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I would like to begin by paying tribute to the work of the chief inspector, in particular in relation to Birmingham, and indeed his entire inspection team.
The situation in HMP Birmingham was simply unacceptable. It was shocking in terms of the levels of violence, in terms of the response to those levels of violence, in terms of the drugs, and in terms of basic decency. The situation in Birmingham has of course been of considerable concern for some time; I visited personally in the week before the inspector issued the report for that reason. The Secretary of State for Justice, the Lord Chancellor, also made a personal visit to Birmingham, and the chief executive of the Prison Service also visited Birmingham.
The reason for this is that over the last few weeks and months we have been increasingly concerned about G4S’s inability to turn around the situation. The steps we took were initially to issue a notice to improve, followed by a second notice to improve. I then held meetings with G4S in London at which it replaced its governor—who had been in place for 18 months—and brought in a new governor. It then brought in a new team; we came up with a new action plan and a new team was brought in by the Ministry to work alongside it.
Notwithstanding all the steps that Birmingham and G4S took over those months, the conclusion that we reluctantly reached in the week before the inspector published his urgent notification was that G4S would not be able on its own to turn around the significant problems of Birmingham. Therefore the decision was made to take the unprecedented step of the Government stepping in and taking over control. That means in effect three things. First, we have brought in a highly experienced governor from the public sector, Mr Paul Newton, who has taken over as the governor of the prison. Secondly, we have reduced the number of prisoners in Birmingham prison by 300, which has allowed us to take key cells out of operation and renovate them. Thirdly, we have brought in an additional 32 highly experienced public sector prison staff in order to support the team on the ground.
All of this will be done with no cost to the taxpayer, and I want to take this opportunity also to say that, notwithstanding the very significant problems at Birmingham, there are dedicated, serious professional staff on the ground who have been facing a very difficult situation. There have been real challenges around drugs and leadership. We are confident that, with Paul Newton and the new team and the reduction in numbers, we can stabilise that prison, address the drugs and the violence, and turn it around and restore the confidence to the team.
I anticipate that this could rapidly become a debate over the merits or otherwise of privatisation, and I am expecting that the shadow Secretary of State will almost certainly go in that direction. For what it is worth, we on this side of the House do not believe that this is primarily an ideological battle. The situation in Birmingham has been serious for some time. It was a Labour Secretary of State for Justice who initially decided to proceed with the privatisation of Birmingham in 2010, although it was a Conservative Secretary of State who finally let the contract. The company concerned, G4S, has clearly significantly failed in Birmingham, but at the same time, as hon. Members such as Mrs Moon can confirm, it is running an impressive prison in Parc and at Altcourse in Liverpool, which is performing well particularly in education and work, while Parc is doing well on family services. The BBC has just produced a very positive report on its performance at Oakwood as well.
So this is not primarily about the difference between the public and the private sector. Sadly, there have been significant challenges also within the public sector, at Nottingham prison, at Liverpool and at Exeter most recently. Indeed the chief inspector of prisons himself underlined that this is not primarily about public against private, but is about basic issues primarily around drugs, violence and management. We will be focusing on those three things above all through this step-in, and, as I have said, at no cost to the taxpayer.
I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question, and I thank the Minister for his reply. It is clear from the damning report into HMP Birmingham, as well as from the failings in the probation system, that the costly privatisation experiment in our justice system should be ended. Costs aside, one of the great failings of privatisation is that we in this House struggle to hold mega-corporations such as G4S to account. They use the cloak of commercial confidentiality until it is all too late, and then they need rescuing by the state. Despite that, I hope that we will get some straight answers to straight questions today.
Will the Ministry of Justice be imposing a financial penalty on G4S for its failures at HMP Birmingham? What additional funding will be provided to HMP Birmingham to remedy the current failings? Will any public funding be used to do that? If so, will this come from the current MOJ budget? Thirty additional officers are to be sent to Birmingham Prison. Will the Minister commit to giving all other failing prisons—including public prisons—the same percentage increase in staffing above current levels?
Why did the Government decide that HMP Birmingham would not be permanently returned to the public sector? Will the Minister today commit to an independent commission to look at the merits of doing so before handing the prison back to G4S? Will the Government now halt their plans to build new private prisons? If not, will the Minister at least rule out G4S bidding for them? And will the Government now commit to a wider independent review of the involvement of private companies in the justice system?
I thank the shadow Secretary of State for Justice for his questions. They are serious questions, and this was a serious failing in that prison. I shall try to answer them one by one. The financial cost to G4S of us stepping in will be very considerable. G4S already estimates that it is losing on this contract. It is to a great extent paid according to the number of prison places. Specifically, therefore, the removal of 300 prisoners from that prison will impose a direct financial penalty on G4S, which will be covered by G4S itself. I can also confirm that the entire cost of this step-in will be covered not by the taxpayer but by G4S, because we will withhold the payment we would normally make in line with the contract with G4S to cover those costs.
The shadow Secretary of State also asked whether we would put exactly 32 officers into the other challenged prisons. We are not in a position to specify the exact numbers, but the broad approach that we would take to Birmingham is the same as the approach that we would take to the other public sector prisons. That approach involves focusing first on the inflow of drugs into those prisons, through the use of intelligence disruption for organised criminal groups as well as through the use of scanners. We are putting nearly £6 million-worth of investment into drug interdiction and scanners.
Secondly, our approach involves focusing on basic decency, and nearly £30 million-worth of extra investment is going into living conditions in our prisons. Thirdly, there is a focus on education, and the Secretary of State’s education and employment strategy is central to this, giving prisoners purposeful activity within the prison walls and ensuring that they get jobs on release, thereby reducing reoffending and protecting the public.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly of all, we are focusing on supporting our hard-working prison officers with the right training in leadership and management skills. They are doing an incredibly tough job outside prison doors. They are facing unprecedented levels of challenges with the new psychoactive substances coming in, and we really need to support them. We are doing that through the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill introduced by Chris Bryant which will double the sentences for people who assault prison officers and other emergency workers. We are also doing it through additional training for prison officers before they go on the wings and supporting them through training as they continue.
The shadow Secretary of State asked about an independent commission. Respectfully, I would argue that we already understand very well what happened at Birmingham Prison, without the need for an additional independent report. The independent monitoring board has produced a full report on Birmingham Prison. The chief inspector of prisons has also produced a full report, and we have looked closely at Birmingham Prison over the past few weeks and months. Unfortunately, the story at Birmingham Prison is a relatively familiar one. It is about drugs, about violence and about management and training. There is no great secret there. The question of G4S bidding for future prison contracts is a hypothetical one, and no such contracts will be let for a number of years. However, we will of course, in accordance with all our rules, look seriously at the past record and performance of the companies involved, including G4S, before considering it for a tender.
The Minister and the Secretary of State are to be commended on their prompt action. The Minister should be commended on his swift involvement, and I thank him for contacting me, as the Chair of the Justice Committee, so quickly. Does he agree that no pattern emerges in the evidence to show that there is any distinction between the problems that arise in our prisons that relates to the public or private nature of their ownership and management? Two patterns do emerge, however. One is a consistent history of failure in our old Victorian local prisons, be they run by the public or private sector, and the second is a persistent failure by the Prison Service, whether acting directly or through contract, to act upon the recommendations of Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons—a litany that has been picked up by the chief inspector. What are the Government going to do to address those two clear patterns of failure?
I will take those two matters separately. As for responding to the inspector’s recommendations, we have changed—the Secretary of State for Justice has driven this through—how our management systems work to put the inspector’s recommendations and reports at the heart of the way we set objectives for the Prison Service. We had our own independent assessment under the previous system, but we expect the House to see that how we manage prisons much more closely reflects inspection reports in the future.
On the question of old Victorian buildings, there clearly is a pattern, but it is not an absolute pattern. There are old buildings, such as Stafford, that are well run, good prisons, and there are new prisons, such as Nottingham, that have managed to get themselves into trouble despite the new buildings. However, generally speaking, running an old Victorian prison adds to the problems, and we should ensure that our investment in 10,000 new places endeavours to remove the worst-affected prisons from our system.
It is clear that prisons in England and Wales are suffering from excessive budget pressures, inconsistent policy and a lack of direction. The Minister recently visited the prisons system in Scotland, and while prison staffing levels in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have fallen by around a third since 2010, in Scotland they have increased by 14%, and we have minimised cuts to our justice system, resulting in a 43-year crime low. Overcrowding has been addressed by the Scottish Government’s successful presumption against short-term custodial sentences, which has been increased today to 12 months in the Scottish Government’s programme for government. Having visited Scotland recently, will the Minister tell the House what lessons from the experience of successful prison reform in Scotland does he intend to apply to the system in England and Wales?
I genuinely pay tribute to some of the things that are happening in Scotland in relation to prisons, and I was privileged to visit HMP Perth, which is a good example of a busy, challenged local prison that is being run well. Prison officers in Scotland would also say that there have been significant cuts to their numbers since the early 2000s, and they, too, have had to make serious efficiency savings, which they have done well, and they are running good prisons.
We are watching closely what is happening on short sentences in Scotland. Like the Scottish Government, our priority is to protect the public, but the evidence on what could be done to reduce reoffending by not overusing short prison sentences inappropriately is a good lesson from Scotland from, which we wish to learn.
With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will first provide some information about my hon. Friend Shabana Mahmood. The prison is in her constituency, but she is unfortunately in a meeting and I am unsure whether she has received notice of this urgent question, so I apologise on her behalf that she is not here.
My question to the Minister is simple. He has made a huge commitment to clean up our prisons, but the real issues are with staff, training and allowing drugs and other things into prisons. Tackling all that will require resources, so how will he ensure that it happens?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that it is about staff. We now have 3,000 more prison officers than we had when we made the announcement, and having more staff will make a difference. The next stage is getting the training right, particularly the training for the band 5 and band 4 uniformed staff who are out there on the landings day in, day out. It is about getting the staff college right for governors, and it is also about making sure that, in places like our Newbold Revel training college, we have the right support for our prison officers. It is an amazing profession, but it needs support and training.
I agree with the Minister that this is not a debate about privatised versus publicly-run prisons; obviously it is about how we work to ensure that we do not have such trouble again. I echo what my hon. Friend Robert Neill, the Chairman of the Select Committee on Justice, said about the need to carry on the vision of reinvigorating the prison estate.
I also echo the Minister’s comments about education. The great opportunity in our prisons is to work with prisoners and to use, for example, culture and sport to give them opportunities. Prisons are often dealing with people who have mental health issues and, sometimes, a lack of education, and it has been shown that the arts and sport can do a great deal to help rehabilitate prisoners, as opposed to, say, penal servitude.
My right hon. Friend encourages me to reflect on our sport strategy, which is coming through. Broadly speaking, there is also the key point about how education changes lives. By changing lives and helping people to get employment when they leave prison, education reduces reoffending and protects the public. Stabilising our prisons and delivering high-quality education in prisons is good not just for prisoners but for the rest of society.
A month ago my constituent was beaten within an inch of his life at HMP Birmingham not once but twice, and not in a dark corner but in the full glare of a video that was then posted on social media. The chaos over which G4S presided at HMP Birmingham was dark, dangerous and violent. It is very hard to square a future in which this prison is returned to G4S with the level of investment and staffing that is needed to ensure it is a safe prison. Will the Minister reflect again on what the shadow Secretary of State said about the need for an independent commission to stand as a gateway, a test, before any decision is made to put this prison back into the private sector that so desperately failed the people of Birmingham?
That is a very shocking, very immediate illustration of just how horrifying what was happening at Birmingham was. The right hon. Gentleman is right that, when something like that happens, not only should we take back control from G4S but we should think very seriously before returning the prison to it. That is why, for exactly the reasons he raises, we are giving the House the assurance that we will be taking over for a minimum of six months—that is a minimum of six months —and we will be very tough and clear in the decisions we reach at the end of those six months on whether we believe the prison is stable enough to be handed back to G4S.
Following on from the previous question, does my hon. Friend agree that this debate is not about public or private management of prisons but is, in fact, about when it is appropriate for the Government to step in when prisons are failing? If I may say so, this debate is also about when it is appropriate for a Minister to take responsibility for the Prison Service, as I was pleased to read over the summer that he is willing to do.
Without getting dragged into an ideological discussion about public versus private, hopefully both sides of the House can agree that, if we are to have privatised systems, the best way for them to operate is by having the right degree of Government regulation and intervention when things go wrong. Whether we are talking about water, utilities or, indeed, prisons, we cannot have a system in which the Government do not have a clear grip. I hope stepping in at Birmingham demonstrates that the Government are prepared to do that when we reach this situation.
The Minister has rightly decided to solve the shocking problems at HMP Birmingham by reducing its prison population and increasing staff numbers. I congratulate him on this radical policy and on the huge brain power that must have gone into this ingenious solution. When will the rest of Britain’s crisis prisons benefit from more staff and reduced overcrowding?
The rebuke is taken; of course it is true that, as with any institution, it is easier to run this with more staff and fewer people. But the answer in practice is that we take this remedy to stabilise a prison that has reached a situation that Birmingham has reached. Once the prison is stabilised and functioning well, it is possible to run it with the full population. We can see that being done at Altcourse and Thameside, and at a busy, challenged local prison such as HMP Hull at the moment. But it is necessary to take these steps at Birmingham, and the right hon. Gentleman is right to say that it does not take a massive brain to work out that this is the first thing we need to do.
Again, this is a good challenge. It comes down to reasserting, in every way, both here in the House and through the management chain, that the governor is in charge, that we will give them the resources to get behind them and that we will support them in what they are doing. It is absolutely right to say that only with a properly empowered governor are we going to achieve that change.
The Minister suggested during the summer that if he does not achieve a reduction in drugs in prisons by next year he will resign. The letter to the Secretary of State from the chief inspector of prisons stated that the conditions at HMP Birmingham were among the worst that inspectors had ever seen, with many prisoners under the influence of drugs. In April, five prisoners died within the space of seven weeks—that was widely reported. Why did Ministers not intervene then in a prison that was clearly falling apart and not fit for purpose?
This is a good challenge. Birmingham was challenged, and we were focused on that situation. That is why we had put in notices to improve, why we had negotiated to bring in a new governor and why we had put in a new team. A judgment had to be made as to the point at which we decided that G4S did not have the capacity to turn things around on its own and we had to step in. I think we were correct in taking a number of steps before we formally stepped in, but the hon. Lady is absolutely right to challenge whether we could have done this a little earlier or a little later. That, in the end, was the judgment call we had to make.
How many prisons have triggered urgent notifications since the system was introduced at the end of last year? How does that number break down between privately managed prisons and those run by the public sector?
The inspector has clarified that so far this year the prisons that have triggered urgent notification have been Exeter and Nottingham, and that he would have triggered a UN on Liverpool. Birmingham is the fourth, so the answer is: three out of the four since the beginning of this year have been from the public sector.
The Minister has already made reference to the situation at Nottingham Prison, in my constituency. For at least the past year, it has been going through considerable challenges, not only with deaths in custody, but with endemic psychoactive substance misuse. Will he explain and put a timeline on the interventions that he is making and on when we will be able to see some improvements in performance?
The situation at Nottingham Prison has been very concerning, with deaths at the prison of particular concern. We now have a new governor; a very highly respected, professional governor has come in. Tom Wheatley, the previous governor, is moving on to another role. We would expect to see the beginning of a turnaround there within the next six months, with the things to look at in particular being the statistics on drugs and violence.
We have to be cognisant of that, but the Prison Service is a large system. We have more than 20,000 prison officers, so although moving 32 staff will challenge some of the prisons from which they are removed, this should be accommodated within our prisons system. We have a lot of other talented governors, and we remain confident that the need in Birmingham is greater than that at Swaleside. We will make sure that Paul Newton is replaced with a highly effective governor.
The fundamental factor that triggered the change at Birmingham was that in December 2016 one of the prison officers managed to lose their keys, which led to nearly 200 prisoners being unlocked and a riot in the prison. G4S had been improving the prison over the previous three years, but that event really knocked the bottom out of it. It had a devastating effect on morale, and as the hon. Lady implied, it led to a lot of experienced staff leaving the prison. Looking back over that period, we can see that, although the chief inspector of prisons and the Government had hoped that things were beginning to improve during 2017, that turned out in the end to be a false promise, and we are still recovering from the blow of that December 2016 event.
I have huge confidence in my hon. Friend the Minister, but I do not have confidence that the prison officers that the Government employ will stay on. The facts speak for themselves. I agree entirely with Chris Bryant; many of my local prison officers, along with, I am sure, many across the prison estate, are concerned that the proper discipline, protection and all the other things are not in place to look after them. Will my hon. Friend assure the House that he will look into the matter and make sure that if, for example, a prison officer is assaulted, the assaulter is jailed for a much longer period?
That is absolutely the right challenge. Chris Bryant has introduced a private Member’s Bill that will double the maximum sentence available for assaulting prison officers. But it is not enough just to double the maximum sentence. We need to make sure that the police and the Crown Prosecution Service work together to bring prosecutions forward. There are still today too many incidents of prison officers being assaulted. They are hard-working, serious and professional public servants with a very challenging working life. We owe them a duty of care, and we must prosecute people who assault them.
Of course I fully agree with the points that have just been made, but I wish to ask about brain injury in Birmingham Prison. The work that has been done in Leeds Prison shows that there is a very high incidence of traumatic brain injury in the prison population, and the work done in a pilot in Cardiff Prison shows that we can make dramatic differences to reoffending if we screen everybody who comes on to the secure estate and provide full neuro-rehabilitation to those who require it. Will that be available in Her Majesty’s prison in Birmingham?
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s work on this issue. In fact, I would like to offer to sit down with him immediately to discuss the findings he mentioned and how we can apply them to Birmingham Prison.
Like Birmingham Prison, the prison in Chelmsford has some ancient Victorian wings and the staff numbers had become very low, but those numbers have now increased. Does my hon. Friend agree that new staff need support in the form of training, ongoing mentoring and tutoring? Will he ensure that they get that support?
Absolutely. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has made seven visits to Chelmsford Prison and has worked closely with the acting governor there on the steps that are being taken to turn it around. [Interruption.] I hasten to add that she made those visits as a visitor. The key point that she raises is the one on mentoring, particularly the role that more experienced prison officers at band 4 can play in providing the day-to-day model for and partnership with the staff on the ground, to teach them the jail craft that is essential for everybody’s safety, and ultimately for turning around lives.
It is clear that drugs have played a significant role in the problems in Birmingham; similarly, drugs have played a significant role in the challenges in Nottingham Prison, and I suspect across the prison estate. What is the Minister’s latest assessment of the use of body scanners, and what is the latest legal advice he has been given about how widely they can be used?
There have been historical challenges with the use of body scanners. We have now gone through the legal advice very carefully, and I am clear that they can be and ought to be used much more frequently, so we have invested almost £6 million in additional scanning. That will allow us to detect, as we already do at Belmarsh, drugs carried by people inside their body, as well as drugs carried on their person. That will go along with the new scanners that we are bringing in to detect mail infused with Spice and all the work that we are doing to combat drones and other ways of getting drugs into prison. Protective security measures must work alongside demand reduction and therapy, but without protective security we cannot get on top of the drugs epidemic.
Violent offences are committed in prison. If drugs are peddled in prison, appropriate punishment needs to be meted out to those who are responsible and the ringleaders removed. If the Minister will not bring back hard labour, will he at least look at the punishment regime so that prison officers and inmates who obey the rules can regard prison as a safe place to be, because at the moment it sounds to me as though the Government are losing control?
This is a very good challenge. There are two fundamental issues. One is the nature of the punishment that we impose. Somebody who is dealing drugs in prison is committing a criminal offence, so we would expect that person to proceed to court and receive extra days, or extra years, of sentence for importing drugs into a prison—that should be a consecutive, not concurrent, sentence. The second and most important issue is consistency. We need to ensure that any punishments that are inflicted are predictable and consistent, and we need not only to do that with drugs, but to challenge low-level disruptive behaviour consistently if we are to turn around the culture in our most troubled prisons.
Given that the Minister has accepted that, in the short-term at least, increasing the number of staff and cutting the number of prisoners is a way to stabilise the situation, will he make sure that if he does hand this prison back to G4S, which I do not think that he should do, that it does not then immediately cut the staffing levels again, because that is how it makes its money?
That is a very good point. If the prison is stabilised as a result of this action, we need to make sure that the plan that takes it forward respects those ratios and that, if those ratios are reduced, it is done on an evidence base. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to point to the danger of doing that suddenly after the takeover.
I thank my hon. Friend very much for his question. It is of course true that we have evidence that shows clearly that there is a higher incidence of reoffending from people in short prison sentences than from people who serve community sentences. That is why the example from the Government of Scotland is very relevant. The best way to protect the public is by reducing reoffending. Putting people unnecessarily into prison in a way that damages them, does not change their lives and leads to reoffending when they leave is not in the prisoners’ interests, is not in the public purse’s interest and, ultimately, is not in the interests of public safety.
Does my hon. Friend agree that tackling the problems in prison is important, but that it is very important to reduce the number of those ending up in prison? Recent data shows that two thirds of all young offenders have speech, language and communication disorders. Surely, if we can focus more on that in the early years, we can reduce the number of young people ever finding their way to prison.
That is absolutely right. A lot of people who are offending and ending up in prison come from very difficult backgrounds. We have a situation at the moment in our prisons where nearly half our prisoners have been excluded from school at some time compared with only 2% of the general population. We have a situation where almost 40% of the people in prison currently have a reading age of under 11 and a very significant number have a reading age of under six. Addressing those problems in early years is vital if we are to reduce offending.
I say very respectfully that the chief inspector of prisons argues that the steepest increase in violence has taken place at Exeter Prison, which, sadly, is a public sector prison. Yes, it is true that we have very significant problems in Birmingham, which is a private prison, but we also have significant problems in Exeter, which is a public prison. The driver of this issue is not public against private; it is drugs, violence and, ultimately, the management leadership culture and the support for the staff on the ground. These problems can happen whatever the particular model.
I understand that Altcourse Prison, to which the Minister referred, was inspected in November 2017. In the report published in March this year, the chief inspector of prisons described an excellent staff culture and said that almost all interactions between staff and inmates were positive. Does this show that the private sector does have a role to play in running prisons?
Altcourse Prison is a G4S prison; it is run by the same company that is being criticised in Birmingham. As my hon. Friend has pointed out, that prison—as I saw directly—has incredibly good education facilities and workshops, and it had a good inspection report. It is showing how to run a safe, clean and orderly regime that is genuinely changing lives, and how to do so through the private sector.
May I pay tribute to the way in which my hon. Friend is handling this very difficult and sensitive matter? The tendering process is critical wherever the private sector is involved in the provision of public services. Will he ensure that anyone bidding in any future tenders for prisons, including this one, will have to show that they have the capacity to avoid losing control of the prisons in their charge?
This is a fundamental challenge, and of course it is central to anything that happens when the Government work with the private sector. We must make sure that the tender process ensures that the people bidding for any of these contracts have the credibility, legitimacy and capacity to run the contracts effectively.
If the point of order relates to these exchanges, let us hear it.
I am very grateful, Mr Speaker. The Minister and several other Members referred to my private Member’s Bill, which might help with some of these matters. It has completed its passage through the House of Commons and through the House of Lords. I just wondered whether you have any means of ensuring that it receives Royal Assent as soon as possible.
I think that the prognosis is positive and the hon. Gentleman may be satisfied erelong, but I say that with caution because he is not easily satisfied and, even if satisfied, is not necessarily satisfied for long.
It is not necessary for the hon. Gentleman to give the impression that he is hailing a taxi, but I am happy to take his point of order.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Over the recess, the number of people killed, stabbed and murdered on the streets of London this year reached 100. That figure has already surpassed the years of 2012, 2013 and 2014. I have received emails from constituents asking me what I will be doing to reduce that number or to prevent further deaths. As you know, Mr Speaker, the Mayor of London is responsible for the crime strategy for London. Would you advise me how I can hold the Mayor of London to account, because his crime strategy simply is not working?
What I would say to the hon. Gentleman, who I know would not seek to entice me in a political controversy, is that it is open to him both to question Ministers in relation to policy and, through the Committees of the House, to undertake such inquiries and seek to secure the attendance of such witnesses as will provide evidence that the hon. Gentleman can then use. I feel sure that he will use it always and only in the public interest.