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Volume 570: debated on Tuesday 12 November 2013

The best way to reduce pressure on the criminal justice system is to reduce reoffending and we seek to achieve this in prisons and in the community. For example, under our transforming rehabilitation reforms every offender released from custody, including those sentenced to less than 12 months, will receive statutory supervision and rehabilitation in the community. This is a step towards reducing high reoffending rates which is widely welcomed, including by the Labour party, though I note that Labour Members voted against it last night.

With employment being key to preventing reoffending, what steps is my hon. Friend taking to ensure that offenders in prison are engaged in purposeful work or learning new skills that they can use on the outside?

My hon. Friend is entirely right to say that work plays a crucial part in the task of reducing reoffending. He will be reassured to know that we are having considerable success in raising the number of prisoners who are working and the number of hours that they are working too. We have already achieved a 25% increase in the hours worked in prison since we came to power.

A reduction in reoffending rates is a key ambition across the House, and it is crucial to engage all potential partners. What assessment has my hon. Friend made of how the third sector groups can engage with expertise in new probation contracts?

Again, I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The third sector—voluntary organisations—has a huge amount to offer us in this context, and already does to a large extent. Our proposals to transform rehabilitation will bring more of those organisations into the job of providing rehabilitation. We think that they have a first-class offering in many cases, and are likely to be a large part of what we go forward and do.

21. Surely the Minister has read the Ofsted reports on the quality of what happens to prisoners in prison. It is appalling that so many prisons fail to do the job of working, educating and training people for release. That is the problem—complacency on the Government Front Bench. (901050)

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no complacency whatsoever. It is exceptionally important that prisoners learn literacy and numeracy skills, which many of them lack. It is also important that they develop vocational qualifications, because we know that gaining those qualifications leads on to higher chances of employment, and maintaining a job is the best way we know of keeping someone away from crime. That is hugely important.

The hon. Gentleman will also be reassured to know that we are looking carefully at how we can improve education within the youth estate. As a former Chairman of the Education Committee he will recognise the importance of our duty to educate those young people properly, and when the contracts come up for renewal next year, we will expect better.

How does the Minister reconcile the competing demands of tier 1 providers in reducing reoffending and disseminating good information with the retention of data on intellectual property? How will he reconcile those two competing issues?

There will be a number of contractual requirements on tier 1 providers, as indeed on other providers. But the key point that the hon. Gentleman must recognise is that we will reward tier 1 providers for succeeding in reducing reoffending, and the way in which they will do that is to look holistically at all the many factors that affect the likelihood of reoffending. Education is one, training is another, and there are many others.

19. Will the Minister meet me and representatives of the Amber Foundation, which achieves a reoffending rate of 26% compared with the average of 70% for the age group that they deal with? It is essential that Ministers understand the variety of experiences of smaller charities that have a lot to contribute in this area. (901048)

In principle, of course I am happy to meet my hon. Friend and the Amber Foundation. He will recognise that as we proceed with our reforms and with the competition process, there are restrictions on whom I can and cannot meet. Certainly I agree with him that such organisations have a huge amount to contribute to what we do, and even those that are not specifically criminal justice charities also have a part to play.

I am frankly not reassured by the Minister’s earlier answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman). Surely he is aware that not a single prison was rated as outstanding by Ofsted, and 65% were rated as not good enough. Is that not a shocking indictment of his rehabilitation revolution?

Something tells me that the hon. Gentleman was planning not to be reassured. None the less, let me try again. There is no complacency here. As I said to his hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), there is a huge amount more to do on the education and training of prisoners, but he must recognise that this is something that we inherited from the Labour party. The situation was not perfect in 2010, and both sides of the House have more to do to understand the importance of this and to provide more of it.