Minister at the Dispatch Box.
Forgive me, Mr Speaker; I think that the summer recess has taken its toll on my memory of parliamentary procedure.
I am determined to ensure that our prisons are places of safety and reform. We need to help offenders to get off drugs, improve their education and get the work skills they need so they are less likely to reoffend when they come out.
I thank the Secretary of State for concentrating. Does she see a connection between the long-term decline in prison officer numbers—they went down 30% between 2010 and 2013, and they are going down again—and this massive increase in assaults on staff, which went up 90% over the last Parliament?
There are many factors driving prison violence and self-harm. I am looking at the evidence about what will work and what steps we can take, but I am determined to tackle this. I am very clear that the current levels of violence are unacceptable.
May I also warmly congratulate the Secretary of State and the new ministerial team on their appointments? Of course we need more prison officers in prisons, but may I urge the Secretary of State and her Ministers to consider the greater use of prisoners as mentors? Wandsworth is leading the way, with 50 mentors providing teaching and education, but that could also be used in employment, for therapeutic purposes and to cut down the use of drugs.
As a Prisons Minister, my hon. Friend did tremendous work in this area; we are very much learning from the work that he carried out in the Department. He makes an important point, and I think we need to look at the overall culture in some of our best prisons. We have exemplary work going on, such as mentoring, and we need to make sure that that is happening right across our prison estate.
The Secretary of State may be aware that the head of the prison service in Northern Ireland recently stood down. Attacks on prison staff are on the rise. Will the Secretary of State ensure that her Department engages actively with the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland to see what lessons can be learned and to try to improve safety in prisons in Northern Ireland?
I have been in touch with the Justice Minister in Northern Ireland, and I look forward to talking to her in due course.
May I, too, congratulate the Secretary of State on her appointment? Is not a large part of the problem the fact that we have so many Victorian prisons? Does she have any plans for a prison rebuilding scheme?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have a big issue with prisons that are out of date and not fit for purpose, which makes it more difficult for our excellent governors and officers to manage them well. I am pleased to say that this summer we were able to close Holloway prison. We have a £1.3 billion building programme. I want new modern prisons to be built in which prisoners will get the education and work they need to succeed in outside life, and to close down some of our most dilapidated and out-of-date prisons.