However, the scheme is not the only card in the pack. Later, I shall speak about our ambition to create a set of alliances with civic society, employers and others. Transco is working with some 50 other employers to look at ways in which its model can act as a pioneer, as it were, for more work with employers, and we want to be able to work with those employers. There is, of course, an issue of scale, and that is one of the reasons why we must make sure that the activity that prisons need to deliver includes qualifications.

Mr. Hurd : If 24 hours is not good enough, but a nine-to-five day is not practical, what is a reasonable aspiration for an ambitious Government?

Fiona Mactaggart : I have not set a target. Earlier, I talked about focusing on the individual prisoner; I suspect that, for a prisoner with profound mental health needs, doing more than a small amount of purposeful activity might sometimes be a substantial strain. In a way, I am uneasy about having crude targets, but we certainly need to improve on where we are, and we will make sure that we continue to do so. We measure the situation carefully in every prison.

I am aware of the work of the Select Committee that pointed out issues such as the fact that sometimes getting from cell to workshop took up a large chunk of the available time. We are trying to drill down to those
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issues, so that the purposeful activity is as purposeful as possible. That is certainly one of the things that I always ask about when I visit a prison.

The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) focused on whether we are meeting the key performance indicators on purposeful activity; I dealt with that, and share the view of most hon. Members that work is the strongest form of rehabilitation. He was generous to recognise the Home Secretary's commitment, in his speech of 19 September, to community prisons. That, in part, is the trigger to enable us to achieve some of the things that we have talked about. In an estate strategy, we should ensure that prisons point more towards the community and are more engaged with it. The kind of partnership that can exist with local employers really can make a difference.

I was in Wormwood Scrubs the other day and was struck by how close it is to the BBC. It occurred to me that it would be interesting to see whether there could be a much better partnership between the two—in fact, I do not think that there is any partnership between them at all. I do not know; I did not actually ask. It was as I was leaving that I saw the geographical connection. It is not unusual for a prison to have a major employer quite close and, where that is the case, we need to do better work to ensure that the prison engages with that employer. We should see whether there are particular things that we can do.

Mrs. Gillan : Is the Minister saying that she will look favourably on creating new, smaller prisons that are closer to the local community? If so, is that why recently there has been no move on the two sites for very large prison establishments for which planning permission is held? Can she share her vision of the way forward on prison building? Is it huge, American-type jails, or smaller, community-focused projects that have a better chance of rehabilitation and that keep people closer to the communities that we eventually want them to come out into?

Fiona Mactaggart : The hon. Lady said earlier that she heard the speech that the Home Secretary gave to the all-party penal affairs group, in which he said that he is looking at an estate strategy that will attempt to deal with some of the issues.

There is not a one-size-fits-all arrangement. Our local prisons serve the courts, so they have the most intense churn. Prisoners are required to go to and from court hearings and so on, so those prisoners who have only a few weeks of their sentence left to serve are moved from those prisons.

Can we create court-serving prisons and community prisons? We do not have a blueprint yet, so we are looking at the physical estates to see whether they can be created. Is there a place for some big prisons? Hon. Members have referred to the number of foreign national prisoners. Some of those foreign national prisoners are people who have close family links with, and long-term ties, to the UK. A substantial number of them do not have those links and are here temporarily, so I do not think it matters very much where they are placed. Obviously, we must deal with, among other issues, good order and an appropriate regime.
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The Home Secretary has a vision for community prisons. One reason behind that vision has featured strongly in this debate. Prison is punishment enough on its own. We can work with the prison community to solve problems in our communities. If we can organise it, part of prisoners' rehabilitation and reparation can be to provide some solutions. A bit more civic energy will sometimes be required to deliver those solutions. The Prison Service cannot do it alone. People must work with businesses, the local authority and community groups to find ways in which we can work with the prison community. We must do that while also continuing to serve the courts and continuing to keep the most dangerous offenders absolutely secure. Those are the challenges that we face in order to devise a new prison system.

My hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mrs. Dean) and the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) asked about women offenders. The number of women in prison had been soaring at the time of the report. Interestingly, the female prisoner population was 4,672 on 4 May 2004. It has never been that high since. Therefore it was at its highest level around the time when the report was published.

I agree with hon. Members that it is essential that we deal with women who offend in a way that works. I am pleased that this debate is happening on the day on which I have announced a review of how we deal with a particular group of women in the system. That group is one that gives us the most distress—very vulnerable women who are poly-drug users; those who have been victims of abuse; and those who are not coping well in prison and are in prison partly because they did not cope well outside of prison. We must look carefully at those women, who are at high risk of self-inflicted death in prison, to see whether we can do more.

Let us not forget that we have already done quite a lot. We have established a women's offending reduction programme, which gives women offenders a special focus. We are making more than £9 million available over the next four years to set up community based one-stop shops to meet the needs of women offenders and divert them from prison so we can do targeted work with them. We are also considering other groups, such as young adult offenders, for whom we have set up a project. That is part of targeting services at the offender, because different challenges arise in reducing reoffending in each offender. We are right to recognise the importance of work to reduce reoffending, but people's families are also a powerful engine for reducing it, and maintaining family connections is important.

We have spoken a little about information technology. The present prison information system does not include whether a prisoner has children, so people do not automatically know that. At the initial interview, with a good reception, governors will check and find out whether a prisoner has children, but we do not have an IT system that can record that. The challenges faced by children of prisoners are substantial. Being the child of a prisoner is one of the most predictive factors for future offending. That is a real challenge.
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The hon. Member for Bullingdon focused on foreign national prisoners—

Tony Baldry : Banbury.

Fiona Mactaggart : Forgive me. The hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) will recall why I accuse him of being the Member for Bullingdon. He spoke generously about what Bullingdon prison does; it has a good impact and let me reassure him that it is not alone. We have been able to sustain most of the qualities in that prison and the other prisons that he so generously praised.

The hon. Gentleman also said, "As well as being the soft guy, I want to be the tough guy, and I want you to be more effective in dealing with foreign national prisoners." We have done that, but I am not complacent about it.

Last year, we introduced the early removal scheme, which provides that foreign nationals who meet appropriate criteria can be removed up to 135 days before their normal release date. They are released for removal. More than 1,500 prisoners have been removed under that scheme since July 2004, with a saving of some 300 prison places. We have prisoner transfer agreements with 90 countries and agreements with a further four have been reached but await ratification. We can also use repatriation.

I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that his sounding tough was as nothing compared with how the Home Secretary sounds on this subject. My right hon. Friend is determined to ensure that we reduce the number of foreign nationals in our prisons. However, that is not always to be done by deporting everybody. Some foreign nationals in prison have spent their whole lives in the UK and are not serving long sentences. It would be a breach of someone's human rights automatically to deport them if their family were British but they happened not to be.

Rather than inventing a new system to deport people automatically without taking notice of the courts—judges would feel that that was treading substantially on their toes—we need to get on the case more efficiently and effectively where the courts have recommended deportation, or where there are mechanisms by which people can be removed appropriately. For example, they may not have further permission to stay in the UK if they were here as a visitor when they offended and had overrun their permission. That is a substantial priority.

We also need to reduce the foreign national prisoner population. We have made some progress on that. The number of foreign national prisoners from Jamaica—which provides the largest number—has declined because of much more effective drug detection systems at Kingston. The most effective way to reduce the foreign national prison population, much of which is associated with drug trafficking, is to reduce drug trafficking. We need to speak to the Governments of countries where drug trafficking is endemic and is producing problems in our prison system and find out how they can collaborate with us to deal with these issues.
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The hon. Member for Banbury raised the question of the private and public challenge—should prisons be public? I absolutely agree with him that there should be transparency in respect of prisons. In some of his remarks, he prayed in aid Martin Narey. I was told by Martin Narey that one of the things that private sector prisons have done is challenge, in ways that are imaginative and progressive, how we do things in public prisons. That has led to the introduction of powerful innovations that have improved the way we organise our prisons. However, I share the hon. Gentleman's view that how we deal with the people we incarcerate should be as transparent as possible, and that it should be possible for Members of Parliament and members of the public to examine that.

My hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Dr. Blackman-Woods) spoke movingly about women in prison. When I visited a prison in her constituency, I had the terrible experience of meeting a very vulnerable woman prisoner who later killed herself. That experience has made me even more determined to ensure that we stop sending women prisoners to places that are inappropriate for them—such as Durham prison. We must put a lot of energy into providing more appropriate places in our prison estate for women, and also into ensuring that sensible sentences are available that connect the community and imprisonment much more intelligently than at present, so that there are fewer women in prison—and fewer men. One of the custody-plus initiatives will lead to everyone having six months of supervision—and perhaps only a matter of weeks in prison in order to give them a jolt. That could make a real difference to many people.

Mr. Denham : My hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham also mentioned Transco, which the Minister touched on briefly before moving on. I was hoping that she might return to that issue. So far, she has told us that she is not inclined to fund the scheme; instead of committing herself to its expansion she talked loosely of alliances that are being put in place. The people who developed the National Grid Transco scheme are confident that it could expand a lot with greater Home Office backing. The alternative Home Office strategy of various alliances is not likely to be so successful. Will the Minister return briefly to this point, and give us further assurances that there will be serious discussions with Transco—I do not think that they have taken place yet—about the expansion of its approach?

Fiona Mactaggart : On 22 November, we will launch that series of alliances. Transco will, effectively, be the leader of the corporate alliance—the employers' alliance. As it will be in that position, it will be able to influence greatly what we do. I hope that that reassures my right hon. Friend. The strategy is not just a bit of paper; it is a clear strategy. It is not being dictated by us; it is being developed in partnership with businesses and industry, and we recognise the leading role of Transco in that.

The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr.   Hurd) made a key point about the power of computers to track what is going on. On the OASys system, we will have completed connectivity by the end
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of the financial year. That will take longer for the National Offender Management Information System—NOMIS. I am pushing hard to ensure that we improve all our IT systems in prisons so that we get better information about prisoners' lives and careers.

The hon. Gentleman talked also about whether we were determined to use the capacity of the voluntary and private sectors to make a difference. That is the case. It is one of the opportunities that we perceive in the new regime of offender management. If we are managing the sentences of people not only in prison but in the community and there is a seamless transfer, there are more opportunities to facilitate community-based, voluntary-led sentences, which can be more effective at rehabilitating offenders than some of what is done in prison.

The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green echoed the comments on the importance of community sentences, particularly short-term sentences. I think that we all struggle with that issue. We have been ensuring that all prisoners are assessed to identify their pressing needs for housing, basic skills, health care, drugs treatment and job search and benefits advice right at the beginning of a short-term sentence to try to prevent them from losing their home and possessions. I am talking about making clear at the beginning of a short-term sentence whether people can sustain a tenancy, for example, during the sentence and about making housing advisers available to ensure that they can.

I believe that when custody plus comes into effect next year, we will be better able to deal with the needs of this group of people in respect of reoffending, because all of them will have at least six months' supervision in the community, even if the average sentence is only six weeks. The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham critically said that offender management had sometimes seemed more about a headquarters operation than something on the ground. Actually, it cannot be on the ground until some of the new sentencing regimes are in place, but we need to ensure that we are prepared for it to be there. We need to ensure that we have in place the kind of interventions that can make a difference. Under the new community order, for example, we can sentence people to going to school, as it were. Doing that might make more of a difference than many of the things that we do currently.

The hon. Lady mentioned the cost of prison places. They cost different amounts depending on what is being done, but the cost of a full new prison place is normally estimated at £76,000. The normal figure per year is £37,000 for all costs, but clearly the cost is different for different kinds of prison.

The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham talked movingly about people losing their tenancy and possessions. We are improving housing advice. I spend a lot of time talking about advice and people may say, "What difference does advice make?" Actually, with good, powerful advice, tenancies that would otherwise be broken by a prison sentence can be sustained. Housing advice is now available in more than 120 prisons. As a result, the proportion of offenders released from prison without accommodation to go to has dropped by one third. That is an important achievement. Since April, local prisons have been
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required to carry out a housing needs assessment for every prisoner, including those on remand. All those things will begin to help.

The hon. Lady referred to home detention curfew and the fact that the figure for those on the scheme has hovered at about 3,000—it is 3,100 currently; it was 3,400 previously. I share her view that home detention curfew is under-used. I suspect that recent reductions have probably been caused by tabloid stories of cases in which someone on curfew has offended in a serious, horrible and outrageous way. I recognise that with a curfew there is always a risk of that. We need to improve our risk assessments. The chief inspector of probation has highlighted the need to do so in the probation service. I assure the hon. Lady that I am determined, as new technology offers us these new opportunities, to do more effective risk assessments, so that we can use them to the full. The rehabilitative impact of working in the community could then be supervised, so that people can maintain employment and so on.

Mrs. Gillan : I agree with the Minister entirely, but the success of an HDC depends on the back-up services that go with it. One cannot rely simply on the cuff around the prisoner's ankle. There must be both adequate risk assessment and adequate service from the probation service. That is where the weak link is.

However, I am particularly excited, and I hope that the Minister shares my excitement, about the satellite tracking that accompanies an HDC. I believe that it will provide all sorts of benefits, including encouraging those whose paths have been tracked by satellite to plead guilty to a crime, when the company can place them exactly on the corner of a street where the assault or crime took place. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will fully embrace new technology and use it with the offending population and others, such as truanting children. I hope that she will take that on board as well.

Fiona Mactaggart : As the hon. Lady knows, we are conducting a pilot of satellite tracking. She would not expect me to commit to adopting it until we have studied the pilot. One problem with pilots is that sometimes they
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say that things are more difficult than they look on paper and sometimes they say that they are easier. However, it is sensible to learn the lessons of pilots before the schemes are rolled out. Otherwise the roll-out may not work so well. I ask the hon. Lady to watch this space. I share her enthusiasm for the use of new technology, but I am not committing to anything until I know how it works in practice.

The debate has shown that across the House there is a determination that prison should do what it says on the tin—reduce reoffending. As members of the public, we want less crime. We want to feel safe in our homes. That is not necessarily achieved by a prison regime that locks people up. Of course while they are locked up, they are not offending, but if, during that time, we do nothing to reduce the likelihood of their offending again on release, the present chronic and shocking levels of reoffending—the historic, appalling levels of reoffending—will continue. That is why we must be determined to reduce reoffending.

I believe that the alliances that I have referred to will help to do that. An employer-led alliance working with offender managers and the prison service will ensure that, practically, we can do what we would like to do with employers. We must work with civic society—local authorities and others—to deal with issues such as reparations and restorative justice, to which some hon. Members have referred. We must also use the strength of the voluntary sector and general society.

The Select Committee called for an annual progress report, and I expect our report to be published next week. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen does not consider that disrespectful. It would have been nice to be able to publish it in time for this debate, but he is well aware that these things roll on with their own timetables and suddenly bump into other things, so I apologise for that. It will show what we have achieved in the areas that can affect reoffending, and I shall ensure that it is made available to members of the Committee for them to consider.

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