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Ms Harman: There are two separate issues here. One is the resourcing of the courts budget within the Ministry of Justice. The courts budget is some £1 billion, compared with the legal aid budget of £2 billion, to which is added
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the prison budget of some £2 billion. Obviously, it is the responsibility of the Lord Chancellor, under section 1 of the Courts Act, to ensure that there is an efficient and effective system to support the carrying out of the business of the courts, and that resources are dedicated to that. As for the independence of the judiciary, that too is enshrined in statute and underpinned by the concordat.


23. Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): How many prisoners left prison with a drug or alcohol dependency problem in the last 12 months. [143368]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): Defining and assessing dependency is not straightforward, and records are not kept on the numbers leaving prison with drug or alcohol dependency. A comprehensive treatment framework is in place to support prisoners with a drug problem, with a range of services available for those with an alcohol problem.

Chris Bryant: It is a shame that the Government are not able to provide those statistics, because one in five people going into prison have a drug dependency problem. Many of them then have treatment in prison—detox and rehab. They start their treatment regime and then, when they leave prison, they go to the back of the queue and lose out on all the benefits that they might have experienced if they had been able to continue their treatment. If we are to tackle recidivism, is it not important that we ensure continuity of treatment for those people?

Mr. Sutcliffe: My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I appreciate the work that he does in his community to try to tackle drug use. He will know that prisoner health care has been transferred to the national health service through the primary care trusts, and there are now end-to-end programmes for people with drug problems. We have also seen a 997 per cent. increase in spending on drug problems.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): May I make a helpful suggestion? Too many prisoners leave prison still addicted to class A drugs, and then reoffend. What about moving prisoners coming to the end of their time in prison into an established residential drug rehab centre for the balance of their sentences? That would save money and be much more effective. It would be cheaper than prison, and cost the country much less in the long term.

Mr. Sutcliffe: Again, I appreciate the work that the hon. Gentleman does in our courts and criminal justice system. It is important that we look at what works. As I said, there has been a 997 per cent. increase in spending on drug treatment. We are trying to find the best way to stop people taking drugs, and we believe that using the NHS is an appropriate way forward. We are also looking at what providers in the voluntary sector can do, and at what is best practice in this area, but I shall be happy to consider the suggestion that the hon. Gentleman has made.

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Burial Facilities

24. Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): If she will assess the implications of the Government's recently announced policy on burial law reform for the provision of burial facilities for the people of West Lancashire and other areas where there is a lack of burial space. [143370]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Ms Harriet Harman): We understand the importance that many families attach to having a local cemetery. Our decision to enable the reuse of old burial grounds will provide local authorities with a further option when deciding how best to meet their communities’ needs at an affordable cost.

Rosie Cooper: Does the Minister believe that West Lancashire district council should refund to its council
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tax payers the increased cost that they incur when burying their loved ones in cemeteries in neighbouring local authority areas? This is a tax on dying. It is being imposed on the council tax payers of West Lancashire with no regard to their ability to pay, while the local authority denies its responsibilities.

Ms Harman: I know that my hon. Friend represents the considerable strength of feeling in her constituency of West Lancashire about the fact that local people are unable to bury loved ones in their own area. They have to incur the expense of travel, and are obliged to pay a higher price when they get to a burial ground outside their area. I know that she will continue to put pressure on West Lancashire district council. Under provisions announced in my written statement earlier this month, councils have additional options available to them, but there really is no excuse for not providing the burial services needed by local people.

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Prison Population

3.32 pm

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. David Hanson): I wish to repeat a statement made by the Lord Chancellor in another place.

The Ministry of Justice has been in existence for five weeks. I announced on 9 May my Department’s approach to penal policy. I announced that we would continue to protect the public by providing prison places for those whom the courts determine need custody, and that that would include asking the Sentencing Guidelines Council to review its guidance. I also made it clear that we should make best use of the best community sentences where evidence says that they reduce reoffending and offer more effective punishment, and that we would continue to deliver in line with the recommendations of Lord Carter’s 2003 review, including end-to-end offender management and public service reform.

Today, I wish to provide details to the House of how the Government will ensure that all those whom the courts send to prison can be accommodated. I will update the House on the detail of Lord Carter’s inquiry into prisons, announce the building of further custodial places, and set out further measures to improve the functioning of our prisons and to reduce reoffending.

We have made public protection from the most dangerous criminals a priority. We are bringing more offenders to justice than ever before—25 per cent. more than when we came into office. Those who commit violent or sexual offences can now receive an indeterminate prison sentence. The length of time for which criminals are sent to prison has increased, with the average custodial sentence in Crown courts rising by 25 per cent. between 1995-2005. As the House will know, more people are being sent to prison than ever before. That means that, overall, there are 40 per cent. more serious and violent offenders in prison than in 1997. Since 1997, the prison population has increased from 61,467 to 81,016 today, a record high.

Nationally, crime is falling. There are 5.8 million fewer offences than in 1997, but we know we need to go further. We have been working intensively with 44 of our most deprived communities, where crime and disorder are highest, to reduce crime still further. Early indications show that the work is making an impressive impact and crime is falling at twice the rate in those areas than the national average. The Government are determined that the public be protected from dangerous offenders, and that court sentences and other orders be obeyed.

In addition to those measures, we have taken steps to increase the resources spent on community punishments and interventions designed to address the causes of crime among offenders. Tough community sentences have been developed, which have proved more than successful in reducing reoffending. As I announced to the House in May, we shall, therefore, extend and expand such schemes.

We have built more than 20,000 more prison places since 1997, and we have a commitment today to build 8,000 more by 2012. We have increased expenditure on probation by 70 per cent. in real terms over the last 10 years and, as an example of our commitment to
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addressing the causes of crime, we have increased expenditure on drug treatment programmes in prisons from £7.2 million in 1997 to £79 million in 2007-08.

To help accommodate the current pressures, I can announce today that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made available new money to build an additional 1,500 places over and above the 8,000 already announced. We will be starting work immediately on 500 of those extra places and the first of the additional places will come on stream in January 2008.

As I announced on 9 May 2007, I have asked Lord Carter to look at the future of the estate and we will take decisions on the optimum timing and composition of the further 1,000 places announced today in the light of Lord Carter’s final report. I am today publishing the terms of reference for his review. As the terms of reference make clear, Lord Carter will look at the long-term future of the prison estate and at both the supply and demand of prison places.

Those additional measures will bring on more prison places, which are much needed. Currently, as I mentioned, the prison estate is near to full. To ensure that we can accommodate all those sent to prison by the courts, we will continue to rely on police cells, as a temporary measure, and where necessary court cells. I am personally grateful to chief constables in England and Wales for making police cells available to us where necessary and to the Court Service for more than 100 court cells to date. The use of police cells may be necessary until the end of this year at the latest, pending the increase in capacity from some of the 8,000 prison places coming on stream and then, at the beginning of 2008, from the additional prison places I have announced today.

In addition to increased prison capacity, I have authorised the issuing of guidance to prison governors to allow them to make wider use of the prison rules provisions to authorise release on licence for offenders who are coming to the end of their sentence. [Hon. Members: “Ah.”] The guidance will authorise release on licence, in accordance with existing prison rules, up to 18 days before their release date, for those who have been sentenced to a determinate prison sentence of four years or less. This is a temporary measure.

Let me be clear for all those in the House who are concerned— [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Members must allow the Minister to make his statement; then we shall have questions.

Mr. Hanson: Let me be clear from the outset: release on licence is not the same as Executive release. Releasing people on licence means that their sentence continues. Release on licence will be granted only to those who meet the eligibility criteria set out in the guidance that I will place in the Library of the House today. The criteria specifically exclude offenders convicted of serious sexual or violent crimes, those who have broken the terms of temporary release in the past and foreign national prisoners who would be subject to deportation at the end of their sentence. Release on licence will apply only to those who are not released on home detention curfew and while on licence the
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offender will remain subject to his sentence and will be liable to recall. The guidance comes into effect on 29 June and I will keep its operation under review.

In addition, yesterday saw the launch of the new bail accommodation and support service, which will enable courts to make greater use of bail in appropriate cases. The accommodation will also be available for prisoners who are eligible for home detention curfew if they have suitable accommodation.

The measures I have announced today are designed to ensure that the Government will be able to accommodate all those the courts send to prison. We will respect and give effect to the orders made by the courts and we will protect the public.

I commend the statement to the House.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): I begin by thanking the Minister for showing me his statement—20 minutes ago. Earlier this afternoon during questions, he was given the opportunity to tell us the projected prison population figures until 2014, but he did not—they would not have made good listening.

The Government have done nothing to plan for and provide adequate prison capacity. The Minister re-announces 1,500 new places, continued reliance on police and court cells, early release and greater use of bail. The Government know, on present rates, that there will be well over 100,000 prisoners by 2012. There are no indications that that figure is anything other than on the low side. There is no sign that the Government have done anything constructive—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I say to the hon. and learned Gentleman that he should not be making a statement; he should be questioning the Minister. If he puts his case in the form of questions, it is acceptable to me.

Mr. Garnier: You kindly, but not for the first time, anticipate me, Mr. Speaker. I am just about to ask the question. But let me just set that question in context.

The Minister says that the Government have built 20,000 new places, but several of these new prisons were contracted for prior to 1997, and does he really believe that the 20,000 new places will be sufficient to deal with the crisis of overcrowding? Will the Minister accept, not only that the current problem of prison overcrowding will continue, but that it has been both predictable and predicted by everyone who has thought about the issue for many years? His noble Friend Lord Carter, Anne Owers the prisons inspector, and even my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary and I have warned the Government about this time after time. Did not the Home Office itself predict in 2001 that there would not be enough places for the expected numbers of offenders by the end of this decade?

Is it not clear that the only people who failed to react to what was happening and what was going to happen were the four Labour Home Secretaries and their Ministers, aided and abetted by the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, who on all the evidence, have done next to nothing? Why on earth did the Home Secretary claim last October in the House that my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary

instead of getting on with sorting out the mess?

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What sort of Government demand that the courts send more offenders to prison, and for longer, but fail to provide the places to put them in? What sort of Government, after 10 years in office, look and sound surprised that the prison population has risen under their watch from under 60,000 to over 81,000, and that offenders are now having to be housed overnight in court cells, and for several nights in police station cells, and even kept in prison vans outside court while they wait for their cases to come on? And, Mr. Speaker, did you not hear this Minister say that he was pleased to announce that he was going to invite the police to do that until the end of the year?

There are prisons that have turned away prisoners because they have no more room. Why, if the Government thought it right to have 20,000 more inmates, did they not plan and build 20,000 more places?

The Home Secretary said last year that he would provide 8,000 more places by 2012. On the Government’s own projections, that will not be enough. But the Chancellor, the next Prime Minister, has not signed the cheque. Where are these places going to be, what will they cost in terms of building and staffing costs and when will they be ready?

To provide temporary accommodation, why have the Government not found the prison ship that they sold at a loss not so long ago? Why have they not made any use of redundant military camps, former secure hospitals and other available accommodation? Why did they not do these things last year or the year before that?

Watching the Government’s handling of this growing crisis has been like watching a train crash. Why have the Government been hapless bystanders and not taken decisive action? Is it because the Chancellor, driven by political rivalry, has refused successive Home Secretaries the resources needed to address the chronic lack of prison spaces? Is not the crisis that we now face a failure of design, for which the Chancellor bears responsibility? We heard today from Manchester that he will ensure extra fast-build prison places to address the problem. But why—if the Labour Chief Whip, the right hon. Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith), would stop chattering—why, if the resources are available, were they not made available in time to prevent this predictable chaos? How much is the Chancellor providing? How many places will be built, and when will they be available? Are these not likely to be fast-fill prisons that will soon demonstrate the short-term nature of this Government’s approach?

The Government briefed the press this morning that they will release prisoners early. The Minister confirms that. Why then did the Lord Chancellor say quite the opposite over lunchtime on Sky television? The Government did that before, with tragic consequences for far too many innocent victims. In previous years, as they released inmates early from open prisons, they transferred unsuitable offenders from the secure to the open estate. Will the Minister undertake to the House in terms that he will do no such thing again?

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