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Twenty-seven thousand additional prison places have been provided since 1997, 6,700 of them since April 2007. We now have well over 86,000 places by

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way of operational capacity, with headroom of 2,500. We anticipate that withdrawing the scheme will increase the prison population by around 1,000 to 1,200 prisoners. My assessment is that on the basis of our plans further to increase the capacity of the prison estate, we can safely manage the forecast prison population this year, in 2011-12 and beyond. We are on track to provide a total of 96,000 by 2014 through our capacity-building programme.

Given the headroom available in the estate, we are therefore in a position to end the scheme. This does not mean, however, that there is no longer pressure on prison places. The system continues to operate at levels which are close to capacity. I pay tribute to all those who work so hard to protect public safety and help offenders turn their lives around.

Protecting the public is the first priority of this Government. We have acted decisively to tackle crime. The use of prison has been central to that. Prison will always be the right place for the most serious, persistent and violent offenders. It is vital if we are to protect the public.

There are 75 per cent more serious and violent offenders in prison than in 1997. People who commit serious offences are going to prison for longer. Indeterminate sentences have been introduced for the most dangerous offenders; more than 5,000 have been imposed by the courts in the first three years of the scheme. We will continue to make sure that there are places for them.

At the same time we have also introduced tougher, more visible and effective community sentences and are giving communities a say in the types of projects offenders carry out. In the case of less serious offenders, such non-custodial sentences can often be a better alternative to prison in terms of turning an offender away from crime and further cutting reoffending rates.

We are also working hard to implement the findings of the Corston and Bradley reviews on women and mentally ill offenders. I am clear that in such cases diversion away from prison is often the best approach for both the offender and the wider community. We will continue to examine the number of women and mentally ill people in prison.

The results of the Government's strategy are an overall fall in crime of 36 per cent since 1997, the most substantial and sustained reduction since the war. Violent crime is down by 41 per cent according to the British Crime Survey, the most reliable measure. The chances of being a victim are at their lowest for a generation.

We have transformed the justice system into a public service, one focused upon the needs of victims and the law-abiding majority. We will continue to do so. I commend this Statement to the House".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

6.19 pm

Lord Henley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I remind him that we welcome the end of this scheme; he knows that we always opposed it. I also remind him of just why this scheme-which has led to some 8,000 criminals being released early, of whom some 1,500 were violent-was necessary.

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Those released went on to commit some 1,500 crimes. The scheme was introduced because the Home Secretary and his predecessors failed to provide sufficient prison spaces. They failed to do so because the then Chancellor and current Prime Minister failed to provide sufficient money, as requested by the then Home Secretary, for those spaces. I would be grateful for confirmation of that from the Minister.

I have several questions resulting from the Statement to put to the Minister. The first relates to the timing of this announcement-just weeks before what we expect to be the announcement of a general election. Many of us are somewhat suspicious that the timing of this announcement might have something to do with the fact that there is to be an election some time later in the year. Can the Minister tell us exactly when the Government planned to make this announcement? Have they changed their minds on that? Was there any debate within the department about when it would be made? Can he, with a straight face, tell the House that this announcement is being made at this time without any consideration of the coming election?

My second question is about the number of prison spaces. The Minister told us in the Statement that there are now some 86,000 places and, even with that figure, head room of 2,500. It is anticipated that withdrawing the scheme will increase the prison population by around 1,000 to 1,200 prisoners. He then told us that there would be some 96,000 places by 2014. Can the Minister tell us exactly when and how those places will come on-stream, particularly in light of the fact that we have heard recently of plans for prisons in north Wales and one in Dagenham being shelved? We have seen changes to the Titans and the mini-Titans. If the noble Lord-as I am sure he would not-went to his bank manager to arrange a reduction in some overdraft, I am sure the bank manager would say, quite sensibly, "Can you tell us how much you will pay off this year, next year, the following year, and so on?". Similarly, it behoves the Minister, when he answers, to tell us exactly when those extra places-that will take us from 86,000 to 96,000 places-are likely to come on-stream. It is no good saying that they will come on-stream by 2014, as if, magically, it will happen by then. We want to know how many will come on-stream this year, next year and the year after. We would like the Minister to spell that out in some detail.

My third question is very important: how many prisons are currently over capacity? We know that the prison system itself is nearly over capacity. Could the Minister talk about individual prisons? We have heard of some that have reached 150 per cent or 175 per cent of their capacity. Can he confirm that and tell us which those are, what regional variations there are and what problems the prison estate is facing on that front?

Fourthly, could the Minister address the question about the reduction in crime and violent crime? I put this question to him earlier in our debate in the Moses Room on the Motion from the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew. The Government boast about a reduction in crime and violent crime but, at the same time, they tell us that there are 75 per cent more serious and violent offenders in prison than there were

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in 1997. The two do not add up. Why is it that we have an alleged reduction in crime and violent crime and, at the same time, see a dramatic increase in the number of prisoners?

Those are four small questions that I would like the Minister to address. No doubt there will be others from other parts of the House. We look forward to hearing his response in due course.

6.25 pm

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement, and for early sight of it. This is not a scheme which has had support. It was rushed in its introduction and poorly implemented, with no home circumstance check or risk assessment. It is a scheme which, as NAPO put it, wrong-foots other authorities. I, too, have questions.

The first is on capacity. The Statement tells us that capacity has been increased. Is this because there is more doubling up, so that there is more overcrowding? If that is so, noble Lords will well appreciate that this must reduce the chances of rehabilitation, quite apart from giving an impression rather at odds with the reality. According to Ministry of Justice figures, in June 2009 the prison population was 111 per cent of the in-use certified normal accommodation. At the end of last September, 85 of the 140 prisons in England and Wales were overcrowded. However, the Government are now claiming that there is sufficient capacity safely to end the scheme. Has there been a dramatic change in the last six months? In 2008-09, almost 25 per cent of the prison population was held doubled up in cells designed for one prisoner, or three in a cell designed for two. When the Minister talks about extra prison places, would such a situation count as two prison places or one? If the former, it amounts to a significant and, I have to say, unacceptable fudging of the numbers. If the latter, when can we expect to see the number of prisoners held in overcrowded cells go down?

The Minister talked of his assessment for the future. What assessment has been made of the places which would have been freed up if people who should not be in prison-such as the mentally ill and those with a drug or alcohol addiction-were not there and were treated differently? It seems shameful that we talk of capacity in prison places, not the community-based responses that are being brought into the picture, in the way that the Howard League report which we have just debated dealt with. After all, custodial sentences are, of course, the most costly.

For clarity, I have one precise question: could the Minister confirm that the home detention curfew is not affected by this decision?

Reconviction rates have risen as the prison population has grown, with two-thirds of all prisoners being reconvicted-so probably more than that are offending-within two years of release. That figure is 75 per cent for children; I deliberately call those under 18 children. Some prisoners released early under this scheme have reoffended and some have reoffended appallingly. What assessment or work has the Ministry done to compare that with rates among those who are not on ECL or following ECL? In other words-and this is a fundamental question-what have the Government learnt from all

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this? What have the impacts been on individual prisoners? What has the impact been on the criminal justice system as a whole? It seems that there has been a scramble to apply the scheme and a scramble to end it, so we hope that something has been learnt from it.

6.29 pm

Lord Bach: I thank both noble Lords for their comments and their questions, and I shall do my best to answer as many of them as I can. Above all, I thank them for their support for the measure that the Government have taken today.

I was asked why we are making the announcement at this particular moment. As I think I said in the Statement, we have kept the situation under careful review ever since we introduced ECL-assessing the delivery of new accommodation, population levels and the latest prison population projections. Our assessment is that there is now a viable level of headroom in the estate to enable ECL to be ended. If there is and it is our judgment that it is safe to do so, then surely this is the moment to remove it.

Regarding the general election, I am grateful to the noble Lord for reminding me that there will be one later this year. It cannot be that far in the future but I hope it is long enough for the party opposite to be able to tell us what its prison policy is. It seems to change day by day, with its leader saying on the one hand that more people should be in prison and its shadow Justice Secretary saying there should be fewer. No doubt in due course we will have a policy on that. That is the reason we have timed it as we have.

So far as concerns capacity, at the risk of boring the House, this is how we see the position in the next few years leading up to the figure of 96,000 by 2014. This year we are planning to deliver just over 3,600 places, including two 480-place young offender institutions and the final 264 places at HMP Bure, which some noble Lords will know opened as a new prison on the site of the former RAF Coltishall in 2009. We are building two 600-place prisons-Belmarsh West in London and Maghull in Liverpool-and are planning to build a 1,600-place prison near to the existing HMP Featherstone, to be operational in 2012. Full planning permission is being sought in partnership with the Youth Justice Board for a new 3,600-place young offender institution at Glen Parva in Leicestershire. Therefore, this year there will be 3,650 more places, next year 1,400, and 2,600 more in 2012. It is hoped that the first of the new larger prisons will be open by the end of 2013. I hope that, in perhaps too much detail, I have answered the noble Lord's points.

He asked about overcrowding. That is a perfectly legitimate question. Crowding is not evenly dispersed across the prison estate. It is particularly concentrated in local prisons-those that serve the courts of a specific area. There is less crowding in training prisons, where activities are targeted at reducing reoffending by providing constructive regimes that address offending behaviour and improve opportunities on release. All prisoner accommodation is assessed and certified by the Director of Offender Management in accordance with national guidance and the related performance standard for accommodation. Operational managers

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must ensure that each cell used for the confinement of prisoners has sufficient heating, lighting and ventilation and is of adequate size for the number of prisoners to be held in it. No prison will be expected to operate at a level of crowding beyond that agreed by the NOMS Director of Offender Management.

The relationship between the reduction in crime, which has been substantial, and the number of people in prison is of great interest. It would be rash to say that there is no causal connection between the two, although I would not want to place too much emphasis on that. There are more dangerous, persistent and very serious offenders in prison now than before we came into power. They are also serving longer sentences. What effect that has on levels of crime is for conjecture rather than for definite view, and that is how I shall try to answer the noble Lord, Lord Henley.

I am also grateful to the noble Baroness for her comments. She asked whether new places have been delivered by further crowding. The new capacity has been delivered both by substantial new blocks of accommodation and through ensuring that we are making best use of the current estate. For example, this year a new 480-place young offender institution has been delivered at Littlehey in Huntingdon and a 176-place house block at Swaleside. Therefore, it is mostly new capacity, together with the use of existing accommodation under the very strict rules and regulations that I have already read out.

I know that the numbers in prison are a concern of the noble Baroness and of many noble Lords. Our policy is to ensure that serious, persistent and dangerous offenders spend time in prison in order that the public are protected, but that those who do not need to go to prison do not go there. That is why we have set up the community sentences and projects that I referred to when repeating the Statement. We think that is the right policy. We think it is paying dividends and that the moment has come when it is appropriate and safe to get rid of this particular scheme.

6.36 pm

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, can I ask the Minister two questions? How was it that some serious prisoners were let out of prison early by mistake in the north of England, and will he take seriously some horrible offences by bullies towards disabled people living in the community, as highlighted by the recent "Panorama" programme?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I do not know the detail of the early release from the northern prisons. Unfortunately, errors are made from time to time in a system such as our prison system. That has always been the case. The House will recall the day when 500 prisoners were released early in 1996. It happens. Luckily, I think the case referred to involved a good deal fewer than 500. Was it two who were released early? These mistakes do happen. I cannot offer any other explanation for that.

So far as concerns the noble Baroness's second question, I think I will have to take that back and, if I may, write her a letter about the situation that she describes.

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Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I am always concerned when these figures are produced because they refer to operational capacity. As the Minister knows, two figures are always used. One is the certified normal accommodation and the other is the overcrowded or operational capacity. When I was the Chief Inspector of Prisons, I tried to get back the previous responsibility for inspecting cells and deciding what the capacity should be. It was not just a question of size; it was whether there was a bed, a table, a chair and a locker for every person in there.

We confuse ourselves if we talk about operational capacity, because that is the overcrowded capacity. Can the Minister tell the House how many people are held over and above the certified normal number for accommodation in the prison system?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot give that figure. For this decision to be taken, it was necessary for there to be some headroom between the capacity in the system and the current number of prisoners. If that headroom was too small, it would not have been possible to make the decision that we have made. But if the headroom is substantial-I have given a figure of 2,500 for the present time-our view is that it is safe to halt the early release scheme. That is what we have done today.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, the Minister referred in the Statement to examining the number of women prisoners and mentally ill prisoners. That is a very small and woeful ambition. He referred to the Corston report, which clearly set out the fact that most women in prison are not a danger to the public. Can he think of a more appropriate verb than "examine", such as "reduce"?

Lord Bach: I am delighted to tell the noble Baroness that there has been a reduction in the number of women prisoners since the Corston report was accepted by the Government. The figure is 5 per cent at this stage, and there is a target of a 10 per cent reduction by 2012. In that case, the noble Baroness is right to chide me. It is much more than examination; it is actual reduction. The Bradley report on mentally ill prisoners is more recent, and she will know that we have set up a cross-government scheme to try to implement the recommendations of my noble friend Lord Bradley. Our intention is to make sure that the number of mentally ill people in our prisons is also reduced.

Lord Elton: My Lords, I am very surprised that the Minister does not have the total CNA of the Prison Service at his fingertips. Presumably he has the figure for the total prison population. By putting the two together you can discover how many are in operational capacity but not in CNA. Will he please put those figures in the Library as soon as they are available? That is supplementary to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham.

My observation is that his right honourable friend almost takes credit for the increase by 30 per cent in the number of prisoners on his watch, as it were. Does the noble Lord realise-I am sure that he does-that

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many in this House regard the test of success not in the increase in the number of prisoners or prison places but in the reduction in the number of places needed because of expenditure on preventive measures? A moment ago we were in court number 1; now we are in centre court. We were discussing how the system could be changed whereby it generated within itself the means of reducing reoffending. I hope that the noble Lord can assure us that the Government are also looking seriously at how to spend significant sums of money on preventing offending in its origins.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I could not possibly have done this job for the time that I have done it without knowing of the strong feelings of many noble Lords on this subject. The test is whether there is less crime, and less serious crime, than in previous years. On that test the Government have been very successful-more successful than any other Government since the Second World War. No one wants to send anyone to prison, but the fact remains that there are those, I am afraid, who commit serious and persistent crime or violent crime and who need to be imprisoned. I think that that is generally accepted around the House. However, the Government do not leave it there. They say that particularly for those who have committed less serious crime and where the alternative is a short period of custody it is better to press for harsh community sentences to be imposed on defendants. The figures seem to back this up.

The Government are putting forward many schemes, including intense community orders, which are important in trying to wean people off crime. Another thing that takes people away from crime is their ability to get help at an early stage-possibly legal help-regarding social problems that affect their lives. The Government have a good record on that, too. Perhaps I may digress for a moment. I went to Blackpool on Friday and saw the results on an estate of the provision of new buildings, new schools, Sure Start projects, new educational establishments, more policemen on the beat, less crime and less fear of crime. It can and does happen in the community, but for those who offend seriously we believe that prison is the right option.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I return to the figures given by the noble Lord, Lord Henley. I and many noble Lords find it strange indeed that violent crime is down by 41 per cent, yet that more and more prisons are being built as a result of all these extra people in prison. We have been listening to a very interesting debate in the Moses Room relating to the Howard League, which has done a brilliant job. I should like the Minister to expand a little on the route he started to go down. As crime is reducing by the considerable amount that he indicated, would it not be better to take a risk with some of the money that is being spent on building more prisons and spend it on very early preventive work, putting the money where it is going to matter?

Lord Bach: We spend a lot of money on preventive work. The Government have increased public spending on the kind of work that we believe discourages crime. However, if people offend seriously, are persistent in

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doing so and commit serious violence, in many cases there is no alternative but to send them to prison in order that the public is relieved of their presence-at least for the time being. The Government have a proud record on this. It is to try to improve the infrastructure of deprived areas in our country and to help people to obtain legal help whereby they avoid falling into the pit of crime. However, if they commit offences that are serious enough, they and others who may be tempted know that they will receive substantial prison sentences.

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