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Prison Review

Volume 558: debated on Tuesday 5 February 2013

We are reviewing what is called the incentives and earned privileges scheme to ensure the public can be confident that any privileges earned in prison are gained through hard work and good behaviour. We want this to be a comprehensive review and its findings will be available in due course. I can tell my hon. Friend that, for example, the situation whereby some prisoners have access to Sky subscription TV channels, which many of our constituents cannot afford, will not be allowed to continue.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on placing mentoring at the centre of prisoner rehabilitation. My constituent Mary Stephenson is running a scheme called “belief in change”, which is currently under threat from the withdrawal of EU funding. Would my hon. Friend meet me and Mary Stephenson to see whether there is anything we can do to help assist that project?

I am happy to meet my hon. Friend and his constituent. He will be pleased to learn that the system we have in mind for dealing with the rehabilitation of offenders will reward those who have good ideas—ideas that work—in driving down the reoffending rate. He is right that we want to see more mentoring, as we believe it is very effective. Many other things will be affected, too, and we look forward to hearing about them.

Last month, the Secretary of State announced the immediate closure of seven prisons. When will the replacement prison, referred to in the same statement, be constructed?

The hon. Gentleman knows that what we announced was to investigate the feasibility of a large prison. We also announced that we will build 1,200 places or thereabouts at prisons that already exist. We will look carefully at all proposals made to us for suitable sites for a large new prison. As the hon. Gentleman knows, one possibility is a site in north Wales, which councillors in his area are extremely keen that we consider carefully.

In widening the system’s capacity for delivering work, what progress has the Minister made with getting ONE3ONE Solutions on to the Government’s preferred supplier list?

My hon. Friend will know that we are very keen to look not just at direct contracts from Government work but at other work for ONE3ONE Solutions to pursue. We want to make sure, of course, that there is a balance to ensure that ONE3ONE Solutions is not closing out jobs that could be provided to British firms elsewhere. We will want to make sure that it has the maximum opportunities to pursue those jobs within prison that will help prisoners learn skills—both hard skills and soft skills—as this was an agenda that my hon. Friend was successful in pursuing as my predecessor.

Much was made in the Government’s announcement on the prison regime at the weekend of the ability of gay inmates to share cells. As far as I am aware, that is already not permitted, so will the Minister inform us how many gay inmates have been sharing cells with their partners, or is this further evidence of the announcement being designed to chase the headlines?

The point that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was making—frankly, I would be surprised if the hon. Lady disagreed with it—was that it is clearly not appropriate for someone to live in that form of domestic arrangement while in custody. It is important that prisons are safe, secure and decent, but it is equally important that their regimes are properly austere and that the public have confidence in the way in which people act while they are in prison.

I think the Minister makes my point for me: the Government do not know the figure, and this was clearly about the headlines. However, while the Secretary of State has been fretting over the weekend about the pocket money, the trainers and the overalls of inmates, he has failed to keep the most dangerous prisoners locked up. Indeterminate sentences help keep offenders inside until they are safe to release. The governor of Whatton prison, Lynn Saunders, told The Guardian:

“I think I am fairly liberal in my attitude—I haven’t come across anyone”

serving indeterminate sentences for public protection—

“in this prison who I didn’t think should have an IPP. Not one.”

Why did this Government abolish indeterminate sentences, putting the public’s safety at risk?

I think the hon. Lady knows very well that we have replaced IPP sentences with extended determinate sentences. We have also introduced a mandatory life sentence for a second very serious violent or sexual offence. Those are entirely sensible sentencing approaches. The position with IPPs had become a disorganised and chaotic one, which we could not allow to stand. I am afraid that that is another classic example of the last Government’s introducing a measures that they had not thought through properly.

I also think that the hon. Lady is entirely wrong to minimise the seriousness of the need to ensure that the regime in prison commands public confidence. If she believes that the public take no interest in what happens to prisoners while they are there and in the privileges to which they have access, I think she is wrong, and if she believes we should leave the position as it is, she should say so.

I do not know whether the Minister wants an Adjournment debate on the subject, but I am sorry to tell him that that answer was far too long. We need to speed up.