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Prisons and Probation

Volume 491: debated on Monday 27 April 2009

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement on prisons and probation.

Let me begin by paying tribute to the 70,000 staff working in the services. Last Monday, the Minister responsible for prisons, my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson), issued a written ministerial statement about the serious disturbance that occurred at Ashwell prison, Rutland on Easter Saturday. Prison Service staff acted with exemplary skill and professionalism in dealing with the riot. I thank them sincerely, as I do officers of Leicestershire constabulary and other emergency services who so ably assisted. Prison Service and police investigations are now under way.

Investing in prison and probation services has been a key priority for this Administration. Prison places are up by nearly 25,000, to 85,000, with spending rising by a similar proportion. The probation case load has risen by 52 per cent. since 1997, but spending has increased by 70 per cent. in real terms. This is the first post-war Government to see a sustained reduction in crime—down 39 per cent. since 1997, with the chances of being a victim the lowest for a generation. There was a 23 per cent. fall in adult reoffending between 2000 and 2006.

Understandable concern has been expressed about the numbers of juveniles and women held in custody. There has, over the past year, been a reduction of 8 per cent. in the number of juveniles in jail, while the number of adult women prisoners has fallen by 3 per cent. over the same period. In response to my noble Friend Baroness Corston’s recommendations, I have committed £15.5 million over two years to help divert vulnerable women offenders from prison. We also want the Prison Service and the NHS better to deal with offenders with mental health problems. My noble friend Lord Bradley’s report on this will be published shortly.

My noble friend Lord Carter of Coles was asked in 2007 to consider how better to manage short and medium-term prison pressures. I published his report alongside an oral statement on 5 December 2007. Since the publication of Lord Carter’s report we have already provided an additional 3,500 prison places. Lord Carter recommended that net capacity should be brought up to 96,000 by 2014 and that 7,500 of these places should be created by the construction of three 2,500-place prison complexes, described as Titans. In June last year we launched a consultation on those proposals. I am most grateful to all those who responded. The Government’s response to the consultation is published today, along with the document “Capacity and Competition Policy for Prisons and Probation” and an economic impact assessment. Copies are available in the Vote Office and the House Library.

Once a prison is established in an area, almost without exception the local community becomes very supportive of it. A prison is a source of secure, well-paid employment and a focus for much highly creditable volunteering. The research evidence, which shows that prisons have no adverse effect on house prices or crime rates, is then borne out by experience, although proposals for new prisons can at first be controversial.

I did see merit in Lord Carter’s proposals for 2,500-place prisons, especially as they would have been complexes with four or five distinct and separate regimes, but most of those whom we consulted took a different view, and believed that the advantages were far outweighed by the disadvantages. Not the least of those of that view was Dame Anne Owers, Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons.

I have looked very carefully at everything that has been said and, in the light of the consultation, concluded that the right approach is to deliver the 7,500 places not through Titans but through five prisons holding 1,500 offenders, each divided into smaller units. We already operate successfully a number of prisons at or around that size.

We will leave that to one side for a moment.

The new prisons will be neither Victorian replicas nor large warehouses. They will be modern, purpose-built institutions for adult male prisoners only. They will be safe, secure and effective in helping prisoners deal with their offending and develop the work, education and life skills that they need to turn their lives around.

I can announce today that we are working to secure sites for the first two 1,500-place prisons at Beam Park West in the London borough of Barking and Dagenham, and at Runwell in the borough of Chelmsford in Essex. Both prisons will be privately built and run, and their construction and operation will sustain many hundreds of jobs. Prison capacity planning depends crucially on projections of future demand and judgments about the cost-effectiveness and appropriateness of replacing older places with new capacity. Those and other considerations are kept under constant review, and further decisions about sites and the removal of older provision will be announced in due course. However, in that context, I can tell the House that we will not be pursuing a prison on the Omega site in Warrington.

Work is already in hand to increase capacity by approximately 8,500 places over the next three years. It also remains my intention to withdraw the end-of-custody licence scheme as soon as safely possible. The expansion will include two new public prisons, Isis, adjacent to Belmarsh, and Coltishall, a former RAF base in Norfolk; and two new private prisons, Belmarsh West and Maghull. We are also expanding HMP Littlehey, near Huntingdon, to provide 480 places by early next year, as a quicker, more cost-effective option than buying and converting a prison ship.

At all times, but especially in today’s economic climate, we have a duty to ensure that prison and probation services work as efficiently and effectively as possible in the interests of the public. We are seeking to improve the efficiency of public sector prisons through reforms to work force structures for new uniformed staff and by reducing management costs. From today we will consult on the detail of those plans.

Nearly 90 per cent. of prison places are delivered directly by the public sector, but the private sector also plays an important part. The Government’s approach to competition was described in last November’s pre-Budget report and in last Wednesday’s Red Book.

I have already set out the situation for new-build prisons. Five existing prisons have previously been subject to competition. Of those, Manchester, Buckley Hall and Blakenhurst are run by the public sector, and Doncaster and Wolds are run by the private sector. Each will be subject to a new competition as their current contracts end. Blakenhurst now forms part of HMP Hewell, so we will put the Hewell cluster out to competition when the contract for Blakenhurst ends in August 2011. Two poorly performing public prisons will be market-tested this year—Birmingham and Wellingborough. Public, private and third-sector providers will all be invited to bid in respect of those market tests.

It is against a background of greatly increased real-terms budgets that the probation service is being asked to make some savings of low percentages this year and thereafter. Detailed analyses show that, historically, the work load and resources of probation areas have not necessarily been well matched—especially when measured against convictions, the key determinant of work load. So, we now seek to target resources better to match needs. We want to be clearer about the service that probation should deliver, to reduce administration costs and rigorously to manage contracts.

The probation trusts programme gives areas greater control over budgets and enables the private and third sectors to provide more services. If probation boards fail to become trusts, then from 2010 options will include amalgamation into existing trusts or being put to competition in the open market. Probation court services will remain with the public sector, as required by the Offender Management Act 2007. Probation areas are now also required to review their services against a national “best value” framework. If services fail to meet the standards necessary, areas must improve performance or use competition to identify alternative providers. As the first services to be reviewed in 2009, at least 25 per cent. of community payback and victim contact services will be subject to competition in this open market.

As I have already reminded the House, since 1997 we have provided nearly 25,000 places to accommodate the most serious, dangerous and persistent offenders; and we are committed to bringing the total number of places up to 96,000 by 2014—just five years away. Over the past decade, prison conditions have been transformed. As Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons has acknowledged, prisons today are more decent, more constructive and considerably more secure. They are places both of punishment and reform. The measures I have announced today for expanding and modernising the prison estate, and for the management of prisons and probation, will allow us to realise still further improvements to public protection and reoffending, with maximum benefit for the tax-paying public. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Justice Secretary for advance sight of his statement. I join him in paying tribute to the service and commitment of prison and probation staff, and police and emergency services, under such challenging conditions. May I therefore express my disappointment that once again he has trailed a major policy announcement in the weekend press, with the Government’s usual disdain for this House?

I should say at the outset that I welcome the Government’s U-turn on Titan prisons; giant warehouses are no good for reforming prisoners or for protecting the public. However, the Justice Secretary first announced Titans amid great fanfare in 2007. Why has it taken almost two years to work out what Opposition parties, the chief inspector of prisons, the voluntary sector and prison officers told him then? Is it because the Government ran out of money, or because the policy ran out of spin? The stark reality is that this U-turn is the nail in the coffin of a flawed approach to tackling crime.

Violent crime has nearly doubled under Labour, with Ministers advised to expect a further surge during this recession. The Justice Secretary has released more than 50,000 prisoners early, including 14 violent offenders every day, to grossly inadequate aftercare; and we have seen Ashwell prison virtually destroyed in a riot. Does he now at last accept that these systematic failures are the direct result of his Government failing both to provide enough prisons and to provide the right prison regime? Take prison numbers; more than half of prisons are overcrowded, and 70 per cent. of prisoners are in overcrowded cells; and on top of early release, dangerous offenders have been moved to open prisons to create space. We now face the possibility of serious unrest, with prisons bursting at the seams. Can he tell the House whether he received any warning from the Prison Service of the riot at Ashwell before it took place? Has he received any further warnings of possible unrest elsewhere?

The current crisis is a direct result of reckless neglect by Ministers. Many will suspect that the sudden conversion over Titans is really just cover to delay or dilute the Government’s pledge to provide the additional 15,000 places that we need, net, by 2014. Ministry of Justice officials advised only last year that 15 prisons would be needed to match the capacity otherwise provided by Titans, but the Justice Secretary is now proposing just five. Will these be mini-Titans, or is he reneging on his pledge to provide the extra places that we need within the timetable that his officials have said is necessary? We will look carefully at the particular sites that he now proposes. Can he explain what consultation process is under way for each site?

Then there are the costs. The Prison Service already faces a black hole of nearly £500 million. How will the Justice Secretary fund these proposals? He says that he intends to end early release. Well, he has said that before. When will it end, and does he recognise that nothing can make up for the failure to invest in the prison estate since he was first warned of the looming crisis more than a decade ago?

As I said, I welcome the abandonment of the Titan model in favour of smaller prisons, because we will never reform our prisons until we reform the poor regimes that are the direct result of overcrowding. However, these proposals are too little and too late. Can the Justice Secretary confirm that more than half of all prisoners now have serious drug addictions, but that fewer than 10 per cent. are on rehabilitation programmes? Can he confirm that vital programmes in work and skills have been shelved because of the overcrowding, and does he accept that far from a reduction in adult male reoffending from prison, as he claims, there has in fact been a rise in reoffending from 57 per cent. in 1996 to 65 per cent. in 2006, at which point the Government fiddled the figures rather than tackle the problem?

Turning to probation, the Justice Secretary has, I think, announced cuts. Will he tell the House how many probation areas will see a reduction in their budget, and can he guarantee that public safety will not be compromised? Amid the disinformation and bluster, two things are now crystal clear. The Government are papering over the cracks of a prison crisis that is entirely of their own making and, as the author of that failure, the Justice Secretary appears incapable of providing a credible solution.

Let me respond to the hon. and learned Gentleman’s points. First, on leaks, I can tell him—if he had been in my Department, this would have been visible and palpable to him—that I did not appreciate the leaks that took place. But the last party and the last individuals in the country to complain about leaks should be the Opposition and their Front Benchers. They actively encourage leaking, and they need to bear that in mind. They want a culture of leaking, in which people are not loyal to the Government of the day. [Interruption.] Well, that is what he sought, and as one sows, as the good book says, so shall one reap.

The hon. and learned Gentleman asked me why it has taken until now to alter the policy in respect of Titans—it has been altered, and I make no pretence that it has not been. Well, we had a consultation. Lord Carter of Coles was asked to produce a report, and he went away and produced it. I was attracted to his proposals; there was no dispute about that. I thought that large prisons, provided that they were divided into smaller units, would work and be cost-effective. On the face of it, the arithmetic was also very attractive. We had a consultation, and rather to my surprise there was overwhelming opposition to the proposals for very large prisons, not least because prisons had not been built on such a scale before. We had no experience of that, and experience abroad was, on the whole, not good. Yes, I did listen to people—I plead guilty to that. I have never had an ideological view in favour of 1,500 or 2,500-place prisons. I have a view in favour of prison expansion, but I happen to think that today’s proposals are the better way, and a number of prisons of the size that I have described already exist.

The hon. and learned Gentleman asked me about an advance warning about Ashwell. No, we received no warnings, and neither did anybody in the Prison Service, so far as I know. Nor have we received any warnings about any impending difficulties inside prisons, although he would not expect me to go into any detail if we had. Riots and serious disturbances take place from time to time in prisons, but since he was trying to imply that things had got worse since 1997, I shall say that actually they have got a lot better on almost every measure. There is 10 times the investment in drug treatment. I will send him explanations of this, but there are much better reoffending rates than ever before. After a temporary period when the prisons were under very serious pressure, they are no longer “bursting at the seams”. The number of escapes has gone right down, to zero last year, and touch wood and please God that may continue. That can be compared with the early 1990s, when there were four escapes a week—so many that private offices did not bother to tell their Ministers, as they were seen as routine. Prisons are safer.

On probation, we already told the probation services about some reductions in their budgets for the current year, but that budget was over their budget for last year. Since those services have underspent by getting on for £30 million, there will, in practice, be no cuts to budgets for this year.

The hon. and learned Gentleman may wriggle, but the Conservative Government established a measure, which they said was the best measure of crime rates—the British crime survey. The Conservatives admitted that, according to the British crime survey, crime had gone up by 50 per cent. between 1981 and 1997. According to the same measure—theirs—it has gone down by 39 per cent. since 1997. We are the first Government since the war to get crime down and we are proud of it.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, especially his commitment to dealing more sensitively than through the normal Prison Service with vulnerable women, and to addressing mental health issues. Far too many of our prisoners have a difficult background and end up with mental health issues.

I particularly want to ask my right hon. Friend about community payback. The public need to know that people who have offended are doing useful things in the community, and that that is one way in which we can begin to turn lives around, especially young offenders’ lives, so that they recognise not only the impact of their crime, but what they can give back. What proposals does he have to ensure that community payback genuinely works more effectively and that many more local people are properly involved?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for her approval of what I have said. It is important that the public are better informed and involved in community payback. That is why we have introduced the high visibility jackets, which have gone down very well throughout the country, as a senior officer in the Lancashire probation service told me in Blackburn on Saturday. Even in areas where there is a bit of resistance, the public now see the point. We want the public to make proposals for the use of community payback schemes. At a residents’ meeting—again in the blessed borough of Blackburn—on Friday, exactly that proposal came up, so the point is getting through.

I also thank the Secretary of State for early sight of his statement—and for the advance warning I gained by listening to him on the “Today” programme. I also welcome the announcement that the extravagant and much-derided Titan programme has been abandoned, but I do not welcome much of the rest of the statement. How is building five very big—dare I say Promethean?—prisons instead of three enormous Titan ones any sort of change of direction? Raising the prison population to 96,000 is inherently the wrong policy, even if the right hon. Gentleman has found a slightly cheaper way of doing it—although he failed to tell us precisely how much cheaper, and I will press him on that.

By linking the fall in crime with the rising prison population, the Secretary of State seems again to claim that prison works, but will he not admit that crime rates have been falling since the mid-1990s in almost the whole of the western world—except, it seems, Belgium—regardless of whether countries have used prison more? In relative terms, Britain is in the same place now in the international league table of crime as it was then—in the top two. In comparative terms, the Government’s prison expansion policy has made absolutely no difference to crime.

Does the Secretary of State not recognise that the current financial conditions mean that the country can no longer afford that sort of posturing? As the Prison Reform Trust pointed out, we already spend an astonishing 2.5 per cent. of our gross domestic product on criminal justice. We now need to concentrate all our resources ruthlessly on what works to prevent reoffending and to prevent crime. We know that short-term prison sentences do not work. Three quarters of all young offenders reoffend within a year.

Will the Justice Secretary now admit that his own Department produces briefings that clearly indicate what does work? For example, alcohol and drug treatment in the community both work. They work on the one hand to reduce violent crime and, on the other, to reduce acquisitive crime. We also know that restorative justice works to reduce both. He should be retargeting the overstretched probation and prison resource budgets on what works, not tinkering with the details of how probation and prison are delivered.

The country can no longer afford to waste resources on policies, the only objective of which seems to be to curry short-term favour with tabloid editors. We would not allow tabloid editors to decide what sort of treatments should be used to prevent swine flu, so why should we allow them to decide what works to reduce crime? The game of punitive leap-frog between the Labour and Conservative parties is an expensive indulgence that the country should no longer tolerate.

I note what the hon. Gentleman has said and I now look forward to every Liberal Democrat “Focus” leaflet across the country declaring the consequence of that policy, which is that dangerous and violent offenders and persistent drug dealers will no longer be sent to prison. As for crime rates, perhaps he will also ensure that not a single author of a “Focus” leaflet will ever claim credit for getting crime down in his or her area or criticise a Labour or Conservative council for some failure in the other direction.

Frankly, the hon. Gentleman’s remarks were waffle from beginning to end. What we know is this: of course it is true—there is almost a consensus on it in the House—that where possible, offenders should not be sent to prison. That is why we have put large sums of additional money into the probation service, including £40 million recently, to help the courts divert persistent offenders away from prison. The number of short-term prisoners has been going down. It is the serious offenders who are going to jail—the ones whom the hon. Gentleman seems to want to release.

As for crime rates, all I can say is that there is a relationship between central Government and local government policies and whether crime goes up or down. That is, without question, the reality. The political choices that the public make about crime and law-and- order policies make a difference to whether their streets are safe or not.

I know that the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), as the Chairman of the Select Committee on Justice, would have liked to be here, were it physically possible, in order to respond to today’s statement on behalf of the Committee. As a member of the Committee, may I welcome my right hon. Friend’s decision not to proceed with Titan prisons? I also welcome his reference to the drop in the number of young offenders held in custody and his intentions in relation to both the Corston report and prisoners with mental health issues. I must inform the House that the Committee found the report by Lord Carter deeply unconvincing.

Members will read today’s statement and documents with great interest, but my right hon. Friend will be the first person to acknowledge that the devil is in the detail. Will he undertake to continue to listen and respond to concerns from the Committee, not least on the need to invest in community sentencing and restorative justice, to make investments that work in cutting reoffending and, in particular, to get the judges to understand the value of such sentences? Will he also undertake to listen to what the Committee has to say about justice reinvestment and the work on the role of the prison officer that the Committee is engaged in?

The answer to all my right hon. Friend’s questions is yes. I am very committed to restorative justice, which has been a passion of mine for many years. In respect of the judiciary, it is worth both him and the House bearing in mind that the judiciary is committed to making use of alternatives to prison, but the criticism usually made of the judiciary is not that it is too hard on offenders, but that it is too soft. The judiciary is in a difficult position, as are all public policy makers.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that Boreham airfield was also on the list for consideration as a Titan prison? Can he assure me, for my constituents’ peace of mind, that Boreham airfield will not be proposed at a later date for consideration as a mini-Titan prison? Boreham would be totally unsuitable for that purpose and the people of Chelmsford would not accept it.

The hon. Gentleman will recognise that we have announced the two sites today, and a list was made public on Friday, in response to the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron), of the large number of sites that we have looked at. We have made relative assessments those sites. I cannot make a prediction for ever and a day, but we have announced two sites today and the one to which the hon. Gentleman referred is not one of them. I would add that it is improbable that we would build two prisons quite so close to each other on such different sites.

According to a statement on page 125 of the Red Book, published last week,

“all new-build prisons will be built and managed by the private sector”,

yet the Secretary of State seems to have been saying something rather different this afternoon. He mentioned a couple of new-build public sector prisons. If he is moving away from all-private-sector new build, I would very much welcome that, given the lack of evidence that such developments are cost-effective or that the private sector runs those prisons efficiently. Will he clarify the position, and will he also confirm that the five existing prisons that to go out to competition will be open to competition from the public sector as well as the private sector?

The answer to my hon. Friend’s last question is an emphatic yes; they will be open to competition from the public and private sectors—and, indeed, from the third sector. So, too, will the two prisons—at Birmingham and Wellingborough—that are to be market-tested. I very much hope that prison officers and the public sector will put in a bid. As for the cost-effectiveness of the private sector, on page 7 of the capacity document that we have issued my hon. Friend will see a reference to the cost-effectiveness benefits that have resulted from having part of the service in the private sector. What was in the small print in the Red Book is fully consistent with what I have said. Should there be any doubt about it, what I have said is the truth.

May I ask the Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor whether it is still the intention to build a prison for 1,600 inmates adjacent to Featherstone and Brinsford in my constituency? If that is still the intention—the application has gone in from his Department—will he give me an assurance that it will be a public prison, not a private one?

The answer is yes to the hon. Gentleman’s first question. That is still our intention. The answer to his second question is that I cannot give him that commitment because no final decisions have been made.

My right hon. Friend is well aware that my constituents want the Omega site in Warrington to develop as a high-quality business park containing quality offices, new technology manufacturing and associated hotels and retail premises. Will he assure us that his statement today that the Department is not seeking to locate a prison on the Omega site will hold for now and for the future?

Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. As far as this Government are concerned, that is an absolute guarantee. We have, and will have, no plans for a prison on that site. We cannot say that about everywhere, but one of the compelling arguments that she and my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones) have advanced is that Warrington already has two prisons—Thorn Cross and Risley. We also took into account the attractions of that particular site.

The Justice Secretary has announced today that there will be five prisons, each holding 1,500 offenders, but he has identified only two sites: one in Essex and one in metropolitan Essex. Today’s Colchester Gazette reports that his Department is looking at three sites in my constituency. Will he explain what consultation has taken place with the local authority and the local Members of Parliament? Will he give us a decision on whether Essex is going to get one of the additional three sites?

We have no plans to build additional prisons in Essex, apart from the ones that have been announced. Last Friday, we responded to a freedom of information decision of the commissioner—the FOI request had been put in by the hon. Member for Billericay—and from recollection, the information provided listed 72 sites across the country. That reveals an inherent problem in the planning of all such big projects: to begin with, such sites must be identified fairly privately—the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) will know that, as I think he served on a local authority—but many sites are ruled out from the beginning. However, an FOI request was made. I thought there were good reasons, precisely so as not unnecessarily to worry local residents as the hon. Gentleman’s constituents have been worried, not to make those proposed sites public, because these were simply inquiries. However, wherever a decision is made to secure a site—that is the decision, and no more, that I have announced today in respect of Runwell and Beam Park West—there is a proper planning process and process of public consultation in the normal way.

I would have liked to ask the Secretary of State why he thinks locking up an additional 25,000 people—many if not most of them with drug and mental health problems—is a matter to boast about, but I will not, as I must ask him about probation cuts in Leeds and west Yorkshire. He said that this is simply a matter of moving resources to convictions. The Leeds MPs have been approached by the Leeds probation officers, who tell us that they are losing a large number of posts, yet the work load is growing.

Will the Secretary of State agree to look at the Leeds situation to see whether Leeds MPs are being misled. If they are not, will he reverse these cuts in my area?

I am very well aware of the concern of parliamentary colleagues and the probation services across the Yorkshire and Humberside region. There are particular reasons for the levels of concern, and of course I am ready to meet with my hon. Friend and his colleagues. As the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson), who has responsibility for prisons and probation, has just commented, Steve Wagstaffe, who is the new regional director of offender management for Yorkshire and Humberside is examining the budgets of those probation services in conjunction with those services. If we need to make other decisions, we shall do so.

The Beam Reach business park in Rainham in my constituency was actively being considered as a potential site for the prison in London and I note that Beam Park, which is on the edge of my constituency, has now been put forward. Will the Secretary of State confirm the category of prison envisaged at Beam Park and the nature of the consultation and discussions that will take place with local residents, so that they are clear as to the proposals being made?

It will not be an open prison and it will not be a category A prison. For different reasons, open prisons and high-security prisons most worry local residents. It will be a normal category B or category C prison. The precise decision will have to be made closer to the time of opening, but of course there will be a lot of consultation about that. In some areas—although not, as it happens, in my area of east Lancashire, where we want a prison but cannot find a site for one, despite active local authority support across the political spectrum—there is public concern about the siting of prisons. I understand that, and I saw for myself in Peterborough, for example, huge opposition to Peterborough’s new prison when I was Home Secretary, but it now has a prison, which is working well and is publicly supported. I am glad to see the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) expressing his support for that.

There will be anxiety, but these are very good, well- paid, secure jobs—typically for those who have lost their jobs as semi-skilled or skilled manual workers, especially men, in manufacturing industries. This is really good news for the area, economically as well as socially.

Is not asking the public what offenders should do as part of the community payback scheme the worst kind of populist nonsense imaginable? May I also ask my friend about the small print of the prison budget in the Red Book, where he calls for £82 million of savings to be made by allowing prison staff arrangements to be reprofiled? What, exactly, does that mean in plain English?

One man’s populism is another man’s or woman’s democracy. I say to my hon. Friend, who shares a valley with me, and much else besides, that all of us have an interest in maintaining and responding to public approaches and public attitudes. Personally, I do not think that it is remotely populist in the pejorative sense of the word to ask the public where they think various works of environmental improvement should be carried out. The public, not me or the local probation service, came forward with that idea at one of my residents’ meetings on Friday. Why should we as Members of Parliament, Justice Secretaries or the probation service think that we know best and the public know least.

May I say to the Justice Secretary that he is quite right to jettison Titans? I noted in the statement that the new prisons are to be run privately. May I also say to him that it is very important that the contracts make express provision for proper and purposeful activity, particularly education and work, and that furthermore the Department must do its best to prevent people from being churned through those prisons? What is important is stability within the population, so that purposeful work can be delivered.

I entirely agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman in all the points he makes. One of the values, if one gets them right, of larger prisons—for example, the cluster at Her Majesty’s prison Hewell, formerly Blakenhurst, between Bromsgrove and Redditch—is that it is possible for prisoners to serve the whole of their sentence in one place: in a cat. B local prison, to a cat. C trainer, and then to a cat. D open prison. With one offender manager, there is a better chance of ensuring that prisoners stay straight when they leave.