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Offending Reduction

Volume 450: debated on Monday 23 October 2006

The criminal justice review, “Rebalancing the criminal justice system in favour of the law-abiding majority”, published in July this year, sets out how we will improve the effectiveness of the criminal justice system to cut crime and reduce reoffending. Our aim is to reduce reoffending by 10 per cent. by 2010 through rolling out a new system of managing offenders to protect the public, and helping ex-offenders to reintegrate successfully into society.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. There is strong evidence that children who run away from home or from care are targeted by predatory adults who are trying to groom them into criminal activity. Will he work with the Department for Education and Skills and with other agencies to ensure that those children have a safe place to go to and a safe person to talk to, and that they do not become perpetrators or victims of crime?

I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend, and I offer her, as chair of the all-party group on runaway children, my congratulations on the excellent work that the group does on this matter. She is quite right that we need to work with the DFES and across Government to ensure that we support young people. That is what we are trying to do with the introduction of systems, working with Education and Skills and other Departments, to ensure that we deliver for young people so that they feel safe and secure in their environment and that there is a friendly voice to speak to if they have any problems.

During my time with West Yorkshire police on the parliamentary police scheme this summer, local police officers in Keighley division told me that if the top 10 persistent offenders were in jail, they would cut crime by about 50 per cent. straight away, and that if the top 20 were in jail, they would cut it by more than 90 per cent. Does the Minister agree with that sentiment, and will he therefore ensure that those people serve their sentences in full and are not let out on licence?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on attending the police scheme in West Yorkshire, which I read about in our local newspaper just recently, but he has to speak to his Front Benchers, rather than to me. He talks about being tough on persistent offenders, and his Front Benchers have the opportunity to vote on that. He is right that it is important that dangerous and persistent offenders should be kept in prison—that is what we need to do—but we also have to manage the whole prison population. He needs to speak to his Front Benchers: they talk tough but vote soft.

During the summer, I was able to attend the pre-release fair at Parc prison in my Bridgend constituency. The fair brings together voluntary organisations, statutory organisations and local authorities to give advice, information and guidance on housing, jobs and benefits prior to release, in an effort to reduce reoffending. Sadly, the one organisation that did not attend is my local authority, which is a Conservative/Liberal Democrat organisation. Will the Minister join me in encouraging Bridgend county borough council to aid the work of that fair so that offenders can receive appropriate guidance?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her remarks, and there seems to be a consistent theme running through today’s Question Time in terms of Conservative and Liberal local authorities failing to be tough and failing to take the tough decisions. I pay tribute to her, because she is quite right that we need to get alliances together—whether they be faith groups, the voluntary sector or the business alliances—to work to reduce reoffending, which costs the economy a large amount of money. It is important that we get together, so I would encourage Bridgend county borough council to work with my hon. Friend to try to cut reoffending.

Two weeks ago, the Home Secretary claimed that the reoffending rate for home detention curfew was 4 per cent., and the Minister implied on Radio 4 that that was a massive improvement in reoffending rates from prison. Professor Sheila Bird, the vice-president of the Royal Statistical Society, said that

“the only thing that’s massive is the Minister’s misuse of statistics”.

When the Home Secretary quoted those statistics and the Minister talked about them, was he aware that a direct consequence of the scheme was that five people were killed by convicts on tag?

Anybody reoffending and any offence involving such reoffending has to be deeply regretted, but may I make it clear that I did not try to mislead anybody on the statistics, and nor did the Home Secretary? The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the reoffending statistics were over a two-year period—67 per cent., which I made clear in the interview. On home detention curfew, the reoffending rate is 4 per cent., and I am happy to discuss that—[Interruption.] Not over two years, and I made that point on the programme. The shadow Home Secretary has to answer on why he is against home detention curfews. Where would he find the money to pay for those people who would otherwise be in prison?

I hate to remind the Minister that Ministers are accountable to Parliament, not the other way round. He has already given us one confession, as it were, on reoffending rates. Now can we get a straight answer from him on prisons? In the nine years since his Government have been in power, reoffending by prisoners has increased from 58 to 67 per cent. That is the largest increase since records began. What is the reason for it?

What the shadow Home Secretary did not mention is that prison places and the capacity in prisons have increased—[Interruption.] It is all part of the equation, and the shadow Home Secretary picks figures to the benefit of his argument and does not give the whole picture. We must make sure that dangerous and persistent offenders are in prison, which is what we are doing. That is why we have increased prison capacity by 19,000 since 1997, with 8,000 places announced in July. We are serious about tackling reoffending, and it will be interesting to see whether the shadow Home Secretary supports us when we introduce the national offender management Bill. Will he try to tackle reoffending? [Hon. Members: “What are you doing?”] What we are doing is trying to tackle reoffending through various alliances, and tackling persistent and dangerous offenders by putting those people in prison and increasing prison capacity. We are also introducing the national offender management scheme. I hope that the Opposition will support us on that.

The feedback from my constituents in Milton Keynes is that neighbourhood policing is one of the most effective ways of reducing offending. Is the Minister aware that Milton Keynes council is cutting the number of community wardens from seven to four, and taking them out of neighbourhoods and putting them in civic offices? As Milton Keynes council is Liberal Democrat-controlled, does he think that there is a pattern?

When it comes down to the reality of doing something, the Government want to do it, whereas the Opposition are not bothered. That is a consistent theme.

The Minister will no doubt be aware of the Home Office’s statistics showing that violence in our prisons has risen sixfold since 1997, such that an incident of violence occurs in our prisons every 30 minutes. Does he agree that violence inside our prisons begets violence outside prisons, committed by those who reoffend on release?

What we must do is protect the public by making sure that sufficient prison places are available for the increase in the prison population. Clearly, I am concerned about violence in prisons, which is why we need to examine the nature of the prison population and what we can do—[Interruption.] It appears that the Liberals do not want to hear the answer, and just want to pursue a particular track. We are keen to make sure that we tackle reoffending through a variety of means and protect the public from dangerous and persistent offenders, and we will continue to do so.

To reduce drug-related crime, the Government introduced drug treatment and testing orders, but those were a failure because of a reoffending rate of more than 78 per cent. over two years, and because most of the orders were either breached or revoked. The Government have moved on from drug treatment and testing orders to drug rehabilitation requirements. What is different about those sentences from the earlier failed ones that gives the Minister confidence?

I am confident that more than 13,000 offenders are completing drug treatment in prison and in the community. We are considering anything that we can do to try to get people off drugs, because we know that those who take drugs are more likely to reoffend. The programmes are in place, and I am happy with what we are trying to achieve. Despite the capacity problems in prisons, we are trying to tackle drugs.