Previous Section Index Home Page

Finally, is it not time for the Home Secretary to pluck up the courage to make the public case, beyond the few fleeting mentions here today, for non-custodial sentences as an effective alternative to prison for those who have committed lesser offences? I welcome his approach, but will he commit himself to do it again, to do it more and to do it in public? There is nothing tough in failing to take the political lead in advocating new ways to punish and rehabilitate offenders outside prison. Contrary to the assertion by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), there is plenty of good practice to build on. In Chard, the community justice panel pilot project has achieved reoffending rates as low as 5 per cent. In Scotland, reoffending rates for those on community service
9 Oct 2006 : Column 40
orders now stands at 42 per cent., which is well below the current 70 per cent. reoffending rate for young male prisoners in England.

The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Mr. Tony McNulty): The Home Secretary has said it all.

Mr. Clegg: Perhaps the Home Secretary will say it again and lead the public debate rather than merely making debating points in the Chamber. The sticking-plaster solutions that he has unveiled today are too little, too late, and he needs the courage and foresight to think anew.

John Reid: I will say it again: the reoffending rate for home detention curfew is 4 per cent.; the overall reoffending rate for adult community sentences is 53 per cent., compared with 67 per cent. for prison; and the overall reoffending rate for juvenile community sentences is 41 per cent. As requested, I have said it again—I do not know why the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) thinks that he has made a case whereas I have merely mentioned something. I have made those remarks as part of what I hope is a balanced contribution.

Those who should stay in prison longer for the protection of the public ought to be retained in sufficient prison places, while others ought not to be in prison. The Liberals constantly demand more prison places and fewer people to fill them. I notice that the hon. Gentleman did not make a commitment on how many extra prison places the Liberals would build. I have already said 8,000 extra prison places, and I will continue to review the matter, but does he have a figure in mind? He would provide an unspecified number of extra prison places for fewer prisoners, although that is unspecified, too. That is a typical concoction from the Liberals, and “vacuous” is too substantial a word to describe it. [ Interruption. ] Conservative Members should not laugh, because they have not told us how many prison places they would provide.

In the summer, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) said that the Conservative party would build more prison places, but he was immediately put back in his box by the shadow Chancellor, who told him that there would be no commitment. [ Interruption. ] If there is a specific number, I am waiting to hear it.

I have tried to be honest with the House in saying that there is pressure on prison places and explaining how we are going to manage that in the short term and the longer term. This is not a case of being caught on the hop by an unexpected event. The only unexpected event that caught me on the hop was being appointed to the Home Office, and I have already accepted that. Since I have been there, I have tried to ensure that we have a planned, progressive attempt to make sure that the sentence fits the crime and that the prison places available fit sentence lengths and numbers. That is what we will continue to do.

On foreign national prisoners, we are doing a considerable amount. Five hundred people are allocated to this to try not only to reduce the backlog but to deal with the cases that are coming up. Since we had our first discussion in this House, about 3,800 cases have been dealt with and 1,000 of those people
9 Oct 2006 : Column 41
have already been deported. Events continue to take place as we deal with the problems that arose in May or June of last year. I thank my officials for dealing with both those areas with dedication and commitment.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. This is a very important issue and an awful lot of hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, but we also have a lot of business to get through this afternoon and I must protect that. If hon. Members can possibly ask brief questions and the Home Secretary can perhaps make brief replies, fewer people will be disappointed.

John Battle (Leeds, West) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will know that Armley prison in my constituency has struggled to cope with overcrowding for more than two decades, with more than 1,000 people locked up every night, 50 going in and 50 released. Even in those circumstances, the governor and staff have done a remarkable job in providing education and training and tackling drug and alcohol rehabilitation. Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is now well-established research saying that if a prisoner who has a family—that applies to 50 per cent.—gets more than six visits from his young children he is very unlikely to reoffend? When we tackle reoffending, will my right hon. Friend join together the programmes for adult literacy—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The right hon. Gentleman clearly did not hear my earlier remarks.

John Reid: Let me pay tribute not only to the staff at Armley prison but to prison officers throughout the country. It is true that rehabilitation is an important part of the purpose of prison. Articulacy—learning to read and write in some cases—is also important. In Armley, the learning process has been combined with visits by encouraging the prisoners to read and to help their children to learn. That requires the support of a dedicated prison service, and I should like to pay tribute to staff who are working very hard under very pressurised conditions.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con): May I ask the Home Secretary to distinguish between operational capacity and certified normal accommodation, the second of which measures overcrowding? Since he is so fond of comparisons with 1997, will he give us the percentage of prisoners sharing two to a cell designed for one, compared with 1997? Will he tell us whether there are any instances of three sharing a cell designed for two, which we had wholly eliminated; whether, as a result of bringing back into use discarded accommodation, there is any slopping out, which we had completely eliminated; and how many national vocational qualifications are being awarded, compared with 1997?

John Reid: I cannot give the right hon. Lady the percentages—

Miss Widdecombe: Why not?

9 Oct 2006 : Column 42

John Reid: Because I did not anticipate that I would have the pleasure of a question from her. [ Interruption. ] I can approximate towards the answer that she is asking for, and I will certainly write to her afterwards. In 1997, the total crowded capacity in prisons was 60,353—that is, with people double-bunking as well—and the actual prison population was 60,131. In other words, even with massive doubling-up the prison population was only 223 short of running out of places. I will find the percentage figures, which I do not have available, and write to the right hon. Lady.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): I am looking at the Home Office publication entitled, “World Prison Population List”. Do we have anything to learn from other countries in the European Union that lock up far fewer prisoners than we do?

John Reid: I would caution the hon. Gentleman as he peruses world encyclopaedias to remember that different countries do not all measure by the same standards. For example, the measurement for people locked up per head of population is different from that for those locked up in proportion to offences detected. In this country, in proportion to offences detected, we are lower than many European countries. Secondly, there is a huge variation between European countries in how one measures offences detected and offences reported. Although international comparisons are useful, they are genuinely useful only if they are made on the basis of the same bottom line. That is rarely the case.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): When the Home Secretary described the Department as not fit for purpose, I presume that he was referring to his predecessors’ failure in nine years to create a proper prison-building programme. Does he know that he will be judged on how many genuine extra prison places he creates in the next few months?

John Reid: As it happens, I was not referring to my predecessors or prison places. One of the reasons for that is that my predecessors built almost as many prison places as the previous, Conservative Government in half the time. We have built 16,300 prison places in nine years. The previous Government built approximately 17,000 in 18 years. Far from believing that my predecessors did not build sufficient prison places compared with those who went before them, I know that they built many more pro rata.

Gwyn Prosser (Dover) (Lab): I am grateful to the Home Secretary for agreeing to meet me and Dover district council to discuss his proposals to use Connaught barracks in Dover as a prison site. He knows that people in Dover are outraged and angry about the proposals, not only because of the site’s proximity to local schools and a local housing estate but because it is special and key to strategic redevelopment. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that, when we meet, we have the opportunity to put those powerful arguments to him, as we did to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), and that he will take those points into consideration before making a final decision?

9 Oct 2006 : Column 43

John Reid: Of course I can assure my hon. Friend of that. He knows that I have said that I am more than willing to meet him. In the course of that consultation and negotiation I shall bear in mind factors such as local regeneration and opinion. He has already met my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary about the matter and I look forward to meeting him and his colleagues and listening to what they have to say.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): What reassurances can the Home Secretary give the people in my constituency who live near Kirkham open prison that the category of risk for prisoners deemed suitable, under his proposals, for transfer to an open prison will not change until his additional prison places become available?

John Reid: Actually, those prisoners who, for efficient management of the estate purposes, will go to an open prison system in addition to those who would normally go, constitute a lower risk. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, in the normal course of events under Governments of all persuasions, sometimes people who had served long sentences would go to an open prison before being released into the community at some stage. Those people would occasionally have committed violent offences, sexual offences or other offences leading to long sentences. That is not the case for those whom I have agreed can be moved for the additional management of the estate. I have insisted that that applies to people who are serving low sentences for non-violent and non-sexual crimes and that they undergo careful scrutiny before they go. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that anyone who goes under the latest decision making will be of a lower risk than those who have gone previously.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend’s proposal to look at what can be done to ensure that people who do not need to be in prison do not go there. Will he also examine what is happening now to people on parole who are recalled to prison? It appears that some are being recalled for the most trivial breaches of their parole conditions, and that no discretion is being given to probation officers to determine whether the problem is a serious or repeated breach.

John Reid: I do not know any of the specific cases to which my hon. Friend refers. However, if people are allowed out of prison subject to not breaching the terms of their licence and they then proceed to breach them, they should go back in, and that is what is happening.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Is the Home Secretary aware that, in July 1998, the Home Affairs Committee published a report entitled “Alternatives to Prison Sentences”, which contained 47 recommendations? Does he agree that, if those all-party recommendations had been fully implemented, we might not be in the situation that we are in today? Will he also clarify precisely which garrison accommodation he is proposing to convert for prison use? His statement is silent on the location of that accommodation.

9 Oct 2006 : Column 44

John Reid: The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s second question is Dover, but if he knows of any other barracks, institutions or premises that might be suitable and available, I will of course look at them as well.

Many of the recommendations in the report that the hon. Gentleman mentioned have in fact been implemented. We commit people to community service where that is appropriate. However, the public will be more likely to accept a sentencing regime—including community service—if they know that it has not been dictated by a shortage of prison places. In other words, they want to be reassured that those who deserve to be kept in prison for longer periods are being so detained, rather than illegitimately being given a non-custodial sentence for the wrong reasons. I understand that feeling, which is why I want to ensure that dangerous offenders are kept away from the public if their offence merits that. On that basis, we can then argue that community service and other non-custodial sentences—many of which are referred to in the report—are appropriate, and they will gain public acceptance.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol, East) (Lab): My right hon. Friend rightly stressed the importance of community sentences to reducing reoffending. Does he also agree that community and voluntary sector groups have a valuable role to play in working with prolific offenders and with young people at risk of offending, to ensure that the future prison population is kept down to a manageable level?

John Reid: Yes, I do. I want to see more involvement of and partnership with the voluntary sector, as well as with the private sector, not only in this context but throughout the public services. That is not a particularly new thing; it is part of the very origins of the Labour party to work alongside those who believe that self-improvement and voluntary partnership are important elements of creating a better society. That certainly applies in the case of the Prison Service in regard to reducing reoffending, and it is central to the National Offender Management Service plans that we will develop over the next year.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Rehabilitation, literacy learning and detox programmes all require a degree of stability. Will the Home Secretary give the House an undertaking that the Prison Service will do all that it can to prevent the unnecessary movement of people around the prison estate, so that they have a chance to complete their literacy programme or their detox programme, or to get their NVQ? That is crucial for the men at prisons such as Bullingdon, if we are to reduce reoffending rates.

John Reid: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I know that that is the ideal, and the objective of those who work in the Prison Service, from the prison officers right up to the top management. It is one of the effects of the pressures on the prison population that we cannot always maximise the benefits of these programmes, but it is certainly our objective to do so. We want to do that, and we will do what we can.

Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. The issue of prison capacity was raised with me on many
9 Oct 2006 : Column 45
occasions while I was working with the West Midlands police this summer, and I believe that these proposals will help. However, I should like to raise the issues of the availability of drugs and the illicit use of mobile phones in prisons. As well as increasing prison capacity, will my right hon. Friend undertake to look into the recruitment of warders and the management of our prisons?

John Reid: Both of those activities are important—not only drugs, which are an obvious problem, but the use of mobile phones—particularly where they are related to ongoing involvement in criminal activities outside the prison. My hon. Friend makes a good point; they are two priority areas for investigation.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Given that we get scandalously poor value for money from tens of thousands of people perambulating repeatedly through the revolving doors of our criminal justice system, when will the right hon. Gentleman be really brave and show foresight by making a firm commitment on the Floor of this House to substantial investment in education, training and therapy on the scale that alone
9 Oct 2006 : Column 46
might enable us to convert at least a proportion of career criminals into constructive contributors to our society?

John Reid: That is precisely what underlines our approach in the National Offender Management Service. There is no question but that the range of rehabilitative courses and learning that goes on pays immense benefits, not only to the individuals concerned, but in terms of the protection of society when people are released. When I was at one of the London prisons recently, people were developing skills in bricklaying and plastering, related to the building trade and in anticipation of the building boom that will be necessary for the Olympics, and arrangements were being made with building firms outside to place the prisoners when they are released.

That is a huge advance, and I would guess that the probability of some of those people returning to prison is minimised precisely because of those arrangements, so I have no hesitation in saying that such learning is an essential element of why we have prisons in the first place—ultimately, reducing reoffending protects society—but it is obvious that we are not achieving that at anything like the rate that we ought to be.

9 Oct 2006 : Column 47

Redundancies (York)

5.2 pm

Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 24, to discuss a specific and important matter that I believe should receive urgent consideration—namely, the serious job losses in York over the summer at British Sugar, Norwich Union and Nestlé Rowntree.

In July, British Sugar said that it would close the York sugar factory after this winter’s beet processing campaign, with the loss of more than 100 permanent jobs. Seasonal workers and the factory’s suppliers—farmers and road hauliers—will lose their jobs too. Then, in September, Norwich Union announced the loss of 450 jobs in York from its life assurance business, and the following week Nestlé Rowntree announced plans for 645 redundancies at its York factory.

Those job losses are a body blow for the workers and their families, who will lose their livelihoods. Many of them will find it hard to get alternative jobs with similar pay because their industrial skills, which used to be so highly valued, are no longer in demand.

The job losses are a shock to the York economy, which has been performing well in recent years. Unemployment in my constituency dropped from a high of 6,500 under the Conservatives to 1,300 in 2004, but since then, with the closure of York’s other chocolate factory, Terry’s, and other retrenchment, it has climbed back to 1,700, and sadly will rise higher as those latest job losses feed through into the unemployment figures.

Next Section Index Home Page