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23 Oct 2006 : Column 1218

When the Home Secretary quoted those statistics and the Minister talked about them, was he aware that a direct consequence of the scheme was that five people were killed by convicts on tag?

Mr. Sutcliffe: Anybody reoffending and any offence involving such reoffending has to be deeply regretted, but may I make it clear that I did not try to mislead anybody on the statistics, and nor did the Home Secretary? The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the reoffending statistics were over a two-year period—67 per cent., which I made clear in the interview. On home detention curfew, the reoffending rate is 4 per cent., and I am happy to discuss that— [Interruption.] Not over two years, and I made that point on the programme. The shadow Home Secretary has to answer on why he is against home detention curfews. Where would he find the money to pay for those people who would otherwise be in prison?

David Davis: I hate to remind the Minister that Ministers are accountable to Parliament, not the other way round. He has already given us one confession, as it were, on reoffending rates. Now can we get a straight answer from him on prisons? In the nine years since his Government have been in power, reoffending by prisoners has increased from 58 to 67 per cent. That is the largest increase since records began. What is the reason for it?

Mr. Sutcliffe: What the shadow Home Secretary did not mention is that prison places and the capacity in prisons have increased— [Interruption.] It is all part of the equation, and the shadow Home Secretary picks figures to the benefit of his argument and does not give the whole picture. We must make sure that dangerous and persistent offenders are in prison, which is what we are doing. That is why we have increased prison capacity by 19,000 since 1997, with 8,000 places announced in July. We are serious about tackling reoffending, and it will be interesting to see whether the shadow Home Secretary supports us when we introduce the national offender management Bill. Will he try to tackle reoffending? [Hon. Members: “What are you doing?”] What we are doing is trying to tackle reoffending through various alliances, and tackling persistent and dangerous offenders by putting those people in prison and increasing prison capacity. We are also introducing the national offender management scheme. I hope that the Opposition will support us on that.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): The feedback from my constituents in Milton Keynes is that neighbourhood policing is one of the most effective ways of reducing offending. Is the Minister aware that Milton Keynes council is cutting the number of community wardens from seven to four, and taking them out of neighbourhoods and putting them in civic offices? As Milton Keynes council is Liberal Democrat-controlled, does he think that there is a pattern?

Mr. Sutcliffe: When it comes down to the reality of doing something, the Government want to do it, whereas the Opposition are not bothered. That is a consistent theme.

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Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): The Minister will no doubt be aware of the Home Office’s statistics showing that violence in our prisons has risen sixfold since 1997, such that an incident of violence occurs in our prisons every 30 minutes. Does he agree that violence inside our prisons begets violence outside prisons, committed by those who reoffend on release?

Mr. Sutcliffe: What we must do is protect the public by making sure that sufficient prison places are available for the increase in the prison population. Clearly, I am concerned about violence in prisons, which is why we need to examine the nature of the prison population and what we can do— [Interruption.] It appears that the Liberals do not want to hear the answer, and just want to pursue a particular track. We are keen to make sure that we tackle reoffending through a variety of means and protect the public from dangerous and persistent offenders, and we will continue to do so.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): To reduce drug-related crime, the Government introduced drug treatment and testing orders, but those were a failure because of a reoffending rate of more than 78 per cent. over two years, and because most of the orders were either breached or revoked. The Government have moved on from drug treatment and testing orders to drug rehabilitation requirements. What is different about those sentences from the earlier failed ones that gives the Minister confidence?

Mr. Sutcliffe: I am confident that more than 13,000 offenders are completing drug treatment in prison and in the community. We are considering anything that we can do to try to get people off drugs, because we know that those who take drugs are more likely to reoffend. The programmes are in place, and I am happy with what we are trying to achieve. Despite the capacity problems in prisons, we are trying to tackle drugs.


7. Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of measures to prevent prisoners from absconding from open prisons. [95425]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): Public safety is paramount, and despite the current population pressures I can provide assurance that it will not be compromised. The requirement for prisoners to pass a robust and rigorous risk assessment to qualify for open conditions is the most effective way of ensuring that.

Mr. Harper: I thank the Minister for that answer. What steps has he taken to ensure the capture of those who have absconded from open prisons? For example, of the 393 prisoners who have escaped from Leyhill open prison since 1999, 25 remain on the run, including three murderers, one of whom has been on the loose for the past eight years.

Mr. Sutcliffe: I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was able to attend the Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall last week in which we discussed Leyhill open prison and issues to do with it. Clearly,
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the police try to recapture people who abscond. He will know that the absconding rate has fallen from 1,115 in 1997 to 709 last year, even though there has been a change in the prison population, which has increased from about 60,000 people in 1997 to 70,000. The indications are that this year, we are again heading for an all-time low in the absconding rate.

Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): I know that the Home Office is seeking to take pressure off open prisons by building new prison places. When my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary published his forward strategy in the summer, he drew attention to the number of prisoners with mental health problems. Are the Government considering building purpose-built places for those prisoners suffering from mental health problems, as part of their future prison strategy?

Mr. Sutcliffe: First, I congratulate my right hon. Friend, who is the Chair of the Select Committee, on having raised the issue on numerous occasions. We certainly are considering the issue of mental health, and we hope that there will be a forthcoming mental health Bill, but we are considering what we can do in the short term, too. He will be aware that the contingency plans that we put in place to deal with the issue of prison capacity are for the short term, but in the longer term we need to address the issue, and we will talk to colleagues from the Department of Health about it.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): The Home Secretary said that he was prepared for an increase in the number of absconds. He was prepared to take that risk arising from the use of the open estate, but is it not the law-abiding public that will take the hit, rather than the Home Secretary?

Mr. Sutcliffe: The hon. and learned Gentleman refers to a leak, but the leak was wrong, and the Home Secretary said no such thing. We must manage the open prison estate in the way that we have outlined, and we have not compromised the categorisation or allocation processes to achieve our aims. If we had not tried to maximise use of that estate, I am sure that Opposition Members would have criticised us for not trying to use the capacity of the open prisons.


9. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): What assessment he has made of the reconviction rate of former prisoners; and if he will make a statement. [95427]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): Reconviction statistics for adult offenders are published annually. They include an assessment of offences committed during a two-year period after release from prison. The latest results from the 2002 cohort were published in December 2005 as national statistics, and were made available to the House.

John Bercow: I am grateful to the Minister for that informative reply. Given that approximately 60 per cent. of adult offenders are reconvicted within two
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years of release from prison, and that high-quality education in prisons is vital to the prospects of rehabilitation, does he not agree that it is a manifest disgrace that almost half of prisons pay less for education than for work, and what will he do to try to improve that highly unsatisfactory state of affairs?

Mr. Sutcliffe: First, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on taking a close interest in the issue of reoffending and the prison population; I know that he has asked questions relating to reoffending in many different ways. He will be pleased to hear that more than 10 per cent. of adults who gain basic skills qualifications now gain them in prison, and that the Prison Service is one of the key deliverers in enabling basic targets to be met. He will also be happy to learn that the rate of employment on release from prison is up from 10 per cent. some 10 years ago to 37 per cent., and that more than 13,000 offenders have completed drug treatment in prison and in the community.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is a debate to be had about the prison population and what we do with people who are in jail. First, we have to protect the public, and that is why we must have adequate places. Secondly, we need to consider what employment opportunities there are in prisons. Some interesting initiatives are taking place across the country, and I would be happy to write to the hon. Gentleman and engage him in discussion on those projects, because I am sure that his support will help them to develop further.

Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): Is the Minister aware of the work being done by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (John Battle), in his local prison? He has been looking into the idea of incentivising prisoners to improve their literacy by allowing them visits from their children. There is an obvious correlation between improvement in literacy and family responsibility—and, in the long term, of course, employment possibilities on leaving prison. Will my hon. Friend look at those schemes to see whether they can be more widely used by the Prison Service.

Mr. Sutcliffe: I thank my hon. Friend for raising the subject of the work that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (John Battle) has done at Leeds prison. The Home Secretary paid tribute to that work at the last Home Office questions, and it is clearly the way forward. Many of those prisoners, having learned to read, then read to their children for the first time, and sent tapes home to their families. Reading builds up their confidence and self-esteem, so we need to support such schemes. It is clearly a priority to reduce the number of people aged 21 to 35 in the prison population who lack essential skills.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): The Minister will be pleased to learn that it is not all doom and gloom. I should like to advise him of a success story in today’s Colchester Evening Gazette:

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The multi-agency public protection arrangements are provided by the police, probation officers, social services and the Prison Service. Will he join me in congratulating those agencies, and will he accept my suggestion that the scheme be rolled out across the country?

Mr. Sutcliffe: Again, I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned the multi-agency public protection arrangements. Today we have issued information on the annual report, to maximise its availability and public understanding of the scheme. The MAPPA arrangements are unique to the United Kingdom, and they help to achieve public protection by ensuring that serious offenders are properly managed. I add my congratulations to those that the hon. Gentleman expressed for the MAPPA work in his area.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating organisations such as National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders on their work on the care and the rehabilitation of offenders? What is the current level of expenditure by the Home Office on such organisations, and will my hon. Friend give the House an assurance that, because of the work that they do, he will consider increasing the sum available, as that will obviously help to decrease the prison population?

Mr. Sutcliffe: I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his work with NACRO in his constituency. I do not have to hand the figures for the amount of money that we give NACRO, but we also give money to Rainer and a number of other voluntary agencies that work with prisons on the problem of reoffending. That is the direction of travel, as we want to find the best providers of services to tackle the problem. I am sure that my right hon. Friend agrees that we need to look at what public services and the public-private sector can provide to ensure that we cut reoffending rates.

Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): Prospects for offenders are bleak in my constituency, as nearby Pentonville prison is nearly full, so there is little opportunity for prisoners to follow detoxification or drug rehabilitation programmes. Drugs are rife, so what are the prospects for prisoners at our local police stations, which have been called on to house them, given that there is no opportunity for the drug rehabilitation that they desperately need?

Mr. Sutcliffe: I would not like the hon. Gentleman to run away with the idea that we are not achieving the education targets that we have set, as many of the schemes are on course. However, he is right to say that there are pressures on the prison population. In his recent announcement to the House, the Home Secretary said that the use of Operation Safeguard was “not ideal”, but was better than releasing prisoners. We want to protect the public, and we must balance that aim against what can be achieved in education programmes. We keep under review the effect on the prison population of the various schemes that take place in prisons.

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10. Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): On what basis police officers’ pay is determined; and if he will make a statement. [95428]

The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Mr. Tony McNulty): Under the Police Regulations 2003, the Secretary of State issues determinations setting out the pay of members of police forces. Before making such a determination, the Secretary of State must take into consideration any recommendation of the police negotiating board and supply the board with a draft of the determination. The police negotiating board has its own constitution which sets out the procedure for its reaching agreement on a recommendation to be made by the board. If agreement cannot be reached, the matter can be taken to conciliation and then arbitration.

Mr. Jack: I am grateful to the Minister for laying out in clear terms the workings of the Edmund-Davies formula, but I and many other hon. Members have received representations from officers who feel severely let down that their anticipated pay increase is not going to be made. One wrote to me and said:

What words of certainty can the Minister give to officers about planning their domestic finances, given that this year the Government have chosen not to implement fully the Edmund-Davies formula?

Mr. McNulty: As I said, that remains a matter for the arbitration panel. What I can say to the right hon. Gentleman’s constituent, the police officer, is that having met on 18 October, we are assured, as far as we can be, that the panel will report in two to three weeks. I can also say to his constituent that what we will not do is go down the road taken by the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), who, in one of his more recent “fluffy bunnies and sunshine for everyone” speeches, said among other things that first he would smash the national pay negotiating bodies by affording local flexibilities to chief constables; secondly, he wanted modern employment contracts so he could sack more officers; thirdly, he wanted seniority to be— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I call Mr. Kevan Jones.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that special constables throughout the country do a fantastic job in local communities? Will he join me in congratulating the chief constable and Durham police authority on recently introducing a scheme to pay special constables £1,500 a year? That has increased the number from eight to the target of nearly 140. Will the Minister also see what other lessons can be learned from that initiative for other forces throughout the country?

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