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I would like more thought given to the number of foreign nationals in our prisons. Of the 83,000 people now in prison, 11,000 are foreign nationals. We need a review to find out how we can get some of them to serve their sentences in their own countries, perhaps by having
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some financial arrangement with the home countries. I suspect that it would be less than the £30,000 a year that it costs the British taxpayer to fund prison places for each individual.

We have heard about rehabilitation. It is absolutely right that we should try to get people off drugs and rehabilitated. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) is committed to having 20,000 extra drug rehabilitation places. I commend him for that. Education, libraries and access to learning are also crucial. Of course, as we have heard, all those are stagnating because of the current overpopulation of many prisons.

The third sector—the voluntary or charitable sector—provides many answers to many of the problems discussed tonight. Yet the Government are not freeing up the organisations within it, and not giving them enough access to come into prisons to provide those valuable solutions that we all seek.

I commend prison chaplains on their excellent work. I hope that political correctness, or pandering to certain minorities, does not mean that the Government put up barriers to their excellent work. I hope that the Minister of State, who is looking slightly confused, will go on the record as saying that he supports the work of prison chaplains, and that he would speak to any prison governor who tried to throw them out because of political correctness.

Mr. Hanson: I support prison chaplains, and I support prison imams and people from all faiths who help in prisons.

Mark Pritchard: I hope that those words will be noted by any prison governors who believe that prison chaplains are not suitable for the modern prison.

Mr. Hanson: If the hon. Gentleman can give me any evidence of that, I would welcome it and look into the matter.

Mark Pritchard: I am grateful that my fishing skills are still working. I am pleased that the Minister took the bait, and I will be happy to do that.

We heard about bail hostels. My hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) was right that ClearSprings needs to come clean about where it operates and the types of people within its hostels. I believe that there is one ClearSprings bail hostel in my constituency, and possibly three, but there has been no public consultation. There certainly has been no consultation with the local council. Why is it that yet again the Government seem to be putting the rights of criminals before the rights of law-abiding citizens such as my constituents? It is absolutely wrong.

In conclusion, it is a great paradox that we have a Government who want to let out prisoners who we know have committed offences, but want to lock up British people who we know have not committed offences. They are failing in their first duty to protect British citizens and my constituents, and they have to get their act together.

9.33 pm

David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): It is clear from what we have heard tonight that the current system of sentencing is nothing but a sham, a disgrace and a public confidence trick that has been perpetrated against the public for, in my opinion, far too long—for years, in
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fact, and in many ways it predates even this Government. At the moment, someone sentenced to one year in prison will spend about three months inside, someone sentenced to two years will spend about seven months inside, and someone sentenced to four years will spend just one year and seven months inside. Let us not forget that a four-year sentence is seen as a very serious sentence, and handed out only for crimes such as armed robbery.

Ms Dari Taylor: Will the hon. Gentleman agree and accept, on the Floor of the House tonight, that the number of convictions fell by a third under a previous Conservative Administration, and that more people are in prison under this Government than was ever the case then?

David T.C. Davies: The hon. Lady is trying to do what the Home Office does—blind us with statistics. One of the reasons there are so many people in prison is the number of foreign nationals who were not here under the Conservative Government. If we look at the number of indigenous British people in prison, we see that the overall number is not much greater.

This is yet another example of the way in which statistics are twisted and turned in an attempt to hide the fact that this Government are soft on crime and very soft on sentencing. Perhaps that is because they have swallowed too much of the anti-prison propaganda that has been emerging for far too many years from the Howard League for Penal Reform and many similar organisations—which, I might add, are not even prepared to debate the issues in public. Every time I receive an invitation to attend one of their conferences I write back, “Give me five minutes, give me three minutes, give me one minute, and I will stand up on the platform and prove that you lot are absolutely wrong.” They never even bother to reply.

The reason those organisations are wrong is that they talk about the costs of prison, which is an argument that we heard earlier this evening. Let us examine those costs.

Mr. George Howarth: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

David T.C. Davies: I will give way in a minute, but the right hon. Gentleman should listen to this first.

We spend approximately £2 billion imprisoning 80,000 people. A report produced by the Government back in 2000 suggested that the total cost of crime in our society was about £60 billion a year. In 2003 Lord Carter—another supporter of the Government, I believe—produced a report showing that 50 per cent. of crime in this country was committed by a hard core of 100,000 offenders, of whom only 15,000 were in prison at any given time. The other 85,000 were on the loose, presumably serving community sentences.

The simple fact that we can deduce from that, using the Government’s own figures, is that if we doubled the prison population from approximately 82,000 to approximately 160,000, removing the 85,000 people who are committing half the crime in the country, it would of course double the cost of imprisonment from £2 billion to £4 billion, but we could make a net saving of £30 billion for the taxpayer. That is the saving that could be made if
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we halved the amount of crime in the country. That means that prison is a bargain for the taxpayer, and the more prisons we can build the better.

Mr. Howarth: I greatly regret the fact that the hon. Gentleman has been denied a platform for his views. Has he given any consideration to resigning and fighting a by-election on the issue?

David T.C. Davies: I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I do not intend to do that: I intend to go on fighting for what I believe in here. I can also assure him, however, that if I ever were to do it, a large majority in this country would support me. Anyone who has been a victim of crime believes that prison works, and prisoners do not want to go to prison. That is why all defence solicitors try to obtain community sentences for their clients.

Community sentences are not tougher. I have seen them in action. I could tell stories of people serving so-called tough community sentences effing and blinding at staff, demanding that chips be brought to them because they cannot be bothered to queue. I have stood and watched that happen. I have friends in the police force who have seen people serving community sentences who have been unwilling to get off the bus because there is a light drizzle: they do not want to get wet because that would infringe their human rights. That is the reality of community sentences: they are not in the least bit tough, which is why all defence solicitors try to get their clients community sentences rather than prison sentences.

The arguments about deterrence and reconviction rates do not add up. We know that the rate is about 60 per cent. in generic terms, whether people are serving a community sentence or a prison sentence, but if we break prison sentencing down, as I did earlier, we see that the longer prisoners serve, the less likely they are to reoffend. That is not simply because many are serving life sentences because they have committed murder. Those who are sentenced to between four and 10 years in prison are only 33 per cent. likely to reoffend within two years. The reason is simple: as any prison officer will confirm, those dealing with these people need a bit of time to work with them.

This is where I suddenly become a bit more fluffy and Guardian-reading. [Laughter.] Yes, it is a bit of a shock, isn’t it? There are things that I heard earlier with which I actually agreed. Many people who end up in the penal system come from very difficult backgrounds. Typically they have no education and no social skills, and they have drug and alcohol problems. We can all agree on that. But we will not help people like that by sentencing them to a year in prison and then letting them out three months later, returning them to the estates where their problems began.

I do not have enough time to say more about this now, but I do not believe in throwing people into a cage and leaving them there. I believe that much more needs to be done in prisons to help those with drug and alcohol problems, and to give them the vocational skills—perhaps even academic skills in some cases—that will allow them to obtain jobs in the outside world. At the same time, I would be a little tougher and say, “If they’re not prepared to take advantage of the opportunities that we must put in front of them, they don’t come out of prison.”

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It is obvious from the Government’s own figures that prison works, that it is good for the taxpayer, that it is good for the victims, who get justice, and that it can also be good for the prisoners themselves. I commend my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier), who I am sure will be this country’s next Justice Minister, for the work that he will do in building more prisons and putting more people who deserve to be there into prison, but also in helping those with serious drug problems to get help elsewhere, so they do not get wrapped up in the penal system.

9.40 pm

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): This has been a short and overcrowded debate, and I am sorry that there has not been long enough for other Members to contribute—or for Members of my party to speak for longer, as in the limited time they have had there have been some stellar speeches. That demonstrates that my party, at least, has thought about the questions we face today.

Before I deal with the motion and the Government amendment, I want to highlight a couple of points that have been made in the debate. It pains me—not very much, but somewhat—to have to say that the Secretary of State can never be accused of rising to the occasion. I am sorry that he is not present. I think he must be the only Cabinet Minister who is able to make an after-dinner speech well before dinner. It concerns me that he is able to treat a subject of such importance with such levity. I fear that the longer he remains in office, either as Home Secretary or as Secretary of State for Justice, the less chance we have of seeing a coherent strategic approach to the criminal justice issues that our motion describes. Let us hope that the Minister of State, who has thought about these issues with greater concentration, is able to sum up on behalf of the Government in more attractive fashion.

The Secretary of State rightly said that the number of escapes from category A prisons is now down to more or less zero, but the real issues nowadays for security in prisons is not who escapes unlawfully from the custodial estate—the open estate is a different matter, of course—but what contraband gets in either over the walls or through visitors or prison officers smuggling stuff in. That statement gives me the opportunity to agree with Members who have paid tribute to those who work in prisons: prison and probation officers, those who work in the education service in prisons, and all those who work to keep the people whom the courts have sent to prison safe, in an attempt to rehabilitate and reform them so that they come back on to our streets, as many of them do, in a better condition and fitter to spend their time back in society, looking after themselves and their dependants and paying their way.

That is not an easy task. I have visited more than 45 custodial institutions since I was appointed to this job, and I can assure anybody who doubts it that prisons are not pleasant places to work or live in. We have a Government who were prepared, through neglect, to allow Norwich prison, for example, to continue to be run in a state of filth, with sewage leaking out of the pipes and into the areas where prison officers had to work and prisoners had to live. When we have a
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Government who were prepared to allow that to go on—and to do so because they had so managed the system that it was overcrowded and they could not decant the wing in order to repair it—we have a Government of which I, and I think most civilised and rational people, despair.

My hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) set out the case that my party makes against this Government, and one looks to their amendment to see how they respond to that charge—one does not look to the Secretary of State’s speech for that, because it did not provide the answer. The Prime Minister’s amendment claims that we should welcome

One has only to examine the facts to see that violent crime, particularly crime involving knives and guns, has increased. The overall level of crime may have been reduced, but the public are rightly worried.

People realise that our prisons are more overcrowded than they ever have been, and that the rise in the number of prisoners from 60,000 to 83,000 should not be a point of pride. It should be a point of shame, especially when one considers what is done for prisoners inside prison—nothing. That is not because the prison officers are not doing enough work or because the educationists are not doing enough to help, but because the Government have so overcrowded the prison estate that nothing meaningful can be done to assist in their rehabilitation.

Until we can get reformed and rehabilitated prisoners who come out into society as useful citizens, the reoffending rate will remain as high as it is. Until we can do that, and until the point made so eloquently just now by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins)—he has made it before, but it appears not to have touched the consciousness of the Government—is drilled into the Government’s brain, nothing will be done and this hopeless carousel of people appearing before him and before me when we sit as recorders and as sentencers will continue. Nothing will be done in terms either of the moral rightness of the case about which we complain or of public expenditure, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Woking on what he said.

I also listened with great care to what the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) had to say. I did not go to Cambridge—I went to an older university—but I think that many who did, including perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs, will have felt that the hon. Gentleman’s speech was like a law lecture given in the faculty.

David Howarth: It was not that good.

Mr. Garnier: No, it was not that good, but it was a thoughtful and constructive speech, I enjoyed listening to it and I hope that the Government will pay attention to it.

I also found the speech made by the right hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) thoughtful. The interventions that I made upon him were deliberately designed to find out more about the work of Lord Justice Gage’s working party. I had not realised that the right hon. Gentleman
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was a member of it, but, having heard him speak, I am glad that he is. I take him at his word when he says that he is not interested in making party political points during its deliberations, because I am sure that he is not. I look forward with interest to reading the final recommendations of that working party, as I am sure we all do.

None the less, I retain my concerns about the motives behind the setting up of the working party and about this dangerous collision point between the Executive and the judiciary—I leave aside the concerns that we have as parliamentarians—on the interference with judicial discretion on sentencing. Sentencing is about the most difficult judicial task that sentencers have to carry out, and although the sentencing commission might be set up for one purpose, we need to be extremely careful that it does not achieve another.

My hon. Friends the Members for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) and for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies) were crammed in at the very last moments of this debate and, not for the first time, they made some powerful points very powerfully. Time does not permit me to speak sufficiently about what they had to say.

It is not an idle boast when I say that the Conservatives are genuinely thinking hard about the issues that face us. The prison population is too high for the available capacity, and we want prisons to do what they cannot do at the moment: we want them to become places of education, hard work, rehabilitation and restoration. That would mean that prisoners who justly go to prison for committing serious crimes come out repaired, not only so that they do less harm to themselves, but so that they do real good to their families and those who live close to them.

Some £11 billion is wasted in the criminal justice system on reconvicting people, and we want to unlock that money and use it to get people off drugs, to teach people to read and write and to make them employable. It really will not do for the Secretary of State and his Ministers to tell us how much money they have put into the system, if nothing comes of it.

My hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State had an exchange with the Secretary of State about the Prison Service instruction on those unlawfully at large. Again, I am afraid that time does not permit me to go into detail, but that is a live issue that the Secretary of State needs to resolve. The public cannot be expected to have any confidence in the criminal justice system if they get the impression that people who escape from prison and are unlawfully at large are rewarded, when they should not be.

My 10 minutes are up, and I must not trespass on the Minister’s time. I have much more to say, and I hope that the fact that I am bringing my remarks to a conclusion will not give the Government a chance to say that we have nothing to say. We have—it is in our paper “Prisons with a Purpose”. I urge the Minister to read it, learn from it and produce policy on the basis of it.

9.51 pm

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