Prisons

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:15 pm on 24 October 2023.

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Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 3:15, 24 October 2023

I am grateful for all the contributions to this SI debate, including from Ruth Cadbury, the former Home Secretary my right hon. Friend Priti Patel, my hon. Friends the Members for Poole (Sir Robert Syms) and for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), and my hon. and learned Friend Edward Timpson.

The Chair of the Justice Committee rightly spoke about the need to combine punishment and rehabilitation. Ultimately, the system is for public safety, and both those sides are incredibly important. He rightly said that we must use the system sensibly. He asked me specifically to confirm that this measure does not alter the minimum 50% of time in custody, and he is correct about that. On the point about Albania, we need to make all our prisoner transfer agreements work as effectively as possibly, and with Albania we have a particularly good partnership. It is a very innovative transfer agreement and I am sure there is further that we can go. I will write soon to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Eddisbury on the question he asked about women.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Witham rightly raised points about victims, and victims must always be at the heart of what we do. I confirm that the victim contact scheme applies in these cases, and I confirm again that the minimum proportion of time in custody also applies. It is not just that the sentence is longer; the proportion of time served will be longer, and it is important that we see that in the context of longer sentences. The average sentence in custody is now considerably longer than it was in 2010. Critically, the move for some of the worst offences from the automatic halfway release point to two thirds of the sentence interacts with this measure, and means that many people will be spending longer in prison than they would otherwise. Overall there is discretion not to remove someone, and that is exercised in certain cases.

The hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth rightly pointed out that the prison population has grown. She is correct about that. Last week a comprehensive plan was set out by my right hon. and learned Friend the Justice Secretary, which ensures that the worst offenders will stay in prison for longer, and that we also make best use of the capacity we have. The hon. Lady also talked about overcrowding, and I gently remind her that prison overcrowding is lower than it was at the time of the change of Government in 2010, and that there are 2,000 fewer people in overcrowded conditions in our prison population than there were when the Labour party was in government. I also gently ask: where are her Titans? If the Labour party’s build programme had taken place as planned, many of these things would not have come to pass.

The plan set out by my right hon. and learned Friend builds on what has already been achieved, first in the rapid increase in capacity that we have seen, with 5,000 places over the past year, and tougher sentences for the worst offenders, and also with the progress on rehabilitation and what has been done on drugs, employment and housing. That has resulted in the reoffending rate coming down. That is so important, because most crime is repeat crime, and when the reoffending rate comes down, overall crime comes down. That is exactly what we have seen.

The hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth asked why we have not done this before, and the answer is that we have, given the changes that we made in the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, including the stop-the-clock provisions, and the new prisoner transfer agreements, including the agreement that I alluded to with Albania. That combination of factors has seen an increase of 14% in the number of foreign national offenders removed recently, year-on-year.

The Criminal Justice Act 2003 (Removal of Prisoners for Deportation) Order 2023 will extend the benefits of the scheme by bringing forward the time from which a foreign national offender can be removed. This draft instrument is a critical part of the approach of the Ministry of Justice and Home Office to removing foreign national offenders from our prisons and our country. It will ensure that taxpayers’ money is best used to protect the public, and I therefore commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.