My Lords, the prison budget for the next three years has not yet been confirmed but, given the CSR settlement to the Ministry of Justice, all areas of the department will need to ensure that they use their budgets effectively. The ministry is reviewing options for prison budgets at the moment. The review of prisons by the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, will be a crucial input into those discussions.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that somewhat helpful reply. Does he accept that the prisons are already struggling to cope under the pressure of overcrowding? As reports by the Chief Inspector of Prisons show, the number of prisoners seems set to rise, and this larger number will have to be looked after with less money. It is suggested that "less money" will be of the order of cuts of 3 per cent per year. Does the Minister accept that, if that is the case, something has to go, and that that something will be purposeful activity, rehabilitation, visits and education work? Will he therefore tell the House what the reduction will be in the hours of purposeful activity per prisoner per week next year, compared with this year, if the 3 per cent cut that has been suggested goes ahead?
My Lords, the overall settlement for the Ministry of Justice certainly assumes that the department will be able to achieve a 3 per cent value-for-money saving. Clearly, however, there is a lot of work to be done to look at the implications of that for various aspects of the department's budget. So far as the pressures on the Prison Service are concerned, I do of course acknowledge that this is a very challenging time for the Prison Service. Many aspects of the budget are being discussed at the moment, but I assure noble Lords that the department will do its utmost to ensure that vital programmes in education and the prevention of reoffending are indeed maintained.
My Lords, how much will be saved from the treatment of young offenders under the age of 18 with mental health problems or learning disabilities by the purchase of batons to beat them with, and is the Minister not ashamed of that policy announced at the weekend?
My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, it is the policy of the Youth Justice Board and the Prison Service that batons are not carried in juvenile establishments. A review of the current policy is being undertaken to ensure that procedures remain appropriate, although the Youth Justice Board has not indicated any desire that this policy be changed at present. It would be better to await the outcome of the review.
My Lords, will my noble friend try his best to ensure that prison education facilities and programmes are not cut? Many of the young offenders can neither read nor write. If they are literate they have a better chance of getting a job, which is essential as 70 per cent of them reoffend.
My Lords, I completely agree with my noble friend. However, spending on offender learning has increased considerably, from £57 million in 2001-02 to £164 million in 2007-08. It remains a priority.
My Lords, I really think it might be my turn. The Minister will know from the reports of HM Chief Inspector of Prisons that prisoners quite commonly spend no fewer than 20 hours locked up in their cells at present and that throughout the Prison Service they can no longer count on having even one hour of exercise in the open air. Given that pressure on the budget must be reflected in manpower resources, how will the Government live up to the duty of humane care for prisoners in the future?
My Lords, it is fair to say that there has been an increase in the workforce available to the Prison Service. In achieving the budgetary settlement, it is important that everything is done to ensure that core services, including those referred to by the noble Lord, are maintained. That is why a programme of work has been undertaken to identify the less essential services or administration systems to help meet the overall achievement of the budget.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the acute congestion in custodial institutions is now of such a nature that no programme of new building will ever achieve the purpose of solving that problem? Will he grasp that nettle by setting up a deep-seated and comprehensive inquiry into the conundrum of why it is that the British community, which is reasonably law abiding, incarcerates more children, young people and adults per 100,000 than any other country in Europe?
My Lords, I do not agree entirely with the comments made by the noble Lord. The Government have announced an expansion in the number of prison places, which will take place over the next few years. Our prisons are full because more serious offenders have been caught and put in prison. At the same time, it is right that we also use community sentencing and put a lot of our focus into preventing reoffending. The Carter review, which is due for publication shortly, will examine a number of matters raised by noble Lords, and we will be able to have these important debates informed by the work of the noble Lord, Lord Carter.
My Lords, the noble Lord did not answer the incredibly important question which has just been asked. Why do we have in prison a much larger percentage of people than any other country in Europe other than the Turks? Prison has three purposes: retribution, deterrence and rehabilitation—of which by far the most important is rehabilitation. One person who is rehabilitated and does not go back to prison saves the country an enormous amount of money. Surely, the Government should concentrate on that.
My Lords, of course. We have seen a reduction in reoffending, which is why more resources are being put into programmes to encourage prisoners not to reoffend. Surely it is also right to point out that prisons have filled up because people convicted of serious and dangerous crimes have been put in prison for longer sentences. That is entirely justifiable and what the British public expect.