Offenders (Day of Release from Detention) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:53 am on 21 April 2023.

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Photo of Lord Bird Lord Bird Crossbench 11:53, 21 April 2023

My Lords, it is a great honour and pleasure for me to move that the Bill be read a second time. It is also quite moving because, when we deal with prisons, custodial sentences and wrongdoers, we often have an enormous divide, but what is so great about the Bill is that it has the blessing of the department, the Government and most of us—it unites us all. It is a very simple Bill. Simon Fell, whom I know and have worked with, is a very committed Conservative MP up in Barrow-in-Furness. He has done the heavy lifting on the Bill, backed up by Nacro, which I praise: it has been banging away for decades and, if we have been able to treat offenders better, that is often to do with Nacro’s work. I would love to say that.

The Bill is very simple; there is no complexity to it. Let us allow our governors to release people on a day that is not the worst day of the week: Friday—or Saturday or Sunday. One-third of people are currently released on that day, and it is possible that over 50% of them need to find some form of support—to go to the citizens advice bureau, to the local council, to the social security office or to look for accommodation—because a very large number of people still leave the custodial system with nowhere to go. What happens if someone has nowhere to go? From personal experience, I know that when you have nowhere to go and are homeless, you tend to get into trouble.

First, you arrest someone for a crime and then you take them before a court and spend a shedload of public money. If they are found guilty, they are put away for a period of time, costing hundreds of thousands of pounds on occasions, if it is a longer sentence. You spend all this and then what do you do? You spoil the ship for a ha’p’orth of tar. You let them out on a Friday and, as they have no family relationships and nowhere to go, they are lined up to fall down.

The Bill is really interesting to me. The greatest thing is that I say to myself, “If we can work cross-party and cross-Chamber, if we can bring in organisations such as Nacro to give us all the background we need, and if we can get committed MPs to lead this fight, why can’t we do this for so many other things?” Is it not wonderful that we can do so for this small thing, which involves an enormous amount of intelligence? If you have been away for two years and then end up with nowhere to go and no one to guide, lead and help you, as I say, you have a real problem. You might as well have thrown those two years, 18 months or three years away, and thrown away our tax money and opportunity to turn a ne’er-do-well—a naughty boy—into someone other than a naughty boy. Is it not extraordinary that we spend so much on keeping people in prison but do not help them very well with their exit?

I am pleased that there are some very good signs of the recovery of rehabilitation—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, and I discussed this. I know this because I have been working with a group of businesspeople in Brixton who go into the prison before the person leaves and try to recruit them for a job. I have recommended this company to a business which is deadly short of office workers and so on in Brixton and elsewhere in south London. Why do we not look at the pool of people leaving our prisons, who are leaving without a stain on their reputation because they co-operated in their own rejuvenation? These are the most wonderful things we can do, so I am really glad to bless this Bill. I am hopeful that we do not look at this as a one-off; I hope that it will lead to a renaissance. I will not ask noble Lords to vote for a renaissance in our relationship to justice, but would it not be wonderful if we could invest in those wonderful things—rejuvenation and helping people out of the sticky stuff?

After the most important part of my life inside, I left on a Saturday—at another time, I left on a Tuesday. What was so wonderful about leaving that custodial sentence was that I had somewhere to go: I had family, friends and a social background, and I even had the offer of a job. All those things made me; I am here because some cleverness was practised on me when I was inside in those good old days when life seemed a lot simpler and the size of the prison population was a third of what it is now. The magic of that thinking—of people, communities and the Church coming together—was absolutely marvellous. I am the product of some very clever thinking.

If we want to make this change, first let us sort out this Bill and then look again at why we waste so much money. We spend £3 billion a year on keeping people banged up. The police bill is enormous; I think it is up to £17 billion. If we were to spend more—I would say that we vote for another £1 billion; it is not a lot—then we would not have to spend it later on police cars, courts or supporting children whose family members have ended up in prison.

I will not go on any longer, because we are running out of time, but I thank noble Lords very much for the opportunity to speak on this very simple, clever, thoughtful, grown-up and real Bill. I beg to move.