Prisons

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:51 pm on 24 October 2023.

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Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (International Trade), Shadow Minister (Justice) 2:51, 24 October 2023

I am new to this brief, but I do not believe that is the case.

If the Government considered this change in the past, why did they not introduce it back then? Did they think it was better to wait for a crisis? We should remember that this prison crisis—which has been looming for years—is having an impact every day on prison staff, inmates and the victims of crime. We still have prisoners having to use a bucket as a toilet in their cell. We have prisoners locked up for 22 hours a day, and prisons so understaffed that prison officers cannot even take prisoners to the library or to classrooms for education. Education is so essential to those prisoners’ rehabilitation, and for many of them, it is a condition of their eventual release. It is no wonder that the latest figures show that the reoffending rate has risen: it now stands at 25% for male former prisoners. That cycle of crime creates more victims.

I now turn to the detail of the order and its implementation. The policy will require significant input from the Home Office, along with the MOJ. As one prison governor has said,

“I expect it will require significant numbers of new Home Office staff for this initiative to be effective.”

We understand that the Home Office already faces huge problems with staffing, and I am sure I speak for many Members across the House when I say that I do not have complete faith—or even much faith at all—in the Home Office after the mess we have seen them make over the past year. Nor can I say I have much faith in the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, who always seems to be auditioning for the role of the next Leader of the Opposition.

We also know that this Government have talked a lot about foreign national offenders, but after 13 years of Conservative rule, the number of removals of FNOs has dropped by 40%. The Government will point to the impact of covid, but in 2022, the Government were removing around half the number of foreign national offenders that they were pre-covid. What are the Government doing differently this time? Whether they are removing foreign nationals with 12 or 18 months left of their sentence, the point remains that the Government still need to be able to remove offenders from the UK.

I am sure the Minister will have prepared lines about the Opposition and our approach, so I will give him advance notice that we do have a plan. Labour would create a returns unit to triage and fast-track the removal of those who have no right to be in the UK, including foreign national offenders. We will recruit an additional 1,000 Home Office caseworkers to tackle the drop in removals that we have seen since the Conservatives entered office in 2010.

Having looked at both the Government’s statement last week and the memorandum attached to this statutory instrument, I could not see any information about the estimated cost or the additional resources needed, including for any legal costs or challenges to deportation. The Government need to set out exactly how many more caseworkers are needed and how much this plan will cost the taxpayer. The prisons crisis is already costing taxpayers; for example, over £20 million is spent on using police cells for prisoners, and I suspect that number will rise. A running theme from last week’s announcement is the large hole in funding. In particular, the grossly overstretched probation service will be expected to pick up a lot of the pieces from the Government’s latest crisis.

I want to finish by speaking about victims, in the context of both this statutory instrument and the wider criminal justice system. As a party, we have been clear that we want a justice system that works for victims, protects them from crime and supports them. I have one question for the Minister: could foreign offenders who commit violent or sexual offences be freed to their home country up to 18 months early because of this change? Will he take this opportunity to reassure victims that that will not be allowed to happen? Victims of crime will be worried that perpetrators will be released early. Over the past month, I have heard from prison staff, probation officers, inspectors, non-governmental organisations and so many across the criminal justice system about just how much of a mess our prisons and wider justice system are in, and that is because of 13 years of Conservative misrule and mismanagement.