[Relevant document: Ninety-fourth report of the Committee of Public Accounts, Transforming Rehabilitation: Progress Review.]
Order. For the avoidance of doubt, I should make it clear that under the Order of the House of yesterday the debate on the two Opposition day motions can last up to six hours; in other words the second of those debates must finish by shortly before 7 pm—my guesstimate is 6.58—not at 7 pm as stated in error on the printed copies of today’s Order Paper. A correction has been issued and the online Order Paper is correct.
I beg to move,
That this House notes HM Chief Inspector of Probation’s recent conclusion that the privatised probation system is irredeemably flawed and that public ownership is the safer option; recognises that the Public Accounts Committee concluded that probation services are in a worse position than they were in before the Government embarked on its reforms; further notes the Government’s decision to return HMP Birmingham to public ownership following repeated failures under G4S; is concerned by the Government’s plans for at least two new prisons to be privately run; and calls on the Government to end its plans to sign new private probation contracts and contracts for new privately-run prisons.
Today’s debate will address the widespread failures that affect our justice system as a result of privatisation. Over the past 12 months this issue has shot up the justice agenda after two flagship privatisations ran aground. The Government had to cancel the privatised probation contract two years early. The failing probation companies had proved incapable of tackling reoffending and were financially unsustainable despite the Government handing a £500 million bail-out to them. There was also the decision to return HMP Birmingham to the public sector after unprecedented failures by the contractor G4S.
Yet despite the recent high-profile failings in the privatised justice sector the Government are on the verge of signing yet more private prison contracts and yet more probation contracts, throwing more good money after bad. But just how bad does it have to get before the Conservative party ends its obsession with the private sector? Today, Members have a chance to show their rejection of this flawed policy. The Opposition motion has one simple demand: it calls on the Government to scrap their plans to sign new private probation contracts and contracts for new privately run prisons. As usual, the Government will probably claim that we in the Opposition are driven by ideology in our commitment to ridding the justice system of the scourge of privatisation, but the reality is that only one party in this debate is driven by ideology. It is the Conservative party, whose insistence that the market is always best has proved so costly to our railways and our utilities and so dangerous to our justice system.
My hon. Friend is right to say that these reforms—as the Government call them; I call them destructive measures—are driven by ideology, including the completely misguided idea of splitting the probation service into higher-risk services being covered by the national probation service and lower-risk ones being covered by private companies? Does he agree that, although the Government were warned from the outset that that split would be disastrous, they proceeded with it in any event, in the teeth of all the evidence?
My hon. Friend makes an important point very eloquently. As she says, splitting probation into two and part-privatising it has been a disaster. From the outset, the Labour party was among those warning the Government not to take that dangerous road.
If Conservative Members will not listen to the views expressed today on the Opposition Benches, I respectfully encourage them to take seriously the words of Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former Secretary of State under Margaret Thatcher. Just last month, he wrote in the Financial Times that
“contracting out prisons to the private sector has been a serious mistake.”
He also made a point about the incarceration of human beings for profit—which I wholeheartedly share—when he said:
“The physical deprivation of the citizen’s liberty should not be the responsibility of a private company or of its employees.”
Even if Conservative Members do not share those moral principles, the record of privatisation in leaving the public less safe and the taxpayer out of pocket should put an end to this failed experiment. That is why change is needed: privatisation has been proven not to work.
Nowhere has the experiment of justice privatisation been so thoroughly tested as in the United States of America. Members might be surprised to learn that we have a greater proportion of prisoners in private prisons than the United States federal Government prison system does. That is quite astounding. Concern over safety and value for money in private prisons was one of the reasons behind the Obama Administration’s 2016 decision to plan a gradual phase-out of private prisons by letting contracts expire. Sadly, that decision was overturned by Trump. In the memorandum announcing the plans to phase out private prisons, the US Department of Justice said that
“time has shown that they compare poorly to our own Bureau facilities. They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services…and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and…they do not maintain the same level of safety and security. The rehabilitative services…such as educational programs and job training, have proved difficult to replicate and outsource”.
The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful argument. He has referred to the United States of America, and I would like to refer briefly to the prison estate in Wales, which presently has 800 more places than necessary for Welsh offenders, many of whom are none the less imprisoned in England. All our female offenders are sent to England. In no way can it be said that the prison estate in Wales has been designed with the rehabilitation needs of Wales as a priority. Will the hon. Gentleman join me and his colleagues in the Welsh Government in calling for the full devolution of criminal justice, and especially of prisons and probation? Join your colleagues in the Welsh Government.
The UK Government are looking at creating new women’s centres. Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the priorities in developing policy for women offenders should ideally be the far more practical solution of installing a women’s centre in Wales so that our female offenders do not have to be imprisoned in England? Does he agree that that would be a far better policy response by the UK Government?
I tend to agree with my hon. Friend on that point, as on virtually everything else.
There is so much wrong with our prisons and with our wider justice system. It is overcrowded and too reliant on ineffective short prison sentences. It is also too punitive, and insufficiently focused on turning lives around. Slashing hundreds of millions of pounds from prison budgets and axing thousands of staff members have also been key drivers in what we must now call this justice emergency. Across the board, the scale of justice cuts is eye-watering, totalling 40% under the Conservatives. These cuts often go hand in hand with privatisation and, as budgets fall, there is a greater push for the private sector to step in.
About 20 years ago when I was on the Home Affairs Committee, we visited private prisons in the United States. In those days, boot camps were in vogue; they were going to save a lot of money. They never worked in the United States, however, and that should have been a lesson for the Government here when they privatised the prison service. The same thing has happened in our benefits system. Does my hon. Friend agree that this just does not work in social policy and rehabilitation?
I certainly do. I do not think that this Government or our society should see the United States of America as the example to follow in relation to incarceration and justice. People on both sides of the House should take note of the expanding campaign among progressives in the Democratic party in the United States against private prisons.
Under the Conservatives, the driving down of prison staffing levels and prison budgets was an attempt by the current Secretary of State for Transport, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling)—who will feature again in this debate, as he does in so many others—to lower the cost of public sector prisons to those in the private sector. That has proven to be a dangerous race to the bottom, and private and public prisons are now far too dangerous.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. That fact should weigh heavily with the Government. It means that they should not dismiss this debate as being ideological driven and that they should instead look at the objective facts and think about what can be done to turn this situation around. Violence is at record levels, with an assault being recorded every 20 minutes in our prisons. The number of prisons labelled as being of “serious concern” is the highest for years. It is not enough simply to end prison and probation privatisation, but it is a necessary step if we are going to create a justice system that focuses on rehabilitation and public safety—values that are not consistent with maximising private profit.
We heard earlier about the need for a women’s centre in Wales. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a tragedy that women, including those who have faced abuse in their lives, are leaving prison today with no accommodation to go to? Too many women are in that position, which is why the network of women’s centres is so important.
Women’s centres play a crucial role, and their work needs to be expanded. The female prison estate is a case study in illustrating that short-term custodial sentences do more harm than good to the individual, to wider society and to the public purse. My hon. Friend makes an important and powerful point.
Returning to private prisons, I want to focus on staffing levels, disproportionate violence, overcrowding, the lack of accountability, the extra costs incurred by the taxpayer, and the funds that could go towards public investment that actually go into private profits.
The hon. Gentleman has been making a case predicated on ideology. To be clear, is it his view that there should be no private involvement in the prison estate whatsoever as a matter of principle, or is he arguing for a mixed economy but merely better management and supervision of private providers to ensure equity of service?
We are looking for an evidence-based approach. Given that privatisation in the justice system has been such a failure, it seems rather strange that the Government’s response seems to be to carry on digging while in a hole. As I will say later, even answers to parliamentary questions on private prisons often do not provide statistics and answers about, for example, the necessary staffing levels to sort out the crisis in our prison system.
The voluntary sector plays an important role in our justice system and will continue to do so under a Labour Government.
Eight years ago, HMP Birmingham became the first publicly built, owned and operated UK prison to be transferred to the private sector. That is why its return to the public sector after such catastrophic failings under G4S should be a watershed moment. HMP Birmingham was the most violent prison in the country. When the state stepped in in August 2018 and took back control from G4S, what did it then do? It immediately brought in extra prison officers and moved hundreds of prisoners out—a clear indication of private sector understaffing and of the overcrowding that results from the private sector putting profits first.
The crisis at Birmingham Prison was not localised; G4S has failed across the justice sector. It has been forced to give up youth prisons after abuse allegations. Horrific treatment in its immigration and detention centres has been exposed. The security giant is also still under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office for its role in the electronic tagging scandal, which included charging for dead people. Let me be honest: its role in our justice system should have been suspended there and then, but the Government appear to be in hock to it, which is no wonder given that it has Ministry of Justice contracts worth £5 billion.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government could learn lessons from the public sector HMP Berwyn in Wrexham? A measured approach over a number of years has meant a gradual build-up of the number of men in the prison. In addition, the fact that it is directly accountable to, for example, me as the local Member of Parliament and to others in this House means that we can look closely at the situation and that we can address difficulties when they arise.
My hon. Friend makes some important points. No one is saying that the publicly run prison system is without problems, because the crisis extends across public sector prisons, but my hon. Friend explains eloquently that lessons can be learned from the experience at places such as HMP Berwyn. His point about accountability is crucial. With a privatised justice system and private prisons, accountability, which is so important for our democracy and so important to turn the justice crisis around, is sadly deficient.
On accountability, the previous Prisons Minister, the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), was going to resign if he did not improve the prisons, so I wonder whether we will hear about the current Prisons Minister’s attitude to that. The previous pledge was based on improvements at 10 institutions, including Wormwood Scrubs in my constituency, but of course there are another hundred or so prisons. We want to get away from this ad hoc approach. We need consistency across the Prison Service.
My hon. Friend, who makes an important point, has always been a passionate advocate for the improvement of conditions at Wormwood Scrubs. He is right that the former Prisons Minister had pledged to disappear from that role if he did not improve things in those 10 prisons.
He has, but under different circumstances. The key point is that the 10 prisons were cherry-picked and were not the 10 worst. If we are to turn this justice crisis around, we need a serious, measured, objective approach based on the evidence, not on chasing headlines for political promotion.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the statistic that there are 47% more violent incidents in private prisons than in those in the public estate, revealed in The Guardian yesterday, is truly shocking? We hope to hear more from Government Members about how they are going to tackle that dreadful new finding.
My hon. Friend is completely correct. The statistic she refers to demands a constructive response from the Government in this debate. Given statistics such as those revealed in The Guardian yesterday, the Government cannot just dismiss this Opposition motion as an ideological fixation.
Last year, the Sodexo-run Peterborough Prison became the first women’s jail in years to be deemed insufficiently safe, showing that the problem goes far beyond the failings of one company—the aforementioned G4S—because this is about the failure of an entire ideology. Serco, where the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), once worked as a spin doctor and which has Ministry of Justice contracts worth £2.5 billion, was forced to repay millions of pounds after scandals involving separate contracts for tagging and for escorting prisoners to court. Despite repeated failures, the 13 private prisons currently managed by G4S, Serco and Sodexo are set to be added to, starting with Wellingborough and then Glen Parva. The new prisons are to be built using the Birmingham model—built with public money and then handed over to the private sector to make profits at public expense.
Who will run the new prisons? Have the Government learned lessons from the failings of G4S and the like? Sadly, in response to my written parliamentary questions, the Government have refused to tell me who is most likely to run them, hiding behind the cloak of commercial sensitivity. However, the Secretary of State has indicated that G4S, Sodexo and Serco are all interested, so I wonder whether he will say today that he will exclude the companies that currently run prisons from bidding, given their record of failure. I have already asked him this question in writing, but why have the Government decided to ban the public sector from even bidding to run new prisons at Wellingborough and Glen Parva? Given that most prisons are in the public sector, it seems strange that the public sector is to be banned from competing in the bidding process. Some may conclude that the system has been stacked in favour of the private sector again.
There is a lack of openness about who will be running the private prisons, something which I have come up against time and again when raising my concerns. Requests for information about a key public service that should be available are denied due to commercial sensitivities, which is surely not right. One method of cost cutting for private prisons is obviously to cut staffing levels, even though understaffing is a key driver of prison violence, and there are real fears that that is happening. However, the Government refuse to reveal how many officers are employed at private prisons, despite numerous parliamentary questions and even requests from members of the Select Committee on Justice.
The prison officers’ union has raised concerns that private prisons have higher prisoner-to-officer ratios than public prisons, yet the Justice Secretary recently told me that his Department
“does not mandate staffing numbers in privately operated prisons. It is the responsibility of the contractor to determine and maintain the number of staff necessary to discharge the requirements of the contract”.
It is simply bizarre that state prisons have to publish staffing figures quarterly but private prisons do not. Again, we see how the private sector is allowed to hide in a shroud of secrecy while delivering public services.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not just about the level of violence as a result of higher prisoner-to-staff ratios but about the lack of rehabilitation services and the inability of staff to help inmates to learn, for instance, how to read and write? That is one of the reasons for reoffending when they come out.
That is an important point. Rehabilitation is key to an effective criminal justice system and to turning lives around and keeping communities safer. It is not just about violence; it is also about the failure to offer proper rehabilitation programmes, properly staffed and properly funded.
Opposition Members, experts and staff believe that private firms could be deliberately understaffing prisons to boost their profits. It is clearly in the public interest that staffing levels in private prisons be routinely published, just as they are routinely published for publicly run prisons.
If the Government want to reassure the public that private profit is not being put before the safety of prisoners, staff and wider society, will the Secretary of State today commit to making private companies come clean on staffing levels and publish them on the same terms as public prisons do? That is a very reasonable request.
One set of data that private prisons do have to publish is on assaults, which only adds to fears that privatisation is putting rehabilitation at risk. I put on record the shocking new figures that came to light in The Guardian yesterday, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) alluded, on the scale of violence in private prisons. The figures come from an analysis of the Government’s answers to my parliamentary questions, so there is no doubt about their accuracy.
Despite comprising just 13% of adult prisons, private prisons are disproportionately represented among the most violent. Three of the 10 most violent adult prisons are private—that is 30%—as are five of the top 20, or 25%. In the most violent category, male local prisons, four of the five private prisons have an above-average level of assaults. That is 80% of all such private prisons. The figures show that private male local prisons are over 40% more violent than their public equivalents.
Labour has made it clear that, in office, we will scrap privately run prisons. The Tories should follow Labour’s lead and drop their ideological obsession with privatisation but, if they will not, the very least they should do—in the light of these figures and the other issues of safety, transparency and accountability that I have set out—is halt plans for more private prisons and establish an independent inquiry into whether privatisation is creating a threat to safety in our prison system. Again a very reasonable request, and I look forward to the Secretary of State’s answer.
Private prisons are also disproportionately overcrowded, with the 2018 House of Commons Library briefing suggesting that, although just over half of public sector prisons are overcrowded, this rises to 85% in the private sector. The fear is a simple one: more prisoners means more money for private operators, which is one of the many perverse incentives created by running prisons for profit. More analysis is needed on those figures. Again, an independent inquiry could look into whether private prisons are, indeed, more overcrowded.
As I have mentioned, the slash-and-burn approach to prison staffing and budgets was an attempt to drive down public sector costs to those of the private sector. That was done under the tenure at the Ministry of Justice of the current Secretary of State for Transport. Perhaps he should be responding to this debate, as our justice system is full of examples of his dangerous obsession with outsourcing and privatisation. It is not too late for his successor to take a different course.
Prison maintenance, for example, was privatised in 2015, with contracts worth around £500 million handed to Carillion and Amey. The £115 million planned savings to the state never materialised, but our prisons paid the price. Cells were left with smashed windows, while inmates lived in squalor and, in some cases, were unable to access towels and even soap.
Take HMP Liverpool. Inspectors found the prison to be rat-infested, with Dickensian conditions as thousands of basic maintenance jobs had not been completed. After the collapse of Carillion, the Ministry of Justice set up a new public facilities management company to replace the work of Carillion, but it has refused to rule out reprivatising this work, and let us be clear that Amey is still underperforming in too many prisons. Will the Justice Secretary commit today to bringing all maintenance contracts back in-house when they expire?
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech and some excellent points. One of the findings of the Environmental Audit Committee’s review of sustainability practices in the Ministry of Justice is that contractors are unaware of their obligations. One site of special scientific interest, an important nature area, was being mown by the contractor with no oversight of the environmental sustainability issues at the prison. Does he agree that any new contracts must be managed in-house in order to have control over the future sustainability of the prisons estate?
Order. Notwithstanding colleagues’ appetite for interrogation, which is often insatiable, and the natural courtesy of the shadow Secretary of State in wanting to accommodate colleagues, I am cautiously optimistic that he is approaching his peroration simply because of the number of colleagues who wish to contribute to the debate. That is not binding. I am merely expressing my cautious optimism.
This House is a place for cautious optimism, which is very appropriate—not perhaps on all sides.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) makes an important point about environmental sustainability. When there is not sufficient accountability, when profit is being pursued, the price is often paid not only by prisoners and wider society but by the environment. I am glad that the public are increasingly mindful of those important issues.
In 2013 the then Justice Secretary announced the break-up and part-privatisation of the award-winning probation service. Can anyone guess who it was? Of course, it was the current Transport Secretary. Probation does not get the attention of the Prison Service, but it should because it manages a quarter of a million offenders in our communities—around 400 in each constituency on average.
After part-privatisation, 21 private sector community rehabilitation companies manage, or rather mismanage, 150,000 offenders. The Conservatives’ part-privatisation of probation has been a reckless and costly experiment that has failed to protect the public, fragmenting and damaging an award-winning service. Serious reoffending has soared, supervision is severely overstretched and hundreds of millions of pounds have been wasted on bailing out a broken system. It could well be the current Transport Secretary’s most damaging failure—a high bar indeed.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. The HMI Prisons report on the CRC in York highlighted the devastating impact on the morale of probation officers, who do fantastic work, particularly due to the change in culture and excessive workloads. Is that not only completely unacceptable but detrimental to those who depend on the probation service for their rehabilitation?
My hon. Friend is right to be a passionate advocate of the important work, done in difficult circumstances, by our probation workers. They need to be valued more. Their importance in our justice system needs to be more fully recognised by this Government. Ending the part-privatisation of probation would be one way of doing that. What was an award-winning service is now fragmented and damaged. The level of serious reoffending has soared, supervision is seriously overstretched and hundreds of millions of pounds have been wasted in bailing out a broken system.
The National Audit Office, parliamentary Committees, the chief inspector of probation, trade unions and many more have all condemned this botched probation privatisation programme. Indeed, the chief inspector, in this year’s annual report, labelled the system “irredeemably flawed”. She flagged a catalogue of deep-rooted problems, including the number of probation professionals being at a critical level, with too much reliance on unqualified or agency staff; eight out of 10 community rehabilitation companies inspected since January last year being rated as inadequate; more needing to be done to keep victims safe and to safeguard children; and the fact that a lack of judicial confidence in probation and community punishments may be leading to more custodial sentences in cases that are borderline. She concluded that public ownership is a safer option for the core work, while improvements are not likely
“while probation remains subject to the pressures of commerce”.
There is really no need to add to that. The chief inspector has concluded that public ownership is a safer option and said that the fact that probation remains subject to the pressures of commerce means that improvements are not likely.
With private probation contracts now ending two years early, Ministers have the perfect opportunity to listen to the experts, reunify this fractured service and remove the profit motive from probation once and for all. As we have heard, the current Transport Secretary ignored all the warnings from the Labour party and others, including unions, probation trusts and the voluntary sector, of the obvious dangers of privatising probation. It is essential that the current Justice Secretary learns from his Government’s mistakes, but so far the Government have said that they will be renewing the private sector contracts and in a way that appears mainly designed to help the companies become more financially stable.
Wakefield has two prisons—the women’s prison, New Hall, and Wakefield, a high-security establishment—so this is of great concern to my constituents. Does my hon. Friend agree that the previous Justice Secretary’s decision to abolish local probation trusts and to introduce the profit model into this was one of the worst examples of the reckless, untested and ideology-driven decisions that this Government have made?
My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head.
I am now coming to my conclusion, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Conservatives now need to drop this dangerous obsession with running probation for private profit and bring it back in-house, where it can focus on keeping the public safe. We are committed to ending the Conservatives’ failed privatisation of probation and returning the service to the public sector. The former chief inspector of prisons, Lord Ramsbotham, is overseeing our important review of how we best return probation to the public sector. I will be publishing Lord Ramsbotham’s interim report this week. I hope the Secretary of State will meet me to discuss this important report.
Throughout our justice system, outsourcing has been used to lower costs by cutting the pay and conditions of the lowest-paid workers. The people who clean the Secretary of State’s office, for example, and the security guards who keep the Ministry of Justice safe have been demanding a real living wage of £10 an hour, so will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to commit to ensuring that all staff in his Department, including those working under outsourced contracts, actually get the real living wage?
In conclusion, the Conservatives promised that privatisation of our justice system would lead to better services and lower costs. The evidence is now in: it has achieved neither. Instead of savings, we have had bail-outs; instead of improving safety, there is disproportionate violence; and instead of accountability, we have had secrecy. Even in the United States of America this debate on a privatised justice system is moving on—it must move on here, too. The Government must now face the facts: privatisation has failed. When in a hole, stop digging. The Government should scrap plans for yet more private prisons and private probation contracts. For those reasons, I commend this motion to the House.
There is an important debate to be had about the involvement of the private sector and the voluntary sector in our justice system. It is right that we ask ourselves: how do we provide high-quality public services? How do we encourage innovation in order to raise standards? And how do we deliver the best possible value for money for the taxpayer? In answering these questions, there will always be debates about whether the private sector or the voluntary sector does too much or too little: do we make use of these sectors in the right way? Do we have the right incentives? And do we have the right supervision? In reaching a fair-minded conclusion, we should approach the evidence in a fair-minded way, looking at good and bad examples, and acknowledging where things work well and where they do not.
I have to say that such a balanced approach was entirely lacking in the speech we have just heard from the shadow Secretary of State. In a fairly lengthy speech, he had time to address this in a proper, balanced way. Instead, what we heard was simplistic, dogmatic and bombastic. The only thing anyone on this side of the House will remember about his speech is his abiding hostility to the private sector. Mind you, at least we will remember something from his speech, which, given his reputation, is more than he will ever do.
On prisons, the hon. Gentleman repeatedly made reference to the difficulties with HMP Birmingham. There is no doubt—I acknowledge this—that Birmingham was a failing prison and the standards at the time of the inspection were unacceptable. Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service had been working closely with G4S to try to resolve the issues, but it became increasingly clear that G4S alone was not able to make the improvements that were so badly needed. That is why we took the decision to step in, doing so at no additional cost to the taxpayer. It was right that we did that. The point I want to make is that where we believe it is right to step in and where we believe the private sector is not the right answer, we will step in.
HMPPS did have concerns about how Birmingham was operating and the way it was working, and HMPPS was working closely with G4S to try to address this. It became clear, when the inspection was undertaken, that we were required to go further and that the level of intervention we had previously put in was insufficient. That is why we took the steps we did. We stepped in, putting one of our best prison service governors in charge, alongside a strong senior management team and 30 additional experienced staff. I would like to thank all of them for their hard work since we took that decision to turn around a complex and challenging establishment.
When looking at prisons, it is important to compare like with like. Our prison estate contains a range of prisons doing different tasks, with different cohorts of prisoners, which creates different challenges. It is right that we look beyond just one prison, as the hon. Lady rightly says, and that we look beyond HMP Birmingham, where we see that the position is much more complex. The House should not just take my word for it: the chief inspector of prisons has highlighted many examples of excellent performance by private prisons in his inspection reports. For example, let us take HMP Altcourse, which is run by G4S. Its latest inspection highlighted how
“violence and self-harm were decreasing year on year”,
and said: “Purposeful activity was excellent”. It is worth pointing out that HMP Altcourse is not far from HMP Liverpool. They are in the same city and have the same type of prisoner, but we have had significant difficulties with HMP Liverpool. We hope and believe that it is on the mend, but it was none the less one of our most troubling prisons.
The House could also consider young offenders institutions. At Parc, which is also run by G4S, the inspectorate found that
“the establishment was characterised by good relationships, excellent multidisciplinary work and strong leadership.”
We can also look at HMP Bronzefield, which is run by Sodexo. It was described by HMIP as
“an excellent institution where outcomes for the prisoners held were reasonably good or better against all our tests of a healthy prison.”
If we put ideology to one side, we see it is a fact that privately managed prison providers achieve the majority of their targets, and their performance is closely monitored by the robust contract management processes that HMPPS has in place. Privately managed prisons have also pioneered the use of modern technology to improve the running of establishments and help to promote rehabilitation, including through the development of in-cell telephony to help prisoners to maintain ties with their families; opportunities for interactive story-time activities between prisoners and their children; and the introduction of electronic kiosks, which allow prisoners to have greater control over managing their day-to-day lives.
The public sector is only now catching up, and we are now investing in 50 prisons so that they can have in-cell phones, but private prisons got there first. Instead of ideological arguments about who provides the service, we should focus on what works to reduce reoffending and keep the public safe.
My right hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Of course, the picture is complex, because there are good and failing prisons in the private sector and in the public sector. One thing that has struck me is the variation in the calibre of leadership. There are some excellent prison governors and some who are less successful. What can be done to ensure that the requisite high level is seen across the prison estate?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Sometimes, Opposition day debates can be a bit of knockabout, but there is a lot that we ought to debate and discuss in respect of the prison system and how it operates, and leadership is a really important aspect. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) and congratulate him on his promotion. He pursued with great vigour the theme of the importance of leadership—of having the right governors and leadership teams in prisons—and it is absolutely key. To be honest, that matters more than whether an institution is run by a private company or by the public sector. The quality of the leadership is a much more important factor. I hope we have an opportunity to debate that issue and others like it in future.
That is what has struck me during this debate: what matters in prisons are the standards under which people are kept and the results that are shown in stopping people reoffending, not who keeps the prisoners. Does my right hon. Friend agree?
That is exactly right. If the private sector is not working, I am prepared to step in—I have no problem with doing that—but the most important thing is that we should look at the outputs and outcomes and base what we do on that, rather than take a simplistic view that the public sector is good and the private sector is bad or, indeed, vice versa. That is the approach that I wish to take.
The most recent brand-new prison that we did was Berwyn, and it is in the public sector. The next two prisons will be in the private sector because we want to keep a mixed market and to have a range. HMP Berwyn is a public sector prison. That decision was made by the coalition Government. We are pragmatic on that point.
I shall now give way again. I hope the hon. Member for York Central will forgive me for giving way to the hon. Member for Ipswich first; Ipswich is my home town.
Quality is to follow.
On outcomes, which are the most important thing that we look at, will the Secretary of State explain why Askham Grange prison, which has the best outcomes in the country and the lowest reoffending rates and which is, I must say, in the public sector, is constantly under threat of closure? If we are looking at the evidence, surely the Government should keep the prison open.
When it comes to any decisions about prison closures, we will of course look at the evidence. We are not proposing any prison closures at this point, but we will always look at the evidence. Several factors will determine whether or not a prison closes, but its record on rehabilitation is clearly something that we would very much take into account.
Let me turn to probation. In particular, we have heard much about the transforming rehabilitation reforms that were introduced in 2014. When we consider the reforms, it is important that we recognise the benefits that the private and voluntary sectors have brought to the probation service, even if we accept that there have been challenges—and I accept that there are challenges. We need to acknowledge that with the transforming rehabilitation reforms came the supervision of 40,000 additional offenders being released from short prison sentences. Those were offenders who previously received little or no supervision or support on release, so it is a positive change for public safety. The shadow Secretary of State forgot to mention that reoffending rates for offenders managed by CRCs remain two percentage points lower than the rates for the same group of offenders in 2011. Of course, we want reoffending to be lower still, but it is lower.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on his announcement earlier this year that he was bringing all probation services in Wales back into public management following the failure of the Working Links CRC. Will he commit to ensuring that that welcome and common-sense decision is resourced to succeed? Will he consider it as a possible template for bringing probation services in England back into public control, too?
First, I am of course determined to ensure that that decision succeeds. In July last year, I set out that Wales was going to go down the unified-model route, and we are accelerating that as a consequence of the failure of Working Links.
Before I turn to the wider points, let me put this debate in context. When we debate CRCs, we sometimes forget some of the good examples of innovative and dedicated work with offenders that CRCs are doing. Hampshire and Isle of Wight CRC was praised last week by the chief inspector of probation for offering a comprehensive range of high-quality rehabilitation programmes and unpaid work placements; London CRC is working closely with the Mayor of London on the safer streets partnership to tackle gangs and knife crime; and Kent, Surrey and Sussex CRC is pioneering the first behavioural intervention targeted at stalking offences.
It is often when the private sector can bring wider experience and expertise to bear that it is best able to deliver value for money—for instance, in sourcing unpaid work placements, for which several of our CRC parent organisations can draw on experience in the employability sector. Dame Glenys Stacey has acknowledged that high-quality delivery is widespread. In fact, three quarters of the providers assessed have been rated as good. I was particularly encouraged to hear about the involvement of London CRC in the Grenfell disaster recovery operation: it arranged unpaid work placements with offenders who were helping local residents affected by the disaster. That is exactly the sort of delivery that we want to see: providers able to move quickly, respond to local needs and provide meaningful rehabilitation activity for offenders and for local communities.
In Wrexham, my constituent Nicholas Churton was murdered by someone who was subject to the supervision of a community rehabilitation trust that, on the basis of what the Secretary of State’s own Department says, was not performing adequately. That is a practical result of an experiment with no additional investment; it led to human tragedy. I know the Secretary of State is a reasonable man, and he needs to look again at this situation.
Obviously, that is a tragic case, and, as I have before, I express my sympathies for the family of the hon. Gentleman’s constituent. As regards identifying and attributing blame, I am not in a position to comment on that. CRCs manage those who are assessed as low and medium-risk offenders.
If I can return to my comments, I want to make a wider point about the crucial role that can be played by the private sector and, indeed, the voluntary sector in supporting probation work. It is the dedication and commitment of these organisations, many of them small and community-led, that enables offenders to turn their lives around. The work of the voluntary sector, particularly with vulnerable offenders such as those with learning difficulties and other complex needs, is irreplaceable and the Government are committed to supporting it. We have been clear that the public, private and voluntary sectors all have a clear role to play in building a strong probation service. That does not mean that we cannot learn from the experience of transforming rehabilitation.
I have been clear that under CRCs the quality of offender management has too often been disappointing. I am determined to learn from what has gone well and what has not under the current system. That is why the Government have acted decisively to end CRC contracts early, invest an additional £22 million a year in through-the-gate provision, and hold a consultation on the shape of future arrangements. I am grateful to all those who have responded to the public consultation, as well as for the work of Dame Glenys Stacey, the Justice Committee and the Public Accounts Committee in providing helpful scrutiny and challenge as we consider how best to deliver a stronger, more resilient system. It is important to recognise, as those partners have, the role of external factors in creating a challenging operating environment for CRCs, but we have also looked very carefully at their findings about the complexities of contractualising offender management and the challenges of ensuring continuity of supervision and integration among providers.
I look forward to bringing detailed plans for the future of probation to the House in due course. I will be driven by the evidence and what works. This must not be a matter of ideology or dogmatism but one of single-minded focus on delivering the probation system we need.
It certainly is “in due course”.
Finally, as we debate these issues we should recognise that the challenges in the current system are not down to the work of probation staff. Their hard work and professionalism, in both the NPS and CRCs, is tremendous and I pay tribute to them. Probation is a vocational career, and as part of the future arrangements we are looking to establish an independent statutory body so that probation staff have the same professional recognition as their peers in health and education.
In conclusion, as I said at the beginning, the role of the private sector and the voluntary sector in the criminal justice system is an issue for debate. We should constantly examine and re-examine what the right role should be, but the approach from the Labour party is that this is the only issue that matters. We hear nothing from Labour about how to deal with repeat petty offenders and the role of non-custodial sentences. There is nothing about the measures to properly tackle drugs and violence; nothing about offender management in prisons; nothing about how we are recruiting additional prison officers or getting people jobs through our education and employment strategy. The only thing we ever hear is nationalise, nationalise, nationalise. As Sadiq Khan, one of the predecessors of the hon. Member for Leeds East, said in 2011, defending the Labour Government’s use of private sector prisons,
“our policy was and is based on what works, rather than dogma.”—[Official Report, 31 March 2011; Vol. 526, c. 527.]
That is as it should be. On this side of the House, we will always work to put the public first in reducing reoffending, protecting the public and building a stronger justice system.
Order. As colleagues can see, we have a good number of contributors to this debate. I do not want to impose a time limit, but I would encourage colleagues to speak for about eight minutes each. In that way, we will be able to get everybody in comfortably.
Listening to the Justice Secretary is always a pleasure. He was calm and reflective and is committed to trying to improve services, but he knows that that calmness and reflectiveness hide the shambles of the past six and a half years since his predecessor, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), took the decision to split the probation service, separating serious offenders and low-level offenders, and to ensure that contracts were given to organisations that evidently—as found by the National Audit Office, HM inspectorate of probation, the Secretary of State’s own Department, the Justice Committee and everybody who has looked at the issue—have not performed to the standards that the Secretary of State would expect or in the way he would expect to protect the public at large.
Let us forget the Secretary of State’s calm demeanour. He knows that his Government have presided over a complete shambles and he will now do his best to make the best of that bad job and to repair the damage.
My points are reflected in what has been said by the National Audit Office and the chief inspector of probation. We know that in 2013 the Ministry of Justice embarked on a reform of probation services and split serious offenders from the national probation service while establishing community rehabilitation companies, which, halfway through their term of office, proved to be costing the taxpayer resources because of their inefficiencies, to be increasing the overall percentage of reoffences per offender by 22%, and to be underperforming. Yes, there was an overall 2.5 percentage point reduction in the proportion of reoffenders compared with 2011; the Government had a target of 3.5%, so the CRCs underperformed against the Government’s own targets.
The National Audit Office has had the opportunity to consider this matter and has said quite clearly that there was “patchy” involvement with the third sector, one of the Government’s major objectives. There was
“limited innovation and a lack of progress transforming probation services”,
another of the Government’s key objectives. There were
“significant increases in the number of people being recalled to prison”,
because supervision in the community was failing them. My constituents and others were being impacted by that through higher offences in their area. The NAO found
“ineffective Through the Gate…services to support transition from prison to the community”.
That was a key element for the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell, who should really be answering the debate today to be held accountable for the position in which he has put the Justice Secretary. The objectives set by the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell have not been met.
My colleagues from the Justice Committee—including my friend the Chair of the Committee, the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), and others—are in the Chamber today. We did a full report on the state of affairs with CRCs and probation, and we—not Labour Members of Parliament, not former Ministers such as me, but a cross-party Committee—have come to the conclusion that it was a mistake to introduce the transforming rehabilitation reforms without a pilot. We agree that there was a significant overestimation of the ability of CRCs to reduce their costs to match any fall in income when the contracts were agreed. We agreed fully that we were unconvinced that splitting offenders by risk was the right way to split the probation system. We agreed on a cross-party basis that the transforming rehabilitation changes weakened local partnership and local accountability, so there was less joined-up working and collaboration at a local level. These things all matter because it is about preventing crime. It is about turning people’s lives around when they have been in prison and need support in the community.
The Government have not yet accounted for the cost of that failure or for their performance, and they have not explained why bad decisions were made by Ministers, who rushed through proposals without due consideration. The Secretary of State can by all means do a calm, professional job—I tip my professional Member of Parliament hat to him—but he is presiding over his predecessors’ failure, and he has the job of making improvements.
At this morning’s Justice Committee I asked the chief inspector of probation, “Did the changes make the position worse?” She said, having been pressed a couple of times, “Yes, they did.” The Government need to account for that failure. We had 110 years of a probation service that took pride in its staff, with high morale. It delivered an effective service, but within the space of six years, the Government have put people at risk, split the service and reduced competence. We have not had an effective service, which has been shaken up, and it is now having to rebuild.
How does it do that? There is a model in Wales, where the probation service has been brought back together as a public service. I would like to see a justification not for why that has been done but for why it has not been done elsewhere in the United Kingdom. The Government are undertaking a consultation—again, in a calm, collected, professional way, the Minister is batting that ball and taking those hits—and the outcome should be clear: the probation service performed better when it was a unified body, working with serious and lower-risk offenders, and when it had good rehabilitation services, including community payback services, under its wing. Yes, it can contract out some of those services to the private sector—a drug charity might provide a good drug rehabilitation service; a local workplace scheme might best be provided by a local charity or a voluntary organisation. When I took the Offender Management Bill through the House of Commons in 2007, that was the private and voluntary sector involvement that we sought. It was not about splitting the service.
I simply say to the Minister, because I am coming to the end of my eight minutes, that I want to know who is accountable for this mess. If the Secretary of State stands up and says, “My predecessors”, that will help. I want to know what has been the consistent impact of this mess. There is a whole range of things that he and I know have gone wrong, and there are services that he and I know are not performing. It is his job to come clean and say those things in a professional way.
What happens next? I do not have time to talk about prisons, but I fully support my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) in the belief that we should bring the probation service back into the public sector to meet the needs of our constituents, reduce crime, and turn offenders’ lives around. I welcome the new Prisons Minister, who will respond to the debate. He should stand up and say, “I have looked at this. I have been in office for two or three days. I have come to the conclusion that my predecessors left an unholy mess, and I commit to bring the service back into the public sector.”
It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Delyn (David Hanson), my very well respected colleague on the Justice Committee. I am always immensely grateful for the contribution that he and other Members make to the work of our Committee. There might be the odd difference in nuance and tone, but there is broad agreement between us in the factual conclusions of our Select Committee reports. They are cross-party reports, and they are based on evidence, so I am with him on many of the points that he made.
In fairness, it is right to say that the Secretary of State has struck exactly the right tone. I congratulate him on doing so. It is not the first time in recent weeks that he has made an important speech on prisons policy and on other matters. The tone he struck in looking at the evidence has all too often been missing from the debate on prisons and on justice policy more generally on both sides of the political divide. I therefore welcome his tone and approach, and I broadly agree with where he is coming from.
There is not, to my mind, a need for a rigid, ideological division. There are differences on the evidence on prisons and probation. I think that the evidence of a mixed prisons economy makes it clear that good work is done in a number of private sector prisons. There are failures in those prisons, as there are failures in public sector prisons—the evidence provided by the chief inspector demonstrates that clearly. The issue is not who manages prison contracts—perhaps with the exception of facilities management failures, a specific area—but what we expect prisons and their staff to do on behalf of society and to achieve with the people sent there by the courts on behalf of the state. It is what we do to help them to ensure that prisoners are kept safely and decently, protecting the public, deterring reoffending and turning around the lives of those who go to prison so that they are less likely to reoffend and there are fewer victims of crime as a result.
Under Governments of all parties, we have not managed to achieve that satisfactorily for the past few decades—it is not a short-term thing—and investment is needed in some cases. I welcome the additional prison officers, but greater thought is needed, not just in the House but by society as a whole, about what we expect prison and the justice system to do. Ultimately, we can never make prisons places of rehabilitation and reform unless they are safe—when my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) was Prisons Minister he got that absolutely right—but, realistically, we cannot do that unless we continue to put in the number of people that we currently do. To achieve that in a safe fashion that has public confidence, it is critical that we spend much more time and energy in our debate finding robust and viable alternatives that punish people in the community, rather than simply warehousing them in prison institutions, which is counterproductive for everyone. I very much welcome the Government’s willingness to look again at the presumption against shorter sentences, as has happened elsewhere.
There are important things in the prisons debate, but I, too, am not going to dwell on them as much as other matters. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) is going to speak about prisons in particular, but I want to return, as the right hon. Member for Delyn did, to transforming rehabilitation and the probation system.
This morning, the Justice Committee heard from Dame Glenys Stacey, the chief inspector of probation, for the last time, as she is coming the end of her three-year tenure. She has done an excellent job. She has been robust and frank, and she has spoken truth to power, as an inspector should. She has not pulled her punches when necessary. The evidence that she has found is entirely consistent with evidence that the Select Committee found in a number of its reports, particularly one that we have recently published. It is entirely consistent, too, with the findings of the National Audit Office and those of the Public Accounts Committee. When, separately, four bodies produce reports based on essentially the same evidence and come to the same conclusions, the Secretary of the State and the Prisons Minister—I warmly welcome him to his post—who have been brought up professionally to work on evidence, know that it is time for change.
I submit urgently to the Secretary of State that, whatever the good intentions behind the transforming rehabilitation programme, partly because of the pace at which it was undertaken, and partly because of the intrinsic nature of the probation service as a social service, which is different from the Prison Service in many ways, it has failed to achieve many of the laudable objectives set for it. It has not created greater diversity of provision and, above all, it has not succeeded in bringing the voluntary sector into probation work in the way that had been hoped. Most importantly, it has—like it or lump it—lost the confidence of many sentencers. If we are to achieve the objective I mentioned of developing robust alternatives to custody so that we do not overcrowd our prisons, it is critical that we have a system of supervision in the community, either as an alternative to custody or on release from custody, that commands the confidence of the sentencer—the judge and the magistrate —as well as of the public. It is very clear that that has not been achieved under the current arrangements.
The point about risk is an important one, as our report stressed. On all the evidence that we heard, the division of risk at the point of sentence and on the basis of the offence is, in reality, arbitrary. It is a snapshot in time that is then frozen for the rest of the offender’s supervision, whereas in reality the evidence is clear that risk will change. If the supervision goes well, it will decrease, but in certain circumstances it may increase. This is not an efficient division of risk to have. It is interesting that a different approach has been taken in Wales. One of the reasons that is worth looking at is that it could enable us not to have that arbitrary division of risk. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friends will look at the practicality of how that works out, because this is a critical issue.
Another significant thing that Dame Glenys stressed to us is the way in which the contracts were written. The problem is that probation work—which is, of its nature, dealing with people with complex circumstances in quite often changing and difficult environments—cannot easily be distilled into a set of contractual requirements, which might be easier to do, in some circumstances, within a closed institution.
The current contractual systems model does not succeed in achieving either innovation or the sharing of good practice, because there is no reward for either of those things. The Secretary of State’s review and consultation now gives us an opportunity to look at that. He was right to terminate the CRC contracts early, because they were simply not delivering what had been sought and intended. It is clear, on the evidence, that just recreating them would not be the answer. It would be more sensible to look at alternatives that, on the evidence, address the systemic problems that we now know are there but were perhaps not foreseen at the time.
There are areas that need to be looked at in relation to people with particular vulnerabilities—for example, the particularly high number of young offenders with black and minority ethnic characteristics going through our probation system, and the particular difficulties of female offenders, many of whom, of course, have themselves been victims of abuse or other types of offence in the past. There is the real problem that we have with through-the-gate services, where clearly not enough is being done to discharge people from prison into circumstances where they will not be tempted to fall back into reoffending. I hope, in particular, that when the Secretary of State looks at new models for dealing with probation services, he will look specifically at the need to secure accommodation for people on release. Indeed, securing accommodation for people who are being supervised in the community as an alternative is central to the probation process. All the evidence clearly says that the best means of keeping out of trouble are a home, a job, and a family or support system relationship.
That was very shocking evidence indeed. Frankly, it is an indictment of every one of us that we are releasing people under those circumstances. I have here a piece of evidence from, I think, a visit to a CRC premises in south-east London, not far from my constituency, that was trying to supervise people who were sleeping in church halls, or sleeping rough in a graveyard or on the night bus. It is an obscenity, frankly, if we are releasing people from prison, with the objective of trying to get them to turn their lives around, and they are trying to live under those conditions. It makes rehabilitation work impossible. Getting those things right is actually much more important than the argument about who owns, manages and runs the service; they are fundamental issues. I believe that the Secretary of State has the opportunity, the willingness and the determination to do that.
Both the Secretary of State and the new Minister of State, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Robert Buckland), are used to working on the basis of the evidence. Both they and I are also proud to hail from the one nation tradition within our party. That tradition reminds us that Conservative Members have always had a long-standing belief in social reform, as Members of other parties do, too. No one party has a monopoly on that. Getting prison and our criminal justice system right is a great cause of social reform, and I believe that the Secretary of State and the Minister get that and understand it. Equally, though, if all the evidence points one way, then that is the decision that the tribunal comes to. If they put those two things together, we have an opportunity to make progress in the coming weeks—I hope—and months.
It is a pleasure to follow the Chair of the Justice Committee, the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill).
This Government’s ideologically driven changes to the probation service have had a catastrophic impact on the justice system in this country. The reports from experts in the industry are damning, the first-hand accounts of those who have experienced the services shocking, and the damage done to our communities by this failing service all too clear to see. The comments we have heard from Members join the growing chorus of condemnation, alongside groups such as the Public Accounts Committee, the Justice Committee and the National Association of Probation Officers, to name but a few.
Perhaps none, however, has been as disparaging as the report on the outsourcing of our probation services undertaken by the National Audit Office. It speaks of significant risks being introduced by a Ministry setting itself up to fail; underinvestment in services by community rehabilitation companies motivated by commercial outcomes over public safety; and, perhaps least surprisingly, given the ministerial architect of the changes, a decision inspired by ideology that has proven a staggering waste of money to the taxpayer—this time, to the tune of nearly half a billion pounds. It is therefore difficult to disagree with the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), that it is
“unacceptable that so many unnecessary risks were taken with taxpayers’ money.”
But for all the talk of decisions taken in Westminster, with the colossal budgets in tow, we must not forget the impact, back in the real world, that these changes have on our constituents, because, more than anything, it is utterly unacceptable that so many risks were taken with taxpayers’ safety. It is residents in our communities, like mine in Barnsley East, who suffer when vital services, such as our probation system, begin to fail. Perhaps nothing demonstrates that more than the case of my constituent Jacqueline Wileman.
Last year, four men stole a HGV lorry and drove it around Barnsley, damaging cars, injuring pedestrians, nearly killing a man and eventually crashing into a house, but not before hitting and killing Jacqueline near her home in Brierley. All four men had existing criminal records, with nearly 100 convictions between them. They had several convictions for driving offences, and one had already been sentenced for causing death by dangerous driving. Two of the men had recently finished probation supervision, and the one who stole the lorry had no driving licence and was, staggeringly, on probation at the time. It can be argued that these men should not have been on the streets and able to commit these tragic crimes in the first place. The lenient sentences handed down to them following Jackie’s death have led to calls being made by her brave family to scrap the maximum sentence for those who cause death by dangerous driving to ensure that they will not be out in a few years to do so again—calls I wholeheartedly support. I have raised this in the House on more than one occasion, and I will continue to press the Government to act to increase the 14-year limit for death caused by dangerous driving as soon as possible.
Questions must be asked of the probation services responsible for supervising these criminals. The Barnsley area is covered by South Yorkshire CRC, which is now the responsibility of Sodexo Justice Services and was recently rated as requiring improvement in the latest inspection by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of probation. The inspection report noted, among other failings:
“Alarmingly… the large majority of probation staff here are not qualified, and many are not sufficiently experienced at managing risk of harm to others.”
This is a probation service, the effectiveness of which is crucial to maintaining the safety of my community, explicitly failing to manage the risk of harm to others. It is a shocking state of affairs, yet a product of decisions made by this Government. Simply put, the safety of our communities and constituents has been jeopardised.
I await the results of the internal review into what more could have been done by the probation service in the case of Jackie Wileman and what lessons can be learned. For her brother, Johnny, the impact on public safety of the outsourced probation service overseen by this Government is clear enough: “If the probation services had done their job properly,” he told me, “my sister would still be alive.”
It is a pleasure to follow the powerful speech by the hon. Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) and friends from across the House who broadly take the same view on the progress we need to make with the probation system. I am not going to focus on that. My views are carefully set out in the report of the Justice Committee and have been well rehearsed by my colleagues from the Committee on both sides of the House. However, I noted carefully what the Secretary of State had to say, and I am extremely hopeful that we will have an announcement or statement from him in the very near future. I hope the result will be one that we all applaud.
As ever, I would like to talk about prisons. It always shocks me how empty the Chamber is when we discuss prisons. If we are serious about helping the lowest strata of society, we surely have a fairly obvious place to look to find them. I for one was very grateful that the Opposition chose this subject for today’s debate.
I am fortunate to represent one of the biggest constituencies in the country. The number of my electors is broadly the same as the number of adult men in prison. The point I am making is that there are a lot of people in prison, a lot of families affected and, perhaps more importantly, a lot of future victims who are affected by our failure to treat people and by the breeding of future criminals in prisons as they are run at the moment. We must accept that about a fifth of prisoners are sex offenders and that nearly all of them will be released into our communities. Members know that I spend a lot of my time here arguing in favour of prison reform, but the most compelling reason for me to do that is that we must save future victims from crimes that will ruin their lives.
The Justice Committee has written not only a marvellous report about transforming rehabilitation, but a big report on the prison population—for me, it is our magnum opus—which I hope the new Minister, the hon. and learned Member for South Swindon (Robert Buckland), has read and digested and will return to many times during his tenure. I will whizz through the main recommendations of that report and then give him some jobs for the rest of the week.
Our report’s first recommendation is that:
“The prison population has become increasingly challenging in nature, with prisoners often having complex health and social needs. Many have learning disabilities or mental health conditions”,
and that the Ministry of Justice needs to
“acknowledge the challenge it faces and demonstrate that it has a long-term strategy”.
Secondly, the prison population is projected to grow, and the existing approach “limits the scope” for the Ministry thinking more laterally about planning for that growth. The report states that the “more challenging mix” of those sentenced to custody is likely to be partly attributable to the impact of wider social factors over which the Ministry has no control, but the Ministry and prison officers have to pick up the pieces.
The third recommendation is that
“Trends in ethnicity and the social drivers of complex and challenging behaviour should be more explicitly identified”.
“To close the large gap between the money allocated to prisons by the Treasury and the current costs of running and maintaining them, the Ministry of Justice has estimated that it would have to reduce the prison population by 20,000 places. By the Ministry’s own admission this is not achievable under existing strategies and funding arrangements.”
How will the Minister possibly close that gap?
We have got to take prison reform seriously. This is my fourth Prisons Minister. There have been six Secretaries of State for Justice since 2010. All of them—certainly the Prisons Ministers—have been one nation, compassionate Conservatives. I stalk their every movement, as this Minister will find out, and I count them among my closest friends in this place; I hope it is mutual. It is really important that the current Minister can stay in place for long enough to make substantive change.
Oh no, he is not going anywhere—this is a long-term sentence! I have the highest regard for the current Minister. He has done more than his fair share of heavy lifting in the impasse on Brexit. I offer him the following suggestions with affection, but they are urgent, and I wish him to do them immediately.
No. 1, we must accept that diversion from custody is the only answer for sentences shorter than 12 months. To do that, we need robust alternatives, not a “get out of jail free” card. Once we have those in place, we need to re-educate judges, who in my experience—as the Minister knows, I know at least one extremely well—are kind, well-motivated and have seen it all before. We need legislation to reduce the number of short sentences. We have to stop churn through the prison gates.
No. 2, we need a full review of categorisation. It strikes me that several Members here today are well placed to lead that review; I am not looking too hard at any Member on either side of the Chamber. We know from Lord Farmer’s review that being close to family reduces reoffending. Current categorisation is holding us back. We have new evidence about the age of maturity, particularly in boys, which needs to be fed into decisions on where we place people.
No. 3, the Minister needs to have on his desk—in my view, every morning, but possibly every week—figures on the regime, by which I mean hours outside cells and numbers of people in segregation, for every prison in the country. Only then can he truly evaluate what is going on. I would be grateful if he shared those figures with the Justice Committee. While he is at it, could he ask for monthly figures on imprisonment for public protection and share them with us? That would be really helpful.
No. 4, we need to end Friday releases immediately. There is no excuse for releasing people at the end of the week, when services are simply not available to help them.
No. 5, we need to evaluate why and when we make children and young people disclose their criminal records. We know that it ruins their lives. A diverse group of MPs are championing that, from my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) to the right hon. Members for Warley (John Spellar) and for Tottenham (Mr Lammy). The Home Office and the MOJ need to decide who is responsible for that policy and act as soon as possible. It is not right for any child’s life to be ruined by an early misdemeanour.
No. 6, for years we described—and I described in court—our sex offender training programmes as the gold standard. A substantial amount was spent on producing those programmes, but they have conclusively been proved to have failed. Can we evaluate the programmes we have put in their place? The number of sex offenders is growing.
No. 7, we need to block mobile phone reception in prisons now—why on earth not?
No. 8, we need to provide a £37,000 scanner for every prison to stop drugs getting in. Everybody from the Minister down needs to go through them. There was a major stabbing of a prison officer in Bullingdon Prison in my constituency last week.
No. 9, prisons are places of radicalisation. We need to grasp that and not lock people of similar views together simply because it makes control easier. A categorisation review might give us evidence to help with that.
No. 10 is on race. We need to be honest. It is not right that a black woman is more than twice as likely to be arrested as a white woman. I am pleased that the all-party parliamentary group on women in the penal system will look into the arrest of women. More than half the inmates held in prisons for young people in England and Wales at the moment are from a black and minority ethnic background. That is an extraordinary figure and not one to be proud of, and real change is needed. In short, I fear there will come a point when the Minister wishes he was back with the withdrawal agreement Bill.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis).
It is no secret that our prison system is in a state of turmoil, with an outdated Victorian-era system that sees countless prisons inspected and issued with reports that reveal dilapidated conditions, overcrowding, violence, self-harm, drug abuse, low staff confidence and poor support. A decent prison system should deliver meaningful rehabilitation and provide offenders with purposeful activity. It is clear that this is lacking across the board.
The urgent notification issued to HMP Birmingham last August by the chief inspector of prisons was damning in its assessment of a failed prison run by G4S. This was followed by the unprecedented decision taken by the MOJ to bring it back under public control, reinforcing the argument that the privatisation of our prisons has failed. Following an inspection in February 2017, the prison operator at Birmingham was given 70 recommendations and targets. By the time of the inspection that triggered the urgent notification 18 months later, only 14 of the 70 targets had been met. Safety was deemed by the inspector to have been a colossal failure. In a survey of prisoners, 71% responded that they had felt unsafe at some point in their stay at Birmingham.
I visited HMP Birmingham, along with other members of the Justice Committee, in October—shortly after it had been issued with the urgent notification and as the new governor was getting to grips with what he had inherited—and it was clear that the system had failed at multiple levels. As the chief inspector noted, we found the prison to be in a state of disrepair, conditions that were unfit to be lived in and staff morale at crippling levels. While these issues are by no means limited to privately run prisons alone, the case of HMP Birmingham has highlighted the dangers and costs faced because of the distinct lack of accountability in its operation.
As well as ensuring that rehabilitation is provided inside prison, it is vital that our justice system has the means by which to monitor and assist offenders throughout their transition back to society. Nowhere has the failed privatisation of our justice system been so apparent as in that of our probation services. The transforming rehabilitation reforms pushed through at the end of the coalition Government were preceded by stark warnings that splitting the workload between a publicly run national probation service and privately tendered community rehabilitation companies, with payment by results, would have damaging consequences for the management of offenders. The recent reports on transforming rehabilitation by both the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee are deeply critical and prove that these previous cautions were fully warranted.
Last year, I held a Westminster Hall debate on the role of privatised community rehabilitation companies. Data had consistently shown that CRCs had met an average of just eight of the 24 targets set under their contracts, with the worst-performing organisation meeting only four. These reforms have turned probation into a tick-box exercise, rather than something that should be holistic and tailored to individual and specific needs. Since my debate, rather than improve, the situation has stagnated and in some cases has got even worse. It is worth noting that HMIP found that the quality of probation work was noticeably better across the national probation service by comparison with the privatised CRCs.
The role of a probation officer is not just a job, but a vocation. Yet a Unison staff survey of its 3,500 CRC workers has revealed that 25% of staff in CRCs have only occasionally had the equipment, resources or systems they needed to do their jobs properly, while 41 % said they had never experienced a manageable case load, 25% said that their CRC never or only occasionally completed community orders within the required time, and 43% said they never felt valued by their CRC. This fragmented, broken system is having serious consequences for the delivery of meaningful results.
The Public Account Committee report notes that, in 2018 alone, CRCs failed to provide nearly 3,000 prisoners with through-the-gate services. Additionally, there are numerous examples of single phone calls being deemed sufficient when monitoring offenders in the months following release, because that, rather than face-to-face meetings, is the simplest way for understaffed CRCs to meet their targets. The Public Accounts Committee report goes on to conclude that the transforming rehabilitation reforms have failed to reduce reoffending by as much as expected, with the average number of reoffences committed by each reoffender actually increasing. The Justice Committee’s “Transforming Rehabilitation” report has also called for a review of the long-term future of delivering probation services, including how performance might be compared with an alternative system for delivering probation—namely, a community-based approach.
One method to address reoffending rates is to look at abolishing short sentences. This is something that my Justice Committee colleagues and I have been calling for for some time, and I welcome the MOJ’s latest efforts to move to a presumption against their use and towards more of a community sentencing model. However, for a community sentencing model to be effective and for it to get public trust and support, it must ensure that probation services are able to monitor and support offenders in their rehabilitation. On the enforcement of community orders, HM inspectorate of probation found that the publicly run national probation service was reaching levels of good-quality assessment 83% of the time, compared with just 37% among the privatised CRCs.
The privatised approach to rehabilitation has left a system in disarray, and it will ultimately end up costing the Government £467 million more than originally planned, following bail-outs and cancelled contracts. This money could have been put towards better prison conditions and improved community sentencing or, better still, spent on a fully funded, publicly owned and accountable probation service.
In her final annual report, the current chief inspector of probation, Dame Glenys Stacey, concludes that the current model left by the transforming rehabilitation reforms has left us with a probation service that is “irredeemably flawed”. She goes further by saying that the profession as a whole has been diminished with an unhealthy reliance on unqualified staff, a service that has been changed by the impact of commerce and contracts that treat probation as a transactional business. She even says that terminating CRC contracts early and wishing to move to an improved tender process will not solve the issue. In short, her conclusions point to privatisation as the fundamental issue that is failing our justice system. Surely, it is now time to say that the privatisation of our justice system has failed. It is time to bring prisons and the probation service back under public control.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves). Devotees of Mortimer and the Rumpole series will well remember the Penge bungalow murders, so it is appropriate that she has spoken in this debate.
I stand to speak as neither a lawyer, a member of the Justice Committee nor indeed a former Minister, so I am tempted to say that I start with a distinct advantage. However, I particularly want to note the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis). I thought she spoke with incredible care, attention and knowledge, and we were lucky to hear what she had to say.
May I join many across the House in welcoming my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Robert Buckland)? He is, I am tempted to say, one of my oldest and dearest friends in politics and personally. He is godfather to my youngest daughter and she is thrilled that he is now a Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice. He is a fan and an impersonator of Mr Francis Sinatra. He will do this job his way, and he will do it magnificently.
Let me start by stating what I hope will not be controversial: our prison estate needs more money. Since 2010, I would suggest there has been too great a willingness by Ministers to accept overly zealous reductions in departmental funding in one of the most crucial areas of social and domestic policy. Those reductions have clearly affected the physical fabric of the estate, which means that the environment in which prisoners are held and in which our devoted prison staff work has gone down. It does need new funding, and I know that the ministerial team—coming, as others have referenced, from the centre ground-based, one nation Tory tradition—will make a very strong case for that to the Treasury. In making that case, I hope the Minister will underscore what I think is a feeling, certainly across the Conservative Benches, that new departmental money should not be found by milking the probate cash cow.
The hon. Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) spoke about ideology. I have some sympathy with him, but I was also confused by his argument. There is nothing more arid, given the sensitivity and importance of the subject, than rightly to clobber, as I do, those who say, in some sort of Orwellian way, that only the private sector can do these things and we must chase out the public sector—“private good; public bad”—only then to weaken one’s case by adopting at the Dispatch Box exactly the same position in reverse. He seemed to suggest that there was neither merit nor benefit in involving either the third sector or the private sector. Given the magnitude of the task and the importance of getting it right, I suggest—I say this not as a lawyer—that we should be encouraging an attitude of, “All hands to the pump.” I very much agree that we need to ensure that there is a level playing field—for want of a better phrase—in the assessment and monitoring of private and public provision.
I am lucky to have HMP Guys Marsh in my constituency. James Lucas is its first-class governor, and I have met many of the staff there and know that they are devoted in their duty. However, like many others, the prison is infested with Spice and has problems with the misuse of mobile phones and the drugs culture generally. It appeared in the national newspapers only a few weeks ago, when the entrepreneurial spirit of the criminal classes was found to be in full tilt after prison staff discovered that dead rats stuffed with SIM cards and drugs had been thrown over the fence for prisoners to find. I raised the matter with the previous Prisons Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), and I echo the point to my hon. and learned Friend the current Minister, that, given that one of the prison yards is adjacent to open farmland and a public footpath, a simple security net over the yard would make rat tennis a sport of the past.
We must take our hats off to those who devote their lives to working in our prisons. Many of those who work in our public services face threats of intimidation and violence on a daily basis, but those who work in our prisons do so in a heightened and tense environment. Prison officers face the scourge of “potting”, the uncertainty of what drug-induced state they will find a prisoner in, and worries about the impact on their own health of inhaling drug fumes in the prison environment, as the Prison Officers Association explained to me at our last meeting.
Carillion used to manage HMP Guys Marsh, and it did its best, but what sticks in my mind—this speaks to the point made by the shadow Lord Chancellor—is that a contract involving the private sector is really only as good as those who manage it. Its assessment—I have heard nobody disagree with it—is that the expertise of the National Offender Management Service in managing those contracts was pretty poor. When contract management is poor, it should not be a surprise that the outcomes of the contract are not as good as they should be.
One of the challenges, I suggest to my hon. and learned Friend, is to identify bespoke policies to drive up recruitment in our rural prisons, where property prices are high and housing is often scarce. There are some incentives that could be deployed. Certainly, having talked with the governor at HMP Guys Marsh, I think the problem is not lack of appetite for recruitment, but lack of interest from people in the immediate locality. If we are to attract high-grade prison officers, we need to do something about that.
The third sector is absolutely crucial. I have had the pleasure of meeting Clean Sheet and Astara Training, whose managing director, Victoria Smith, is based in my constituency. I have also seen the excellent work of Eva Hamilton MBE, who runs Key4Life, which has a contract with HMP Guys Marsh. Their work is focused, bespoke and attentive to detail. Those are the sorts of charitable-focused, third-party social enterprises that my hon. and learned Friend and his ministerial team should really be focusing on, to foster their support, engagement and initiative. They work in education, apprenticeships, securing vocational qualifications and drug rehabilitation.
I will close my remarks with this cri de coeur. The aridity of an Orwellian approach of “Two legs good; four legs bad”, whether from the left or the right, will not benefit our country, our society or our communities, and it will certainly not benefit those who work in our prisons or those serving sentences. The state should always have this as a final test: if it is to hold the right to deprive a man or woman of their liberty, it should always consider what impact any decision it makes will have in order to ensure that that man or woman is a one-time visitor to prison. If the state keeps that in mind when making each decision, whether it is the third sector, the private sector or public sector, and with the instincts and experience of the Lord Chancellor and the new Prisons Minister, I have every hope that we can get this right.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), and I echo his remarks about the hon. Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), who has an incredibly impressive knowledge of this subject—I suggest that she is a little wasted on the Back Benches.
I want to focus my remarks on the impact of prison on prisoners and their families, and to consider whether prisons are fulfilling the role that we expect of them. I am increasingly receiving communications from constituents who are in prison, or visits from their family members in my surgeries, who are deeply concerned about just how safe prisons are. I have met families with grave concerns about suicide risk, repeated incidents of self-harm, lack of attention to mental health conditions, and issues with education and family support.
Most recently I had a father and partner of a prisoner come to see me about a young man who is in prison. He has given himself the most appalling injuries, having forced into his arm a pen and two metal bars. That happened while he was in HMP Humber. His injuries were left untreated for so long that by the time he was moved to HMP Hull, which then took him to hospital for the rods to be removed, the hospital was completely unwilling to do that, because there was too great a risk in taking them out. He has been left in a physical condition that means he has repeated infections, fevers and risk of sepsis, because the prison failed to take action at the time.
There might be very little public sympathy for that young man, but society has accepted that prison is a remedy for criminal acts. We have also accepted that rehabilitation, as well as punishment and public safety, is the purpose of prison. While people are self-harming, they are in absolutely no position to be rehabilitated.
I have no doubt that prison officers struggle with monitoring appropriately all the individuals under their watch, due to staffing numbers, high turnover and high sickness levels. However, sadly, I have also had brought to my attention situations where, for whatever reason, officers are involved not in the safeguarding and management of prisoners, but either in ignoring their needs altogether, because they are quiet and compliant, or in assaults against inmates. Another constituent contacted me to tell me about the times he was assaulted by prison officers, who are in a position of authority and great trust. He claimed that he was seriously beaten on four separate occasions during the 14 months he was in HMP Humber. After he complained to the governor, he found that the CCTV of the incidents had gone missing. I have no way to prove whether that story is accurate, and I take with a pinch of salt some of the claims that are made, but how sure is the Secretary of State that incidents and complaints such as that are recorded? Prisoners are immediately less likely to be believed than those who are employed and in a position of trust. Are those instances investigated?
My office struggles to get any information out of prisons to fully and properly advise constituents and their families in a timely fashion, so what hope do those who are incarcerated have? It has the feeling of an impenetrable service and while we all might expect the walls of prisons to be suitably impenetrable, surely Members of Parliament should be able to get to the bottom of an issue and ascertain whether something has gone awry. How can CCTV footage simply have disappeared? It is a source of great frustration to this man, who was sentenced to three years and three months for joint enterprise in a robbery, that he has now been in prison for 11 years, because of indeterminate life-licence sentencing. He says that he cannot wait until the end of the year for another parole hearing, and will take his own life if this continues. I can imagine how he can get to that point—expecting to be in prison for three years but being there for 11. It seems that the primary reason for this—I have heard nothing to the contrary from the prison—is his mental health status, not his likelihood of reoffending.
The issue of indeterminate sentences is coming up more often. Of course I want to see the public protected, but I had another case in which mental health again has played a huge role in the prisoner’s circumstances. A 15-year-old boy was charged with an offence, then he was sectioned for a month. He was arrested after he came out of hospital and he sat on remand for a year. In 2013, he was sentenced to 220 days with a life licence. Six years later, he is still in custody. He has repeatedly self-harmed. I wrote to the previous Prisons Minister about this case, because of the ping-ponging between Rampton and Humbercare about who would take responsibility for his care. I could get nowhere with those organisations, and it took the Prisons Minister’s intervention to achieve a resolution. In all that time, his family have struggled to get any information out of the prison, and even to get access to their son. His withdrawal from any contact or communication led the prison to tell the family, “Well, he doesn’t want to see you.” The family has therefore had very little information, but now, thankfully, there has been some movement. It should not take intervention by Ministers for basic systems to be in place to reassure family members. When people are put in prison, they are not the only ones who suffer: their families do too, and they have done nothing wrong. Families often feel out of the loop and find it difficult to get any information. I do not know what it is like for colleagues, but my office has found it extremely difficult to get a good standard of response in a timely fashion from prisons.
My final point about probation is that at the weekend we saw many reports about how fly-tipping has increased enormously. Locally, dumping in alleyways is a huge issue for residents. Until August last year, our probation service had community payback activity that involved cleaning the alleys. That has now stopped because, apparently, it did not provide a feeling of worth for the individuals. It is private land and the council have no responsibilities over it, but tenants and landlords are not taking responsibility for it. That activity provided a useful public service, and I ask that it be reinstated as a rotational duty for community payback participants. While it may not seem to have any worth for them, it does for the wider community.
It is a pleasure to follow the thoughtful speech from the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn), the powerful speech from my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) and the deeply insightful speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis).
I am not an expert in prisons, but in 2015 there were riots at Chelmsford prison, and six members of staff ended up in hospital. Chelmsford is an extremely busy category 3 prison that serves all of Essex. Some of the prison blocks date back to Victorian times. Indeed, as a child I remember watching “Porridge”, which was filmed in Chelmsford prison. When I was first elected a couple of years ago, the prison had not changed much since the 1970s. In fact, it was dire—severely over-crowded, many parts of the prison were in desperate need of repairs, staff levels were dangerously low, violent assaults were increasing and staff were struggling to get to grips with high levels of drug taking. The prison is in the centre of the city so it is easy to throw drugs over the walls and into the prison. The then governor was also extremely concerned about the high levels of mental health problems that he saw in the prisoners. He told me that he saw prison as a microcosm of the problems we see in society. Where we see drug use and mental health issues growing in wider society, they are magnified within the walls of prisons.
There was some good news. The prison recruited many new staff, up to the full complement, but many of them were young and inexperienced, and I was concerned about staff safety. The previous Minister—and I thank him for his work—kindly visited the prison with me and saw at first hand the need for repairs, and we heard from the governor and staff about the lack of ongoing support and mentoring for trainees. That Minister promised action.
When I last visited the prison a few months ago, I was pleased that several actions had been taken. I heard about new mentoring for younger members of staff, and there was a much more positive attitude. Lots of work had been done to reduce the amount of drugs coming into the prison, through mobile phone detectors, netting and better work with the police, including the use of dogs to patrol the outside perimeter. That was helping. I also saw that the state of the prison had improved. The overcrowding had been reduced. The prison was physically lighter and cleaner, and a more purposeful place. Indeed, many of the prisoners had been involved in refurbishing their own areas of the prison, with better lighting, fresh paint and new flooring. The place felt safer in many areas.
The new prison governor told me how passionate she is to try to break the revolving-door cycle and make sure that the people who come into prison have opportunities to learn skills. She started a strategy so that every prisoner, within three days of arriving in the prison, would do a course on food hygiene and safety, and be given a certificate with their new qualification. That also had the advantage that all prisoners could help to serve the food. It set them on a journey to learning, not just being locked up. She told me how she wanted more local companies, businesses and charities to be involved in the prison to help to bring skills, opportunities and training to the prisoners. She was also very pleased about the key worker scheme that was just starting to make sure that prisoners had someone they could confide in, who would talk them through their journey as they were about to leave prison, and make sure that they were helped in that situation.
The governor was also enormously concerned by the seven tragic deaths—every death is tragic—that had happened in the prison in the past couple of years, and the level of violence is still high. There have been improvements, but there is still a way to go.
I do not care who runs our prisons, whether it is the public or private sector, but I want to make sure that our prisons are well run. I am delighted that we have an excellent new Prisons Minister and I ask him to come to Chelmsford prison—we are only an hour away—and see what more we can do. The previous Prisons Minister promised and delivered changes, but we need more and I hope we can work together to deliver them.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford). In September, HMP Bedford became the fourth jail in a year to be issued an urgent notification. The prison has the highest rate of assaults in the country. Prison officers may not be allowed to strike under the law, but they are certainly protesting with their feet. So bad are the recruitment and retention problems in our prisons that, at HMP Bedford alone, some 77% of prison officers have less than one year of service. The cuts that led to the loss of about 10% of prison officers have resulted in an increase in violence of more than 250%. How can a Government who claim to be concerned about the level of violence in our prisons continue to fail to do their basic legal duty to protect staff and to ensure a safe working environment?
Prison officers do not go into work to be attacked and the courts do not send people to prison to be assaulted. The level of self-harm and drug addiction and suicide and reoffending rates among prisoners have reached record levels. The public expect prisoners to be rehabilitated and reformed so that, when they come out, they are not a danger to society. How can that happen when conditions are so poor?
The decline in HMP Bedford since 2010 is set out in the shocking inspection reports that led to the urgent notification last year. I am committed to building on the positive relationship that I have with the staff and management at the prison, who I know are working hard and doing their best in challenging circumstances.
It might surprise the House to know that I have spent some time in HMP Bedford—I hasten to add, not at Her Majesty’s pleasure but as the director of a charity that worked with prisoners and their families. My hon. Friend talks about the dedication of the staff at the prison and one thing that struck me was the role of the prison chaplaincy there. Chaplains of all faiths and denominations do an incredible amount of work not just in the establishment in his constituency but across the country. I am sure he, and I hope the Minister, would like to acknowledge that and ensure that they get support to play the hugely positive role they can play in rehabilitating those serving sentences.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Last year when I visited Bedford prison I noticed that and I am pleased with the service they have there.
The management at HMP Bedford are working really hard under challenging circumstances, but I remain concerned that the publicly run prison is deliberately being run into the ground and deprived of adequate funding. Meanwhile, money is being used to build the new super-size prison just down the road in Wellingborough, which will be handed straight to the private sector. Questions remain unanswered as to why the MOJ banned the public sector from bidding for that new prison, yet it is happy to hold a competition involving the failed prison privateer G4S and the recently collapsed private provider Interserve. Statistics show that private prisons are disproportionately more violent, dangerous and overcrowded than their public sector counterparts. If that is the Government’s response to the overcrowding and violence crisis in our prisons, it has already failed.
The Government’s refusal to publish the HMPPS estate and transformation team’s report into whether the public sector should be allowed to operate new build prisons has led to deep suspicion. If the Government admit that the public sector is the benchmark, why is it shut out of the bidding process? Marketisation has utterly failed in the prison and probation service and public safety has been compromised. It is time for the Government to listen to frontline workers who know exactly how to turn things around. The Government must end the two-tier workforce for pay, conditions and professional standards in the probation and prison service.
The privatisation of the probation service must be one of the worst decisions ever taken by Government. The hard work of committed probation staff has been totally undermined by the Government’s transforming rehabilitation reforms, which in 2014-15 broke up the probation service and part-privatised it. Driven solely by political dogma, this failed, dangerous experiment has wasted £467 million of taxpayers’ money. It has failed to reduce reoffending and led to a huge increase in people on short-term sentences being recalled to prison. Reoffending rates for serious offences such as murder, rape and manslaughter are soaring, and our public are now less safe because of the Tories’ profit motive.
The privatisation of the probation service has been roundly condemned. The chief inspector of the probation service, Dame Glenys Stacey, the National Audit Office and the Justice Committee have been critical. The state of the part-privatised probation service is, to quote Dame Glenys Stacey, “irredeemably flawed”. It should be abandoned, with the service taken back in-house.
The privatisation was rushed through by the then Secretary of State, splitting the probation service into two. High-risk offenders were to be dealt with by the national probation service, with the rest dealt with by privatised community rehabilitation centres. Public money is now sucked into private profits, causing damage to the service, staff, users and local communities. The number of probation professionals has dropped to a critical level, forcing them to cut corners, and the profession of probation has been downgraded.
Napo has warned that the reforms have created a two-tier workforce between the CRCs and the NPS for pay and conditions and professional standards, with an average pay gap of 4.5% in favour of NPS staff and worse terms and conditions for CRC staff. Service users need a relationship of trust with the probation service to reduce reoffending. However, the current state of the probation service forces offenders to share personal information about their lives with strangers each time they see a probation officer, hindering their willingness to engage.
Staff are committed to delivering vital work in probation, but working conditions are putting undue pressure on the workforce. The underfunding of CRC contracts has led to a scaling back and to cuts in specialist support for offenders leaving prison, which, as we heard this morning from Dame Glenys Stacey in her report to the Justice Committee, has resulted in more than a fifth of offenders released from prison being released with no fixed abode and many suffering from substance abuse, both of which are high-risk factors that lead to reoffending.
As the hon. Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) mentioned, many services provided by the voluntary sector have been cut as a result of the CRC contracts. We have seen a loss in services provided for substance abuse and for housing resettlement for prisoners, following the awarding of CRC contracts, which many CRCs have claimed were badly drafted, although it should be pointed out that their successful bids were based on the MOJ’s specifications.
The CRC contracts were granted to monolithic private sector providers that, like the Titanic, were too big to fail, yet this year we have seen two of the providers—Working Links and Interserve—announce that they have called in the administrators due to financial problems. Having thrown good money after bad, the Government need to stop this charade that the CRC model is anything other than bust. The National Audit Office has said so, the Justice Committee has said so and the chief inspector has said so. When will the Government get the message?
Labour has opposed the privatisation of our probation service from the outset. This once award-winning service, now in the hands of private companies, is crying out to be brought back in-house and devolved to new local probation services with proper local, democratic control and accountability. Both Napo and Unison, representing thousands of members in the probation service, endorse this model of public ownership and local control.
The privatisation of our prisons gives us further evidence of the failings caused by running public services for profit. In October 2018, I visited HMP Birmingham following the serving of an urgent notification by Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons after the major disturbances at the prison in 2016, which resulted in severe damage and four wings being taken out of use. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons carried out an unannounced inspection of the prison in August 2018. The inspectorate found that the prison had been so badly run that it initiated an urgent notification protocol, saying there had been a
“near total failure to address…previous recommendations”
“an abject failure of contract management and delivery”.
The next day, the Secretary of State for Justice issued a contract notice removing the prison from G4S’s control and placing it under the leadership of a governor from Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service. This was a shocking outcome for G4S, and few will have had confidence in its ability to run prisons, but, lo and behold, the Government have allowed it to bid for the right to run more prisons.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) said, a Labour Government would take the running of prisons back into the public sector. Time after time we have seen the failures of privatisation in the prison and probation service, only for the Government to reward failure by ploughing more public money into the pockets of private contractors. It does not work and will not work in the future. It all needs to be brought back in-house. If the Secretary of State does not heed the warnings, he risks wasting more public money, making the public, staff and prisoners less safe and rewarding failure. This has to stop. We need to bring it back in-house.
I am always pleased when there is a consensus. I listened carefully to the contributions of Government Members, who claim to be promoters of social reform, but the proposals for social reform introduced under the coalition Government far too often were done also to save money. Social reform cannot be done on a shoestring. That is where these things always go wrong. If Government Members are serious about social reform, everyone across the House needs to think about what those reforms are worth. We should not only value social reform but put the money behind it.
I welcome the new Prisons Minister to his role. His predecessor promised to resign in August if he did not achieve a substantial reduction in prison violence by then. I wonder whether the new Minister will stick to that pledge or whether he will be reshuffled before. The Government have collapsed into paralysis. The House should be full on Tuesday afternoons, but it is not. I wonder whether the Government are able to act any more, particularly on the crisis in prisons, the state of probation services being one example of that crisis. I hope that the promises made will result in some improvement soon.
The partial privatisation of our probation services has been another instance of the Government’s determination to implement a rushed and badly researched policy. The new system was introduced without research or piloting. I asked the Secretary of State about piloting but he did not really answer my question. I hope that if changes are introduced they will first be piloted, before we throw a lot of Government money at them. Rehabilitation should be a holistic project in which an offender and his community feel secure and able to rebuild. This type of work cannot be done on a shoestring and focused on the bottom line.
This is a public project asking what type of society we are trying to create. The Liberal Democrats believe in a society that puts rehabilitation and communities first. Today’s reality could not be further from that. Last month’s Justice Committee report confirms what the Liberal Democrats have been saying for months: our prisons are not fit for purpose. The prison population has exploded, leaving the services unable to cope with the demand. Some 60% of prisons are over capacity and some now hold 50% more inmates then they were intended for.
This pressure on space has a human cost. Recent statistics on deaths, assaults and self-harm in prisons are shockingly high and increasing. Last year 325 people died in prison, including 92 from suicide, and there were more than 50,000 recorded incidents of self-harm. Government policies mean that this crisis will become more extreme, with the prison population projected to rise by 3,000 over the next three years, unless we do something about it.
What are the long-term consequences for everyone else? We are failing to rehabilitate, with record numbers of ex-prisoners going on to reoffend, and this is putting more strain on a system already stretched to breaking point. Short sentences are one of the many factors in this escalating problem, yet we already know that short sentences simply do not work. Evidence released by this Government proves that community sentences are far more likely to stop someone reoffending. Short sentences target the most vulnerable offenders, especially women: 72% of all women offenders are sentenced for less than a year and 61% of women given short sentences go on to reoffend. Often these months in prison are just long enough for a woman to lose her job, house and children. They find themselves released back into society with no safety net and very little support.
Private probation companies are simply not up to the job, given the state of today’s prisons and the severe lack of integration between these services. Today we have heard story after story of these companies being unable to offer the support they are required to give. Some of these failures are worse than others. Reports from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of probation last September found that private probation companies were failing to protect survivors of abuse once the abuser had been returned to the community. The report stated:
“Too often we were left wondering how safe victims and children were, especially when practitioners failed to act on new information indicating that they could be in danger.”
Further investigations discovered that only 27% of eligible offenders had been referred to an accredited programme designed to prevent further abuse.
Private probation companies, allowed under the new system to manage low to medium-risk cases, are overstretched. Last September’s report stated that private probation companies viewed home visits as a “luxury”. Domestic factors, such as escalating abuse or unstable living situations, are often determining factors in whether someone goes on to reoffend. It is simply not acceptable that probation companies are not able to act because of the costs involved.
The prisons system and by extension probation services are not considered by most people, who hope they will never encounter them personally, but the way we treat the men and women unfortunate enough to end up in prison matters, not just to the individuals but to our wider communities. Rehabilitation, when done properly, spans both the prisons system and probation. This work must be integrated to be successful. Rehabilitation is not just some soft-hearted liberal project; ultimately, it is about the security of our communities. I call on the Government to reinvest in rehabilitation by reforming standards, increasing resources and improving services to build a safer and more cohesive society, and yes social reform must cost the money that it is worth to us.
It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse), who made important points about the need for social reform and how it does indeed cost money.
I want to speak in particular about the value of women’s centres as a community response to women offenders. I start by paying tribute of course to my friend and colleague the inspirational Baroness Corston, whose groundbreaking report led to the establishment of a wider network of women’s centres across the UK. I have visited one such centre—Eden House, in my neighbouring constituency of Bristol East, Baroness Corston’s former constituency—a few times in the past few years, the first time in my former professional role at Respect, the national organisation for domestic violence perpetrator work, in order to discuss specific interventions for women with complex histories of domestic violence and offending.
Women experience the majority of domestic violence. While there are of course male victims, their abusers are disproportionately male partners, although there are female perpetrators. There is no excuse for the abuse of a partner, female or male, but in my previous work I learned a lot about the differences between the profiles of female and male domestic perpetrators, particularly those with a complex picture of experience as a victim and a perpetrator.
Some women are indeed very violent and controlling and do fit the profile of coercive and controlling abusers, but the majority of those who use violence tend to do so either in self-defence or resistance in the context of a partner who is controlling and on whom they may be dependent. Some of the women I met at Eden House had this complex history. Often it started young—sometimes they had experience of child abuse—and their offending was intricately linked to their experience of abuse as well as to mental health and substance misuse. Those are examples of the specific needs and experiences of women offenders that Baroness Corston identified and of the reasons she concluded that specific women-centred responses were needed.
Baroness Corston also identified three specific groups of characteristics. First, the domestic category covers abusive relationships, but also childcare. Single mothers with sole responsibility for children are much less likely than male offenders to have someone on the outside to look after their home and the children, and are therefore more likely to lose both. Secondly, there is the personal category. Many women offenders have severe mental illness or substance misuse problems, which are likely to get worse if they are remanded in prison. They may also be self-harming, or have eating disorders. The third category is the socio-economic. Women are paid less than men, and are more likely to experience relationship breakdown as economically damaging. They are more likely than men to face under-employment or discrimination because of their parenting responsibilities.
A fourth category relates to the offending itself. Most, although not all, women offenders are convicted of non-violent offences, and present little public risk. They actually present a greater risk to themselves than to others. However, because there are fewer of them, they are more likely to be sent further away when they are sentenced. For other reasons, proportionate to their numbers, they are more likely to be remanded in custody than men. Because of their domestic responsibilities, they may therefore experience further, compounding consequences, such as fewer visits from children and other family members, leading to a further likelihood that their children will be taken into care permanently. Shorter sentences are also less likely to deflect future offending.
For all those complicated reasons, prison makes the lives of women and their children much worse than it makes those of male offenders, although I am not suggesting that there are no complications for male offenders. It is also much less likely that their reoffending rates will be reduced by a prison sentence.
Baroness Corston pointed out that because of those differences, there should be distinct, separate and different approaches. She recommended that community sanctions for non-violent women offenders should be the norm, that responses should take into account women’s vulnerabilities and their domestic and childcare responsibilities, and that the Together Women programme should be extended and a network of women’s centres set up as soon as possible. As I am sure you are aware, Madam Deputy Speaker, the Together Women programme was set up by the Labour Government with £9.1 million in 2005 to develop and test holistic responses to women.
As a result of Baroness Corston’s recommendation, a further £15.6 million was allocated for 2009 to 2011 for the number of women’s centres to be increased to, eventually, 46. At their best, they provide a combination of one-to-one holistic support, help with substance misuse, counselling, therapy, domestic abuse programmes, life skills classes and workshops, referral to other help and, sometimes, on-site childcare and residential facilities. A Ministry of Justice evaluation has found statistically significant differences in favour of women’s centres compared to custodial sentences in respect of the risk of reoffending.
I just wanted to make a point about cost-effectiveness. Does my hon. Friend share my concern about the underfunding of women’s centres relative to other disposals? According to those who run my local centre in Greater Manchester, none of them have been able to access the tampon tax funding. Surely that would have been ideal for them.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that excellent point. In 2011, a report on the social return on investment produced by the Women’s Resource Centre and the New Economics Foundation stated that every £1 invested in women’s organisations generated between £5 and £11 in social value. My hon. Friend has made the important point that there is often a long-term saving to be made, and that those organisations need investment. Other evaluations have documented substantial improvements in mental health and other dimensions such as relationships, work, housing, health and money, all of which, combined with the reduced risk of reoffending, make women’s centres a good investment.
Where are we now? The Women in Prison report “The Corston Report 10 Years On” found that many pioneering women’s centres either do not exist or can no longer provide the full range of services, and that their model does not fit the “payment by results” model which has been introduced into the privatisation of probation. The Government’s female offender strategy acknowledges the legacy of the Corston report and the need for the value of women-specific services, but we just do not have the national network that we should have.
I am told that the Treasury will receive £80 million from the sale of HMP Holloway, which would transform women’s centres. The Howard League for Penal Reform has reminded me that, following its inquiry last year, the all-party parliamentary group for women in the penal system said that there was a real risk that many women’s centres were now so watered down that they could no longer be as effective as they should or could be. I ask the Minister to talk to his colleagues in the Treasury about keeping the £80 million and investing it to ensure that there is a fully funded network with a full range of women’s services across the country, because that range really saves lives. It saves women from the risk of reoffending, it saves children from the risk of being taken into care, and it helps to turn lives around. That was true in 2007, when Baroness Corston wrote the report, it was true in the “10 Years On” report, and it is true now.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire). The excellent speeches that have been made by Members on both sides of the House have shown how important justice is. It is, I believe, the cornerstone of democracy, and it needs to be respected and resourced as such. The current Transport Secretary clearly did not share that view when, as Justice Secretary, he accepted a 40% cut in the Justice budget at the start of the austerity regime.
Prisons have been reduced to places that brutalise offenders, and have become more like universities of crime. Her Majesty’s inspectorate has reported some of the most disturbing prison conditions that we have ever seen, conditions that have no place in an advanced nation in the 21st century. Prisoners are living in squalor. The inspectorate described conditions in the UK—one of the largest economies in the world—as squalid.
I recognise the improvements that were begun by the previous Prisons Minister in the 10-prison project, but we as a Parliament and the Government need to take a long and concerted look at how those improvements can be replicated in the many prisons that have not benefited from the same focus. We also need to take a long and concerted look at whether privatisation of the prison system is really the appropriate approach. Will the private sector ever share best practice with its competitors, which may well be competing for one of the services that their opponents are providing? I do not think so.
Sadly, the Government’s policies are not limited to the prisons themselves, but extend to the probation service. Irreparable damage is being caused to that system by the breaking up and part-privatisation of the UK’s award-winning probation service, which is served by proud, professional probation officers who are committed to working to help to reintroduce people to society. Their careers have been smashed. The way in which professionals have been treated in our justice system is so unfair.
Owing to the actions of the previous Justice Secretary, one in five people who are released from prison have no fixed abode. The community rehabilitation company, the private sector provider, is issuing tents to people who are released from prison. Some are currently sleeping on 24-hour bus services, and some are even being directed to church graveyards. How can anyone look at the current prison and probation service and see anything other than crisis and failure?
We have new people in; the last Prisons Minister was a good one and I am told we have a good one now and a good Secretary of State. I call on them to be brave; I call on the Government to respect justice as a cornerstone of democracy and to fund it as such. The whole of society benefits from a good justice system, yet at present it is being taken to its knees. I call on the current team to be brave and shout out for more resources and respect justice for what it is: a cornerstone of democracy.
Throughout this debate we have heard strong speeches on the dangerous consequences of privatisation in our justice system, with Members warning against heading further down this path. These contributions were made by those on both the Government and Opposition Benches. The point made earlier around the Tory ex-Secretary of State Sir Malcom Rifkind’s quote is pertinent and should be used again: he said that deprivation of liberty
“should not be the responsibility of a private company”.
And we can be left in no doubt that the needless privatisation of our probation system and the heavy involvement of the private sector in prisons have proved to be nothing less than a catastrophic disaster.
My hon. Friend, the shadow Secretary of State and I all share the same probation trust; it is run by Purple Futures, part of Interserve, which has gone into administration. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that this is a developing pattern, and that the former Secretary of State who transformed rehabilitation did not think it through, and we now need to remodel it and bring it back into the public sector?
I absolutely agree and will come on to that point shortly. I would have liked to say a lot more but have been given firm instructions by the Deputy Speaker that I must stick to a strict time limit, so have had to cut a lot of my contribution.
Much of the focus of today’s debate has been on the privatisation of probation, and I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock), who made important contributions which I will come on to later. The Chair of the Justice Committee, the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), spoke about the impact on probation and made the point that there have been numerous reports, all of which highlight the failure in probation.
We have seen offenders released into the hands of private companies whose concern is not the public and their safety, but shareholders and profits. It is right that this has been a key focus, for the Government have not transformed rehabilitation but have destroyed it—crushing rehabilitation, not transforming it.
The failure of private provision companies on reoffending is singled out for particular criticism, as while the principal aim of the plans was to reduce reoffending, the MOJ’s own proven reoffending statistics instead show a rise in reoffending. The blame for this lies squarely with the privatisation of probation and the horrendously delivered through-the-gate services, which are so ineffective that prison and probation inspectorates found there would be no impact at all if they were removed. It is easy to see why they reached this conclusion, as private probation companies have consistently failed to deliver effective support for offenders around accommodation, welfare and employment, all of which are factors determining the likelihood of reoffending.
But it gets worse, as inspections of private probation companies routinely found that they were not just delivering a poor level of supervision of offenders but were carrying it out in non-confidential open public spaces such as libraries, and shockingly in some cases through texts, rather than in private locations. So poor is the record of the community rehabilitation companies in providing support that a 2016 report found that none of those serving a sentence of less than 12 months who were met by the inspectorates had been helped into employment or training after release by through-the-gate. That is absolutely shocking.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for breaking his extremely good speech. The people trying to deliver these services are, whoever they work for, incredibly dedicated and want to do an extremely good job, which many of them are capable of doing, but the problem is the fragmentation of the service, about which I warned the former Secretary of State, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green). The former Secretary of State’s words were: “I don’t need any evidence, I don’t need to pilot it; I have inner belief that this will work,” but he was wrong.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, who raises important points on staffing, on the two-tier workforce and on staff morale, which has also been impacted. Time does not permit me to go into detail on that today, but the 4.5% pay gap between those who work in the private sector and those in the national public service illustrates the massive difference between them.
The privatisation of probation has proved to be not just a disaster but a costly one, with the taxpayer being forced to stump up a total of £467 million to bail out private probation companies in what is nothing short of a reward for their damning failures. In return for this bumper payment, the public have received no guarantee that the services delivered by probation companies will improve and no certainty that they will make any investment to achieve that. And all the while, the Ministry of Justice remains happy to continue to throw good money after bad. Despite this colossal bail-out, the financial difficulties of probation companies remain, with a number forecasting losses and with Working Links collapsing and Interserve entering administration earlier this year. The financial failure and collapse of a probation provider, a key component of the justice system, should be unthinkable, but under this Government’s privatisation agenda, that is exactly what is happening as they erode key functions of the state that should remain in public hands and hand them over to private companies.
We have also heard today about the failings in the private prison estate. The hon. Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves), the hon. Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn), the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford), my hon. Friends the Members for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin) and for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous), the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) and my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) and for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer) all made important points on this. One of the important things about this debate is that Members on both sides of the House have made pertinent and important points highlighting the serious emergency and the dire situation in our prison and probation systems at the moment. It is disappointing that the Secretary of State opened his speech by referring to the shadow Secretary of State’s contribution as “simplistic, dogmatic and bombastic”. We have an emergency in our prisons, we have a safety issue in our prisons and we have a crisis in our probation service, yet the Secretary of State comes to this important debate and uses words such as those. I find that quite disappointing.
The issues in our prisons were most recently brought to the fore by the prisons inspector’s highly critical report on HMP Birmingham, which has been mentioned a number of times today. The fact that conditions there were so bad and the prisoners so violent forced the removal of G4S as the private operator of the prison. Many Members have referred to individual prisons today, including those in their own constituencies, with particular reference to safety. The Ministry of Justice’s own statistics show that private prisons are disproportionately more dangerous, with 156 more assaults per 1,000 prisoners in private prisons compared with those run by the public sector, and that three private prisons appear in the list of the 10 most violent ones. That highlights the points being made by hon. Members today.
As we have heard, the Government know about the huge problems associated with private prisons and they are aware of their failings, yet they are pressing on with opening two new prisons, at Wellingborough and Glen Parva, which will be operated by private companies rather than public sector operators. If the Government are so confident of the ability of private companies, why will they not allow HMPPS to bid to operate Wellingborough and Glen Parva, rather than burying the evidence on why they have not done so? The Prison Officers Association has repeatedly asked for the HMPPS estates and transformation report, but it has repeatedly been denied access to it. This shows that the Government’s plans are driven not by a desire to deliver the best benefits for the public but by ideology, and we are seeing a complete failure by the private sector to stand on its own merits when compared with the public sector.
In conclusion, this debate not only demonstrates the colossal failure of the Government’s privatisation agenda, but represents a staggering row about the Government’s plans for further privatisation in our prisons and to hand larger contracts to the same private companies. There can be no half-measures in the Government’s actions. They must commit not only to ensuring that Wellingborough and Glen Parva are run by HMPPS, not private companies, but to bringing probation back into public control for good. The Ministry of Justice says that it has learned its lessons, so now is the time to prove it. I urge Members to support our motion today.
It is a pleasure, after only two working days in office, to close this important debate and to make my first speech to this House as Minister of State for Justice. I heard a call in this debate, and I will deal with the issue, because my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), to whom I pay warm tribute, made a pledge. I have already said this, but I will say it again: I am going to do things my way. I am going to bring nearly 30 years of experience in the criminal justice and penal system to bear upon the serious job that I will undertake. The work of the “10 prisons project” will carry on, and we will see its results in the summer. It will continue in the same determined and urgent way that it has been pursued up to now.
I am here to reflect on the prison and probation services and, indeed, the whole criminal justice system. I want to leave a legacy that will demonstrate that, in whatever time I am given to serve in this office, I will have played my part in making justice neither tougher nor softer, but smarter when it comes to serving the public.
I welcome the Minister to his new role. He says that he would like to leave a legacy. Does he agree that the current devolved settlement between Wales and the UK is broken? To fulfil that legacy and simplify the system, we need to devolve justice, prisons and probation to the Welsh Government to enable the smooth running of this broken service.
As a proud Welshman, I have a long and deep interest in such issues, and I think greater unity is the way forward. Many excellent lessons have been learned from the Welsh probation system, and they inform our decision making as we reach a final decision on the future of the probation service. At this time, I much prefer to support a Wales-and-England approach when in Wales and an England-and-Wales approach when in England, and we need greater unity.
Let me develop my points, and I will give way in a moment.
My right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice has proposed a radical, evidence-based approach to put rehabilitation truly at the heart of our prison and probation services. I am delighted to be joining his team, and it is right to pay tribute to and congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer) who has taken her place—it was my place for many years—as the Solicitor General.
This has been a wide-ranging and informed debate. It included speeches from distinguished members of the Justice Committee, on which I served for four years with some Members present, and I am grateful to them for their considered, eloquent contributions. The debate moved away in a welcome manner from the rather false dichotomy of public good, private bad, or vice versa, because the truth is that neither is true. We are seeking a genuinely mixed approach that works whether in the south-west or north-east of England. We want an approach that keeps rehabilitation and reducing reoffending at the heart of our deliberations.
I want to take this opportunity—my first such opportunity—to pay tribute to the biggest single asset in our prison and probation services: the people who work in them. I have been in professional contact with these people since the early 1990s. Probation officers work hard to prepare important pre-sentence reports. Prison officers work tirelessly, often on the frontline of potential harm, to make our prisons civilised and safe places. I am thinking, too, of the volunteers who work alongside them—the prison chaplaincy has been mentioned—and the healthcare staff and charity workers. Of course, we should not forget the offenders and former offenders who work hard to help their peers, and the listeners trained by the Samaritans to help prisoners who are struggling to cope. The system just would not work without all their dedication, skills and bravery, and it is my task to champion their work and to give them the resources, tools and conditions in which to excel.
A lot has been said about the need for a clear evidence base. As a lawyer, of course, I naturally support that, and it is right to support it because I think we can agree that blind ideology, whether in favour of an overweening state or in favour of a mythological free-market paradise, is not the right answer for our prison and probation services.
I welcome my hon. and learned Friend to his job, to which I hope he brings the same tremendous skills as he brought to his previous job as Solicitor General. He was kind to listen to my representations last night about my local probation area in the south of England, which has managed to make the system, as it currently exists, work extremely well. My local service has an outstanding reputation, and in listening to what it says, I am struck by the fact that for it to tear up all the progress it has made under the present system for another system would not help those it looks after. I urge him to consider some form of flexibility in his plans so that the very best that has been learned in the current system can be incorporated into the new system.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, and of course I am familiar with the CRC to which he refers. It is an example of how best practice has been achieved, and it shows excellent delivery of unpaid work placements right across the region. It offers a comprehensive range of programmes and, frankly, outstanding leadership, too. He is right to talk about flexibility within a national framework.
The right hon. Member for Delyn (David Hanson), as he always does, made some pertinent points about recall rates. It is right to say that the increases are a direct consequence of the fact that 40,000 more offenders are being supervised as a result of the positive transforming rehabilitation changes. It is inevitable that there will be an increase in breaches with an increase in numbers, but I take his point. It is very much part of my consideration and thinking to ensure that, as we go forward, the monitoring and enforcement of orders is as important as the imposition of those orders—in fact, more important in many respects.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), the Chairman of the Justice Committee, who in his inimitable way made the important point that, from the evidence he has heard at length, a mixed-economy approach to prisons and probation is the right one. He spoke about through-the-gate support, and it is good to note that there is £6 million of funding from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to support people to move away from rough sleeping and into accommodation, which is clearly one of the key gateways away from reoffending.
The hon. Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) raised a horrifying case, and I reassure her that a serious further offence review is under way. The Government remain in favour of raising the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving, and we will look to do so as far as parliamentary time allows.
I hear the hon. Lady, and I share her sense of urgency. I cannot promise a specific timescale, but, as a former Solicitor General, I have considerable experience of dealing with such offending, which is a very high priority for me. I am grateful to her for raising it at this early opportunity.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) made an important and comprehensive speech. Although I would like to address her many points in turn, it would perhaps be an invidious encroachment on the House’s time, but I look forward to working closely with her, particularly on developing better alternatives to custody. She is absolutely right on that; I have been a sentencer, as a former part-time judge, so I know that it is vital to have integrity in all the options before the sentencing court—whether custody, community sentences or another type of disposal. I take her points very much on board and look forward to engaging with her.
Right and hon. Members made other points about the performance of CRCs. I accept that performance has been mixed, but quick actions have been taken to raise the quality of supervision. For example, telephone supervision was amended last year to mandate at least one face-to-face appointment per month with every offender. Changes were also made to introduce higher standards to more fairly reflect the cost of delivering services. As a result of the ending of the CRC contracts earlier, we will now expect to spend about £1.4 billion less on CRCs than was originally expected.
I cannot, because time does not permit me to do so. I am under some pressure and I wish to deal with Members’ contributions.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) was right to mention the excellent performance of his local prison, Guys Marsh. It is a good example of a prison that has had past challenges but, with excellent leadership, is turning around. We are working closely with Guys Marsh to identify the problems of drug issues and of rural recruitment. Indeed, there is a £3,000 income supplement for people who wish to work at that prison.
The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn), in an interesting speech, talked about prisoner welfare and self-harm. I can reassure her that that is taken extremely seriously, with the rolling out of new training on suicide, self-harm and mental health to more than 14,000 staff who have completed their training. That means an improvement in the way in which vulnerable prisoners are assessed and supported. Further work has been done with the Samaritans, which supports the listener scheme to which I referred.
The hon. Member for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin) talked about his local prison. We are taking robust action to respond to that urgent notification by appointing a new and experienced governor and additional operational managers, by making sure that staff undergo intensive training, by increasing the number of searches and by seeking support from national and regional specialists to support a safer regime in that prison. I know that he will be holding me to account and keeping a close eye on that.
May I deal with the role of the private sector and the evidence of the current chief inspector of probation? Dame Glenys Stacey is retiring shortly, and I want to pay warm tribute to her. Her evidence was more nuanced than perhaps has been suggested. In the body of her evidence, she acknowledged that the private sector has brought benefits to the service, particularly with regards to the delivery of IT and training, and innovation in rural areas, where local communities’ needs have been recognised. In her evidence, she acknowledged that a mix of the public, private and voluntary sector working together is indeed a viable and appropriate way forward.
I have answered the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse), who challenged me about the pledge of my predecessor, and I have answered in the words of Mr Frank Sinatra.
The hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) made an important and interesting speech about the vicious cycle involving coercive control, abuse and perpetration. I want to work with her to improve our understanding of that, because we have done some excellent work in the field of women’s offending. The number of women in prisons has reduced, as a result not just of some target exercise but of increased understanding of the particularly vulnerable position of women, who are often the victims of domestic abuse. I am grateful to her for raising those important points.
The hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer) reminded us all eloquently and clearly to respect and support justice and the rule of law. I could not agree with her more, and that is what I intend to do throughout my tenure.
It was suggested that the words of the former Cabinet Minister and my friend, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, were in some way a condemnation of Government. May I assure this House and all hon. Members that, ultimately, the deprivation of liberty is always the responsibility of Government? How that is administered is a legitimate place for the voluntary and private sector to be involved. As I have said, based on the evidence, I believe we can continue the work that is under way, not only to make our prisons safe, decent and secure, but to make sure that there are viable community alternatives. I look forward to the work ahead and am grateful to the House for its indulgence.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House notes HM Chief Inspector of Probation’s recent conclusion that the privatised probation system is irredeemably flawed and that public ownership is the safer option; recognises that the Public Accounts Committee concluded that probation services are in a worse position than they were in before the Government embarked on its reforms; further notes the Government’s decision to return HMP Birmingham to public ownership following repeated failures under G4S; is concerned by the Government’s plans for at least two new prisons to be privately run; and calls on the Government to end its plans to sign new private probation contracts and contracts for new privately-run prisons.