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Prison Overcrowding

Volume 735: debated on Tuesday 27 June 2023

1. Whether he plans to meet the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales to discuss overcrowding in prisons. (905631)

I regularly meet the senior judiciary, including the Lord Chief Justice, to discuss priority issues across the justice system, including prisons. We are delivering 20,000 additional modern prison places, the largest prison build programme since the Victorian era, ensuring the right conditions are in place to rehabilitate prisoners, cut crime and protect the public. We have already delivered 5,200 of these places, including at the brand new HMP Fosse Way, which opened last month and which I look forward to visiting later this week.

The Secretary of State, for whom I have great respect, surely knows that there is enormous unhappiness in the prison estate. Recent polls show how low morale is and how many people working in our prisons doing that difficult job are fearful for their safety. Will he meet me and perhaps even the Chair of the Justice Committee, the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), to talk about how we can find a way forward for the young people—there are perhaps 1,000 of them—in prison under joint enterprise? That would help him with prison overcrowding and bring justice to so many young lives.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and will be happy to meet him to discuss that. I am glad that he paid tribute to prison officers, who do spectacularly important work. One thing I am proud of delivering is body-worn video cameras for all of them, because that is so important for de-escalating volatile situations and potentially gathering evidence so that they can see justice done.

Joint enterprise is a sensitive issue. I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a proper interest in it, but it is the legal doctrine that ensures that the getaway driver does not avoid culpability, that the lookout of the armed robbery is also culpable, and that the person who supplies the murder weapon, knowing that it will be used in that offence, also cannot escape liability. The Court of Appeal has considered this at some length in the case of Jogee, and we have to be very careful before seeking to recalibrate it. However, I am happy to discuss it with the hon. Gentleman at a time of his choosing.

I am sure that the Lord Chancellor, as well as thanking the current Lord Chief Justice for his work, will welcome the appointment of Dame Sue Carr as the first woman Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales and look forward to working with her, too. Does the Lord Chancellor agree that one of the real areas of concern and pressure on prisons is the growth in the remand population? In January, before he was appointed to office, the Justice Committee produced a report on remand, from which some recommendations were accepted and some were not. Will he revisit some of those recommendations and see what more we can do to bear down in particular on the growth in remand for people who after all have not yet been convicted?

Those are excellent points. Let me begin by joining my hon. Friend in welcoming Dame Sue Carr, whose appointment has been hugely welcomed across the political spectrum, across the legal sector and beyond. I also pay tribute to Lord Burnett. I think I speak on behalf of everyone in the House in saying that there is nothing but regard and respect for the contribution that he has made.

On remand, my hon. Friend is absolutely correct. It is worth reflecting that, compared with the pre-pandemic period, there are between 4,500 and 5,000 more of those people in custody. As he rightly pointed out, they have not been convicted of any crime. Technology, such as electronically monitored tags, can be of assistance. It is for the bench or the Crown Court judge to decide whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that, if released on bail, that person would commit further offences or fail to surrender, but I know that the courts will want to bear the technological options in mind.

Over the past 10 years, more than 3,000 prison places have closed and community sentences have halved, and the three new prisons planned will not open before 2027 at the earliest. No wonder we have a prison capacity crisis, with the Government having to commandeer police cells and judges being told to jail fewer people. How can the public have faith that they will be protected and that crime will be punished when that is the Government’s record?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. It is worth reflecting that the second biggest programme in Government after High Speed 2 is in prison building. I invite her to go and look at Five Wells or Fosse Way, or at the work taking place at Millsike. Those are modern, safe, rehabilitative, productive prisons. We make no apology for investing in our prison estate because, if we can bear down on the things that prevent individuals from getting back on the right side and putting crime behind them, that is good for society, good for the individual and good for the taxpayer.

Order. We are 10 minutes in and still on question 1. I want to make sure that we get everyone in.