Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that many people eminent in child care are very concerned indeed at the possible long-term effects of imprisoning young children with their mothers over a long period of time? Does he not think it advisable, before this practice is allowed to grow, to set up some kind of research into the possible effects on such young children, which has never so far been carried out?
Clearly, this is a matter of serious importance. The prison department has been conducting a review of policy for mother and baby units in consultation with child care experts in the Department of Health and Social Security. I hope that this will enable policies to be developed on allocation criteria and the regime and staffing of such units, which will take into account all proper factors.
Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that at any one time about 1,000 dependent children are in care because their mothers are in prison, whereas there are only about 70 places in mother and baby units in prisons? Given the cost and the disruption to families of this kind of imprisonment, will he give an assurance that he will take all possible steps to ensure that mothers are not imprisoned unless it is absolutely essential for the safety of the public?
Whether mothers are sentenced to prison is a matter for the courts. As the hon. Gentleman will know, all the family circumstances are taken into account, but I am afraid that it is not possible for considerations of children to be decisive in every case.