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Approximately 2 per cent.probably 1 per cent.of the prison population never leave prison. The vast majority go to prison and come out. If we put people in prison illiterate and on drugs, and allow them to maintain that state of affairs, it is hardly surprising that they reoffend when they leave prison. One cannot get a job if one cannot read. One needs a reading age of 14 or older to get a job. Even an unskilled job requires some reading ability. Approximately 65 to 70 per cent. of the prison population has a reading age of under 11. The Government appear to want to do little about that.
Yes, the Government have increased the number of pounds that are spent on education. However, they think only of input, not output. It is no good, as a Government Back Bencher suggested in the debate, simply increasing spending on drug rehabilitation. The Government may well have increased the amount, but they have not increased the benefit to the public or to the prisoners. [Interruption.] It is uncontroversial to say that there is no better place than prison to take drugs, pick up a drug habit and become a drug addict. If any Labour Members want to contradict me, I suggest that they visit as many prisons, young offender institutions and secure training centres as I have. They will soon learn different.
The hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) was right that there is a need to consider whether a prison or custodial accommodation should be providedfor men and women, as the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) saidin north Wales. It is not right that people should be taken a long way from their homes so that their families are broken up and children lose touch with their parents in prison. The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Lady may knowbut the Secretary of State may notthat 150,000 children who go to bed tonight have a parent in prison. Broken families lead to repeat crime. Failure to be visited by their families just once a year has a correlation with reoffending by those who are released from prison. I urge hon. Members to consider that carefully as we watch the train crash happening. We have been watching it for the past few years.
Sadly, time does not permit me to give full credit to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Woking, who spoke with great knowledge and passion about education and drugs in prison. The average time spent on purposeful activity in our prisons is currently 3.6 hours a day. Given the time that prisoners are kept locked in doing nothing, cannot we get them to learn to read if they have 14, 15 or 16 hours in their cells alone? Cannot toe-by-toe schemes be spread more widely throughout the prison estate? Cannot we do something practical rather than simply allowing the Secretary of State to make a few feeble jokes about my being on a voyage of discovery? I have indeed been on a voyage of discovery. [Hon. Members: Oh!] Yes, I have been on a voyage of discovery, and the public and the Government would have benefited greatly if the Secretary of State had been on it with me. I do not say this with any sense of amusement or pleasure, but we currently have the blind leading the blind and it is the public who pay for it, in money and the huge rates of reoffending. Until the Government get their head round that, get a grip and really pull their socks up, I am afraid that we are in for worse.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. David Hanson):
We have had a productive debate. A lot of it was predictable, but in part it was also thoughtful. I pay tribute not only to my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Mahmood), for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) and for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) for their contributions, but to the hon. Members for Woking (Mr. Malins) and for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), although less so to the hon. Member for
North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara), but he is entitled to make his political points.
This has been a thoughtful debate, which has added to the need to look at some of the key issues. There are key issuesI share the view of the hon. Member for Woking on thisto do with numeracy, literacy, drug abuse, employment, providing people with accommodation post-prison, and rebuilding lives during prison, before prison when people enter the youth justice system and post-prison. There are real issues that we can address. There is even an element whereby, dare I say it, the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) agrees deep down with some of the things that the Government are doing. Deep down, he knows that we are taking a positive approach and that we have matters in common on the way to tackle reoffending.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that I represent a constituency with one of the biggest prison populations? The morale of the Prison Officers Association at Wymott, one of the two prisons in my constituency, is at an all-time low, but the governor is unhelpful. We need to consider what we can do. Will my right hon. Friend intervene to see what the issues are, so that we can help get that prison back on track, as its numbers are going to be increased and the current dispute is not the right way to go?
Mr. Hanson: If my hon. Friend wants to discuss the situation in Wymott, as well as general issues, I should be happy to meet him, because I know that he will share my wish to see an effective Prison Service and an effective probation service that is committed to reducing reoffending.
We are having this debate against a background of reducing crime, and we must never forget that. Crime is down 32 per cent. over the past 10 years, burglary is down 55 per cent., vehicle theft is down 52 per cent., household offences are down 33 per cent. and all personal offences are down by 32 per cent. overall. I am not going to duck the fact [ Interruption. ] I am grateful for the intervention of the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham). If only he had been here throughout the debate, he could have listened to all the thoughtful contributions. There are still some clear challenges for us and for the Prison Service in preventing reoffending.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North mentioned the Corston report. There is much positive policy promoted by Baroness Corston. I hope that I will be able to respond to that shortly. We have already given the process a positive response and I look forward to responding to the report in detail, I hope very shortly.
A number of hon. Members mentioned the Carter report, including my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor. Hon. Members will know that we have asked Lord Carter to assess the pace and scale of the current prison building programme, the management and efficiency of public sector prisons, the impact of recommendations for the prison estate on all parts of the criminal justice system, and the changes in the sentencing framework. As my right hon. Friend said, we expect Lord Carter to report shortly.
We also have a positive programme of examining not only prison building but the reduction of reoffending. It is on that point that I wish to concentrate now. My hon. Friends the Members for Wrexham and for Birmingham, Perry Barr and the hon. Members for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) and for Woking have all put their finger on the key issues that we need to address. There is an element of support across the House for those issues.
The Government have identified seven pathways that need to be addressed in order to prevent reoffending. They include accommodation, drug treatment, and educationthe hon. Member for Woking mentioned support for education and training. They also include finding a better way of linking employment opportunities outside prison with training opportunities in prison. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr mentioned the scheme at Winson Green prison, which I happened to visit a few weeks ago, and the community justice scheme at Lozells in his constituency. Both are attempting to examine the key issues of employability, training and support for individuals. Self-evidently, there are three issues that are important to individuals in regard to the prevention of reoffending. They are employment, accommodation and support from family, friends and colleagues.
I refer the hon. and learned Member for Harborough to a document that I produced yesterday on the consultation on reducing reoffending, which contains our designs for tackling the issues of accommodation, drugs, debt, family, employment, literacy and numeracy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Ms Butler) mentioned, we also need to look at the causes of crime before people even get into the criminal justice system. We have examined the work of the Youth Justice Board and I would like to tell the hon. Member for Woking that the Department for Children, Schools and Families is now working with my Department to examine what we need to do in regard to interventions on families, to young people identified as being a problem, to raising levels of literacy and numeracy and to supporting those key issues.
There are several things that we can do in regard to the prison programme generally, and I believe that we will do them. They involve not only increasing prison capacity but making prisons effective in tackling some of the long-term issues that have been mentioned.
Colin Burgon (Elmet) (Lab): The Minister has mentioned investment in the service. Some of the key people in it are the members of the Prison Officers Association, who do excellent work in the two prisons in my constituency. Will he put on record his acknowledgement of their work? Will he also dismiss the story that appeared in The Observeron 18 November, I thinkthat said that drastic cuts in the membership of the Prison Service were being considered?
I will certainly put on record my support for the work that the prison officers do. Like
the hon. and learned Member for Harborough, I visit prisons almost every week, and I meet committed staff who are working hard in challenging and difficult circumstances, with some very challenging and difficult people, to ensure their rehabilitation and the protection of the public.
My hon. Friend asked about future prison officer numbers. We are currently looking at the budget and we have yet to determine the budget for future years, but with an expanding prison programme, we need to take on more prison officers. We shall need to ensure that we have prison officers who are trained to the highest capacity and who can do their important job safely. We have a positive prison building programme and a positive programme for the prevention of reoffending. We also have positive views on the challenges facing the Prison Service.
The real question for the Conservatives is whether they will support our agenda to tackle the causes of crime and social exclusion, and whether they will work with us to tackle some of the other issues that drive people into crime in the first place. Would they put forward the necessary resources to fund the prison building programme and to secure the necessary investment in the Prison Service? I very much doubt it, given their tax-cutting proposals.
Judging by todays debate, there is unanimity on the Labour Benches, anddare I say it?a common theme between ourselves, the Liberal Front-Bench spokesman and some Conservative Members on how we need to tackle these issues, but there is still a dichotomy that the Conservatives need to face. On the one hand, the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs and the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) want to see more and more prisons being built, more and more people being put away and, in due course, more and more people being put in prison without any remission whatever. On the other hand, the thoughtful hon. and learned Member for Harborough wants to see rehabilitation, investment in training, education and support and all those other positive issues.
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