My Lords, I am very grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds for his intervention, reminding us of the important work that the faith sector does in this area, and to the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, for pointing out that at the heart of this system is a horrible cycle of reoffending that is costly in financial terms and in personal terms for those who have to suffer from the reoffenders’ work. So I congratulate Simon Fell MP and the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for bringing the Bill thus far with such impressive cross-party support—I always think that “Bird on bird” is worth listening to. I also congratulate, as did the noble Lord, Lord Bird, the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, NACRO, on the success of its campaign highlighting the problems of Friday release. One of my mentors in the criminal justice system was my colleague and noble friend Lord Dholakia, who cannot be here today but was for a long time the president of NACRO.
As a non-lawyer, I am a little surprised that we need an Act of Parliament to micromanage the handling of prisoners: perhaps the distinguished Minister can say. We are talking about amending an Act that is 60 years old. Perhaps it is a sign of how important we consider the restriction of freedom in our criminal justice system, but it does seem odd that we need the full panoply of an Act of Parliament in order to manage prisoners’ release. I share the plea of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for all of us to work for alternatives to prison: it is an extremely expensive and in many ways not effective and not cost-effective way of protecting society. I also share my noble friend Lady Bakewell’s worry about a system that is set up to fail.
I was seven years at the Ministry of Justice, both as Minister and as chair of the Youth Justice Board. I will detain the House only a short time with just two things that struck me during that time. First, just over 10 years ago I went to Birmingham to see the new public library being built. There was a scheme of ex-offenders being employed on its construction and I met a young man in his 30s who talked about his experience. He used the words that my noble friend Lord Thomas used. He said “Lord McNally, you can’t imagine the shock when the prison doors shut behind you and you’re leaving prison. You don’t know where you’re going, you don’t know how you’re gonna make a living and you’ve got 40-odd quid in your pocket. It’s a very lonely place”. I think that that, sadly, is still going on.
The second thing is something else that has come through this debate, which is that there is another way. I was chair of the Youth Justice Board for three years and we see in the record of the Youth Justice Board, which is now coming up to its 25th anniversary, the attention of cross-disciplinary expertise in both diversion and resettlement which does bring results. We see in the report of Professor Rosie Meek of Royal Holloway College, University of London, the impact of sport on rehabilitation. I have some personal knowledge, because she is local, of a young lady called Jules Rowan, who gained qualifications in prison and then used them outside to help others meet the challenges of release. She now works with a fellow ex-inmate, Zak Addae-Kodua, on a programme of advice on national prison radio.
So, what I am basically saying is that there are other ways for society to go. Release on any day of the week should be part of a resettlement plan that offers the best hope of success. The mantra repeated to me time and again when I was at the MoJ was that, on release, prisoners need a place to live, a job and, if possible, a meaningful relationship, and if you could get those three things, you had the best ingredients for a successful non-offending future.
We are fortunate today that we have speakers on the Opposition and Government Front Benches with first-hand experience of where our prison system works and where it fails. In the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, we have someone with vast experience of the system from his long service has a magistrate. In the Minister, we have someone who has served in the criminal justice system at the highest levels of the judiciary and the Bar. So I pass this Bill, with confidence, into their hands. I also join with the noble Lord, Lord Bird, in his calls for a cross-party initiative to cut crime by having in place—both before and after release—breaks in the circle of offending that costs so much in human, social and financial terms. I support this Bill.