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Volume 461: debated on Tuesday 19 June 2007

20. What steps she is taking to increase the period of time that prisoners spend on purposeful activity. (143365)

Commissioners are continuing to strive for improvements in purposeful activity across the prison estate that are achievable with the resources provided.

May I invite the Minister to join me on a visit to Reading prison, where blue-chip private sector companies are running extensive training programmes to guarantee jobs for young offenders when they complete their sentences? The programmes have cut reoffending rates from 70 per cent. to less than 7 per cent., turning lives around. Should the Government not be following that private sector-driven example of best practice, rather than allowing reoffending to cost the taxpayer up to £12 billion a year? Is that not a better idea than letting burglars and drug addicts out of prison early?

The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to learn that I visited Reading jail very recently, and saw the excellent work going on there. As he says, it is important to tackle reoffending and to ensure that as many providers as possible are available, whether they come from the voluntary, the private, or indeed the public sector. I hope he will support the Offender Management Bill, which his party is opposing as it goes through its paces in the House of Lords.

In the context of, in particular, younger prisoners who are restrained from any kind of activity, may I ask what the thinking was behind the Government’s proposal to change the rules on restraint, and whether and when we shall hear a full statement on that important proposal?

I know that my hon. Friend has taken a close interest in this issue. A statement will be made shortly, but I can say now that the purpose of the Secure Training Centre (Amendment) Rules 2007 was to prevent ambiguity. The primary legislation was very clear. We listened to what the coroner had to say to us, and changed the rules accordingly.

Does the Minister agree that one of the major barriers to giving prisoners purposeful activity is the fact that the sentences served are often so short that by the time they have been assessed, there is no point in putting them on a programme? Will he assure us that he will end the Executive early release of prisoners, to ensure that more of them are given the excellent training described by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson)?

There is no Executive early release of prisoners. As the hon. Gentleman says, what we must do is cut reoffending, and we can do that by providing the right programmes to tackle it. The Prison Service is doing what it is doing and the probation service is doing whatever it can do, but reoffending rates are still far too high. One way of reducing them is through the Offender Management Bill, which the hon. Gentleman’s party is opposing.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating James Ewers and Pete Middleton, and all who took part in the Jail Guitar Doors campaign concert in Reading on Saturday? It raised more than £2,000 for the drug rehabilitation charity Turning Point, and to purchase musical instruments for some of the inmates of Reading young offenders institution.

I am happy to congratulate those who took part in the event, and wish the organisers well. Turning Point is doing a tremendous job in trying to tackle reoffending, particularly among young people. It is important for us to use every available tool to reach young people through music or the arts to try to stop them from reoffending, and we will continue to do that. I hope the whole House will support the programmes that we want to introduce.

Does the Minister not agree that although work and training, and the drugs-related programmes about which we have heard, are vital to stop criminals from reoffending, with the current overcrowding they are simply not available? If there is no purposeful activity and criminals are let out on to our streets with a “get out of jail free” card, will they not reoffend, committing crime after crime time after time?

Given the Chancellor’s refusal to fund the extra places that everyone knew were necessary for so many years, and given that the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson), said only the other day that there were no extra funds, did it not take some brass neck for the Chancellor to stand up today and offer money for new places? How much confidence can the public really have that he will keep them safe?

We will take no lessons from the Opposition on prison funding. We have built 20,000 places since 1997, and last year we announced that there would be a further 8,000 places. We must tackle reoffending. We all agree that end-to-end offender management is the way forward, to stop people going into prison so that we do not need so many prison places. Let me ask the hon. Gentleman a question: why does he oppose the Offender Management Bill? We will build more prison places, and the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn will make a statement shortly.