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Volume 508: debated on Tuesday 23 March 2010

The Government receive a wide range of representations on policies to reduce reoffending, ranging from regular meetings with front-line staff, sentencers and third sector organisations to the detailed consideration of more formal reports from parliamentary Committees or external bodies such as the National Audit Office.

The NAO’s report of two weeks ago revealed that reoffending by people released from short-term prison sentences is costing £10 billion a year. We seem to be supporting colleges of crime. Is it not time for some serious research into what works to reduce reoffending, perhaps through something analogous to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence—a NICE for the Ministry of Justice?

It is always difficult to get the balance right between researching into problems and spending money on actually dealing with them. We prefer to spend money on dealing with problems, and that is working. Reoffending has gone down: since 2000 the reoffending rate has reduced by 15.9 per cent., crime is down by 36 per cent. and violent crime is down by 41 per cent. There are 6 million fewer crimes a year than in 1995 and the chances of being a victim of crime are at their lowest since records began in 1981. That is a record of which we are proud.

I know that the Minister is aware that women who offend often have multiple problems such as alcoholism and substance abuse. Does she agree that by addressing those problems through mentoring schemes such as those in the Women’s Turnaround project in Cardiff, which has recently benefited from another Government grant, we will reduce reoffending?

I accept my hon. Friend’s point. I, too, commend the work of Women’s Turnaround in Cardiff, which I have visited and for which, as she rightly says, the Ministry of Justice provides some funding. The project does excellent work in tackling the causes of offending among women who often end up serving short sentences, and whose life situations worsen because of those short sentences, rather than their being able to tackle the cause of their offending.

I will not repeat what I normally say on these occasions about the crime rate falling throughout the whole of the western world since the mid-1990s, but I am encouraged by the tone of both the Secretary of State and the Minister on the issue of reoffending. May I ask them to commit, in the forthcoming election campaign, to sticking to evidence about what works, instead of the debate in the campaign descending to the usual arms race that harms victims of crime in the long run, and undermines the political system in this country?

The victims of crime in this country want crime dealt with effectively, which means not only protecting the public by locking up serious and dangerous offenders—who ought to be locked up—but enabling people who are in prison to tackle the causes of their offending behaviour. We do both, and it is a record on which we are proud to stand.

The Minister will be aware that a lot of persistent reoffenders have low educational achievement, which in turn is often the result of speech and language difficulties from an early age. I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to work done by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists and other interested bodies on screening tools that could deal with that issue and provide more support in prisons to address the problem.

My hon. Friend is correct: low educational attainment is one of the factors that can cause crime and reoffending, which is why we have trebled the amount we spend on offender learning in our prisons to £175 million over the current three-year period. That has led to 36 per cent. of those leaving our prisons going into education, training or employment. The figure is not high enough, but it is an awful lot better than it was. My hon. Friend is correct to say that we need to be aware of issues such as learning disability that may prevent prisoners from accessing the support and help that exists. We are getting better at remedying that.

As the Minister has just implied, good education courses in prison can indeed dramatically reduce reoffending, but can she explain why the Manchester College was awarded further contracts to run education services in prisons, only to announce soon afterwards that it needed to make more than 300 people redundant? Given that the college seems to have massively overreached itself, on what basis was it awarded the contracts, and what responsibility does the Minister take for this rather sad and hopeless state of affairs?

The procurement of services such as education in prisons is conducted in a proper manner, in accordance with EU regulations and the laws of this nation. There is no doubt about the fact that the college was properly awarded the contract. I cannot comment on the circumstances that the hon. Gentleman refers to—the college’s internal arrangements, and how many people it does or does not employ. That is a matter for the college, but the contracts it has undertaken with us have been properly procured and carried out to a proper standard.