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On regional priorities, English regional and local bodies now have a much clearer picture of the resources from the Department for Transport that are likely to be available to their region over the next 10 years. Via the regional funding allocation process, we have given them the opportunity to advise the Government on how they think that those resources would best be used. That involves setting priorities. To address any concerns about how we deal with cross-border schemes in any future regional prioritisation exercises, we have recently consulted on how the processes for regional funding allocations might be further improved.

I am delighted to hear of the success of the Deeside shuttle bus service. I recognise the value of demand-responsive services. Similar schemes operate in Merseyside, funded by the Government’s urban bus challenge fund, and I understand that discussions are under way about trying to achieve better integrated ticketing between services. I mentioned the “Putting Passengers First” document. I thank my hon. Friends for their contribution in that respect, which has been invaluable. In addition, we can look forward to the draft road transport Bill, which will support the Government’s efforts to cut congestion and to improve public transport.

I am glad that the Government’s proposals to improve bus services in the area that we are discussing are welcome. I am sure that we will continue to work to improve services. Rail has seen significant Government investment and improvements over the past few years, with rail performance exceeding targets, and passenger numbers and the amount of freight transported by rail increasing. My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) said that the Government have invested £11 billion on the west coast, delivering benefits to the north-west and to north Wales. As we have also heard, reductions in journey times, improved timetables and an enlarged fleet of trains are all extremely welcome.

I agree that transport problems need to be addressed before they arise. That is why the Department for Transport and the Welsh Assembly Government are
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jointly sponsoring a study known as the Wales rail planning assessment. That involves the Welsh regional transport consortiums. It will ensure that plans for the railway reflect, where appropriate, the policies and priorities of the Welsh Assembly Government and regional transport plans, which I know my hon. Friends will be keen to see.

I recognise that implementation of the borderlands study, including a new station to serve Deeside industrial park, is a key aspiration of the Consortium of Local Authorities in Wales. Improving connections to major employment centres is one of the options being evaluated by the Wales rail planning assessment.

I am delighted to have had the opportunity to hear the case put by my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham regarding the Wrexham-Bidston line. Perhaps when Wrexham and Lincoln next play, I will be able to avail myself of the opportunity to visit his fine constituency. I understand that there is considerable support for improvements to that line and I welcome the co-operation that is already taking place between Merseytravel—the Merseyside passenger transport executive—English and Welsh transport authorities and the Welsh Assembly. Merseytravel and the Welsh Assembly Government, with others, have jointly commissioned Network Rail to undertake a detailed feasibility study of electrification of the line. The creation of a business case, working with Network Rail and the rail industry, is the essential first step in taking forward any rail proposal.

The A494 was mentioned. I understand that the Welsh Assembly has recently published draft orders that are open to objection or comment until later this month. I also understand that no final decision has been reached on that scheme. I am sure that my hon. Friends will continue to make their voices heard. I assure them that the Welsh Assembly, the PTE and DFT officials are keeping in close touch with one another about the progress of Network Rail’s study considering electrification. I look forward to seeing local transport plans and rail studies—

David Taylor (in the Chair): Order. We now come to the next debate.

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Sentencing/Prison Overcrowding

11 am

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): I thank the House for letting me raise this issue. I do so because of the case of one of my constituents, Keith Morris. He is a convicted paedophile who has been released on bail while awaiting his sentence. Clearly, I cannot comment further on the offence, or his case, except to quote Judge Cottle, who said of Mr. Morris at Exeter Crown court on Friday 26 January:

That was several days after the Home Secretary’s reminder to judges about the use of custodial sentences, which followed a lengthy debate in the media on our overcrowded prisons.

Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay) (LD): This is not the first time that Judge Cottle has shot from the hip in the media in the south-west of England. His quote has caused a great deal of consternation among my constituents, who believe that a judge’s first duty is to protect the public, not to make a political point, important though that political point is.

Richard Younger-Ross: My hon. Friend makes a good and interesting point. I was not in the court, so it is hard for me to provide the full context of the judge’s comments, but it strikes me that either the Home Secretary was wrong in what he said to the judges or this judge has wrongly interpreted what he said.

David Taylor (in the Chair): Order. I caution the hon. Gentleman that the sentence in this case has yet to be handed down. General reference to it is acceptable, but anything else will be out of order.

Richard Younger-Ross: Thank you, Mr. Taylor. I was referring merely to the bail that the judge gave, which is a matter of record. I was not talking about the sentence, which is yet to be determined.

Judge Cottle’s comments came the day after Judge John Rogers QC gave a man who was convicted of child porn offences a suspended sentence because he had to

In Nottingham Crown court, Judge Richard Bray put a shot across politicians’ bows by claiming that prisoners were reoffending

The current situation is a crisis of profound proportions. It is a crisis for the Government’s credibility and for judicial impartiality. Most importantly, it is a crisis for which we need society’s help. We must help those with mental health problems, those who lack education and drug abusers. Instead of receiving an outstretched hand of support, they receive a shaken fist and end up in prison.

The Prime Minister said:

Well, he is certainly true to his word in the first instance. Some 80,000 men and women reside in prison. That number is up 2,000 on the number a year
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ago, and up almost 20,000 since Labour came into power in 1997. One could argue that new Labour brought in new police who have made more arrests and that more people have consequently been found guilty, but that is wrong. Criminal convictions have barely increased. There were 1,736,629 in 1993, and 1,816,676 in 2004. That is an increase of barely 80,000, but the number of people sent down by magistrates has more than doubled in that period from 25,016 to 61,384. The same number for the Crown court went up by about a third from 33,722 to 44,938.

One could argue that the type of crime has changed and that there were a greater proportion of violent crimes in that period, but that is wrong. In 1993, 38,923 people were convicted for violent crime. In 2003, that figure was only 39,257, but, again, the number of custodial sentences increased from 7,516 to 12,247. It does not matter where one looks, sentencing trends are on the up.

Crown court sentences have risen from 20 months to 27 months in those 11 years, and magistrates courts have increased their use of prisons. They have gone from using them in 6 per cent. of cases to using them in 16 per cent. The use of fines, on the other hand, has declined from 46 per cent. to only 30 per cent. Some 9 per cent. of shoplifters are now jailed for their first offence, whereas only 2 per cent. were in 1993. The number of life sentences passed is now 570 a year, which is double the number passed 10 years ago. Some 59 per cent. of those were mandatory life sentences. There is no question but that sentencing is leading to prison overcrowding.

Home Secretary after Home Secretary has talked tough on crime. Since Labour came to power, new prisons have been built to accommodate 19,000 extra prisoners. Another 8,000 places are to be constructed at an average cost of £99,899, but to what end? Last February, the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) said:

He is right. Some 67.4 per cent. of prisoners are reconvicted within two years of being released. For young men aged 18 to 21, that figure rises to 78.4 per cent. In 1992, however, the overall figure was just over 50 per cent. The idea that by locking up all those people we will somehow rehabilitate them is clearly demonstrably wrong. The reoffending of ex-prisoners costs us £11 billion a year, according to the Government’s figures.

For a male born in 1953—incidentally, the year that I first popped into the world—there is a 7.5 per cent. chance that he has been to jail and a 33 per cent. that he has a conviction. I do not fall into either of those categories.

Mr. Christopher Fraser (South-West Norfolk) (Con): But when was he born?

Richard Younger-Ross: I am being heckled. I can tell hon. Members where the criminals are.

Someone born in 1997 will, in 33 years’ time, have been more likely to have spent time inside, and more likely just to have committed an offence. We have to accept that crime is falling, but of the 30 per cent. fall
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reported by the Prime Minister’s strategy unit’s Carter report, only 5 per cent. was due to the 22 per cent. increase in the prison population at that time. The report states that

If sending people to jail does not help, why do we keep doing it? Clearly, we need to keep some people locked away, such as murderers, rapists, paedophiles and serious repeat offenders. No one is going to argue with that, but what about people with mental health problems and drug dependencies? In his evidence to the all-party group on penal affairs, Dr. John O’Grady, a consultant forensic psychologist, said:

Clearly, tackling the issues facing children in care and those excluded from school will reduce crime in future years, but do the latter group need to be in jail or in a mental health institution?

Some 80,000 people are in prison; the annual turnover is twice that, at 160,000. In 2004, only 831 people were transferred from prison to health authority care. Some £500 million is spent on securing prisoners, but only £25 million is spent on “in reach”, according to Dr. O’Grady, who likens prison to a third world country: impoverished, with few facilities and where it is impossible to move to a first world country for health. He describes sections 48 and 49 of the Mental Health Act 1983 as being like “visas”; impossible to get. Section 37 does allow movement, but few people get it.

In the same evidence session, Dr. David James argued that it was possible to divert some people with psychotic disorders out of the prison system at the police station or the magistrates court. He spoke of encouraging pilot schemes being set up to do that. Such schemes increased the recognition of mental illness at the magistrates court by 400 per cent., leading to a speeding up of admission to hospital, and were encouraged under the national service framework for health. Indeed, there are supposed to be 150 such arrangements around the country, but reports by National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders showed that, as funding declined, so did the success of those schemes.

The number of court-to-prison diversions fell by 29 per cent. over the period 1993-2004 whereas the total number of people formally admitted to hospital under the Mental Health Act 1983 increased during the same period, so the fall in diversions is surprising.

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On the subject of severe mental health problems for prisoners, Dr. Adrian Grounds stated:

If the people with mental health problems who are currently residing in prison were diverted towards health care, an additional number of places would instantly be available in prisons. Instead of sending missives to judges, the Home Secretary might be better talking to his colleagues, the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Health, in order to put more money into mental health and into schemes to prevent people from going to prison at the court stage and at the police station.

If we put funding into drug rehabilitation units, alcohol misuse centres, quality care for children in care and education to deal with excluded pupils, we might not need so many prison places. We should put funding into those things and spend less on spin doctors fabricating headlines for the tabloid press.

All of this is very serious, but the bizarreness of the statements made by judges is highlighted by the fact that, at the same time as Keith Morris was released on bail, another gentleman in my constituency, James Short, was released on licence from Exeter prison. According to our local paper, the Herald Express:

Having spent some time away from female company, he was surprised that when he found some and he had sex, he was excluded and ended up back in jail. That situation seems severe.

Someone found tapping in to the Queen’s text messages, would also find themselves in jail, yet other people have been released, released on bail—[Interruption.]

On 29 January, Harry Woolf stated in The Times:

That echoes the words that I used at the beginning of the debate. He continued:

Lord Woolf’s letter is long, but worth reading. At the end of it he makes a number of points that relate particularly to the Home Secretary’s actions and why he, among others, is culpable for the current crisis in our prisons. Lord Woolf states that in order to deal with this we need

I do not think that any of us could put it better than that.

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