Prison Conditions

Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 4:23 pm on 12th February 2001.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald 4:29 pm, 12th February 2001

I beg to move, That this House notes with concern the comments of the Director General of the Prison Service, in which he criticised intolerable conditions and referred to a number of prisons as 'hell holes', and the Reports of the Chief Inspector of Prisons which described appalling conditions at certain prisons; and calls on the Government to take urgent action to improve conditions in Her Majesty's Prisons, in order to enable them better to fulfil their role of protecting the public. I rather regret that the Government's gross discourtesy in having a statement on an Opposition day has meant that we have much less time for debate than this very important subject requires. When it happened on my previous Opposition day, I accepted it because it was a genuine emergency and the Government thought it necessary to make a statement on the steel industry. However, there was nothing remotely urgent about today's statement.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

Unless there was a sensitive time factor, we were careful not to have Government statements on Opposition days.

Let me start by quoting the Prime Minister when he was shadow Home Secretary. He told the Labour party conference that it was the Government's responsibility to confront the disgrace of a prison system in Britain that is inhumane, old fashioned and ineffective. He went on to say that we should drastically reform the system as a service that is publicly accountable, not as the new Tory plaything of privatisation for those out to make a profit. That was his understanding of the priorities of the Government and the Prison Service in 1992.

In 1997, the Home Secretary made a point of saying at the beginning of his term of office that he would take personal responsibility for the Prison Service and did not intend to shelter behind civil servants. He will remember that I welcomed that as a step forward and looked forward to seeing how he would discharge that responsibility. Today, I shall examine the Home Secretary's stewardship of the Prison Service.

I shall quote some shocking words: I am not prepared to continue to apologise for failing prison after failing prison.I have had enough of trying to explain the very immorality of our treatment of some prisoners and the degradation of some establishments. Those words were uttered by the Director General of the Prison Service and are an indictment of the Government's record on the prison system.

I shall not pretend that prisons have always been exemplary under Conservative Governments and always despicable under Labour Governments. Until the publication of the Woolf report, Her Majesty's prisons were pretty bad, no matter which party was in power. That fact was acknowledged by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffen (Mr. Clarke) when he established the Prison Service agency. From then on, we made steady and, at times, startling progress, but since 1997 the Government have not had that commitment and, consequently, the Prison Service has either stalled or—worse—fallen back, with bad results for prisoners and public. Let me make it clear at the outset that I do not criticise the many dedicated men and women who work for the Prison Service; I criticise the Government.

Prisons protect the public in two ways: by keeping the prisoner out of circulation for the duration of his sentence and by making it less likely that he will reoffend when he leaves. The huge progress of an 80 per cent. reduction in escapes in our final years in government has been maintained, but the progress on the second front of providing purposeful activity has not.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

Although I shall not be voting for the motion, I believe that the subject should be debated. Indeed, the Select Committee on Home Affairs is meeting at 5 o'clock. Does the right hon. Lady accept that, irrespective of which party is in office, the situation will become extremely difficult if more and more people continue to go to prison who are not an immediate danger to the community? Instead of increasing the number of people in prison, is there not a case for considering the alternatives? There is, however, no doubt that some people must serve prison sentences.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that point. I know that he takes a genuine and close interest in these matters. There is no inherent tension in having increasing numbers of people going to prison and also making the regimes decent and constructive. Rather than simply making that assertion, I can illustrate it with the fact that our best progress in making conditions more decent and increasing purposeful activity by hundreds of thousands of hours was achieved against a background of a 25 per cent. rise in the prison population in just a few years.

I do not believe that the courts send people to prison willy-nilly. Prison is nearly always a last resort when other options have failed, unless the first offence is horrendously serious. If the courts believe that people need to be in prison, it is the Government's duty to provide the necessary places in decent, constructive circumstances.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Does the right hon. Lady think that there are significant numbers of people who should be in prison but are not? Does she have any estimate of that figure? Does she believe that there are significant numbers of people in prison who should not be, and what is her estimate of that number? What does she think is the right policy for the next five years, whether or not she is in government during that time?

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

I think that there are people who should be in prison who currently are not. I refer to those on the Home Secretary's home detention curfew scheme, who should complete what used to be a normal part of their prison sentence. We have proposed "three strikes and you're out" for people who deal soft drugs to children. They should be in prison. We have proposed tougher penalties for those who commit sexual offences against children. They, too, should be in prison.

As for those people who are in prison but should not be, the only significant number is those who have severe mental problems. In my time as prisons Minister, I was concerned that people who should be treated by the NHS are instead left in a prison system that cannot cope with them. We might tackle that problem a bit better—although we would probably not solve it completely—if the NHS was responsible for delivering prison health rather than there being a completely separate service, which means that there is not a seamless continuum.

The hon. Gentleman asked me to play a numbers game, and I cannot do so. I have never subscribed to the view that there is an ideal prison population—a number above which we should not go. I can only repeat that where the courts decide that prison is appropriate, it is the Government's duty to supply the places, even if that means building more prisons.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Labour, Workington

The right hon. Lady was prisons Minister for several years. She referred to people with mental illness who are in prison. Did she set up a study to evaluate the number involved, and does she recall what that number was?

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

I was given a series of numbers by the prison health service, which varied from those who should not be in prison at all to those who would be helped if they received adequate health services while in prison. I shall not indulge in faulty recollection; Ministers have recently got into trouble because of faulty recollection. We conducted studies on those numbers. The hon. Gentleman might remember that we introduced a hybrid order, which enabled judges to determine that there should be a mixed penalty to be served partly in prison and partly in hospital. Before the hon. Gentleman asks me whether I made any assessment of the success of that, the answer is no because there was not time to do so before there was a regrettable change of Government.

I was saying that in the years following the Woolf report, prisons were made decent but austere. For example, the practice of prisoners sharing three to a cell designed for two was ended in 1994. Slopping out was ended in 1995. It is now back in three prisons. Assaults on prisoners and staff fell. The percentage of prisoners sharing two to a cell for one dropped, and prisoners engaged in hundreds of hours more of purposeful activity. They spent more time out of cells, were subject to random drugs tests, undertook national vocational qualifications and were given a new and effective system of incentives and privileges.

Four years into the Government's term of office, report after report has condemned the conditions in our prisons. However, the Government have failed to give the service any priority, even to the extent of the Minister with responsibility for prisons being unable to give me basic information about performance against standard indicators in the House.

The Director General of the Prison Service's comments in his speech last week exposes the Government's attitude to our prison system. He stated: Year after year, governor after governor, inspection after inspection, prisons like these have been exposed. Year after year the exposure has led to a flurry of hand wringing, sometimes a change of governor, a dash of capital investment, but no real or sustained improvement. In June, the chief inspector of prisons apparently found conditions in Brixton prison to be worse than when he made his previous report in 1996. He found conditions to be totally unacceptable in any jail. He found that there were no workshops and no educational facilities worthy of the name. Who has presided over the system for four of the five years that have elapsed since 1996? The answer is the Home Secretary.

At Birmingham prison, it has been reported that half of all education classes are unfilled. The chief inspector apparently found that conditions were significantly worse than those set out in previous critical reports in 1995 and 1998. That is an indictment of the malaise that has developed in the prison system under the Government. They could blame the Conservative Government for 1995, but not for 1998, and certainly not for 2001.

How can we expect our prisons to fulfil their role of protecting the public and allowing criminals to make a new start in life if inmates are left to rot in idleness in such conditions? The chief inspector further stated that Brixton prison is not failing but is being failed. It is being failed, and failed by the Government. As the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, pointed out in his Prison Reform Trust lecture last month, in the past financial year the Prison Service's key performance indicators were met in less than half of all cases. That is hardly an impressive record. The Conservative Government's track record was that the agency consistently met either all or nearly all of its indicators.

In his latest annual report, the chief inspector of prisons commented that 1998–99 was a very bad year for the Prison Service, marked by extreme examples of unacceptable practice in prisons. Let us consider the facts. Under the Government, the number of assaults on prisoners has increased from 2,747 in the Conservative Government's last year to 3,456 in the year 1999–2000. The number of assaults on staff also increased by 471. Before the excuse is made that there are more prisoners, it is a percentage increase of 4.8 per cent. in the Conservative Government's final year to 5.3 per cent. in respect of prisoners; there is a smaller increase in respect of staff.

One of the saddest indicators of the failing prison system—of bullying, hopelessness and depression—is the number of suicides. In the last year, the number was 91, compared with 70 in 1997. Under this Government, the period of time that prisoners spend out of their cells on weekdays fell from an average of 11 hours in 1997 to just over 10 now. The number of hours that prisoners spend in purposeful activity fell to 22.8 hours; under the previous Government, it had increased to more than 26 hours. As the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) admitted last week, the hours of purposeful activity are now back to those of 1992—before we began to implement the Woolf report—which means that all the progress of our last five years has been vitiated.

Photo of Mr Huw Edwards Mr Huw Edwards Labour, Monmouth

I visited Usk prison in my constituency only three weeks ago. May I assure the right hon. Lady that the description that she has just given is unlike the experience in that prison, where the amount of purposeful activity—NVQs, sex offender treatment programmes, training and education—has increased markedly in the past few years?

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

The picture that I am painting is not, as the hon. Gentleman said, my picture: it is being painted by the Home Secretary's own report and statistics. If they are wrong, Ministers are misleading the House. I do not think that that is likely; the report and statistics are right, and the hon. Gentleman must accept that. If purposeful activity takes up an average of 22.8 hours, it stands to reason that in some prisons—perhaps including Usk—it will take up more time, but in others it will take up less.

We must also consider the fact that that indicator includes all the open prisons, where a full day's work is normal for all prisoners. In many prisons, therefore, there are only a few hours of purposeful activity a week. I am happy to accept that the hon. Gentleman was impressed by what he saw when he visited his own prison. I could name other prisons, and I shall, where I have been impressed by what I have seen. I am afraid, however, that there are many more—regrettably, most prisons—which do not reach those standards.

How can prisons be expected to reform criminals if time is squandered in idleness, which amounts to thousands of lost opportunities to do something to make our prisoners useful members of our society? The Government claim that they have exceeded their target for the number of prisoners sharing a cell designed for one. Their target was 18 per cent., but the number sharing a cell is 17.2 per cent. However, that is a percentage increase on the 15.5 per cent. that we left in 1996–97. There could not be a clearer demonstration of sliding back into bad ways. The figures for the last financial year show that the situation was even worse than the year before. If targets are lowered, and if Ministers who inherited a 15.5 per cent. rate of two prisoners sharing a cell for one set a target of 18 per cent., inevitably standards will slip, which has happened in this and other measurements of our prisons performance.

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Labour, Shipley

I am interested in the right hon. Lady's speech so far. Will she say what she would do about all those things and give a straight answer to a simple question? Will she commit to match, at the very least, the Government's spending plans for prisons?

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

Oh dear; I have a feeling that a Tory gain is in the offing. Our proposals on policy have already been made clear, and I shall make them clear again a little later—[Interruption.] When I do so, I shall address the issue of spending. If the hon. Gentleman contains himself, he will hear what I have to say. The Home Secretary cannot plead pressure of numbers, for we reduced the percentage of two prisoners sharing a cell for one during a time of record rises in the prison population.

In his highly condemnatory report on Feltham young offenders institution, the chief inspector reported that Feltham was without clear strategic direction and that conditions were unacceptable, yet two years later the Government have done nothing to solve the crisis. In August 2000, the assistant governor at Feltham resigned, claiming that the prison still operated in "Dickensian conditions".

In his report into conditions at Portland young offenders institution, the chief inspector stated: If an organisation such as the prison service does not have a proactive line management structure that is required to monitor and correct the quality of the treatment and conditions of prisoners, it will fail in its duty toward both prisoners and the public. Has the Home Secretary done anything about that?

Surely it is conditions at young offender institutions that should worry us the most. It is essential that young offenders, above all, should be able to use their period of incarceration to rebuild their lives as useful members of the community, but instead there is an increasing culture of violence, which is leading to our young offender institutions becoming human dustbins, which young people leave dehumanised and sucked into a culture of ever more violence. The number of violent offences per 100 in those institutions has increased from 78 in 1997 to 90 in the last full financial year.

This Government are without a strategy for prisons; they are a Government who have allowed drift, decline and stagnation to infect the culture of our prison system. Not that there has been any shortage of ideology. In 1996, the Secretary of State said: I regard privatisation of the prison service as morally repugnant. What is morally repugnant is the appalling situation that the Government have allowed to develop in so many of our prisons. It was our vision that led to significant improvements, which have now been lost by the Government.

Of course, not all reports have been bad. The chief inspector's report on Blantyre House concluded by praising the consistent, innovative and courageous approach of the governor and staff. So what happens? Blantyre House is raided provocatively and excessively, the governor is removed, and Ministers defend their actions.

The inspection of the private prison, Blakenhurst, concluded: The regime offered was good with excellent vocational training facilities, good work and education opportunities. The inspection report into Buckley concluded: From this inspection we were able to say that Buckley Hall is a thoroughly good prison. The report continued: The atmosphere was relaxed, yet controlled and relationships between staff and prisoners varied from good to excellent. That is in contrast to the "hell holes" of many of our urban prisons described by the director general. What happens? Blakenhurst and Buckley Hall are renationalised—given back to the public sector, which cannot even run its own prisons properly, under an uncaring Government. Of course, the public sector pays no penalty if it fails. There is no built-in financial incentive to succeed.

I would be the last to lay all the failings of any prison directly at the feet of a Home Secretary, but too many of the problems in our prison system have been created by the Government. The lack of a strategic vision is failing both prisoners and the public. The Home Secretary attacked privatisation as immoral—not just bad or misguided, but immoral—yet he is now offering it as a solution to the immoral conditions at Brixton. At the same time that privatisation is seen as the answer to the problems at Brixton, Blakenhurst and Buckley Hall are being brought back into the public sector.

One wonders whether the right hon. Gentleman has done yet another U-turn. Having been converted in a matter of weeks from a moral repulsion at the mere thought of private prisons to supporting them and providing more of them, he is once again—and in the teeth of all the evidence of the reports submitted to him—going back to the old Labour view that anything private is bad and anything public is good. Alternatively, has he done some deal with the Prison Officers Association, to which he promised before the last election that he would abandon privatisation?

It is precisely this confusion—abandon privatisation there, implement it here—and lack of direction at the heart of our prison system that has led to decline and stagnation under this Government. What our Prison Service needs is a sense of direction. It needs a Government who have a vision for it and its future and who are prepared to tackle the disgraceful conditions in which so many prisoners spend their sentences.

Last year, the number of hours that prisoners spent in workshops declined, which is another way of saying that the number of hours that they spent in idleness increased. We need a prison system that works not only by protecting the public by taking criminals off our streets, but by allowing those who have been caught up in criminality the opportunity to rejoin society as useful citizens—yet the Home Secretary is squandering the opportunity to create a prison system that will work on both those counts.

Our proposals for self-financing prison workshops would create an opportunity for the Prison Service to start to take significant steps towards becoming a service that truly fulfils the three tasks of protecting the public, punishing criminals and providing a chance for those who have committed crime to build a new life on release.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

The last thing that I want is for prisoners to do what they do at the moment: churn out more than 2 million pairs of socks every year—not for some sensible purpose such as sale to Marks and Spencer, but for consumption by a prison population who have never exceeded 64,000. So whether it is sacks or socks, I am not interested in purposeless activity. [Interruption.] If I may continue, the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Leslie) may hear the answer to his question.

We will work towards a full working day in all prisons. The work that prisoners would undertake, if it came from real employers who really wanted it to be done, would allow a wage, rather than pocket money, to be paid to prisoners. Deductions could be made to cover savings, so that the prisoner could not be left with the plea that he had a choice between criminality and the dole; reparations to victims, so that he would understand that there are consequences to actions; the upkeep of his own family, which falls almost entirely on the taxpayer; and, indeed, his own upkeep, so that he would learn the habits not only of regular and demanding work, but of an orderly and responsible distribution of the proceeds of work.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady and I am following her remarks with some care. She said that such industries would be self-financing and would cover all prisoners, who number about 64,000 at any one time. Will she publish the calculations that lay behind that conclusion so as better to inform the debate and say what kind of product would be manufactured?

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

Product does not always have to be manufactured. If the Home Secretary has taken any interest at all in the work that already goes on in our prisons, he will be aware that a wide range of products such as printing—in suitable prisons, of course—and other services are supplied. If he considers the example of Blakenhurst, he will acknowledge that a lot of contracted work is taken in, which does not compete with local labour. Indeed, it forms the basis of much of the praise that has been lavished on that institution.

It is not as though I have to say to the Home Secretary, "This cannot be done." Other countries have prison workshops that undertake real work that produces real wages, so if he is seriously saying that that ideal cannot be realised, I do not agree. I am well aware that such issues often get distorted, so I remind him of what I said by quoting back my own words: we will work towards a full working day in all prisons. I did not say that, in the first five minutes of taking over his job, which I am greatly looking forward to doing, I would produce 64,000 places for work. However, I could work towards achieving that, which is what I shall do.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I do not remember suggesting that such a thing would happen in the first five minutes, nor could it, under any Government. I am interested in the calculations that make the right hon. Lady think that it would be possible—after five years, for example—to make all those industries, which would involve 65,000 prisoners, entirely self-financing. I am asking her whether she will make those calculations public.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

First, Prison Service industries, which supply products for the Prison Service, will obviously not be self-financing. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"] No, because those goods are bought only by the public sector. As prisons Minister, the right hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), knows that they employ only a small minority of prisoners, whereas I want all prisoners to have the opportunity to work. Our solution will be to have prison workshops that are run on the same basis as any other small business.

The word "calculations" has been used as though this proposal will establish a uniform business, uniformly applied in all prisons. I am appalled by the attitude of Labour Members who are not interested in this proposal: they despise it and do not want to do it. They have reduced the hours of purposeful activity in our prisons, but all they can do is sit there and say, "There ain't no solution", and they are not bothered about finding one. We have the solution, we will impose it, and it will be welcomed by the public and the Prison Service alike. The Government should be ashamed of the fact that there has been four years of wasted opportunity. [Interruption.] The Home Secretary seems to find that hilarious.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

I shall make some progress.

The law already allows—

Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance. Is it right for the right hon. Lady to say that she will allow me to intervene after she has taken an intervention from the Home Secretary, and then to refuse to give way to me, although she had agreed to do so?

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

Thank you. Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am afraid that the quality of interventions has not been so wonderful that I would encourage them, but just to be kind I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady. I have listened carefully to her remarks, and I shall briefly recap. Prisoners will have to pay for their keep, pay compensation to their victims and pay for the upkeep of their families. What incentive will they have to work, or will the right hon. Lady make it compulsory and turn prisoners into slaves?

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

Yes, I will nuke it compulsory. If a prisoner refused to work, he would be put on the basic regime and have no chance of being under the enhanced regime. I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that his Front-Bench team are looking horribly embarrassed. He misunderstands the nature of prison work by his reference to "slaves". At the moment, prisoners work 22 hours a week for about £9.50, which could be called slavery. I propose that they should have the chance to earn a proper wage. When a Bill was introduced—it was in our time and with Government support—to allow deductions to be made, Labour Front-Benchers supported the proposal.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

I know that the right hon. Gentlemen knows that, but his hon. Friend does not, so I am just telling him.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Labour, Workington

The right hon. Lady's proposition is very interesting. We are all interested in the detail. We presume that she has not launched into a tirade to make an irresponsible statement. Will she give us the figures? She must have worked them out. A paper giving the calculations must have been circulated among the Conservative shadow Home Office team setting out the basis on which she can draw these assumptions. We are genuinely interested. Can we see the data?

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

I visited all the prisons in my time as the responsible Minister. If the hon. Gentleman were to do so, he would find non-uniformity in the lamentably few prisons that have such enterprises. That non-uniformity makes it impossible to say that we will have that business in every prison and how much it will cost. That is nonsense. It would be important to do that if we were proposing that this scheme should be funded by the taxpayer, but we have already said that it will be self-financing. [HON. MEMBERS: "How?"] Labour Members have never run a business, so they have no idea how to make it self-financing. When one of the hon. Gentleman's constituents tells him "I want to set up a business that will be self-financing", he will ask "How?" It is such a startling proposition that the hon. Gentleman's mind cannot encompass it. The sooner we take the prison system out of the hands of Labour Members, who apparently do not even realise how anything can possibly be self-financing, the better.

We will begin to restart the process of reform, which we did, after all, start and which has been squandered by this Government. We will try to rebuild a real service from the decline, confusion and stagnation that this Government have introduced into our prison system. This Government have presided over an increase in overcrowding, the return of slopping out in three prisons, a rise in the assault rate, an increase in the number of suicides and a fall in purposeful activity. They have let things become so bad that their own director general describes conditions as immoral, and they do not even apologise for that. Yet this is the Government, and this is the Home Secretary, who in opposition had the gall to condemn our record when we were progressing in leaps and bounds.

Winston Churchill said that the test of a civilised society was how it treated its prisoners. The Government have failed that test, failed the people whom they should be protecting, and failed the offenders whom they should be reforming. They have also massively failed the thousands of decent, hard-working staff who struggle to do their jobs in impossible circumstances. They should give way to a party that cares enough to do something about the situation.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department 5:06 pm, 12th February 2001

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: supports the policy of Her Majesty's Government to make prisons work better to reduce reoffending and thus cut crime; welcomes the improved investment in the Service, and the improved performance of the Service in terms of security, literacy and numeracy, offender behaviour programmes, the reduction in drug taking and in under-18 regimes; offers its gratitude to staff and the many volunteers attached to prisons; but notes the significant and unacceptable variation in the effectiveness of different Prison Service establishments as highlighted by the Director General and Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons, and endorses the measures being put in place to secure higher and more consistent standards across establishments.". I was grateful to the Opposition when I saw that they had applied for a debate on prisons, because it is important for the subject to be debated in the House from time to time. The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) was entirely right to say that our manifesto stated that I would take proper responsibility for the Prison Service, and that is exactly what I have sought to do ever since. I have sought to take responsibility for the good things that have happened in the service, for the not so good things, and for the bad things. I am responsible for the service, not least to the House.

The right hon. Lady's speech was a parody of the director general's speech at the Prison Service conference, and also a parody of the record of both this Government and the Government of whom she was a member. She said that she would not go in for faulty recollection, and then suggested that during her time as prisons Minister—from five or six years after the publication of the Woolf report until May 1997—the service had progressed in "leaps and bounds".

One of the striking things about the right hon. Lady is her absence of memory. Let me jolt her memory with a few quotations: We created a false distinction between policy and operations which has reverberated around the whole of Whitehall, not just the Home Office;We severely damaged relations with the private sector;We have endured swingeing headlines in the press"; and: We left the Prison Service without a confirmed leader for five months, and we shattered its morale … And … did we eliminate disasters from the Prison Service? No … approximately 541 prisoners were released before the end of their sentences. They did not even have to break out."—[Official Report, 19 May 1997; Vol. 294, c. 401.] That was the right hon. Lady in her first speech in opposition summing up the previous five years, during which she had been the prisons Minister. Her conclusion about the Prison Service that she had been running was, "We shattered its morale."

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

The right hon. Gentleman is being very slightly tendentious—I suppose I am not allowed to say "tendentious" in the House, but I think that he is. If he looked at the whole of that speech, he would find that I paid tribute to the immense progress that the service had made, that I was talking about one very confined period, not the five years that followed the Woolf report, and that I specifically said that, in those five years, we had made massive progress. I said that that was due both to the Government and to the Prison Service. The right hon. Gentleman should read the whole speech.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The speech is rather too long to read it now, but I always do the right hon. Lady the courtesy of reading her speeches. It so happens that there were indeed other parts where she talked about the achievements of the Prison Service. I also remember that she criticised us, probably fairly, for trying to take away from the achievements of the Prison Service during that period. The simple fact is that she went through one or two things in her speech on 19 May 1997, but she reserved her strongest prose, her greatest condemnation, not just for her right hon. and learned Friend, as it were, the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), her boss and the previous Home Secretary, but for the previous Government as a whole. She did not say, "We shattered its morale" with any qualification.

There had been some achievements following the publication of the Woolf report. I am perfectly prepared—indeed, it was in my text before I knew what the right hon. Lady was going to say—to put those achievements on the record, but the other truth is that, thanks to the way in which she and the right hon. and learned Gentleman sought to run the Prison Service, morale was indeed shattered, the system was not working effectively and there was no proper ministerial responsibility or accountability for the service.

Moreover, the right hon. Lady had agreed to a budget for 1997–98 and for 1998–99 that was so tight it would have led to catastrophe, had I not been able to persuade my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer very shortly after coming into office, following an agreement in the manifesto that we would audit the resources available to the Prison Service before sticking to the previous Government' s spending limit, that there should first be a £60 million uplift in 1997–98 and a further uplift, covering two years, of £112 million.

The point that the director general made in his speech last week at the Prison Service conference is one that I have also made on a number of occasions and that, in her wiser moments—I am sorry that there were not any in the speech that she has just made—the right hon. Lady recognises: with the Prison Service, as with any other public sector institution and large private sector institution, we can put the same resources into establishments, establishments can deal with the same people and can have the same number of managers, yet they produce very variable performance.

In the middle 1980s the previous Administration drew stark attention to that fact in relation to the performance of schools. Something that I did support in opposition was the introduction of a national curriculum and of testing because it was important to ensure that similar schools performed in a similar way. Indeed, when I was at the Inner London education authority, we did some research to draw that out. That should not be a matter of argument between the parties. The issue of raising the standards of all prisons in similar categories, first to the level of the average and then to the level of the best, is a central part of the strategy of the director general, which the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), and I have endorsed.

The right hon. Lady mentioned various adverse reports by the chief inspector. I have a few comments on that, the first of which is that she forgot entirely to mention that, when I became Secretary of State, I found on my desk a pile of about a dozen reports from the chief inspector—some of which, as I recall, were well over one year old. Although I do not necessarily say that she was responsible for that, it is interesting that she said nothing at all about it today. The reports had simply been shelved. They apparently conveyed embarrassing information and were shelved.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

What has the right hon. Gentleman been doing for four years?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Almost my very first action on taking office was to say that a protocol would have to be agreed and announced between the chief inspector of prisons, the director general and me. It provided that, in very short order, report drafts would be submitted for factual accuracy to be checked; would go back to the chief inspector; and—unless there was a major argument on factual accuracy, not on the chief inspector's comments—would be published. If there was disagreement on factual accuracy, the draft would come back to me. I am pleased to say that that protocol has been very successful and we have ensured that reports are published.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Our first action has been to ensure that reports are published as quickly as possible. If reports were treated now as they were when the right hon. Lady was the prisons Minister, the public and Parliament would never know about bad prison conditions. The first thing that we have done is to shine light on those establishments, which the previous Administration refused to do.

Secondly, where there have been adverse reports, we have sought rapid improvements. As the director general said in his speech last week, there have been improvements at Wormwood Scrubs, Wandsworth, Brixton, Portland and Leeds. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, the director general and I were the first to say that, yes, change was too long a-coming at Brixton. Consequently, we said that that establishment would have to be market-tested. However, we have done more than that.

Although I have publicly expressed my gratitude to the chief inspector for his reports on individual prisons and for his thematic reports, it became clear to us that we needed more than just those reports to ensure a continuous stream of information on the relative performance of establishments. That is being dealt with by implementation of the recommendations of Lord Laming's inquiry, which were published in July 2000. He has established that by laying the foundations for improving standards systematically and routinely, identifying under-performing prisons much earlier, and ensuring that robust remedial action is taken, there will, we hope, be fewer adverse reports from the chief inspector.

I have already given the House details of the additional funds that we have provided over and above those provided by the previous Administration for 1997–98 and 1998–99. There were additional funds in the comprehensive spending review that was announced in 1998 and came into force at the beginning of 1999. For the three-year comprehensive spending review period that starts at the beginning of March 2001, we are providing an extra £689 million, with a 7 per cent. cash-terms increase for 2001–02 alone.

The settlement will allow the service to increase capacity to cope safely with the expected prison population, which includes more than 2,500 extra places; to upgrade health care centres; to enhance security; to maintain the very good record on escapes; and, significantly, to increase drug programmes and other regimes to reduce reoffending. In return, the service is signed up to challenging new targets on regime delivery.

Among the right hon. Lady's non-answers to interventions by Labour Members, I noticed her very long non-answer to the question on whether she was committing the Opposition at least to maintaining the Government's planned spending. In all the ever-changing commitments from the shadow Chancellor, that question has never been answered. As the right hon. Lady knows, however, I am always happy to give way to her on this, or any other, issue.

Photo of Mr Paul Boateng Mr Paul Boateng Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office)

Does the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) have the answer?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman is much more likely to have the answer, not least because he is a good friend of the shadow Chancellor. Whether the right hon. Lady is such a friend is open to doubt; it is a moot point.

The right hon. Lady failed to mention that industrial relations were continually bedevilled inside the Prison Service by almost institutionalised conflict. I have worked hard to ensure that there is a new climate. That has required me—forcefully, at the beginning of my period in office—to make it clear to the Prison Officers Association that I considered there was no place within the Prison Service for industrial action. I am not talking only about strikes, but about other industrial action. On one or two occasions, that led me to seek injunctive action in the courts against the POA.

We have moved on from there, and I am grateful to the leaders of the POA for their constructive approach. I am glad to say that last week I announced the creation of a new pay review body for prison governors and officers, which will be chaired by Sir Toby Frere. I fully expect this to lead to improvements in staff performance, and in response the POA has made a voluntary commitment never again to take industrial action.

The right hon. Lady quite rightly tweaked me about my remarks in opposition about the idea of private prisons. I confess that I did not like the idea when it was first put forward. I thought there was a danger that profit would be put above the care of prisoners.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

The right hon. Gentleman has changed his mind.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

As John Maynard Keynes famously said, "If circumstances change, I change. What do you do?" I confess; I have been informed by the facts. I plead guilty to that.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

It was not in two weeks. I spoke to the Bourne trust in 1995. [Interruption.] Of course I remember it; I remember a great deal. I was there, and my recollection is accurate. We shall come on to that later.

I changed my mind not least because, in March 1997, there was a unanimous report from the Select Committee on Home Affairs—involving Labour and Conservative Members—which provided a glowing endorsement of the conduct of private sector prisons.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

I am very interested in this chronology; it is fascinating stuff. March 1997 was two months before a general election. If the Home Secretary had changed his mind then, did he make sure that people knew that he had had that change of mind before the general election? Local POAs were telling me that they were still being assured as late as March that prisons would no longer be privatised and that no further contracts would be let by the Government.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The right hon. Lady is quite right to ask me about that, because my speech in October 1995 was rehashed in "Gatelodge". I am sorry that it was, but these things sometimes happen in the swirl of an election campaign.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The electorate were told, as a matter of fact. I certainly did not dine out on the issue during the 1997 election. I can give the right hon. Lady more details about the provenance of the "Gatelodge" article, which I do not think was persuasive one way or the other in the election. We did say that we wanted a mixed economy in which both the public and private sectors could flourish. We did not want the one-way street that she proposed, involving transfers from the public to the private sector only. We wanted a two-way street where increasingly the public sector would be challenged by the private sector, but where it too could challenge the private sector. That has happened in respect of Buckley Hall, Blakenhurst and Manchester, where the public sector continues to run the prisons but with clear arm's-length agreements.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

This is a serious issue. In March 1997, the Home Secretary had changed his mind on whether the private sector should be involved in running prisons. However, he allowed the POA—the vital sectoral interest whose members might change their vote depending on the policies of the particular parties—to labour under the illusion that he was still in favour of the public sector running prisons. That is an example of how the Labour party has run all its policies.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I do not think it is quite as significant as the hon. Gentleman suggests. I have already explained that the speech I made in 1995 was rehashed into an article in early 1997. I do not think that people were misled in the way he suggests. I have been as open as I can about the provenance of that, and about the fact that, yes, I have changed my mind.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I hope that the right hon. Lady will tell us whether she will commit her party to the same levels of spending. She is very welcome to ask me two questions, and I look forward to her intervention.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

We will spend what is necessary to supply the prison places.

May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the substance of the point that we are discussing, rather than what he may or may not have said before the last election? He has decided to bring both Blakenhurst and Buckley Hall, which have had favourable reports and are generally recognised as excellent, back into public sector control. Will he acknowledge that the private sector has a built-in guarantee of delivery in that if delivery does not take place there is a financial penalty in the contract, whereas there is no such penalty in any public sector contract?

Secondly, and more important, if the public sector can do a better job of running two excellent prisons than the private sector which created the excellence, why is not the public sector doing that in its own prisons? Why did the right hon. Gentleman not accept that bid and say to the public sector, "If that's what you can do, go and do it for one of the miserably failing prisons in the public sector"?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

That is exactly what we are doing. There has been a service level agreement in Manchester, and we are seeking to roll that out in other prisons. Having SLAs and clear arm's-length relationships, with the people in the prison being on the line when it comes to delivery, is a very sensible approach for the public as well as the private sector.

The competition for Buckley Hall and Blakenhurst was won fair and square. I am responsible for the decision, but it was made, quite properly, by the director general, as accounting officer. There are necessarily some differences between the public and private sectors because the public sector cannot go bust. However, so far as possible, we have ensured that the same disciplines will apply to the team running the Buckley Hall and Blakenhurst public sector arrangements as apply to the private sector.

I note that again the right hon. Lady was silent on whether the Opposition will match our promises in respect of money.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Labour, Workington

In the earlier exchanges, my right hon. Friend may have missed the shadow Home Secretary saying, "We will spend what is necessary to supply the prison places." Does my right hon. Friend read into that a substantial commitment to additional expenditure that has hitherto not been admitted in the House of Commons?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

If it means anything at all, it means a lot more money, especially as the right hon. Lady seemed to imply that she would seek to eliminate overcrowding and a great deal more.

Let me deal briefly with overcrowding, health care, prevention of reoffending, suicide, race relations, young offenders and prison industries.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman about finance and resources before he moves on to other important matters.

The Library tells me that Prison Service expenditure from 1991–92 to 1999–2000 has risen from £1,462 million to £1,846 million. That is a 2 per cent. increase in real terms over nine years. In the same period, the prison population has gone up by 40 per cent. Are the Government prepared to make a commitment that, if re-elected, spend on the Prison Service will catch up with what has fallen away and will keep pace with any increase in prison numbers that the Home Secretary appears to anticipate?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

One point on which I entirely agreed with the previous Administration was that the Prison Service was capable both of increasing performance and cutting unit costs. There was substantial waste, and we have continued to cut it. The figures given by the hon. Gentleman are correct, but they would have been lower if we had not had to put in additional resources—£60 million and £112 million—for 1997–98 and 1998–99. I have already explained that the further three years of the comprehensive spending review involve a substantial increase, and that will provide, among other improvements, an additional 2,660 places.

We expect prisons to produce efficiencies, and I see nothing wrong with that. What was appalling about the pre-Woolf system was that it was both costly and poor. The increase in resources provided by the present Administration, particularly since the first comprehensive spending review for 1998–99, has been more satisfactory. I have sought to ensure that there are more resources. Numbers have risen, but at the same time all sorts of practices have improved.

I shall deal with a few more points briefly in the knowledge that many hon. Members want to get into the debate. On overcrowding, nearly 30 per cent. of prisoners in 1990–91 were held two or three to a cell. That figure has fallen to 16.9 per cent., which compares with a target of 18 per cent.

Some slopping out has been brought back, and that affects 123 prisoners at present. That differs from the arrangements that existed in 1990–91, however, because all those prisoners are able to obtain manual unlocking of their cells, so that they have 24-hour access, except if there is an emergency on their wing, to sanitation outside their cells.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

On overcrowding, the right hon. Gentleman said proudly that the figure for putting two prisoners in a cell designed for one had fallen to 17.2 per cent., whereas the target was 18 per cent. Will he acknowledge that the figure that he inherited was 15.5 per cent., and that there has therefore, been some deterioration?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

If the right hon. Lady will hang on a moment, she will find that I am perfectly ready to accept her figures. There has been some downward change, and I regret it. However, that change has been in the context of a rising prison population. We have increased the numbers, but if the right hon. Lady wants to make a political point—

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

She says she does not. Given that the right hon. Lady had planned much lower resources than we have put in, there would, under her plans, be many more people locked up two to a cell than is now the case. Overcrowding is likely to remain a problem in prisons. It is not for me to set an artificial ceiling for the prison population, and I am not going to. We are putting in additional resources to ensure a considerable increase in the number of places available. I judge that sufficient places will be available.

Photo of Mr Paul Stinchcombe Mr Paul Stinchcombe Labour, Wellingborough

Mr. Narey has called overcrowding in prisons a scourge, Lord Woolf called it a cancer and the former president of the Prison Governors Association called it an obscenity. Does my right hon. Friend accept that prison overcrowding has grave and damaging effects, and is it a priority of the Government to eliminate the problem?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Other things being equal, I should prefer there to be no overcrowding or having two prisoners to a cell. However, we must ensure that enough places are available to meet demand, and that is what we are trying to do. We are putting a lot of extra resources into the prison system to increase the total number of places available. In addition, some other Prison Service establishments that are experiencing overcrowding produce a good standard of care for prisoners, while others do not. Overcrowding in itself cannot be used as an excuse for under-performance, and we will not accept that it should be so used. In any event, the situation is radically different from that which prevailed 10 years ago.

The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald mentioned suicides. I am sorry that she tried to make a political point out of one of the gravest issues that faces the Prison Service. She used out-of-date figures. The number of suicides fell last year, although that is of small comfort. That fall—to 81, not 92 as claimed by the right hon. Lady—is the first for five years. At the Prison Service conference, I announced a new, proactive strategy to try to turn around the service's record on suicides.

We must work extremely hard to reduce the number of prisoner suicides, but we must work even harder to ensure that prisoners are safe in their cells. Last year, as everyone realises, the Prison Service failed in its duty of care to Zahid Mubarek. He was locked up, quite inappropriately, with a man who subsequently murdered him. The investigation revealed racism in the establishment—Feltham young offender institute. I both encourage and greatly welcome the investigation being conducted by the Commission for Racial Equality into racism in the Prison Service. When its recommendations are received, they will be acted on.

Not only is there racism between staff and prisoners, but it is also carried out by white staff on black and Asian staff. I am determined that it should be eliminated—as are my right hon. Friend the Minister of State and the director general. One of the ways we are trying to do that is by establishing a race equality for staff—RESPECT—network for black and Asian staff in the Prison Service. The network was successfully launched by my right hon. Friend last month; the event was attended by 1,500 delegates. The Home Office's network now includes the RESPECT network. It provides an active voice for staff, so I know that it will be extremely important both in raising the concerns of black and Asian staff in the Prison Service and in ensuring a shift in approach and attitude.

The right hon. Lady mentioned health care. When the national health service was established in 1948, one of the few things that the then Government got wrong was that prison health services were not incorporated into it. Since then, the prison health service has been a Cinderella.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

Is the right hon. Gentleman going to change that?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Yes. We have already announced joint working between the Prison Service and the NHS. In some areas, NHS trusts provide health care. In addition, £35 million has been allocated over the next three years to improve health care facilities.

The Prison Service has increasingly suffered from the abject failure of the so-called care in the community policy implemented by the previous Administration—although I doubt that the right hon. Lady agreed with that policy. The closure of large mental institutions without the provision of alternative care was appalling; since the late 1980s, it has led to a sevenfold increase in the proportion of the prison population with moderate to severe mental health problems.

Prisoners suffering from dangerous and severe personality disorders are among those with the greatest mental health problems. On 20 December last year, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health told the House of our joint proposals for managing that group. We have committed £126 million to fund a programme of pilot projects across the Prison Service and the NHS over the next three years, to research both a rigorous assessment tool and effective treatments.

The next pilot will provide extra places at HMP Whitemoor, alongside the existing assessment pilot centre, where therapeutic interventions will be piloted and evaluated. In addition, two new units are planned at HMP Frankland in Durham. The units will be built within a secure perimeter and will provide 100 assessment and treatment places; they are due to open in early 2003. A 70-place unit will open next year at the Rampton high security hospital. A further 70 places are planned within the NHS by 2004.

Purposeful activity is of critical importance. To make prison work, we must ensure that prisoners are better when they leave it than when they entered it—better educated and, as far as possible, better trained. They should receive advice and help to get them out of their offending behaviour.

Photo of Mr Huw Edwards Mr Huw Edwards Labour, Monmouth

I am sure that my right hon. Friend has previously heard me commend Usk prison for its training, education and sex offender treatment programmes. Will he be good enough to visit the prison? It could serve as a model for other prisons throughout the country.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I should be happy to visit Usk prison. Given the long list of visits that I have promised to make and have yet to fulfil, it may take a little time, but I shall certainly do my very best.

Purposeful activity has increased and the monthly figure for November was 24.6 hours. That is a steady improvement on last year, and we hope to meet the target that has been set.

Education is key. We have continued many of the good things that happened under the previous Administration—not the shattering of morale, which we have helped to restore. I am astonished that the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald did not have the humility to recognise what had happened. We were determined to introduce a literacy and numeracy key performance indicator, which is now in place. By the end of this financial year, prisoners will have gained 9,000 full qualifications at basic skills level 2, making many of them employable on release for the first time.

We are investing £18 million over the next three years to secure a 50 per cent. increase in the number of qualifications obtained by prisoners. We have also put much more money into accredited offending behaviour programmes—my right hon. Friend the Minister of State can deal with that later—and a lot of effort and money into custody-to-work programmes to ensure that people in prison receive much better preparation to get jobs. We know for certain that if prisoners have a job to go to, they are much less likely to reoffend, and far too many of them do not have jobs to go to.

The last substantive point that I want to make is on prison industries. The right hon. Lady could not leave alone the issue of socks. [Interruption.] She is chuntering from a sedentary position that there are millions of socks. She suggested in her speech that 2.5 million pairs of socks had been produced in a year. In my world—perhaps not in hers—socks wear out, so if socks are not produced year by year, there is a really serious problem. All the sock production takes place in Gartree prison in the constituency of the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier), which is the centre of the Leicestershire hosiery area. The industrial production of socks in the prison service is darn good value and we have developed a holistic approach, but I wish that the right hon. Lady would stop putting her foot into the matter.

Some 600,000 socks a year are produced in prison industries to meet the demand inside the Prison Service. [Interruption.] The right hon. Lady says from a sedentary positions that there are 65,000 people in prison, but she does not understand that many people leave prison within much less than a year, so the turnover of prisoners is much greater than she thinks. She keeps talking about early release, but every prisoner, apart from the 23 whole lifers, is eligible for early release.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

Do they take the socks home with them?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

No, I do not think they take the socks with them, although I am sure that they are not stripped of their socks as they leave prison. That minor, but important industry in Gartree is run for the benefit of the rest of the Prison Service.

I shall make some general remarks about industries in prison. Subject to meeting prisoners' other needs, the purpose of prison—apart from punishing prisoners with the loss of their liberty—is not only to have them producing things, but to try to make them better people so that they are less likely to reoffend. It cannot follow that the only way to achieve that is to give prisoners full-time work, because many of the functions that they undertake would not be ones for which they would find jobs in their own area when they come out. There must be a balance, so I cast doubt on whether it is possible or sensible, within the overall aim of reducing reoffending, for every prisoner to be engaged full-time in work because there would be no time for anything else; it would be an inappropriate use of their time.

Yes, we should like more prisoners to be engaged in productive work. There is no argument about that. However, I have read the remarks that the right hon. Lady made on the subject at a Conservative party conference. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) is aghast at the idea. However, the more that I listen to the right hon. Lady on the subject, the more I think that her idea for a self-financing plan to provide work for everybody is as well constructed and put together as the announcement that she made at the most recent party conference. I am sure that other countries also lock people up for their second minor offence of possessing cannabis. We can also find a state in the United States where people are locked up for life if they commit three tunes offences such as stealing a pizza.

It is always possible in matters of penal policy to find some administration somewhere that has come up with a more crackpot idea than the right hon. Lady. She can be assured of that.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Let me finish my point. However, by crackpot, I was referring to her ideas on cannabis.

Prison industry is a difficult issue. A Conservative Member raised the issue of our plans to expand the prison industry in his constituency with the director general. I shall give the right hon. Lady the hon. Gentleman's name in private because I have not asked him whether he is willing to have this case made public. The plan was far advanced, but the hon. Gentleman wrote in privately to suggest that it would seriously disrupt industries that pay its workers and he asked us to back away from the plan. Wisely in the light of the representations, the director general decided to do that because a serious number of jobs would be lost.

Some prison industries compete not with industries in this country, but with those abroad. For example, in data inputting—this may not be pleasant—we are competing with industries in the far east. That case does not create industrial relation problems or raise the issue of loss of profit here, but it is a difficult issue.

I am happy—this is a genuine offer—to sit down with the right hon. Lady to consider her calculations and examine how we can take her plan forward. We can argue about whether the figure is 65,000 or 30,000 full-time places, but we have a long way to go, so if we can create another 10,000 places, that is fine. However, she needs to be careful about making large promises that cannot and will not be fulfilled.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Although other people are beckoning me to finish, I shall give way to her for the last time.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

I shall be swift. Whenever the Home Secretary says that he is willing to consider an idea, that heralds the fact that he has stolen yet another jolly good idea from us. However, on this occasion, I am very happy to discuss the issue with him, because I am aware of the case that he has quoted. If he studies my speech, he will see that I was very careful to say that it is possible to develop prison industry without competing with local labour. It is possible and the right hon. Gentleman knows that. [HON. MEMBERS: "How?"] Hon. Members keep yelling "How?", but I suggest that they go to have a look at what happens in Blakenhurst.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

If the right hon. Lady thinks that she can do what she says, let us try to pin the issues down. However, we must consider the calculations.

The right hon. Lady has suggested that none of us has ever run a business, but that is not true of many Labour Members—they have run businesses. However, one thing that I know for certain is that a number of my constituents are about to end up in the bankruptcy courts because they did not produce proper calculations when they went to see the bank manager to take out a loan. Calculations are critical to the running of a business. It does not matter which side we are on; it boils down to a consideration of the calculations and whether it is possible for the plan to be self-financing.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Labour, Workington

Will my right hon. Friend give way on this point?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Yes, but then I must conclude my speech.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Labour, Workington

Is there any need to beat about the bush? Is not the reality that the shadow Chancellor has told the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) that he is not prepared to give her any more money, so she had to find a ruse to convince the public that more resources would be available? She has come up with an idea that she grossly exaggerates. Those are the facts, so why cannot we spell them out?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend could be right. For me, the jury is out.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce Conservative, South Dorset

It will not be a jury trial.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I think that this case requires a jury trial. I wait to see the calculations.

When my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, the director general and I spoke at the annual conference of the Prison Service last week, we all emphasised the need to drive up performance and to maintain the pace of change in the service. The work done in prisons is difficult and I know that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the dedication of governors, prison officers and other staff and to the work of the many volunteers who help bridge the gap in the community. I also pay a personal tribute to the Director General of the Prison Service and his staff at its headquarters for their excellent leadership.

The facts reflect my belief that conditions for the vast majority of prisons are improving. Understandably, we hear about the reports that the chief inspector of prisons produces on failing prisons, but we hear much less about the many more reports in which he praises prisons for adequate, good or excellent performance. We all recognise the need to continue to improve the performance of some prisons but, above all, we need to remember that it is the purpose of prisons to prevent offending and reoffending. That is the goal of our strategy.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 5:50 pm, 12th February 2001

We welcome the opportunity to have such an important debate. Like the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and the Home Secretary, we are glad to have a few hours in which to raise some of the issues, even if we do not receive all the answers. On a more mischievous note, I wondered whether the right hon. Lady had thought of becoming self-financing herself, which might be in everyone's interest.

The past few weeks have been vital for the debate on the Prison Service. The Lord Chief Justice made an important contribution in his lecture 10 years after the Woolf report and the director general made a crucial speech at last week's Prison Service conference. In addition, today's press includes an important article by Her Majesty's chief inspector of prisons, Sir David Ramsbotham. He has been assiduous in making his views clear and has used his independence to do his job very well, as did his predecessor.

The Select Committee on Home Affairs made three initial proposals in its third report of this Parliament in the 1997–98 Session. It acknowledged that The increased prison population places enormous strains on the Prison Service and, given the budget constraints in which it operates, has an adverse effect on prison regimes and the amount of rehabilitative work which can be done in them. It proposed a much better target for purposeful activity. In its second proposal, it confirmed: The rapidly escalating prison population makes it of paramount importance to investigate credible alternatives to custody and to use them wherever appropriate. With regard to its third proposal, it said: We note the insistence of the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons that there are many people in custody who do not need to be there. All those statements reflect Liberal Democrat concerns.

However, none of us underestimates the difficulty of running the Prison Service, whether as a Minister, Home Secretary, director general or anyone else who is involved in its management. It is a hard, but vital, job, and we thank those people who are involved in the service. I pay tribute to the governors whom I have met on my visits to prisons in the 15 months since I have had responsibility for home affairs. I appreciate the hospitality of their management and staff, who were willing to answer all questions. Almost without exception, I found them impressive and encouraging. They certainly know what they want to do and it was interesting that they often gave similar messages about where improvements could be made.

I want to single out one or two people. I had an interesting conversation with the president of the Prison Governors Association when I visited Durham prison a few days ago, and I intend to deal with two of his concerns. He made clear the widespread view that many people should not be in prison and that the service is unable to cope well with them. He explained that there may never be adequate resources to manage people who stay in prison for only a short time and who the service cannot prepare for life back on the outside.

I visited the women's high-security section of Durham prison. One woman told me that she should not be in prison because she stabbed someone after being mentally ill for a number of years. She said that she should be receiving treatment in hospital. Although I understand why the decision was taken to put her in prison, many people in prison have been failed by our mental health services. Hospital would have been a better place to deal with that woman.

I visited two very different prisons in a short time—Lancaster, which I think is the oldest prison in the country, and Doncaster, which, as one of the newest prisons, is also doing a particularly good job. I have changed my view on private sector prisons and believe that it might be appropriate for them to exist, provided that they have suitable, enforceable contracts with the public sector. It is useful to remind the public sector that the private sector offers an alternative and can set an example for it to follow. I accept that it is easier to produce better services in a brand new prison than it is in a very old prison such as Lancaster, which is hundreds of years old. However, even some old prisons do excellent work. Lancaster runs extremely good sessions on the rehabilitation of sex offenders and how prisoners can deal with drugs, alcohol and anger management. The fact that it is an old prison does not mean that it cannot follow good practice.

I have also seen transformations in London, although plenty still need to take place. Wandsworth prison has improved significantly, but that is not the case for Brixton. I am probably in and out of Brixton more than any other prison. I should make it clear that that is always for constituency reasons—colleagues know that I am here far too often for there to be any other explanation. Brixton prison is not only overcrowded but unable to cope properly with the pressure that is placed on it. Many of its prisoners are on remand and should not be there.

Leeds prison made the strongest impression on me. According to the league table, it has the greatest overcrowding of any prison in England and Wales. I visited it a few weeks after the new governor was appointed and could see the difference that Mrs. Stacey Tasker had already made. I did not know the previous governor, but little changes had apparently made a huge difference. Daily morning meetings allowed the management to exchange their experiences of what had happened the day before. The new governor decided to move the previous governor's office from the prefab outside the prison building to the middle of the prison, so that every time she went in and out of her door she could see what was going on. She also decided to walk around without colleagues, which made her much more free to talk to prisoners. I pay tribute to such innovative governorship, which should be seen more often.

I should also like the Minister to know that I was privileged to visit Leeds prison for two days when the prison inspectorate was carrying out an inspection. I think that I am the first Member of Parliament to participate in such a visit. It did an excellent job and I pay tribute to it. Its staff were courteous and helpful, and effective across a range of activities. I enjoyed my time with them and thank them for that opportunity.

Prison numbers are rising significantly. There has been a 40 per cent. increase in the past nine years. We have more prisoners per head of population than any European country except Portugal and a large number of remand prisoners, although that has dropped slightly in the past couple of years, even though 50 per cent. of remand prisoners do not receive custodial sentences. It must be wrong to lock up so many of them before they are tried when the courts subsequently decide not to imprison so many of them.

The Home Secretary knows that I am concerned about Prison Service expenditure. In nine years, there has been a 2 per cent. increase in expenditure for a 40 per cent. increase in numbers, which cannot be explained by the service becoming more efficient. It is impossible to get 38 per cent. efficiency savings in that time. The Director General of the Prison Service made it clear how he and his colleagues had resisted the efficiency savings that it was unreasonable to ask them to make.

As the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald explained, prisoner activity has, sadly, been reduced. I was encouraged to hear from the Minister that purposeful activity has increased in the past few months. However, a parliamentary answer from the prisons Minister to the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) on 12 December shows that since the Conservatives left office, purposeful activity has decreased, which is inexcusable. The figures vary widely throughout the prisons estate, but on average prisoners spend only 23.7 hours a week on such activity. Prisoners are not prepared for release and a constructive life outside if they spend half their time locked up with nothing to do.

The statistics for the amount of time spent on education, on farms and in industries seems to show a decrease while the prison population has gone up, which is a tragedy. [Interruption.] I say to the Minister that I am aware that figures differ throughout the service, and some prisons are better than others. That is true of all the prison statistics. Some prisons have no overcrowding, and others, such as Leeds, have 800 prisoners living two or three to a cell. The last statistic revealed by parliamentary answers that I should like to refer to is that the number of hours spent outside the cell varies hugely too.

That leads me to my first conclusion about what has been going wrong. The director general said that he was not willing to go on making excuses for what happens in the Prison Service. At the end of the day, it is the responsibility of management and Ministers to deliver consistency throughout the service. Although there has been improvement in some areas, many things have gone wrong in many places over the past four years. The director general admits that there has not been a general improvement.

Some of us believe that there are too many people in prison, and that we ought to try to reduce that number. The former Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), told me that there are comparable reoffending rates for those who have been inside and those who have not. Figures are difficult, and I do not want to make the matter too complex, but the ball-park figures are that 57 per cent. of those who go to prison reoffend within two years, which is not a great success rate, and those who receive sentences that are a good alternative to custody, such as community sentences, have a less than 50 per cent. reoffending rate. Good alternatives are therefore much more successful than wasted time in prison.

Lord Chief Justice Woolf made it clear that we often send people to prisons that have totally ineffective regimes for dealing with them, whereas a constructive alternative outside prison would be far better. We ought to ask ourselves who is in prison who ought not to be. There are many women, people with mental illness, prisoners on remand and people serving short sentences who should not be in prison. If policy makers considered those four categories of people, we could significantly reduce the prison population and introduce a sentencing regime that keeps many people out of prison while more effectively preventing them from reoffending. In prison, often little is done to prevent that, and sometimes positive harm is done by keeping people locked up.

In his lecture the other day, the Lord Chief Justice, referring to a comment made by Churchill when he was Home Secretary, said that one of the tests of a civilised society is how we look after our prisons.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Before the right hon. Lady gets too carried away in agreeing with me, I point out that another test is how we treat asylum seekers and refugees. The real tests are the difficult issues and the difficult people, and we are currently failing those tests.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

I agree with a great deal of what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but sentencing is ultimately a matter for the courts. The courts are not constrained to send people to prison, save in exceptional circumstances. When they send people to prison they are reflecting public opinion. The real task, therefore, is to change public opinion.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is very knowledgeable and I accept his point. I remind him, however, that in opinion polls the public say that sentences should be tougher. However, all surveys show that members of the public grossly underestimate the length of sentences. Public opinion is based on an inaccurate understanding of the facts. If the public knew how long sentences are, they would not call for them to be longer.

I am sure that the public want a better system for reducing reoffending rates. Prison governors are agreed that it is a priority to have regimes within prisons that hugely reduce the chance of people reoffending when released. There are only two ways of doing that. The first is to have a good purposeful activity regime of sport, work, training or education. The second method is to prepare people effectively for release. I have not found a prison in the country—a local prison with other responsibilities—where the staff have not said, "We have no time to prepare short-term prisoners for release. They have no training. They come in and go out before we can do anything with them because we are concentrating on long-term prisoners." It is those short-term prisoners who reoffend most often: they burgle; they go into prison and come out again; they burgle again and go back to prison. We are failing many of the people whom we put in prison. Sentencing is a matter for the courts, but they hope that when people are in prison, something will happen to persuade them not to reoffend. Nothing happens to them. They are locked up and then sent out with no assistance.

Photo of Mr Paul Stinchcombe Mr Paul Stinchcombe Labour, Wellingborough

The single greatest factor in determining whether someone is likely to reoffend on release is whether he has a stable family life to return to. The lack of that increases the chances of reoffending by as many as six times. In light of that, is the hon. Gentleman disappointed that 26,000 prisoners are still held more than 50 miles from the Crown court where they were committed?

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am disappointed. The hon. Gentleman is right, and I saw those figures in the Lord Chief Justice's report. Many people have made the point that we must move towards having community prisons for all but the most high-risk offenders. The director general said that that was still a dream. It should not be a dream. [Interruption.] I say to the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald that I know that it is a difficult matter. As a south-east of England Member, as she is, I know that there are many prisoners from the south-east, but not enough prisons in the region to cater for them, so they get dispersed throughout the country. None the less, we must try to ensure that prisoners are kept as close to home as possible.

People must not only be prepared for release, but supported after release. If a prisoner has a family, work, a home and support to prevent him from going back to drug and alcohol abuse, he is far more likely to get back on the straight and narrow rather than to get into the reoffending cycle.

My conclusion is that the Prison Service delivers no consistency of standard throughout the prison estate, as is clear from the chief inspector's report. There is a lack of resources. That situation may be improving, but it is still appalling. My hon. Friends and I think that automatic mandatory sentences are wrong, but if the prison population is to increase, the Government must provide resources not only to build prisons but to do the rehabilitative work in the prisons too.

We must seek answers on overcrowding. The Home Secretary did not give a single specific answer about that. The Lord Chief Justice's question, which was also posed by the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe) and others, asked what the Government will do to tackle overcrowding. When will they tackle the problem? Do the Government accept that it is the overwhelming priority, and will they give it the attention that the Lord Chief Justice called for? When will we have a full constructive activity regime over the 35-hour week? When will pre-release preparation be provided for every prisoner who is about to leave?

We all agree about the objectives, but we disagree on specific answers. The Minister said, sotto voce, that the Government must be congratulated on better working between the Prison Service and the health service. I congratulate them on that, but I fail to understand why the NHS cannot run the prison medical service. I have not met a single prison officer who does not agree with me about that. The Government have been weak about this for a reason that I do not understand. We need only an announcement that the national health service will take over running the prison medical service. It is not difficult because only one agreement is needed. The move would provide much better career prospects both for those working outside prisons and those inside them. A much better service would be provided for prisoners and prisoners' families in the prison estate.

In the sentencing review that is approaching, we must allow courts to be able to impose community sentences and licences and probation for two years, no matter how short the prison sentence is. At present, I believe that a short sentence cannot have a community condition attached to it. That is nonsensical. The sooner that is changed, the better. Greater flexibility will keep many more people outside prisons.

We must aim at more community prisons, and we must not be dogmatic about whether they are run by the public service or the private sector.

I say carefully, but equally strongly, that prison officers must be much more progressive in many cases and much less conservative. There are some very good prison officers but they are hardly the vanguard of reform of the Prison Officers Association. I may not be loved for saying this, but when Mrs. Tasker took over in Leeds, I believe that she found that the gym was not able to be used for much of the day because the officers would not manage the prisoners to use it. Workshops were lying idle for much of the day because officers would not manage movements in and out of them. When education facilities exist, but are not being used, it is nonsensical. Management, working with progressive leadership in the Prison Officers Association, must change the defensive regime and have innovative, constructive and maximum utilisation of the prison estate.

I hope that the Minister will give us targets for reducing the numbers of prisoners who should be imprisoned. I hope also that he will give us targets for achieving full and purposeful activity. In addition, I hope that he will answer the question posed by hon. Members on both sides of the House about when we shall have a real reduction in overcrowding. Liberal Democrat Members are sad that the Government appear to be accepting what I thought was a Tory view, not a Labour view, that there will be an ineluctable rise in the numbers of people in prison. We think that the numbers should not be increasing to the extent that the Government are predicting. If we try to keep as many people out of prison as we can rather than put more and more people into prison, it is likely that we shall be serving the public interest far better.

Photo of Mr Huw Edwards Mr Huw Edwards Labour, Monmouth 6:12 pm, 12th February 2001

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), who speaks with authority given his experience of prisons in the south-east, especially Brixton. He has a liberal approach, which I would commend.

The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) made some powerful points. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department also made some powerful points about the need for mental health prisoners not to be in prison. He spoke also of the problems of overcrowding and the need for the medical service in the Prison Service to be taken into the national health service. The right hon. Lady made some important and powerful comments about Brixton and Feltham, with which I could not disagree. These are scandals and there needs to be a public debate about them.

My experience of the Prison Service is restricted to my constituency, and that is as a visitor. I have visited Usk prison on about six occasions. I have also visited one or two constituents in other prisons. That is the limit of my knowledge of the subject.

I well remember the Woolf report, which made some important recommendations. One of the first times I visited Usk prison was soon after the Woolf report was published. It is a category C prison. Also in my constituency is the Prescoed young offender institution. Usk prison now contains mainly sex offenders. That follows the concentration of sex offenders after the Strangeways riots, including the riots in the 1980s.

As I have said, I have visited Usk prison about six times. A couple of years ago, I was there when His Royal Highness Prince Edward visited. I was, too, on another occasion, when Her Royal Highness Princess Anne visited. However, I also visited only three weeks ago, and that was prompted by three distinctions that the prison had achieved. I am grateful to the governor, Ray Coomber, for the invitation and for the opportunity to discuss matters with him.

The first distinction for the prison was to be awarded the Investors in People award. It is the second time that that has happened in Usk. I well remember meeting the prison officers who achieved the award only a few years ago. There is tremendous camaraderie among the prison officers and a great sense of humour. They say that everything we ever saw in "Porridge" can be confirmed by prison life.

Recently, Usk prison was awarded a charter mark. Most importantly, it had a successful inspection report. The inspection was undertaken between 13 and 17 March 2000. The inspector identified what he called the Welsh dimension. In Wales, we have four prisons—Usk, Cardiff, Swansea and the private Parc prison at Bridgend. One of the problems is that we do not have a prison in north Wales. Another is that we do not have a women's prison. My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe) and the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey have spoken of the importance of prisoners serving sentences as close as possible to where they live. Prisoners from north Wales, many of whom will be Welsh speaking, will have to go to prisons outside Wales.

The inspector commended Usk prison, saying: In taking forward this role for the prison that is, specialising in sex offender treatment programmes— the Governor and his staff have developed very effective procedures for dealing with this particular group of offenders, who have certain specific characteristics, including the facts that they tend to be unpopular, ageing and compliant. Impressively, the whole staff of the prison is involved with their treatment, every Department including the Chaplaincy and the Board of Visitors, playing its part. Sentence Planning supports throughcare and resettlement rather than being an exercise in itself. Education is the main provider of work, due to the lack of other facilities. It is important that those other facilities be developed.

Later on, the inspector said: The result is a most impressive degree of support for programmes in their widest sense—and the staff who deliver them—which we highlight as good practice. The Director General of the Prison Service, Martin Narey, commented on the report: I would like to praise the Governor and staff for the excellent work which is being carried out at HMP Usk and HMYOI Prescoed, and commend the staff's enthusiasm in making it possible to carry out the Operating Standards Audit without any reduction in the regime. The sex offender treatment programme has developed significantly over the past few years. About three years ago, three members of the staff were specialising in the programme. There is now a section of about 11, consisting of psychologists, probation officers and prison officers who undergo specialist training.

Given what the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey said about the progressive attitude of staff, it was interesting to listen to prison officers who described their attitudes when they first entered the service and how they have changed. They have become more progressive and more rehabilitative. They now realise, significantly, that offenders need not reoffend. They have an important role not only in punishing prisoners but in rehabilitating them for the society that they will invariably rejoin.

I remember one prison officer saying, "I was a hard-nosed screw when I came here." He is now involved in sex offender treatment programmes and other rehabilitation programmes.

I shall quote one of the prisoners who has gone through the sex offender treatment programme. It is called "Steve's Opinion", and the assessment is publicly available. It reads: The Core Programme … gave me an understanding of the ordeal that I put my victims through. I saw how my victim blamed herself for my offence, how afraid she was of telling anyone what had happened to her in case she was not believed, how her self-confidence was destroyed and how frightened she was of ever seeing me again. These are just a few of the things that I put my victims through. He concluded: In short, I would say that to offend was the worst decision of my life; to attend the Core Programme was the best decision of my life. Having now completed the Core Programme, I would now go as far as suggesting that any sex offender who claims to regret his actions owes it to his victims and to himself to attend the Core Programme. Nothing can condone what some offenders have committed. However, it is important that they have the opportunity to undertake sex offender rehabilitation programmes. I understand that the non-reoffending rate of prisoners who have gone through such a programme is 46 per cent. That is particularly significant, but it would be more significant if it was nearer 100 per cent. That programme needs to be developed throughout the whole Prison Service.

When I was last in Usk prison, I met prison officers and prisoners who go out to meet children and young people in schools and try to deter them from offending. I pay particular tribute to one prison officer, Ian Sandigate, whom I would describe as a rather rough-looking prop forward and someone who would frighten young people, but perhaps also a gentle giant. I also commend the prisoner whom I met; he is known as Mossy and he accompanies Mr. Sandigate on those visits. They work together and go to schools to give children and young people a realistic idea of what prison life is like. They will describe, not necessarily Usk prison, which may not be typical, but local bang-up prisons of which they have both had experience.

I saw the importance of the education and training programme at the new designated NVQ centre. Many prisoners at Usk are unlikely to get normal employment again, given their record. They are developing skills so that they can take up self-employment. I saw the information technology provision and the literacy programme, which is being organised through Coleg Gwent, the local further education college. I saw the IT facilities: the prisoners have much better IT facilities than the staff who are working on administrative affairs at the prison, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will look into that. I visited the farm, and saw the work that some prisoners are doing there. They are developing skills through the woodland strategy, which encourages them to understand woodland nature and to develop their own businesses in sustainable wood production.

In conclusion, the director general's recent report and speech were particularly significant. I hope that Usk prison will be regarded as a model for the country to follow. I accept that the nature of the prisoners there may make it distinctive, but it is important that the Prison Service gets the balance right to protect the public, provide punishment, provide disincentives to crimes that require that people go to prison, and rehabilitate people for the society to which they will return.

Photo of Sir Peter Lloyd Sir Peter Lloyd Conservative, Fareham 6:22 pm, 12th February 2001

Like the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards), I have visited Usk prison. I thought that it was very good, and I am glad that it is keeping up the standards that I observed; but many prisons are hopeless and degrading places, and many have always been so. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) quoted Winston Churchill; it is nearly a century since he said that a test of a civilised country is the way in which it treats its prisoners. The Lord Chief Justice, the chief inspector of prisons and the Director General of the Prison Service—in a passionate speech only last week—have all reminded us of how bad prisons can be. No doubt some tabloid editors who would, by implication, dismiss Churchill as a wimpish do-gooder, regard prisons as holiday camps. I do not believe, however, that most of the public do.

Whatever the arguments on civilisation and morality, it makes no sense for society to spend—or, as the Government would say, invest—so much on or in a system that produces over 50 per cent. reoffending, in the case of adult prisons, and over 80 per cent. in the case of young offender institutions. In reality, those figures are even worse than they appear, because crime is generally a young person's occupation, especially young people from fractured homes. Most of them grow out of crime by their early 30s, leaving the suspicion that those who do not have become embedded in a criminal substratum because of, not in spite of, their experience in prison.

Of course, there is a huge number of dedicated people throughout the Prison Service running excellent programmes and producing a positive effect on the prisoners in their charge. Quite rightly, the Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend have quoted them. However, by looking on the bright side and constantly doing justice to them, it is dangerously easy to obscure quite how negative and third-rate much of the system is. I am certain that no Minister, whether in this Government or the previous one, wants it like that. It is true that some of my colleagues in the previous Government thought that prisons should be austere—which is how most prisons remain—but they always preceded that adjective with "decent", and they meant it. The reasons why the problem nevertheless remains intractable are many and difficult.

First, there is overcrowding. As has been said many times in this debate and outside the House, there is a major impediment to constructive work if prison officers are obliged simply to run a convict warehouse. The Government's answer, like the previous Government's, is to build more prisons. However, that should not be their top priority; they should look at sentencing first. Short sentences, in which the prisoner is inside for only a few weeks or months, are pointless. They simply ensure that the prisoner loses his job, if he has one, and possibly break up his family, if he has one; the retention of both being key factors in his keeping out of trouble in the future. What is more, rapidly bringing him in and out of prison creates maximum disruption for the Prison Service, and does not give it time to do any remedial work.

On the other hand, long sentences, which drive up the prison population, have become increasingly common. There is no sign that, as deterrents, they are any more effective than rather shorter ones. It is plain that, even if the right programmes were available in prison, sentences are frequently far longer than is necessary to produce the maximum beneficial impact. Indeed, past a certain point, prisoners become institutionalised and are less able to lead a law-abiding life on release than they would be if released earlier. In practice, sentencing is a crucial process, but to me it seems hopelessly crude.

For the most part, judges are intelligent and thoughtful. However, when it comes to sentencing, they seem to be saying little more than "What do we usually give in this sort of case?" They increase the sentence by 20 per cent. for a bad example of the crime, and knock off 20 per cent. for extenuating circumstances. It is good that John Halliday at the Home Office and Lord Justice Auld are looking separately at that issue. I hope that they will go back to first principles and, in particular, do that which is seldom done: consider the effect that the sentence is supposed to have on the prisoner on whom it is passed.

I said that prison building ought not to be the priority. Of course, there is sense in building new prisons to replace those that were constructed in a way that makes it hard to provide the range of activity essential for a good regime. However, what is really needed, if conditions are to be improved, is the building of secure hospitals, in which the large number of severely mentally disordered prisoners can be properly treated. That would give them a far greater chance of recovery than they have in the prison system, which simply cannot cope with them, and would make it possible for prison staff to concentrate much more singlemindedly and effectively on those prisoners who remain more or less in touch with reality.

I was glad that the Home Secretary said that co-operation between the national health service and prisons is much closer than it was. However, that is an area in which completely joined-up government is essential, and we have not got it yet. Plenty has been said about the lack of education, skills training and drug, alcohol and offending behaviour programmes, and about the need for real work. The situation is much worse than it appears from the figures, because sometimes programmes that are recorded as being offered do not function, sometimes they are available only to a limited number of prisoners—indeed, that is generally the case—and many are not well run.

Disciplined, paid work, which my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary would put at the centre of the regime, has a lot of attractions and it would be interesting to see how much it can be developed. However, I hope that my right hon. Friend will not go too far down that route when she is Home Secretary. Inevitably, paid work in prison will be limited in range and skill content because of the size of prisons and the turnover of prisoners. What should be at the centre is a flexible range of programmes, directed at the needs of the individual prisoner and at those problems of skill, motivation and personality that get in the way of his capacity to lead a law-abiding life on release.

It is important, not just for the prisoner, but even more for the society that he will rejoin, that prison regimes address the individual prisoner's needs and problems, which should be identified in good sentence plans but often are not. What is most wrong in many prisons is not the poverty of the various programmes, but the fact that, too often, the prevailing atmosphere and relationships are conditioned not by the policies of the governor and his staff, but by the nastiest prisoners. It makes the work of well-meaning officers ineffective, and ensures that frightened and bullied prisoners cannot easily respond positively. There are some prisons where the governor's decisions and policies are carried through, and other prisons where they run into the sand or, at best, have a muffled and distorted impact somewhere down the line.

That is a major managerial problem in the service. Its solution must involve winning the understanding and full co-operation of more junior staff. Few mistreat prisoners, though some do, but far too many do not see it as their role to get to know the prisoners in their charge, to treat them with respect or to provide them with the positive encouragement that they need to make full use of the opportunities offered by the prison.

If prisoners are to learn to respect other people, and their persons and property when they come out, that is how they must be treated inside. What is the good of sending criminals to prison, undermining their dignity, winding them up in numerous petty ways and then turning them out into society angrier and more inadequate than when they went in? There needs to be far more training and retraining of prison staff at all levels, with much more serious oversight of their performance and a determination, however difficult and expensive, to terminate the services of those who cannot contribute to improving the way in which their prison runs and the prisoners in their care are treated.

Finally, I do not believe that Ministers of either party have ever appreciated how complicated the Prison Service is or how difficult it is to run. Prisons are a budget hotel chain, a string of training centres a collection of mental hospitals, remedial schools and workshops in which guests, trainees, pupils and patients all badly want to be somewhere else. That is why the service is flooded with so many priorities, all making sense in themselves, but this week's one inevitably militating against the effective execution of last week's—and in its turn destined to be overtaken by next week's.

It is impossible for Ministers, even those who have the administrative skills, to run the system, as they have manifold other responsibilities and can attend to prisons for only part of their time. When I was at the Home Office in 1993, we set up the agency, which was intended to give professional managers the scope to manage well. It has had some success, but less than I had hoped because we did not go far enough—indeed, events subsequent to its setting up drew the Prison Service back more closely into the Home Office.

The time has come for Ministers to do that which Ministers find hardest—to surrender their daily power to intervene. That would leave Ministers free to concentrate on what they are really for: broad policy issues, of which there are more than enough in the Home Office requiring their attention. That would enable the Select Committee and Parliament to provide a continuing oversight. Above all, it would give management the chance to emerge completely from ministerial shadow, to provide the leadership and continuity that the organisation badly needs, and to embark on long-term institutional reform. If such a system is to be sustained, it will inevitably be long term—far longer than the term of office of even the longest-serving Minister.

The Government who devise such a robust and long-sighted system will do more to improve permanently the quality of what is done in the prison system than any number of well-meaning policy initiatives or short-term crisis management. I look forward in hope to what the Minister says in his winding-up speech.

Before I sit down, one other thought occurs to me. It has always been a source of frustration to those who want the prisons to serve the community better that community interest in the criminal justice system seems to stop at the prison gate. It is surely time for prisoners to be able to vote. It would certainly draw all candidates inside and be an education to them, their local parties and, through them, the wider public. As the number of prisoners is small compared with the number of voters outside, there is no chance that the interests of prisoners would be preferred to those of the rest of the electorate, but it would help to point up where the long-term interests of prisoners and society at large coincide, to the real benefit of both.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North 6:36 pm, 12th February 2001

I agree with the last point made by the right hon. Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd)—prisoners should be able to vote, and I see no argument against that.

The Director General of the Prison Service made a courageous speech, and I suspect that that was the reason for today's debate. As I said in an intervention, I am, for once, in a charitable mood towards the Opposition. The Prison Service should be the subject of debate. I believe that this is the first time that the Opposition have raised the topic in this Parliament. Be that as it may, we have a responsibility, especially as so many of our prisons are an utter disgrace.

In his speech, the director general said: Year after year, governor after governor"— he was not speaking of just the past four years inspection after inspection, prisons like these have been exposed. Year after year the exposure has led to a flurry of hand wringing, sometimes a change of governor, a dash of capital investment, but no real or sustained improvement. In the short time—three minutes—at my disposal, I draw to the attention of the House the level of violence, bullying and physical abuse that occurs in prisons and has done for so many years. The House should be extremely concerned about that. Sometimes, the physical abuse is carried out by prison staff. Former prison staff from Wormwood Scrubs were jailed only last year. More often, however, bullying and violence are carried out by prisoners themselves, which make life that much more of a hell for other prisoners. The aims of rehabilitating prisoners and helping a good number of them to lead a law-abiding life when they leave prison is undermined by what takes place day in, day out in prisons.

I shall make a few brief points before the Opposition claim their time. The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), who spoke for the Opposition, disagreed about the number in prison, but I agree with what has been said by others, particularly the spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). For many prisoners, there is no alternative to prison, but where there is a reasonable chance that the community will not be harmed, we should increasingly consider non-custodial sentences.

There is no chance, in my view, of substantial prison improvement and reform if prisoner numbers keep on rising. It is easy to send a person to prison and to believe that the community will therefore be safe, but what happens when prisoners other than those serving a life sentence are released? As a former Home Secretary, Lord Hurd, said, it is important to bear in mind that those who go to prison will eventually come out.

Finally, I have the greatest respect not only for the Director General of the Prison Service—I wish that he had spoken before—but for the chief inspector of prisons. Time and again, Sir David Ramsbotham and his predecessor spotlighted the failings. Yes, that embarrassed the previous Government and no doubt it embarrassed my Government, but I believe that what the chief inspector did was essential. I regret that Sir David is not being reappointed and I understand that an advertisement will be placed in the press to publicise the vacancy. The new chief inspector will not fulfil his duties properly if he does not speak out with the same courage and independence as the current chief inspector and his predecessor.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Attorney General

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. This may be as much a point of frustration as a point of order, but is it not regrettable that, as a consequence of the Government making an education statement on an Opposition day, only one Conservative Back Bencher has been able to contribute to the debate? I feel slightly annoyed about that because I believe that I am the only Member who intended to participate who has sentenced someone to prison. I also happen to have two prisons in my constituency. It is regrettable that I have been unable to catch your eye, but is it not also regrettable that the Government have taken up an hour, which has truncated the debate in a thoroughly unsatisfactory manner?

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

That is not a point of order for the Chair, but I note the hon. and learned Gentleman's comments.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 6:40 pm, 12th February 2001

We have had a good if all too brief debate and the complaint made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) testifies, if testimony were needed, to the Government's grossly insensitive handling of their business, which has deprived us of a proper opportunity to discuss our motion.

The debate was magnificently opened by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), the shadow Home Secretary. In a thoughtful, impassioned and statesmanlike speech, she made it abundantly clear that there was not a golden age for prisons under our Government. We acknowledge that prison conditions were poor, but they were improving then, so it is incumbent on the Government to recognise that they are worse and deteriorating now. That is the significant point.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) made a characteristically sincere, reflective and constructive speech and although I do not agree with all his remarks, I respect them none the less. My right hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd) gave a timely warning against complacency from the vantage point of someone with real and direct experience of the system. The hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards) legitimately pointed to improvements in service in his constituency, and he was justly proud of those. The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), with whom I rarely agree, nevertheless made a fully civilised speech. He spoke with conviction and passion, but I am afraid that I profoundly disagree with him on the entitlement of prisoners to vote.

The facts in Her Majesty's inspector's reports speak for themselves. That on Brixton of June 2000 describes a service going "steadily downhill", conditions that are "totally unacceptable" and no workshops or education facilities worthy of the name. That on Feltham of September 1999 talks of only 15 hours purposeful activity a week instead of the target of 23.5 and of 90 people in full-time education and 700 receiving no education at all. Kids expect to be incarcerated for 23 out of 24 hours a day and get no fresh air for days on end.

At Portland, as the November 1999 report all too eloquently testifies, the conditions were, in the judgment of the inspector, "nothing short of scandalous". He observed, and all Members of the House would agree, that it was outrageous that young people and children should be required to live in such conditions. If all that is not a sorry enough tale, the position at Wandsworth is equally bad. We are told that there is a "pervasive culture of fear" and an attitude that is "callous and uncaring".

What emerges from all the reports and the testimony of independent witnesses, who advise Members of the House, is that, too often, education in prisons, which should be the route to reform and future hope, is grossly inadequate, poorly structured, rarely co-ordinated and therefore inevitably defective in the results that it produces. Too often, young people, chronically and almost criminally, I dare to say, are moved from one institution to another before they complete the courses on which they have embarked, the results of which could benefit them and the wider community. Indeed, in many examples it is sad, but, nevertheless, salutary to recall that people in prison can acquire doctorates only in barbarism and criminal study. That is a tragedy and a damning indictment of the Government, who have had four years to translate their highfalutin words into meaningful and purposeful reality.

Assaults on prisoners are up 25 per cent.; assaults on staff are up 20 per cent.; and incidents of self-harm in prisons and young offender institutions stand at 7,398, which represents a 35 per cent. rise. The Home Secretary cannot gainsay the fact, no matter how he tries to quibble, that prison suicides have soared under this Government. Appalling conditions are inadequately attended to and Ministers are grossly complacent, but still they busily implement the home detention curfew scheme, which has released 31,000 serious offenders, typically before they have served even half of their sentences. We know that, as a result, about 1,000 extra offences, including two rapes and several assaults on policemen, have been committed.

I say to the prisons Minister that those incidents have happened on his watch. They should be on his conscience, for the blood that has resulted from those early releases and violent offences is surely on his hands. Prisons should be places for reform, not ruination; for deterrence, not degradation; for punishment, not purgatory. The director general has challenged the Government to make a reality of the rhetoric of decency and of dignity. It is nevertheless sad to recall that the Government, as we see in example after example after example, are preoccupied with the trappings of office and the perks of power. They are all too remote, I regret to say, from the failures of their policy and the damage done to victims as a direct consequence of that failure.

The Government, the Home Secretary and the prisons Minister have failed prisoners, failed victims, failed hard-working staff and failed the public. Wherever we look, we see purposeful activity declining. The quantity and quality of education is inadequate. The increase in slopping out is deplorable. The morale of those charged with delivering the service has been depressed and is probably worse than it has been in a generation.

I suggest to the House and the prisons Minister, who should have a full opportunity to reply, that there has been a litany of woes from a smug, self-satisfied and complacent Government who have failed to deliver. After four years of consistent inadequacy and repeated failure, it is time for a Government with an insatiable thirst for public office to give way to an Opposition with an insatiable thirst for public service.

Photo of Mr Paul Boateng Mr Paul Boateng Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) 6:48 pm, 12th February 2001

An Opposition with a great deal of brass neck! The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) comes to the Dispatch Box to deliver a speech that does no justice to the serious debate that we were having. The reality is that the Government have begun to address, in a determined manner, the underlying problems that have bedevilled the Prison Service for many, many years. Let us cool it for a moment and take a more reflective look at the seriousness of the task in hand.

The overriding Prison Service priority for any Government must be, first and foremost, the protection of the public. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) asked about the overriding priority of this Government—it is the protection of the public, which is best secured by holding prisoners in safe and decent conditions and addressing the underlying causes of their offending. About that, we are all agreed. That should underpin the vision that any Government have for their Prison Service. We will be judged on the extent to which we have met the objectives that we have set ourselves in that regard.

We should consider what has been achieved. The present Opposition have rightly and understandably fallen into the trap, because they are doing what the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) castigated the House for doing in March 1997, when she referred to the endless catalogue of damnation by the Opposition, who do nothing but point to the bad news."—[Official Report, 20 March 1997; Vol. 292, c. 1067.] She is now doing exactly the same.

Let us stand back and examine what has been achieved. There have been improvements in security. There were 232 escapes from prison in 1992–93, on the Conservatives' watch, compared with 11 escapes in this financial year—232 to 11. We are entitled to be proud of our record. The right hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Buckingham talked about the importance of constructive activity in prisons. We are addressing the causes of offending through offending behaviour programmes—we cannot be any more constructive than that. Total completions of such courses are up 240 per cent. from 1,373 in 1996–97 to 4,664 last year. [Interruption.] The Tories do not like hearing the good news, but they are going to hear it whether they like it or not. [Interruption.]

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. The Minister has a right to reply.

Photo of Mr Paul Boateng Mr Paul Boateng Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office)

As for education in prisons, more than 32,000 full qualifications have been achieved in prisons since April 2000. The number of teaching hours increased by 10 per cent. The Government need no lessons from the Opposition on the importance of ensuring that prisoners work. The turnover from prison industries and farms in 1999–2000 was the highest ever at £53 million—up from £51.4 million in 1996–97. Judge us by the turnover from industry and farms, because it is up.

On sales of products, the right hon. Lady went on about socks, but they are given away, so let us consider what is sold. Sales of products from prison industries and farms to external customers rose from £6.7 million in 1996–97 to £10.45 million in 1999–2000. That is the difference between Conservative rhetoric and the Labour party in government delivering work and industries in prisons. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Buckingham will have his chance in due course.

I want to examine the serious points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards) and the right hon. Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd). They addressed two crucial issues. Rehabilitation is vital, and must be at the heart of what we are trying to do in prisons. My hon. Friend referred to the work in Usk. Rehabilitation of prisoners must lead to an understanding of the impact of their crime on their victims. We are addressing that in the work taking place in prisons. We are getting prisoners to see the harm that they have done to their victims and to confront what in their conduct has caused so much trouble and misery to others. [Interruption.] It is no use the hon. Member for Buckingham saying from a sedentary position that this has been going on for years. We should compare the Government's record with what our Conservative predecessors achieved. We are achieving change and giving prisoners the opportunity to change their lives, whereas the Conservatives consistently failed to do that.

Photo of Mr Paul Boateng Mr Paul Boateng Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office)

No.

We are making the important link between what goes on in prisons and what goes on in the community. The right hon. Member for Fareham, in a serious and considered speech, referred to the importance of ensuring that we address not only the issue of work in prisons, but the link with work outside prisons. The charity that he chairs does sterling work in that regard. We are now trying to build on the work of the voluntary sector to enable voluntary institutions to work more closely with prisons and to establish real links between prisons and the community.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Attorney General

On the subject of those links, I was informed by the director of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders at a JSB conference on Saturday that 50 per cent. of those leaving young offender institutions do not know where they are going to sleep on their first night of freedom. What is the Minister doing about that?

Photo of Mr Paul Boateng Mr Paul Boateng Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office)

I was in Pentonville prison just a few weeks ago to launch a new project. NACRO and the housing associations are involved in that work. We want to ensure that before prisoners leave an institution they have been given advice on benefits and their housing needs have been examined, so that they do not go out into the wider world without certainty of a roof over their heads and the means to pay for it.

Serious resettlement issues need to be addressed. The Prime Minister has launched his initiative from the social exclusion unit to ensure that we get the policy right. There are no easy solutions: glib answers are not enough. The problem requires hard work and effort. The director general is bringing pressure to bear on the Prison Service to improve management. As our amendment points out, there are discrepancies in what can be achieved with the same resources between one institution to another. We were given examples of such discrepancies in the debate.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey described his visit to Durham, deals with some difficult, damaged and distressed prisoners. All the evidence shows that when the national health service works alongside prison health care and prison officers are able to train and obtain officially recognised NHS accredited qualifications—which we have enabled them to do—we better focus resources on the needs of individual prisons. That helps better to protect the public, because it ensures that the mental health and other health needs of prisoners have been assessed before they leave prison, and they are more likely to maintain their links with the NHS and so are less likely to offend.

This is about management and building partnerships between the NHS and the Prison Service, utilising the voluntary sector. Importantly, as we have shown in the four years in which we have had the stewardship of the Prison Service, as a result of those partnerships we have improved the conditions of many people in prison, and we have begun to address the issues that were neglected for so long by the Conservatives.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce Conservative, South Dorset

I know that the right hon. Gentleman has visited a number of the prison establishments on Portland. Has he examined the change in regime at Portland young offender institution, which seems to have caused more problems than it has solved?

Photo of Mr Paul Boateng Mr Paul Boateng Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office)

Indeed, I have examined the change in regime, and with the help of the youth justice board we are improving conditions in Portland. Any objective examination of that institution will show that to be the case.

This issue is about investment, management, partnership and, above all, avoiding the glib strictures that characterised the Opposition throughout their stewardship of the Prison Service. We are working hard to improve management, we are better focusing resources and we are improving conditions in all our prisons. That is what the Government have achieved, and what the Conservatives failed to achieve.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 159, Noes 248.

Division No. 114][7 pm
AYES
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Browning, Mrs Angela
Allan, RichardBruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Amess, DavidBruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon JamesBurnett, Jhon
Ashdown, Rt Hon PaddyBurstow, Paul
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Butterfill, Jhon
Baldry, TonyCampbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife)
Beith, Rt Hon A J
Bercow, JhonCash, William
Beresford, Sir PaulCapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)
Blunt, Crispin
Boswell, TimChidgey, David
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)Chope, Christopher
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs VirginiaClark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)
Brady, GrahamClarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Brake, Tom
Brand, Dr PeterCollins, Tim
Brazier, JulianCormack, Sir Patrick
Breed, ColinCotter, Brian
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterCran, James
Davey, Edward (Kingston)Madel, Sir David
Davies, Quentin (Grantham)Malins, Humfrey
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)Maples, John
Duncan, AlanMates, Michael
Emery, Rt Hon Sir PeterMaude, Rt Hon Francis
Evans, NigelMawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Faber, DavidMichie Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Fabricant, MichaelMoss, Malcolm
Fallon, MichaelNorman, Archie
Feam, RonnieOaten, Mark
Flight, HowardO'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbuty)
Forth, Rt Hon EricÖpik, Lembit
Foster, Don (Bath)Ottaway, Richard
Garnier, EdwardPage, Richard
Gibb, NickPaice, James
Gidley, SandraPickles, Eric
Gill, ChristopherPortillo, Rt Hon Michael
Gillan, Mrs CherylPrior, David
Gray, JamesRandall, John
Green, DamianRedwood, Rt Hon John
Greenway, JohnRendel, David
Gummer, Rt Hon JohnRobertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir ArchieRoe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Hammond, PhilipRuffley, David
Hancock, MikeRussell, Bob (Colchester)
Harris, Dr EvanSt Aubyn, Nick
Harvey, NickSanders Adrian
Hawkins, NickSayeed, Jonathan
Hayes, JohnShepherd, Richard
Heald, OliverSoames, Nicholas
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon DavidSpicer, Sir Michael
Hogg, Rt Hon DouglasSpring, Richard
Howard, Rt Hon MichaelStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)Steen, Anthony
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)Streeter, Gary
Hunter, AndrewStunell, Andrew
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)Swayne, Desmond
Johnson Smith,Syms, Robert
Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyTypsell, Sir Peter
Keetch, PaulTaylor, Jhon M (Solihull)
Kennedy, Rt Hon CharlesTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
(Ross Skye & Inverness W)Taylor, Sir Teddy
Key, RobertTonge, Dr Jenny
Townend, John
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)Trend, Michael
Kirkbride, Miss JulieTyler, Paul
Kirkwood, ArchyViggers, Peter
Laing, Mrs EleanorWalter, Robert
Lait, Mrs JacquiWaterson, Nigel
Lansley, AndrewWhitney, Sir Raymond
Letwin, OliverWhittingdale, John
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Lidington, DavidWilkinson, John
Lilley, Rt Hon PeterWilletts, David
Livsey, RichardWillis, Phil
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Loughton, TimWinterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Luff, PeterYeo, Tim
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir NicholasYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
MacGregor, Rt Hon John
MacKay, Rt Hon AndrewTellers for the Ayes:
Maclean, Rt Hon DavidMr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown
Maclennan, Rt Hon Robertand
McLoughlin, PatrickMr. Stephen Day.
NOES
Abbott, Ms DianeAtkins, Charlotte
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)Banks, Tony
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Barron, Kevin
Allen, GrahamBayley, Hugh
Anderson, Rt Hon DonaldBeckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
(Swansea E)Bell, Martin (Tatton)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms HilaryBenn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)
Ashton, JoeBennett, Andrew F
Benton, JoeGriffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Bermingham, GeraldGriffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Best, HaroldGrocott, Bruce
Betts, CliveHall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Blackman, LizHamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Blair, Rt Hon TonyHarman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Boateng, Rt Hon PaulHealey, John
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Hendrick, Mark
Bradshaw, BenHepburn, Stephen
Brinton, Mrs HelenHeppell, John
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)Hill, Keith
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)Hinchliffe, David
Browne, DesmondHodge, Ms Margaret
Buck, Ms KarenHood, Jimmy
Burgon, ColinHoon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Butler, Mrs ChristineHopkins, Kelvin
Caborn, Rt Hon RichardHowells, Dr Kim
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Hoyle, Lindsay
Campbell-Savours, DaleHughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cann, JamieHumble, Mrs Joan
Caton, MartinIllsley, Eric
Cawsey, IanJackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Clapham, MichaelJackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)Jamieson, David
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)
Clelland, David
Coaker, VernonJones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Coffey, Ms AnnJones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Cohen, HarryJowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa
Coleman, IainJoyce, Eric
Connarty, MichaelKaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Corbett, RobinKeeble, Ms Sally
Corbyn, JeremyKeen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Corston, JeanKemp, Fraser
Cousins, JimKilfoyle, Peter
Cox, TomKumar, Dr Ashok
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)Lammy, David
Cummings, JohnLawrence, Mrs Jackie
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr JackLaxton, Bob
(Copeland)Lepper, David
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)Leslie, Christopher
Dalyell, TamLevitt, Tom
Darvill, KeithLinton, Martin
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)Love, Andrew
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)McAvoy, Thomas
Davis, Rt Hon TerryMcDonagh, Siobhain
(B'ham Hodge H)Macdonald, Calum
Denham, Rt Hon JohnMcDonnell, John
Dobbin, JimMcFall, John
Dobson, Rt Hon FrankMcGuire, Mrs Anne
Donohoe, Brian HMcIsaac, Shona
Doran, FrankMackinlay, Andrew
Dowd, JimMcNamara, Kevin
Dunwoody, Mrs GwynethMacShane, Denis
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)McWalter, Tony
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)McWilliam, John
Edwards, HuwMahon, Mrs Alice
Efford, CliveMallaber, Judy
Ellman, Mrs LouiseMandelson, Rt Hon Peter
Ennis, JeffMarsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Etherington, BillMarshall, David (Shetteston)
Fisher, MarkMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Fitzsimons, Mrs LomaMartlew, Eric
Flint, CarolineMaxton, John
Flynn, PaulMeale, Alan
Follett, BarbaraMerron, Gillian
Foster, Rt Hon DerekMichael, Rt Hon Alun
Gerrard, NeilMichie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Gibson, Dr IanMilburn, Rt Hon Alan
Gilroy, Mrs LindaMoffatt, Laura
Godsiff, RogerMoonie, Dr Lewis
Golding, Mrs LlinMoran, Ms Margaret
Mullin, ChrisSmith, John (Glamorgan)
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)Snaps, Peter
Naysmith, Dr DougSoley, Clive
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)Spellar, John
O'Hara, EddieSquire, Ms Rachel
Olner, BillStarkey, Dr Phyllis
O'Neill, MartinSteinberg, Gerry
Organ, Mrs DianaStewart, David (Inverness E)
Osborne, Ms SandraStewart, Ian (Eccles)
Pearson, IanStoate, Dr Howard
Pickthall, ColinStrang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Pike, Peter LStraw, Rt Hon Jack
Pond, ChrisTaylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Pope, Greg
Pound, StephenTaylor, David (NW Leics)
Powell, Sir RaymondTemple-Morris, Peter
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Prosser, GwynTipping, Paddy
Purchase, KenTrickett, Jon
Quin, Rt Hon Ms JoyceTruswell, Paul
Radice, Rt Hon GilesTurner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Rapson, SydTurner, Neil (Wigan)
Raynsford, NickTwigg, Derek (Halton)
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)Tynan, Bill
Ward, Ms Claire
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)Wareing, Robert N
Roche, Mrs BarbaraWatts, David
Rooney, TerryWicks, Malcolm
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)Wigley, Rt Hon Dafydd
Ruddock, JoanWilliams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Ryan, Ms JoanWilliams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Salter, MartinWilson, Brian
Sarwar, MohammadWinnick, David
Savidge, MalcolmWinterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Sedgemore, BrianWood, Mike
Sheerman, BarryWoodward, Shaun
Sheldon, Rt Hon RobertWoolas, Phil
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)Wray, James
Singh, Marsha
Skinner, DennisTellers for the Noes:
Smith, Angela (Basildon)Mr. Tony McNulty and
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved,That this House supports the policy of Her Majesty's Government to make prisons work better to reduce reoffending and thus cut crime; welcomes the improved investment in the Service, and the improved performance of the Service in terms of security, literacy and numeracy, offender behaviour programmes, the reduction in drug taking and in under-18 regimes; offers its gratitude to staff and the many volunteers attached to prisons; but notes the significant and unacceptable variation in the effectiveness of different Prison Service establishments as highlighted by the Director General and Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons, and endorses the measures being put in place to secure higher and more consistent standards across establishments.