Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)


12 DECEMBER 2006

  Q40  Bob Russell: Home Secretary, you have bandied lots of statistics around. You will be aware that the Select Committee, a few years ago, produced a report on alternatives to prisons. Prison populations continue to grow. You say it is going to go up to 88,000?

  John Reid: Yes.

  Q41  Bob Russell: You then indicate there are many people in prison who perhaps should not be there. Does the Government have a long-term penal strategy, bearing in mind that we already send more people to prison per head of population than any other country in Western Europe?

  John Reid: We send more people to prison per head of population but fewer people to prison per detected crime than most countries in Europe; but you are absolutely right that we need a penal policy, and we have one, which is more than just saying we will send everyone to prison and we will build the prison places for them. Obviously, the taxpayer would not want that, but the public does want protection. Therefore, what we ought to be trying to do is to make sure that those people from whom the public needs protection are sent to prison for as long as is necessary, which is why we reintroduced indeterminate sentences, so that some people could be kept there literally for life, which is the answer to the question some people ask: why does life never mean life? With indeterminate sentences it can do. On the other hand, at the other end of the scale, there are people who are sent to prison for very short periods where it is questionable whether the taxpayer and the public would not benefit more if they were made to do community pay-back, thus saving the tax payer (in many cases the council-tax payer) money at the same time as they restore to the community that which they have taken out by their behaviour, which is why we brought in community service orders and more robust measures in that direction. I would say we are not yet functioning properly in terms of the 2003 Act, which was intended to keep more dangerous prisoners there longer but, at the bottom end, to remove from prison those who ought not really to be there but should be doing community service or should be fined The top end of that appears to be being implemented but the bottom end is not. So the quid pro quo is not there. Then, a final comment on foreign national prisons, I said that we would not release anybody who ought to be considered for deportation unless they had been. So that has added an extra burden over the last few months. I hope by the spring that will begin to ease.

  Q42  Bob Russell: Home Secretary, you have acknowledged that there are many people in prison who, for a variety of reasons, should not be there, at least for that length of time. For more than half the people sent to prison each year for terms of less than six months, could I ask you and your officials to look again at the Select Committee's report on alternatives to prison to see whether, in fact, some of those recommendations would be a means for reducing the prison population to bring it more into line with the rest of Western Europe?

  John Reid: You can, indeed, ask us that, Mr Russell, and you will be pushing at an open door, because the recommendations which were made by this Committee in the House of Commons report on the rehabilitation of prisoners, and so on, have featured very highly in our considerations. Last week I had a meeting with a huge number of penal experts on this very subject. So we would be keen to get this balance right, that is protecting the public from dangerous offenders by keeping them away as long as is necessary but making sure there are other ways of rehabilitation, through education in prison, treatment of addicts, drugs—and the amount spent on that in prison, incidentally, has gone up by 1000% since the Labour Government came in—because if you send the addict back out with his addiction unattended, then he begins thieving again automatically to feed the habit. So educational schemes, trades, all of the rehabilitation process, but also working in the community, contributing back to the community that which you have taken out, are all part of what we want to consider as part of a comprehensive penal policy.

  Q43  Bob Russell: If I am pushing at an open door, let me move on quickly, before it starts to shut again, and look forward to a decline in the prison population. My last question, Home Secretary, is that with the reoffending rate amongst adult males going up over the last five years from 55% to 67%, was your predecessor right when he said, "Prison does not work in stopping reoffending"?

  John Reid: No, it patently does stop in some cases.

  Q44  Bob Russell: But it has gone up.

  John Reid: Yes, but you gave me a figure of 67%. In 33% people do not reoffend, so it must work in some cases—one assumes it does, and I am using your figures—but where we have common ground is by saying that the reoffending rate is too high and obstinately too high, and that is why I have introduced the proposals in the Offender Management Bill, to try and bring new ideas and new facilities to bear and bring it down. It is too high. I have no problem in accepting that. Helen, do you want to say anything on these points?

  Ms Edwards: We have begun to see a very slight dip in the reoffending rate for adult prisoners, which is encouraging because I think many of the things that you are recommending in your report we have started to implement. Our seven pathways out of offending, for example, which concentrate on accommodation, on skills, on employment, on health, on family support, all those programmes have started to come into play. Hopefully we are beginning to see them having a small but noticeable impact, but we have got an awfully long way still to go.

  Q45  Margaret Moran: To follow up the point that was made about this Committee's report, perhaps you could come back to us on the issue specifically about the efforts to get ex-offenders into work. I am not asking for a response now, but I think that was one of the specific recommendations in that report. I want to take up the point, Home Secretary, you were making about vulnerable women being in prison. There is increasing evidence, as we know, that vulnerable women, people with mental health and other complex problems, are disproportionately in prison. There is also increasing evidence that survivors of domestic violence, people who have been subjected to violence and abuse themselves, are increasingly within the prison system without support. Surely, is it not better value for the limited resources that you have got, rather than spending your money on expanding prison places, to direct your efforts at preventing those vulnerable women being in prison in the first place? What are you doing about that? Why are you not shifting your resources in that direction to make space for the more serial, serious reoffending?

  John Reid: I do not think it is an either/or; I think you have to do both. I think you have to protect the public from dangerous offenders; I also think that the prerequisite for gaining public acceptance of, for instance, community service and treatment of offenders is a recognition among the public that releasing people from prison to do either of these is not merely because you have run out of prison places. I think there is a central reason for doing what I am doing in increasing the prison places, but I think there is also a secondary reason, and that is to give the public confidence that there is a Home Secretary who will put in prison those who ought to be put in prison. That is not an alternative to saying that those who ought not to be in prison and ought to be treated better in terms of medical care, or psychological help, or treatment for their addiction ought to be treated better in prison or outside of prison. Let me tell you, in many ways the Department of Health and ourselves are working more closely on this than ever before. When I was Secretary of State for Health I tried to encourage that, and I gave one example on the amount of increase of attention to treating addiction, and I can go through the numbers for you, but it has gone up by, I think, 973%, the amount of money with all the caveats we have placed on statistics, Chairman, that was placed in that direction. We are doing a lot as well in trying to tackle the question of vulnerable women prisoners. Perhaps you ought to give us some details on that, Helen, for Ms Moran.

  Ms Edwards: We do recognise that there are a lot of issues with women offenders that we have got to do more on. We have got the Women's Offending Reduction Programme set up and the Together Women's Programme, and both those programmes are designed to see how we can do more to deal with the problems women face in the community rather than in prison. We have got two pilots running really to test what we have to do so that the courts can feel that they are sentencing with confidence, and, of course, we are looking forward to Baroness Corston's report.

  Q46  Margaret Moran: Is that not part of the problem: we suffer from "pilotitus"? Would it not be better to put some of that money into women's aid, into refuges, into preventing domestic violence so that you have not got this overcrowding in prisons? In terms of confidence, Home Secretary, surely it is better to do that than have miniscule sentences for child-abuse offenders? Because your prisons are so full, your own SOCA officers are telling us that the sentences cannot be longer in some cases than three to six months because you have not got enough places to put serious offenders in. Surely you have got to break that cycle.

  John Reid: With respect, this is the first Home Office over to have reduced domestic violence against women. For the first time in history we have actually turned the tide down in that. I do not claim that as a great coup, but I do point out that no previous Government and no previous Home Office has done that. We have put a huge amount of effort into it and it is led from the top by Patricia Scotland, who has shown a considerable interest in this. Secondly, I merely remind everybody that in your questions I have been prepared to take responsibility for prison places and so on. We do have an independent judiciary in this country, and who ends up in prison is to some extent the result of the decisions made by magistrates and by judges, and so we cannot rule out the fact that there is an independent body. The third thing is that we are spending more money now on education courses, on treatment for health questions inside and on trying to apply ourselves to the particular problem faced by particular groups than ever before. Your objection is to pilots. So often at the Committee we are criticised, quite correctly, for embarking on projects without evidence that they work, and the idea of a pilot is to probe to see whether, on the basis of evidence and reality, the things into which we are putting money do actually work. Think it is a wee bit unfair to criticise us for not seeking the evidence for our projects and then to criticise us for having "pilotitus" (I think is what you called it) when we test them out in reality. Testing them surely is a good thing.

  Q47  Mr Streeter: Home Secretary, to your 8,000 new prison places is it true that you are considering inviting people to invest in a new style property company that would build jails and then rent them out to private prison operators as reported in The Guardian, though unless it was Polly Toynbee I might not believe it?

  John Reid: I do not even think it carried that stamp of veracity. This came, apparently, from some Investors Weekly, or Builders Chronicle, or something of this nature. I certainly have not been working on any projects, nor have any of the ministers, to launch certain shareholdings and tell them to buy or sell or anything of this nature. On the other hand, I suppose theoretically this is possible. If you are thinking of PFI schemes or, whatever, I suppose somewhere down the line somebody will buy shares in this, but it has not been on my desk. I will ask the Permanent Secretary to comment on this perhaps. David.

  Sir David Normington: I would just confirm that. We are not doing work on that. It is possible that, out there, there are some people looking at ways of raising money for PFI deals and so on. I think that is where it comes from. We are not doing any work on it.

  John Reid: To the best of our knowledge, that is the caveat, no-one in the Home Office is—. Who knows! I always have at the back of my mind, Chairman, the advice which I understand was proffered to one of my illustrious predecessors, Jack Straw, by, I think it was, Douglas Hurd, who said to him, "Best of luck my boy. Always remember that at any given stage there are 20 people in the Home Office who are quite separately working on projects that could finish your career."

  Chairman: So that Guardian story remains an exclusive, does it! Can we go now, Home Secretary, to immigration and asylum and foreign prisoner issues. Anne Cryer.

  Q48  Mrs Cryer: Home Secretary, can I ask one or two questions. There was a great fuss made a few months ago about the fact that foreign prisoners were being released without being considered even for deportation. At that time Lin wrote to the Committee saying that 1,013 foreign prisoners had been released without consideration for deportation. She has, very kindly, let us have an update on that and apparently 129 of those have now been removed, 216 there has been a decision not to remove and 745 deportations are still being pursued. How long do you think it is going to take to catch up with the 745 and consider deportation or otherwise?

  John Reid: I am just looking for the letter which I think the Director General sent me morning. It should be in here somewhere. I think the good news on this is that, since we last met, I think of the order of 1,600 foreign national prisoners have been deported. Dealing with the 1,013 who created the problem in the first place (the backlog), we have deported 1,600. The second thing is that no one has been released from prison since without the consideration they ought to have been given. That means that some people have been detained by me beyond their release date, because it takes about six months for this whole process to go through, and we are working back from the position we were at when I first came to this Committee, which was the crisis position, where there was no lead time, where people were actually being released without deportation. We are now back at working to about two months lead time, and by the spring we hope to be at six months lead time. So, at that stage, we hope to have got to (if you want to use that terrible expression) the tipping point where people's consideration will have started sufficiently earlier but they will not have to be detained, and everybody, as they are now, will be being considered for deportation before they go. Then we have the 1,013. When I last came to the Committee, I said that we would work through those. I will ask Lin to go through the numbers, but basically it takes six months from that point, when I was last here, for the judicial process to be complete even when you are wanting to deport. They started to come through a month or so ago—the numbers were first 20, then 80, then 100. About 129, 130 at the moment have actually been deported. About two-thirds of them, 750 or thereabouts, have been considered for deportation and deportation has been decided and we are working through that. About a third of them the police are still looking for, but they are minor offenders in the main, and when I came here the last time I think there were four very major offenders at risk out there, four murderers. As of last night there were two, and as of today there is one, because earlier this morning we detained one of the two remaining very serious offenders—we arrested them this morning—so that is about the ball park. Perhaps I can ask Lin to follow up on any details that you want, Mrs Cryer.

  Q49  Chairman: I think specifically Mrs Cryer asked when they will all have been deported. There are 540 here who have not yet been deported, and I think the central question from Mrs Cryer was: when will we have completed the process?

  John Reid: Well, we will try to deport all of them, but it is not entirely within our power to say they will all be deported, because of the courts.

  Q50  Chairman: But when do you expect them. I realise some have absconded, but some you have in detention.

  John Reid: Yes.

  Q51  Chairman: I am asking when do you think they will all have been deported or that they will have been dealt with?

  John Reid: And the process would have been finished?

  Q52  Chairman: Yes. Obviously, the courts may say they cannot be, and that ends it?

  John Reid: Yes.

  Q53  Mrs Cryer: From what Lin said, of the 745 that you are still considering or trying to catch for deportation, there is only one that you would be anxious about. Am I right in saying that?

  Ms Homer: Yes, that is correct, Chairman. In terms of the timescale, what I can indicate is that we are now seeing a speeding up, as we anticipated, through the machinery. I think it will still be a number of months before we have concluded all of those, not least because some of them are quite complicated legal cases, but really what we are doing is we are twin-tracking our efforts to conclude the 1,013 completely whilst we actually continue to manage and improve the performance on what, I suppose, one would call the flow cases, the cases coming into the system now. It would be my intention to continue writing to you occasionally to keep you updated, and I think I will seek to give you, as I have been, as full an account of the figures at those points as I can, but my best guess is that it will still be a number of months before we conclude all of the deportation actions in relation to the original cohort that we did not consider before release.

  Q54  Mrs Cryer: Do you happen to have any information about the people who were not considered for deportation but who should have been and were released? Do you have any information about the reconviction of any of those since then?

  Ms Homer: Yes. I think I told you on the last occasion I spoke, and, indeed, when I have written to you, that we have looked at reconvictions. When I wrote in October there had been no further serious reconvictions over and above those I had reported to you in June. Again, when I make a full report early in the New Year I will try and give you a full update on reconvictions, but certainly the situation would be that if any of the more minor offenders commit a more serious offence, that will put them back in the system and they will be reconsidered for deportation. Other than those, and, you will recall, there are a number who by their circumstances are not capable of being deported, either the court has already concluded that they are length-of-time resident here or the circumstances of their case make that inappropriate. So it is something we have looked at but, as of October, when I last fully updated, there had been no further serious reconvictions.

  Q55  Mrs Cryer: Can I go on to the mirror image of the questions I have just asked about justification for keeping foreign nationals in prison well beyond the end of the date on which they should have been released? I recognise there are problems in this, but I wonder if you could justify the fact that, because of delays, there are quite a number of foreign prisoners who are being kept in prison well beyond their release date.

  John Reid: Yes. By definition, the people who have been considered for deportation have either committed a very serious offence, because it is judged according to the sentence line, or have been recommended for deportation by the judges. It was quite clear when I became Home Secretary that the system of ensuring they were considered for deportation, being such serious offenders, had broken down to some extent. We are now putting that system right, but the crucial part of it is that you have to start the consideration sufficiently early to make sure that all of the judicial process can be gone through, and many of these people will use every single part of the appeals process, the judicial process and judicial review. You have to make sure there is sufficient time for that to take place before the release date. Coping with the present crisis, as well as considering all of those who ought to be considered, as well as working back through the backlog, as well as getting an increased lead time is no mean feat in the middle of what we are doing. We are trying to do all four. In the meantime, I am faced with a question, would the public expect me to release onto the streets prisoners of foreign nationality who have committed serious offences? My judgment is, no, the public would not and, therefore, I made the decision, as I said to this Committee, that, with all of the constraints in prison places, all of the shortages we face and all of the difficulties involved in that decision, that these people ought to be kept in detention until we have fully considered their deportation. That is what I said to the Committee that I would do, and that is what I have done.

  Q56  Mrs Cryer: To follow on from that, have any of the foreign prisoners who have been detained well after their release date, due to consideration for deportation, been compensated for to this?

  John Reid: No. There was a case. I do not know whether you are referring to the case recently where compensation was awarded. That was awarded for something different from this. None of these have been compensated. I do not accept that that case is transferable onto these ones. To put it simply, I regarded it as my duty to make sure that the public were protected from people who had committed offences and who ought to be considered for being removed from the country for the public protection. Therefore, until such time as that decision can be taken, I have decided that they ought to be detained. I do not pretend that is an easy decision, but it is the one I think I had to take.

  Q57  Mr Benyon: Home Secretary, you will obviously want to have an Immigration and Nationality Directorate that is free from corruption but also one that is seen to be free from corruption. In the last year we had the Pamnani allegations which were the subject of Tim Gbedemah's Report. This Committee identified that 700 plus cases had been referred to the internal bodies that investigate corruption within the IND, and then, last May, we had the allegations concerning James Dawute, a Chief Immigration Officer, remarkably, seven months later, still under investigation. Do you agree with me that what we need here is some sort of external body, rather like the police have, to investigate cases so that we can really feel that the correct degree of scrutiny is being put into these cases?

  John Reid: We have an external body. It is called the police. When people are acting illegally, as some of these allegations would assert, then the appropriate body is the police, if there is illegality. We also have an internal Code of Conduct for the Civil Service. We also have our own internal investigations. So there are three levels of investigation into that. You were, rightly, careful to use the word "allegations". I take any allegations of corruption very seriously indeed, especially if they involve corruption which impinges upon people—Sex for Visas, that sort of thing—and vulnerable people, and so we try to deal with that as robustly as possible. I think the case you have mentioned may have been passed to the police, which may be part of the reason it is a seven-month investigation. It is up to them to try and collect the evidence, and that is not always easy, but they will be dealt with robustly and, if found to be guilty, as ruthlessly as we can because we certainly want to root that out. Lin, do you want to say anything on that?

  Ms Homer: Home Secretary, just to confirm that we always involve the police in cases of that sort. We work very closely with them. Indeed, they pursue a number of investigations with us before they come to light to ensure that they can gather the evidence appropriately, but we have also during the course of the year, following the discussions with yourselves, strengthened our internal security and corruption unit to ensure that we have the capacity to undertake the initial investigations which often then lead to joint work with the police.

  Q58  Mr Benyon: The Gbedemah Report read quite well when we were in Luna House on the day it came out, but subsequent allegations made it seem, frankly, complacent when we perceived the degree of problems that existed in the IND. Do you not feel that an organisation rather like the Police Complaints Commission, which is seen to be independent from the organisation it investigates, is the one that is actually doing this work?

  Ms Homer: The police are completely independent from IND. I do not know how many people have been sacked in the last year.

  Sir David Normington: Five hundred and thirty-six in the Home Office, including IND.

  Q59  Chairman: How many of those were from IND?

  Sir David Normington: I have not got that, but from recollection about 80. I will have to confirm that.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2007
Prepared 1 May 2007