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Prison Building (Costs)

Volume 511: debated on Tuesday 15 June 2010

12. What assessment he has made of the balance of expenditure between (a) prison building and (b) community sentences and restorative justice schemes. (2227)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his unopposed re-election as Chair of the Justice Committee.

As I said in reply to earlier questions, our proposals for implementing the coalition agreement commitments on sentencing and rehabilitation will be presented after the House returns in October. Our future plans for, and the balance of expenditure between, custodial and community provision will need to be considered in the light of that, and restorative justice will feature strongly in that work, as will the work of the Justice Committee in its first report of 2009-10 on the case for justice reinvestment.

I thank the Under-Secretary for his kind words and congratulate him on taking office. Did he notice when he arrived at the Department that he was committed to a prison building programme, inherited from the previous Government, that cost more than £4 billion? It produced the highest incarceration rate in western Europe and pre-empted resources, which, if they were used to prevent crime, would save victims from suffering from crime in the first place.

My right hon. Friend will be glad to know that it did not entirely escape my attention. However, I draw his attention to the evidence that the then Justice Secretary gave to the Justice Committee in 2008. He pointed out that there was an opportunity to deliver the new prison places more cheaply on a revenue basis than the existing prison estate, and for them to be more fit for purpose in enabling the prison estate to address reoffending behaviour. The prison building programme per se is not, therefore, the problem but the number of offenders whom we have to sustain in custody. We need to examine the policies that drive those numbers.

May I add my welcome to the Under-Secretary? I also offer my congratulations to the Justice Secretary and to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) on their 40th anniversary this week as Members of the House.

I think my hon. Friend means that it was shortly before the Chancellor was born.

Does the Under-Secretary acknowledge that there has been a sustained fall in crime from 1995 to date, and that the increase in prison places and the fact that more serious and violent offenders are now incarcerated has contributed to that fall?

Evidence on the effects of incarceration is mixed at best. We must take the political temperature out of the debate. Outbidding each other on how robust we will be in dealing with offenders probably does potential future victims no good. We must have policies that address future offending behaviour and consider the life cycle of potential and actual offenders so that we can support them effectively.

The whole House would agree that the fundamental test of an anti-crime policy is whether crime has fallen. With that in mind, will the Minister now acknowledge that crime fell consistently from 1995 and throughout the 1997 to 2010 Administration?

No, because the change in trend on crime was achieved by Michael Howard, the then Home Secretary, who delivered a robust policy that effected changes. He was the author of the change in policy, but there is a limit to continuing that process, as there must be to the rate of growth of incarceration. In the end, we cannot lock up everybody who might be a threat to someone, because in that way, the entire population would end up in prison. There is a logical end to that process, and we will do our level best to deliver more effective policies to ensure that there are fewer victims in future.