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Prison Service (Resources)

Volume 526: debated on Tuesday 29 March 2011

5. What level of resources his Department plans to provide to the Prison Service in 2011-12; and if he will make a statement. (49325)

The resource budget for the National Offender Management Service for 2011-12 is £3.679 billion, £2.181 billion of which relates directly to expenditure incurred in prisons.

If, as the Secretary of State predicted in The Daily Telegraph on 11 February, crime increases under his Government, will he reverse his prison closure policy and undo the scaling back of the prison building programme? If not, what will he do with the criminals?

I am not entirely sure that my right hon. and learned Friend’s comments bear that interpretation, but what we have to do in the Ministry of Justice is ensure that we successfully imprison those people sentenced to prison by the courts and not get ourselves into the state of affairs that occurred under the previous Administration, whereby people had to be let out early because they had run out of space.

The shadow Justice Secretary has argued:

“Playing tough in order not to look soft made it harder to focus on what is effective.”

Given that, does the Minister agree that despite record spending and the record prison population, Labour failed to improve public safety?

Order. I am sorry, but on several occasions I have had to say to the hon. Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) that questions must be about the policy of this Government, not a previous Government. I think we will leave it there. I call Lorraine Fullbrook.

I beg the right hon. Gentleman’s pardon. In dealing with that matter, I failed to allow him to make his contribution from the Opposition Front Bench, as he is, of course, entitled to do.

I have a question for this Government. Given that the prison population is rising—it was 82,991 on 7 January and last week it stood at 85,454—and that, at the same time, this Government are closing prisons and slashing the prison building programme, what is the Minister going to do if the number of people who should be in prison exceeds the number of places?

Unlike the previous Administration, we will not get ourselves into that position. As the shadow Secretary of State will know—he will be well on top of his brief—there is a seasonal rise in prison numbers following Christmas. I am happy to say, however, that our policies are already having an effect. The prediction we inherited that we would end up with 96,000 prisoners by 2014-15 is unlikely to come true.

Those of us who stayed awake for the entire Budget know that the Chancellor has no plan B and I am afraid that the complacency of that answer shows that the Ministry of Justice has no plan B. If crime goes up, as the Secretary of State predicts it may well do, and if the prison population continues to rise, the Government will have no choice but to release offenders who should be in prison without due process or to use police cells. Which will it be?

As of now, we have an overhead in managing the prison estate of about 3,000 places. We will manage the estate to ensure that we sustain an overhead and do not get ourselves into a position whereby we run out of space, as the last Administration did. It is basic administration. We will keep a very careful eye on the prison numbers and ensure that we have sufficient capacity.