Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

When will they come on stream? The noble Lord boasted that the Government hope to get up to the order of 96,000 prison places by 2014; certainly they will need that, given the current estimates, admittedly at the high end of the scale, for the prison population being up at about that level. Can he still assure us that those mini-Titans and all the others will be built by that stage? Will he tell us by what means they will be built, on which he was faintly vague? Are they all to be built under PFI and at what cost?

The noble Lord also talked about the further work to find another 8,500 spaces over the next three years. We would be grateful if he could expand on that and tell us just how he intends to do it, particularly as he also talked about ending the early release of prisoners on licence. How does that fit in with releasing the pressure on numbers, as it will obviously lead to a further increase in numbers in due course?

Lastly, on probation trusts, I thought that the noble Lord was a little coy when he said, talking about the economic climate, that,

The House would be grateful if he could spell that out in greater detail. If the probation service is being asked to make cuts, we need to know a bit more than just that they are of a low percentage. I trust that the noble Lord will be able to answer all the other questions in due course.

4.21 pm

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement. One sentence stands out:

“Prison capacity planning depends crucially on projections of future demand”.

In the 22 European countries that form part of the International Crime Victim Survey published by the United Nations and are studied by the International Centre for Prison Studies, the average number of people who are imprisoned is 104 per 100,000 of population. The figure for England and Wales is 152. If we were to imprison people at the same rate as the average European country, we would have a prison population of 56,856 as opposed to the current population of about 82,000.

My question to the Minister is simple: why are we planning to increase the number of prison places? Why are there projections of future demand that

27 Apr 2009 : Column 30

suggest that we will need 96,000 prison places in a short period of time and, according to the report of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, over 100,000 by 2014? It is just wrong. The Government need to rethink their position completely. It is not as though the prison expansion policy that we have seen over the past 10 or 15 years has made any difference to crime. In my professional life, I have seen the number of people sent to prison and the length of time for which they are imprisoned dramatically increase, to such an extent that I am incapable of giving a fair and accurate representation of what a prisoner is likely to get these days, as it is so different from the experience of most of my professional life.

If the Government are suggesting that an increase in prison population has resulted in a fall in crime, I point out that, according to the International Crime Victim Survey, the level of common crime in Europe reached a plateau in 1995 and has shown a steady decline everywhere. The level of victimisation in Europe has now decreased to that of 1990.

Britain remains a high-crime country. It is second among the 30 countries worldwide surveyed in the 2004-05 survey to which I have referred. Only Ireland was higher. Our victimisation rates are statistically higher than the European average: 21.8 per cent of the population of England and Wales were victims of crime in 2003, compared with an average of 15.7 per cent elsewhere.

Why do the Government pursue a policy which has failed, when their own reports and briefings, produced by the Ministry of Justice, indicate what works? Alcohol treatment in the community reduces violent crime; drug treatment in the community reduces acquisitive crime; restorative justice, which does not involve sending people to prison, reduces reoffending. The Government should target already overstretched probation and prison resources at what works and not at tinkering or at producing Titan prisons, or smaller prisons which hold the same populations. Who makes the projections of future demand? Is it judges, or are judges simply pressured by the ministry to fill prison places as they are made? Is it the effect of the press, which always demands tougher punishments? What causes these projections of future prison demand to be made by the Home Office or the Ministry of Justice? There is significant fault in many of the ways in which this Government have dealt with the criminal justice system. This perhaps is the most obvious.

4.27 pm

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords, who, as I understood it, were in favour of our announcement today on new prison building—certainly, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, spoke as though he welcomed it. We believe that prison is the appropriate place for serious, persistent and dangerous offenders and we make no apology for it. Of course, we also believe very much in community sentences, and think that more use should be made of them than sometimes has been. We have worked hard to increase the confidence of sentencers by strengthening the range of community options available and ensuring that sentences are rigorously enforced. We invested £13.9 million over three years to

27 Apr 2009 : Column 31

run seven intensive alternatives-to-custody demonstrator projects, including community payback and other projects that are known about in this House. For less serious offences, community sentences can be a better and more effective punishment than a short prison sentence. It is therefore important that there are effective community sentences to achieve the best outcomes for the victims of crime and the public. That is why we have invested not just in prisons but in probation, too. Since 1997, if I may remind the House, the amount that we have spent on probation has increased by 67 per cent in real terms. In 2008-09, probation areas received an additional £40 million to facilitate the use of community orders.

However, the fact is that in any modern society it is necessary to send people to prison. Prison is not just for punishment; it is for reform, too—which is why it is important that new prisons should have in them all the facilities they possibly can to rehabilitate those who have offended seriously.

The noble Lord, Lord Henley, asked me a number of searching questions. He asked why the prison population was rising at a time when crime was falling. We have had this exchange before; the fact is that we are catching and imprisoning more violent and dangerous offenders and they are not being released until it is safe to do so. There are 70 per cent more serious and violent offenders in prison than in 1997. Sentence lengths for most offence groups have increased. If an offender is released but poses a risk to the public, we are recalling them to prison.

People generally do not question the proposition that crime has fallen under this Government, which is something that we are proud of. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, asked me about Ashwell. No warnings were given, and there are none about other institutions—although I am not sure that I would tell the noble Lord if there were. As for this very welcome U-turn, as he describes it, he seemed slightly sceptical as to whether it was as a result of consultation. It is as a result of consultation and of very strong opinions expressed by a very wide variety of people, not least in this House, about the original idea about the 2,500 prisoners. The Government cannot win either way; if we stick with what we originally said, because we are fearful of being accused of backing down for various reasons, we get criticised. If we do make a U-turn and say that we are persuaded that it is a better way of producing new prison places, we are immediately accused of doing it for all kinds of other reasons. Ah, well.

As for parole, we had a brief exchange over the Dispatch Box earlier this afternoon. We need the extra money for parole, because too many prisoners have not had their assessment by the Parole Board at the appropriate time. We have to reform the system of parole and how it is managed to ensure that that does not happen again.

On cost, the bill costs estimated for Titans were £367 million per prison, which makes a total of £1.1 billion. I am talking, of course, in slightly broad terms. The bill costs that we have estimated for these five prisons, two of which I have announced today, are £264 million per prison, making a total of £1.3 billion. Rather than cutting, as has been suggested, we are

27 Apr 2009 : Column 32

going to spend a little more, because we are persuaded that this is a better way in which to build new prisons and is something that is generally wanted.

I hope that I have answered most of the questions. Prison projections are produced by the Ministry of Justice analysts and are published as national statistics. They are subject to quality assurance oversight by the independent UK Statistics Authority. Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, is right. How can one ever say that a projection or forecast will be absolutely accurate? One cannot, but we do the best that we can, and I hope that the announcement that I have repeated in the House today receives generous support.

4.35 pm

Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My Lords, in the context of the item in the Statement that speaks of savings—cuts might be a more expressive word—that the probation service will be required to make, is it not the case that probation officers spend only 25 per cent of their time on front-line work with offenders, as the director-general of NOMS, Mr Phil Wheatley, told some of us here last month? Is that not deeply unsatisfactory? What steps will the Secretary of State take to reduce the bureaucracy that evidently takes up the rest of their time?

Lord Bach: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord makes a good point. Certainly that is an unsatisfactory figure and the management needs to improve. On the issue of cuts, as it turns out there has been an underspend in the past year by the probation service so there will not be a requirement for less money to be spent in the year ahead. I take the noble and learned Lord’s point about direct contact between probation officers and prisoners. Indeed, I talked earlier today about the Parole Board and how important it was for the probation service to play its part in making sure that reports are produced on time so that hearings can take place and not be adjourned.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, the Minister has not answered the question posed by my noble friend Lord Thomas about why this country has the most punitive policy towards the incarceration of prisoners in the democratic European context. Will he reflect on what it is about this country that causes our prison population to be completely out of kilter with that of comparable democracies in Europe?

I served Roy Jenkins when he was Home Secretary in the second Wilson Government in the mid-1970s, when we had half the prison population that there is now. I remember at the time that Roy Jenkins considered that the right approach was to ask what the maximum number of prisoners we could keep within the prison establishment was and how to reduce the prison population rather than have an ever increasing, demand-led building of prisons. Is the Minister aware that as part of that philosophy, which seems to have been wholly abandoned by this Labour Government, John Harris—the then Minster of State, later Lord Harris of Greenwich—spent a great deal of his time in the Home Office building more and more bail and probation hostels and finding alternatives to custody as a main priority? What is it about the present Labour Government that has caused them apparently to abandon

27 Apr 2009 : Column 33

that philosophy of keeping the prison population within the existing framework as far as possible and improving stock but not expanding it? Rather like public expenditure, we should be working within a certain proportion rather than have it ever increasing. The same should be for prisons so that we do not have a demand-led system. Am I right in saying that there has been a complete volte-face in the philosophy of the Home Office and the Government?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I do not think that there has been. I remember well the time when the noble Lord played a prominent part in these matters, and the House has fond memories of the late Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, of course. He was an outstanding Home Secretary for his time, but times have changed. It is important to recognise that people outside are concerned about the number of serious, persistent and dangerous offenders who did not get sent to prison for long enough in the past. It is all very well for us to say that we must do everything that we can to keep such offenders out of prison and in society, but there are people who are in prison because they will not behave themselves when they come out. It is necessary for any sensible Government to have a policy that means that the kind of offenders that I have mentioned are kept in prison.

However, that is not the end of the story. Many non-custodial sentences are available now that were not always available, even in the 1960 and 1970s. The Government encourage courts to use these sentences. I referred to community sentences for offences that would otherwise require short terms of imprisonment. It is important that both custodial and non-custodial disposals are available to us. I question whether we as a Government and a country are much better or worse than other countries in Europe. We need to make sure that those who are properly convicted of serious offences by the courts are punished and, we hope, reformed. One matter that was not raised by the noble Lord was the fact that what happens in prisons now is vastly different from what happened in the era that he was talking about. There are now all sorts of courses and attempts at rehabilitation that did not exist then.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I congratulate the Government on the reduction in the rate of crime over the past 10 or 11 years and on their decision, announced today, on Titan prisons. These are both welcome. My noble friend mentioned that five smaller prisons are in the pipeline. Does he agree that, if the rate of crime goes down, we will probably not need all those prisons? Should not the Government’s policy be directed as much at saying, “We do not need all five” as at saying, “The five are in the pipeline and will be built come what may”?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his support for our decisions today. On the second part of his question, everything depends on conviction rates. We all know that many offences are committed where no one is found guilty. If we continue to convict more people who commit serious offences, of course more people will go to prison. It must be in society’s interests that those who commit serious offences are convicted and punished.



27 Apr 2009 : Column 34

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I welcome the announcement that Titans are no more, although I cannot say that I am particularly happy about the announcement of prisons that will house 1,500 inmates. That is another unit that has been consistently proved to be far too large.

The Minister reminded us that it was 5 December 2007 when Titans were announced. What a pity we did not have a consultation either before or immediately after that date. It could have saved 18 months of confusion and uncertainty, and directed the minds, experience and advice of all the people who contributed to the consultation towards producing something that was practical and realisable. I worry that again we have had the announcement of what the noble Lord, Lord Henley, referred to as mini-Titans, without consultation. How can we be certain that they are going to work?

Another thing that concerned me in the Statement was the remark that the Government are always seeking to reduce management costs. That is far from the truth. We now have a monster National Offender Management Service agency with more than 4,270 people on its staff. Yet the prisons are saying that they lack staff to deal with overcrowding, and probation staff are pressed. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, mentioned that only 25 per cent of probation time is available for probation work. I visited a prison where the governor told me that 90 per cent of her time was taken up with bureaucracy. If the Government are faced with extreme financial problems demanding a clear, consistent and detailed look at how they are going to spend money for the better protection of the public by rehabilitating offenders, how can they produce yet more figures, Bills and developments without doing anything about the waste that is hidden in the current structure of the prison system, and which has been proved over and over again? Surely they should do something about the bureaucracy that is preventing people who are there doing the work that they ought to be doing.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful that the noble Lord feels that we have made the right decision in not going ahead with Titans. The United Kingdom prison system already operates prisons of the same size as the proposed new prisons. The noble Lord should be comforted to hear that the new prisons will be divided into smaller units. He is a severe critic of the way in which management is carried out in the Prison Service. However, every effort is made to ensure that management is at all times efficient and humane. Given that prisons, probation and what to do with serious offenders are an incredibly important part of our national life, I believe that the Government have a good record on this.

Lord Carlile of Berriew: My Lords, as president of the Howard League I welcome the retreat from Titans. Given that 20 years ago in another place I and at least two noble Lords I can see on the Labour side of this House railed against three or four Members of the then Conservative Government whom I can see on this side of this House—and, indeed, one on the Labour side who has since changed sides—at a prison

27 Apr 2009 : Column 35

population of 45,000 people, what on earth is the evidence that the unrelenting playing of the “go to jail” card has reduced recidivism and the other adverse consequences of the use of imprisonment for non-serious offences? Can the Minister confirm that, for the lower level of offences, community sentences provide lower cost and no less success? Why have the Government chosen to reduce the budget to the Probation Service when an increased budget to that service provides best value?

Lord Bach: My Lords, as I said, there will not be a reduction in the Probation Service in the year ahead. However, all parts of national life are affected by our economic difficulties. I have explained why the Government feel it is necessary to imprison those who have committed persistent, serious and dangerous offences. We have imprisoned many more of those people than were imprisoned in the past because the rate of conviction has gone up.

The noble Lord is, of course, right that community sentences are appropriate for those who have committed offences which would otherwise require a short prison sentence. That is why over the past few years we have put a lot of money into community sentences and will continue to do so. There is no great delight in sending people to prison, but to a greater or lesser extent society needs to be protected from people who have committed serious offences. I believe that if you asked anyone outside this House whether that was so, they would say, “Of course, you don’t want to incarcerate them for ever. You want to reform them and rehabilitate them”. That is what our proposals are intended to do. Prisoners should be in modern cells in modern prisons with courses available, and should be offered every opportunity to leave prison and lead a lawful life.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, the basic paradox to which the noble Lords, Lord Henley and Lord Thomas, referred remains; namely, that whereas crime has fallen steadily since 1997—I have no reason to doubt that it is down by 37 per cent—nevertheless our prisons are overflowing and the percentage of our people in prison is much higher than it is among our European neighbours. I suggest that a possible reason for that is not the number of crimes but the extent of the sentences which are now imposed. I give a simple example.

When I became a judge, the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving was two years, now it is 14 years. The judges reflect what Parliament says should be the maximum sentence for offences, so it is not surprising that sentences for causing death by dangerous driving have increased more than fourfold. The same is true of creating new crimes; for instance, that of causing death by careless driving with a sentence of five years’ imprisonment. It is the creation of new offences and the increased sentences for existing offences which explain the paradox to which attention has been drawn. I hope that the Government will resist the ever-present pressure from the media and others to increase sentences for particular cases that come to their attention and about which they can create great sensation. If the Government can resist that pressure, there is a hope.



27 Apr 2009 : Column 36

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, as always. One of the explanations for this seeming paradox, as I said earlier, is that sentence lengths for most offence groups have increased. Some would say that for some offences that is not a bad thing. I seem to remember that there were cases of causing death by dangerous driving where two years’ imprisonment seemed ridiculously short for the seriousness of the offence. There was also a lacuna in the law as regards causing death by careless driving because for serious offending the court could pass only an insufficient sentence. If the noble and learned Lord is saying to me that there are examples where sentences have been extended more than they ought to have been, I am sure that he is right. However, in some instances it has been necessary to change the law and allow for extra sentencing when judges believe that to be appropriate.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, many people will be pleased to hear what the Minister said about the Corston review. We have waited for that for a long time. Will he assure the House that there will be proper and up-to-date health facilities in the new prisons? Will he also ensure that there will be a contingency plan for a serious flu epidemic?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her comments on our response to the Corston review. Over the next two years, £15 million will be dedicated to keeping vulnerable women out of prison. Furthermore, the number of women sent to prison in the past 12 months was lower than in the previous 12 months.

The new prisons are not for women prisoners or juvenile offenders. They will be built to the highest modern standards. The idea is to have some common parts of the prison in addition to the separate units.

I am afraid that I am not briefed to be able to answer the noble Baroness’s question on possible pandemics, and I do not want to get it wrong. No doubt the Prison Service has its own plan to deal with any such eventuality.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, my noble friend seems not to have answered the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. If 22 other countries in Europe have far fewer people in prisons than we have, what is the reason for that? Will he give us a brief explanation? We have heard some vague references, for which we are very grateful, but we still have not had a serious answer to a sensible and appropriate question.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page