Easter Adjournment

Part of Deferred Division No. 85 – in the House of Commons at 3:19 pm on 29th March 2007.

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Photo of Stewart Jackson Stewart Jackson Conservative, Peterborough 3:19 pm, 29th March 2007

It often falls to me to be the tail-end Charlie of the recess Adjournment debates. I am a political book-end, a humble spear carrier in the drama of British politics. I want to pay tribute to the fantastic community and charity work that is undertaken in my constituency. In no particular order, I pay tribute to Energy for Paston, the Salvation Army in Bourges boulevard, the Greater Dogsthorpe Partnership, Werrington Neighbourhood Council, the Westwood and Ravensthorpe Trust and the wonderful Sue Ryder Care charity. This will be the fourth year that I have been on the fundraising committee for Sue Ryder Care, and we are hoping to exceed last year's total of £36,000 raised for local people who are resident in the hospice.

I also wish all the luck in the world to the Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus—ASBAH—which is based in my constituency. I hope that, by the time we hold our next Easter Adjournment debate, it will have achieved one of its key objectives: the fortification of foodstuffs with folic acid. That would reduce the incidence of spina bifida and the heartache that afflicts so many families as a result of that disability. It would also have an impact on the hundreds of thousands of elective terminations related to the condition. I pay tribute to everyone involved with ASBAH.

It would be remiss of me not to join hon. Members across the House in welcoming Paddy Tipping to his new position. If he has just an ounce of the integrity, decency and commitment of his predecessor, he will be doing a superb job. We welcome him.

I would also like to pay tribute to my own local authority, Peterborough city council, which has managed to announce only a 1.4 per cent. increase in council tax this year, the lowest for any unitary authority in the United Kingdom. It has been able to combine excellent council services with value for money, and I pay tribute to Councillor John Peach and all his colleagues.

Parliament has been through a tumultuous period since Christmas, and sparks have been flying. It is an honour and a privilege to be a Member of Parliament and to represent our fellow citizens in this place. I felt that particularly when I read the transcript in Hansard of the wonderful debate that took place on 20 March on the abolition of slavery. The contributions were sparkling, informative, heartfelt and moving, especially those of the hon. Members for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and for Brent, South (Ms Butler). I had the privilege of being the Conservative candidate for Brent, South in 1997. We must not forget the one and only contribution from my right hon. Friend Mr. Hague, who has a particular expertise and, I have to say, commercial interest in the subject of William Wilberforce and all the other people involved in that campaign, including Thomas Clarkson. He was a Wisbech man, and my hon. Friend Mr. Moss is obviously proud of Clarkson's role in the abolition of slavery.

I want to talk about the criminal justice system, a subject that is only loosely related to a constituency interest. Suffice it to say, however, that Peterborough has one of the newest prisons in the country. The former Home Secretary once famously said that if no other prison were built in England, one would be built in Peterborough. It is a state-of-the-art prison, and its director general, Mike Conway, is doing an excellent job. It is a prison for male and female prisoners, with 840 beds on the same site. One might not think that it was doing such a good job, however. As a result of the Home Office's mismanagement of the methodology and of the data management system at the prison, it is unable to tell us how well the prison is doing because the computer system cannot cope with having a male prison and a female prison on the same site. The system therefore defaults the performance indicators to place Peterborough prison almost at the bottom of the 130-odd prisons in England and Wales. That is a simple example of how the Home Office is not working.

Hon. Members will know that, in a named-day question on 29 April 2006, I asked how many foreign prisoners had been released from Peterborough prison in the 12 months to 31 March 2006. It took me eight months to get an answer. Even today, the Home Office has not been able to answer the question: what were those 55 foreign prisoners convicted of? That inquiry has taken a significant amount of my time, and the Minister responsible has been less than clear, but I am determined to get an answer on behalf of my constituents.

The crime and justice review launched by the Prime Minister earlier this week was described in The Guardian on 27 March under the headline "New gloss for old policy framework". The Guardian went on to say:

"The level of detail and micromanagement by Number 10 of these Home Office policy areas suggests that even after 53 criminal justice bills in a decade, Tony Blair is leaving office deeply frustrated at the slow pace of reform of the police, prisons and probation services."

We have also seen some reheated, rehashed policy initiatives, such as the concentration on prolific offenders, which was first announced by the then Home Secretary, Mr. Blunkett, more than three years ago.

I want to focus on prisons in particular. There was some discussion last week of the Conservative party's fox being shot. I must say that my fox has been shot slightly because my hon. Friend Philip Davies beat me to the crease in securing a Westminster Hall debate yesterday entitled, "Prisons (Crime Reduction)". He will therefore have covered some of the points, so I will not labour them. However, there are some important points to be made about prisons, crime prevention and rehabilitation, which I hope that an incoming Conservative Government will consider carefully.

Conservative Members are thinking hard about the penal system and the criminal justice system. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Mr. Malins, who is concerned about the problem of illicit drugs in prisons, and to my hon. Friends the Members for Buckingham (John Bercow) and for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes) who are considering the issues of drugs, alcohol and rehabilitation in relation to prisoners.

The problem is that there is a liberal orthodoxy—a settled view—of prisons. According to a liberal, elitist view, driven by criminologists, civil servants and academics, prison does not work and is wrong. That view approaches a cultural disdain for the idea that we, as a civilised society, should send people to prison. I could not disagree with that view more strongly. Prisons are not necessarily bad. The entrenched consensus in the Home Office, and no doubt in its successor bodies, is wrong. Prisons can be made to work. I commend to the House the book, "A Land Fit for Criminals", published last year, and written by David Fraser, who draws particular attention to what he calls the criminal justice elite.

At the moment, prisons are not working, but they can be made to work. Last year, 53 per cent. of prisons were overcrowded, and the figures were even higher at the beginning of this year. Prisoners have been kept in police cells—Operation Safeguard only concluded at the end of December—and prison numbers reached 79,627 by Christmas. I welcome the Government's decision to build two more prisons—one in the Woolwich area near Belmarsh prison, and the other on Merseyside—and to bring on-stream a further 8,000 prison places over the next five years. That said, that is within the context of a short-sighted decision by the Treasury to cut or at least freeze real terms funding for the Home Office over the next few years, which I regret.

The criminal justice proposals, as articulated by the Prime Minister, are a swansong crime review. As my right hon. Friend David Davis has astutely put it, they are an admission of failure. He says:

"In any event, even the sensible proposals in this document are fatally undermined by the Government's failure to provide the necessary prison places to make them work. In fact, this document barely mentions the crisis in our prisons."

My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley comprehensively demolished the myths surrounding prison, crime reduction and recidivism. The most potent of those myths is that we "lock too many people up", and that compared with other European countries too many people are in prison and we should focus on non-custodial sentences, which are better. I completely disagree with that because it is not good enough simply to look at prison numbers; we must also look at those compared with the rate of crime committed. That measurement, rather than just the prison population, compared with the level of recorded crime shows that the proportion of the number of people we put in prison is almost the lowest in the western world. The rate in the United States is high, at 166 prisoners per 1,000 crimes. We incarcerate just 13 prisoners per 1,000 crimes.

The other myth is that prison does not work in terms of recidivism rates. That is true: 75 per cent. of tagged young offenders are reconvicted within 12 months and a study in 2003 showed that 61 per cent. of prisoners jailed in 2001 had reoffended within a year of release. Surely, though, we should be looking at the likelihood of being incarcerated as a key determinant of whether someone commits a crime. Evidence in the United States shows a causal link between the fact that it has the highest per capita number of prisoners but the lowest crime rate.

A comparative study of crime rates between 1981 and 1996 by Professor David Farrington of Cambridge university demonstrated that as the risk of being imprisoned increased, crime fell. That was in the United States, but during the same period in England and Wales the crime rate increased as the likelihood of being incarcerated reduced. We currently have the highest rate of crime in burglary, assault, robbery, motor vehicle theft and rape than in the United States. Its rate is only higher in murder.

It is a matter of public record that my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Howard reduced crime in the period after 1995 by taking a tough line and challenging the liberal orthodoxy then prevalent in the Home Office. I have to say that that reduction continued until 2003, and rose thereafter.

There is empirical evidence that if we put more police on the beat—if we recruit and train more police and put them on to the operational front line—we will also reduce crime. The number of police officers per capita in the United States, which is tracked by the FBI and reported annually, increased by 60,000 officers, or roughly 14 per cent., in the 1990s. Between 1991 and 2001, that accounted for a 10 to 20 per cent. decline in overall crime in that period.

We all have local anecdotes on the effectiveness of policing. I visited the headquarters of the northern division of the Cambridgeshire constabulary a number of months ago and met Chief Superintendent Paul Phillipson at Thorpe Wood in Peterborough. He showed me mugshots of the 22 most prolific and persistent offenders in the city, and estimated that crime would be reduced by perhaps as much as 50 per cent. if they could be permanently excluded from the community. We need to think hard about that.

Overall statistical evidence from the United States shows a disincentive to commit crime if the likelihood of going to prison increases. There is surely a strong economic argument for more prison places. In 2004, the cost of keeping the average prisoner on the prison estate was £27,320 per year. Today it costs us £2.7 billion to maintain 139 prisons, but crime costs us £60,000 million—£60 billion. That constitutes the entire school budget and two thirds of what we will spend on the national health service in 2008. We could spend just £7 billion on doubling the number of prison places to 160,000—which, incidentally, would amount to only 0.4 per cent. of the adult population. Surely such an opportunity cost is worthy of proper examination. Even by fiscal Conservatives such as me, prison can be seen as a bargain.

And, of course, there are the human tragedies. We routinely ignore the many thousand parole board failures that lead to such tragedies, the terrible murder of the City banker John Monckton being the most obvious and infamous example. As any good economist will confirm, unless objectionable behaviour carries a demonstrable cost, that behaviour will not be altered, and will prevail.

It cannot simply be said that prison does not work. It can be made to work. According to the Home Office report "Re-offending of adults: results from the 2003 cohort", published in November 2006, the recidivism rate among those who had served at least four years in prison was 35 per cent., compared to 70 per cent. among those who were jailed for up to 12 months. We need to move from deterrence and incapacitation to rehabilitation. It is perfectly possible to believe in two complementary concepts: the concept that prison works, and the concept of necessary rehabilitation.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley that it is offensive to my constituents and his that 1,500 prisoners have access to Sky television—although I understand that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Mr. Sutcliffe disagrees with that. It causes them anger and annoyance. That, however, does not mean that we should not focus on rehabilitation. It is not necessarily a question of being liberal, lily-livered and non-judgmental.

I stand four-square behind my party's manifesto commitments of 2005—scrapping the early-release scheme, mandatory minimum sentences and more prison places—but we need to focus on drugs, on rehabilitation, and especially on education. Some facts are inescapable: for instance, 70 per cent. of female prisoners suffer from two or more mental disorders while 44 per cent. of male sentenced prisoners suffer from three or more, and the numbers are much higher among young offenders. It is also time that we focused on the one third of prisoners who have clearly been failed by the care system.

We all know of the endemic effects of alcohol and narcotics abuse across the prison estate, as well as the unacceptable levels of bullying. Two thirds of prisoners are affected by those issues. As a civilised society and for the sake of our own financial well-being, we have a right and a duty to tackle them and to rehabilitate the individuals whom we choose to incarcerate.

Although rehabilitation is vital to reforming criminals and reducing the risk of offending, we must make a decision about spending. We must consider the opportunity cost. There have been some successful schemes in the United States, including the Key-Crest 12-month drug programme in Delaware. After three years, only 31 per cent. of those on the programme had reoffended, compared to 61 per cent. in a control group. In the United Kingdom, there are just 4,700 drug treatment programmes across the whole estate. Prison-based vocational training and employment is important, too. A study in the United States found that prisoners who had been on that programme had a 35 per cent. less chance of re-offending than those who had not.

A particularly innovative scheme is in Florida where prisoners are taught basic skills and manufacture goods such as optical instruments and car registration plates. They are paid a decent wage and given self-respect and hope for the future. Some of the money that comes from selling those goods is put back into the prison estate and to victim support schemes so that prisoners understand the consequences of their actions.

It is our duty and responsibility as parliamentarians to look at giving prisoners hope for the future when they have finished their sentences. It is perfectly possible to believe that we need to jail people longer to prevent crime and that people can be reformed and rehabilitated. I thank hon. Members for listening and I wish all Members, Officers of the House and members of staff a restful and productive Easter break. With that, I look forward to the next recess Adjournment debate.