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The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. David Hanson): The end of custody licence was introduced on 29 June. It is too early to say how long the scheme will be in operation. We are keeping the scheme under review in the light of new prison capacity coming on stream and the review by Lord Carter.
Mr. Holloway: If 25,000 prisoners are to be released 18 days early, that will give them an extra 450,000 working days. I wonder what analysis the Minister has done of how criminals will use the additional 10,800,000 hours.
What I hope will be happening is the prevention of reoffending. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the figures for the success in preventing reoffending,
he will see that the Government have beaten their target, have got more people back into work and are making Britain safer. Crime in his constituency, as in every other constituency in the country, is well down.
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East) (Lab): Would my right hon. Friend accept that one of the major problems leading to the high figures for the prison population has been the complete collapse of confidence in community sentences? Will he have a look at military-style supervision systems for offenders, which might provide some answers about the way forward?
Mr. Hanson: My right hon. Friend is right in the sense that we need to build confidence in community sentences and I will certainly look at the suggestions that he has made. However, under this Government, we have more prison places, more community sentences and less reoffending. That is a record to be proud of.
David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): I note what the Minister says, but he must accept that what lies behind the early release problem is the unprecedented rise in the prison population, which is partly the result of the Governments failure to predict the results of their own policies. I am thinking, for example, of the indefinite public protection sentences. Lying behind that point is a question that relates to the Governments overall policy. Do the Government agree with the statement of the former Prime Minister that the size of the prison population is an indication of the success of the Governments criminal justice policy, or would the Minister now concede what everybody else knowsthat it is a sign of its failure?
Mr. Hanson: Like the hon. Gentleman, I want to see the prison population reducedby means of both reductions in crime and changes in sentencing policy. I want to see more community sentences, because they have a real effect on preventing reoffending. We have approximately 80,000 people in prison today. I want to see the figure reduced, but we are building more prison places because, inexorably, there will be people who need to be in prison. We need to protect the public and we need to ensure that we have strong community sentences.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend not understand that the victims of crime do not understand why prisoners are being rewarded with early release? Will he look to extending the prison capacity as quickly as possible, but will he also recognise that people with mental health problems may not be in the appropriate place, which will free up some prison places?
My hon. Friend will know that a couple weeks ago we announced an extra 9,500 prison places. He will also know that we have a strong record on preventing reoffending. It will be of interest to him thatin contrast to when the Conservative party was in powerunder the Labour Government more people are spending longer in prison. The average was 25.9 months in 2005, compared with 20 months in 1995. We are making sure that prison is an appropriate
place for dangerous, sexual and violent offenders and we are ensuring that there are community sentences wherever possible.
Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): May I join others in welcoming the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues to their new positions? Has he had any discussions with the Northern Ireland Office about the impact of the early release scheme for prisoners in Northern Ireland, in terms of the rates of reoffending that occurred there when people were released early and the impact on victims and their families, who saw people released before they had served their due time in prison?
Mr. Hanson: I am in discussion with my colleagues in Northern Ireland. This scheme applies only to England and Wales at the moment. My colleague the Minister of State in the Northern Ireland Office and I are in constant discussion. Yesterday we had a meeting on how to prevent reoffending in Northern Ireland and throughout the rest of the United Kingdom.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): Is the Minister aware that more than 50 per cent. of prisoners are repeat offenders, that adult and young offenders released from custody are reoffending at rates of 67 and 75 per cent., and that 50 per cent. of offenders do not even get to court, and therefore never have a chance to go to prison? Is that a record he is proud of?
Mr. Hanson: The hon. and learned Gentleman and I share a common objective, which is to reduce the amount of reoffending, and to reduce the number of people in prison. I wish that he would talk to his colleague the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), who says that he wants to build more and more prison places and put more and more people in prison, and that he will spend what it takes to do so. I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman needs to have a discussion with his right hon. Friend, rather than with me, as we more or less agree on that topic.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. David Hanson): Reducing reoffending is a key priority for the Ministry of Justice. The National Offender Management Service is committed to reducing reoffending by 10 per cent. by the end of the decade. We will deliver that through our cross-Government strategy to reduce reoffending, and we are supported by the significant increase in investment since 1997.
Mr. Dunne: Despite the extraordinary complacent remark made by the Minister in an answer to a previous question, reoffending rates have soared over the past 10 years, and among 18 to 20-year-olds, the reoffending rate is 78 per cent. What will he do to bring down the overcrowding in young offender institutions such as Stoke Heath in Shropshire, which I visited on Monday, which now contains 30 per cent. more young adults than it was built to contain?
Mr. Hanson: I am sorry to disagree with the hon. Gentleman, but he should look at the figures for the past 10 years. The Labour Government set a target to reduce reoffending by 5 per cent., but we have increased that target to nearly 7 per cent. In his own constituency, thanks to investment made by the Labour Government in those 10 years, crime is down by 22 per cent. I will certainly consider the issues of overcrowding in prisons and young offender institutions, but I will not take any lessons from his party; when it was in government, crime rose.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): Before listing my engagements, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in expressing our profound condolences to the family and friends of Guardsman Daryl Hickey of 1st Battalion the Grenadier Guards, who was killed in Afghanistan last week. He died doing vital work in the service of our country. We owe him, and others who have lost their lives, a deep debt of gratitude.
Martin Salter: With eight out of 10 prisoners in some prisons testing positive for class A drugs, the Prime Minister will be acutely aware of how drugs and drug addiction are fuelling crime in our constituencies. However, will he also acknowledge that many of us are concerned that people who suffer from multiple sclerosis and other debilitating conditions have been waiting since 2001 for the cannabis-based medicine Sativex to be licensed for use in the UK, as it is in Canada? Is it not about time that we had a drugs policy that does not criminalise the sick, but tackles the drugs that do the most harm?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I would like to pay tribute to the work that he has done on behalf of MS sufferers in all parts of the country. The use of the drug Sativex is now under review by the medical authorities. I can also say to him that next week my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will publish a consultation document to review our drugs strategy for the future. She will be asking the public to comment on new ways in which we can improve drugs education in this country, give support to people undergoing treatmentwe have doubled the numbers in treatment, but we need to do moreand give support to communities that want to chase out drug dealers. As part of that consultationthe Cabinet discussed this yesterdaythe Home Secretary will consult on whether it is right that cannabis should be moved from class C to class B.
Three weeks ago, the Prime Minister started letting prisoners out of jail early under his early release scheme. Can he tell us how many prisoners have been let out, and how many of them were convicted of violent offences?
The Prime Minister: The figures were given to the House on Monday by the Secretary of State for Justice. I think it is true to say that around 1,700 people were released. It is also true to say that they included nobody who was serving a sentence for a serious violent offence, nobody who was subject to the registration requirements of the Sex Offenders Act 1997, nobody who had previously escaped from custody, nobody who had breached temporary release conditions and nobody currently serving a sentence for failing to return after temporary release. All those conditions, and others, meant that people were not released.
Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister needs a new briefer. Three hundred and forty-four of those criminals were convicted of violent offences. Those are the facts. What the Prime Minister has effectively said means that 25,000 prisoners will be released early this year, all from a Government who told us that they would be tough on crime. It has been alleged that there are cases where police and probation staff objected to the release of individual criminals because of the risk that they posed, but they were overruled. Has that happened?
The Prime Minister: I must correct the right hon. Gentleman. We said at the time that when we released people earlyand remember, it was 18 days early, not a year, not six months, not nine months, but 18 days earlynobody who was serving a sentence for a serious violent offence would be released. We made it absolutely clear at the time, and it is disingenuous for the Leader of the Opposition now to come back and say the opposite. On any individual cases of probation that he raises, I assure him that the Justice Secretary will investigate, but let us remember that we also announced at the timeand the Conservative party must tell us what its views are on this [Interruption.] Oh yes. We also announced at the time that we had increased the number of prison places by another 1,800. That is on top of the extra 8,000 places, which means that we have increased the number of prison places in this country from 60,000 to 90,000. We have provided resources for 140,000 police and 16,000 community support officers. At no time have the Opposition said that they would match us in the resources that we are providing.
Mr. Cameron: Those 344 criminals who were released had been convicted of violent offences, such as violence against the person. Is the Prime Minister saying that he does not think that is serious? On whether police and probation staff have been overruled, Harry Fletcher, one of the leaders of the National Association of Probation Officers, said that in many cases probation and prisons staff [Interruption.]
The Prime Minister: I have said to the right hon. Gentleman that I will ask the Justice Secretary to write to him on the matter of individual cases, but the terms on which people were released were made very clear at the time. Prisoners serving a sentence for serious violent offences, sex offences, escaping custody, breaching temporary releasewe listed the 15 conditions that would not allow people to be released, and it is wrong for the right hon. Gentleman to come back and say that we have broken the word that we gave to the House of Commons.
Mr. Cameron: So the Prime Minister had no idea that prison staff and probation staff were being overruled and that criminals were being released on to our streets when those staff thought that they posed a real risk. That is the truth. Some of the criminals who have been released went on to commit further offences. What would the Prime Minister say to the victims of those criminals who were released early?
The Prime Minister: I have investigated what has happened as a result of the Home Secretarys statement on Monday. Everybody who was released was released after debate within the Prison Service and the probation service about what should happen, and it is wrong for the right hon. Gentleman to say that Ministers did not listen to any discussion that took place. [Interruption.] On the issues of future policy that he raises, I come back to tell him [Interruption.]
The Prime Minister: I come back to what I said. On Monday, the Home Secretary made a statement and listed the number of people who had been released, then listed the number of people who had been recalled. Many people who have been recalled have come back as a result. I understand that less than 1 per cent. of those who have been released have been recalled, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that the figures are very low.
Mr. Cameron: So thats it. The Prime Minister has nothing to say to the victims of the prisoners whom he released early. The very least that they should expect is an apology from the Prime Minister. He says that discussions go on about whether those criminals should be released. He does not know what is going on. The probation circular sent to the probation service states on page 2:
The Probation Service is not required to conduct a risk assessment or an accommodation check prior to a prisoners release.
He does not know what is going on in his prisons. The Government told us repeatedly that the scheme would be a temporary measure. Can the Prime Minister confirm that it definitely will not become a permanent part of our criminal justice system?
The Prime Minister: We will continue to review it. Early release is not something that happened just under the Labour Governmentit happened on two major occasions under the Conservative Government. The right hon. Gentleman raises the question of the individual assessment. Each person who was released was assessed against the criteria that I have read out to him. As for anybody who has committed any offences, yes, I regret it if anything has happened, but let us look at the evidence that is before us before we draw conclusions, as he is trying to do. The new announcement that we made a few weeks ago was that we were building more prison places. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman would support that. The new announcement that we made in recent months was that we are going to increase community policing. There are now going to be neighbourhood policing units in every town and city of England. He should be supporting that. Unfortunately, his shadow Chancellor says that there is no more money for law and order. That is the position of the Conservative party.
Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister does not know what is going on in the prisons and he does not even know what his own Ministers are saying. Last week, the Lord Chancellor said that this could become a permanent feature of the criminal justice system. This Prime Minister does not know who is being released, does not know whether they are violent offenders, cannot tell us whether probation officers have been overruled, does not know how many crimes have been committed, will not apologise to the victims of those crimes, and will not tell us how long this scheme will last. Is it not the case that when it comes to this Government and law and order, it is the same old broken promises, the same old incompetence, and the same old Labour?
The Prime Minister: This from the party under which crime doubled, the party under which the number of police officers fell, and the party whose shadow Chancellor has said [ Interruption . ] They should listen to what the shadow Chancellor is telling them. He said:
lots of Conservatives...come up to me and say weve really got to put more money into
we need more soldiers, we need more police, and so on. Now those are all very good things but they do cost money and part of our discipline, part of the test of whether we are ready for government is whether we can resist these additional draws on public expenditure.
Helen Southworth (Warrington, South) (Lab): May I ask my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister if he will meet childrens charities that work with children who run away or go missing from home or care so that we can find out how we can better protect those children from harm?
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