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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Gillian Merron): We have led the debate in Europe on this issue, and welcomed the European Union's announcement on aviation's inclusion in the EU emissions trading scheme in 2011 and 2012. However, we continue to press for an earlier introduction.
Jim Sheridan: Assuming that introducing the measure would involve additional costs, may I ask the Minister to use her good offices to remind the major airline companies that they too have a responsibility to the environment, and that passing on any additional costs to the travelling public should not be an option at all, let alone the first option?
Gillian Merron: I understand my hon. Friends point. I know that he has a particular interest in the subject because Glasgow airport is in his constituency. Although other measures, including the offsetting of costs, are part of the mix and need to be considered, emissions trading guarantees a specific outcome in ensuring that an environmental contribution is made. We therefore believe that it is the best way forward.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): Commissioners are continuing to strive for improvements in purposeful activity across the prison estate that are achievable with the resources provided.
Mr. Wilson: May I invite the Minister to join me on a visit to Reading prison, where blue-chip private sector companies are running extensive training programmes to guarantee jobs for young offenders when they complete their sentences? The programmes have cut reoffending rates from 70 per cent. to less than 7 per cent., turning lives around. Should the Government not be following that private sector-driven example of best practice, rather than allowing reoffending to cost the taxpayer up to £12 billion a year? Is that not a better idea than letting burglars and drug addicts out of prison early?
Mr. Sutcliffe: The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to learn that I visited Reading jail very recently, and saw the excellent work going on there. As he says, it is important to tackle reoffending and to ensure that as many providers as possible are available, whether they come from the voluntary, the private, or indeed the public sector. I hope he will support the Offender Management Bill, which his party is opposing as it goes through its paces in the House of Lords.
Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): In the context of, in particular, younger prisoners who are restrained from any kind of activity, may I ask what the thinking was behind the Governments proposal to change the rules on restraint, and whether and when we shall hear a full statement on that important proposal?
Mr. Sutcliffe: I know that my hon. Friend has taken a close interest in this issue. A statement will be made shortly, but I can say now that the purpose of the Secure Training Centre (Amendment) Rules 2007 was to prevent ambiguity. The primary legislation was very clear. We listened to what the coroner had to say to us, and changed the rules accordingly.
David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Does the Minister agree that one of the major barriers to giving prisoners purposeful activity is the fact that the sentences served are often so short that by the time they have been assessed, there is no point in putting them on a programme? Will he assure us that he will end the Executive early release of prisoners, to ensure that more of them are given the excellent training described by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson)?
Mr. Sutcliffe: There is no Executive early release of prisoners. As the hon. Gentleman says, what we must do is cut reoffending, and we can do that by providing the right programmes to tackle it. The Prison Service is doing what it is doing and the probation service is doing whatever it can do, but reoffending rates are still far too high. One way of reducing them is through the Offender Management Bill, which the hon. Gentlemans party is opposing.
Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab):
Will the Minister join me in congratulating James Ewers and Pete Middleton, and all who took part in the Jail Guitar Doors campaign concert in Reading on Saturday? It raised more than
£2,000 for the drug rehabilitation charity Turning Point, and to purchase musical instruments for some of the inmates of Reading young offenders institution.
Mr. Sutcliffe: I am happy to congratulate those who took part in the event, and wish the organisers well. Turning Point is doing a tremendous job in trying to tackle reoffending, particularly among young people. It is important for us to use every available tool to reach young people through music or the arts to try to stop them from reoffending, and we will continue to do that. I hope the whole House will support the programmes that we want to introduce.
Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): Does the Minister not agree that although work and training, and the drugs-related programmes about which we have heard, are vital to stop criminals from reoffending, with the current overcrowding they are simply not available? If there is no purposeful activity and criminals are let out on to our streets with a get out of jail free card, will they not reoffend, committing crime after crime time after time?
Given the Chancellors refusal to fund the extra places that everyone knew were necessary for so many years, and given that the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson), said only the other day that there were no extra funds, did it not take some brass neck for the Chancellor to stand up today and offer money for new places? How much confidence can the public really have that he will keep them safe?
Mr. Sutcliffe: We will take no lessons from the Opposition on prison funding. We have built 20,000 places since 1997, and last year we announced that there would be a further 8,000 places. We must tackle reoffending. We all agree that end-to-end offender management is the way forward, to stop people going into prison so that we do not need so many prison places. Let me ask the hon. Gentleman a question: why does he oppose the Offender Management Bill? We will build more prison places, and the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn will make a statement shortly.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. David Hanson): The Government recently published prison population projections up to July 2012. They are to be reviewed in August 2007 and are available on the Home Office and Ministry of Justice websites.
Mr. Mackay: Why does the Minister think that the Secretary of State said, when the Ministry of Justice was set up just a few weeks ago, that there would be no further early release schemes? What has gone wrong? What message does this give to those who are fighting crime?
Mr. Hanson: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has indicated that there will be no Executive early release schemes, and I shall mention that in my statement. What message on crime does the right hon. Gentleman wish me to give people? When his party was in office, the crime rate doubled, violent crime increased by 170 per cent., the chances of being a victim trebled, convictions fell by a third and police officer numbers were cut. That was the message from his Government. Our Government have a different message.
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): I know that my right hon. Friend is aware that there are 45 fewer women in prison now than a year ago, but the number has still doubled over the past 10 years. What does he plan to do to bring down the number of women in prison, and does he plan to adopt Baroness Corstons proposals?
Mr. Hanson: My hon. Friend will know that Baroness Corston produced a report on the female prison population, and we are currently considering it. The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird), will examine the recommendations, and we warmly welcome them. We want fewer women to be in prison, and I am confident that we will be able to respond to the report positivelyby late autumn at the latest, I hope.
Mr. Hanson: As the hon. Gentleman knows, I will shortly make a statement on prison population projections and what steps we intend to take. I am confident that we can take a number of measures to protect the public and put serious offenders in jail, and also look at community-based sentences and work with sentencers to ensure that we manage the sentenced population effectively. We will need to build extra prison places, and we have plans to do so. I shall say more about that in my statement. I am confident that we can build extra places, manage the prison population effectively and make sure that we protect the public from serious and dangerous offenders.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op):
When I was first campaigning to enter the House, in the run-up to the 1992 election, our party made a great deal of the fact that the number of prisoners had gone past the 40,000 mark, which at that time was the highest per capita in Europe, with the possible exception of Turkey. It has now gone past the 80,000 mark. Does
the Minister attribute that doubling to a heightened level of criminality in the British population, or to a response to evidence showing that prison worksthat is unlikelyor, which is more likely, are we pandering to the middle-market tabloids of the Daily Mail and Daily Express variety, and trying to obtain yet more votes from that section of the population?
Mr. Hanson: I must tell my hon. Friend that if we are pandering to the Daily Mail, it is not working. The prison population has certainly risen. Overall, crime is down, convictions are up and the Labour Government are catching more criminals because of the greater numbers of police on the streets. Irrespective of that, I recognise the problems that my hon. Friend identifies. We want there to be better use of community sentences, and stronger community sentences. The Criminal Justice Act 2003 has given 12 orders which I hope will be utilised more effectively over the next three years than they have been, with a great deal of effort, over the past three years. I am confident that we can build extra prison places, manage the prison population in an effective and productive way to prevent reoffending, and build on community sentences to ensure that people do not return to jail or to offending once they have been through the criminal justice system.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I hear what the Minister says, but given that there are now 16,000 extra prisoners in England and Wales why should anybody presume that if Labour were in power for another seven years, there would not be the same rate of increase? What is the answer to the problem that not only do we still have more prisoners per head of population than any other western European country, but we have half as many again as countries of the same size and typeGermany, France and Italy? Are the British more criminal, or has the policy failed?
Mr. Hanson: The hon. Gentleman will know from the statement made on 9 May that I have a great deal of sympathy with some of the points that he makes. We need to look into focusing more on community sentences, on drug treatment and alcohol orders, and on a range of measures such asdare I say it?home detention and tagging, because they can help to prevent reoffending as much as prison can. We have a rising prison population, and at 3.30 I shall announce some steps to deal with those matters, but I am confident that community sentences and guidance, and work with sentencers, will be among the key drivers in helping to reduce the prison population in due course.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): The Minister was asked a perfectly straight question by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay), and he has yet to answer it. He referred us to his website; I thought that we had questions and answers across the Dispatch Box, not via a website. Is the Minister not answering the question put to him because he knows very well that according to the projected figures, the prison population for the years in question will go way over 100,000 and towards 120,000, and he does not have any plans to cope with that sort of capacity?
Mr. Hanson: I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for pointing out the content of my website, and I am pleased that he views it. I referred the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay) to it because it is an important way of looking at the facts and figures that we have. I am happy to provide the hon. and learned Gentleman with figures on these matters. The ones that he mentions are projections, and as I said, we are planning to review those projections in August. I will shortly announce steps to be taken on prison population issues with which I suspect that he, even if not his Front-Bench colleagues such as the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), will have some sympathy. [Interruption.] If the hon. and learned Gentleman would care to contain himself, I will report on these matters at 3.30.
22. Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con): If she will make a statement on the progress of her Departments working group with senior members of the judiciary on the recent machinery-of-government changes. 
Mr. Amess: We all know that this dreadful Labour Government have messed up the police service, and now they are about to do the same to the judiciary. Perhaps the Minister will tell the House whether, during those discussions with senior members of the judiciary, she has been able to reassure them that there is no constitutional problem, that their traditional independence will be preserved, and that they will not be compromised in terms of any sentencing?
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): Was it not disgraceful that the Lord Chief Justice heard about the Ministry of Justice from the pages of The Daily Telegraph, and does my friend feel at all embarrassed that the judiciary were not properly consulted, as they should have been? Finally, has my friend read the report from the Public Administration
Mr. Speaker: It was short, but there was more than one supplementarythat is the point that I am trying to make. Try to use good manners; it is important. The hon. Gentleman will learn something after a few years.
As soon as it was a serious proposal to go ahead with the Ministry of Justice, as my hon. Friend will know from looking at the evidence given by the Lord Chancellor to the Constitutional Affairs
Select Committee on 22 May, at that point arrangements were made to have a working group of the Lord Chief Justice, at which Department for Constitutional Affairs officials engaged in discussions in preparation for the Ministry of Justice. However, the most important thing is that section 1 of the Courts Act 2003 lays out the Lord Chancellors responsibility to ensure that there is an efficient and effective courts service, and the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 ensures the independence of the judiciary. Moreover, a concordat sets out the agreement on relationships between Ministers and judges. I am sure that all those things will have the full support of this House.
Mr. Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): As there is not even agreement with the judges on interim working arrangements, let alone a long-term solution to what the Lord Chief Justice sees as a serious constitutional problem, is the Minister prepared to allow a situation to continue in which there is a real divide between the judiciary and the Executive, even about the implementation of the concordat in the Act that she has described?
Ms Harman: There are interim working arrangements in place. The courts are working and the judges are ensuring that justice is done in the courts. The Lord Chancellor and the Ministry of Justice are ensuring that the court system is operating. Of course there are operational issues that the judiciary raised with the Lord Chancellors Department and are now raising with our Department, and those are being considered. I have seen the evidence that was taken by the right hon. Gentlemans Select Committee, and obviously there will always be discussions between the judiciary and the Ministry of Justice, but I cannot see any point in adding to the situation through hyperbole.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I welcome, of course, the assurances given by the Minister of State about the importance of the independence of the judiciary, and it is, of course, protected by statute. Following the evidence given to the Select Committee, has the Lord Chancellor spoken to the Lord Chief Justice about this issue, because Committee members felt strongly that that personal contact between them would break this logjam?
Ms Harman: I can reassure my right hon. Friend and the House that the Lord Chancellor is in weekly, sometimes daily, contact with the Lord Chief Justice. They have regular discussions, and that will continue to be the case.
Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): The Lord Chief Justice and his colleagues also gave evidence to the Select Committee to the effect that if there were to be any meaningful assurance of judicial independence, there should at the very least be a ring-fenced courts budget. Can the Minister and her colleagues assure us that we will have that vital safeguard, as requested by the Lord Chief Justice?
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