[Mr George Howarth in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered outdoors endurance activities for prisoners.
It is a honour to be here and a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth—I do not think that I have been fortunate enough to do so before. I welcome colleagues on both sides of the House to the debate.
I start by praising and thanking all those who serve in the Prison Service. I frequently call them members of the forgotten army. Being an ex-solider myself, I think that is rather appropriate, because all too often our prison officers are forgotten. There is no doubt that much can, and should, be done to improve their working environment, but I will not expand on that today. I am here to promote an exciting initiative that was trialled in Scotland and then taken on by the former MP for West Dorset, Sir Jim Spicer, who sadly is no longer with us.
In the Gallery today there are three distinguished guests, two of whom sit on the Airborne Initiative committee. Buffy Sacher has years of experience in the Prison Service, and General Sir Rupert Smith inspired me personally when he came to address young officer cadets at Sandhurst in—I think we agreed at lunchtime—1978, which was many years ago. As we all know, he has served with huge distinction in our armed forces for many years. With them is Keith Potter, a resettlement officer in the Prison Service at the young offenders institution Her Majesty’s Prison Feltham, where the Airborne Initiative is currently being run. I thank them all for their input. I also thank Russ Trent, who was the governor of the young offenders institution HMP Portland and is now the governor of HMP Berwyn—I hope I got the Welsh right.
I am delighted that the Minister—I have a huge amount of respect for him, as we all do—is here, and I thank him for his time. I am speaking today about a remarkable organisation that helps young offenders and those on the margins of criminality to achieve their potential by building self-worth and giving participants a sense of achievement.
When I read the motion, I thought that outdoor endurance for prisoners meant being on the run. I suspect and hope that my hon. Friend will disabuse me of that notion and talk about a fantastic improvement in reoffending rates, which we would all welcome. I am sure that he will touch on that, if that is indeed the case.
I always welcome interventions from my hon. Friend, given his sense of humour. The whole point of the initiative, he will be glad to hear, is to stop prisoners running and reoffending. I will say more on that in a moment.
The Airborne Initiative is a five-day residential course on Dartmoor. Candidates are serving young offenders, former young offenders, those in halfway houses and those not in employment, education or training. That includes young men who are allowed out of prison on licence, are serving a community sentence or have been identified in their communities as being at risk of offending. I hasten to say that, so far, no young women have taken the course, in the main because there are 20 times more men in prison than women.
The aim of the project is to keep those people out of jail, and certainly to discourage them from returning, as well as to encourage them to strive for more positive goals in life and, of course, to build self-reliance and self-respect. The Airborne Initiative was born out of a pioneering experiment in 1994 in Lanarkshire, in Scotland. For 10 years, specialist social workers and outdoor recreation experts took in hundreds of male criminals aged between 18 and 25, and combined outdoor physical activities with counselling for youths who had not responded to conventional punishment and rehabilitation.
As the name suggests, the scheme was supported and inspired by the regimental elders of the Parachute Regiment, of which Sir Jim Spicer was a notable member. Admirably, the regiment decided to give something back to the region from which it had drawn so many of its recruits. Despite having measurable effects on the rates of reoffending, the Lanarkshire Airborne Initiative was controversially wound up by the Scottish Executive in 2004. I became involved personally in the project when Sir Jim called me and asked for my help, which I was more than happy to give. Sir Jim had decided to pilot the scheme at the young offenders institution HMP Portland, using all the experience gained in Scotland. He wanted to establish a course that would be an alternative to custody, as opposed to a pre-release course. However, unlike in the Scottish scheme, the Prison Service, along with volunteers, would run the course and provide the instructors, with serving members of the Parachute Regiment in support as often as resources permitted.
The new initiative was greatly helped by the generous donation of the use of the Duchy of Cornwall’s Dartmoor base, through Prince Charles’s capacity as colonel-in-chief of the Parachute Regiment. The Airborne Initiative is also extremely fortunate to have had two serving paratroopers assigned to each of its last seven courses. The carefully selected young paratroopers are generally a few years older than the participants, although closer in age and experience to the participants than most of those in authority with whom they have to deal. The extra guidance and support that the young soldiers provide, together with their obvious professionalism and resourcefulness, act as a powerful example of alternative life choices. I am told that the feedback from candidates is very positive.
I saw a before-and-after video of, if I recall correctly, one of the first courses in HMP Portland. Six or seven young men were interviewed before they went on the course, and again a week later, after they had attended the course. In the first interview, I saw what we would all expect. Regrettably, I saw the stereotypical image that is all too frequently associated with young men in prison: lack of inspiration, complete lack of interest, an “all about them” attitude, and no life aspiration at all. Probably there were lots of very complicated reasons for that—reasons that many of us here could not understand, not least home break-up.
Off they went. Then the governor said, “Now, look at this.” Then I saw the film after they had all come back. After only a week, their body language was completely different. They sat up straight. They talked to their instructors. They spoke to one another. One young man turned to the others and said, “I’m very sorry I got you lost for hours on end.” I said, “Hold the movie just there. That young man has just apologised to his colleagues for getting lost.” After six days, a tiny light had come on in that young man’s mind about responsibility, camaraderie and friendship.
Enduring the outdoors can be tough, not least on Dartmoor. I should know, having walked across it enough times. It is purpose-built to capture young men and women—although, as I say, no women have been on the course yet—who are slightly lost for many complicated reasons. All that comes at very little cost to the Government. Airborne Initiative is a charity, and one that is proving very effective. I was impressed, and the video reaffirmed in my mind that supporting this noble endeavour was the right thing to do. I very much hope that the Minister will respond to my speech positively and reassure me and our guests, who work so hard for this cause, that there is a way forward in the Prison Service to expand it further or, if not, to give the existing set-up the resources to do the job properly.
Today, YOI Portland has evolved into a resettlement prison, with fewer youths available for Airborne Initiative exercises, and the beneficiaries of that are the young men at YOI Feltham and Brinsford. The project is ably managed by the new course instructors: Keith Potter, who is with us today, Gavin Raines at Feltham and Lee Edwards and Rob Cowley at Brinsford. Each course caters for 15 to 22 young people, who are usually aged between 18 and 21, with candidates carefully chosen by governors, prison officers and other youth workers. According to a recent instructor’s report, a typical course includes dawn starts, circuit training, caving, swimming in the River Dart before breakfast—and why not?—and then a good hike, orienteering, hill walking, ice baths to repair aching muscles, cooking and obstacle courses, all complemented by fireside chats in which emotive topics are tackled.
All of us—I am sure that includes the Minister, beside whose endeavours and adventures mine, frankly, pale into insignificance—have sat round a campfire and talked to people from many backgrounds. I assure you, Mr Howarth, there is no better time to have a chat about life than when you are sitting there wrapped up warm, ideally with a whisky in your hand, and pouring out your woes—or not—to those around you. It engenders a very rare sense of camaraderie.
The course activities are all aimed at learning about leadership, responsibility and team-building skills. Obviously, it is challenging in places and tests an individual’s stamina, determination and physical and mental strength. Young men are taken out of their comfort zones and must learn to react positively to the environment they find themselves in.
In another experiment that I witnessed—this time, as a journalist with the BBC—I was asked to go to the New Forest to observe a two-day project run by volunteers from the fire service, the police and the ambulance service. There were 12 young people divided into three teams of four: the baddies, the not so bad and those who were there because they had been quite good and deserved a break. That was quite a range of individuals. I soon spotted the baddies, who were all too easy to spot. They were dressed in their tracksuits, and, again, their body language was: “not interested”. The phones were on, and they were not listening.
The first task, given by an ex-Royal Marine sergeant-major who was built like a tank—not a man to mess with—was to erect a tent to keep them warm at night. It was one of those dreadful tents with lots of bits, not one of the modern ones that go “pfting!” and the whole thing pops up. The instructors said to the 12 people, “You’d better make some cover for the night,” and they started to build their tent. After about an hour, it got to a certain height, but no way was it going to provide the cover necessary.
The staff all went over, gathered the young men and women around and said, “Okay. What lessons have you learned?” There was a pause, and there were grunts and groans, and then one asked, “How do we actually do it?” The sergeant-major said, “Young man, that is the very first question you have got right. How do you do it? We will show you.” The staff got the tent and showed them how to do it. They all joined in and the tent was erected.
The young people were given various tasks to do. The two troublesome young men were intentionally sent on an assault course with two of the girls on the course. It was not very difficult, but the point was to see how the young men would cope with the young girls. The young boys thought they were tough and they were going to win at all costs, but as soon as they got on to the assault course and the girls started lagging behind, they had a choice: plough on or go back. Both went back and, by the end of the assault course, the girls were being encouraged and helped—“come on, come on, let’s do it”—and they got to the end, and they won. The change on those young people’s faces! The sergeant-major turned to me and said, “Richard, tell that to the do-gooders. Show this to the do-gooders.”
The point of my story is that it takes so little to turn these young people around, whether they are young men or women in prison or the younger generation that might, sadly, end up in prison. We can get to them. The answers are not complicated.
The Airborne Initiative boosts self-esteem while teaching self-discipline and the value of the group. It creates a strong work ethic and challenges the young participants to achieve their own personal successes; so often, they have, sadly, achieved none. So far, 331 youngsters have benefited from the beauty of Dartmoor and all it can teach. Each individual has a report sent to their probation officer regarding their individual performance and specific achievements. Measuring outcomes is, of course, a longer process. Successful completion of the course triggers work opportunities, helps to build a CV and enables successful candidates to gain valuable life skills.
For the country at large, the benefits are manifest. The current reoffending rates for prisoners in the first year after leaving prison is 65%, which is a horrendous figure. Over the past four years, more than 200 young offenders have been through the course and reoffending rates have dropped dramatically. A fifth have gone into further education, training or work.
The Airborne Initiative has already held more than 30 courses on Dartmoor. Another seven are planned each year, with up to 22 participants taking part in each course. The initiative is working with the police and probation service, and courses are now included as part of an offender’s community service. In South Dorset, we are justifiably proud of our role in developing the project. Former YOI governor Russ Trent, a big supporter of the initiative when he was at the helm, said:
“I have personally seen young men grow in confidence and build trust with people in authority during the Airborne Initiative. It’s a great programme that brings different parts of the criminal justice system together.”
There appears to be no downside to the initiative. With its success in cutting re-offending and helping young people to evade criminality, it should be cherished and promoted. That is the crux. For an enlightened scheme such as the Airborne Initiative to thrive and survive, it needs the participation of all parts of the criminal justice system, from governors to prison officers, the young offenders themselves, the probation service and all the other organisations associated with prison life. Regrettably, and to everyone’s detriment, the current situation in our prisons is becoming so difficult that even the most enthusiastic governors are unable to release prison officers to accompany their charges on the course.
In my constituency, Monty Don, the television celebrity, led a team of young people. They gardened and kept some pigs and there was a huge improvement in their behaviour. A lot of them were drug addicts and drug dealers.
Any sort of interaction of any kind is a good thing, because cutting reoffending rates must be the Government’s No. 1 priority. Will my hon. Friend elaborate? We know that 20% of participants went into higher education, but is there anything further to say about the reoffending rate? Perhaps the Minister will elaborate. It would be the icing on the cake.
I am not at liberty to give the exact figure on the reoffending rate, because the participants are still being monitored. There is a figure, but as the organisation is a charity it needs the support of an organisation such as the justice system to confirm its own figures and say, “Yes, you are absolutely right—it is x%”. All I can tell my hon. Friend, from the evidence I have, is that it is dramatic.
One issue that I want gently to bang home is release on temporary licence. I understand from the experts that the rules were changed in 2015. I have had dealings with governors at both the YOI and The Verne, which was a prison and is going to be one again shortly, and they say that they are unable to release prisoners because the criteria are so strict and inflexible.
The point that General Sir Rupert Smith made to me today was to compare a young man on a moor and a young man in a city centre maintaining someone’s garden or whatever. It is highly unlikely, if not impossible, that the young man on the moor will wander off and do damage, whereas the young man in an urban environment could slip away, thump somebody or commit another crime. The system does not allow that sort of flexibility. That is the plea of all three people sitting behind me in the Public Gallery. I know from the governors I have spoken to that ROTL needs to be looked at urgently.
I know that the Minister agrees that we need to hand back power to governors—I have heard the Government and the Minister say that. Let us do a little more than suggest it; let us do it. Let us say to governors, “It’s up to you,” rather than mollycoddling or health-and-safetying—whatever the right word is nowadays. I believe that, if someone is in charge of something, they are ultimately responsible—that is their job. If something goes wrong in the police, the chief constable gets it in the neck. If something goes wrong in a prison, the governor gets it in the neck. If a Minister makes a total mess, he or she resigns.
There is no point in having something else to protect the person because that will negate the thing or create inflexibility, and they will be so terrified about letting prisoners out that they will just not do it. Let us be confident. The men and women running our prisons are professionals. Let them say, “Okay, Bob, Jack and Robert, you can go, but you three certainly can’t because you are too much of a risk. That is the assessment I have made. Off you go.” That is my plea, and if the Minister can respond to that point we will all be extremely grateful.
Several times recently, participants’ places on courses have been cancelled at the last minute. The last course in June, which was set up for 22 candidates, eventually ran with only 15 due to staff shortages and crises requiring manpower elsewhere in the Prison Service. For the Airborne Initiative, that is not cost-effective; for the young men who missed out, it is a tragedy.
As I come to the end of my speech, I want to touch on an issue that I feel passionately about. Buffy Sacher and everybody else will agree with me about what is going on in our Prison Service. What I am about to say highlights my concern. The most recent Independent Monitoring Board report on the YOI in South Dorset, dated September 2017, makes pretty grim reading, unfortunately. It describes
“a broad picture of things worsening and intractable problems persisting”,
and lists serious disturbances and cell damage. The number of staff assaults is rising and the number of prisoners with mental health issues is increasing—and they certainly should not be at a resettlement prison and YOI. Medical facilities are being overwhelmed. The lead member of the safer custody unit has resigned, and the flow of legal highs, such as Spice—I know the Minister is aware of this—is increasing. The report says that access to mobile phones creates
“debt, self-isolation, self-harm, gang activity, violence”
I inquired a bit further about mobile phones, because I was staggered that prisoners are allowed them. I can see that they are valuable tools for hardened prisoners who operate with their bad colleagues outside. Large debts are incurred for drugs or whatever else the prisoner is given by the gang member in the prison, who is also a prisoner, and then of course demands are made for the debt to be paid. Prisoners end up being bullied and family members outside are threatened; it is very harmful.
I am just a simple ex-soldier—I say take the phones away. Give prisoners access to a phone on the wall once a day, like they used to have. I personally do not understand why they have mobile phones. The IMB also reports
“grave concerns about staffing levels in the prison”,
which, although up to benchmark quotas, are
“unrealistic, given the difficulty of the prison population”.
I invite the Minister to visit the YOI in Portland. We would very much like him to. It is an old building on various landings. It is not a modern prison, which could be managed much more easily. The staff are divided into perhaps two prison officers per landing. If there is a conflict or a disruption on another landing, they are dropped down. They have no choice but to lock the doors—lock the prisoners in. There are not enough officers to manage that old-style prison. I have heard that complaint frequently in my many visits to the prison and the conversations I have had with members of the POA, none of whom are militant—they are all utterly charming and speak to me and the governor in a perfectly reasonable way. Those men and women have an honest gripe, which needs to be looked at.
The IMB report says that prison officers are frequently required to escort prisoners to hospital after drug overdoses, and the remaining prisoners are left in lockdown and are unable to attend educational classes. That means that the sparing of two extra officers to accompany participants to Dartmoor is virtually out of the question.
The Government are well aware of those problems, and I know they are moving swiftly to tackle prisoner officer numbers and pay levels, which is to be welcomed. That cannot come swiftly enough for what I term the forgotten army of prison officers, one of whom described conditions in Portland to the IMB as “Hell”—the
“worst it’s been for 20 years”.
The report is not good reading. There have been other instances. A pretty grim report along the same lines was published the other day about a prison in, I think, Liverpool. Until we sort out Portland prison—the YOI is both adult and young offender, with a majority of adults—we cannot hope to get this initiative off the ground, because the prison officers are tied up looking after the prisoners.
Tough love—that is what I call it—has a proven track record. Where it is succeeding, let us back it. I ask the Minister, for whom I have a huge amount of respect, to look seriously at the Airborne Initiative and give it resources and backing at a ministerial and Government level to expand faster and further. There are many organisations providing services to our prisons from the charitable sector, the voluntary sector and the private sector. In my experience some work, and some do not.
My criticism of the whole system is that there is not someone to sieve it all and say, “That’s good; that’s not good. We’ll have that, but we don’t want that. Let’s roll out that; let’s not roll out that.” It is a bit disjointed. This initiative is proving to be good and effective, and is cutting reoffending and giving young men a chance. God forbid, the alternative is years more in jail, which costs us about £40,000 a year for the rest of their lives. That is a fee that none of us wants to pay out of our taxes. This initiative really is worth pursuing, and I am fascinated to hear what the Minister says. I sincerely hope, from my perspective and from that of my three guests, that we have his support.
It is always a pleasure to speak in debates such as this. I congratulate the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) on bringing this issue to us today. When I saw this debate announced last week, I said to myself, “Here is a scheme that I am interested in.” This year, in just the past few weeks, we have initiated a similar scheme in Northern Ireland through the Department of Justice, which has responsibility for prisoners. I want to use this opportunity to explain how that scheme works and to support the hon. Gentleman’s proposal.
After hearing the hon. Gentleman’s speech, I will say something quickly that is not directly relevant to this debate, although the analogy could be considered so. In 2016, I read about a survey of 2,000 parents of five to 12-year-olds in a nationally representative sample, which found that 74% of the children spent less than 16 minutes playing outside each day. The UN guidelines on the treatment of prisoners require at least one hour of suitable exercise in the open air daily. The headline read, “Prisoners receive more exercise than children”, which is the media doing what they always do—looking for a headline that skews what the issue is. That is for another day’s debate, but it is worth highlighting in this one to flag up that we need a sea change when it comes to the physical activity of our children. We also need it for prisoners and those in prison.
We all know the saying, “If you do the crime, you do the time”, and we understand that. At the same time, however, we can rehabilitate prisoners to grow away from their past and go to their future, where they will have learned, been trained and be associating themselves with new opportunities, not going back to the past they once had. We are all familiar with TV programmes about prisons—this week, the Piers Morgan one comes to mind—and in the USA prisoners might be indoors for 23 out of 24 hours, in a lockdown. The impact of that is great, as it would be here back at home. Another TV programme—again, not one I often watch, but I see the previews—is that one on Channel 4: “Hunted”. Some people go on the run by choice and other people try to catch them. I am very aware of some of the analogies in the world outside.
I turn directly to the debate. We have recently had a pilot of outdoor activity for prisoners at Magilligan Prison in Northern Ireland—perhaps the Minister and the shadow Minister are aware of it. Those prisoners were the first in Northern Ireland to take part in what was called the “parkrun behind bars”. I saw it on the TV news a few weeks ago, on 6 January or thereabouts, and thought, “What’s this about?” The scheme illustrates well what can be done.
The UK-wide parkrun initiative was piloted at Magilligan on 6 January, with 15 inmates and 12 staff out on a five-kilometre run. That was possible there because of the nature of Magilligan. Perhaps it is not for other prisons—I cannot speak for everyone because I do not have that knowledge—but at Magilligan it is possible to have the parkrun within the walls of the prison. In an intervention on the hon. Member for South Dorset, the hon. Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin), who has just left the Chamber, mentioned the notion of people going on a run outside the prison—but in this case they were not: they were on a run physically within the walls of Magilligan.
The pilot was set within the confines of that low-security prison. The scheme, barring any issues, could be a regular way of inmates getting exercise in controlled settings and yet outdoors. I have no doubt that the ability to enjoy the fresh air and perhaps have a bit of freedom readies prisoners’ mindset for what they would rather be doing when they are eventually released and get outside prison. The news reports were that up to 412 prisoners could get involved as two-kilometre walkers, as runners in the five-kilometre race or as volunteer organisers.
People from outside were brought in to participate, which brings a certain level of normality into the project. The parkrun scheme helps with not only the physical needs of inmates but—this is so important—their mental health, which we need to focus on. It is well known that those who exercise regularly are better equipped to deal with high-stress situations; I am sure that every MP is very athletic, because they deal with high-stress situations each and every day.
The organiser of the parkrun, Matt Shields, said:
“We believe prisoners have a lot to gain from parkrun, not only because of the obvious benefits of physical activity and volunteering, but also because of the ties it will foster with their families on the outside.”
A certain mindset is needed, which is the focus of the parkrun strategy and what it is trying to achieve. I do not know this scheme intimately, as others might, but from watching the TV and news excerpts, it seems to me that it is an opportunity to do just what the hon. Member for South Dorset was talking about in Dorset and elsewhere, as well as in Northern Ireland. Perhaps the Minister and the shadow Minister will comment on the scheme. I am sure that the Minister will do so.
Matt Shields went on:
“They can share experiences by taking part in parkruns simultaneously, meaning families can share results weekly and compare improvement and feel part of a common activity.”
So while prisoners are practising and training inside, their families and those outside can be doing similar things, which is almost an interactivity between two different locations, bringing people together. Parkruns have other things apart from physical activity—lessening mental stress and keeping focused mind-wise and body-wise for the outside.
As an activity that prisoners and staff can do together, parkruns also break down barriers and build cohesion among the prison warders and prison officers and the inmates. We are all aware of some places where conflict and aggression happen sometimes because of where people are, but this is a way we can do things better. I again quote parkrun organiser Matt Shields:
“For everyone involved we feel this is a win, win”.
That is surely a win, win, and one that could be replicated across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The parkrun at Magilligan is certainly a start, and other parkruns are being looked at, including in other prison settings.
To conclude, I certainly support a scheme that may—not even may, but does—help to provide benefit to the rehabilitation and mental health of prisoners in a low-risk category, such as category D, which many of those prisoners are, as long as there is no chance of putting the public into danger or harm’s way. Let us remember that we have a responsibility for the general public and to ensure that their safety is in place—that is our paramount opportunity and responsibility. However, we also have a duty of care even to those who have done wrong and are repaying their debt to society—I believe that in my heart—and there is a safer and better way for them to do that than with weights in a gym.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) on securing today’s debate. When I saw its title, I immediately wanted to get involved, because it was about activity and prison. I lead an active lifestyle because I am a football referee, and many of the spectators who watch me say that my decisions are so criminal I should be locked up for them, so that is where I thought I would go with the debate. Then I realised we were talking about something totally different.
My remarks are initially from a Scottish perspective, because the scheme originated in Scotland in 1994. I looked at some of the figures from and studies of the Airborne scheme, which, sadly, only lasted a decade. I found out that 58% of the offenders who started the scheme successfully completed it, and only the ones at the high end and those involved with drugs struggled. Crucially, among those who participated in the Airborne scheme in Scotland, reconviction rates were reduced by 21% in comparison with people who had been offered alternative actions during their time in prison. That was a crucial point—it was a successful scheme. Other things have happened in Scotland, but I can see why that one was taken on board south of the border and why we are having this debate to explain its merits.
Given my limited knowledge of the debate from the title, I sought a briefing on it from the House of Commons Library. I was very disappointed that the Library staff said, “We can’t give you a briefing, because we know absolutely nothing about it.” That is why the debate is important and why it is right for my hon. Friend to take the matter forward. We must get the message of that successful scheme out there and encourage its extension, if required, to ensure that its benefits are felt far further afield.
I also want to speak about exercise within the prison population. As I was looking for other things to discuss in this debate, I spoke to one of our researchers, David Robertson, who works for another Scottish Conservative MP. I told him I was going to speak about endurance activity and prison, and he said to mention John McAvoy.
I had not heard of John McAvoy until about an hour ago, but he is a fantastic and inspirational character who spent 10 years behind bars. At the age of 16 he owned a sawn-off shotgun and robbed security vans. At 18, he was sentenced to five years in prison for armed robbery. He got out two years later, and he was immediately re-arrested in a flying squad operation and sentenced to life imprisonment in Belmarsh Prison. On his very first day he wondered why there were so few people in the exercise yard with him. Then he noticed that one of the people with him was Abu Hamza, and it suddenly dawned on him the type of people he had been incarcerated with.
John McAvoy spent some time feeling bitter about being in prison, but decided to get fitter. He had a fitness regime of 1,000 press-ups, 1,000 push-ups and 1,000 sit-ups every day. He then became an amazing rower, broke the British record for rowing a marathon and smashed the world record for distance rowing in 24 hours. He did all that because he decided not to waste his time in prison, but to get involved in endurance sport and to carve out a career in it. He decided that his life was no longer going to be around the crime family that he was brought up in and that had led him to spend a decade behind bars, but that he would use his time in prison to get fitter and become an international athlete.
John McAvoy has written a book called “Redemption”, which is about how he took part in the London to Brighton footrace. I was gripped by the opening pages, which I read before I came here today. He tells us how he and No. 76 ran along and completed the race, and at the end of his opening remarks he describes how he went home, fell asleep on the couch and the next day returned to prison. So he did all that endurance racing while he was still a prisoner.
Now John McAvoy is a motivational speaker who goes out and encourages people who have been in prison, and who are ashamed of what they have done and do not want to be labelled with it in their future. He describes how he got involved in the local rowing clubs in London, and how people there were not ashamed to be associated with him, but wanted to help him. For me, that exemplifies how sport can be a great bridge for some people, and a great leveller. People can use it to overcome their past problems and look to a far better future.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset for securing this debate, which has allowed me to look into a small story that tells us about the opportunities that some people have. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) mentioned mental health. I was involved in the justice system in Scotland when I was a Member of the Scottish Parliament. An estimated 80% of the prison population in Scotland have mental health issues, which shows how significant the problem is in our prisons across the country. When four out of five prisoners in a country the size of Scotland are affected by mental health problems, anything we can do to improve their general health, wellbeing and mental health has to be worked on and recognised.
I looked up the World Health Organisation, which the hon. Member for Strangford mentioned. It set up a European network for promoting health in prisons:
“The aim of the network is to promote health, in its broadest sense, within the prison community. It is built on a recognition that while imprisonment results in a loss of personal freedom, the negative effects of custody on health should be reduced to a minimum. It also endorses the principle that time spent in custody can be used positively to aid the prevention of disease and, as far as possible, to promote health.”
We have heard in this debate that the Airborne scheme, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset has explained, does exactly that. I support any measures that can advance such commendable aims.
I congratulate the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) on securing this debate, which gives us an opportunity to air issues about purposeful activity in prison. I welcome what he said about the Airborne Initiative and the fact that he has brought it to a wider audience. I welcome his comments in promoting the scheme. He is absolutely right about purposeful activity and investment, and about giving young people and more established prisoners the opportunity to receive education, feel self-worth, contribute in a positive way to a task, develop new skills, work as a team, show respect for peer groups, and show and learn respect for prison officers. I join him in praising the work of the Prison Service and the very difficult work that prison officers do.
Any investment in building skills, confidence and trust; showing people that there is a life outside prison; and encouraging people to learn new skills is extremely positive. The scheme—a public sector partnership with the voluntary sector—is a very positive model, and the hon. Gentleman has made a very strong case for it to be looked at.
I came to the debate because I wanted to hear what the hon. Gentleman said. Having done so, I think there are two challenges: one for him and perhaps more than one for the Minister. I want to talk about those challenges and how we can build on the laudable objectives that the hon. Gentleman set out. In making the case for the expansion of such initiatives, it would help if he clarified, now or later, some of the key issues that he touched on, which need fleshing out. First, it is important to look at the value and the reoffending rates. He was absolutely right about the figures. Reoffending rates of between 60% and 65%—perhaps averaging 65%—are simply unacceptable.
The purpose of prisons and young offender institutions must be punishment—that means deprivation of liberty, being away from family and not being able to do the things that we wish to do in society—but there also has to be reform. Reform is about employment, housing, training, the removal of drugs and alcohol and the problems associated with them, tackling mental health issues, promoting self-worth and dealing with all the issues the hon. Gentleman mentioned. It would help his case if he could establish in detail from the Airborne Initiative what the reoffending rates were. He touched on them, but the details would establish whether we could attribute the reoffending rates to the initiatives that were taken.
Also, we need to know the costs per place in the scheme. The hon. Gentleman mentioned two prison officers having to accompany prisoners, which represents a cost. Are there additional costs that the Prison Service has to cover, and does the Airborne Initiative require public sector support in addition to its voluntary activity? Did the hon. Gentleman look at completion rates? I did not get a sense of how many people started and completed the courses. We need to know about not only reoffending rates, but the impact one or two years down the line. I know from my own school life, private life and business life, that I can point to certain things in my life and say, “That two weeks, six weeks or four days made a real difference to my life” when I look back on them two years later. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will undertake such an evaluation.
I am listening carefully to the right hon. Gentleman’s excellent speech, and he is raising perfectly fair points. A point I would add—this is for the Minister, too—is that, as I said in my speech, the effect of the scheme began to be monitored carefully only quite recently. The charity now needs the Government’s help to monitor the effect even more carefully, and to do all the things the right hon. Gentleman suggests. There is work afoot to do that, but we need help from the Government if we are finally to get all the statistics, costs and figures that he has mentioned.
I think that would be valuable, because we are, like it or not, in a time of tight resources, particularly in the Prison Service. There are many strains on the whole prison system. If it can be proven that the scheme has the value that the hon. Gentleman evidently believes it has, it would be a useful addition, for the reasons I have mentioned.
My argument now moves to the Minister. The hon. Member for South Dorset made some valid points about the challenges of operating a voluntary sector-funded scheme that aims to build self-confidence, education and self-worth at a time of challenge in the Prison Service. Perhaps I might outline the challenge for the Minister, who is new. I welcome him to his position and wish him well in a difficult and challenging job. He will have constructive support from the Opposition and from the Justice Committee, on which I sit. We wish him well, but in the past seven years we have lost 7,500 prison officers. I know that there is a move to bring back 2,000-ish, but we will still be 5,000 short of the number that we had before.
The hon. Member for South Dorset said that one of the challenges was releasing prison officers for the activity. Self-harm incidents, drug abuse, deaths from self-harm, and assaults—both on prison officers, and prisoner on prisoner—are at record levels. The Minister knows from last week’s report from Liverpool about the difficulties and challenges of broken window syndrome in the prison system. To make possible schemes such as the one that the hon. Member for South Dorset wants to make progress with, those issues need to be realistically addressed; I hope that that is constructive. We shall welcome the Minister’s remarks today, but his challenge, as long as he is in his present job, is to make an impact on the situation.
This is not just a matter of prisoner officer numbers; it is about attitude. I met Russ Trent last week at HMP Berwyn—which the hon. Member for South Dorset pronounced perfectly. Russ was at HMP Portland, which I visited perhaps nine years ago when I had the privilege of doing the job that the Minister now does. I know that there is good work to do, and it is partly about leadership, understanding, and giving governors and prison staff the time to invest in education, self-worth, respect, positive attitudes and teamwork. Unless the Minister addresses some of the structural issues, there will be less opportunity to support valuable schemes.
I have two final points, the first of which is about governor autonomy. The plea of the hon. Member for South Dorset was to roll the scheme out more widely and organise it. I am still not clear what that means with respect to the Minister’s central Department and governor autonomy. Perhaps that can be answered today, or perhaps it is for another day. Does the Minister have confidence in governors to make local decisions about deploying prisoners and prison officers to support such schemes? Where does accountability lie? The Minister can help today by taking on that question.
That leads to my other central point, on which I am pleased the hon. Member for South Dorset touched—release on temporary licence. If there is governor accountability and autonomy, if risk is managed locally, if governors have the resources to determine that x, y or z prisoner can benefit from the course and if the governor determines that the risk can be taken to release on temporary licence, I hope that the Minister will give the decision his backing. If governor autonomy means anything, it is allowing those decisions to be made at the local level. If the Minister does not know now, he will learn in the next few weeks about the restricted nature of ROTL, which the hon. Member for South Dorset pointed out. The risk is transferred to the Ministry of Justice, and governors’ ability to make judgments at a local level is restricted, so there is a lack of participation in the type of scheme so ably promoted by the hon. Gentleman.
My challenge to the hon. Member for South Dorset is to get clarity about the worth of the scheme. I wish him well in doing that, because if it works, it will work well. My challenge to the Minister is to tell him that the scheme will not work, and will not be supported, unless he gets the basics right. I know that he is focused on that, but a series of prisons Ministers has presided over a reduction in staff and increases in incidents, self-harm, attacks and prisoner-on-prisoner violence. Those problems have not allowed good work to thrive. It is impossible to undertake such good work while dealing with drugs, attacks, self-harm and the problems that the hon. Member for South Dorset raised. I wish the Minister well, in the context of the need to do better overall.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I thank the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) for obtaining the debate. He made a convincing and eloquent case, highlighting the benefits and positives of outdoor endurance activities. I join him in thanking all those who work in the prison system, who are doing a very difficult job.
I know that the hon. Gentleman has a keen interest in the prison system, particularly in the challenges faced by prison officers, but also in programmes designed to help young offenders. One of those is of course the Airborne Initiative, which he has spoken highly of, and he displays great passion in supporting it. It is a breath of fresh air to hear success stories from the criminal justice system, and the Airborne Initiative clearly is one. That is not to say that we must not talk about the challenges faced in prisons. The present situation is an emergency, which bleeds through to outdoor endurance activities, including those that the hon. Gentleman promotes.
I thank all the hon. Members who have taken part in the debate on an issue that deserves attention for the clear benefits associated with it. Some Members have mentioned similar schemes with benefits. The hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) talked about someone who went to prison for serious offences and was effectively rehabilitated and experienced positive effects while he was there; when he came out he spoke to warn others of the risks of offending. I have had the benefit of working on a similar scheme in my district, where rehabilitated offenders worked, in partnership with the police, fire service, local authority and others, with young people at risk of falling over the cliff edge into a life of crime. The message was a simple one, from someone who had served time in prison and was telling young people about the risks and dangers, and what prison life is really like. Unfortunately—tragically—a life of crime is sometimes glamorised for young people, and shown in a “blingy” way. That is just one project, and clearly there are massive advantages to be gained.
Being outdoors can have a significant impact on wellbeing. That cannot be overlooked. However, extended and endurance activities can help to improve mental health and reduce reoffending rates. Young offenders have often lacked such opportunities. Many have never have been part of a team on a 50-plus-mile hike over several days, and they feel the benefits even more keenly. Anything that can improve mental health in prisons must be seized with two hands because there is an epidemic of mental health issues within prison walls. Accurate figures do not exist because the Government do not collect them, but even optimistic estimates give the number of prisoners with a mental health issue as one in three—higher than in the general population. Many of them have serious mental illnesses, but many others have milder conditions, where exercise and meaningful activity can have a positive impact. Both the NHS and the Royal College of Psychiatrists endorse that. I do not profess that exercise and outdoor endurance activities are some kind of silver bullet for mental health issues; clearly they are not. They are a useful tool as part of a wider arsenal, as they can help to provide offenders with motivation to get their lives back on track and reduce reoffending.
Poor mental health and low self-esteem among prisoners increase their chances of reoffending, so it is only logical that positive mental health should reduce it. The impact on mental health of outdoor activity reduces reoffending rates, as do the Airborne Initiative and the Duke of Edinburgh Award, which cannot be encouraged enough in young offender institutions. In these programmes, offenders are exposed to a wealth of transferable skills such as manual work, navigation, planning and teamwork, among others that the hon. Member for South Dorset highlighted. All those skills can be used to build a CV and increase employability, or to light and develop a passion for activities that can be pursued through education.
It does not matter whether work or education is chosen; both reduce dire reoffending rates—almost half of adult and more than half of young offenders reoffend within a year. We also have to tackle the issue of reoffending to address the wider challenge of overcrowding, which leads to prisoners doubling up in single-occupancy cells and being locked up for most of the day. Outdoor endurance activities can have a positive impact on the prison estate as a whole among the offenders who are able to participate. As I mentioned, the effect of these activities on young offenders is even stronger, so programmes such as the Airborne Initiative are best targeted on them.
Young people who go to prison are some of the most vulnerable individuals in the country, and also the most neglected. They experience difficult upbringings and challenging circumstances that crush their self-esteem, sometimes leading to their becoming offenders in the first place. No one is born an offender; there is no genetic predisposition to committing a crime. It is purely down to an individual’s environment lacking support mechanisms or role models, both of which are provided by outdoor endurance activities and similar programmes. Instructors and supervisors give young offenders someone positive who they can look up to, and who can help build their self-confidence.
The positive impacts are there for all to see, but why are they not implemented on a wide scale across the country? Surely the Government recognise their impact. We should be doing everything that we can to improve the life chances of offenders, to prevent them from coming back and costing the Government the £13 billion that reoffending costs. Unfortunately, unless the Government address seriously their underfunding of the prison system, wider adoption of any outdoor endurance activities remains a pipe dream. Their potential is constrained by the consequences of policies that prevent offenders from doing any outdoor activity at all, let alone week-long residential trips. Offenders are locked up for most of the day because of the increasing violence that has become all too common in our prison system, which a number of hon. Members have referenced.
That violence is the consequence of the huge reduction in prison officers towards which the Government have actively contributed, with measly pay offers and pressure piled on remaining officers. The dwindling prison officer numbers are the reason why prisoners cannot be let out of their cells, and why any initiatives to get prisoners into the great outdoors for the Airborne Initiative or other schemes cannot be adopted wholesale and rolled out nationwide. There are not enough prison officers to supervise them while they are away from prison, and there are not enough officers to escort them there in the first place.
The Government clearly do not grasp the benefits that outdoor activities can provide for offenders. If they did, they would not force local authorities to cut the youth services that provide the same development of skills and teamwork as outdoor endurance activities, and that provide the same reduction in reoffending rates among young people. Between 2010 and 2016, almost £400 million was cut from youth services, leading to a loss of nearly 140,000 places and the closure of 600 youth centres. The Government are now being asked to put the cart before the horse: to support services that combat reoffending among young offenders, but they should have been providing those same services that deliver the same benefits to young people before they go on to commit a first offence.
It is all very well and good to put these ideas forward; we should be looking at both new and proven ways to reduce reoffending and increase the wellbeing of offenders, but because of the Government’s policies, that sadly cannot happen to the extent that it needs to. Offenders are locked up for too long even to do basic outdoor activities, and prison officers are not present in the numbers needed to escort and supervise offenders safely. Although the Minister is new, I am very keen to hear his views not only on outdoor activities, but on some of the broader issues that have been raised in the debate.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I begin by paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) for bringing the debate. It was fantastic to see the energy that he put into it. His interests as an ex-soldier and as the Member of Parliament for South Dorset came through. It is great that an initiative partly pioneered in the first place by a Member of Parliament is now being pioneered again and promoted by another Member of Parliament.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) made some characteristically powerful comments, reflecting on some of the practicalities of the subject and some of the moral and philosophical background when it comes to balancing the protection of the public with our obligations towards prisoners. My hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) provided a good example in John McAvoy of exactly the kind of transformation that can happen for somebody who would, by definition, have been considered one of the most at-risk prisoners most likely to reoffend. He has come through an extraordinary personal journey and transformation.
The right hon. Member for Delyn (David Hanson) was almost the longest serving prisons Minister in British parliamentary history, I think, so he is quite an intimidating man to have opposite. He made, I think, more than 67 separate visits to prisons; he has a deep understanding of the whole system, and I will not attempt to quibble with him on any of the things that he said. Indeed, he and the hon. Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain) pointed out very powerfully that there is no point in simply looking at this thing in isolation.
For any of these schemes to work, we need to think much more broadly about who these people are, who they were before they got into prison, as the hon. Member for Bradford East pointed out, what kind of resources exist—how much money there is, how many prison officers there are—and what kind of routines are run in prisons. In addition, there were practical issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset, which extend all the way from relief on temporary licence conditions to conditions in relation to drugs.
I do not want to expand on this subject too much or trespass too much on your time, Mr Howarth, but clearly the challenge that we face is very remarkable. We are all aware of fantastic initiatives—the Airborne Initiative is one of the most powerful and admirable—and we have been aware of them as they have been run for some time. The right hon. Member for Delyn will be aware of many such initiatives that he will have seen when he was the prisons Minister.
The tragic truth is that, although there have been incredibly powerful initiatives for many decades around the country, and although each of these programmes points to fantastic improvements, reoffending rates in general have barely moved. That has been true with more resources and fewer resources; the reoffending rates were roughly the same when the right hon. Member for Delyn was the prisons Minister as they are today. That is partly for some of the reasons that were mentioned.
This is a very difficult cohort to deal with. As hon. Members know, nearly half the people entering prison are almost functionally illiterate. Nearly 60% or 70% come in with pre-existing behaviour issues and particularly drug use problems. Nearly 90% are reporting different ranges of mental health issues. There is an incredibly high homelessness rate among people who leave prison, and they have many problems getting employment. Even the Airborne Initiative, a successful scheme, touches only the percentage of people—it is in the mid-20s—who get into education or employment. These are terrifyingly difficult issues to deal with and to turn around.
That is why the hon. Member for Bradford East and my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset were absolutely correct to pay tribute to the Prison Service. At the centre of a lot of this is the dedicated, tailored work of prison officers. We have tried, by having a keyworker programme where one prison officer is assigned to six prisoners and through some of our work with physical education instructors, to ensure that we build up tailored relationships. Having 2,500 more prison officers is important, because it will begin to make that possible, but each prisoner is different—that leads to the question of empowerment—and each prison is different. One of the reasons why we need governor empowerment is that the kinds of education and activities provided for young, short-term prisoners will be quite different from those provided in a category C prison, let alone in the high-security estate. Governors need to be able to adjust.
Balancing the power of the centre with empowered governors is more of an art than a science. Obviously, in any organisation, we need to trust people and empower them. They need to feel that they are in charge, that they have the necessary levers and, in the end, that the buck stops with them. To take an extreme military analogy, the captain of a ship needs to feel to some extent that, if the ship crashes, it is his fault. Equally, of course, he operates in the huge system of a navy, where there are many other reasons why a ship might crash that might not be entirely down to the captain. Getting that balance right, setting decent national standards and holding people like me to account will be critical.
I expect to be held to account on some of the basic standards issues that were raised. Frankly, I should be able to come back here in 11 months’ time and show that we have significantly reduced the number of people testing positive for drugs in our 30 worst prisons. I would like to come back and present cleaner prisons and prisons with fewer broken windows, and I would like to be judged on some of the basic issues around education provision. If I am not judged on those things, I am not doing my job.
As always, the Minister is making an eloquent and powerful speech. On his point about reoffending rates staying the same, the Airborne Initiative is aimed at the young. If we stop those people—all right, 20% is not 50%, but it is better than nil—moving on to category C, B and A prisons, we surely will be achieving. If the scheme works and we stop young people from going up the chain to more serious crime and longer prison terms, that surely will be another reason why it is particularly brilliant and different.
One hundred per cent! Any scheme that dramatically reduces reoffending does an incredible amount for the individual young person, because it gives them a chance to have a life that is not in prison, and for the public, who would be the victims of the crime that that person would go on to commit. It also, of course, makes a huge difference to the Prison Service and the prison population, because it means there are fewer people in prison and there is less pressure on the whole system. For all those reasons, reducing reoffending has to be at the centre of this issue.
Reducing reoffending is partly about the Airborne Initiative, but it is about many other things, too: ensuring that people have accommodation to go to when they leave prison and trying to ensure that they have jobs to go to as well. A lot of that is not in the gift of my Department. We need to get together a taskforce with all the other bits of the Government and ensure that local authorities have houses to provide, that employers are really reaching out and so on.
There are brilliant ways of doing this. To take one example, there is a fantastic scheme being led by Liverpool Altcourse prison, where prisoners are being trained on metal welding and metal painting, and are connected directly with a company that employs metal welders at the other end. The same is happening with recycling machinery: prisoners make huge recycling trucks inside the prison and are connected with the recycling company for a job as soon as they leave the prison gate. They get some income—that can go into an escrow account, which provides them with some money when they leave—and a vocational qualification, and they get a job at the end.
The Football Association is leading a fantastic programme to pair every premier league club with a local prison. Two people from the club are paired with 16 prisoners, who train for level 1 coaching qualifications with the aim of filling a gap—we need 4,400 coaches in the British system. Leeds Rhinos rugby league team makes fantastic use of its facilities to develop a connection whereby prisoners can use all the community facilities and all the club’s contacts once they leave prison. That is what I want to try to get to.
The Airborne Initiative has three brilliant elements. The first is the military element. We have seen everything that that means. It is shared by initiatives such as the 3 Pillars initiative in London, which emphasises exercise, employment and, above all, a military ethos—the sense of courage, pride, honour and self-confidence that is hugely important for pushing people forward into the world.
The second element is the benefits of the outdoors—we heard about those from the hon. Member for Strangford—and all they mean for everything from someone’s endorphins to their health, their love of nature and, after coming through ice baths and freezing rivers, their sense of resilience. Crossing the River Dart and orienteering alone through the night must be challenging experiences. The third critical element is everything that people get in the evenings. These are residential courses that give people the ability to reflect on their character, their future and their life.
However, we could be doing more to take these schemes to the next stage. First, we should work with the incredibly dedicated and impressive PE professionals in prisons to ensure that they feel absolutely central to these programmes. They should not feel replaced—the voluntary sector is not a replacement for them—but they should feel that they bolt in as role models and mentors. That applies both to these programmes and to other things: PE staff can be central to helping people wean themselves off drugs and to guiding people through nutrition. We now provide much more nutritious food in prisons. Proper nutritious meals have an extraordinary impact—a nearly 30% reduction—on violence and behavioural issues.
We should think not just about young people but about older people. There is no reason why older people cannot go on these courses. We should think about what outdoor activities and sport we can use to reach out to older people. We should embrace sport as a way of doing education—mathematics, for example—as a leveller and as a way of including people who may have struggled at school. We should think about diversity. The Airborne Initiative may be ideal for one cohort but, in another context, something like the Clink restaurant in Brixton may be ideal for someone who wants to go into catering.
Above all, we should stick with courses. We do not want short, shiny, high-quality courses that are delivered for very short periods. That is deeply depressing for prisoners. They turn up, get a terrific package that runs for about three or four weeks, have their fantastic role model and feel their life is turning around, but then that person vanishes and we never hear from them again. Prisoners really want through-mentoring. They want people meeting them at the gate. Clink restaurant is a good example. It meets prisoners at the gate, takes them out, connects them with a catering company and stays with them. Fulham football club is another great example. It meets prisoners at the gate, takes them out and tries to involve them in activities outside the prison. None of this stuff is a silver bullet, but it is all stuff that we need to lean into, facilitate and make easier.
Let me set out the action points that I want to take away from the debate. We clearly need to work out exactly what the problems are with getting prisoners into the Airborne Initiative and to solve them. I will contact governors so that, next time the course is run, we do everything we can to ensure that prisoners are available to go on it. We will have to deal with the deeper structural issues in the next debate, but the basic philosophy is absolutely central: if PE instructors in prisons, prison officers and the voluntary sector work on outdoor education and sport and think about how to connect those things together, that can transform prisoners’ lives, transform reoffending and protect the public.
Along with everything I am talking about in terms of back to basics—the stuff with drugs, cleaning up prisons, fixing broken windows, having basic standards and getting 2,500 prison officers back in—Britain, with its astonishing love of sport and the outdoors and the commitment of soldiers from the Parachute Regiment, MPs and everyone in the Chamber—can make a huge difference to vulnerable lives, and ultimately to public safety.
I will not keep everyone waiting for long. I thank the Minister for that most helpful reply. The only point he did not mention, I think, was about meeting the three guests afterwards to discuss ROTL and the problems governors have. If he could, they would much appreciate that. I thank all who participated in and supported the debate from all parts of the House. We had an eloquent speech from the right hon. Member for Delyn (David Hanson), whose experience came through in buckets.
I entirely agree that through-mentoring is essential, and yes, as we discussed before we came into the debate, it could be extended to adults. The only comment to make about that is, “Let’s get it right for the young first and really get it going.” I thank the Minister for getting hold of the governor and saying, “When this comes up, we want the 22 places filled.” Let us get that working and, as has been suggested, get the facts, statistics and costs in black and white. Then, if it really is working, there will be even more evidence to push it out.
Finally, as the Minister said, the key is those who run the organisations, systems and initiatives. These young people get five days or six days of brilliance with an ex-regimental sergeant-major, a footballer or whoever it may be, who inspires them to say, “Oh, my goodness gracious—I have never met this before,” but then, oomph, back into prison they go. Through-mentoring will be key to ensure that, when they go back into prison, someone is there with the next initiative, or whatever it may be. I absolutely concur.
Thank you for listening to me for so long, Mr Howarth, and I thank all those who contributed. I also thank the Minister very much for his helpful reply.
Perhaps I will abuse the privilege of the Chair—unusually for me—and say that it was a privilege to chair a debate in which everyone who took part made thoughtful contributions. Taken as a whole, it was a constructive debate—even down to the Minister’s response, in which he set himself some rather big targets.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered outdoors endurance activities for prisoners.