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Crime Reduction Policies

Volume 591: debated on Thursday 22 January 2015

[Relevant documents: First Report from the Justice Committee Session 2014-15: Crime Reduction Policies: a co-ordinated approach?, HC 307, and the Government Response, Cm 8918.]

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray, even if it is somewhat earlier than anticipated—such was the degree of consensus about the green deal in the preceding debate.

What are the most effective ways to keep our constituents safe from crime, and how can we spent taxpayers’ money cost-effectively to achieve that objective? The Justice Committee sought to answer those questions and keep them under review, while challenging the traditional media and political debate about who can sound toughest on crime, which tends to cast no light on the matter.

The Committee’s major initiative in the previous Parliament was a substantial report entitled “Cutting crime: the case for justice reinvestment”, published in January 2010. In this Parliament, we sought to follow up that work. I am pleased to have the opportunity to discuss the Committee’s inquiry on crime reduction, which led to the production of two reports.

The first report was an interim one addressing the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms, which have been the subject of several debates here and in the main Chamber. Today, I want to focus predominantly on our broader inquiry, entitled “Crime reduction policies: a co-ordinated approach?” There is a question mark at the end because we wanted to assess the extent to which there is a truly co-ordinated approach to policies and programmes for reducing crime and reoffending.

In all those reports, including the report in the last Parliament, we have been greatly assisted by our staff, especially senior Committee specialist Gemma Buckland. Witnesses, including experts, the judiciary, social work professionals, victims and ex-offenders have also been invaluable. In all those categories, we have learned a great deal from those who have been willing to give evidence to us and to receive us in their institutions, prisons, courts and various other places.

We must assume that the objective of reducing crime is shared by politicians of all parties, as well as the general public. Overall, we are all pleased to find falling rates of crime across the criminal justice system. We are not convinced that that can, in practice, be attributed mainly to the success of any particular national crime reduction policy or local policy—indeed, it follows a pattern right across western Europe. All sorts of explanations have been put forward, ranging from better vehicle security to the removal of lead in petrol, and a whole variety of others in between. There is still considerable academic uncertainty and disagreement about some of the causes, but multiple factors are at play and there is a great deal more work to be done.

That welcome reduction does not alter the fact that in our courts, prisons and on community sentences, we see a lot of people who not only commit crimes, but go back to committing more crimes when they have completed their sentences. We want the fall in crime to continue and we want to deal with the persistently high rates of reoffending. We are still in need of a supportive framework that will get to the heart of the deep-seated challenges of reducing crime and levels of victimisation. We think the Government should seize the opportunity and address two key areas that are in need of reform or development: local partnership and preventive initiatives.

On local partnership, which I think has been one of the most significant developments in recent years in tackling crime, there have been significant changes in the landscape since 2010—since our previous report —including the introduction of police and crime commissioners and the transfer of public health responsibilities to local authorities, which reflects an ongoing broader and welcome shift of power from Whitehall to local communities. That has resulted in an assortment of local accountability structures, but our evidence highlighted the clear benefits of collective ownership, pooled funding and joint priorities, all of which have been facilitated by that approach. However, there remains a considerable way to go before health can be considered a fully integral part of the crime reduction picture.

The current situation, where all local agencies are accountable but there is no single statutory leader, risks confusion and abdication of responsibility. We were genuinely worried that the number of changes taking place and the climate of financial austerity would make local partnership working much more difficult, and that it would reduce. The picture we have so far shows that that has not happened, and that institutional change and severe financial pressures have been coped with remarkably well in many local partnerships.

We are watching the situation carefully, but thanks to the good will of all involved, we have not noticed people being taken away from the table, if I may put it that way, of joint and shared activity. We did not find evidence that funding cuts had resulted in any renunciation of the commitment to work together. Indeed, local government representatives regarded further joint working as more essential, given the ongoing financial restraint.

Of course, some major elements are not around the table and not part of the process—most obviously, courts and prisons. We believe that a prison system that effectively rehabilitates a smaller number of offenders, while other offenders are rehabilitated through robust community sentences, has the potential to bring about a bigger reduction in crime. The through-the-gate resettlement support envisaged under the Transforming Rehabilitation programme might go some way to achieving that, but it is not at all clear that there is capacity in the prison system sufficiently to facilitate it. Seeing courts as purely instrumental institutions misses an opportunity for encouraging greater innovation, and we believe that there is the potential to make broader systemic savings.

Does the Chair of the Justice Committee agree with me that integral to all that is the need for proper, extensive drug rehabilitation out in the community? That seems to be a missing link, bearing in mind that 65% of all acquisitive crime—theft, in particular—is carried out by people with drug problems.

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right; I agree with him and will say a little more about the issue. It always strikes me very forcefully that if a judge or magistrate is presiding over a case and sentencing, and decides that an offender really needs a significant drug rehabilitation programme as part of a supervision programme, that judge or magistrate has to find out whether it is available. If custody is the answer, however, a van will come along, take the prisoner away and it will be somebody else’s problem to find somewhere to put them, but the sentence will be carried out. That is a mismatch within the system, and it also reflects the weakness of drug rehabilitation provision in the community at large. Had that been accessible, it might have prevented that person from getting involved in the drug-related crime in the first place.

When we were in the United States, both for the previous parliamentary inquiry and the present one, we saw instances of problem-solving courts playing a much more central part in the rehabilitation of offenders. They were adapting their procedures, particularly when dealing with drug offenders, to use the collective will, both of the professionals and of all those who were coming before the court, to motivate people to get over the drug problems that were causing their acquisitive crime. It was fascinating to watch a court in Texas, for example. Those who had successfully met the conditions of their sentence were coming up before the judge and the other ex-offenders were sitting in the court applauding the success of the person who had, as it were, qualified to stay outside prison, because of the way in which they had carried out the conditions of their sentence.

I referred earlier to preventive initiatives. We are concerned by the Government’s approach to preventive measures on such things as health and substance misuse. The abuse of alcohol and drugs, as the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) said, are significant in many crimes, but their manifestations often have other root causes. The Government’s approach, which is still focused largely on the activities of the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, may over-emphasise the extent to which measures taken within the criminal justice system can tackle those problems, when a much broader spread of measures is needed involving a wider range of institutions.

It is very striking—we have come across evidence of this—to see the extent to which the criminal justice system is used as a gateway to mental health, drug or alcohol treatment. We come across ex-offenders who have committed further offences because they know that they can get either, in the most basic sense, a bed for the night in prison, or treatment, which they are having difficulty getting outside the criminal justice system. The solutions to some of those problems lie beyond the criminal justice system and the direct responsibilities of even the Minister who will answer this debate. His response might be that he straddles two Departments, which is helpful in this context, but maybe he needs to take two or three more Government Departments under his wing to achieve the co-ordination that we think is necessary.

I will not make a bid to take on more Departments; I have had five in the past four-and-a-half years, which is probably enough for anybody. However, on drug addiction and the effects on crime and the community, very often, as I am sure the Committee saw in the evidence, the issue is not just drugs, but drink and drugs. There are often mental health issues and conditions as well, and there may be learning difficulties.

It is absolutely right that I serve on several committees in Government, where this issue is discussed across Government. I know that it is difficult for the Select Committee to have seen that, but the work is going on in Government. To be fair, it started under the previous Administration; we have accelerated it and pushed it on. This cannot be taken in isolation, which I think is what the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) is saying.

I am delighted that the Minister is so clearly aware of the point that I am trying to make and is endeavouring to do something about it. I wish him well in continuing to move in that direction.

A lot can be done to support people in the system to address health problems associated with their offending, but the funding of mental health services generally is crucial to that. The inadequacy of those services costs the police, the courts, probation, prisons and victims of crime a very high price. That should be an urgent cross-departmental priority of the Government as part of their national crime action plan.

I welcome the priority that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has given to mental health and the way in which he has tried to lift it up the political agenda and the Government’s agenda. I also welcome the work on crisis intervention, including addressing the use of police cells as a place of safety—so clearly an inadequate response to that problem—and the ongoing work to improve liaison and diversion services within the criminal justice system. I welcome the presence of mental health nurses in many police stations now and encourage the development of that. Those are very welcome initiatives. We have waited quite a while for them and we really want a network of those services. At the moment, there are a limited number of pilots, with some more due to commence shortly.

However, we know from the implementation of the Transforming Rehabilitation programme that when the Government really want to, they can get on with something and make progress quite quickly. That programme of redesigning the probation service, whatever view we take of it—whether we are for or against it—has been carried forward very expeditiously. Governments can get things done when they are determined to do so, and we would like to see some of that determination in the area that I have just described.

Another good example of where what the Government have been trying to do is in line with what we have been asking them to do, although it needs to be built on, is the Troubled Families programme, in which the Government have invested heavily. Part of the motivation is that an estimated £9 billion a year is spent on the costs arising from families with those problems—an average of £75,000 per family each year.

Of the £9 billion, only £1 billion is spent on efforts to solve the problems that are getting the family members into all kinds of trouble and difficulty, so we very much welcome the Troubled Families programme. It is an illustration of preventive investment upstream, where the amounts of funding are, against the total picture, relatively small. For example, only £17.5 million has been dedicated to extending family-nurse partnerships, which we also saw working successfully in America; £10 million was given to enhance support to local authorities to tackle gang violence; and extending liaison and diversion services is costing £25 million.

With regard to the Transforming Rehabilitation programme, we were pleased to find that the purpose of achieving crime reduction was central to what the Government were trying to do. Achieving supervision for the less-than-12-months prisoners is an objective that has eluded previous Governments. This Government are determined to do it. They have chosen a route that is controversial even among members of the Select Committee, but we recognised what the Government were trying to do.

We had a number of concerns and we are still watching to see how those are addressed and how successfully. Some have been successfully addressed. We feared that there might be areas without bidders, but that has not proved to be the case. There was confusion about what would happen if a bidder dropped out or failed to meet its contracted requirements. It is now clear that the national probation service has to step in if that happens.

We had concerns about whether perverse incentives would be created in the way payment by results was structured, but it is too soon to know for certain whether that has been sufficiently mitigated. We had too little financial information to know for certain whether the goal of under-12-months supervision could be achieved within the total budget. That was central to what the Government were doing.

Partnership crime reduction activity must continue to build in strength as resources are diminished. As a Committee, we stress that new providers of probation need to be incentivised to reinvest part of any cost savings into further reoffending reduction initiatives, and to consolidate the partnership commitment to reducing crime more broadly. It is important that the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms do not frustrate partnership approaches. The new providers must get involved in the partnership structure, and the national probation service, being now a national service, must also be structured in a way that enables it to participate at local level. We do not want it to become a distant bureaucracy.

The most important conclusion that we draw is that the Government should focus their efforts in seeking to address the wider question of how they prioritise their activity as a whole on the reduction of crime. In our predecessor Committee’s report, we said that a rigorous assessment was required of where taxpayers’ money could most effectively be spent in cutting crime. We did not feel that that exercise had ever been done. That ought to be a serious question for the Treasury. It is supposed to be the Treasury’s job to look at whether Departments are providing value for money. That is the question that it should be asking of the criminal justice system.

If we compare the investment in drug and alcohol treatment, mental health schemes and early intervention activity with some of the annual costs of inaction, it is pretty difficult to justify. Annually, violent crime, 44% of which is alcohol-related, costs almost £30 billion. Nearly one tenth of that is costs to the national health service. Crime perpetrated by people who had conduct problems in childhood costs about £60 billion; drug-related crime costs £14 billion; and the annual budget for the whole of prisons and probation is £4 billion.

We believe that what is required is a longer-term strategic approach that recognises more explicitly that the criminal justice system is only one limited part of the system through which taxpayers’ money is spent to keep our constituents safe from crime. That safety question is important, too. We are in a position in which prison is the default option for society expressing its disapproval of criminal behaviour. That is not a very good way of deciding how to spend the money efficiently; it is a way for people to look as though they have taken something seriously, without having had proper regard to whether it will prevent the person from reoffending.

Many of my colleagues in the House were puzzled that we went to Texas, which they thought of as a place where right-wing Republicans merely executed any prisoner who came into their sight. What we actually found was that right-wing Republicans and centre-left Democrats had agreed that they were wasting the taxpayers’ dollar, because they were spending more and more money creating more and more prison places to deal ineffectively with people whom they could deal with better through the kinds of initiative that I have described. So they changed the policy and we are seeing good results. That seemed to me a good example of a society looking at how it is spending its money to keep people safe and working out whether it is really achieving that objective.

In this country, we want to get away from a mere “predict and provide” approach to the criminal justice system. It is time that politicians and the media stopped using the length of prison sentences as the sole measure of the seriousness with which we treat crime, because that traps us into using expensive custody to lock up not only those who have to be locked up for a considerable time for public safety, but those who would be much less likely to reoffend if they received effective treatment, which could be provided less expensively outside the hotel envelope, if I may call it that, of the prison system.

The Justice Committee has members from four political parties and with a wide range of political outlooks, but we share a determination to make our criminal justice system more effective in protecting our constituents and breaking the intergenerational cycle of crime. What enables us to produce what are usually unanimous reports—in fact, invariably unanimous reports—is the fact that we look objectively at the evidence of what works, and develop our ideas from that starting point.

We are in an election year—the election is getting closer—and however many things we disagree about, it is important that we come through the period without engaging in a sterile contest over who can sound toughest on crime; rather, we need a realistic debate about how we can best protect our constituents. I hope that those on both Front Benches will indicate their willingness to maintain that level of debate about how we can make our criminal justice system effective in keeping our constituents safe, at reasonable cost.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I am always very pleased to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), but today I was absolutely delighted when he walked through the door, because for some time previously I had thought that I was opening the debate with a speech that was not tailored for opening such a debate. I agree with everything he said. I would not say that there is unanimity—there are different views in the Committee—but the views that the right hon. Gentleman has expressed are all, I think, shared by the Committee. They are deeply held as well.

It is a great pleasure to speak in today’s debate on our report, “Crime reduction policies: a co-ordinated approach?” It has been a great privilege for me to have served on the Justice Committee during this Parliament. If I may say so, it is one of the most fulfilling experiences that I have had during my tenure in this place.

Our report, which was published in June 2014, was critical because this Government seem to have failed to invest adequate time in reviewing where money should be spent to tackle the problem of reoffending. We drew attention to the fact that the prison population remains stubbornly high, and inadequate funds, it seems to us, are being directed towards early intervention schemes such as family nurse partnerships and the troubled families programme. We also noted the correlation between the underfunding of mental health services in the community and higher offending rates. We made the case for introducing radical new forms of intervention into the court process, similar to the measures that we saw in Texas, to which my right hon. Friend alluded, such as addiction recovery courts, which we believe would deliver huge savings in the medium and longer term.

I talk briefly about our experience in Texas. Some members of the Committee, including me, wondered why we were visiting what we considered to be a rather inglorious and illiberal penal system, but what we found there was absolutely astonishing. To quote from the report:

“Texas has long been regarded as a state with some of the ‘toughest’”—

and, I might add, the most illiberal—

“criminal justice policies in the US. In 2007, its prison population was projected to grow by more than 14,000 people over a five-year period, costing taxpayers an additional $523 million for the construction and operation of new prison facilities. With bipartisan leadership, policymakers identified and enacted alternative strategies in an attempt both to increase public safety and avert the projected growth in the prison population at a net saving to the state as they would cost only $240m. These included investing in: parole and probation policies; expanding the capacity of community-based treatment programmes and residential drug and alcohol treatment facilities; expanding drug courts and other specialist courts to place offenders who committed minor crimes in treatment programmes; and expanding the nurse-family partnerships programme (an evidence-based, community maternal health initiative, referred to in the UK as family nurse partnerships, that serves low-income women pregnant with their first child) using savings generated by reductions in prison expenditure with a view to improving outcomes for low-income children and families. At the same time funding was authorised for the construction of three new prisons which could proceed only if the new policies and programs were not effective. This has not been necessary. Furthermore, one prison has since been closed and the legislature has authorised the closure of two more. Texas now has the lowest crime rate since 1968.”

That is quite a testimony about the experience of Texas, from which we can readily learn.

It is fair to say that there is scepticism, to put it mildly, among members of the Committee about the changes to the probation service, and I will come to that in a second or two. As the Minister knows, we are also concerned about the evaluation of crime reduction polices. We asked the Ministry to clarify how the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms would be evaluated, and how the evidence of success, or indeed failure, of differing approaches would be used to inform policy. I think that that is an entirely reasonable question to ask, but it is still something that challenges the Government. I am not making a political point against the current Government—successive Governments have not dealt with this very well—but that approach is widely used in the United States and the experience there is that it leads to money being better spent in the longer term.

The work of the Washington State Institute for Public Policy shows what could be achieved by taking such an approach. The institute identifies, on the basis of cost-benefit analysis, how best to invest money to reduce crime, and there has indeed been a sharp decline in crime and imprisonment in Washington state. In the report, we recommended, as our expert witnesses told us,

“that there should be an independent and authoritative body to evaluate evidence on the effectiveness of crime reduction policies.”

I do not know how that might be done, but we have experts in our universities who study such things. Perhaps it would be useful to have a pilot study involving one or two experts in one or two universities to track what is happening and to see how money can be best spent, especially in these rather austere times. Those data could help us to plan better in the medium and longer term. At the moment, some prisons are being closed, and some prison officers are being made redundant, only to be re-employed within three or four months to do the same job again, perhaps in another part of the UK. With the greatest respect, I do not think that that is good policy. It underlines the absence of a think-tank that could work out how to spend money in the criminal justice system to achieve the best outcome.

I share the feelings that my right hon. Friend expressed in his closing remarks about the tabloid drumbeat. It is difficult for Members from the larger parties to discuss penal policy without having to looking over their shoulder. I am in the happy position of not having to look over my shoulder, and I do not read the Daily Mirror or the Daily Mail anyway, but that is by the bye. If a party considers something that appears to be rather benign, suddenly, according to the tabloids, it has become soft on crime, but members of the Committee and many others know that some criminals are more fearful of a medium-term or longer-term community penalty, if it is properly structured, than they are of going to prison for nine or 10 months. That is a fact. We also know that in the case of community penalties, the reoffending rate is lower and the likelihood of rehabilitation is higher. For some reason, however, community penalties are considered by the tabloids as being soft on crime, and therefore they are anathema to any practitioner. That is absolute nonsense. In my view, it is time that all political parties came together and said, “We will go for what works and forget about what the tabloids will say.” The tabloids speak largely from a position of ignorance, in any event.

As I have mentioned, the Democrats and the Republicans got together in Texas. They were able to put aside yah-boo politics on penal policy, even though I imagine there would have been plenty of that, considering the nature of the previous penal policy in Texas. If they were able to do that, I do not see why we cannot put aside the need to shout the loudest and to be the most beastly towards people who offend for whatever reason.

I want to focus on two aspects of the report: the Government’s plans for the future of the probation service, which I believe to be badly thought out; and the reforms to our prison estate, with reference in passing to the proposed Titan prison in north Wales. I should say that I will speak with my party political hat on, and not everything I say will represent the views of the Justice Committee.

As we know, the probation service performed excellently until the rehabilitation reforms were introduced. The Ministry of Justice seemed to be determined to carve up the service and put pieces of it out to tender, and that, in essence, is what Transforming Rehabilitation has done. I cannot understand why a service that had won a gold medal for excellence a couple of years earlier had to be fixed; clearly, to use the vernacular, it was not broke. I understand the rationale for ensuring that the under-12-month cohort are properly looked after and rehabilitated—I do not think that anyone in this Chamber or elsewhere would argue with that—but it seems to me that the common-sense approach would have been to extend the remit of the fully qualified, professional, gold award-winning probation service to do the work in the first place. That would have avoided all the carving up, bids, tenders and community rehabilitation companies —all the changes that were not necessary and could well damage the delivery of probation services.

As we know, in June the 35 probation trusts were abolished and 21 community rehabilitation companies were set up alongside the new National Probation Service. The latter will supervise offenders deemed to pose a high or very high risk to society, which is likely to be about 30% of all probation cases. The remaining 70% will be outsourced to the CRCs—private companies. Quite apart from the rather shambolic way in which the Transforming Rehabilitation agenda has been put into practice, it is frankly dangerous for the Ministry of Justice to divide up cases by relying on such a changeable factor as risk.

I speak from some 30 years’ experience of the criminal law as both a solicitor and a member of the Bar when I say that any probation officer, as well as any police officer or criminal practitioner, worth his or her salt would be able to tell Members that the level of risk posed by any individual to themselves or others can change day by day and be affected by a range of issues. Risk is volatile by nature, and I worry about how untrained individuals working for community rehabilitation companies will manage to recognise when risk escalates, sometimes very quickly indeed.

Speaking of risk, the Ministry of Justice has been aware for months of the risks posed by its untested proposals to communities throughout England and Wales. The internal risk register for the new plans, which was leaked to the press but not published by the MOJ, warned that there was a risk of more than 80% that the plans would lead to

“an unacceptable drop in operational performance”,

as well as, crucially, “delivery failures.” Perhaps the most perverse element of the plans is that private sector companies might be handed a bizarre incentive to allow reoffending to increase among the cohort that they supervise so as to increase their profits—that might be idle speculation, but I will throw it in anyway.

Strangely, prior to the introduction of the reforms, Ministry of Justice figures showed that all 35 probation trusts were hitting all their targets with “good” or “excellent” performance levels. Again, I wonder why change is needed if it was just a matter of extending the remit. The reoffending rates for all adult offenders on probation supervision were the lowest they had been since 2007-08. As I mentioned earlier, in October 2011 the probation service was awarded the British Quality Foundation gold medal for excellence—no mean feat.

It is frustrating and wrong that in this instance the MOJ has put dogma before common sense. I know that the argument will be that in these austere times the money was not there to extend the remit of the probation service, but at some point we will find out how much these changes have cost. I would be prepared to bet that the cost of putting all these services out to tender, dealing with all the CRCs, forming national probation groups, changing offices and premises, getting rid of and re-engaging staff and all the rest of it, dwarfs the cost of extending the remit of the professional probation service to deal with the under-12-month cohort—but time will tell.

The National Association of Probation Officers recently challenged the Ministry of Justice by judicial review, but that did not lead to any substantial rethink on the part of the MOJ, which leaves the probation service in much the same position as it was in before the challenge. However, substantial problems have been reported to many of us, calling into question the ability of the new CRCs to meet the huge demands of the job. Examples have come to my attention of delays in the production of court reports, information not being communicated to the courts, problems with the compatibility of National Probation Service and CRC IT systems, and very low morale among staff. Case loads are erratic, and there is even talk that private bidders will look to increase again the number of offenders who are tagged. There is concern that rehabilitation programmes and other interventions will be slashed because they will not be seen as “cost-effective” options for the CRCs.

For example, Warwickshire and West Mercia CRC wrote to the National Probation Service and magistrates at the end of December to draw attention to the fact that there is a serious shortage of staff in CRCs who have been able to deliver the Building Better Relationships programme for domestic violence offenders. The letter says:

“This has been further compounded by a couple of staff resignations of the very few trained tutors in the CRC…we continue to experience staffing problems across the CRC to meet a growing waiting list.”

The letter concludes by saying that, as a result of that shortage, CRC staff will be returning some cases to court, owing to their having insufficient time to complete the BBR programme. The letter implores magistrates to reserve the BBR programme for defendants who are at

“high risk or very high risk of harm”.

The situation is made worse by the directive that went out to magistrates courts telling them to order stand-down reports, which should be produced on the day of request. If CRCs are understaffed, it will be a massive task for anyone to do the work, let alone to get it right. The problems resulting from getting it wrong would be very serious indeed.

I hope I am wrong, but I am afraid that the changes will have a serious impact not only on reoffending but, crucially, on public safety. A number of CRCs have been forced to cancel or postpone the delivery of sex offender programmes. Furthermore, I understand that domestic violence cases are being allocated to unqualified probation officers, owing to a lack of trained staff in the CRCs. Conversely, in some regions, the National Probation Service is no longer sending representatives to multi-agency risk assessment conferences, which focus on crucial information sharing among professionals. Rehabilitation is being damaged seriously as a result of the reforms.

In July, when the Secretary of State gave evidence to the Select Committee, several Members pressed him on the need for the Government to revise their timetable in the light of the problems I have described. His response was characteristically lackadaisical: he said that they were merely “teething problems” that would “inevitably arise”. I do not think that any of the problems were inevitable. As the Select Committee’s report makes clear, the reforms must be managed very carefully if we are not to see further detriment.

Turning to the prison estate, in the past year there has been a 27% increase in serious assaults in prison, and assaults by prisoners on officers have risen by 12%. In 2013, 1,588 incidents occurred, with 2,843 prisoner-on-officer incidents in the same period, 289 of them classed as serious. The increase in assaults has correlated with a reduction in the number of prison staff across the estate: it can surely be no coincidence that violence is rising when in 2000 there was one officer for every 2.9 prisoners and by the end of 2013 there was one officer for every 4.8 prisoners. Having been in several prisons as a professional, I have experience, and have found very low morale, which combines with overcrowding to create a heady, potent and dangerous mixture. I caution that we are now in a difficult position in the prison estate. Prisons can be dangerous places, and the Government must consider how they can reduce crime and violence within prisons.

I have long argued that north Wales needed a local prison. Imagine my dismay, having campaigned for nearly 20 years, when it was announced that the prison that will be built in north Wales is not in fact designed to service that area at all, but will rather be a Titan prison, designed to benefit our friends on the other side of the border. I say that for simple reasons: the Wrexham prison will cater, for the most part, for category C adult males, which excludes all adult male category A and B prisoners from north and mid-Wales. Juvenile and female prisoners will not be accommodated either.

Experts suggest that the Wrexham prison will hold only about 500 Welsh prisoners out of 2,000 inmates in total. Therefore, three quarters of the prison’s population will come from the north-west of England. We all know that keeping prisoners close to their context, home environment and family is key to a good rehabilitative programme. I am afraid that that is not the case here, as those who come from north-west England will be farther away from their loved ones, contexts and families. Again, I hope that I am wrong, but I think that rehabilitation will be more difficult for them than it would have been if they were held more locally.

To make matters worse, 58% of cells in the new prison will be designed to hold two prisoners. That is contrary to the UN standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners, which uphold the principle that the level of cell sharing is a key measure of decency. I have questioned Ministers about it, and am still unhappy about the decision. It is worth pointing out that our prison system in England and Wales has never met that criterion.

It is generally accepted that Titan prisons of that scale are difficult to manage, are located farther away from the communities from which inmates come, and do not have a positive impact on inmates, leading to higher rates of reoffending. To refer back to the Texas experience, Titan prisons do not rehabilitate; they merely perpetuate a revolving-door scenario that is of no use to anyone. It is no use to the community, the individual or the state or country that spends money on it; it is pointless. If Texas sees fit to close such prisons, why on earth are we building them?

Once again, cost reduction has been prioritised over common sense. In its December 2013 report “Managing the Prison Estate”, the National Audit Office stated:

“Understandably…the estate strategy’s focus is cost reduction and this has limited how far it can address quality and performance. Consequently, the Agency’s decision-making has sometimes traded good quality and performance for greater savings. For example, it closed some high-performing prisons before new prisons were performing well”.

The report goes on:

“Making cost savings was the main impetus behind the Agency’s estate strategy.”

I am afraid that that is a statement on the MOJ’s priorities. I understand the need to consider how every penny is spent, but I think that the current policies are short-sighted about prisons, and definitely so about probation. I hope that I am wrong, but I think the impact on reoffending and rehabilitation will be far from positive.

I know that I sound very downbeat, but I thought we should consider those two points. The Minister has read the report, and the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed has given a good account of the other matters that concerned the Committee, but I considered it appropriate to tackle those two issues. Knowing the Minister, I am sure that he will respond in kind in due course.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I normally start Thursday afternoon debates by saying that we make up in quality for what we lack in quantity. At one stage, it looked as though it was going to be me and the Minister, which would have tested that view to destruction, but fortunately we were joined by the Chair of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), and the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd), so we can be assured of a forensic and testing debate, but also, I hope, a well-informed one. I commend both of them on their speeches, made on the back of their report.

We welcome the aims of the report, which are to

“to examine the nature and effectiveness of crime reduction policies”

under this Government. It is an authoritative report, and the Opposition are studying it carefully with a view to implementing parts of it if we have the opportunity later this year. Although I welcome the hard work put into the report by the Committee, after reading the Government’s response, I fear that a lot of it might be falling on deaf ears at the moment.

We know that the current Lord Chancellor has a way with words, but yesterday he excelled himself when he suggested that his lack of legal training enables him to “take a dispassionate view” of matters. That undermines the legal profession and writes off genuine concerns about the effect of his legislation as mere self-interest. That is not helpful. Probation workers, lawyers, prison officers and magistrates are all let down when this Government take that sort of attitude, and particularly by the Lord Chancellor’s approach.

Ministry of Justice policies over the past four years have not been well evidenced and are guilty of a distinctly short-termist approach. The Government were warned repeatedly that their probation reforms were rushed and concerned more with structure than with outcomes. If probation is in a state of chaos, our prisons are in a state of crisis, as we have heard. The quality of prison provision has deteriorated rapidly under the current Justice Secretary.

I note that page 14 of the Committee report points out that reoffending was falling in 2010 but has flatlined under the current Government. Page 6 of the report says that we are still lacking a

“lack of rigorous assessment of where taxpayers’ money can be most effectively spent in cutting crime”.

That is quite an indictment: after almost five years of coalition Government, the Government still cannot define where they are spending public money. They could not even tell MPs how much the Transforming Rehabilitation plans would cost when they asked Members to vote it through the House.

As the report notes, the Secretary of State published no modelling or projections to support his claim that Transforming Rehabilitation would save money. That raises obvious concerns that savings will not be made and the Government will therefore not be able to afford to fund probation for offenders serving under 12 months. Those changes—that is, the creation of the community rehabilitation companies—were not driven by cost-effectiveness but by what the Secretary of State called his gut instinct to privatise the service and see what happened next.

We agree with the Select Committee that crime reduction needs to be a cross-departmental priority, but by the time someone reaches the criminal justice system, it is already too late, in many ways: somebody has already been a victim of crime. Our approach, through a victims taskforce, will be to recast the criminal justice system as a criminal justice service fit for victims. A lot of good work is going on; I pay tribute to the work done by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) and Sir Keir Starmer, alongside the shadow Lord Chancellor and Baroness Lawrence.

The previous Labour Government were building strong cross-departmental practice in work on female offending prior to 2010. That included working with women at risk of offending, to prevent crime before it happened. Unfortunately, as the Committee noted in its previous report on Corston, the current Government disbanded the cross-departmental structures working in this area, which I am afraid is evidence of more short-termism.

We have pledged to appoint a Minister with responsibility for mental health in the Ministry of Justice, to join up the health and criminal justice agendas. We agree with the Committee that it is important for probation to be represented on health and wellbeing boards, and we look forward to the Minister’s response to the Committee’s recommendation that that representation should be statutory.

[Mr Graham Brady in the Chair]

Labour welcomes the work being done on liaison and diversion. The intention to divert offenders with mental health or substance misuse problems into treatment, or to ensure correct support through the criminal justice system, is laudable, and it is supported by Members from all parties. I hope that the Minister can give us an update on the roll-out of liaison and diversion services.

I will move on, briefly, to Transforming Rehabilitation. The Transforming Rehabilitation plans were rushed through and they were based on no evidence of what works to reduce crime. The Government did not test them to check if they worked at all before rolling them out; I think one of the first acts of the Justice Secretary was to cancel the piloting. Now probation services are firefighting and having to deal with additional strains on the system caused by the rushed fragmentation of the service, rather than focusing on reducing crime. As one witness, who is quoted on page 36 of the report, said of every time that providers change:

“We have…to take a few steps back and start again.”

Furthermore, despite the Justice Secretary arguing that the point of all this activity was to allow for supervision of offenders serving less than 12 months, the sell-off has been rushed through and there is still no certainty about how the increased supervision will work.

Later, I will refer to the views of the Magistrates’ Association, but one thing that I picked up from yesterday’s meeting of the all-party group on the magistracy is that there is a lack of clarity as to exactly when the new proposals will start. I do not know whether the Minister can confirm the start date today. What we were told yesterday was that offenders sentenced from February onwards will be subject to the new regime when they come out of custody. If we are talking about very short sentences, that could be in February itself, although it seems unlikely that we will see the results of this policy before the general election.

The successful bidders for the community rehabilitation companies are due to take over on 1 February and contracts are about to start. Labour has expressed numerous concerns about the various “sweetheart deals” and “poison pill” aspects of the contracts. Frankly, it is ludicrous that Ministers have tied the hands of future Governments to multibillion-pound contracts for a decade or more. There was no testing or piloting to see if this system would work. It means that every IT problem and failure in communication is now being dealt with on a national scale.

What is even more concerning is that the fragmentation of the service has built new problems into the system, as the Justice Secretary was warned it would. The chief inspector of probation found that processes are slower and more complicated than they were before. Staff are worried that the service is now less readily responsive to risk, and less able to protect the public from repeat offenders. However, the concerns of experts and probation staff have been ignored.

The situation is no better in our prisons. Despite the Justice Secretary’s protestations, prisons have been badly managed by this Government and are undeniably in crisis. Let me give an example. Last autumn, there was a report into the prison in my own constituency, Wormwood Scrubs. The outgoing chief inspector’s report revealed that Wormwood Scrubs is not a safe place to be and does little to rehabilitate prisoners. That is bad not only for the inmates themselves but for the whole of society, because eventually the inmates are put back on the streets without the means or attitude to reform or improve their lives. Those are some of the headlines from that report, but I am afraid reports of that kind are now published almost weekly or monthly.

The report showed that Wormwood Scrubs had declined significantly in almost every aspect. It was not safe enough, with 22% of prisoners saying they felt unsafe at the time of the inspection; over a third of prisoners reported victimisation by staff; there were five suicides in 2013 alone; almost half the prisoners surveyed said they had felt unsafe at some point during their time in the prison; only one in 10 prisoners said that they had been helped to prepare for release; during the previous three months, more than a fifth of prisoners had been released without a suitable address; many prisoners were allowed out of their cells for only two hours each day; more than 40% of prisoners were locked up during the working day, with nothing to do; there were too few activity places, sufficient for only half the population; and administrative failures meant that many prisoners attending learning and skills activities were not paid for long periods. And yet, during the same short period the population of the prison increased by 8%, from 1,170 to 1,258. Earlier this month, I received a petition from prisoners in Wormwood Scrubs, protesting about the fact that the excellent art and design department is to be closed.

The “rehabilitation revolution” that the Government promised is proving as illusory as their being the greenest Government or building the big society, or, in the case of the Liberal Democrats, abolishing tuition fees.

Page 45 of the Committee’s report shows how the chief inspector found that the overall prison system was under “strain” and that

“activity outcomes were poor and falling; too many prisoners spent too long locked in their cells, and evening association was increasingly curtailed”

and

“there were too few activity places”.

Tragically, since that report was published, things have got much worse. Page 21 refers to “prison population projections” that suggested the population was going to fall. In fact, in the week that the report was published the Government had to instruct already overcrowded prisons to take in even more prisoners, because they had closed prisons—17, I think—and were taken by surprise by the rise in the prison population.

The Justice Secretary’s prisons are not doing enough to challenge criminal behaviour; in fact, prisons themselves are increasingly violent places. Also, rehabilitative work is being cancelled because there are not enough staff to safely unlock prisoners and escort them to rehabilitation programmes.

If we are to deal with the kind of problems that the hon. Gentleman described, which exist in many of our prisons, does he accept the Committee’s general contention that we ought to use prison only for those whom it is essential to lock up for significant periods, and that we should make more use of robust community sentences rather than continuing to increase the prison population?

Sentencing has to be appropriate. I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there is a need to ensure the safety of the public. That is what indeterminate sentences for public protection were designed to do. In some respects they worked, but unfortunately in others they did not work. It is a continuing problem for all Governments, and it is the No.1 priority; that has to be where we start.

As for less serious offences, it is the job of the Government to set sentencing policy, but it is the job of the courts to ensure that in each individual case sentencing is appropriate. Regarding prison numbers, the problem that we have had over the last four years is not so much the number of people in prison as the fact that prison closures, including the closures of successful prisons that were achieving rehabilitation, have been driven by a financial agenda.

That was done by a Government of whom the right hon. Gentleman is a supporter, so none of us can entirely wash our hands of responsibility. However, the objective—I think it will be shared by all of us—must be to bring down offending rates and to increase rehabilitation. That is achieved through a combination of what happens in prisons and what happens outside, but the lesson from the Select Committee’s report is that neither is working at the moment, because of the short-term solutions and, particularly in the last year, the cuts in the number of prison staff, some of whom are now being re-recruited.

Whatever the Government’s genuine intention, and I am sure that Ministers share our genuine intention to increase rehabilitation and decrease reoffending, they must have known that, after the cuts they made in October 2013 to prison resources, that was simply impossible to achieve.

Finally, I will say a few words about courts. There is a section in the report on the Courts Service, and there has been an interesting response from the Magistrates’ Association. The Minister was unable to attend a meeting of the all-party group on the magistracy yesterday due to other commitments, but we had an interesting discussion, although he would have been no more cheered by it than by what he has heard today about the Prison Service and the probation service.

Increasingly, the Courts Service is not functioning, and that is partly due to a lack of staff, ranging from ushers, who ensure the smooth running of the courts day to day, to justices’ clerks, who supervise the entire court system. Furthermore, up to one in five defendants in magistrates courts are not represented, because of cuts in legal aid, and more such cuts are planned.

However, the issue that concerned the magistrates most was what they regarded as the Government’s lack of respect. We have seen that in the cuts in training, in the attempts to cut remuneration and, most of all, in the issue of increasing responsibility, with magistrates having to take on serious amounts of work without, effectively, being allowed to run their own courts.

I was very interested in the section in the report on problem-solving courts. In terms of the ability of magistrates—not just district judges, but lay magistrates—to be involved in, and take charge of, that process, one observation the magistrates make is that there is not even a magistrates representative on HM Courts and Tribunals Service, despite the fact that they are its largest customer.

Leaving aside the financial constraints, there is a need to ensure that we use the skills that are there in the court system, and particularly those of magistrates, who give their time for nothing, who have a huge reservoir of expertise and who are hugely committed to all the principles the report deals with in terms of improving the criminal justice system. Increasingly, however, they are simply used as a convenient tool to get through the substantive work load.

We take the report seriously, and we applaud the Committee’s work in scrutinising the court, probation and prison reforms. On page 39 of the report the Committee expresses the concern—we have heard it again today—that, when choosing their language, Ministers should bear in mind the

“gulf between hard line rhetoric and the practical policies”.

I cannot imagine who the Committee had in mind—not the Minister here today, who is always very emollient. Notwithstanding the fact that we are approaching a general election, if those involved took a slightly less bombastic, heated approach and had a slightly more measured discussion of the key issues, as evidenced in the Report—I use the word “evidenced” advisedly—that would not only improve the level of debate, but increase the extent to which we achieve the aims we all share.

It may assist Members if I explain that, due to earlier uncertainty about the time the debate was expected to begin, I propose to call the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington before we move to the Minister’s response.

Thank you, Mr Brady. May I apologise to other Members? I was happily working away elsewhere, thinking that large numbers of people would be debating the green deal—in fact, I thought that that debate might overrun—and I was advised that this debate would start at about 3 o’clock. I am grateful for your flexibility.

I came to the Committee during the last stages of its consideration of the report, and I was available for only the last couple of sessions, so I congratulate those Members who were involved in preparing the report. As I have said before, certainly in the Committee, this is the first such Committee I have served on in the 17 years I have been in the House—I cannot think why—and it has been a real challenge. It has been interesting to see not just how a Select Committee works, but how this whole area is examined by Parliament and opened to democratic accountability. The report is a good example of what a Select Committee can do and how it can create an agenda that the Government then have to address.

I want to deal with two issues, which are raised in the sections of the report on access to mental health treatment and access to drug and alcohol misuse treatment. I want to do that in the context of the figures we now have on deaths in custody, which are extremely worrying. In other debates, I have been more than angry about the various reform proposals the Government have implemented and the way they have impacted on staff in the system—in the judicial system and in prison. I do not want to go over those issues again; I have put my views on the record with real anger, because I felt that the impact of the reforms was detrimental to all those operating in the system.

Let me turn, however, to the two issues I want to raise. In the press this morning, we seem to have the latest figures—I believe the Government will announce them next week—for deaths in prison. The figures, which come from the Howard League for Penal Reform, confirm that last year saw 82 prison suicides—the highest number in our prison system for seven years. Ministers, including the Secretary of State, have expressed concern about that, but we now need to put emergency measures in place to address the problem.

Of the 82 prisoners who took their lives last year, 14 were young people between the ages of 18 and 24. It looks from the figures that the highest numbers of deaths occurred at the biggest prisons. Four people took their lives at Wandsworth prison, in south London. The jail holds 1,633 prisoners, but it was designed for 943. Four people took their lives at Elmley, in Kent, which holds 1,231 prisoners, but which was built for 943. There were 235 deaths in prisons in 2014, with more than 120 people dying from natural causes, and a further 24 deaths yet to be classified. There were also two alleged murders, one in Cardiff and another in Altcourse prison.

I am concerned about the suicides, because they might well relate to the concerns in the report about access to mental health treatment and supervision, and we have to examine that area with some concern. However, I am also concerned about the non-self-inflicted deaths. Obviously, some people will naturally come to the end of their lives, but I am anxious that those numbers have also increased.

There seems to be a steady increase in non-self-inflicted deaths; that may just reflect the increase in the overall prison population, but it is nevertheless significant. The number of deaths has gone from 52 in 2001 to 109 in 2014. That is a doubling, and there has also been a doubling in the prison population, so the figures may well simply be a reflection of the increase in the prison population. However, my concern in 2001 was that the number was too high, and we should address these issues to reduce the number of non-self-inflicted deaths.

I fully agree with what the hon. Gentleman says about suicides, but perhaps I can offer an explanation, and I mean to be helpful. The number of non-self-inflicted deaths could reflect the fact that the largest increase in the prison population is in the over-65 cohort, because of historical sex abuse and so on.

I understand that as it applies to recent years, but there has been a steady increase from 2007 onwards, although the numbers peaked at 123 in 2013. That might be because of the ageing prison population, but I would like more information.

This is such an important point—and we have plenty of time, so I do not necessarily apologise for interrupting. Long before I took my present job, I visited my local prison regularly—and I have visited many others since getting this job. The one thing that prison officers tell me week in, week out, is that the age of the prison population is rising. I have asked for some analysis. It is something that we need to look at seriously.

If the age of the prison population is going up, the way we look after prisoners who have the medical conditions that people get later in life is very important. For example, the incidence of Alzheimer’s and dementia has gone up in the general population, and that is replicated in prisons.

That brings me to the Select Committee’s consideration of the need for a strategy for older people in prison. The Government need to have a greater sense of urgency about developing that and addressing the present issues. If we can expect such a level of problems, we must make sure a strategy for older prisoners is developed. The Government seem to have resisted that, almost semantically, in some respects—it seems that we have policies, but the Government refuse to accept that that is a strategy. I have never been completely sure why.

The Howard League for Penal Reform has made its views clear, and they largely reflect my own. Frances Crook says:

“Hard-pressed prison staff have to save lives by cutting people down almost every day and without this the death toll would be even higher”.

She continues:

“It is evident that people are dying as a direct result of the cuts to the number of staff, particularly more experienced staff, in every prison. The government has chosen to allow the prison population to increase whilst it cuts staff, and that has led to an increase in people dying by suicide”.

That is the view of the Howard League, and the Prison Officers Association expressed the same view to the Committee. Its concern is that with the reduction in staff numbers, many experienced staff were lost. I understand that the Government are now wisely recruiting staff in significant numbers and, in addition, are putting some of the staff who have gone into a reserve army. That needs to be increased, drawing back in some of the expertise lost as a result of the incoherent policy of laying off so many experienced staff in recent years.

The Secretary of State has said that there is no evidence directly linking staff levels to suicides, but sometimes there is a blindingly obvious issue: when people are locked in their cells for long periods, as is now happening, and there is a lack of staff who could take them towards purposeful and creative activity, they can dwell on their problems and that can exacerbate mental health problems. Unfortunately that sometimes leads to suicide.

Drug services were covered in the report. The news this week told us that the Ministry of Justice has announced that in the year up to March 2011 there were 3,700 drug seizures, and in 2013-14 the number increased to 4,500. That might be a celebration of the increased efforts being made in prison to police drugs, but it also reflects the prison drugs problem, and the need for greater investment in treatment as well as detection.

I am a member of the drugs and alcohol group formed under Lord Ramsbotham’s chairmanship. We met yesterday to consider some recent figures and statistics on drugs, in prison and elsewhere, and investment in treatment. We concur largely with the views of Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons, who said:

“Prisons continued to focus on recovery working, which was appropriate, usually with active peer support and service user engagement.”

However, a quarter of inspected prisons

“were not focused enough on the needs of prisoners with alcohol problems”.

Furthermore, in relation to drugs in particular:

“In a minority of services, recovery working was undermined by enforced reduction or inflexible prescribing”.

The report stated:

“Prison substance misuse services offered psychosocial support to prisoners and clinical management of opiate substitution therapy. However, full psychosocial support was not available in a quarter of services and prisoners’ needs were not met.”

Also:

“Clinical management in most prisons was flexible and catered to individual need. However, some options were limited by the refusal of the prison or SMS provider to prescribe buprenorphine, which was contrary to national guidance.”

There is thus still inconsistency in services, and the statistics are pretty stark. Sixty-four per cent. of prisoners have reported using drugs, and 22% alcohol, and

“90% of adult prisoners had at least one of the following five mental health or behavioural disorders (personality disorder; psychosis, neurosis, and alcohol misuse and drug dependence).”

Fourteen per cent. of prisoners in England and Wales said that they developed a substance misuse problem in prison, and 31% said that

“illegal drugs are easy or very easy to access in their prison”.

It just goes on and on.

A particular concern raised in recent evidence to the Committee related to what are described as legal highs. Specifically, “Spice” and “Black Mamba” were cited as cause for concern; 37% of the adult male establishments inspected, and particularly local prisons and category D jails, had a specific problem with those drugs. Detection of drugs in prison has increased, as I mentioned, and the figures this week are significantly improved, but the overall issue continues. As to alcohol, 17% of prisoners in England and Wales say that it is very easy to obtain in prison, and there has been an 84% increase in the number of prisoners who have been returned to closed prisons in the past three years because of drugs or alcohol. One in four absconders from prison who were still unlawfully at large had been convicted for a drug offence.

The issue is what is happening to prevent people from entering the prison system as a result of drug or mental health problems, and what support there is for them if they do enter it. The cross-party drug and alcohol group has been working with DrugScope. In a recent report, it identified the problem of the increased purity of some drugs now available, and the price drop, which has increased the crisis on the streets.

We face the possibility, as a result, of a significant increase in the number of people coming into the criminal justice system and prison with drugs problems. Some of the reforms in drug service provision inside and outside prison have contributed to that. DrugScope has conducted a survey, to be published in a few weeks, on funding changes. It surveyed organisations that it works with, and 60% of them reported a decrease in funding. Even in the residential sector the figure was 11%. As to workers in the field, supporting people who want to come off drugs, 53% of the organisations reported a significant increase in the caseload per worker.

I worry that if services are not provided in the community now, more and more people who come into the criminal justice system will have drug problems. Already we are struggling to cope with drugs in prison. The latest statistics show that in the past year, in the overall drug-using population, there has been a 32% increase in deaths. Is that because of cuts in services or the increased purity of the drugs, which are more dangerous?

A balanced view might suggest a combination of the two. That is extremely worrying, because that increased purity of drugs on the streets will eventually seep into prisons. If the number of prisoners in the system who are dependent on drugs or have drug problems worsens, and the drugs coming into prisons are of a kind that reflects what is happening on the streets, and if we do not plan to deal with that issue, the deaths in custody statistics will significantly increase.

I should welcome a dialogue between Select Committee members and the Minister about how the issue is to be tackled. In addition to the Government’s response to the report, I would welcome a response to the Committee regarding the latest suicide figures, the death figures and the DrugScope report, which will be available in the next few weeks, about the increasing problem of drugs on the streets, which will inevitably impact on those within the criminal justice system.

I am worried about what is happening in our prisons. When we raised the number of suicides previously with the Minister, naturally the response was that any death in our prisons is a matter of concern. I understand what was said in paragraph 63 about politicians’ language—it is important that we ensure that we use appropriate language and moderate our language when dealing with something so sensitive—but on this scale it is no exaggeration to say that we have a crisis on our hands with regard to the number of suicides.

Emergency action is needed, and if that means a significant increase in staff in certain prisons, a review of our mental health services, and a review of and greater investment in our drug support services, we need to do it whatever the cost at the moment. The number of lives being lost is unacceptable in what we seek to portray as our civilised system of criminal justice.

I thought at first that I was going to serve under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray), but I am pleased to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady.

I sympathise with the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) for arriving during the debate, and I think we all accept and understand why. Actually, I was running back and forth to the main Chamber like some glorified Whip earlier, to try to ensure that the Chair of the Select Committee was here. Anyway, we are here now. It is important to mention the tone of this debate and the tone and concept of the excellent Committee report, and the way it was written. How on earth did the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington manage to stay off a Select Committee for 17 years? I need to get some training from him, because clearly I was in the wrong queue when I arrived at the House.

The Government and the Department have responded to the Committee, so I will respond in general to comments made today. At the same time, I will try to have a slightly more positive look at some of the things we are doing. We have heard about the doom and gloom in some understandable contributions by hon. Members who have deep-seated views in this area, which I fully respect and understand.

There is a tiny bit of politics to mention. The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter), said that whoever comes into government would be entrapped by contracts. I remember when I was a Transport Minister in 2010, the National Audit Office saying that I had inherited a £1.7 billion overspend on a private finance initiative on the M25. So we have to be careful that we do not have selective memory loss as to what happened with previous Administrations, compared with where we are now.

I know that the reforms, particularly of probation, were unpopular with certain Committee members and certain parties in the House. I respect that view. I do not think we were ever going to convince certain Committee members about it when we put the word “privatisation” in. We were obviously going to have a difficult time when using that word. However, the measures have gone through this House and through the other place, so we will see. Obviously, we will do everything we possibly can to ensure that they work.

The 12-month cohort is massively important but was untouched in previous Administrations of both sides. I am not being party political about that: that is probably the last thing I would be in responding, as anybody who knows me would say. I am not a lawyer. Does that make me a bad person? I am not from the legal profession. I do a lot of this, as the Secretary of State does, from gut feeling. A lot of my personal views will come into what I will say today and those views are also part of the policy.

I should like to mention a couple of examples from the report and particularly a couple of comments by the Committee Chair. It is obviously better that we prevent people from committing crime in the first place. We do everything we can, throughout our education system and with non-governmental organisations and the voluntary sector, to prevent them from committing crime in the first place. That is the best way to have a lower prison population and less people on probation and in our courts. That is absolutely where we would all like to be. We are doing a lot of work, and a lot of good work is going on out there, to make sure that happens.

When a crime is committed there is always a victim. Very often, we feel that the public forget that, as do some of the national newspapers that the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) mentioned. Sometimes that victim does not even know they are a victim, interestingly enough. Then there is a cost and there are implications, including a cost for the person who has perpetrated that crime, because something is coming down the line.

I have every sympathy with people who say that we need to do everything we can, and use as many different schemes as possible—some really exciting schemes have been out there for many years and new ones are coming forward—to prevent a person from going into a custodial sentence. We need to make sure—the Secretary of State has already announced this—that we do not hold people on bail for extortionate lengths of time, so that they do not get the stigma and do not face issues relating to that. I think that 28 days, with obvious exceptions, will be needed.

Cautions have been around for a long time, but did not have an enormously good reputation. I chair the Victims’ Advisory Panel and one of the biggest things they talk to me about is cautions. They say that the police give lots of cautions and it is like a slap on the wrist, and that it means people can commit another offence and get another caution. One of the most exciting things that is going on at the moment—it is being piloted in West Yorkshire, Staffordshire and Leicestershire—is deferred prosecutions. There are two sorts of deferred prosecution. For a really minor offence—for trivial things—basically victims come in with the police to say, “This is what we would like them to do in the community, to make recompense for what they have done.” However, if they do not do that, there are further sanctions. The next level is a deferred prosecution.

In both cases, the person has to indicate that they are guilty—they have to admit the offence—which is often the hardest thing. Of course, that has to be done under caution. However, once they have admitted that offence a set of measures is put in place and, if that person breaks those, the consequence will be that they will go into the criminal justice system. Those measures may involve going on to a drug and drink awareness or rehabilitation course, a fine or community work. That is done not by the front-line police officers, but by the back-room staff. That individual knows that if they break the community agreement they will go into the criminal justice system. We are starting to see this being taken much more seriously by the person who has perpetrated the crime and by victims themselves, who feel that there is some natural justice within the system. The secondary part of this is that people cannot have a deferred prosecution within two years for a similar crime, so there cannot be a rollover situation.

Deferred prosecution is an excellent idea. Is this a pilot and when will it be evaluated and, hopefully, rolled out elsewhere? I think it is a good idea to concentrate on this aspect.

These are 12-month pilots at the moment in the three constabularies that I mentioned. There is involvement from local government, either county-wide or in some cases with a unitary authority, and from the Crown Prosecution Service regarding those who break the terms of a deferred prosecution. The police are also involved, as are a lot of NGOs and the voluntary sector, and the NHS. We are about four months into this 12-month pilot and some interim work will being coming forward. However, it is interesting that chief constables and police and crime commissioners are saying to me, “Can we join this now?”, because the anecdotal evidence is coming through.

Of course, I am a Conservative politician and am perceived to be, even though I have never been asked on the doorstep whether I am right, centre-left or centre-right, or whatever. I am passionate about this, because it brings an old-fashioned term back into the justice system for the victim: “natural justice”. They can see—it is tangible—that a person will pay back while still in the community and, even if they break that, they have had every chance. It gets offenders on to the drug or alcohol rehabilitation schemes—sometimes both together. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington was in the Chamber when I made an intervention on the Chair of the Select Committee, but I said that these are complex areas. There are people with learning difficulties, mental health conditions and alcohol addiction. We have all seen that when we visit the different projects in our communities, and it is difficult.

I remember visiting an excellent charity in my constituency—Members have probably all heard of it —called Druglink when I was first elected. I said, “You have been funded to tackle the drug rehabilitation side, but surely you have a twin problem here, because I know from the community I grew up in that drink is as big a problem.” Druglink said, “Absolutely, but we are not funded to deal with drink. You are the first person to come and raise that point.” It is important that we have a joined-up process, and the deferred prosecutions are an enormously positive thing.

We are having this debate on an opportune day, because the national crime statistics have been released and they show that crime is down again—by 25% over this Parliament and by 11% in the past year—in nearly every area of the country. As the Police Minister, I praise the work that the police are doing in the 43 authorities I am responsible for. They do a fantastic job, day in, day out, with most of it unseen by the public. The public see their bobbies and their police community support officers, but we all know that that is a tiny proportion of the work that the police do on our behalf every day.

I fully accept, as does the Secretary of State, that the rehabilitation of our courts, how they are structured and the whole of that area need to be looked at. Why do we have a magistrates court 400 yards from a Crown court? That does not make sense. I know that the Committee is particularly interested in the need to join up the IT in the criminal justice system.

I am involved in the replacement of the Airwave product, although I will not be the Minister who takes the decision on that, no matter who the Government are, because Airwave is based in my constituency. I thought it would be improper for me to take that decision, so I asked to be removed from that. Airwave is the police comms system—it is not a radio system, but a comms system, because we have to move data through it as fast as we can. We need to have the camera data that PCs have at the scene of an incident—I will come on to body-worn cameras in a second, because a lot is changing there—spread through a comms system. We need a streamlined communications and IT system that takes the data through the courts, into probation and out the other side. That platform, which is being worked on at the moment, will be vitally important. Government IT programmes are always difficult to talk about. I have been there; I was a shadow Health Minister when Spine was being discussed.

I will touch on some of the equipment and technology that is coming into front-line policing and which will transform certain areas of the criminal justice system. I will give two examples, one of which I have already mentioned. First, we are undertaking serious pilots of body-worn cameras. In legislative terms, we will need to move very fast on them, no matter who is in Government. That technology is out there and is protecting our officers. There are real signs that when people realise that a police officer is wearing a camera, their aggressive attitude to the officer completely changes. A gentleman has rightly gone to prison for a very long time for attacking an officer, and that conviction was largely based on the video evidence of a lady police officer in Hampshire, who was wearing her camera when she arrested the man for a domestic violence incident. He was handcuffed and was under the influence of drugs, and just like that he grabbed her by the throat and pushed her to the ground. She became unconscious after the fourth hit of her head on the kerb. He smashed her head on the ground another five times. The video evidence not only helped convict that gentleman, but helped secure the length of sentence that I think all of us here in the Chamber would agree he deserves.

We need, however, to see how we can take the technology forward. For instance, there is the evidence around statements. Kent police want to take a statement at the scene of an incident on camera and use that as evidence going forward. We should be able to do that, but we cannot under current legislation, and we are going to see whether we can change that. One reason why they are looking at doing that is simply because when people see, even when they are sitting with their lawyers and representatives, what they were doing the night before, it becomes—I am sorry to use strange language in the Chamber—a no-brainer. In such situations, the solicitor leans over to the client and says, “You are going to say you did not do it, but there it is. Now we need to move on.” The technology will transform what happens in every space.

We have to look carefully to ensure that when such evidence is used in court, it is used in the correct way and is not ruled inadmissible for technical reasons when the evidence is there. To give an example—the gentleman is serving 18 years, so I am sure he will not mind me commenting on the fact that he was found guilty—in another piece of footage I have seen, the police were called to a house. The neighbours had heard a lady screaming, and not for the first time. When the police knocked, a gentleman in his mid-50s opened the door and was asked whether his wife was in. He used every excuse in the book not to let them in. When he eventually did let them in, the police found his wife who had been pummelled—that is the polite way of describing it. She was unrecognisable. They could not see her eyes or her lips. She was petrified and did not want her husband prosecuted, until she saw the video of what she looked like when the police arrived. She said, “Enough”, gave evidence against him and he went to prison. That is how we can use technology in a positive way to get people to come forward.

The Minister is making an interesting speech and we probably all applaud what he is saying, particularly on the increased use of technology, but two things are running through my mind. Are the Government now regretting their privatisation—or abolition—of the Forensic Science Service? It was one of the greatest mistakes that the Government made when it comes to ensuring that serious criminals are brought to justice.

Secondly, the Minister mentioned the crime figures released today. There has been a long-term decline, particularly in high-volume crime, but he is talking specifically about some serious violent crimes, and the numbers of such crimes are up. In particular, the number of sexual offences is up, but we are seeing a lower level of rape prosecutions. Will he address those points?

I welcome the shadow Minister’s intervention. I know it will sound strange, but I welcome the reporting of more rapes and sexual assaults. If we asked any of the 43 chief constables or PCCs around the country whether there has been an increase in sexual assaults or rapes, they would say that there has not. It is about people having the confidence to report such crimes to the police and other authorities so that the perpetrators can be caught. In addition, 25% of the sexual assault allegations are historical. It is important that people now have that confidence—they clearly did not in the past, which is a real shame. Those people are male and female, which is also important, because male rape is serious and is probably one of the most unreported crimes in the country. That is one reason why we gave the first ever funding to male rape centres in England and Wales.

I do not agree with the first point that the hon. Gentleman made, which was on the Forensic Science Service. I know I cannot use props in the Chamber, but in my pocket I have the second piece of kit that I will refer to today—I am happy to show it to any Member after the debate—which will end up being called a “drugalyser”, although that is a trade mark. It is a roadside drug-testing kit for our police, so that they can arrest at the roadside based on a test, not an assessment.

I can speak from experience on this matter, as can the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), to whom I have shown this piece of kit—he is also a former fireman. I attended so many incidents over the years I was a fireman where we knew someone was on something. We assumed it was drink, and they were breathalysed; they passed the breathalyser test—sometimes only just, but they did pass—but the officer still felt that the person was impaired way beyond the level given by the breathalyser, and the assumption was that the person was under the influence of drugs of some description. It could have been an illegal drug or a legal high, although legal highs did not exist so much when I was in the fire service, or it could have been a prescribed drug at a level at which they should not have been driving.

In our manifesto commitment at the previous election we proposed to introduce roadside drug-testing equipment. I was pleased, just before Christmas, to announce type approval for that piece of kit. It looks like a small pregnancy-testing kit. If an officer does a breathalyser test and the person is under the legal limit, the officer will test them for drugs. The officer asks the person to open their mouth, dabs the piece of kit on their tongue—it is a saliva test—and gets a result within six minutes. I did one the other day at the Home Office laboratories, and within four a half minutes the kit gave an indication. I was not personally tested, but we did a test—[Interruption.] I did offer, but my civil servant said no, although I would be more than happy to line up with colleagues to take the test. I know I am digging a hole here, so I will stop.

Chief officers are now buying the kit. I have suggested that they buy them on a national basis. It is entirely up to them how they buy them, but they will want to push the price down. The kit is type approved and the legislation will be on the statute book I think on 3 March, so the police will be able to use it at the roadside. Every police officer I have spoken to, including a lot of the bobbies here who have worked on traffic over the years, have come up to me and, first, asked to see it—no one has actually seen it before—and secondly, said, “What fantastic news for us,” because it takes away the risk of wrongful arrest and gives them the confidence to say, “I know you’ve got something in your system. I know that’s why you were in this accident. I know that’s why you hurt this person. Let’s move on.”

Technology is moving on fast. I have been asked to try some of the new technology. The Select Committee’s report talks about the use of out-of-prison methodologies for people who, for instance, have been involved in a drink-induced incident and have to stay off drink and away from drinking establishments. How do we prove that they have not been drinking? We can do a urine test or a blood test, but that can be difficult. Technology has come up with a non-invasive bracelet—there is no penetration of the skin—that can record alcohol levels in the bloodstream over a period of time, and the information can be downloaded. That will then allow much more confidence in those sorts of determinations, and I think it will make individuals more aware of how much alcohol they have in their system. Such technology is not hundreds of years away; it is around now, and we are looking to type approve that so that we can use that equipment.

I raise that, because such developments make me wonder: could a drugalyser that tests saliva be used in prisons? That is an obvious place to use one. On the subject of prisons and drugs, I was at the Mount prison just outside my constituency—a lot of the officers live in my constituency. Traditionally it has been a north London category C prison. I have been trying to get prisoners from my constituency moved there, closer to their families, for many years, but it has always been difficult, not least because they have to have 18 months left before they can go there. The Mount prison is now going to be a training and rehabilitation prison—one of the 89—and numbers will go up. The building work is taking place at the moment. This will be transformative for the people in my part of the world and in north London. We are going to provide training and skills and they will be released closer to their home. Prisoners have said to me, “I get released, I get given a little bit of money, but I am miles away from home.” Or they say, “I don’t want to go home. How do I start a new life elsewhere?” We can work together on that as we form different units.

Lastly, the report rightly states that we need to break down the silos of different institutions, different parts of Government and different parts of local government, and bring them together to see what they can do together, rather than individually. This has been particularly difficult in the area of domestic violence. Domestic violence tends not to be a one-off. The assessment of risk for someone in such an environment tends to get done, but who takes responsibility?

I was truly amazed when I went to see Project 360 in Leicestershire. If the Select Committee would like to visit, we could arrange it. I sat in a room not only with people from the police, probation and the local government antisocial crime unit, but people from adult care services, the mental health unit, and lastly someone from the university of Bedford, I think—I apologise if I have got that wrong or missed someone out—all meeting to assess whether the scheme was working. The Chair of the Select Committee has seen the Government response: we are not going to have a fully independent panel. However, there will be an evidence base from some of the great universities, so that, as the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd mentioned, we have the evidence so say what has and has not worked. At the moment, it is all anecdotal—as the shadow Minister said, it is gut instinct—but we will have the evidence.

We will not be able to get an evidence base for every single thing, but if we are going to spend money—the Chair of the Select Committee is absolutely right— we have to make sure that we get best value. The Treasury is all over us daily about that. That is absolutely right and proper, because it is taxpayers’ money. If we can show that it is not just us saying it, but this is actually what is going on—I am perhaps stretching it here—some of the scepticism about the use of the private sector or the voluntary groups that are massively involved in the probation changes might dissolve, and we might win over some colleagues on the Committee.

Absolutely the last thing I will touch on is mental health, because what is going on in government at the moment is exciting. No matter who wins the next election, I pray that the next Government push things forward. Throughout my life, I have been desperately worried about people such as ex-servicemen coming home with post-traumatic stress, for example. My generation of servicemen coming home included Simon Weston, who came back from the Falklands, and some of my closest friends. There were guys and girls at school who we all knew had real problems; they needed help and it was not there. All those years on, we are now starting to get somewhere.

The triage is done in different ways in different parts of the country—some paid for by the police and crime commissioners, some jointly funded by the mental health trusts and the police. There is no doubt in my mind that we are absolutely in the right territory of ensuring that people with mental health conditions and people with learning difficulties—sadly, the public often do not know the difference—get to a point of safety that is not a prison cell. A prison or police cell is not a place of safety.

The police have been the first resort for too many years. We have to turn the thing on its head and look at it through the other end of the telescope, so that the police are the place of last resort. I am simply thrilled that 17-year-olds and younger will not be held in police cells overnight, whether they have a mental health condition or not. There will be real pressure on local authorities to ensure that they have those places of security. It will be crucial for the young people to get the support that they need.

I have seen the triage working. I was in a large custody suite in Stoke only the other day, where two mental health professionals were embedded. Coming into a custody suite can be among the most difficult things for someone with a mental health condition, so we want to be able to move things on. Also recently, I was in Holborn with the Metropolitan police. A man had assaulted his girlfriend. She told the police as we went in the door that he was schizophrenic and had almost certainly not been taking his drugs. So we knew straight away.

I asked the sergeant, “Traditionally, what would have happened?” He said, “We would have arrested him, taken him back and only then called in the mental health professionals.” In this case, the man was taken to an accident and emergency unit that the police knew had mental health professionals attached—not all A and Es do, and it is dangerous to take people who need such care and attention to an A and E where there might not be the necessary expertise. Frankly, they will be back out in two hours’ time and the whole cycle will start again.

The people who are most vulnerable in our community need to be looked after. The report highlights some of the real difficulties and pressures in the criminal justice system. I am generally pleased, although we can always pick on bits, or, in any positive story, find the negative one—the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Hammersmith, found the negative story today in the crime figures. I do not think the figures are negative because I am proud of people who have the confidence to come forward and say that they have been assaulted, wanting the person to be prosecuted. At the end of the day, everyone in the House has a job of work to do, a job that needs a lot of scrutiny and a lot of compassion. All too often, the compassion is missing.

I thank the Minister and hon. Members for taking part in the debate. I particularly appreciate the fact, Mr Brady, that you allowed the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) to join the proceedings, because although he has been a Committee member for only a short time, he has proved an extremely valuable one. It is striking that people with quite different views on some fundamental political questions can get together in the Justice Committee and find a great deal to agree on, including a great many valuable changes and reforms that could be made. We are not agreeing because we think that everything can be kept as it is; we are agreeing because we can see ways forward that will make a real difference.

The Minister is open to much of that, but as he was describing his excitement at the possibility of a testing system for drugs, I was thinking, “Yes, but how much better it would be if we had services in place that meant that those people had never got tied up with drugs in the first place?” That is the message I want to leave with the House: there are so many things that we could do to make our society safer if we spent more money right at the beginning of people’s lives and their career towards crime, rather than waiting until later and spending it on locking them up and feeding and housing them in prison.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting adjourned.