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Carter Review

5. Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale) (Lab): What steps he is taking to implement the recommendations of the Carter review of prisons. [172662]

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): I set out the Government’s plans to implement the Carter review in my statement to this House on 5 December. I announced an additional 10,500 prison places to come on stream by 2014, including up to three very large “titan” prisons, as recommended by Lord Carter, and funding towards that programme of £1.2 billion capital and resource. I will also establish a judicially led working group to consider the advantages, disadvantages and feasibility of a permanent sentencing commission.

Mr. Hall: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Given the Home Secretary’s short-sighted and damaging decision this week not to implement in full the findings of the police pay review, what assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the Prison Service’s ability to manage prisoners in police cells, if police officers work to rule?

Mr. Straw: I am afraid that I do not accept my hon. Friend’s description of the decisions that the Government as a whole made on public sector pay, including pay for police officers. We have great admiration for the police. We have worked very hard—I did when I was Home Secretary, and all my successors have done so—to ensure that the police are properly rewarded, and they are. That is shown in high levels of retention and very high
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levels of interest in recruitment to the police service. On the so-called Operation Safeguard, which concerns the use of police cells, I have had no information whatever to say that it is likely to be affected by any suggestions of the kind that my hon. Friend mentions.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): While additional prison places are clearly long overdue—I am delighted that the Government have announced that a substantial number will be constructed in the coming years—does the Lord Chancellor not accept that what the Prison Service requires is more vocational training facilities and more genuine educational facilities, so that when people come out of prison, they have been rehabilitated and are given the opportunity to apply for jobs in the real world outside, and do not resort to criminality?

Mr. Straw: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman welcomes my announcement on Carter. It builds on the 20,000 places that have been provided in the past 10 years—that is twice the rate under our predecessors. The figures include 1,400 places this calendar year and 2,300 next year. I accept what he says about the importance of expanding education and training in our Prison Service. They have improved dramatically in the past decade. More than 23,500 offenders were engaged in learning in the Prison Service this June, and spending on offender learning has almost trebled since 2001, but we can still do more, and I am glad to have the hon. Gentleman’s support on that.

Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire) (Lab): We must also address the quality of the existing provision of prison places. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend’s Department has drawn his attention to the inquest results on Martin Green, my constituent who died in Blakenhurst prison in the summer of 2002. It is perhaps revealing that the inquest took so long to arrive at a conclusion. Is my right hon. Friend prepared to meet relatives of Mr. Green to discuss the appalling lack of care that the inquest revealed? I have seen the post-mortem results, and the case has the nearest resemblance of any that I have seen to that of someone from a concentration camp—a victim of the Nazis.

Mr. Straw: I do not want to comment on that individual case, except to say to my hon. Friend that of course I will make arrangements to see the bereaved relatives. Our hearts go out to the family and friends of any prisoner who dies in such circumstances, and indeed to the staff concerned. The Prison Service has worked extremely hard better to identify prisoners who are at risk of self-harm, although it cannot be a perfect science, and to reduce considerably the number of deaths in custody.

David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): May I bring the Secretary of State back to the issue of the titan prisons that he announced? Will he tell the House on what Lord Carter bases his conclusion that such gigantic prisons will be more effective than smaller, local prisons? That seems to go against the evidence that the inspectorate has gained over many years. On the face of it, Lord Carter appears to suggest very large, low-staffed, panopticon-style prisons of the sort that have brought the Californian prison system to its knees.

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Mr. Straw: There is absolutely no comparison between anything that happens, or will happen, in the Prison Service in England and Wales and the appalling situation faced by the Californian prison system, where hundreds of prisoners are currently packed into gymnasiums. The Californian state now spends more on the prison service than on education. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman in that respect. Lord Carter bases his proposals on cost-effectiveness, and on his view on the effectiveness of such large prisons. As to whether the prisons will be local, yes, they can be. For example, there is an urgent need for more prison accommodation in London and the south-east, particularly to the east of the great conurbation. I see no reason why a local prison cannot be provided within a very large establishment, as with three smaller ones. Finally, it is perfectly possible within the perimeters of a large establishment to operate different regimes, so that one has the benefits of scale as well as the benefits of smaller prisons and better regimes.

Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): Despite the fact that the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson), offered supportive words to my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) about drug addiction in prisons, why did drug treatment and rehabilitation barely get a mention in Lord Carter’s review or the Secretary of State’s response last week? How will the Secretary of State ensure that prisons have a purpose other than warehousing addiction to drugs and a propensity to reoffend?

Mr. Straw: The purpose of prisons has improved dramatically, as has the reality in the past decade. We do not have warehousing of prisoners. That is an easy thing for the hon. Gentleman to say, but he should go back to the situation that existed 10, 20 or 30 years ago. He should look at the riots that took place in prisons and the continual inquiries that had to take place. He should take note, too, of the fact that there has been a 997 per cent. increase in drug treatment in prisons since 1996-97, with record numbers engaged in such treatment. If he supports that, fine, but he must recognise the great work that has taken place over the past 10 years.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): If we cut reoffending we would not need to build so many prisons. May I echo the comments of the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) about prison education? Will my right hon. Friend assure me that per capita spending on education for young people in the secure estate will be, and will remain, at least at the level of per capita spending on secondary school pupils?

Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend asked me a very specific question, so I shall write to him. However, a great effort has been put into education in secure establishments for young people as well as in establishments for adults. Ultimately, the responsibility for cutting offending rests with criminals, but we can provide facilities and support, as we have done for young offenders and their families. However, offenders must make a decision—it is their responsibility, as it was their decision to get involved in crime—to get out of crime. We will help them, but they have to make that decision.

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Data Protection

6. Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): What steps he is taking to prevent the unauthorised release of personal data by his Department. [172663]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. Michael Wills): The Ministry of Justice has procedures and guidance governing security, information security and data protection, designed to identify and control the risk of the unauthorised release of personal data. They include ensuring that our sites are physically secure and protected from unauthorised access; ensuring that our employees are reliable through checks on their background; providing guidance to staff on general security, with separate guidance on IT security and data protection issues; and procedures for assessing IT systems. We also have systems for monitoring and checking compliance, and those policies and procedures extend to our contracted IT suppliers.

Of course, there can never be a cast-iron guarantee that human errors will not occur or that there will never be any unauthorised releases of information, so we must remain vigilant. Even before the deeply regrettable incident at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the Prime Minister commissioned the Walport-Thomas review under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice into the way in which personal data are used and protected in the public and private sector. In addition, we previously announced that we would amend the Data Protection Act 1998 to increase the penalty for knowingly and recklessly misusing personal data, so that those found guilty of that offence could be imprisoned for up to two years.

Mr. Mackay: The Information Commissioner has said that he should have powers to carry out spot checks in Government Departments and other bodies to ensure that they comply with data protection legislation. Does the Minister agree with Richard Thomas?

Mr. Wills: Yes, we do. We are implementing that, and giving Richard Thomas the powers.

Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend give us an assurance on personal data and confirm that prisoners’ medical records are securely contained but can be regularly accessed by GPs?

Mr. Wills: The data protection rules must apply to everybody but, where necessary and with proper protections, access will be given to the appropriate people.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Will the Minister of State confirm that C-NOMIS, the computer programme for the National Offender Management Service, is designed to track data on individual offenders from court into prison and thence when they are released back into the community? Is it true that Roger Hill, the Director of Probation, has announced that C-NOMIS is to be put on hold and scaled back for use in prisons alone, thus undermining its whole purpose? Is this not a case of £155 million down the drain, and yet another example of Government incompetence?

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Mr. Wills: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his ingenuity in managing to ask that question during a question about data protection. The answer to his question is no, it is not true.

European Court of Human Rights

7. John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): How many cases brought by prisoners under human rights legislation went to the European Court of Human Rights in the last five years. [172664]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Bridget Prentice): The Government are not routinely informed by the court of all applications containing complaints against the United Kingdom. Therefore, no statistics are held centrally on the number of applications against the UK made by prisoners in the past five years. However, since 1 January 2003 judgments or admissibility decisions in at least 41 ECHR cases in which the applicant was a prisoner have been communicated to the United Kingdom.

John Robertson: My hon. Friend will be aware of the ruling in the House of Lords at the end of October that the 12-month rule on applications under human rights law did not apply in Scotland. Thus, £70 million in compensation may be paid to prisoners. With the recent case of a prisoner who was denied IVF treatment getting a €5,000 award from the court through the convention, does my hon. Friend think that the convention is tipped the wrong way, and that it is time we started thinking of victims and put an end to this ludicrous state of affairs?

[Official Report, 18 December 2007, Vol. 469, c. 1MC.]

Bridget Prentice: My hon. Friend refers to the judgment in Somerville and others v. Scottish Ministers. The Government are disappointed by the Grand Chamber’s judgment and are studying it with great care. As he says, it has an effect on time scales for bringing actions, but clarifies the legal structure of the Scotland Act 1998. Careful consideration is required across Government here in Westminster and by Scottish Ministers.

On my hon. Friend’s general point, allegations of breaches of convention rights are dealt with by the courts, which weigh the evidence and decide the outcome according to law. If, at the end of that legal process, the outcome is such that the Government believe that a change in the law is necessary, the appropriate legislative arrangements must be made.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): There are 11,211 foreign national prisoners in prisons in England and Wales, making up 14 per cent. of the prison population. Is it the Human Rights Act that prevents those people from being returned to secure detention in their own countries? My understanding is that their consent is required before they are returned to their country of origin. Most people in this country would like to see them sent back, even if they did not consent.

Bridget Prentice: The hon. Gentleman needs to be brought up to date with some of the facts and figures. The Government have managed to get 100 agreements with other countries in order to have foreign national prisoners returned. The 14 per cent. that the hon.
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Gentleman mentions is the second lowest percentage in the whole of western Europe. If he really wants to find where problems lie, he needs to look elsewhere.

Anne Moffat (East Lothian) (Lab): In these cases, has there been any dialogue about the barbaric practice of handcuffing women to beds when they are in labour and giving birth?

Bridget Prentice: My hon. Friend refers to a disgraceful practice during the last Conservative Administration. I can assure her that this Government will make sure that such practices do not occur under our watch, or ever again.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): Can the hon. Lady advise the House of the position under the human rights legislation of a householder or a property owner who defends their property, family or possessions from a burglary and is subsequently accused of assault? Can they be given the full protection of the law?

Bridget Prentice: I know that the hon. Lady takes a considerable interest in this matter, and I believe that she introduced a private Member’s Bill on the subject some time ago. I understand her concerns, and she is quite right that such a person is entitled to full protection under the law, and would get it.

Prison Service (Lancashire)

8. Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): What assessment he has made of trends in levels of recruitment into the Prison Service in Lancashire; and if he will make a statement. [172665]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. David Hanson): Since 2000, the average recruitment of prison officers in the north-west, including Lancashire prisons, has been 200 a year. Taking account of turnover and the provision of increased capacity, the Prison Service expects to recruit 340 new officers in the north-west by March 2009, and a new national recruitment campaign will be launched in January 2008.

Mr. Hoyle: As my right hon. Friend is aware, retention is a key issue, and the way to achieve that is through morale within the Prison Service. He may or may not be aware—I have mentioned it once before—of morale at Wymott. What can he do to ensure that morale is lifted and that the Prison Officers Association and the governor get on better working terms, so that retention is key to the prison’s future?

Mr. Hanson: As I said in last week’s debate, I shall be happy to receive any representations that my hon. Friend wishes to make so that I and the management team can address specific issues. The resignation rate among officers in Lancashire this year is just 1.3 per cent. against the national figure of 2 per cent. I shall certainly consider the issues that he raises, but there is strong stability in the Prison Service staff in Lancashire at the moment.

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Youth Reoffending

9. Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): What steps he is taking to prevent young people from reoffending. [172667]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. David Hanson): Between 2000 and 2005, youth reoffending reduced by 2.5 per cent. The Youth Justice Board has worked with partners to improve practice to ensure that the right performance frameworks and indicators are in place, and to put in place a delivery plan to reduce reoffending still further.

Andrew Gwynne: Given what my right hon. Friend says and the real achievements of the youth offending team, the Prison Service and probation officers in Tameside and Stockport, what more can the Government do to ensure that once young people have served their punishment, they receive the support, help and intervention necessary to keep them on the straight and narrow, particularly in relation to housing and access to the employment market?

Mr. Hanson: My hon. Friend raises important points. We need to ensure that we reduce reoffending among under-18s in custody, which stands at approximately 76 per cent. We need to consider what help we can give with accommodation, and pilot projects are operational. We also need to ensure that we invest in skill development and learning, which is why I welcome the Prime Minister’s establishment of the joint unit between the Department for Children, Schools and Families and my Department to work together to manage the Youth Justice Board so that we can consider education and skill development, which are key to the prevention of further reoffending.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Does the Minister agree that one way to stop young people from reoffending is to have fairness in the justice system? My constituent, Mr. Shalish Patel has been charged with a serious offence and is correctly remanded in prison, but in Birmingham, not at the local remand prisons of Bedford or Woodhill, and his family is particularly concerned—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The person concerned has been charged, so the matter is sub judice and it would be best to move on.

Sarah McCarthy-Fry (Portsmouth, North) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome the drop in youth offending rates, but what is being done to spread examples of best practice in different parts of the country to ensure that we have a unified approach so that levels can drop still further?

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