It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Thangam Debbonaire. The excellent speeches that have been made by Members on both sides of the House have shown how important justice is. It is, I believe, the cornerstone of democracy, and it needs to be respected and resourced as such. The current Transport Secretary clearly did not share that view when, as Justice Secretary, he accepted a 40% cut in the Justice budget at the start of the austerity regime.
Prisons have been reduced to places that brutalise offenders, and have become more like universities of crime. Her Majesty’s inspectorate has reported some of the most disturbing prison conditions that we have ever seen, conditions that have no place in an advanced nation in the 21st century. Prisoners are living in squalor. The inspectorate described conditions in the UK—one of the largest economies in the world—as squalid.
I recognise the improvements that were begun by the previous prisons Minister in the 10 Prisons project, but we as a Parliament and the Government need to take a long and concerted look at how those improvements can be replicated in the many prisons that have not benefited from the same focus. We also need to take a long and concerted look at whether privatisation of the prison system is really the appropriate approach. Will the private sector ever share best practice with its competitors, which may well be competing for one of the services that their opponents are providing? I do not think so.
Sadly, the Government’s policies are not limited to the prisons themselves, but extend to the probation service. Irreparable damage is being caused to that system by the breaking up and part-privatisation of the UK’s award-winning probation service, which is served by proud, professional probation officers who are committed to working to help to reintroduce people to society. Their careers have been smashed. The way in which professionals have been treated in our justice system is so unfair.
Owing to the actions of the previous Justice Secretary, one in five people who are released from prison have no fixed abode. The community Rehabilitation Company, the private sector provider, is issuing tents to people who are released from prison. Some are currently sleeping on 24-hour bus services, and some are even being directed to church graveyards. How can anyone look at the current prison and probation service and see anything other than crisis and failure?
We have new people in; the last prisons Minister was a good one and I am told we have a good one now and Secretary of State. I call on them to be brave; I call on the Government to respect justice as a cornerstone of democracy and to fund it as such. The whole of society benefits from a good justice system, yet at present it is being taken to its knees. I call on the current team to be brave and shout out for more resources and respect justice for what it is: a cornerstone of democracy.