Female Offender Strategy: One Year On — [Joan Ryan in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 24th July 2019.

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Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Privileges 2:30 pm, 24th July 2019

WomenMATTA, which is my local women’s centre, has also spoken of the inadequacy of funding, which I will come on to, and of the complexity of the application procedures. As my hon. Friend rightly suggests, spending time on preparing the applications detracts from the good work that the centres could be doing in working directly with women offenders.

On 27 June, in a written ministerial statement, the Government set out progress to date. I am grateful to the Prison Reform Trust, which has produced a helpful and comprehensive matrix to track progress against the strategy. It is fair to say that both documents show a mixed picture, although I acknowledge that there has been some good progress. For example, we have recently had the Farmer report on maintaining family links, which makes many welcome suggestions. We have had changes in housing policy so that a tenancy can be maintained for up to six months while a mother is in prison. More police forces are developing and using trauma-informed approaches. Liaison and diversion schemes now cover 90% of forces in the country, and the ambition is to achieve 100% coverage next year.

I was very pleased to hear Mr Gauke, the last Lord Chancellor—and, if I may say so, a much-missed Lord Chancellor—speaking positively about his intention or wish to see a presumption against the imposition of short custodial sentences, as already applies in Scotland. However, as my hon. Friend Lilian Greenwood says, women’s centres still lack sustainable funding. Will the Minister say what has happened to the proceeds from the sale of Holloway Prison? That delivered some £80 million into the Treasury’s coffers, but only £5 million appears to have been released to go towards services for women.

It is welcome that the Government, in their strategy, called a halt to the building of new women’s prisons. Many of us had spent much time urging them to take exactly that step. But what evidence can the Minister show for the efficacy of residential women’s centres? Surely priority should be given to funding core women’s centre provision in the community. No prison has to wonder whether it will have the funding to exist after 2021, but that is the case for most women’s centres, with Lord Farmer himself describing their funding as “desperately precarious”.