Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment
of Offenders bill


The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: Mr Philip Hollobone  , †Jim Sheridan 

Blunt, Mr Crispin (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice)  

Brake, Tom (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD) 

Buckland, Mr Robert (South Swindon) (Con) 

Crockart, Mike (Edinburgh West) (LD) 

Cunningham, Alex (Stockton North) (Lab) 

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice)  

Fovargue, Yvonne (Makerfield) (Lab) 

Goodman, Helen (Bishop Auckland) (Lab) 

Green, Kate (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab) 

Gummer, Ben (Ipswich) (Con) 

Hinds, Damian (East Hampshire) (Con) 

Lee, Jessica (Erewash) (Con) 

Llwyd, Mr Elfyn (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC) 

Reynolds, Jonathan (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op) 

Slaughter, Mr Andy (Hammersmith) (Lab) 

Soubry, Anna (Broxtowe) (Con) 

Truss, Elizabeth (South West Norfolk) (Con) 

Turner, Karl (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab) 

Wallace, Mr Ben (Wyre and Preston North) (Con) 

Watts, Mr Dave (St Helens North) (Lab) 

Wright, Jeremy (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)  

Kate Emms, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Column number: 757 

Public Bill Committee 

Thursday 13 October 2011  

(Morning)

[Jim Sheridan in the Chair] 

Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill

Written evidence to be reported to the House 

LA 111 MG Law Limited 

LA 112 Ismail Abdulhai Bhamjee 

LA 113 Henry Hyams Solicitors, Leeds 

 

Clause 103 

Employment in prisons: deductions etc from payments to prisoners 

9 am 

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab):  I beg to move amendment 412, in clause 103, page 81, line 1, leave out ‘may’ and insert ‘shall’. 

The Chair:  With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 413, in clause 103, page 81, line 4, at end insert— 

‘(aa) for making payments for the benefit of any dependants of the offender;’.

Helen Goodman:  What a pleasure it is to see you in the Chair, Mr Sheridan, on what will be the last day of our consideration of the Bill in Committee—and what an interesting consideration it has been. We have had some good debates; we have had some bad-tempered debates. We have had the whole gamut of parliamentary behaviour in our proceedings. Opposition Members have certainly tried to scrutinise the Bill as well as they can within the time available. 

The purpose of amendment 412 is to require the Government to clarify the regulations relating to prisoners’ earnings, as we believe that the policy needs clarification. Amendment 413 would ensure that prisoners’ earnings can be used for the benefit of their dependants, as well as for the other purposes set out under the Bill. Since prisoner work is a flagship policy of the Secretary of State, it is worth pointing out that 24,000 prisoners in England and Wales out of a population of 85,000 are already working—[ Interruption. ] Does the Minister want to intervene and tell me that that is the wrong figure? Does he want to tell me the right figure? 

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Crispin Blunt):  The Minister will reply to the hon. Lady with a very precise figure, which is some way different from the figure that she has just given to the Committee. 

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Helen Goodman:  Well, thousands of prisoners are working in prisons in England and Wales. Actually, I thought that the number that I gave was rather high; it comes from Policy Exchange—I know that Government Members are interested in and involved with that think tank. 

Many prisoners already work on matters to enable prisons to function, including cleaning and working in waste disposal areas, but they also work on outside contracts. I have seen such work at Frankland, which has a good workshop in which furniture is made for Government contracts. Wormwood Scrubs has contracts with the private sector. It has a good scheme for learning how to mend shoes, as well as catering work. Although such work is a flagship policy of the Government, and we support them in their aim to increase the amount of work for prisoners, I do not want Government Members to deceive themselves by thinking that it is a new policy or a particular innovation. 

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab):  Does my hon. Friend agree that, given that the measure was presented, at least by the Government, as a flagship policy, it is regrettable that there has been little sign of specific attention being paid to the employment of women offenders, who are under-represented in accessing suitable employment while in custody? 

Helen Goodman:  My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In fact, I have not heard Ministers say anything about the employment of women offenders. I hope that they will correct that omission this morning, given that it is obviously just as important that women have the same working opportunities as men. 

I have also noticed that the Secretary of State has rowed back somewhat from his ambitious claims about the extent to which the number of working prisoners can be increased in a short time. We now have more realistic and meaningful targets. However, we have several questions about how the system will work in practice and we believe that a number of issues are unresolved, some of which I hope the Minister can clarify. 

Is there space and equipment in prisons for such a policy to be undertaken? Many prisons are on inner-city sites and are extremely crowded already. Space that has been used for exercise or gardens has now been built on, so there is less of it. The Government have restricted their room for manoeuvre by cutting the prison building programme, which will make the policy more difficult to handle. Moreover, if they are serious about prisoners working a 40-hour week, there is an issue about whether we need more staff in prisons to manage the policy as it will not fit in with the current shift patterns of prison officers. We need information about such matters. 

Where the work comes from will raise several problems. Will it be unfair competition to companies outside? I shall give a particular example that bothers me: prisoners often undertake work such as packing plastic kit things for aeroplanes. 

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab):  Headphones. 

Helen Goodman:  I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Such work is often done in Remploy factories throughout the country. The Government have renewed their attack

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on Remploy. Is it fair that people with disabilities who have not committed crimes and who work in Remploy factories find the economics of their work undermined because work is being diverted into prisons? That is the sort of hard moral dilemma that the Minister needs to address. We also want to know how the money will be used. 

I have received an interesting set of detailed questions from the Prison Officers Association, which—like the Opposition—has no objection to the introduction of a 40-hour week, and I hope that the Minister can enlighten the Committee about such issues. Which categories of prisoners will have access to work? From where will the capital investment come? How will the scheme be financed? What will be the implications for the safety, security and decency agenda in prisons? The association is worried that that might be put at risk. 

I should also be grateful if the Minister would explain in detail whether prisoners will be required to do such work or whether they will they be given a choice, because there is a human rights issue about the use of enforced labour, which is an obvious problem. We want prisoners to work and we want some discipline in the system, but we do not want a Soviet gulag system. That issue is not straightforward, so I hope that the Minister will say something about it. 

How will the proposal fit with the changes to the benefits system and the requirement for the unemployed to find work or lose benefits? How will it fit with the Work programme, which the Department for Work and Pensions is introducing? What level of wage will prisoners be paid? The clause states that prisoners’ money can be used 

“for the benefit of victims or communities” 

or for their own rehabilitation, but it is unclear whether the money may also be used for prisoners’ upkeep. What will the policy mean for their entitlements to, for example, free prescriptions and free dental care? 

Will the policy create unfair competition for factories in the external world? How much of the work do Ministers envisage will be done inside the prison and how much will be done by category C prisoners, for example, outside the prison? 

How will the policy affect education, rehabilitation and attendance at offending behaviour courses? That question is particularly significant for younger prisoners. It is good to have the discipline of work, but it is also important that people should learn. If people in prison cannot read, they need to learn to read and should be given such an opportunity because, even though they might get into a good pattern of working, if they cannot read they will not be able to obtain a job once they go outside again. Nowadays, people need to be able to read to get a job. The issue of skills is therefore important, as is that of attendance at offending behaviour courses, because people must address whatever caused them to offend in the first place. 

We should try to get the balance right. We have heard many statements, designed—not entirely successfully—to promote a tough image of the Justice team, about how so many prisoners will be working, slaving away for 40 hours a week, which is probably not what Ministers really expect and is anyway unrealistic. It would be helpful if the Minister addressed those issues. We have tabled the may/shall amendment because we should be

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clearer at the outset about how the policy will work, rather than there being massive discretion. 

Amendment 413 would insert the phrase, 

“for making payments for the benefit of any dependants of the offender”. 

I tabled it because there is a genuine dilemma; thinking about how the money should be used is not straightforward. As we all agreed when we discussed the clauses about compensation in September, prisoners owe a duty to the community and to their victim and they must make recompense for that, but we also want them to accept their family responsibilities, because if they have such responsibilities they should carry them out. Furthermore, in practice, family relationships are particularly important to people’s realisation that they need to change their behaviour. Therefore, if we can strengthen people’s relationships with their families, that may be a more powerful way to motivate them to improve their behaviour. 

9.15 am 

There is no straightforward answer. I do not think one can say, “Families are always the priority” or “Victims are always the priority”. It is genuinely tricky, but I am a little concerned that families and dependants do not get a look in. That is a mistake and the Bill should be amended so that that is taken on board. 

The voluntary sector has raised concerns about how the Government propose to allocate money for victims. I understand that 100% of the new levy on net earnings of prisoners will go to the Victim Support charity. Can the Minister confirm whether that is the case? If so, can he justify it, because there are many other organisations that do good work in supporting victims? They cover particular classes of victims for whom Victim Support does not currently have specialist experience. For example, Support after Murder and Manslaughter, Rape Crisis and Action after Fatal Domestic Abuse. 

If all the money goes to Victim Support, it raises another question, which is whether this falls foul of the EU commissioning regulations on contracts with the Government. If money is simply allocated to Victim Support, it raises the question of fair competition. 

Finally, can the Minister confirm whether the Secretary of State told Victim Support that it could have the money provided it stopped all campaigning work? If true, it is very concerning and it comes back to the discussion that we had in September. We want to have partnerships with the voluntary sector. We all know that the voluntary sector is good at some things, but we do not want to put it into a box where it works silently. We need to hear from it and to learn from its experience. If what I have been told is true, I will be alarmed, so I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us this morning that it is not the case. 

Kate Green:  Good morning, Mr Sheridan. It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair. 

I support the Government’s wish to increase the amount of work in prison, which is a hugely important aspect of the rehabilitative approach. It can contribute significantly to reducing reoffending if it is followed through outside the prison when the prisoner is released. I also support the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland. I agree that we already have a degree of working in prisons. Many thousands of

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prisoners are already involved, although many of them work relatively short hours in the week, and I am sure that is one of the concerns that the Minister seeks to address with the ambitions that the Government now have. However, as my hon. Friend says, it is difficult to accommodate full-time or near full-time working for the majority of prisoners within our prison estate. 

I visited Manchester prison in the summer. It is a very large prison serving the north of England and has some excellent programmes for prisoner employment. It runs a print shop that has a number of substantial print contracts, including one for the Ministry of Justice. It may have printed the Bill for all I know. If so, it did a very good job. The prison also runs a commercial laundry and a substantial and expanding waste disposal business. Even so, it is able to give employment experience and activity to only a very small proportion of prisoners. I understand that is not full-time employment or, if it is, only in a small minority of cases. The Minister must offer a sense of direction of travel towards a 40-hour week for serving prisoners. Over what time scale do the Government intend to achieve that objective, and what proportion of prisoners do they aim to have ultimately engaged in such work? 

Secondly, in an intervention on my hon. Friend, I raised my concern about suitable programmes of employment for women in prison. There is very little provision for women to undertake meaningful employment in our prisons. In the women’s prisons I have visited I observed a low level of ambition and energy for preparing women for release. It is regrettable that the Government have decided not to continue with the role of a champion for women in prisons. This is exactly the kind of thing that a champion for women in prisons could have looked at: identifying how work opportunities suited to the needs and circumstances of women in custody could be created. If we cannot look to that role to develop those opportunities, I would be interested to hear the Government’s thinking on the employment of women in prison. I have repeatedly asked the question in every possible forum, including Justice questions, but I have never had a specific answer. 

My third question relates to another point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland: the Government’s intentions regarding the obligation on prisoners to participate in work where it is available. Is it intended to have a different conditionality regime? Obviously the sanctions will have to be different, as we will not be able to sanction benefits. Will there be a different conditionality regime regarding the obligation to work for those obviously not serving custodial sentences, given that Ministers now intend to manage prisoner employment in the context of the Work programme? 

I also echo my hon. Friend’s questions about the application of prisoners’ earnings. How much does the Minister intend prisoners to earn? Will it be at the currently relatively low level of hardly a living wage? Or, if this is to be meaningful, realistic, real-life employment, is there an aspiration to offer real-life wages—national minimum wage rates—in future? Is it intended that prisoners should become liable for tax and national insurance? They would have to be working extensive

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hours and have a private income, I suspect, to fall within the tax bracket, but I shall be interested to hear the Minister’s views. 

My hon. Friend asked whether running costs for the prison are to be met to a degree from the profits of prisoner labour. In Manchester, due to the commercial success of the industries run in the prison, the governor is able to reinvest the derived income in other prison programmes and activities. That is a hugely important benefit for Manchester prison. If many more prisoners work and generate income within the prison estate, is it intended that some earnings will be reinvested in more and better programmes for prisoners? 

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab):  On the point about how the money is distributed, it looks as though it will have to go a long way. Does my hon. Friend agree that the proportion supposed to be allocated to victims ought to be distributed across the different organisations that assist victims, rather than just Victim Support? 

Kate Green:  I am certainly not going to decry the excellent work of Victim Support. Ministers must run a proper process for procuring, commissioning and inviting grant applications. Whatever the distribution mechanism, it must be fair and transparent. Like my hon. Friends the Members for Bishop Auckland and for Stockton North, I look forward to hearing the Minister’s proposed process for distributing money to organisations that work with victims. 

In addition to money for victims, there is the opportunity, as the amendment would provide, to direct some of the money to family members, to dependants. I echo the thoughts of my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland: that could be incredibly valuable in preparing the prisoner for reintegration and resettlement. We know that a prisoner released to a stable family environment faces a greater chance of not being involved in further offending. Cementing that family relationship by directing money to family members outside the prison, perhaps the mother of the prisoner’s children, could be an important way of strengthening that link. 

Finally, I want to ask the Minister about the fact that the Work programme is to be knitted into the development of prisoner working. I have asked questions about that over the past few months and I am glad that we are beginning to get more certainty from Ministers that they want to follow that route. Will there be seamlessness so that Work programme providers working within prisons are the same providers who meet and deal with the prisoners on release? It may be difficult if prisoners are released quite far from the prison—if their home is many miles away—and the Work programme providers in their home location are different. How will the handover happen? I would be grateful if the Minister told us what thinking has gone into that. 

Will the same kind of careful planning on long-term employability prospects be carried out for individual prisoners by Work programme providers in prisons? They might say that the right thing for a prisoner was not necessarily work, or not full-time work, but spending time gaining qualifications that could improve their employment prospects on release. There is a very significant difference in future earning potential between a basic level qualification and a level 2 or 3 qualification.

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Prisoners who are less worried about their material circumstances are less likely to reoffend. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland asked, what is the Minister’s intention on access to the ability to obtain work-related qualifications as part of the development of the Work programme in our prison estate? 

Do the Government intend Work programme providers to be able to choose to subcontract to the probation service or the Prison Service? The probation service in Greater Manchester subcontracts work, but it runs excellent employment programmes itself for prisoners following release, or for those on community programmes. In my constituency, I have seen some terrific programmes that the Prison Service arranges in collaboration with partners such as the local housing trust. They give prisoners on release full-time, real-life work experience for up to six months, but sadly at the end of six months many of those men lose that employment and there is nothing else for them in the current jobs market. None the less, if the probation service is already running good programmes of real-life work experience, as it is in Greater Manchester, will Work programme providers be able to subcontract to the probation service so that that good provision can continue? 

I warn the Minister that I have looked at the Work programme carefully over the months since its introduction—I would describe myself as something of a Work programme junkie. The mainstream—outside prisons—Work programme contracting process has left gaps and difficulties for subcontracting providers while the prime contractors sort out how and to whom they will subcontract and when the contracts will be in place. It would be regrettable if we went through a similar experience in subcontracting Work programme provision in prison and as prisoners leave prison. Can the Minister reassure me that the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Work and Pensions will undertake detailed work to learn the lessons from the original round of Work programme contracting and apply them appropriately in the penal system? 

My colleagues and I are very interested in the direction of travel that the Government are taking. We support it. We want more prisoners undertaking good quality, meaningful work, but there is a great deal of detail to work through and there is no point in setting off on the path in a half-baked way. I would welcome hearing where the Government’s thinking is on the detailed plans for delivery of a laudable objective. I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in the debate this morning. 

9.30 am 

Mr Blunt:  The entire issue of work in prison has been raised rather than the specific details of the amendments, so I will speak to the whole agenda, as the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston has done. I am delighted to have the opportunity to do so. I welcome her enthusiasm and the commitment of the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland to our objectives. Getting more effective work for more prisoners is an objective that everybody shares. 

The hon. Members for Bishop Auckland and for Stretford and Urmston have raised a significant number of practical challenges, so it may take me some time to address all their points. One of my personal priorities as

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prisons Minister is to get this agenda under way in precisely the manner expressed by the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston. She made it clear that the agenda cannot be implemented in a half-baked fashion; all the problems have to be properly thought through. I am happy to go on the record by telling the Committee where we are on delivering work in prisons to scale. My answers to the questions asked by the two hon. Ladies will make that clear. 

The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland said that the Secretary of State is rowing back from the initial claims about where we will get to on work in prisons. The Secretary of State has done no such thing, and neither have I. We are both extremely conscious of how difficult it will be to get the agenda to scale, and of how important it is to do so, which is why we have to get it right. 

The hon. Lady raised a number of questions, some her own and some from the Prison Officers Association, but I will start by painting the picture that we face. At the beginning of her remarks, the hon. Lady referred to 24,000 working prisoners. The actual number working in our prisons today is some 9,000, but I understand that the figure excludes prisoners engaged in maintenance and cleaning. Very few of those 9,000 prisoners are actually engaged in something that might be described as commercial or economic work. Work in our prisons is usually one of the more effective programmes available to prisoners, but, in most cases, it is a cost centre for the Prison Service, rather than a profit centre. 

People who tour prison workshops, as I have over the past 18 months, will be shown what is called work, but, to my recollection, I have seen only one workshop in which workers were clearly engaged in a proper commercial operation, in which the workers’ interests were tied to the success of the business and where the workers were cutting around the workshop in a fashion that showed that, frankly, the visit of the Minister for prisons was a diversion they could well do without because there would be some effect on productivity if the interruption continued for too long. That workshop is in Kirkham prison, and the reason why it is managed in that way, and has such a commercial focus, is that an outside investor has invested hundreds of thousands of pounds in a production line in a reused factory building or aircraft hangar within the grounds of Kirkham, which is an open prison. The business repackages food, which is imported in pallets from overseas, so that it is suitable to be resold in shops and small stores, principally in the north-west. The business is highly successful, and the prisoners are incentivised to work, so they are highly committed to the process. But that is an all too rare example of an actual business in our prisons that produces not only a return for the business owner, but an income stream for the institution. 

That is where we need to take prison work. We have to take it in that direction because we have no choice; we cannot fund prison work as a programme. It cannot be a cost centre in the current circumstances because we will not be able to take it to scale. That presents us with a challenge because to move from 9,000 of our 85,000 prisoners employed to some degree to many more tens of thousands effectively employed in our prisons, and to reach the scale where they generate a commercial return, requires a profound change in the approach to the organisation of our prison estate. All the hon. Lady’s questions flow from that point. 

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Helen Goodman:  Of course, if we exclude people working on maintenance, upkeep and cleaning, the number is 9,000. Will the Minister confirm a report in the Financial Times that the Secretary of State’s aim is to increase the number to 10,000 by 2015 and to 20,000 by 2020? If that is the case, between the last general election in 2010 and the next, there will be an increase of 1,000. It may be an improvement, but it is not impressive and not at all commensurate with the rhetoric we have heard. 

Mr Blunt:  That argument assumes that we have 9,000 people employed in commercial work now, which we do not. I have probably seen the one example of serious commercial work in prisons. As the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston said, there are examples from Manchester and elsewhere, but I have not seen all of them, nor do I know how many are commercial. I would have thought, however, that rather fewer than 500 of that 9,000 are actually engaged in something commercial. About 500 category D prisoners work outside prisons on temporary licence, and they go back to prison each night. The requirements of the Prisoners’ Earnings Act 1996 now apply to them, but I will come back to that point later. The hon. Lady should see the target in terms of getting 10,000 prisoners working in a rather different way. 

The target is only an indication, frankly. At this stage, it can only be a set of aspirations. We face significant challenges to get this to scale and I want to take it as far as possible. First, we need to get society as a whole signed up to the fact that it is a good idea for prisoners to work usefully in our prisons. The Secretary of State announced that approach in October last year. It received a warm welcome, and I am delighted that the Opposition have made clear their support for the scale of our ambition. Now, we have to engage the CBI, the TUC, and everyone else involved in issues relating to unfair competition coming out of prisons. We need to make sure that, in the first instance, the CBI thinks it is a good idea that its businesses on the outside can be competed against by businesses and prisoners working on the inside. Its position appears to be that yes, it is. 

Then, we have to address the issue of what fair competition from people working in a prison is. Let me be clear that prisoners will not be employed in prison by a business in the same way as people outside. If prisoners were employed on the inside subject to employment regulation, minimum wage and everything else, employers could kiss goodbye to any prospect of running a business inside a jail almost from the start. No business would be able to carry the cost of running itself inside a prison, with all the additional costs that that implies, and then be subject to such things as minimum wage, or producing a wage for prisoners. 

On a recent visit to the United States I saw some examples where it is insisted that prisoners are paid. Deductions towards the cost of running the prison and towards the prisoners’ upkeep are then made from the wages, until eventually prisoners end up with 10% or 20% of the notional money that they would receive in the 90th percentile of the average pay in that industry. There is also a complicated agreement with trade unions, and so on, about the average pay for the particular business that is being carried out in the jails. I do not want to go there, however, because it is far too complicated and regulatory, and has resulted in the scale of work in

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the federal prison system in the United States being now only about 15,000 prisoners out of, I think, 250,000. When that system was set up in the 1930s, the federal Government was mandated to buy anything produced by the federal prison system. If the federal prison produced something, the federal Government was supposed to purchase it, but that has not worked to the scale that was designed when the scheme was set up. I have been to the United States specifically to look at work in prisons, and to identify what does not work and the policy obstacles that prevent putting such a system in place and bringing it to scale. 

Mr Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC):  I agree that it is good for prisoners to have useful work while doing their time. The Howard League is very much in favour of that, too, subject to some of the qualifications already discussed. During visits to various prisons with the Justice Committee, I have seen good work going on in workshops that teach young people skills. Do I detect from the Minister that such workshops will be expanded, because that is part and parcel of the approach, too? 

Mr Blunt:  Let me give the right hon. Gentleman and the Committee my vision. We want tens of thousands of prisoners to be working productively in our prisons. For that to happen, they must want to get to the working part of the prison or prison estate. If the scheme is to work properly, prisoners must wish to engage in it and must regard it as something that will make their time in prison more productive and useful to them. Putting the question of money to one side, prisoners will spend their time in prison being taught skills and being trained in some form of service or production. Such training will provide them with a good CV, and they will be skilled up, with experience of working in a particular business. 

On that basis alone, prisoners should want to get to that place, and it will be a much more interesting way for them to spend their time in prison than is the experience of most prisoners at present. Everything I have seen from round the world demonstrates that if such a system existed, it would act as a magnet to attract prisoners to that part of the estate. 

That brings us to the matter of learning—basic literacy and numeracy—offending behaviour programmes and the addiction issues that the system must address. Prisoners must attend to those matters before they can get to the part of the prison estate where there is work. People must complete their offending behaviour programmes and must deal with the lack of basic literacy and numeracy skills that results in their being unable to be effective members of society—let alone effective members of a production team in a prison. They must also address their health problems, principally those relating to addiction, so that they are clean before they reach the working part of the prison estate. That is the broad concept. 

The measure would apply to all categories of prisoner; there is no reason why any particular category should be exempt. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland has visited Frankland, which is a category A prison. It carries out some of the most effective work in prisons, producing furniture for the Government. Indeed, the new headquarters of the National Offender Management Service has been decked out in furniture made in Her Majesty’s Prison Frankland, as one would expect. 

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How do we set up such businesses? No capital expenditure budget is at Her Majesty’s disposal because all the money has gone, so we must find a new source to invest in prison workshop capacity to enable prisoners to work. That will come in two ways. Our intention is to turn the current prison industries directorate in NOMS into a trading fund. It could be similar to the system in the United States, where Federal Prison Industries is run as a trading fund, which turns a profit. It might not have turned a profit in the past year or two, but it has funds at its disposal and it is meant to generate a return. 

9.45 am 

Helen Goodman:  That is fine as far as it goes, but I want to caution the Minister. It would be acceptable as long as he can ensure that the trading fund is subject to freedom of information, proper accountability and National Audit Office scrutiny. We are beginning to develop areas of work within the public sector that are not properly accountable. I hope that this proposal will not turn out to be another one. 

Mr Blunt:  The hon. Lady is absolutely right. If there are issues about fair and unfair competition in that area, the finances of those businesses must be transparent. 

Kate Green:  I am very interested in the trading fund. Can the Minister give us any sense of the likely scale of the fund, and whether it will have access to borrowing? 

Mr Blunt:  All those points are being considered and addressed. There are difficult questions to do with the fund being within the public sector and the National Offender Management Service, such as the level of independence it can be given, and they are being worked through. Our seriousness about the proposals is reinforced by those who came out in support of the Justice Secretary’s statement; there happened to be a letter in the Financial Times on the Tuesday during the party conference, which was clearly designed to co-ordinate properly with a further statement of our determination to deliver the proposed changes. The letter was signed by people such as the chief executives of Marks and Spencer, Virgin, Compass Group, Reed, Iceland Foods, Timpson— 

Helen Goodman:  And National Grid. 

Mr Blunt:  Indeed. National Grid is giving its support. I am also pleased to have my own advisory group working on the plans with me. It includes people such as the chairman of Ford, the director of human resources at Unilever, the chairman of the Prison Officers Association and the chairman of the Prison Governors Association, the managing director of Amaryllis, which currently does this business in prisons, James Timpson, who runs training programmes in prisons, a couple of social investors and social entrepreneurs and the appropriate policy lead in the CBI. If that group cannot assist me and the Department in constructing a proposal that works, I do not think that there is another group in the country who can. That gives the Committee an example of our determination. 

We have engaged Deloitte to give advice to the prison industries directorate within NOMS on the detail of the kind of questions that the hon. Member for Stretford

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and Urmston asked, such as how the trading fund will work. Even in the current climate, when consultancy is much more difficult to obtain, we have identified that as a sufficient priority for us to get outside help. At one level business will be secured by a prison industries training fund, and whatever industrial capacity is available in current prisons will be used. Major contracts will be delivered across a number of different prisons. 

I also want to work from the bottom up. I want to put in place a framework, or a code of practice, so that individual institutions and individual prison governors will know what arrangements they can make with individual businesses to come into their prison to create the capital investment—the workshop—where prisoners will work, and so that they know how much return they will be entitled to on the investment they make inside the prison. How will the commercials function? As long as we do not burden the system at the beginning with demands for the minimum wage or a full notional return on the prisoner labour, we shall have serious flexibility to enable the businesses to function. A key thing is that the businesses will have to carry the cost of the additional staff and the extra costs of running the regime in prisons. 

As the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland and other hon. Members who are familiar with the core prison week will know, it is tricky to run a business if the prisoners come off the landings at 8.30 in the morning, are taken to what they now do as work and then at 11 o’clock are taken back from their work site to the landings to have their lunch. Then the prison officers have their lunch. Then the prisoners are released from their cells in the afternoon and taken back to their place of work. At 4.30 they go back to the landings. That is how the core week works. With that arrangement there are five hours of work, if we are lucky, as a maximum. If one was running a business on that basis, most people would see that there was a bit of a handicap even before they began. 

The regime will have to change. There will almost certainly need to be additional staff or a different way of running the regime, however it happens. We cannot lose the aspect that the hon. Lady asked about on behalf of the Prisoner Officers Association: the safety, security and decency agenda. All those things have to be sustained, but instead of the current system, with work levered into the prison system so that it does not interfere with the security arrangements, we would be better off building the security around the work. We obviously have to achieve the same level of security, but if the investment is there and the businesses are generating the resources, it creates the opportunity to have a slightly more expensive security regime, to enable prisoners’ time to be used more productively. 

Kate Green:  I am following what the Minister is saying with great interest. I hope that he will consider—I am sure he will—where some of those flexibilities are already being applied successfully. In Manchester prison, which is a public sector prison where the businesses are being run by prison industries, not by external companies—although I may be wrong about that—they have managed to adapt the prison regime so that prisoners can spend the day in the work setting. I hope that the Minister will assure me that he will look at examples that are working already. Does he intend that the expansion of prison

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working will come only from commercial businesses? There is still potential to expand some of our successful inside-prison industries too. 

Mr Blunt:  The hon. Lady is right. We want to expand the scheme in every way. There is no reason why the existing prison industry cannot do that, run through the prison industries directorate, although there needs to be a minor change of direction so that it is far more commercial about running those businesses. The focus needs to be less on them being a highly effective programme in the prison, and more on them being commercial. It would not be much of a change in direction for the businesses if there was much more focus on marketing and the markets they serve, thereby affecting their return. I agree with the hon. Lady. There is no reason why that should not happen. 

Of course, all this stuff happens in bits, particularly in prisons where good governors have forced the issue within their institutions and used the flexibilities available to them. I sometimes find that there are particularly good governors in the prison system who are going beyond; they are taking themselves into a slightly difficult area. They are not quite sure of the rules, but they will push the boundaries to achieve objectives. I want to support them by giving them a much clearer code of practice, so that individual governors know exactly what deal they can offer. However, if we are going into commercial relationships with businesses making a proper return, the arrangements will have to be transparent and clear to everyone—not least if that leads to challenges about what is fair or unfair competition from a business run in a prison. 

Of course, we can require prisoners to work under the law as it stands, but such businesses will not function well as commercial entities if the prisoners do not want to be engaged and are not committed to their success. In the construction of the scheme, prisoners must want to get to those places and work there if the concept is to succeed. There will be plenty of other things that we can require prisoners to do, such as wing cleaning, maintenance and everything else, which are not related to the commercial viability of the enterprises that I have been discussing. 

Ben Gummer (Ipswich) (Con):  It is gratifying to see harmony breaking out on the last day of the Committee. I have a question to which I do not particularly want to know the answer. It made me wince, but it will be brought up at some point. 

Many of us are conscious of a problem that faces prisoners who have completed their licence. They have reformed and they want to work, but it is difficult for them to find a job because there is a gap in their CV. It is not that they do not have to explain it, but when they turn up before an employer and there is a gap in their CV it suggests either long-term unemployment or a prison sentence. If that gap is now filled with work for the majority of the sentence, will the prisoner be required to declare their imprisonment during that period of work? 

Mr Blunt:  Not that I am aware of, but when prisoners undertake education programmes, either under the auspices of the probation service or the Prison Service, the

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certificates do not make clear that they were obtained in prison. One of the big benefits is the creation of a functioning CV with a set of skills and work experience, and to say that that was acquired in HMP Manchester or anywhere else would probably negate its benefits. My hon. Friend is quite right to draw attention to that issue. 

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD):  First, on competition, if the Government are not going down the route of, for example, paying someone an industry-comparable salary, they will have to use other measures. Can the Minister give us more detail about how we could ensure true competition? 

Secondly, will we ever be in a situation where a decision will have to be made about whether we want to ensure that such businesses are truly competitive or whether they should provide employment for the full number of prisoners that we want to provide full employment for? 

Mr Blunt:  The latter option is precluded because we do not have any money. The businesses have to make a return, so if we say that the objective is a full programme of employment, it will end up as a cost centre for us, and there are no additional funds. Therefore, we must find creative ways of getting investment into the programme so that it works. If it is commercial and economic, it is sustainable. There is then a proper business, and—guess what?—the prisoners taking part in it will have a real interest in that business continuing to succeed. 

We are obviously now wrestling with the issues, and this is where we need advice from corporate United Kingdom as to what is fair competition for a business coming out of a prison. That is why engagement with the CBI and the TUC will be extremely important, so that corporate Britain signs up to the concept and there is a basic set of rules as to the definition of fair competition. Rather than us setting a notional rate of pay, we will need to get a point where each business can generate extra funds once there is a proper return on the business owner’s investment. Once the extra costs of managing the prison are taken into account, the profit that the business makes is the return on the prisoner labour. 

10 am 

That return will go in three directions. The first is to the prisoner, as now. There is no change to the overall scope of the prisoner allowance as it is paid now. I do not want as a matter of policy to start inflating the amount of money kicking around inside prisons. So the prisoner allowance will be paid, as now, £10 to £20 a week for the kind of work that is going on. That is what I envisage, but again, we are in the policy development phase. The rest of the funds will go in two directions. One is to victims. It is an absolute priority that prisoners’ work is seen to service the victims of crime. It will not be possible to establish a relationship between individual prisoners and their victims, so this will be to help fund the victim services that are funded by the Ministry of Justice. That is a critical component. There has to be a return to victims in this, otherwise, quite understandably, the public will have questions about its acceptability. 

The third element will go towards the rehabilitation of the prisoner. We are some way off coming to the

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detail of that, which is why I am not in a position to accept the hon. Lady’s amendments. This is probably more difficult to construct than the other elements of the return. It would be perfectly proper to say that it could be money for dependants outside. It could also go into a fund that prisoners could draw on when they are released. If they were going on a skills programme, for example, they could immediately draw on those funds to pay for their own education and training. It could be put aside as a fund that they would receive if they did not reoffend for two years. It would be their money, as they had earned it, but it would be held out against their good behaviour on release from prison. 

There are several different ways that we could do this and I am in the market for good ideas. Obviously the hon. Lady’s amendment is one good idea. This is the kind of detail that needs to be brought forward in secondary legislation and that is what we will do. We are at the policy-making phase. We are examining how it will work and exactly what the right framework would be. I have dealt with the wage level, unfair competition and whether this is inside or outside prison. I hope that we can expand the scope of category D prisoners working outside prisons. One of the interesting things I saw in the United States was a construction team based in what was effectively an open prison going out to work in particular villages and communities in Georgia. It worked rather well as a concept. 

Those who work outside prisons are currently employed by someone outside and return to prison every day. The Prisoners’ Earnings Act now applies to them and we are going to take 40% of the income they earn. Currently, they have lucked out. They have a job outside and their board and lodgings are provided by Her Majesty. We will now take some of the money they earn and put it towards victims. One of the statutory requirements of the Prisoners Earnings’ Act is that we nominate the organisation to which the money goes. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland asked me why it was Victim Support. I thought that, because it is the first time we have done this, it was probably appropriate to give it to an organisation that is generic for victims. It happens to be the largest victim services organisation and it provides the widest range of services. There was a temptation to use the sum of money involved—about £1 million—for one particular cause. It could be Support after Murder and Manslaughter, or Rape Crisis. It would obviously make a substantial difference to organisations of that size, but I thought that was the wrong approach. This is first of class. Hopefully, the Prisoners Earnings’ Act will be overtaken by the Bill if the Committee and other Members of Parliament so decide. It will mean that the current operation of the Act is temporary, which is why I decided that Victim Support had made the clearest statement about the policy. It is about victims. The biggest victim support organisation will be involved, and we are absolutely confident that our decision complies completely with the appropriate EU regulations.

I have argued that people have to undertake education training programmes before they are involved in prison work, and I come now to the extremely important question about women in prisons and whether there should be a women’s champion. Frankly, I see myself as the champion for women prisoners in exactly the same way as I have to be the champion for all my responsibilities. It is important that women in prisons have the same access to the programme as men in prisons. 

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I hope that there will be opportunities for industries that are particularly suitable for women’s prisons. Women will have the same priority as men. It will be a big bonus if we can get the programme away to scale for women as it is for men. I cannot say to the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland that women will be a bigger priority than men. They will have the same priority as male prisoners under the policy for work in prisons, not least because the work is not designed to be a programme. It will be commercial and have rehabilitative effects for men and women, and give them the free good that comes off the back of such work. 

Helen Goodman:  The Minister’s comments are reasonable. I am not criticising him, but, of necessity, the work done by prisoners will have to be work that can be done without client contact. In the modern economy, many jobs and more especially women’s jobs in the service sector involve such contact. I am making a constructive point: people must learn skills that can be used in the economy as it is now, not as it was 15 years ago. 

Mr Blunt:  The hon. Lady is right. I shall have to look at client contact, and whether prisoners can help market the business with narrowly controlled access to internet sites. We shall have to deal with all such issues, possibly case by case and as the business develops. It is plainly good for prisoners to be involved in the whole of the business, from its management to the production of services, because that will make it easier for the business to function. If discrete functions have to be carried on outside prison on a commercial basis, that will be another on-cost to running a business on two sites, something that we want to avoid. 

The hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston raised a detailed issue about whether the Work programme can be subcontracted to the probation service or the Prison Service. I shall follow up that extremely interesting point. I am certainly sympathetic to it. I shall also consider carefully the offender stream within the Work programme. It could be of profound benefit, and sit separately from the provisions under the Bill. The hon. Lady also raised the issue of how prisoners might start working with a Work programme provider who is embedded in a prison and then be transferred to a different provider if, once they are discharged, their home is some way from the prison. Those practical issues have to be addressed, and the hon. Lady has made perfectly good points about some of the practical challenges. 

Kate Green:  Another challenge will be the level of remuneration received by the Work programme provider for working with prisoners, because the programme has different levels of payment depending on the scale of the distance from the labour market. I am sure that the Minister will want to explore that matter with the Department for Work and Pensions, too. 

Mr Blunt:  We are doing so. Some 60% of prisoners arrive in prison with a history of recent drug use, if not a deeply embedded addiction habit. If providers take a drug-addicted prisoner and turn him into a tax- paying employee, the scale of benefit to society is fairly

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straightforward. Those factors are therefore unlikely to be scored at the bottom end of the Work programme reward strategy. 

I will leave the point raised by the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland about Remploy to one side—[ Interruption. ]—because she will not like the answer, and I want to keep intact the good humour and supportive nature of this debate. 

Finally, it is appropriate to finish with a point about victims. The hon. Lady asked whether dependants or victims will be taken together. No, they will not—victims come first. In the end, the strategy has to focus on victims of crime, which it will do in two ways. First, the prisoner’s work will generate money for services for victims of crime. Secondly, free good will come out of the process: if men and women return to the community from prison having engaged in work and acquired the skills associated with work, they are much more likely to be rehabilitated and much less likely to create future victims of crime. Those two benefits should be the priorities behind the entire programme. 

Helen Goodman:  That was an interesting debate. Let me take the Minister back to the beginning of the Committee proceedings, when we heard evidence that the Bill was not, strictly speaking, necessary. I am not sure whether the Bill is necessary to fulfil the Minister’s aspirations, but I believe that the Government’s rhetoric about how much progress they will make in the next three to four years will not be realised in the form of a rapid expansion of the project. However, I entirely accept that the Minister is thinking seriously about the many dimensions of the problems that will arise—we agree that we should make progress on such an important matter—and that it will be possible to reconsider the detail when the Minister presents the regulations to the House. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment. 

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.  

Mr Blunt:  I beg to move amendment 387, in clause 103, page 82, line 9, at end insert— 

‘( ) In section 127(6) of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (inducements to prison officers to contravene prison rules: meaning of “prison rules”), after “section 47” insert “or 47A”.’.

The Chair:  With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendment 388. 

Mr Blunt:  Amendment 387 will update section 127(6) of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which makes it unlawful, although not a crime, to induce a prison officer to commit a breach of discipline, including a failure to perform a duty under, or the contravention of, the rules set out in section 47 of the Prison Act 1952. The amendment would ensure that the provision will apply in respect of rules made under proposed new section 47A, which will be introduced by clause 103, as it does to rules made under current section 47. 

Amendment 388 would update section 45(2) of the National Minimum Wage Act 1998, under which a prisoner in England and Wales does not qualify for the

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national minimum wage for work done in pursuance of rules under section 47 of the Prison Act. Like amendment 387, it would update the provision to refer to both section 47 and proposed new section 47A, thereby ensuring that the exemption applied to work done in pursuance of rules made under both proposed new section 47A and existing section 47. 

10.15 am 

Helen Goodman:  The Minister’s explanation prompts a question: what is the position at the moment with respect to prison officers releasing unauthorised information about prisoners? Will the Minister remind the Committee of that? 

Mr Blunt:  On the precise detail of what disciplinary processes would be applied in such circumstances, I will need to write to the hon. Lady. I propose to write to her rather than detain the Committee, unless there is an indication of interest from the rest of the Committee. The release of unauthorised information would plainly be wrong. I assume that that would be a disciplinary or, indeed, a criminal offence. 

Amendment 387 agreed to.  

Amendment made: 388, in clause 103, page 82, line 16, at end insert— 

‘( ) In section 45(2) of the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 (exclusion for prisoners doing work in pursuance of prison rules: interpretation), in paragraph (a) of the definition of “prison rules”, after “section 47” insert “or 47A”.’.—(Mr Blunt.)

Clause 103, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.  

Clause 104 ordered to stand part of the Bill.  

 

Clause 105 

Transit of prisoners 

Helen Goodman:  I beg to move amendment 414, in clause 105, page 85, line 38, at end insert— 

(a) The Secretary of State shall not exercise his powers under sections 6A, 6B and 6C of the Repatriation of Prisoners Act 1984 unless he makes a declaration that any person transited under these sections is not at risk of execution, torture or persecution.

(b) A declaration must be in writing and be published in such a manner as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.’.

I am rather concerned by the clause. It looks innocent, but all members of the Committee will remember the alarming stories about the rendition of prisoners. I want to explore whether the clause would make rendition easier, which is why I have tabled the amendment. Again, this is a subject on which there is cross-party concern. The hon. Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie) ran a very successful campaign; indeed, he has written a book about this serious problem. 

As I understand it, the policy has been to seek to ratify and conclude bilateral agreements that allow for the transfer of prisoners without their consent, and progress has been slow. At the same time, the United Kingdom is a party to two multi-party agreements. We are signatories of the Council of Europe convention on the transfer of sentenced persons, and we also have the

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Commonwealth scheme for the transfer of convicted offenders. In addition, we have ratified the additional protocols of the Council of Europe convention on the transfer of sentenced persons. Under that, there are 34 signatory countries to which prisoners can be transferred without their consent. That includes Libya, and the Commonwealth scheme includes countries that, sadly, do not have particularly good human rights records at the moment. 

Mr Blunt:  The hon. Lady has raised the issue of rendition. As I understand it, the people concerned had not been through a proper judicial process. The measure would apply only to those convicted and sentenced by a lawful court. I hope that helps. 

Helen Goodman:  Yes. I understand those were people who had been picked up on the battlefield. I have discussed the matter with the organisation Justice, which agreed with my concern that it potentially sanctions UK involvement in rendition of those detained by foreign criminal courts or foreign laws.

Mr Blunt:  That is not rendition. 

Helen Goodman:  I am still concerned that we might find ourselves having people coming from a jurisdiction, when the jurisdiction itself and the way the person has been treated in the criminal courts may be of concern. That is one problem. They then turn up in this country and we parcel them off somewhere else without their consent. My concern is that, in the second place to which they are parcelled off, they could be subject to torture. I have worded the amendment as I have because I would like the Minister to explain, if my understanding is wrong, why it is wrong. 

Mr Blunt:  The purpose of the clause is to put in place powers to enable the United Kingdom to facilitate the transit of prisoners through its territory. Such prisoners will be transferring from another state to a third state where there is a treaty between those states for a prisoner to be repatriated. The prisoner will not have been prosecuted, convicted or sentenced in the UK. Transit arrangements would normally mean enabling a prisoner and escort to transfer from one aeroplane to another at one of our international airports. 

We expect requests under this power to be few in number and only for the purpose of enforcing a sentence of imprisonment lawfully passed on a prisoner by an appropriate court in the sentencing state. In most cases the prisoner concerned will have given his consent to transfer and will be returning to his country of nationality, where he can serve his sentence close to his family and friends, aiding his rehabilitation back into society. 

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The amendment proposes an addition to clause 105 that would require Ministers to make a declaration that a prisoner subject to transit through the territory of the UK would not be at risk of execution, torture or persecution in the country to which they are being transferred, and to make arrangements for the publication of that declaration. 

The Government’s position on the death penalty is unequivocal and any request for transit for the purpose of carrying out the death penalty would be refused. Transit is provided for in all our existing prisoner transfer arrangements. With the exception of the EU framework decision on prisoner transfer, where there is a requirement to facilitate transit, transit is discretionary, and Ministers are able to refuse any request, and they will of course do so, if they have any concerns about an individual transit request or a particular state to which the prisoner is being transferred. 

In those circumstances, I do not believe that it is necessary or appropriate for Ministers to make a declaration as proposed. In addition, I have mentioned the EU prisoner transfer agreement, which requires us to facilitate transfer if requested. However under that agreement transit involves the transit of a prisoner only from one EU member state to another. Each member state is bound by the European convention on human rights and we would expect each state fully to honour its commitments and obligations. 

The UK will have no jurisdiction to interfere in international agreements made between two separate states where they are transferring a prisoner in accordance with those arrangements. The UK will expect other countries to facilitate transfers of foreign national prisoners repatriated from the UK; it plays its part in doing the same for other states. Those are all prisoners who have been convicted and sentenced. A declaration such as that sought by the amendment may give a prisoner on arrival in the UK the right to challenge the UK’s decision to allow further transit. Furthermore, a Minister could not properly make such a declaration based on information given by the relevant state when, not being party to the arrangements or the prisoner’s views, the Minister would have no means of verifying such information. 

I hope, in the light of that information and the rather limited circumstances in which and to whom the provision would apply, that the hon. Lady will withdraw her amendment. 

10.25 am 

The Chair adjourned the Committee without Question put (Standing Order No. 88).  

Adjourned till this day at One o’clock.  

Prepared 14th October 2011