I beg to move,
That this House
notes with concern recent serious disturbances at Swaleside, Birmingham, Lewes, Bedford and Moorlands prisons against the backdrop of a reduction of more than 6,000 frontline prison officers since 2010;
notes that a planned recruitment drive has a target of hiring fewer than half the number of officers lost, and that previous recruitment drives have failed to achieve their targets;
recognises that violence in prisons is at record levels with assaults up by 34 per cent since 2015, assaults on staff up by 43 per cent since 2015, and more than 60 per cent of prisons currently overcrowded;
and calls on the Government to reduce overcrowding and improve safety while still ensuring that those people who should be in prison are in prison.
The last Opposition day debate on prisons took place nearly a year ago to this very day. Back then, as hon. Members will recall, my hon. Friend Andy Slaughter opened the debate for the Opposition. He told the House:
“The inescapable conclusion is that the prison system in this country…is not working, contrary to the famous pronouncement of the noble Lord Howard.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 605, c. 333.]
A year on, the conclusion drawn by my hon. Friend remains inescapable.
Since 2010, Conservative Justice Secretaries have cut the number of frontline prison officers by more than 6,000. It was the political decision to impose austerity on the nation and our prison service that brought us to this point. That was married with an erratic prisons policy that veered first this way and then that way. First, Mr Clarke wanted to reduce prison numbers; he was sacked. Then Chris Grayling took a very authoritarian line, introducing benchmarking and book-banning, both of which failed. Next, Michael Gove wanted to decentralise and hand autonomy to governors. The current Justice Secretary wants a bit of policy from each—prison policy à la carte.
The number of officers was cut with no check on the number of people being imprisoned, but the effect of that ought to have been obvious. The Government are imprisoning more people than they have decided they can afford. In the 12 months to June 2016, there were 105 self-inflicted deaths—nearly double the number five years previously, and an all-time high.
Before my hon. Friend moves on from this point, may I draw his attention to the Select Committee report that said that if we are to try to cut the cycle of prisoners reoffending, it would be good to try to provide employment for them, particularly by reducing national insurance contributions for employers? While that would not be a silver bullet, would it not play some part in reducing the pressure on prisons if such a policy were adopted by the Secretary of State?
The hon. Gentleman quite rightly says that there is, as I think everybody will acknowledge, a serious crisis in our prisons, which at the moment are overcrowded slums and breeding grounds for crime. He sets out a rather interesting range of options for tackling this but, with respect, his motion merely concentrates on the Prison Officers Association’s answer, which is to spend more money and hire more prison officers, probably with improved pay and conditions. Does he have any views on the range of options that includes reducing the number of prisoners by addressing foolish sentencing policies so that there is room for the rehabilitation measures recommended by Frank Field?
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for that constructive contribution. We are talking about far more than just staffing, so I will touch on sentencing and prisoner numbers later.
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that there are too many people with mental health conditions in our prisons who should not be there in the first place? Was he as appalled as I was to hear the outcome of last week’s inquest into the tragic death of Dean Saunders, one of 113 people who took their life in one of our prisons in the past year? The inquest found that he should never have been in prison in the first place—he should have been in a mental health in-patient unit.
I share my hon. Friend’s concern, which she raised in Justice questions yesterday. I will deal with the tragic death of Dean Saunders later.
As I said, the Government are imprisoning more people than they have decided they can afford. There were 345 deaths in custody last year. In the same period, serious assaults on staff increased by 146%, and incidents of self-harm increased by more than 10,000. Within the space of just a few weeks, there were prison riots in Lincoln, Lewes, Bedford, and Moorland—not “Moorlands”, as it says in the motion. In December, HMP Birmingham saw what many described as the worst riots at a category B prison since Strangeways a quarter of a century ago.
A lot of the hon. Gentleman’s criticism is predicated on the concept of austerity under this Government, but surely he will concede that the previous Labour Government, in much more benign economic circumstances, released 82,000 prisoners under the end of custody licence scheme, of whom 2,657 were recalled for licence breaches and over 1,200 for reoffending. In better financial times, there was still mismanagement of the prison estate.
The prison system has never been perfect, but under a Labour Government there was not a prison crisis, and under this Conservative Government there is a prison crisis.
In Birmingham, it took 13 Tornado teams more than 12 hours to regain control. Some estimate the cost of the damage as £2 million. The Ministry was warned back in October that urgent action was required in the light of staff worries about personal safety, but it remains unclear whether it did anything at all. Last October, in an unprecedented intervention—
Is my hon. Friend as worried as I am that not only has there been the huge reduction in the number of prison officers, but there seems to be a deliberate strategy to get more experienced, more expensive prison officers to stand down—to retire—and to replace them with cheap apprentices and graduates? There is a real lack of experience in our prison sector as well as a dangerous lack of officer numbers.
My hon. Friend makes a vital point. We have a dangerous cocktail of experienced prisoners in prison, and experienced prison officers leaving prison. That is not good for safety and not good for the service.
I must make some progress, I am afraid.
In the wake of those riots, the Justice Secretary told the House yesterday that more Tornado staff are being trained. Clearly she expects more trouble and expects things to get worse before they get better.
The Ministry has a long list of problems to contend with: overcrowding; understaffing; lack of safety; the quality of delivery from privatised probation services; drugs and drones, and the nearly 4,000 IPP—imprisonment for public protection—prisoners who are still in jail way past their tariffs.
I will not give way.
One prison officer told me that the situation in our Prison Service is like a game of Jenga where it feels as though we are on the brink of the final piece being removed and the whole thing coming crashing down around us. He did not say that lightly. The Government’s White Paper has had a mixed reception from those with experience and expertise in the penal system and penal reform.
I need to make some progress.
Nearly all these problems stem from the axing of a quarter of prison staff since 2010. The Justice Secretary’s colleague, Sir Edward Leigh, asked her yesterday at Justice questions whether she thought that cut was wise. She did not answer; she has the opportunity to answer today.
A future Labour Government will not treat our hard-working, hard-pressed prison officers as the enemy—[Interruption.] I hear the roars of disapproval from those on the Government Benches. Anybody would think they were presiding over a successful Prison Service and there was not a prison crisis. If they would listen rather than roar at me, I would be grateful.
I really do need to make progress, I am afraid.
The ambition set out in the White Paper to increase staffing levels is welcome, but 2,500 officers represent less than half the number of prison officers cut by Conservative Justice Secretaries since 2010, and in order to get 2,500 extra officers, 8,000 will have to be recruited in just two years. I wonder whether the Justice Secretary has confidence that that will happen, because I do not come across many in the justice sector who think it any more than a pipe dream under her management. In the year to September 2016, she had about 400 fewer officers. There is a crisis in staff retention; they are leaving more quickly than she can recruit them. The Prison Officers Association membership has very recently rejected a pay deal offered by the Government. What plans has she made to improve the offer and begin to make those jobs more attractive to the public? She currently faces a recruitment drive that is in danger of failing before it has begun.
Announcements that ex-service personnel will be recruited to the Prison Service might grab quick headlines, but in truth this is nothing new. There have always been former members of our armed forces taking jobs in our Prison Service. The role of soldier and prison officer are not exactly the same, by the way, as prison officers who have been in the Army have told me. The Secretary of State must explain how she can compensate for the fact that, as we have heard, so many experienced officers have left, and are leaving, our Prison Service.
Overseeing a transformation to a prison estate populated by more experienced prisoners and more inexperienced prison officers presents a clear and present danger. Inadequate staffing levels have a range of consequences. Prisons are less safe because staff are far outnumbered. Prisoners are spend more time in their cells because they cannot be managed outside, and prisoner frustration is heightened by the lack of time out of their cells.
I commend my hon. Friend for his excellent speech. Does he agree that one way to reduce the prison population would be for the Government to make better progress in the transfer of foreign national offenders? At the moment, there are 10,000 foreign national offenders in our prisons, representing 12% of the prison population. The Government sign agreements, but very few prisoners get sent back.
I thank my right hon. Friend for making that important point. In Justice questions yesterday, the Minister with responsibility for prisons, Mr Gyimah, said that he was in discussions with the Department for Exiting the European Union about the matter. We need to hear more about the progress of those discussions.
The Justice Secretary frequently points to the emergence of new psychoactive substances as a major factor in the current crisis. Does she know that in Scotland, where prison policy has been stable for some years and where staffing has remained constant, violence has not rocketed as it has across the rest of the prison estate? Scotland has NPS issues, too, but it did not axe staff in vast numbers.
Our prisons are overcrowded. Armley prison, in my city of Leeds, holds nearly twice the number of prisoners that it was built to house. Wandsworth, Swansea, Brixton and Leicester are not far behind; they are all full to capacity with another 50% on top.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman; he knows that I hold him in very high esteem. Lady Chakrabarti, the shadow Attorney General, said recently that she wanted half the prisoners in the UK prison estate to be released immediately. Is that Labour’s official party policy? My constituents would be very interested to know.
I am certainly not aware of any such policy announcement being made. [Interruption.] Conservative Members are making some strange gesticulations. It is not Labour policy to release half the prisoners. Why on earth would that be the case?
We need a lasting way to manage the prison population. In November 2016, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, appeared before the Justice Committee. Not surprisingly, he was questioned on the prisons crisis, and he offered a view on what could be done:
“The prison population is very, very high at the moment. Whether it will continue to rise is always difficult to tell, but there are worries that it will. I am not sure that at the end of the day we can’t dispose of more by really tough—and I do mean tough—community penalties.”
Prison has always been seen as a punishment. A person breaks the social contract that governs much of our relations with one another, and they may be imprisoned. Members from across the House rightly see prison as a fitting sanction, and it must be right that when a convicted person is a danger to the public, they are kept away from the public until such time as they no longer pose a threat. A significant minority may never be safe to release. But we must ask whether prison is the right place for some of those who offend. We should always reflect on that, because if we do not, we find ourselves in the position that the Government are in now.
I have already said that I will not give way any further.
The warehousing of thousands of people without any support or access to rehabilitation means that when they leave prison, as they inevitably will, they will be in exactly the same position as when they entered. They might still be drug-dependent. They might still be homeless. They might still be in poverty. It is right—in fact, it is our duty—not to be complacent, but to reflect and ask ourselves whether the way in which we deal with at least some of those who break the law is working. With many offenders, it is not. Their stay in prison is too short to teach them new skills, or for them to obtain a qualification or stabilise a drug addiction.
In recent weeks I have met stakeholders who question whether it is worth sending people to prison for a few weeks or a few months, and I have met prison officers who lament that they see the same people over and over again. When stakeholders, people at the frontline and experts raise such matters, we must take them seriously. We must punish and we must deliver smart sentences as well as strict sentences, always asking ourselves what the best way is to protect the public. I firmly believe that MPs must have that urgent discussion.
The number of questions being shouted out by Government Members makes me wonder whether they know what they are presiding over. There are risks with sending people to prison, particularly for the first time. [Interruption.] There is laughter from the Government Front Benchers, but the situation in our prison system is not a laughing matter. They should take this debate seriously.
We throw people into the prison river, and the currents sweep them towards more drugs and more crime than they experienced outside. If rehabilitation fails, it is a failure to protect society. I must ask what the Justice Secretary is doing about imprisonment for public protection sentences. She urgently needs to come up with a scheme to release those whom it is safe to release. She should consider how that can be done—perhaps by releasing those people on a licence period in proportion to their original sentence.
In November last year, my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy published the interim findings of his review into the treatment of and outcomes for black, Asian and minority ethnic people in the criminal justice system. The stark findings of the review have implications for our prisons. For every 100 white women handed custodial sentences in the Crown court for drug offences, 227 black women were sentenced to custody. For black men, the figure was 141 compared with 100 white men. BAME men were more than 16% more likely than white men to be remanded in custody. Those figures ought to be of concern to the Justice Secretary, and she has a duty to find out why that is happening and what can be done about it. The findings are troubling in and of themselves, but such disproportionate sentencing adds to the strain on our prison system.
Rehabilitation is essential to any serious criminal justice system, but we are not yet getting it right. Most people who are in prison will one day leave prison, so if we are to protect the public and keep our communities safe, rehabilitation must be properly funded and taken seriously by politicians as an aim. It must not be treated as a soft option. Between January and December 2014, 45.5% of adults released from prison had reoffended within a year. Of those released from a sentence of less than 12 months, 60% went on to reoffend.
When the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell introduced the transforming rehabilitation programme, the probation service was reckoned to be performing well. Many stakeholders issued a warning against the breakup of the probation service but, as with many Ministry of Justice consultations at the time, the public were simply ignored and the proposals pushed through regardless. Community rehabilitation companies received negative reports last year in Derbyshire, Durham and London.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. Durham used to have the best probation service in the country, which did an amazing job of trying to rehabilitate prisoners, but it has, alas, fallen by the wayside because of the Government reforms. Does he agree that it would be nice to see Government Members taking some responsibility for what has happened to our prison and probation system? It is an absolute disgrace that it is failing in such a way.
What has happened to the probation services in the area and region that my hon. Friend represents is indeed a travesty. The privatisation of the probation service has been a disaster.
The hon. Gentleman has drawn attention to what he considers to be weaknesses in current sentencing, the approach to IPPs, the approach to rehabilitation and the handling of probation, but he has not come forward with a single positive alternative. In the moments remaining to him, will he enlighten the House about what Labour would actually do, other than simply complain?
I certainly will do so, if the right hon. Gentleman will just bear with me.
The inspectorate of probation’s report of May 2016 found that the work of the national probation service was considered better in a number of important areas. As I have said, privatisation of the probation service has failed. Of course, it is not just down to the Ministry and to probation to support people; if people are leaving prison faced with the same conditions as before they entered it, that will make any meaningful change difficult.
Support is needed: it is needed for employment and for housing. One women’s prison had inmates leaving with nowhere to live, and it was handing out tents and sleeping bags to people when they left. This cannot be a feature of a modern justice system in the fifth-richest country in the world. The Prisoners Education Trust, while welcoming the White Paper, has said that,
“in today’s economy, gaining meaningful employment depends on more than just the ability to read and write. If the government is serious about lowering reoffending, it needs to equip people in prison with the attitudes and aspirations”—[Interruption.]
Order. The Government Whip, Guy Opperman, should not shout out. He should not shout from a sedentary position, and he should not shout out while standing up. If he will forgive my saying so, to shout out while standing right next to the Speaker’s Chair is perhaps not quite the most intelligent action that he has undertaken in the course, so far, of a most auspicious career.
I certainly did not take offence when the Government Whip was shouting out, “Are there any policies?” because I did not think that that question was directed at the Opposition.
The reality is that prisons are full of people with a range of problems—those with mental health problems, those addicted to drugs and those who are homeless. It is rarely mentioned that support services focused on issues of that kind have also been victims of austerity. Drugs support has been scaled back, and prisoners are leaving prison with nowhere to sleep. There are too many people in prison with serious mental health problems.
MPs rarely break promises. I promised not to take any more interventions, but I will break that promise and allow another one.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for eventually giving way; I am most honoured. The Opposition motion mentions Lewes prison—it is in special measures, as was raised during Justice questions yesterday—but he fails to acknowledge the huge amount of work that is going into the prison. This is not just about prison officer numbers; there are other issues, such as the huge rise in the number of sexual offenders in Lewes prison, which has made that old Victorian prison very hard to manage. I have not heard any suggestions by the hon. Gentleman about the way forward in helping places such as Lewes to tackle those problems.
The increases in the number of prisoners convicted of historical sex offences and in the number of people in prisons obviously have an effect, but does cutting the number of prison officers by a quarter mitigate that situation or make it worse? It seems to me that the answer to that is quite simple.
Before I draw my remarks to a conclusion, I want to turn—[Interruption.] The prisons Minister has an unfortunate habit of heckling at really inappropriate points. He has demonstrated that before and he has demonstrated it again now. I want to talk about the case of Dean Saunders, who tragically committed suicide in Chelmsford prison. An inquest jury found a number of errors in his treatment. Although prison staff recognised that he had mental health problems, they did not follow the procedure under which he might have been moved to hospital. The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Dr Lee, has said that he is
“seeking the details of all those cases to see whether there is a pattern”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 620, c. 156.]
Deborah Coles of the charity Inquest, who supported the family, said that Mr Saunders
“should never have been in prison in the first place. His death was entirely preventable.”
The fact is that there is evidence in abundance from the various independent monitoring board reports and inquest jury findings. The Ministry must ensure that the recommendations of such bodies are acted on.
In conclusion, we need to be tough on crime, wherever it is found, and we need to protect the public. At the same time, we need to make prisons places where effective rehabilitation is a living, breathing reality. We want people to leave prison and become productive members of society, having left crime behind. At present, when it comes to the Prison Service, as in relation to so much else, this Government are failing. They are failing prison staff, they are failing prison inmates and their families, and they are failing the public. Ultimately, the mess this Government are making of our prison system means they are failing society. I commend the motion to the House.
I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “House” to the end of the Question and add:
“welcomes the Government’s comprehensive proposals for major reform of the prison system set out in the White Paper;
further welcomes plans for an extra 2,500 prison officers, to professionalise the prison service further and to attract new talent by recruiting prison officer apprentices, graduates and former armed service personnel;
notes new security measures being introduced to tackle the illegal use of drones, phones and drugs which are undermining the stability of the prison system;
welcomes the commitment to give governors in all prisons more powers and more responsibility to deliver reform whilst holding them to account for the progress prisoners make;
and welcomes the Government’s proposals to set out for the first time the purpose of prisons in statute.”
Since becoming Justice Secretary, I have been clear that the violence in our prisons is too high. We have very worrying levels of self-harm and of deaths in custody. Tomorrow, we will see further statistics on violence for the period from July to September 2016. The last set of statistics reaffirmed why we need to take immediate action. I have been clear that these problems have been years in the making, and will not be fixed in weeks or months. In fact, in a piece he wrote this morning, Richard Burgon acknowledged that there is no “magic fix” for these issues. We certainly did not hear any magic fixes in his speech today.
There may be no magic fixes, but does my right hon. Friend agree with Dr Blackman-Woods that this Government should take responsibility? They should indeed take responsibility for banning novel psychoactive substances at the request of prison officers, and they should take responsibility for a plan to increase the number of prison officers—she has outlined that plan—again at the request of prison officers.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. I am absolutely determined to turn around our prisons. Unless our prisons are places of safety, they cannot be purposeful places where offenders can reform. That is why we have taken immediate action, as my hon. Friend says, to stabilise security in our prisons and to tackle the scourge of drugs, drones and phones. It is why we have secured additional funding of £100 million annually to recruit an extra 2,500 prison officers to strengthen our frontline and invest in wider justice reforms.
It is good news that there is some additional money and that some more prison officers are coming into the service, but the Secretary of State is right to say that the scale of violence in our prisons is terrible. She and the Government must take responsibility for the lower number of prison officers that we now have. Will she tell the House how many prison officers are currently off work sick as a result of assaults received at work?
I have been clear that we need extra staff on the frontline. A number of issues have resulted in the situation that we now face, including the rise in the numbers of psychoactive substances, drones and phones. I have been clear that we need to address the issue of staffing, and we are determined to do so. We monitor the level of sickness in our prisons specifically to address that issue.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the only concrete analysis given by the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman in his 30-minute speech was that there is a demonstrable link between staffing and violence. That has been controverted by evidence given to the Justice Committee by Dr David Scott of the Open University, who rejected such a link. There are other much more complex societal factors in the prison population and across the estate.
There are a number of factors, and psychoactive drugs are one. We need the proper level of staffing, which we are putting into prisons, to ensure that prison officers can supervise and challenge offenders properly. That is important not just for safety, but in reforming offenders.
The “Prison Safety and Reform” White Paper, which was published last November, detailed the biggest overhaul of our prisons in a generation to deal with the issues we are discussing. It is right that prisons punish people who commit serious crime by depriving them of their most fundamental right, liberty, but they need to be places of discipline, hard work and self-improvement. That is the only way we will cut reoffending and reduce crime in our communities.
I am really grateful to the Lord Chancellor for giving way. I want to help her on the staffing point. The benchmarking by the Ministry of Justice indicates that 89 prisons are under the staffing levels that her Ministry thinks is right for them. When the 2,500 prison officers are recruited, how many of those prisons will still be under her own benchmarking staffing levels?
I will address how we will recruit the additional staff later in my comments, but all of those prisons will not just be brought up to the benchmark level; we are increasing staff levels beyond that. We have to recruit the additional staff to bring prisons up to benchmark and then further additional staff. That is all within our plan to recruit 4,000 officers this year.
HMP Lewes is mentioned in the Opposition motion, but I have not heard that the shadow Secretary of State has visited it, unlike the prisons Minister. The shadow Secretary of State dismissed the effect of having a high number of sexual offenders in the prison, but that affects the retention of prison staff. To dismiss it out of hand shows a lack of experience and knowledge about what is happening in our prisons.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I will come on to the prison population later in my speech and address the specific issue of sex offenders.
The extra prison officers my right hon. Friend proposes to recruit are welcome, but I understand that it takes about nine months to fully train a new prison officer. As a short-term stopgap, would it not be sensible to relax the rules or give more powers to governors so that they could bring back into work retired, experienced prison officers on short-term contracts?
My right hon. Friend’s assessment is absolutely right and we are, indeed, bringing back former prison officers on a temporary basis.
I will move on to what we are doing on recruitment and retention, because that is the most important issue we face as a Prison Service. We will not achieve our aims of reform if we do not have enough officers and if we do not train them properly and have proper career development to make the most of our workforce. In October, we started by announcing our plans to recruit an extra 400 staff in 10 of our most challenging prisons. I am pleased to say that we have so far made 389 job offers. We were due to do that by the end of March, so we are ahead of target. We recently launched a graduate scheme called Unlocked, which is like Teach First for prisons, to attract the top talented graduates. We had more than 1,000 expressions of interest in the scheme and within 24 hours, we had 350 graduates from Russell Group universities applying for the scheme.
The idea that people do not want to do the job is not right. There are a lot of people out there who want to reform offenders and to get involved in helping us turn around our Prison Service. We need to talk up the job of being a prison officer, because it is incredibly important. One prison officer described themselves to me as a parent, a social worker and a teacher. What could be more important than turning somebody who lives a life of crime into somebody who contributes to society? We find that when we go out and recruit, a lot of people are interested in the role.
Of course we have to retain our fantastic existing prison officers, but I want to correct the hon. Member for Leeds East. In fact, 80% of our staff have been with us for longer than five years, so the idea that we do not have a strong depth of prison officers is wrong. However, we do need to ensure that they have career and promotion opportunities. That is why we are looking to expand the senior grades in the service and to promote our existing staff. We want to give them a career ladder so that they have opportunities to train on the job and get the additional skills they need.
We are giving prison governors the opportunity to recruit locally for the first time. We have launched that in 30 of our most hard-to-recruit prisons. That means that the governor can build much more of a relationship with the local community, get people involved, show people what life is really like inside prison and encourage people to work there. The local recruitment and job fairs have been really successful.
Of course this is challenging. Recruiting 4,000 people in one year is challenging, but I think we can do it. We have the opportunity to do it, we are enthusiastic about it and we have the budget to do it for the first time in a number of years.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The opportunity for the governor to do more proactive recruitment has been welcomed in Bedford. In the amendment, she talks about decentralising authority to prison governors to enable them to make their own decisions. Does she find it interesting that that idea has been missed completely by the Labour party?
I agree with my hon. Friend that we need to give prison governors power over what happens in their own prison. They should decide what regimes to operate and what staffing structures to have. They should motivate and recruit their own team. They should also have more say over how lives are turned around. For example, we are giving them the power over their own education providers. We will hold prison governors to account for how people are improving in English and maths; how successful they are at getting offenders off drugs, which we know can lead to rehabilitation; and how successful they are at getting people into work when they leave prison, which will encourage them to work with local employers and set up apprenticeships. However, we need to give governors the levers and the responsibility that will enable them to do those things. We are also working on leadership training so that governors have the skills and capabilities to take on those extra responsibilities.
That is the only way we will turn lives around. Whatever I and my civil servants do in the Ministry of Justice, we are not the people on the ground in the wings who are talking to prisoners day in, day out. It is those people who will turn lives around. That is why we need motivated staff and governors who are empowered to do that job. That is what our reforms will achieve.
I think the whole House will sympathise with and support the right hon. Lady’s comments on the morale of prison officers. When Sir Gerald Howarth and I were prison officers together in Dartmoor prison, it was evident to us that prison officers felt that they were out of sight and out of mind. They felt that nobody had any interest in their work until something went catastrophically wrong. Does she agree that it would be an excellent idea for right hon. and hon. Members not just to contact the Prison Officers Association, but occasionally to visit prisons to show that we do care and that they are not out of sight nor out of mind?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point. I am delighted to hear that he is a former prison officer. Perhaps he could be a shining beacon of the scheme to bring former prison officers into service.
In any case, we are setting up a parliamentary scheme so that we can work more closely with prison officers and give them the kudos they deserve, because they do an incredibly important job, often behind walls. As part of the reform programme, I want to see prisons reaching out more into the local community and working with local employers. As the shadow Secretary of State said, ultimately, the vast majority of people in prison will one day be on the outside and be part of the local community, so we need to work on that.
While we are putting in place the long and medium-term measures to get additional staff in to reform our prisons, we are taking immediate action to improve security and stability across the estate. That includes extra CCTV, the deployment of national resources and regular taskforce meetings chaired by the prisons Minister.
He holds regular meetings with the Prison Service to monitor prisons for risk factors, and that allows us to react quickly to emerging problems and provide immediate support to governors, on anything from transferring difficult prisoners to speeding up the repair of damaged facilities.
Hon. Friends have talked about psychoactive substances, which have been a game changer in the prisons system, as the prisons and probation ombudsman has acknowledged. In September, we rolled out to all prisons new mandatory drug tests for psychoactive drugs, and we have increased the number of search dogs and trained them to detect drugs such as Spice and Mamba. We are also working with mobile phone operators on new solutions, being trialled in three prisons, to combat illicit phones, and we have specific powers to block phones too.
I am disappointed that my right hon. Friend has not mentioned the impact on the behaviour of prisoners of automatic release halfway through sentence. If someone is sent to prison for six years but knows that by law they will be released after three, irrespective of how badly they behave in prison, surely their behaviour in prison will be worse than if they know they might have to do the full term if they do not behave. Is she not going to address that issue?
Clearly, if people do not behave, they will receive additional days. That is an important part of the levers that governors have in reforming offenders.
I was talking about security issues. We are also working to deal with drones, rolling out body-worn cameras across the estate and dealing with organised crime gangs through a new national intelligence unit.
Hon. Members have also talked about mental health. We are investing in specialist mental health training for prison officers to help to reduce the worrying levels of self-harm and suicide in our prisons. The early days in custody are particularly critical to mental health and keeping people safe.
We are working on a strategy for women offenders that includes looking after women on community sentences as well as custodial sentences. I want more early intervention to deal with issues that lead to reoffending, such as mental health and drugs issues, and we will be announcing further plans in the summer.
We are investing in an additional 2,500 staff across the prisons estate, but we are also changing the way we deploy those staff to ensure more opportunities to engage with offenders, both to challenge them and to help them reform.
May I put to the Lord Chancellor the question I put to the shadow Lord Chancellor about foreign national offenders? She will know that an easy way to reduce the number of people in our prisons is to follow through on the excellent work of her distinguished predecessors, Mr Clarke and Michael Gove, who are both in the House today, in signing these agreements to send people back to their countries of origin. Why has progress been so slow?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments, and I am pleased to say that a record number of foreign national offenders were deported in the last year. We are making progress, therefore, but there is more work to do. My hon. Friend the prisons Minister is leading a cross-Government taskforce on this issue.
I return now to our work in recruiting 2,500 new prison officers and changing the role of prison officers. By recruiting these new staff, we want every prison officer to have a caseload of no more than six offenders whom they can challenge and support. Our staffing model aims to ensure that we have enough prison officers to do that. One-to-one support from a dedicated officer is at the heart of how we change our reoffending rates and keep our prisons and prison officers safe.
The hon. Member for Leeds East talked about the prison population, although I was none the wiser about Labour’s policy after he had spoken. The prison population has been stable since 2010, having risen by 25,000 under Labour. As was mentioned earlier, fewer people are in prison for shorter sentences—9,000 fewer shorter sentences are given out every year—but more people are in prison for crimes such as sex offences. Not only are we prosecuting more sexual offenders, but sentences for sexual offences have increased considerably, which is absolutely right and reflects the serious damage those individuals do to their victims.
It is much more difficult for prison officers to look after sex offenders than an average prison inmate—they often need to be segregated, but old Victorian prisons do not easily enable that—and that only adds to the pressure on officers.
We are doing important work on how better to deal with sex offenders and how to ensure they are on treatment programmes that will stop them committing such crimes in the future.
The one policy that the Labour spokesman touched on was the future of the remaining IPP prisoners, of whom 4,000 remain in prison, years after the sentence was abolished and beyond their recommended term. Some are very dangerous and cannot be released, but is my right hon. Friend looking at how to make it easier for parole boards to reduce delays and alter the burden of proof and so release all those for whom there is no evidence that they would pose a serious risk to the public if released?
The Opposition talked about IPP prisoners. Of course, it was the Labour party that introduced that sentence, and my right hon. and learned Friend who abolished it, so well done to him. There is a legacy here, since some of them are still in prison, but I have established an IPP unit within the Department to deal with the backlog and ensure that we address the issues those individuals have so that they can be released safely into society. We must always heed public protection, however, and as he acknowledged, some are not suitable for release for precisely that reason.
Local police have raised with me the impact, particularly in Hedge End, of psychoactive drug abuse before people enter prison. The types of prisoners being managed are of a different ilk, and the type of addiction is unknown and difficult to quantify. How difficult is it on the ground for our prison officers?
My hon. Friend is right; this is a very serious issue, both in society and in prison. We are looking at additional training for prison officers and have introduced tests to help to get prisoners of these substances, as well as prisoner education programmes. These drugs do have a serious and severe effect. On her point about the community, I want our community sentences to address mental health and drugs issues before people commit crimes that result in custodial sentences. Too many people enter prison having previously been at high risk of committing such a crime because of such issues. We need to intervene earlier, which I think is an effective way of reducing the circulation through our prisons, rather than having an arbitrary number that we release. What we need to do is deal with these issues before they reach a level where a custodial sentence is required. That is our approach, and I shall say more about it in due course.
From April, prison governors will be given new freedoms to drive forward the reforms and cut free from Whitehall micro-management. Governors will have control over budgets, education and staffing structures, and they will be able to set their own prison regime. At the moment, we have a plethora of prison rules, including on how big prisoners’ bath mats can be. Surely that is not the way to treat people who we want to be leaders of some of our great institutions.
I want to say how much I welcome the passage in the White Paper that gives to prison governors the very freedoms that my right hon. Friend has mentioned, particularly in respect of work and the commercial relationships that governors will be able to form with companies and businesses to get proper work into prisons. Will she say something about One3One Solutions?
My hon. Friend must have read my mind, because we were talking about One3One Solutions only this morning, and I know that he was involved in establishing that organisation. Employers are vital to our reforms, and what I want to happen on the inside has to be jobs and training that lead to work on the outside. We need to start from what jobs are available on the outside and bring those employers into prison. We are looking at how to develop that. First, governors will have a strong incentive, because there will be a measurement of how many prisoners secure jobs on the outside, as well as of how many go into apprenticeships on the outside. I want to see offenders starting apprenticeships on the inside that they can then complete on the outside, so that there is a seamless transition into work.
We already have some fantastic employers working with us—Greggs, for example, and Timpson whom I met this morning—but we need more of them to participate. Former offenders can be very effective employees, and we need to get that message across more widely. There would be a huge economic benefit if, once people leave prison, rather than go on to benefits they go into employment instead. That will also reduce reoffending. We shall launch our employment strategy in the summer. I will go into more detail subsequently and look forward to discussing it further with my hon. Friend Crispin Blunt.
A number of hon. Members have mentioned the probation service. Just as we are measuring outcomes for prison services, such as employment, housing and education, we want to see similar measures for the probation services. We need to make sure that when people are in the community, they are being encouraged to get involved in activities and to get off drugs, so that they are less likely to reoffend. We shall say more about probation in April, when we announce our changes to the probation service.
It is difficult, of course, for reform to take place in dilapidated buildings or in old and overcrowded prisons. That is why we are modernising the prison estate to create 10,000 prison places where reform can flourish. This is a £1.3 billion investment programme that will reduce overcrowding and replace outdated prisons with modern facilities. As part of that, we shall open HMP Berwyn in Wrexham next month, which will create over 2,000 modern places. We have already made announcements about new prisons in Glen Parva and Wellingborough, and we shall make further announcements about new prison capacity in due course.
I am pleased to tell hon. Members that the Prison and Courts Reform Bill will be introduced shortly. It will set it out in legislation for the first time that reform of offenders as well as punishment is a key purpose of prisons. One of the issues we faced as a society was that we did not have such a definition of prisons. At the moment, legislation says that as Secretary of State I am responsible for housing prisoners. Well, I consider myself responsible for much more than housing prisoners. I consider myself responsible for making sure that we use time productively while people are in prison to turn their lives around so that they become productive members of society. That is going to be embedded in legislation, and it will be accompanied by further measures, including new standards, league tables and governor empowerment.
We will also strengthen the powers of Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons to intervene in failing prisons, and we will put the prison and probation ombudsman on a statutory footing to investigate deaths in custody. Hon. Members have referred to some of the very tragic deaths in custody, and the prison and probation ombudsman performs a vital role here.
The whole House will acknowledge that there is too much violence and self-harm in our prisons. It is also right to say that we have decade-long problems with reoffending. Almost half of prisoners reoffend within a year, at a cost of £15 billion to our society and at huge cost to the victims who suffer from those crimes. That is why this Government’s prison reform agenda is such a priority, and it is why we have secured extra funding and are taking immediate steps to address violence and safety in our prisons. This will be the largest reform of our prisons in a generation. These issues will not be solved in weeks or months, but I am confident that, over time, we will transform our prisons, reduce reoffending and get prisoners into jobs and away from a life of crime.
Order. I hope to be able to get everybody in on the basis of a seven-minute limit.
I have three prison establishments in Don Valley: HMP Hatfield, which is an open establishment; HMP Moorland, which is a category C secure prison with 340 sex offenders, 260 foreign prisoners from 40 nationalities and 480 other cat C prisoners; and HMP Lindholme, which has 1,000 prisoners in a cat C secure prison. In Doncaster itself and the Doncaster Central constituency, there is another prison, which is a private establishment. I have visited these prisons over many years, and the relationship has been good, with the community assured that whatever is happening in the prisons it is not having an adverse effect on them, although we have seen a rise in the number of people absconding from the open establishment.
I know that this is a very difficult area. One of the things of which I was most proud when I was a Minister in the Home Office was the introduction of drug testing on arrest for acquisitive crime, so that the drug problem that was leading people to steal could be identified, and people could be put into treatment even before they ended up in court. I believe we should do everything we can to address the causes of crime, as well as being “tough” when people break the law.
The Government have owned up to the problem. It has been acknowledged in the White Paper that the levels of assault on staff are the highest on record and rising. Comparing the year to June 2016 with the same period in 2012 shows that total assaults in prisons are up by 64%; assaults on staff are up 99%; incidents of self-harm are up 57%; and deaths in custody are up 75%. So prisons are less safe for staff, but they are also less safe for prisoners. As the Lord Chancellor wrote in November,
“almost half of prisoners commit another crime within a year of release”.
So the system is failing to rehabilitate and, as such, is failing to protect the public from further crime. As she also wrote in November in the Daily Mail,
“What is clear is that the system is not working.”
I am afraid that what is also clear is that on the coalition Government’s watch and on this Government’s watch, the Government are failing, too. They are failing in their duty to care for prison officers and staff; failing in their duty of care of prisoners who are more likely to be assaulted, to injure themselves or take their own life; failing in their duty of care to the public, as they are failing to reduce recidivism; and failing the taxpayer. In the Justice Secretary’s own words today, the Government have admitted that the cost of reoffending is £15 billion.
If we look at violence in prisons, we find that the latest safety in custody statistics show for the year up to September 2016: 324 deaths in prison; 107 self-inflicted deaths; a doubling of self-inflicted deaths among women prisoners—from a low base, but importantly up from four to eight; and over 36,000 cases of self-harm, which is a staggering 426 incidents of self-harm for every 1,000 prisoners. The figures also show 10,544 prisoners self-harming and 2,583 hospital attendances, with injuries serious enough to require hospital treatment, with the added pressure that places on staff who have to escort them, leaving others to deal with situations in prisons that have seen reductions in staffing.
In the year to June 2016, there were 23,775 assaults, an increase of 34%—that is 278 assaults for every 1,000 prisoners—and 3,134 serious assaults, an increase of 32%. This is not a happy situation, as we know from the trade unions working in the sector, whether we are talking about the Prison Officers Association, Community or, for that matter, Unite. A constituent of mine works in a prison providing training to rehabilitate prisoners and help them to find jobs when they leave. Little is said about the prison employees who, if staffing levels are not sufficient, could also be on the receiving end of assaults.
I was disappointed that the Secretary of State did not meet members of Community, which represents most of the staff in private prisons, to discuss its charter for safe operating standards. Like the POA and others involved, Community has come up with some very constructive practical suggestions, but it worries me that, according to the union’s research findings, it is common for one officer to be on a wing containing at least 60 inmates. I should be interested to hear from the Minister how the Government will ensure that lone working ends as part of their attempts to find better ways of making prison work.
There is much in the White Paper that needs to be discussed. It refers to improved training for staff, the piloting of body-worn video cameras, and cognitive skills programmes for prisoners so that they respond to problems without using violence. I approve of all that. The White Paper also recommends that governors should have more freedoms. I can tell the Secretary of State that in one of the prisons in my constituency, the turnover of governors over the last decade has been enormous. We need governors who can stay put and bring about any changes that they want to introduce.
I am sure the Secretary of State agrees that staffing is still key to improvements in our prisons. Prisons need stable staffing so that people can work with prisoners, but also with each other, to the best possible effect. The Secretary of State has promised 2,500 more staff, but that will not return staff numbers to their 2010 level. During justice questions yesterday, the Government claimed that the 2,500 figure meant 2,500 extra staff members, but in answer to questions in the Justice Committee on
The number of operational staff at HMP Lindholme, in my constituency, fell from 352 in March 2010 to 296. That is a loss of one in seven staff in three years. In HMP Moorland, the number fell from 386 to 354, which is a 9% drop in three years. Between 2015 and 2016, 300 to 800 prison officers were recruited in each quarter, but even that has failed to stem the shortfall. Moreover, we are dealing with an ageing prison population. It is important to look at new ideas for the support and rehabilitation of prisoners, but without the right staff numbers I think that that will be a tall task, if not impossible to achieve.
It is a privilege to follow Caroline Flint. She is a highly effective advocate for the causes in which she believes, and she was an outstanding Minister. I hope that when the Labour party comes to its senses, she will be restored to the Front-Bench position that she deserves.
Congratulations are also in order to the shadow Justice Secretary, Richard Burgon. It is important for us to have an opportunity to reflect on what is happening in our prisons. The hon. Gentleman has devoted his life to justice, as a distinguished trade union lawyer, and I am grateful to him for securing the debate. It was a pity, however, that while he understandably drew attention to concerns about what is happening on our prison estate, he did not put forward a single positive alternative proposition. The contrast between his speech and that of my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary was striking.
My right hon. Friend has been in office for less than 12 months, but during that time she has unveiled and advanced a series of reforms that I believe have the potential to transform our justice system more powerfully, for the good, than those of any of her predecessors for a generation. The fact that she dealt so skilfully with interventions, and also outlined—not just in policy detail, but with authority and humanity—what needs to be done, underlines how fortunate we are to have a genuine, passionate and humane reformer in such an important role.
It is right to pay tribute to those who work in our prisons, and I expect that nearly every speaker in the debate will do so. I always remember a visit that I made to HMP Manchester, formerly Strangeways prison, during which I talked to a prison officer who was working with the most refractory and difficult prisoners. I asked him why he had chosen deliberately to work with some of the offenders whose cases were the most complex and whose behaviour was the most threatening. He explained that he had been brought up in a part of Manchester that was afflicted by crime, with unique challenges, and that one of the things that he wanted to do was put something back by working with offenders to ensure that their lives were changed and that, as a result, people who had been nothing but trouble—people who had been liabilities to society, people who had brought misery and pain into the lives of others, people who were wasting their own lives—could be turned into assets, and we as a society could ensure that whatever talents they had, long buried in many cases, could at last be put to the service of the community.
I remember being inspired by the fact that this young man from a working-class background had decided that the greatest service he could give to the community that had raised him was to try to turn around the lives of others, and it is that spirit that animates nearly everyone who works in our prison system. Despite the occasional frustrations that I experienced in dealing with members of the Prison Officers Association when I was Justice Secretary, I was never for a moment anything other than grateful for their service, their commitment and their dedication. That is why I am particularly grateful to my right hon. Friend for the steps that she has taken to enhance the way in which the professionals who work in our prisons can do the right thing—not just the reform governors who are changing the way in which prisons work by exercising a greater degree of control and autonomy over the individual prisons that are their responsibility, but those who work on the front line in our wings, particularly, but not only, in our reform prisons, and who are being empowered to play a much more positive role in encouraging and securing rehabilitation.
I pay particular tribute to my right hon. Friend for an initiative that she has unveiled, Unlocked for graduates. As she pointed out, more than 350 undergraduates from some of our very best universities have now applied explicitly to work in prisons. Just as Teach First played a part in transforming the reputation of teaching, so this initiative is helping to recruit more people to our prisons. Alongside the work of Unlocked, the implementation of Sally Coates’s review of prison education is ensuring that those who are in custody finally receive a higher quality of education and the chance to transform their lives for the better. Moreover, the work of Charlie Taylor in reviewing youth justice is being followed up and implemented by my right hon. Friend. In so doing, they are making sure that those whose contact with the criminal justice system occurs relatively early in their lives, and who would otherwise be set on a course of criminality, are diverted from crime and assured of a productive future at the earliest possible stage.
I think we can all draw an important lesson from the experience of the youth justice system over recent years. It is the case that youth crime has fallen dramatically in the last few years, and that at the same time the number of young offenders in custody has fallen as well. It is not the case that in order to be tough on crime, we need to maintain the same number of individuals in custody as the number we currently have. There are smarter alternatives to incarceration that we need to contemplate. Let me be clear, however: there will always be some criminals for whom custody is the only appropriate answer, given the seriousness of their crimes and their capacity to reoffend. Sometimes society will be so outraged by particular crimes that incarceration is the only answer.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Some individuals become institutionalised by prison life, and many individuals, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pointed out, are in prison as a result of problems they acquired—mental health problems, substance abuse, or related issues—which mean that their behaviour is such that, for their own health and for society’s safety, they need for a time to be separated from society. But they should not be in prison; they should be receiving appropriate mental health care, because the custody and incarceration environment they face will only harm them and will do nothing either to heal them or make sure they become positive and contributing members of society.
One thing I would like to see—I know my right hon. Friend is looking closely at this—is the possibility of building on the experience of problem-solving courts, where those charged with sentencing offenders have the option, of course, of custody, but can also say to the offender that if they commit to undertake either an appropriate course of mental health care or to deal with their drug or alcohol addiction or to change their behaviour in a meaningful way, they have the opportunity to serve their sentence out of custody.
I also think that release on temporary licence is the right way to go. There should be the opportunity for people who have shown genuine redemption and a desire to commit to society to be released early under strict terms, so that they can reacquaint themselves with the world of work and learning. I know of one prisoner, C. J. Burge, who has been serving her sentence, after one horrendous mistake, in a women’s prison in Surrey, and who, as a result of the sensitive use of release on temporary licence has not only been able to act as a mentor to young offenders, to steer them away from a life of crime, but is now pursuing training to become a barrister in order to ensure that a life that she herself was responsible for harming can now be turned to good. I think all of us in this House can embrace that example and that path, and for that reason I support the amendment.
It is a pleasure to follow Michael Gove. He, like me, is one of a number of exes in the Chamber who have had responsibility for the prison service; we know how difficult it is to deal with these issues in the post of Secretary of State or prisons Minister.
The right hon. Gentleman made extremely important points about who we imprison, how we use imprisonment and how we use alternative sentences. Those points should be listened to. However, even he will recognise that there are many challenges in the current system. Judging from the current Secretary of State’s contribution, she knows that as well, as does the Labour Front-Bench spokesman, my hon. Friend Richard Burgon, who moved the motion. I speak today as a member of the Justice Committee, supported by Victoria Prentis, in the absence of our Chair, Robert Neill. I want to set out some of the challenges as we on the Justice Committee see them.
My right hon. Friend Caroline Flint told us some of the statistics, and the situation is extremely challenging. We have had six major incidents. We have also had an escape—such occurrences have been unusual over the past 13 to 14 years. Sadly, we have the very high level of 107 self- inflicted deaths, which is an increase of 13% over the previous year, and I expect that number to rise still further in the figures that will be announced tomorrow.
I do not want to interrupt my right hon. Friend’s flow, but he will be aware, as we all are, that on
I agree. I think the first question at yesterday’s Justice questions was about that very issue and the Secretary of State indicated that it is a priority for the Government. We do have a number of vulnerable people in prison, and the situation regarding those self-inflicted deaths, as well as the homicides that have occurred, is extremely difficult. As we have heard, there has been a 26% increase in reported incidents of self-harm and we have a massive 35% increase in hospital attendances. We also, sadly, have a massive 34% increase in the number of assaults on prison officers. There are also increases in attacks with bladed weapons, spitting and the use of blunt instrument, which means that the situation is very challenging.
I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State has to some extent made a U-turn on the staffing cuts put in place by her predecessors. She will know that it is a real challenge to achieve an increase of 4,000 posts over the next two years to get a net increase of 2,500 officers. I know that the Committee welcomes that on the whole, but we have seen a 26% cut in staffing numbers since 2010, so we will not be anywhere near getting back to the number of prisoner officers who were in post in May 2010. The Secretary of State needs to look at how we will achieve that.
That is not the only concern we have today, however, and, in the absence of the Chair, I want to highlight some of the things that we in the Justice Committee are currently considering. I hope that the prisons Minister will respond to these key issues. As a Labour MP, I would like to be in a position to be able to implement policies now, but Labour Members will not be able to do that for some years, so we need to offer strong scrutiny to what the Government are doing. That is the key thing for the Justice Committee in the next few weeks and months.
We have now established a prisons sub-committee to look at a range of issues to do with governor empowerment and the challenges faced by the Minister. I am pleased to share a role on that sub-committee with the hon. Member for Banbury. However, we are still a little short of some of the detail about the Government’s programme. It would be helpful for the Minister and the Government, not only in the winding-up speech but in the forthcoming debates, to look at putting the meat on the current extent of their activities so that we can judge what will be taking place in whatever time they have left in office.
We can talk about what the Opposition’s alternative policy would be, but the election could be almost three and a half years away, and the Government have a key role to play before then. We have heard today that governor empowerment will take place in April—just over two months’ time. One third of prison governors will be given greater power and autonomy, but I am genuinely not yet clear about how that will work in practice, what the benchmarks will be, how Ministers will monitor those governors, what the outcomes will be for those governors, and what freedoms they will have to make a difference. I am not sure that the speed of bringing in those changes has yet been thought through by the Government. As the Minister will know, six reform prisons were piloted only in the last six months, and we do not yet know the outcomes of those reforms. It is incumbent on the Minister to indicate the current outcomes for those six reform prisons.
I am not clear about the accountability either. I used to have the prisons Minister’s job, so I know that when something goes wrong in a prison, it will end up on the prisons Minister’s desk, and almost certainly on the front of the Daily Mail or The Sun. I am not clear about how accountability will work in relation to prison governors, so I would like some clarity today from the Minister about what a decision in a prison 200 miles from his office in the Ministry of Justice will mean for accountability when it ultimately lands on his desk.
I want some clarity today about what the commissioning process will be for prison governors. Do they have the skills and training to be able to commission services for employment, health or procurement? Those things have previously been done centrally. I am not sure whether all that local commissioning will mean that we will lose some of the Ministry’s economies of scale.
In a fractured, localised system, what is the role of the MOJ when setting out directions? I am not sure how governors will recruit local prison officers. I would welcome some clarification, on behalf of our Committee, as to whether terms and conditions of service, training and delivery will be devolved. Those issues go to the heart of the Government amendment, and to the heart of the work of the sub-committee, which will be looking at them on a cross-party basis in the near future.
“unleash competition between governors, prisons and probation and between prison, probation and the police. It is a competitive environment. There are pros and cons to that, but it is likely to drive up cost overall.”
We need some real vision and clarity from Ministers, not on the direction of travel—we know what that is—but on what the bones of that travel will be.
It is also important that we have an indication of what the performance measurements and league tables will look like. Ultimately, as the Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath and my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East have said, we are caring for people through the gate. Most prisoners will leave prison and return to society, and our duty as the state is to ensure that they return in a way that does not lead them to reoffend, and that they contribute positively to society. We need more facts and more direction from the Government.
It is a pleasure to follow Mr Hanson, another member of the club of exes. When I held the responsibilities that are now held by the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend Sam Gyimah, the right hon. Gentleman knew perfectly well which bits of the system were difficult to change, and I remember being regularly twitted by him about the impossibility of being able to transfer the necessary number of foreign national offenders out of the system. His regular interrogation on how we were doing on the numbers showed his expertise and understanding of the system. I am delighted with the work that he is doing on the Justice Committee and with his contribution to this debate. I hope that my reflections on the system, as another of the exes, will also make a positive contribution today.
I am delighted that my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey, is now the prisons Minister. In my experience, he has been open to talking to people with experience of the system, to getting ideas and to getting well across his brief. He is to be congratulated on that. He is lucky enough to be serving under the present Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, who has the qualities that my right hon. Friend Michael Gove had. My right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath and the current Lord Chancellor put policy back into the place where it had been left by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke, under whom I had the honour to serve. Richard Burgon said that the change of policy between 2012 and the arrival of my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath as Lord Chancellor had created significant difficulties for the prison service. I know that the policy during that period will have found some favour with my hon. Friend Philip Davies, but we are now dealing with the consequences.
The Prison Officers Association is not innocent in this matter. The priority for my right hon. Friend Chris Grayling was to deliver the savings targets that the Ministry of Justice had to meet, and they were significant. He was presented with a deal by the Prison Officers Association: if he ended the competition programme for the potential privatisation of prisons—a programme started by the Labour party—and the wings were left in the control of the public sector, the POA would agree to the establishment changes in the public sector bid to try to hold on to the management of Birmingham prison. Those involved savage cuts to the establishment. Indeed, the winning bid for HMP Birmingham by G4S involved about 150 more staff than the public sector bid.
The second round of cuts, which were put into the service after 2012-13 and implemented during the course of 2013-14, involved severe establishment reductions in the prison service, all in the public sector. My hon. Friend the Minister is now having to wrestle with the consequences of that. The Government have now woken up to those consequences and are putting 2,500 prison officers back into the establishment. I know that my hon. Friend Andrew Selous had to deal with the consequences of the previous policy when he was prisons Minister, and immensely difficult it was, too.
The message that I want to give to my hon. Friend the Minister involves the possible role of the private sector, and I want to try to win this argument across the House. The problem under my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell was the row with Serco and G4S over the management of the tagging contracts. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that, it resulted in those companies—the biggest suppliers of private sector services in the custodial system—not being considered for contracts. That meant that we lost a serious amount of competition; indeed, the whole competition programme was stopped.
Caroline Flint referred to Doncaster prison, which is run by Serco. When I went to see it as prisons Minister, it was a quite outstanding prison. Serco had engaged with the Department, and its contract to manage the prison incentivised it to deliver the necessary rehabilitation. There is no right or wrong answer on public or private sector involvement, but the big advantage of private sector prisons is that they are cheaper to run and cost the service less. The companies also invest heavily in leadership in those prisons. In my experience, the most innovative practices and regimes, particularly around rehabilitation and the management of offenders, were in the private sector. I know that the reforms in the White Paper will try to give some of those freedoms to the governors of public sector prisons, and I wish my hon. Friend the Minister all power to his elbow in achieving that.
There are two ways in which to get resources into the custodial estate, and that process has to be done in partnership with the private sector. First, we need to change and improve the estate, which means continuing the process of selling off the old prisons—they are expensive to run and often occupy expensive real estate—and building new ones. Those new prisons should be built and operated by the private sector. We can take the savings there. If the money is not available in the public sector budget just now, at least the private sector will give us the ability to deal with the funding over a prolonged period.
The former shadow spokeswoman asks about Oakwood prison. The cost of a place there was £13,000 a year, compared with an average cost of £22,000 per place in a more expensive prison.
I am pleased to follow Crispin Blunt, and I thank him for the interest he showed in the Durham prisons while he was prisons Minister. However, I profoundly disagree with his view that the privatisation of prisons is the answer to the problems that they are facing.
Like my right hon. Friend Caroline Flint, I have three prisons in my constituency: Durham prison, a community prison with about 1,000 prisoners; Frankland prison, a high security prison with more than 800 prisoners; and, more unusually, a women’s prison. There are not many of those in the country. I also have a youth offender institution. I am therefore in a pretty good position to have direct, first-hand knowledge of what is happening across all aspects of the prison estate, and the picture is not a good one.
Prison budgets have been reducing since 2010; they have been cut by almost a quarter since that time. Up to last year, savings of up to £900 million were made, with another £91 million of savings being requested from prisons this year. At the same time, the prison population has not really fallen, and most of the cuts have been to prison staff numbers. There has been a reduction of more than 6,000 since 2010. This has had an enormous impact on the ability of our prisons to run effectively. As we have heard this afternoon, welcome though it is that the Government are recruiting another 2,500 prison officers, it does not make up for the shortfall or the cuts since 2010. Of course, the Government will have to recruit many, many more than 2,500 to get back to the number of prison staff that we need.
What has been the impact on our prisons? Deaths in custody are up by 14%, self-harm is up by 21% and assaults are up by 13%, with assaults on staff up by 20% and serious assaults on staff up by 42%. I do not know about the prisons Minister, but that is not a record that I would want to stand up and defend. In such circumstances I would want to come to the House to say, “We recognise that there are real problems in our prisons, and these are the measures that we shall take as a matter of urgency to get our prisons back on track.”
A White Paper does not really cut it, so one of the things I want to hear from the prisons Minister in his winding-up speech is what he will do as a matter of urgency to tackle some of the problems facing our prisons. As I have only a minute for each of them, I will quickly run through what I think he needs to do.
Far too many women are inappropriately sent to prison, such as Low Newton women’s prison in my constituency. Some 52% of women in our prisons have children, and lots of those children end up going into care when their mother is inappropriately put in prison, often for quite short periods. I would like to see a clear Government strategy to deal with women prisoners and direct them to other forms of custody. I look forward to hearing the plan for women offenders that the prisons Minister and the Justice Secretary said they would come forward with later this year, particularly as it relates to cutting the prison estate so that more women are given sentences in the community or other types of custody, rather than being sent to prison.
At Durham, a community prison, the rate of recidivism is really high. Measures are needed to cut recidivism and, in particular, to continue investing in education, skills and work experience. We know from the monitoring reports and the inspections that not enough attention is paid to education and skills, and it is really difficult to maintain high levels of education when numbers are being cut. That is an area that the Government need to address.
In some respects, Frankland prison presents the biggest challenge to the Government. Its prisoners have very complex needs, and we know from the monitoring reports that it is crucial that the Government continue to resource, for example, the centre that aims to turn around violent behaviour in the prison population.
All those specialist services are at risk if prisons are not properly staffed and resourced. I want to hear what the Minister will do quickly to resource our prisons more effectively and to ensure that recidivism is reduced and that alternatives to prison and custody are adequately resourced for men and for women.
Before I bring in Gordon Henderson, I advise people that the time limit is going down to six minutes. We may have to review it again later.
It can be five minutes if you want some even better news.
It is great to follow Dr Blackman-Woods. Like her, and like Caroline Flint, I have three prisons in my constituency: Elmley, Standford Hill and Swaleside, which is mentioned in the Opposition motion. Combined, those three prisons house almost 3,000 inmates—one of the largest concentrations of prisoners in the country.
I start by paying tribute to the fantastic men and women who work in Sheppey’s prisons. They are dedicated, hard-working professionals, of whom I am immensely proud. They work in an extremely challenging environment, facing the threat of violence almost daily, with few complaints and great courage.
That threat of violence is growing for all sorts of reasons, some of which have been mentioned. Those reasons include: the increased use of drugs, which are smuggled into prisons, often by drones that deliver contraband direct to cells; the consumption of illicit alcohol; an increased gang culture in prisons; retribution for non-payment of debts; violence generated by the recovery of stolen contraband such as mobile phones; and frustration caused by a reduction in recreation time as a result of a shortage of prison officers. I am particularly concerned about that last factor because unless something is done soon to increase staffing levels in Sheppey’s prisons, all those other problems will simply get worse.
There is no denying that morale among prison staff is low, which is hardly surprising given the environment in which they have to work. The police are dealing with people all day, but many of those people are either victims of crime or people suspected of a crime but who turn out to be innocent. The people with whom prison officers have to deal day in, day out have all been found guilty of a crime, many of them violent crime.
If a police officer is attacked and injured, the perpetrators are rightly tracked down, prosecuted and, if found guilty, sent to prison for a lengthy sentence. However, if a prison officer is attacked by a prisoner, too often the only punishment meted out has been withdrawal of privileges. I believe that prison officers should be treated in exactly the same way as police officers. If a prisoner attacks a prison officer, or indeed another prisoner, that person should be tried and, if found guilty, given as harsh a sentence as if the crime had been committed outside prison. That sentence should then be added to the sentence that the prisoner is already serving.
We need a proper review of the working conditions and pay structure of prison officers, which might include a regionalisation of pay to recognise the higher cost of living in the south-east of England and the difficulties of attracting people into a job with so many challenges when better employment opportunities are available. I believe that the Government also need to re-examine their policy on prison officers’ retirement age. It is simply unfair that police officers and firefighters can retire at 60, whereas prison officers, whose work is just as physically demanding, are expected to work until they are 68.
My prison officers have a very difficult job, made worse by the ratio of frontline officers to inmates, which I will set out using information from the National Offender Management Service quarterly workforce bulletin. The key operational grades in public sector prisons are band 3 to 5 officers. According to the most recent available figures, on
First, we have to take into account the fact that at any one time about 20% of those officers are off work for one reason or another, such as sickness, court duties or holidays, which leaves a total of 14,400 officers. But, of course, those officers work only 37 hours a week, yet prisoners are incarcerated 24/7, which is 168 hours a week, so it takes 4.5 officers to provide continuous cover over a whole week. That means that at any one time there are just 3,200 band 3 to 5 officers on frontline duty in prisons in England and Wales. Each officer on duty has to look after 25 prisoners.
Finally, I will quickly address the Opposition motion. There is much in the motion with which I cannot disagree, not least because the facts it sets out are incontrovertible. Indeed, if the motion had finished on the word “overcrowded”, I would have been happy to support it. However, I am not happy with the remaining lines of the motion. Calling on the Government to,
“reduce overcrowding and improve safety while still ensuring that those people who should be in prison are in prison” is both illogical and nonsense. I will not be voting against the Labour motion, but I cannot support it.
It is a pleasure to follow such an informed and powerful speech by Gordon Henderson. I should declare that I am co-chair of the justice unions parliamentary group and the family court unions parliamentary group.
The Ministry of Justice cites three key objectives that underpin the operation of the Prison Service: to hold prisoners securely, to reduce the risk of prisoners reoffending and to provide
“safe and well-ordered establishments in which we treat prisoners humanely, decently and lawfully.”
Wales has four jails, housing 3,436 inmates—4% of the total prisoner population in the joint legal jurisdiction of England and Wales. On Monday, I visited HMP Berwyn, the brand-new prison in north Wales, which is due to open next month. With places for 2,106 men, this so-called “super-prison” will increase Wales’s capacity for housing prisoners by over 50%.
Plaid Cymru continues to have several concerns about the prison, especially the massive strain it will place on North Wales police, which is expected to face extra staffing costs of £147,000 a year as a direct result. At a time when the already underfunded police force is stretched, with limited resources and tight budgets, I must question why it is acceptable to expect a local force to foot the bill for a UK Government project. That super-prison is designed first and foremost to meet the needs of north-west England, not those of north Wales, yet the Government insist that North Wales police is responsible for covering the cost of policing that facility.
My reservations about this Government’s prisons policy should not be mistaken for any kind of criticism of the dedicated staff who work in the criminal justice system. I thank operational supervisor Peter Buffel, who was an excellent guide and advocate for the ethos of HMP Berwyn. I was struck by a strong sense that the staff—both experienced prison personnel and new recruits—were looking forward to contributing to a worthwhile social facility. Two prison officers were forthcoming in explaining that they had moved from posts at other prisons specifically because of the quality of the new-build estate at HMP Berwyn and the prison’s innovative, exciting offender management objectives. Those reasons are important. I am sure that we will be following the prison’s progress closely.
However, I ask the Minister once again to ensure that we have the correct staff in terms not only of experience and skill, but of language, because HMP Berwyn is in close proximity to some of the most Welsh-speaking regions in Wales. I want to give the Minister the opportunity to assure the House that appropriate provisions, including the hiring of Welsh-speaking staff, will be made to enable the prison to operate effectively bilingually. Will the Minister confirm that NOMS will work with HMP Berwyn to draw up an institution-specific Welsh language plan?
While Wales has the ability to set much of its own health and social policy, the criminal justice system is still dictated by Westminster, which of course prioritises the needs of England. If Wales is truly to help people reintegrate into society and to prevent reoffending, those powers must be devolved to the Welsh Assembly. I have a request: this Government are supposedly committed to decentralisation and if the Minister and the Secretary of State are committed to reducing reoffending, will they once again consider the devolution of the criminal justice system? At the very least, will the Minister respond to the Silk commission’s requests that a formal mechanism be established for Welsh Ministers to contribute to policy development on adult offender management, and that a feasibility study of the devolution of the prison and probation services is undertaken?
I want to confine my remarks to the subject of fixed-term recalls, which I wish were much more widely understood by the public and in this House. They represent one of the biggest outrages of our prison system, and yet hardly anyone knows anything about them. Most people believe that if someone is let out of prison early—whether halfway through their sentence, a quarter of the way through the sentence on a home detention curfew, or at some other point before they actually should be let out—and they reoffend or breach their licence conditions, they should at least go back to prison to serve the rest of their original sentence. Unfortunately, that is often not the case. In reality, the overwhelming majority of the public believe that offenders should serve the whole of the sentence that they were given by the courts in the first place. In a survey carried out by Lord Ashcroft, 82% of those asked thought that prisoners should serve the full prison sentence handed down by the court. That, for many, is not rocket science; it is just common sense.
Fixed-term recalls were introduced to reduce the pressure on prison places in 2008, and many people do not know about what is going on. A fixed-term recall is when the offender breaches their licence or reoffends and is returned to prison not for the rest of their prison term—not even for most of it—but for a mere 28 days. When fixed-term recalls were introduced, they excluded certain offenders. However, when my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke was Lord Chancellor, he relaxed the rules by way of a change to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 in a bid to reduce the prison population still further. As of
Fixed-term recalls do not happen just occasionally. They were given to 42% of all offenders who were recalled in both 2013 and 2014 and to 28% in 2015. That is an awful lot of people going back to prison for only 28 days instead of the rest of their sentence. Those 28-day recalls relate to sentences of one year or more, so we are talking about the most serious of offenders. Recalls of 14 days apply to shorter sentences, but they are a much more recent concept.
The more I investigated 28-day fixed-term recalls, and as more figures have been released, more disturbing things have become clear. In 2014, 7,486 prisoners were recalled for just 28 days. Of those, 3,166 had been charged with a further offence. That means that 3,166 people were charged with a further offence when they should have been in prison in the first place and then escaped serving the rest of their original sentence despite committing this further offence. The vast majority had 15 or more previous convictions. Burglary is the most common original offence for which a fixed-term recall is given for a breach or a further offence. Over half of all those given this pathetic slap on the wrist were people who had committed a very serious crime. They were also given to people convicted of manslaughter, attempted homicide, wounding, rape, and robbery.
Perhaps the icing on the cake in this whole sorry state of affairs is that, in 2015, 816 offenders were allowed more than one fixed-term recall on the same original sentence for another breach or offence. In just three years, 3,327 of the most serious offenders in our prisons were released from prison, breached their licence, were returned to prison for 28 days, released again, were returned to prison for just 28 days for a further breach of licence and then released again. That is a complete failure of policy and is completely indefensible. I raised fixed-term recalls in Justice questions yesterday, and the Minister’s reply about risk was very interesting, but this is a sad joke. As far as I am concerned, these people should not have been released early in the first place but, having been released, there should be no other option but for them to be returned to prison for breaching their licence, especially for reoffending, for the remainder of their original sentence at the very least.
Finally, the weak response to reoffending is becoming so well-known in the criminal community that some people are taking the chance of getting recalled knowing that the punishment is pathetic. It is like a 28-day, all-inclusive mini-break. Worse still, some prisoners who have been released deliberately try to get themselves back into prison to give themselves enough time to see how their criminal operation in prison is carrying on while they are out, knowing that they will only be there for 28 days. That has been confirmed in research by Manchester Metropolitan University, which stated that prisoners had reported being able to earn £3,000 in just 28 days by bringing in drugs. One prisoner said that
“everyone keeps going and coming back in on these recalls with more drugs.”
This is an absolute farce. The criminals are laughing all the way to the bank while nothing is being done to stop this nonsense. When will the Minister get a grip and end this fraud on the public?
It is a pleasure to follow a fellow member of the Justice Committee, Philip Davies. He has raised the issue of fixed-term recalls before, and I am sure that by the time the Minister responds to the debate, he will have got a grip on the matter and announced some changes that will satisfy the hon. Gentleman. If he does not, I am sure it will be raised again, not only in the Justice Committee but in the House.
In the short time available, I shall raise just one issue—foreign national prisoners. I agree wholeheartedly with what has been said by other right hon. and hon. Members about the crisis in our prisons. If we are thinking about having a club of ex-Ministers, I should say that I used to be a Minister in the Lord Chancellor’s Department, but at that time, responsibility for prisons lay with the Home Office, so I take no responsibility for what happened in the past. Perhaps a seminar of ex prisons Ministers, chaired by Guy Opperman, the author of that definitive book on prisons, could meet to come up with the solutions that all Members would like to see adopted to bring the crisis to an end.
To return to foreign national prisoners, I am delighted that the prisons Minister is chairing the taskforce, about which we want to hear more. It remains a mystery to me why 12% of our country’s prison population happens to be foreign national prisoners. Half that 12%—more than 4,000 prisoners—are from EU countries. Bearing in mind the fact that we will continue to be a member of the EU for the next two years, it is extraordinary that we have not been able to send back more foreign national prisoners from our prisons. After all, what is the point of undertaking negotiations and signing transfer agreements with EU colleagues if they are unable to take back their own citizens? It must be a priority for the Government to ensure that, in the two years available before Brexit, citizens from countries such as Poland and Romania, which are top of the list in terms of numbers, should be returned to their countries.
I was surprised to hear in the Select Committee the Minister’s chief officer, Michael Spurr, tell the House that more prisoners would have been sent back to Poland under the agreement had it not been for a mistake. I think he said that 130 should have been sent back but had not been. As the Minister and the House know, the derogation for Poland ended on
We have heard recently that, under the agreement with Albania, only 17 Albanian prisoners have been transferred from our prisons. It is not that we are against foreign national prisoners, we are just in favour of their being able to serve their sentences in their countries of origin. If that happens, it will reduce the prison population by 10,000 and save the taxpayer £169 million, so I very much hope that the Minister will give us some new information that will encourage the House to believe that this issue is being taken very seriously.
I declare an interest as a trustee of the Butler Trust, an organisation that seeks to improve the skills of prison officers throughout the country and share best practice. I have the pleasure to serve alongside P. J. McParlin, a very distinguished former chairman of the Prison Officers Association with whom I am proud to be a fellow trustee.
I am pleased that the Ministry of Justice has managed to secure the funding to recruit an extra 2,500 prison officers. I pay tribute to the work that prison officers do day in, day out. They are an outstanding group of public servants whose work is unfortunately not as well known and well appreciated as it should be. The moves towards more autonomous prisons with greater community links will help local communities to appreciate more fully the sterling work that prison officers do day in, day out.
On safety, I want us to ensure that prison officers are always supported as well as possible by good local police co-operation, so that when there are assaults on prison officers, the information can be passed on and the matter dealt with effectively. In my time as prisons Minister, I found that the co-operation between local police forces and prisons varied throughout the country. It needs to be uniformly good to provide the support that our prison officers deserve.
I am pleased that both Opposition and Government Members have spoken about reducing the numbers of foreign national offenders, which is important not only because the British taxpayer is paying, but because if we could reduce that 9,000 prisoners in our prisons, it would give us the headroom and flexibility to do rehabilitation better throughout our prisons. Both sides of the House are keen to see that, and it is very much the focus of the “Prison Safety and Reform” White Paper, which I was delighted to see published in November.
I am pleased that the Ministry of Justice is taking forward the Farmer review on prisoners’ families. Strong families are essential to strong communities throughout the country. They are engines of social mobility and matter very much for prisoners for lots of practical reasons. We know that if a prisoner’s relationship or marriage does not fall apart, they are more likely to have somewhere to live when they come out of prison and are more likely to get into work, so I strongly welcome the MOJ’s support for the Farmer review.
The continuing emphasis on education is excellent, and there is greater focus on testing and making sure that there is improvement.
On that point, there was an event in the House of Commons yesterday that was organised by the Cultural Learning Alliance, of which I should declare my sister is a member. The actress Fiona Shaw and artist Grayson Perry were here in Parliament to support the publication of their most recent research, which shows that young offenders who take part in arts activities are 18% less likely to reoffend. That is of huge benefit to the public purse and, of course, to the prisoners and their families. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is important that we invest in arts education in prisons?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising that issue. When there is clear evidence that arts education leads to reduced reoffending, we should absolutely support it.
One phrase that I never liked to hear when I went around prisons was that prisoners were being “taken to education”. Education should run across the whole prison: on the wings, in the landings and in prisoners’ cells. We need to have a whole-prison learning environment. I commend what is happening in Wandsworth prison, where the inspirational governor, Ian Bickers, has taken 50 prisoners with level 3 qualifications—he is paying them and has given them a uniform, and they can lose their job if they do not perform well—and getting them to work alongside those doing education in the prison to spread learning throughout the prison. That is an excellent initiative.
The focus in prisons on work and training that will lead to a job on release is absolutely right. I am really pleased that prison apprenticeships, which will carry on when prisoners move into the community, have been established well. We often hear namechecked the employers who do the right thing and take on ex-offenders—that play fair by everyone to reduce reoffending and keep everyone safe—but I have to tell the House that a number of employers, including several very well known national employers, do not take on ex-offenders as a matter of policy. I am not going to name and shame them today because I am in correspondence and dialogue with them, and I hope that quiet persuasion will lead to them doing the right thing. Nevertheless, just as we namecheck those who do well, I put those who do not do the right thing on notice that there will come a time when we will call them out and urge them to do better.
I was pleased to hear from the Secretary of State that in April she will be saying more about probation. We need high standards for probation. I pay tribute to our probation officers, as they are yet another very dedicated group of public servants. They need to work hand in glove with prison officers. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend Mr Gyimah, will make sure that that does happen. In particular, I want to see probation officers making sure that the emphasis on education and employment that is taking place in prison carries on during the probationary period—for example, that the focus on work continues and that the ex-offender is attending the local college. That will take us forward and is extremely important.
Like many Members today, I wish to pay tribute to the people who work in the Prison Service. They take on an incredibly difficult task and we are very grateful to them. What they do was brought home to me when I took up what my hon. Friend Stephen Pound said, in advance of it being made a challenge, about visiting a prison. I visited Nottingham prison, and I encourage others to do the same. Any MP who is voting in this debate but who has not been around a prison are doing so from a position of ignorance.
There was much in the Secretary of State’s rhetoric that I support. We all agree with much of what she said about the issues and challenges facing the Prison Service, but her vision of what is going on and the policies of this Government bear little relationship to prison officers’ actual experience.
Mr Clarke criticised the motion. Although we recognise that, of course, there are many more aspects to prison than those contained in the motion, it seems to me that there is little to disagree with in it.
Four of my friends were recently employed at Moorland prison in Doncaster. Two have been recently retired on medical grounds and one is off sick at the moment. This debate rightly refers to the overall reduction in prison officers, but what is not so much focused on is the deliberate strategy of replacing experienced prison officers with cheap replacements and people right at the start of their career. That is an extremely dangerous policy. My hon. Friend Richard Burgon spoke about private prisons, but such practice is also happening in the Government estate.
One of my friends who worked at Moorland recently left the service. He was assaulted three times in a six-month period—once very seriously indeed. On the first occasion, he was encouraged to phone the staff welfare hotline. The third time he phoned it, he was told that he had used the hotline too many times and, although he had been seriously assaulted, he was not allowed to take time to get any support.
Another friend in the service needs knee surgery, but he has had to cancel the operation because he believes that if he takes time off to get his knee repaired he will be sacked on capability grounds. He specifically asked me why experienced prison officers should feel too intimidated to get the medical treatment they need.
Another friend who worked in the service for 25 years left last year. He said that when he started at Moorland there were 12 prison officers to a landing containing 90 prisoners; now, just three prison officers are there. He said that three prison officers are adequate when things are quiet and everything is going okay, but it leaves them with little capacity to engage with prisoners and carry out rehabilitation work, as they want. When a prisoner takes a phone call at 7.55 am, telling him that his wife has left him or that his children have been taken away by social services, he needs support. Prison officers have to step in and do an incredibly important job. When those resources are not there—whether it be for a moment of crisis in a prisoner’s life, to prevent fights, or simply to support prisoners and advise them on what courses to take on their path to rehabilitation—a vital chance is lost to help a prisoner back on to the right path.
Prison officers no longer feel that their role, which is incredibly important in our society, is as fulfilling as it once was, and that should concern us all. When prisoners start to think that no one is interested in them, we see the violent episodes that have taken place recently. Not enough is being done to prevent reoffending.
Experienced prison officers are crucial to the development of new staff. Managers in prisons now are much less experienced than once they were. What chance do the new £19,000 prison apprentices have if they are put into overcrowded prisons with disillusioned and inexperienced prison officers and if the mentoring that would once have been available for new staff is no longer there? Are we just setting them up to fail?
I support the motion in the name of my right hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn, but I go further and say that, unless the Government recognise why the riots are happening, stop their deliberate attempt to chuck experienced officers out of the system to save money, and implement their strategy to retain experienced staff and see them as central to the success of the recruitment of the new generation of prison officers, not only will the problems continue to escalate but our prisons and our society will pay a very heavy price for that failure in years to come.
I hope that there are no lessons to be learned from the fact that mine is the first speech that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, have reduced to four minutes and that you forgot my name. I shall of course be editing my Christmas card list when I get back to the office.
It is a pleasure to follow Toby Perkins. I agree absolutely with him and with Stephen Pound that it should be a requirement of all of us who have prisons either in our constituency or close by to visit them so that we can see things on the ground.
I have Guys Marsh prison in my constituency, which I have visited on a number of occasions—so many in fact that some of the prisoners and I seem to be on first-name terms. I have seen the excellent work done with the prisoners by both the Prison Officers Association and the voluntary sector. I sat in on a training session by Cleansheet, which was delivered by one of my constituents, Jane Gould. It was all about preparing prisoners to get skills and a good CV to equip them for work. Working alongside that charity were a number of national businesses, reflecting on what my hon. Friend Andrew Selous has just said, which are very keen to take on ex-offenders when they have finished their sentences.
I am very glad that my hon. Friend mentioned volunteers. Does he agree that we should salute the work of the volunteers who go into our prisons across the country to work alongside prison officers?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend if for no other reason bar the fact that it says to those prisoners that society has not forgotten them and has not dismissed them out of hand, and that it still sees them as, potentially, a productive part of the community when they come back.
There are two things that I wish to talk about today and to which I hope the Minister will pay attention. The first is in very specific relation to Guys Marsh prison, which the Ministry of Justice team will know was in the media relatively recently and has had problems. I will, if I may, make a brief comment about the robustness of Carillion as the contractor. Contracts have two sides to that particular coin. The first is clearly on the company that is contracted to deliver the service to actually deliver that service. The other side of the coin is for the person who lets the contract to monitor it properly and to enforce what is required from it. I remain to be convinced that Carillion—certainly as far as it has performed in relation to Guys Marsh—is up to the job and that NOMS as the monitor of the contract has actually done the job it is required to do.
I do not take a “private sector good, public sector bad” view, or vice versa, but sometimes I do think that some of these companies that are contracted to do this very important work need to raise their game. I have spoken to the Minister about that, and I know that he and the Lord Chancellor are receptive to the case.
Yesterday, I was called at Justice questions to talk about recruitment—an issue that has dominated the debate today. In response to my question, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice replied that
“Guys Marsh has been made a priority prison, which means that the governor is getting extra resource, in addition to our national campaign effort, to recruit the staff he needs.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 620, c. 147.]
Of itself, that is excellent news. I thank the Minister for it. I welcome it, as does the governor, Paul Millett. As I pressed in my question—I make no apologies for pressing again today—having a prison in a rural area presents recruitment problems. The cost of our housing is high. Public transport is scarce. Our unemployment rate, luckily, is very low. We only have about 300 people on jobseeker’s allowance in North Dorset. In that recruitment drive, may I urge Ministers to ensure that there is flexibility and scope for innovation? That might be providing help for a new prison officer to buy a vehicle or motorbike so that they can get to and from the prison. It might be help with relocation or housing costs—some form of grant to help to pay a deposit, or a loan. Terms and conditions should be looked at. I appreciate that this is a sensitive matter, but I hope that the POA would support something such as that if the end game were to deliver more prison officers to rural prisons, thus making the regime and atmosphere much safer for staff.
I encourage the Minister to work far more closely with the Ministry of Defence. Blandford Camp is a few miles from the prison, and there are a number of military institutions in Wiltshire, which seems to be a fertile recruiting ground for new prison officers as we meet the challenge of staffing.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The prison system faces challenges, but the Government have taken enormous steps to address them. We have heard about some of them, and extra investment of £1.3 billion to reform and modernise the prison estate is front and centre in the White Paper that was published last October. None the less, the prison system faces challenges. I was taken with the comments of my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke that no one on either side of the House would deny that the Prison Service faces serious challenges. That is absolutely the case.
I welcome the White Paper, and I have mentioned the £1.3 billion to reform and modernise the prison estate, which I greatly welcome. I also welcome the fact that we are recruiting 2,500 frontline officers. I was pleased that the Lord Chancellor mentioned at the beginning of the debate the further commitment to fast-track 400 new prison officers into 10 of the most challenging prisons by the end of March. We are more than on track with that, and I think that she said that 389 appointments have been made under the scheme, which is excellent news.
In the remaining time, I want to discuss security, which concerns me. I have discussed it with Ministers in the past, and I am particularly concerned about the growing problem of drones being used to deliver drugs, contraband, mobile phones and various other things to prisoners. I have long held the view that, as a society, community and perhaps Government, we have not quite grasped the difficulties caused by drones. There has been an explosion in the number of people who own them. Quite apart from security matters in prisons, there have been awful cases of near-misses with aircraft, and we need to tackle that. We need to look at that very seriously when considering the problem of security in prisons. Practical measures have been taken, including basic things such as putting up netting to prevent things from being dropped. We need to look at that more carefully and at the issue of drones overall.
I am also concerned about the continuing challenge we face with the misuse of mobile phones. Mobile phones are being delivered to prisons using what I understand are increasingly ingenious methods—I do not use that word as praise, but merely to say that new ways are being found all the time to deliver mobile phones to prisons. We have to stop that, with practical, hard measures. The mobile phone industry has a responsibility as well, and it needs to do more technically to work with us and the prison authorities to ensure that that there are ways of blocking mobile phone signals.
More can be done. I know only too well as the MP for North Devon that many places do not have a mobile phone signal. That is unintentional, but I am sure that there is a technical solution. We can ask mobile operators to take responsibility and make sure that there are intentional blackspots to stop mobile phones getting into prisons.
I support the Government amendment, I praise the work that is being done, and I welcome the White Paper.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Peter Heaton-Jones. One of the most exciting parts of the speech made by the Secretary of State concerned the pilots on blocking mobile phones in prisons. Mobile phones increase the amount of organised crime that can be carried out on a daily basis in prisons, so it is critical that we deal with that. It is also a pleasure to follow a number of distinguished exes who have offered fantastic ideas. Aren’t we lucky that we do not have to recall them, as my hon. Friend Philip Davies would like us to believe, to benefit from the brilliance of their ideas to improve the serious problem of prison safety?
The Justice Committee published its report in May 2016, when we urged the Government, as Mr Hanson said, to act quickly on prison safety. It is clear from everything that has been said, not least by the Secretary of State, that the MOJ is bursting with ideas. The Justice Committee welcomes the White Paper. In due course, we will scrutinise, and probably welcome a great deal of, the police and crime Bill—we have been given some nuggets this afternoon. However, to do our job of holding the Department to account, we need adequate information.
I understand the Department’s frustration with Members who say that reducing prison numbers is an easy solution to its problems. My ideas about who to release—they are not, I stress, the Committee’s ideas, many of which have been mentioned—include IPP prisoners; foreign national prisoners, although we know that is not easy; and women prisoners and veterans, who have low reoffending rates. However, that is tinkering at the edges of the large prison population. If we cannot recruit—I accept that the Department is trying desperately hard to do so—will the Minister make a commitment at least to consider whether there should be a shift in the sentencing framework, as my right hon. Friend Michael Gove suggested, towards community-based alternatives? I would also ask the Minister to consider the fact that we desperately need more secure mental health beds so that we can screen prisoners immediately on reception and divert them to the best place. No one on the Justice Committee thinks that the prisons Minister has an easy job, and we welcome many of the reforms that the Government have recently set out, but we need the data so that we can do our job of holding him to account.
It is a pleasure to contribute to the debate. When I was first elected as a Member of Parliament, I remember being taken to a police station and seeing a room with 18 faces on the wall. The police officer said that when a large number of those people were on remand or in prison, crime went down, but that the opposite happened when they were not. I served as a magistrate in Westminster for six years. Although we had very strict guidelines, and we obviously listened carefully to the excellent probation officer before giving sentence, I was always aware that we would not know the outcome of the judgment that we were making.
A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit the Amber Foundation, which is a very worthwhile charity in Exeter—it has a number of sites—that works with ex-offenders to give them a pathway back to full citizenship. I want to use the time available to talk about the importance of education. Education and rehabilitation have to be the Department’s major focus, because unless we get this right, we will be in the awful cycle of putting people away and then releasing them, only to have them go back in again, which has a very poor impact on crime levels and on those individuals for the rest of their lives.
I hope that the Government will continue their ambition to give prison governors real autonomy so that programmes that are put in place will work for their institutions and can command authority to drive real change. We also need to be realistic about the complexity of reforming prison education. What incentives is the Minister considering to ensure that prisoners will choose to take part in educational and vocational programmes? I am pleased to hear about apprenticeships, but given that so many prisoners have learning difficulties and no formal education, will he allow them to have increased pay, time out of their cell or even early release in exceptional cases? We must contemplate radical policy options if we are to see a step change in this area.
What is the Department’s view of the balance between providing holistic education that is focused on developing potential, including in the arts as well as in basic literacy and numeracy, and vocational programmes that are focused on local labour market outcomes after prison? Will the Minister give local governors sufficient autonomy on that issue? We need to bear in mind that a very high proportion of prisoners have special educational needs and therefore need individual attention, which is expensive. What plans do the Government have to help with the recruitment of those with the specialist skills to work in what is a very challenging sector? I welcome the announcement on investment and increased resources, but let us be under no illusions about the complexity of the challenge. I hope that the Minister will give some detail when he responds to the debate.
I congratulate the Government on getting to grips with many of these issues and the original thinking that I am hearing from the Dispatch Box.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend John Glen. With the House’s permission, I will be very parochial and focus on Bedford prison, given that it is mentioned in the motion. I commend the Minister, because on the afternoon and evening of
I want to talk about accountability. One of the issues leading up to the problems at Bedford prison was that 72 recommendations for change and improvement had been made by the inspectorate, but only 12 had been enacted two years later. I have every confidence that the governor, who has recently returned to her position, will find remedies to those problems. However, as governors are given more accountability, how does the Minister think that they themselves will be held to account? Bedford prison has an excellent independent monitoring board. What will be the role of IMBs across the country with regard to accountability?
Prison officers have been mentioned frequently with regard both to numbers and to pay. Having spoken to a number of members of staff at Bedford prison anonymously after the disturbances, it is clear to me that two other issues ought to be addressed. First, this is not just about pay; it is also about the prestige of the profession. Many Members have paid strong compliments to the profession today. Too often prison officers are seen as the “nearly force”—they are not quite held in the same regard as the police. There are a number of things that the Minister could do on prestige as well as pay that could make a difference.
Prison officers also talked to me about the importance of experience. There has been a downgrading of the age range at which people can be brought into the prison officer corps, but that does have a knock-on effect for confidence and teamwork when people are put in very difficult situations.
Finally, given that last year was the 150th anniversary of the Howard League—it is named after a former high sheriff, John Howard—may I reinforce the comments that have been made about the attention that needs to be paid to suicides in prison? I will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about that. At its 150th anniversary, I said that the Howard League was the essential irritant to Governments on prison reform.
Having listened to the Opposition today, I have to say that, unfortunately, the Labour party has absolutely no positive suggestions. I expect the Minister to do much better in his contribution.
I start by paying tribute to all prison officers in this country, who do a fantastic, difficult and often dangerous job, and particularly to those at HMP Lewes in my constituency, which has seen disturbances in recent months and was put into special measures just before Christmas. I am not sure whether the shadow Minister has visited Lewes prison—I know that the prisons Minister has—but I encourage him to do so if he has not. Having visited the prison on a number of occasions, I know that one cannot fail to be moved by the dedication of the prison officers who work there so tirelessly.
I am disappointed by the Opposition’s motion—I note that no more Opposition Members wish to speak—because it fails to demonstrate any understanding of the issues facing prison officers day in, day out. This is not just about staffing levels. In Lewes prison, for example, there have been a number of vacancies for some time, but the prison has not been able to fill them. I take on board the point made by my hon. Friend Simon Hoare because it is hard to fill such vacancies in a rural constituency in the south-east of England. I welcome the Secretary of State’s moves towards local recruitment, whereby a governor can manage people leaving and have replacements ready at hand, as well as managing the skills mix and experience of their prison officers to make the transition much easier.
Lewes prison is difficult to manage because its old buildings make it difficult to see what is going on, particularly with reduced staff numbers. It is also a depressing prison inside—there is hardly any lighting—which makes it a tough place not only for inmates, but for the prison officers who work there day in, day out. The inmates are changing. While there are the usual faces who keep coming through the revolving door, there are also now sexual offenders. That type of prisoner was never there 10 or 15 years ago, so that has increased pressure on the prison officers and prisoners.
In the minute and a half remaining, I want to support what my hon. Friend John Glen said about the Opposition. Labour Members have not even touched on what motivates people to commit crime, and therefore enter prison, in the first place. We know that a quarter of prisoners have been in care at some point in their lives, that 59% of those entering prison are reoffenders who have been in prison before, and that about three quarters of prisoners have problems reading or writing.
I will not because there is so little time.
We absolutely have to deal with the way in which people enter prisons. I have talked to young people in Newhaven Foyer in my constituency, many of whom have come from the care sector. Many of them deliberately committed crime to get into prison, because they were not confident about getting housing or care, and many of their friends are in prison already. Until we address issues relating to life chances, the same people will be going through the prison system.
I know that the Ministry of Justice is not working in isolation. It is working with the children’s Minister, with the relevant Health Minister on mental health problems, and with the Housing Minister to deal with housing problems. That is why I am so disappointed with the Opposition motion, which fails to tackle any of the factors that contribute to prisoner numbers and shows no understanding of them at all.
It is a pleasure to follow my neighbour, my hon. Friend Maria Caulfield.
Last year Anjem Choudary, an extremist preacher and vocal supporter of the death cult Daesh, was jailed for five and a half years. Like many, I was pleased that justice had been served, but I was also deeply concerned about what influence he might have over his fellow inmates while serving his sentence. The impact that radical inmates can have on other prisoners should not be underestimated. Prisons have always had gangs, and this death cult is just another gang on the prison block.
I therefore firmly welcomed the measures introduced following the Acheson review—particularly the stronger vetting of prison chaplains and front-line staff, and the removal from the general prison population into specialist units of those spreading extreme, violent and corrosive views. I ask the Minister to do all he can to ensure that, once contained in those specialist units, extremists are not able to collaborate and further propagate their dangerous ideologies. I have long asked for tighter vetting for so-called faith leaders, and for all sermons and services to be conducted in English.
We hear of a reluctance among prison staff to challenge pernicious extremist views, particularly radical Islamic beliefs. Prisons must not be allowed to exist as breeding grounds for Wahhabism or Daesh, and it is vital that we continue to push for the appropriate training of prison staff in this area. I welcome the recruitment of more prison staff, but they must be properly equipped and deployed to combat extremism. I was shocked to read that inmates in Belmarsh and other prisons were found with publications containing extremist content. Surely the Minister will agree that that is an offence under terrorism legislation, and that penalties must therefore be served.
In addition, I ask the Minister to ensure that there is greater emphasis on the education of inmates who are identified as being at risk of radicalisation. There appears to be an important link between poor education, mental health issues and radicalisation. Education, from basic English to maths, must of course run in tandem with the pastoral and mental health support provided through the Prevent programme.
Beyond educational assessment, prisoners should be screened for radical beliefs on entry into prison to make sure that such beliefs are detected as soon as possible. That would mean that, from day one, prison staff were aware of those likely to pose risks. I would also suggest that prisons record inmates’ religious beliefs, if they have any, on entry and on exiting prison. That would throw up data on how many were converting to an alien faith or being forced to convert in prison to survive.
I am a member of the Home Affairs Committee, and we have investigated the rise of psychoactive substances. I am pleased that groundbreaking reforms have been introduced to tackle the use of legal highs in prison. In addition to those reforms, I ask the Minister to ensure that the link between mental health and drug use is not ignored, and I welcome the fact that prison governors will be given greater flexibility and autonomy in allocating mental health resources.
Finally, to turn our prisons into places of safety and reform, we must track the progress made by prisoners in combating addiction, and address the extremist prison gangs and the levels of religious conversions to Wahhabism and other violent, oppressive cults. We must also help our prisoners to gain the critical skills, and meet the basic educational requirements, that they need to get a job and function outside prison.
If I am honest, I am entering the debate with a certain amount of trepidation, for the simple reason that we seem to have a veritable cricket team of former prisons Ministers and, for that matter, lawyers who have been involved in this area.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Crispin Blunt, who came with me on a cricket tour to Jamaica, where we visited a very interesting prison. The work he did to make sure there will be a new prison there, so that we can, hopefully, transfer some of the Jamaican prisoners in this country back to Jamaica, was quite helpful.
I am not going to pretend for one moment that I have any prisons in my constituency. However, in the 1980s and 1990s, I worked as the Conservative party agent in Mitcham and Morden for the prisons Minister at the time—one Angela Rumbold—and I learned quite a bit. Indeed, I visited Wandsworth prison, where staff were trying to get Ronnie Biggs to go back. When I asked what was happening, they said that they had his clothes and that they wanted him to go back and collect the stuff in person, which, of course, he eventually did.
In my constituency, I have probably the busiest custody suite in the whole country, and that is the end we have to start from.
We need to make sure that three things happen. First, people must be able to read, write and add up. I commend the Government for producing a league table of prisons that are achieving that. That is very good news. Secondly, we must get people off drugs. The Government are obviously very aware of that issue. Thirdly, we must think about veterans. I represent a naval garrison city with a large and growing Royal Marine population. I pay tribute to Trevor Philpott, who runs an organisation called Veterans Change Partnership that is seeking to change the justice system so that we do not get veterans in it in the first place. I encourage the justice system to make greater use of people who have served in the military as magistrates. That would be incredibly helpful, because at least they have some idea of what happens—
I am sorry, but I will not give way because I am very short of time.
I am involved in an organisation called Forward Assist in which the shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, Mr Anderson, has also been very involved. When I served on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, we went to Washington, where we learned how veterans are dealt with in veteran treatment courts. I urge the Government examine at that in no uncertain terms, because it is vital that we get this right. We must also do something about mental health, where I ask the Government to look at better training for prison officers. Prison officers do a brilliantly good job. I have a lot of prison officers in my constituency who work just outside it in Dartmoor. I am really looking forward to visiting Exeter and Dartmoor prisons.
It is a pleasure to be able to close this debate, in which Members have spoken very eloquently and knowledgeably about the issues facing our prison system. Before I go into what they have said, I want to thank our prison officers, prison governors, and all those who work in the Prison Service. They face very great challenges every day of their lives, and we owe them a lot for the work that they do for us.
My right hon. Friend Caroline Flint, who has three prisons in her constituency, talked about the work that she achieved as a former Minister in trying to reduce the amount of violence in prisons. She comprehensively set out some of the failures of this Government. I am sorry if that disappoints Conservative Members but, as I will explain, there has been a failure to tackle some of the big issues facing our prisons.
My hon. Friend Dr Blackman-Woods, who also has three prisons in her constituency, said that the prisons budget had been cut by a quarter, with £900 million being taken away. That will obviously have an impact on how prisons are run and on their staff. She raised three issues that the Minister should be looking at. First, there are far too many women in prison, especially women with children, and there does not seem to be any clear strategy within the prison system to assist them or to deal with situations such as how children can visit their parents. That is reflected in the Ministry of Justice’s figures on suicides that have occurred in prison, which show that a much higher percentage of women have committed suicide and self-harm. My hon. Friend also talked about reoffending, and the education and training that would prevent it, as well as mental health issues and personality disorders. Funding for those services has been cut, and those things need to be addressed.
My hon. Friend Toby Perkins talked about the fact that many experienced staff have left the Prison Service and been replaced by inexperienced staff. It is well accepted that prison officers do far more than simply locking and unlocking the gates and taking prisoners in and out. They are often the only people prisoners will speak to. Prison officers act as mentors, advisers and family members, and they provide a sympathetic listening ear. It is not good enough to have inexperienced people taking over that work. I agree wholeheartedly with what Gordon Henderson said about the tremendous work that prison officers do. As he said, their terms and conditions should be looked at properly and put on the same footing as those of people who do other difficult and sensitive jobs, such as police officers. Prison officers should be remunerated properly.
Since the Government came into power in 2010, they have made massive cuts to the number of prison officers, and that is a big reason for some of the current prison issues. It is all very well for the Government to say that they are trying to do things; that is good, but they should never have cut the number of prison officers in the first place. If they had not made that false economy, we would not be in half the mess we are in now. I try not to be party political about this, but it was the wrong decision and it would be good if the Government accepted that. There is no harm in owning up to the fact that an error was made.
One suggestion for dealing with some of the prison problems was made by Crispin Blunt, the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Although I more or less agreed with him on international issues when I was a member of the Committee, I have to tell him that privatisation in prisons is not the answer. It has not been the answer for probation. The probation service used to have a four-star gold rating but it has gone downhill since the privatisation, and that has had some impact on the Prison Service.
The Foreign Affairs Committee’s loss is the Opposition Front-Bench team’s gain. Will the hon. Lady be explicit about the potential role of the private sector under Labour policy? Labour had a commercialisation strategy, and Labour opened up the competition for Birmingham prison in the first place. Is the Labour party saying that there is no role for the private sector in the delivery of justice in our country, simply on ideological grounds?
The Labour party also introduced IPP sentences, and I was not one of those who favoured that provision. I will touch on its impact on our prison system. The Secretary of State spoke about the fact that the Government are trying to deal with the issues caused by the remnants of the IPP regime. One problem is that people who have served their IPP sentence cannot get out of prison until they have done specific, designated training courses, but unfortunately there has been a lack of funding for those courses. The Government have to take responsibility for the fact that many thousands of people in that position have not been released from prison.
As I have said, this has been a very good and interesting debate. Many experienced people have spoken, including former Ministers and Secretaries of State. I think we can all agree that everyone is concerned about this issue. It is not a big vote winner or an issue that is often spoken about on the doorstep, but it is important because it shows what we stand for as a society. The one thing on which most people agree is that we have got problems, and there is a crisis in our prison system.
My right hon. Friend Mr Hanson, a former Minister, talked about some of the proposals in the White Paper that the Government have brought forward to deal with this issue. He set out all the shortcomings and all the questions that have not been answered. The White Paper seems to suggest that each prison will be run by its governor and then every problem will somehow be resolved. However, it does not provide answers to questions such as whether governors will have complete autonomy from the centre, and whether they will have enough money to be able to carry out everything they want to do. For example, if a prison governor thinks that 500 inmates require a two-month detoxification and rehabilitation programme, will he or she have the money to carry that out? It is all very well to say that governors can do such things, but where will the funding come from, or will they have an unlimited pot of money? How will people be recruited, and to whom will they be answerable? The White Paper raises a lot of questions that have not been answered, and it does not deal with the problems.
If the hon. Lady had been in the Chamber at the beginning of the debate, she would know that that question was asked by another Member; I think it was Philip Davies. On the first point, you are the Government—[Interruption]—and it is for you to deal with the crisis of the—[Interruption.]
Order. The hon. Lady will resume her seat while the Chair is standing. May I just remind her that there is a reason why we do not address people directly in the second person? It is because things can get very heated. The hon. Lady should address her remarks through the Chair.
I will take the hon. Lady’s lead and not be party political, but given the huge crisis that she is outlining to the House—her Front-Bench colleagues clearly share her view—will she explain why, on an Opposition day motion, Labour ran out of speakers and we did not?
The hon. Gentleman is trying to deflect attention from what the Government should have been doing for the past seven years.
As I was saying, about a quarter of all prisoners are held in overcrowded or unsuitable conditions. In the past 12 months, there have been 6,000 assaults on staff and 24,000 assaults on prisoners. There were also 105 self-inflicted deaths of prisoners, which is a record increase of 13% on the previous year. The levels of poor mental health and distress among prisoners are higher than those for the general public. The number of incidents of self-harm in prisons has increased by more than 25% in 2016 compared with the previous year. When we look at all the statistics provided by the Ministry of Justice, we can see that the number of incidents of self-harm has gone up and the number of assaults has gone up, and that deaths have occurred and suicides have happened. I am afraid to say that that is the responsibility of this Government because they have been in charge of prisons for the past seven years.
I echo Yasmin Qureshi in thanking our brave prison officers for the hard work they do and extend those thanks to the Prison Service’s Tornado officers, who have been active over the past few months and have done a splendid job.
This has been a well informed and, at times, lively debate. We heard one speaker from Plaid Cymru, five from the Labour Benches and 13 from the Government Benches. The Government Members included two former prisons Ministers and two former Justice Secretaries, which shows how seriously we take issues in our prisons and turning around people’s lives.
I will make some progress first.
The Government have owned up to the problem. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said from the moment she was appointed that the level of violence in prisons is too high and has acknowledged that staffing is part of the answer to that complex problem, which has developed over a long period of time. There is consensus across the House that something needs to be done about this problem. The difference between the Government and the Opposition is that in the 30 minutes for which the shadow Secretary of State spoke, as my right hon. Friend Michael Gove so eruditely put it, we did not get “a single positive alternative”. Listening to the shadow Secretary of State, I realised why one old wag referred to this House as the gasworks: his speech was full of hot air.
Our plan is very clear. In the immediate term, we are monitoring the situation and supporting governors to maintain order across the estate. In the longer term, we are tackling security threats, improving staffing levels and transforming the ways prison officers support and challenge prisoners. As part of that, we are looking at raising the prestige, status and role of prison officers. Those are not just words; they are backed by action, as was set out by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. There is a White Paper, new investment in staffing has been secured, and a prison and courts Bill, an employment strategy, a strategy to deal with women offenders and the probation service review are on the way. That is real action to tackle the serious problems in our prisons.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made it very clear that it is incredibly simplistic to say that the problems in our prisons are simply due to staffing. There is the rise of new psychoactive substances and old taboos in prisons have been broken. It used to be the case that prisoners never attacked a female prison officer. Now, we see that routinely on our wings. Our prisons have changed and to deal with that complex problem, we need a multifaceted set of answers. That is what this Government are delivering.
The Opposition made two principal points. The first was about overcrowding. However, we still do not know whether the Opposition agree with themselves, given Lady Chakrabarti’s view that we should reduce prison numbers to the tune of 45,000. Even on the issue of prison officers, when my hon. Friend Sir Edward Leigh challenged the shadow Secretary of State to commit to increasing prison officer numbers by 2,500, he could not make that commitment. At the end of an Opposition day debate, I am none the wiser about Labour’s solution to a problem it calls a crisis. It called the debate but has been unable to offer a solution.
In the brief time I have to sum up, I will pick up on some of the points made in the debate. Caroline Flint made a very good speech. On leadership, I agree that we want governors to stay put for longer. We also want to ensure that staffing is effective on the wings, and I totally agree that we do not want the 1:60 ratio she mentioned. The former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath, made a characteristically erudite and eloquent speech, and I agree on the need for smarter alternatives to incarceration. One way is to deal with problems before custody. He also mentioned problem-solving courts. That concept, which we are currently trialling, is one I am very hopeful about.
I commend the Government for taking action on some important issues. Does the Minister agree that the key to breaking the cycle of reoffending is tackling substance misuse not only in prisons but on discharge and release from prison, but that there is a problem with the fragmentation of substance misuse services in so many areas? I hope he will look at that as part of the excellent work in the White Paper.
The former prisons Minister, Mr Hanson, whom I always enjoy listening to, given his constructive approach, made several detailed and constructive points about governor empowerment, local recruitment and performance management. The Justice Select Committee has written asking for answers to some of these questions, and I will ensure that it gets a rapid response. In addition, I will offer a meeting to sit down with him and the prisons sub-committee to discuss the details of the White Paper.
On staffing, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State talked eloquently about our plans in the White Paper.
If the hon. Gentleman has been following the debate, he will know that we are down 6,000 prison officers but that we have also closed 18 prisons. As my hon. Friend Dr Poulter mentioned, in relation to drugs, this is a complex problem. The Government have committed to increasing the number of prison officers; today, the Opposition could not even match that. So I will take no lessons from them on what to do about staffing levels in our prisons.
My hon. Friend Gordon Henderson talked about attacks on prison officers. I completely agree with him. Prisoners who assault staff should feel the full force of the law—independent adjudicators can already impose additional days on prisoners. We are working with the Attorney General, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to ensure that offenders face swift justice and that we can provide better evidence to courts, and we are working with the judiciary to give them powers to impose consecutive, rather than concurrent, sentences for these crimes. It is in order to help protect prison officers that we are rolling out body-worn cameras across the estate.
Keith Vaz mentioned foreign national offenders. As he will have heard at the meeting of the Justice Committee yesterday, a record number of offenders were deported to their own countries last year, but there is still much work to do. A ministerial taskforce made up of Ministers from the MOJ, the Home Office, the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is looking at the levers in our relationships with these countries in order to deport people as quickly as possible.
In a debate called for by the Opposition, we have heard no positive alternative to the plans offered by the Government. I urge all Members to vote for a clear plan that the Government have put forward to deal with the challenging issues in our prisons that would also help us to turn people’s lives around.
Question put (
The House divided:
Ayes 196, Noes 289.
Question accordingly negatived.
Question put forthwith (
Question agreed to.
The Deputy Speaker declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to (
That this House welcomes the Government’s comprehensive proposals for major reform of the prison system set out in the White Paper; further welcomes plans for an extra 2,500 prison officers, to professionalise the prison service further and to attract new talent by recruiting prison officer apprentices, graduates and former armed service personnel; notes new security measures being introduced to tackle the illegal use of drones, phones and drugs which are undermining the stability of the prison system; welcomes the commitment to give governors in all prisons more powers and more responsibility to deliver reform whilst holding them to account for the progress prisoners make; and welcomes the Government’s proposals to set out for the first time the purpose of prisons in statute.