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Prison Capacity

Volume 833: debated on Tuesday 17 October 2023


My Lords, I will respectfully repeat the Statement made yesterday in another place by my right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor:

“The first duty of any Government is to keep their people safe, and that is why those who pose a danger to society must be locked up. This Government are categorical that the worst offenders should be locked away for as long as it takes to protect the public. We have increased the sentences for offences including knife crime, causing death by dangerous driving—now a maximum of life imprisonment—and causing or allowing the death of a child. We have ended automatic halfway release for serious sexual and violent offenders, so they will serve two-thirds of their sentence behind bars and, in the most dangerous cases, all of their sentence behind bars. We are changing the law to make whole-life sentences the default for the most heinous types of murder, so that for society’s most depraved killers, life means life and murderers end their days in prison.

Today, I can announce that we will be going further. We will legislate so that rapists, as well as those convicted of equivalent sexual offences, will serve the entirety of the custodial term handed down to them by the courts. A 15-year custodial term will mean 15 years behind bars.

There are inaccurate reports in the media, claiming that judges have been told not to send rapists to prison. Let me be categorical: this is untrue. Sentencing is a matter for the judiciary acting impartially and in accordance with the rule of law. It is a fact that under this Government the most serious and dangerous offenders are being locked away for longer. In the case of rapists, average sentences are nearly a third longer than in 2010. This is the right thing to do to keep the public safe.

To continue to put the worst offenders away for longer, we must use prisons better, so that there are always sufficient spaces to lock up the most dangerous criminals. We must reform the justice system so that it keeps the worst of society behind bars, rehabilitates offenders who will be let out and gives the least serious, lowest-risk offenders a path away from a life of crime. That matters, because intelligent reform means less crime.

I have been candid from the moment I took on this role that our custodial estate is under pressure. Today, the prison population in England and Wales is greater than it has ever been—nearly double the level it was three decades ago. That is not principally because of the growth in the sentenced population: instead, it is the remand population, principally made up of unconvicted prisoners awaiting trial, which has surged in recent years, from 9,000 in 2019 to over 15,000 in 2023. That is more than 6,000 more people in our prisons, out of a total of around 88,000. Why is that? It is because in the white heat of the pandemic we took the right and principled decision not to jettison hundreds of years of British history and abandon the jury trial system. We did not do that because the jury trial system is the bedrock of our freedoms. But, because of Covid restrictions, that inevitably meant that the flow of trials slowed and, in turn, the remand population grew. This growth was exacerbated by industrial action last year. In addition, the recall population is also significantly higher than in 2018, partly because we are rightly ensuring that offenders who do not comply with their licence conditions are returned to prison.

This Government have taken unprecedented steps to meet this demand. We are building 20,000 modern rehabilitative prison places—the largest prison-building programme since the Victorian era. By doubling up cells where it is safe to do so, speeding up the deportation of foreign national offenders and delaying non-essential maintenance projects to bring cells back into use, we have freed up an extra 2,600 places since September last year alone. On top of this, we have continued to roll out hundreds of rapid deployment cells at prison sites. Altogether, we have been bringing on capacity at a rate of more than 100 places a week—the fastest rate in living memory, and possibly in 100 years.

We are going further. Today, I can announce up to £400 million for more prison places, enough for over 800 new cells. When we legislate to keep rapists behind bars for the whole of their custodial term, I will ensure that commencement is dependent on there being sufficient prison capacity. There is already an obligation to lay before both Houses of Parliament a report as to the way I have discharged my general duty in relation to the courts. To ensure public confidence, a new annual statement of prison capacity will be laid before both Houses. It will include a clear statement of current prison capacity, future demand, the range of system costs that would be incurred under different scenarios and our forward pipeline of prison build. That will bring transparency to our plans and will set out the progress that is being made. I have also already commissioned urgent work, to conclude before the end of the year, to identify new sites for us to purchase. This is backed by a down payment of up to £30 million in funding to acquire land in 2024 and launch the planning process.

We must do whatever it takes to make sure that there are always enough prison places to lock up the most dangerous offenders to keep the British people safe, to ensure that criminals can be brought to justice, and to maintain safety and decency in the prison estate. We have decided to use the power in Section 248 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to allow the Prison Service to move some lower-level offenders out of prison on to licence up to 18 days before their automatic release date.

Let me be clear: this will not apply to anyone serving a life sentence, anyone serving an extended determinate sentence, anyone serving a sentence for an offence of particular concern, anyone convicted of a serious violence offence, anyone convicted of terrorism or anyone convicted of a sex offence. This new power will be used only for a limited period and only in targeted areas. Every offender will be placed under strict licence conditions that provide a step down from custody to living in the community. This may include: first, being made to wear an electronic tag when needed to manage them safely; secondly, a condition not to contact a named individual, directly or indirectly; thirdly, having to live at an address approved by the probation officer; fourthly, attending appointments; and fifthly, a condition not to enter certain areas, such as particular postcodes. Breach of these conditions could lead to the offender being recalled to custody for the entire second half of their sentence.

This will be overseen by the Probation Service—a Probation Service into which we have injected £155 million a year to recruit staff to bring down case loads and deliver better supervision of offenders in the community. In addition, the HMPPS leadership will retain discretion to decide on further exemptions from release on advice of governors where concerns remain. Let me make it clear that this is a temporary operational measure to relieve immediate pressure contributed to by remand.

If we are to protect the public and reduce crime, we need to go further to use our prisons better. At the heart of the long-term plan for prison reform that I am announcing today is a simple mission: cut crime. To deliver that, there are three things we need to do. First, we need to ensure that the most dangerous offenders are locked up for longer, away from the public and unable to commit crime. Secondly, we need to ensure that prisons are geared to help offenders turn away from crime, to change their ways and to become contributing members of society. Thirdly, we need to ensure that more low-level offenders get the tough community sentences that the evidence shows cut reoffending and therefore cut crime.

To put that last point another way, prisons should not ruin the redeemable. It is clear that, all too often, the circumstances that lead to an initial offence are exacerbated by a short stint in prison, with offenders losing their homes, breaking contact with key support networks and, crucially, meeting others inside prison who steer them in the wrong direction. When they are released just a short time later, they all too often reoffend, fuelled by addiction or mental health issues that cannot possibly be addressed effectively in such a short space of time. The fact is that over 50% of people who leave prison after serving less than 12 months go on to commit further crimes. The figure is 58% for those who serve sentences of six months or less. However, the reoffending figure for those who are on suspended sentence orders with conditions is 22%.

Meanwhile, the cost of this is £47,000 per year per prisoner. The taxpayer should not be forking out for a system that risks further criminalising offenders and trapping them in a merry-go-round of short sentences, so this Government are determined to grasp the nettle and deliver a better approach. We will legislate for a presumption that custodial sentences of less than 12 months in prison will be suspended and offenders will be punished in the community instead, repaying their debt within communities, cleaning up our neighbourhoods and scrubbing graffiti off walls. We can do this more intelligently with modern solutions for a digital age.

I can announce today that we are doubling the number of GPS tags available to the courts, to ensure that offenders can be monitored, to track that they are going to work and to ensure that their freedom is curtailed in the evenings and at weekends, with robust curfews of up to 20 hours a day. We will make maximum use of new technologies such as alcohol monitoring tags. This will enable us to strengthen and expand successful step-down programmes such as home detention curfews, which we will keep under active review. If offenders breach the terms of their curfew or other requirement of their suspended custodial sentence, or commit another offence, they can be hauled back before the court and forced to serve that sentence in prison.

What we are not doing is getting rid of short sentences altogether. I know from my time as a prosecutor that sometimes that is the right and just option. Prolific offenders who are unable or unwilling to comply with community orders or other orders of the court must know that their actions have consequences, and they will continue to feel the full force of our justice system. Building on our Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan, the Home Secretary and I are looking at what more we can do to punish those so-called lower-level offenders who are a blight on our communities. For some offenders, the proper sanction is, I am afraid, the clang of the prison gate.

We will also remove foreign offenders who should not be in the UK taking up space in our prisons at vast expense to the taxpayer. There are over 10,000 foreign nationals in our prisons. It cannot be right that some of them are sitting in prison when they could otherwise be removed from our country. That is why we will extend the early removal scheme so that we have the power to remove foreign criminals up to 18 months before they are due to be released—up from 12 months now—getting them out of the country early and no longer costing taxpayers a small fortune.

To support that, more caseworkers will be deployed to speed up removals, and the Home Office will also look at measures to do more to remove foreign nationals accused of less serious crimes more quickly. We will continue to strike new prisoner transfer deals like the one agreed with Albania, ensuring that criminals from overseas serve their time at home rather than in Britain. We will bring forward legislation to enable prisoners to be held in prisons overseas—an approach taken by Belgium, Norway and Denmark in recent years.

More must be done to stop people spending long periods waiting in prison for their trials. As I have set out, there are now more than 15,000 defendants on remand in our prisons. Remand decisions are properly for independent judges, but we will consider whether to extend the discount to encourage people to plead guilty at the first opportunity. When more offenders plead guilty, that saves time in the courts and cuts the number of people in our prisons on remand. Most importantly, it saves victims the ordeal of giving evidence in court.

We will also review the use of recall for offenders on release who infringe the terms of their licence. It is right that ex-prisoners who commit new crimes or serious breaches while on licence should be returned to prison. We want to ensure that the system is working effectively to mitigate any risk posed by offenders while not having people in prison on recall longer than necessary.

I turn to IPPs. We will take decisive action to address sentences of imprisonment for public protection. We put a stop to these discredited sentences a decade ago, but there remain around 3,000 IPP prisoners in custody despite their original tariff expiring years ago. IPPs are a stain on our justice system, so I am looking at options to curtail the licence period to restore greater proportionality to IPP sentences in line with recommendation 8 of the Justice Select Committee’s report, and I will come back to the House on that in due course. This will not compromise public safety. Those found by the Parole Board to pose a risk to the public will not be released.

In conclusion, as I have set out, we are taking decisive action to make our prisons work better in the long term. We are building more prison places than at any time since Disraeli was speaking from this Dispatch Box. We are rolling out hundreds of rapid deployment cells across the country to increase immediate capacity. We are going further and faster than ever before to remove foreign criminals from our prisons.

To govern is to choose. We choose to lock up the most dangerous criminals for longer to protect victims and their families. We choose to reform the justice system so that criminals who can otherwise be forced into taking the right path are not trapped in a cycle of criminality. This is the right long-term plan for our justice system, and I commend this Statement to the House”.

I thank the noble and learned Lord for repeating yesterday’s Statement. In broad terms, the Government aspire to increase the time spent in prison for some serious offenders and to reduce the chances of a prison sentence for less serious offenders. The Lord Chancellor put forward this package of proposals to address the immediate and entirely predicted crisis in our prison estate; it is full because of the mismanagement of the current Government over their whole period in office.

The Government’s mismanagement goes beyond the prison estate to the Probation Service. There has been a substantial decline in courts sentencing with community and suspended sentence orders over the past 10 years: they have halved in 10 years, and that is because of sentencers’ lack of trust in the robustness of community orders. We in the Labour Party support an increased use of community orders, but they require experienced probation staff in post, properly organised, with challenging community work and genuine community rehabilitation initiatives for them to work effectively.

The Government’s approach to the Probation Service has had a direct impact on the crisis and the overcrowding in the prison estate. We support the use of more sophisticated tagging, GPS and other more specialised tags, but they are no better than the experience and professionalism of the people and organisations that manage and monitor them. Can the Minister assure me that the Probation Service will form an integral partner in the monitoring and assessment of the effectiveness of tags?

Talking as a magistrate and sentencer, I can tell the noble and learned Lord that I very rarely sentence an offender of previous good character to prison. Far more often, the offender has a history of community sentences that have failed for one reason or another; therefore, the sentencer feels that there is no choice but to give a custodial sentence, sometimes a relatively short one, to mark both the seriousness of the offence and the lack of impact of previous community orders. Therefore, I fear the changes proposed by the Lord Chancellor will have relatively little impact.

On Thursday, I will be speaking at the conference of the National Association of Probation Officers, which represents the profession which has been under siege by the current Government. Will the Minister explain how the proposals in this Statement will rebuild the Probation Service so that pressure can be taken off the prison estate?

There has been much comment in the press in recent days about the advice to judges to delay sentences to mitigate prison overcrowding. My understanding is that this applies to Crown Court cases where an offender has been found guilty or pleaded guilty and has been given bail by the judge pending a sentencing report from probation. My question to the Minister is how long this delay is going to be. Will it be weeks or months? The Lord Chancellor has said it will apply only to less serious offenders, but we are dealing with Crown Court matters and these, by their very nature, are more serious. What guarantee can the Minister give that no sexual offenders or violent offenders will be walking our streets as a result of this delay? Will victims of these offenders be informed of the delay to sentencing?

I now turn to the Government’s programme to build new prisons. HMP Five Wells came on stream last year, and a second new prison is expected to come on stream relatively soon. When might we expect it to be active? A further three new prisons are stuck in the planning process: when might these other three prisons expect to come on stream? Multiple timetables have been published: where are we in this process?

On top of this, HMPPS is adding portakabins to the existing prison estate. I understand these are actually quite popular with prisoners because they have en suite facilities, but they add complexity and manpower requirements to the prison officers required to run the prison. How much will these portakabins mitigate the capacity issue in our prison estate?

We are also being told that the Lord Chancellor is looking at renting overseas prison capacity to mitigate the current crisis. How much will this cost, and how will this contribute to offender rehabilitation, where contact with family and friends is seen as being of primary importance to reduce the chances of reoffending on release?

On the deportation of foreign national offenders, last year the Government managed to deport 2,958 foreign national offenders. This is less than a third of the total number in our prisons and around half the annual number before the Covid pandemic. Why should the public believe the Government when they claim they can get a grip on the number of foreign national offenders in our prisons, when they have failed to do so until now? What difference will bringing forward deportation of foreign national offenders by six months make to the prison population, and by when?

I now turn to extradition. Earlier this year, I asked a Written Question about some German courts refusing to extradite prisoners to the UK because of concerns about the state of British prisons. On 30 May, the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, answered my Question and wrote that while HMG does not comment on extradition requests, they do respond to requests for assurances from foreign states in relation to the matters I raised in my Question. Since then, there have been a number of further articles in the press where both German and Irish courts have refused extradition requests on the basis of the state of British prisons. This is a quality issue, not a capacity issue. Can the Minister comment on the assurances which his department gives to foreign states that our prisons are indeed fit, decent and suitable to receive extradited prisoners?

There is a lot of detail in the Statement. I have commented on some but not all elements of it. The necessity for this Statement is a culmination of systemic long-term underinvestment over many years. I cannot help thinking that the recently appointed Lord Chancellor has received something of a hospital pass in taking on his new role. The noble Lord opposite is in the same situation too. Can I ask the noble Lord about any consultation on their proposals and the timetable for bringing them in?

My Lords, I welcome this Statement, in part at least, and I thank the Minister for making the time to discuss it with me yesterday. However, we profoundly regret the circumstances in which it came to be made.

At last, the Government recognise the disgraceful state of our prisons—with a current population of 88,000 and only 500-odd places unfilled across the estate and with serious overcrowding within that population. It is not all down to Covid, more remand and recall prisoners and industrial action. Indeed, the Statement itself points out that the prison population in England and Wales has nearly doubled over three decades. That is made worse by serious understaffing, dismal morale and, in consequence, a failure to recruit and retain enough prison staff.

Some of these measures we have long been calling for. We welcome the presumption against damaging short sentences, which are shown to be hopelessly ineffective, with sky-high reconviction rates and no chance of addressing mental health and addiction issues or training or preparation for employment. We welcome recognition of the need to concentrate on rehabilitation and reform and greater use of community and suspended sentences, but these must be supported, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said, by probation and community services that are fully resourced and in overall operation.

However, much of this Statement just sets out panic measures from a panicked Government who have simply run out of prison space, despite all the warnings: doubling up in already overcrowded cells; the so-called “rapid deployment cells”, which the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, called portakabins—read “makeshift prefab temporary cells” with, importantly, no extra supporting services; cancelling maintenance projects that are essential to improve squalid conditions; and indiscriminate 18-day early release determined by the location where the prisoner is serving, not the prisoner’s suitability. Even worse, we are still resorting to using police cells, which are totally unsuitable for housing prisoners.

This Statement talks of giving the least serious, low- risk offenders a

“path away from a life of crime”.

However, all prison sentences should offer that—and to extend the metaphor, such a path needs to be properly planned, well supported and fully paid for, not just hurriedly hacked out of the undergrowth, to find a way out of a mess.

The long-term prison building plan is now way behind schedule, so I ask the Minister some questions about the Government’s plans for the medium term. Given that sentence inflation is in part fuelled by government policy, do they have other plans to reverse the inexorable rise in the prison population? What proposals do they have to cut the backlog in the courts to reduce the overload from remand prisoners? What exactly is proposed for an urgent end to the disgraceful extended incarceration of IPP prisoners? What changes are proposed to target recall—to moderate its use, which is often unmerited and should be specific and only used when needed? How do the Government propose to avoid shuffling prisoners around the prison estate to fill every available space, without regard for prisoner needs and welfare—in particular, the need for contact with their families and communities before release?

More importantly, what greater resources are proposed for the probation services so that community sentences work? The Statement claims credit for a past increase in funding but says nothing about the extra funding that will be needed to meet the increased demand resulting from these measures.

My Lords, I will deal as best I can with the points made. Hospital pass or not, the Government have to deal with the situation in which they find themselves. On the question of how we got here, the Government have embarked on the largest prison-building programme since Victorian times. To answer the specific questions, I say that Five Wells is open, Fosse Way has recently been opened, Millsike is under construction and I think three other prisons are currently embroiled in the planning process. However, we have spent £1.3 billion on prison construction and at some point the society in which we live has to ask itself, “How much money? Where is the balance to be struck between prison building and other approaches?”

In addition to the various measures I mentioned, including the so-called portakabins or rapid deployment cells, which have proved an important means of ameliorating conditions in some prisons, the Government have taken quite a number of actions and we have done our utmost to keep the available capacity to meet the need, despite the unprecedented pressure arising mainly from the remand population, without which I do not think we would have the problem that we have. Therefore I respectfully defend the Government’s record in this regard.

As regards the very important question of the Probation Service, which both noble Lords raised, it has needed additional resources and, frankly, a degree of rebuilding in the last years, which the Government have been doing their best to do. We are expending an additional £155 million a year on the Probation Service, and I am told that we have exceeded the recruitment target in each of the last three years and recruited 4,000 trainee probation officers over the last three years. Of course, recruiting a trainee probation officer does not mean you immediately have a fully fledged, experienced probation officer at hand to take on very difficult tasks. I accept that from this House, which very much knows what it is talking about, but the Government are in the process of strengthening and rebuilding the Probation Service, which—to answer the question I think from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby —will indeed be, and has to be, an integral partner in the new programme.

As the noble Lord pointed out, there will still be cases where there is no alternative to a short sentence of less than 12 months, in which case the presumption is rebutted. Let us hope that, in recalibrating and reorientating the culture, that really is the last resort and that the number of short sentences declines dramatically. The figures speak for themselves, with 55% reoffending on short sentences but only 22% reoffending on suspended sentences with proper conditions that are properly enforced and calibrated to that particular offender. Those are striking facts. The Government’s hope and intention is that we move towards the latter from the former. I venture to suggest that noble Lords would not disagree with the general direction of travel that I have tried to convey.

As to the question of the delay in sentencing that was reported last week, this announcement came from the judiciary. It is indeed up to the judiciary to deal with sentencing, but I anticipate that the need for any delay in sentencing will diminish fairly rapidly after our intermediate step relating to the early release from custody subject to licence, so that we can get back to normal management and the courts no longer have to worry about whether there is sufficient prison capacity. I hope that becomes a temporary problem and is no longer of concern.

As regards foreign national offenders, I cannot give the noble Lord an exact estimate of what difference the change in the period from six months to 18 months will make. We also need to uprate the Home Office team that deals with this and reorganise the relevant procedures, but it should result in at least some numbers, which I am not able to clarify. I can do further research and write to him if that would be useful. If you can imagine 10,000 out of 88,000, that is a very substantial number of foreign national offenders in our system. We should be able to do something effective to reduce that pressure, not least with agreements such as that with Albania for prisoners to serve their sentences in their home jails.

As far as the extradition cases are concerned, I am obviously not able to comment on any specific cases, whether from Germany, Ireland or elsewhere. I respectfully disagree with the idea that there is a difference between a quality issue and a capacity issue because I think capacity and quality are intertwined, especially if there is a problem with overcrowding et cetera, but the Government’s position is that our prisons are fit and decent from the point of view of our request to extradite persons to this country, and I anticipate that these reforms will enable us further to reinforce the fitness and decency of the prison estate in this country.

As far as the noble Lord, Lord Marks, is concerned, again no Government would have wished to be in this position, but we have to deal with it as it is. The measures that the Government have taken on employment and rehabilitation, which include, as I think I have said on previous occasions, employment boards in each prison with local employers—there is more or less a jobcentre in Berwyn prison in Wales—the provision of 12 weeks’ accommodation and the digital passport with a bank account, a national insurance number and so forth, have led to a substantial improvement in rehabilitation and a drop in the reoffending rate from about 32% a few years ago to just under 25% now, which is some progress in very difficult circumstances bearing in mind the kinds of prisoners one is dealing with.

We will come back to IPP. In the medium term let us progress with these reforms and keep them under review. We will now be reporting to Parliament annually, so that will give a new and more transparent opportunity to develop and share the problems, which I venture to suggest are problems that we ought to share rather than problems that are of—shall I say?—a party-political nature.

Is the Minister aware of the very serious problems concerning the recruitment and retention of staff at HMP Berwyn, at Wrexham, one of the newest prisons and the second largest in Europe? It is reported that the staff will not stay because working conditions are intolerable. What are the Government going to do to remedy this?

My Lords, I am not in a position today to comment specifically on Berwyn. I had understood that there are many aspects of Berwyn that have been outstandingly successful. I will write to the noble Lord with more detail in response to his question.

My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of NHS England’s non-custodial advisory board. I welcome the plan to significantly reduce short-term sentences and replace them with community sentences. Currently, a rollout of community sentences with mental health treatment orders is under way across the country into every court. However, to give further confidence to the judiciary, will the Minister ensure that there is a significant increase in capacity not only in the Probation Service, about which we have heard, but in mental health provision, both primary and secondary, as well as alcohol and substance misuse services, to ensure that people can successfully complete their community sentence?

My Lords, it is undoubtedly the case that there are many offenders in the criminal justice system who have severe mental health problems. I very much welcome the noble Lord’s reference to the national programme in relation to mental health treatments and I fully agree that this is a matter to which we need to pay the closest attention. I will certainly discuss with colleagues in the DHSC how we increase capacity to give judges the necessary confidence.

My Lords, my noble and learned friend is to be congratulated on a very wide-ranging Statement. I have two very short questions to put, if I may. One relates to the prison building programme. My noble and learned friend referred to 20,000 additional places. Has there been any slippage on provision of those places, perhaps partly as a result of the Covid pandemic? I would be very grateful if he could provide some detail of when those places will come on board.

Secondly, my noble and learned friend quite rightly stressed the importance of strict sentencing with regard to crimes of violence and where there is a danger to the public. In relation to rehabilitation, which he also rightly emphasised as being important, provision by the courts of community service orders—which are the main vehicle for delivering that—has slipped by more than half in the last 15 years. What are the Government doing to make sure that that level of use increases over the coming months and years?

My Lords, there has been some slippage in the prison building programme, mainly as a result of difficulties with planning. As the Lord Chancellor indicated in the Statement, there is a renewed push to find new sites and reinvigorate that programme. I am afraid that I cannot give the noble Lord any specific dates but, as the Statement indicates, it is very much part of the general package. As far as rehabilitation and the decline in community service orders over the last 10 or 15 years are concerned, that may well be connected to the problems that we have had in the Probation Service. I would not presume to say either way but, as I ventured to suggest a moment ago, we are doing our best to restore the Probation Service to its detailed place within the system. A renewed Probation Service will be an integral part of the new programme; the service is currently reconsidering its orientation and the deployment of its resources to support the Statement that the Government have just made.

My Lords, I welcome what the Minister has said, so long as it is actually carried out; implementation seems to me to be the most important part. On dealing with often persistent but not particularly serious crimes by drink and drug addicts, have the Government thought of building, or creating, residential places for these offenders, along with a probation order, so that if they do not comply with it, they would go to prison?

My Lords, I would need notice of that question. I will write to the noble and learned Baroness with respect to the place of residential places in the criminal justice system. Certainly, the focus on dealing with alcohol and, indeed, drugs is very much on the Government’s mind at the moment. One development in GPS tagging is that you can use it for alcohol detection as well—that is a further arrow in the quiver, as it were, to deal with this problem—but the noble and learned Baroness’s question is entirely apposite, as always.

My Lords, nine days ago it was my privilege to lead Sunday worship at HMP Doncaster, where I was reminded by the chaplain that many faith communities and charities do excellent work supporting newly released prisoners as they resettle into their communities, with a demonstrably positive impact on reoffending rates. What more can be done to support such projects?

The Government very much welcome the contribution that local agencies and other organisations make towards rehabilitation and will continue to take advantage of all the opportunities that arise. If I may trouble your Lordships anecdotally for a moment, I met a man the other day who had been a remand prisoner in Winchester prison. He had been acquitted, so he was free. I asked, “What was your experience in Winchester prison?” He said, “I did very well, actually, because I was able to take the IT course that they offered. I can now do an Excel spreadsheet and a Word document, and I regard it as having been a positive experience”. So it is not all doom and gloom.

My Lords, I welcome the Statement, which avoids the trap of penal populism and combines proportionality with pragmatism. However, its three crime prevention strategies are all downriver. Can the Minister explain what the Government are doing to prevent crime before people offend in the first place, especially in the area of strengthening families—a quarter of our prison population were in local authority care—and reducing father absence, since 70% of young offenders grew up in lone-parent families? Lastly, how are the Government ensuring that families of prisoners get the help they need in the community in order to reduce intergenerational crime? Some 60% of children of convicted parents go on to offend themselves.

My Lords, as always, my noble friend makes a powerful point about the importance of families, both in avoiding crime in the first place and in supporting criminals who later return to the community. The Government’s general approach to supporting families is very much at the centre of our wider view of this particular landscape, particularly through the DfE’s Supporting Families programme, the family hubs, family courts and particularly the FDACs. The noble Lord’s points are well taken and will certainly be borne in mind as we continue.

My Lords, the Minister rightly draws attention to the remand prisoner population, which is considerably high in this country. Has he looked at the international dimension and asked himself the simple question: why is it possible for countries such as Germany to regulate their remand population while we are looking at sky-high figures? First, does he agree that less use of remand in prison would have a tremendous impact on our prison population? Surely the courts should send to prison only those whose offending makes any other course unacceptable. Secondly, those who are sent to prison should not stay there any longer than necessary.

I am not in a position to draw any comparison with Germany or any other country. However, I am bound to say that we need to learn as much as we can from the experience of other countries, so I take the noble Lord’s point on that. I fully agree that no one should be in prison for a moment longer than they need to be.

My Lords, there appears to be a significant disparity between the fines levied on people who broke the Covid regulations, particularly for people under 30. Many of them have yet to complete paying their fine. Can the Minister indicate whether His Majesty’s Government will consider an amnesty for unpaid fines, and possibly a rebate for those over £1,000, in order to ensure that no one is imprisoned for the non-payment of fines, further increasing the population in prison?

My Lords, as your Lordships will understand, I cannot comment on particular cases in which fines for Covid infringements have been levied, nor am I in a position to say that the Government are considering any amnesty in relation to any such fines.

My Lords, one of the figures that I found most disturbing in my noble and learned friend’s Statement was the increase in prisoners on remand, from 9,000 to 15,000. Bearing in mind the cost of keeping somebody in prison before they have been convicted, what action are the Government taking to bring these very disturbing figures under control and get them down substantially?

The main effort in getting remand numbers down is to do everything possible to accelerate the process in the Crown Court. We have recruited over 1,000 new judges and increased legal aid. We are doing our very best to progress those cases through. As to whether particular prisoners are on remand in the first place, as distinct from being on bail, that is a decision for the judiciary.

My Lords, in answer to a Written Question of mine, my noble and learned friend the Minister said on 27 March:

“As of 31 December … there were 9,797 Foreign National Offenders”.

He has announced today that that figure has now increased to be nearer 10,000, so I very much welcome his determination to do something about this. It should be said that in the 12 years between 2010 and 2022, 22,707 foreign national offenders were returned, which is a pretty slow rate. Does the Minister not agree that there needs to be a cross-departmental task force to deal with the return of foreign national offenders and address issues such as translators in jails, the countries of origin and particularly the legal profession, which has so often thwarted attempts to repatriate some of these prisoners?

My Lords, I fully agree that there needs to be close interdepartmental co-operation in dealing with this difficult issue.

My Lords, there are many reasons why community sentences may be far preferable to custody, but they do not come without cost. They are more complex than

“cleaning up our neighbourhoods and scrubbing graffiti off walls”,

in the words of the Statement. I think the Minister agrees that services for treatments to address the mental health and addiction problems of many offenders, generally provided by the third sector, must be properly resourced, widely available and centred on each individual. The Justice and Home Affairs Committee of your Lordships’ House, which I chair, has heard evidence of their underfunding alongside the overloading of the Probation Service, which is very reliant on inexperienced staff. Can I urge the Minister and the MoJ to have consultation with the treatment providers? I commend to him the quite detailed written and oral evidence which has been given to our committee.

My Lords, I am sure the evidence before and the conclusions of the committee will be borne well in mind.

My Lords, although I support the Government’s general bid, which is to reduce the prison population—it is too high, as the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said, and we could probably be safer even if some people were let out of prison—I do not think that the Statement is entirely persuasive in a couple of areas. First, it did not give an impact assessment of the compound effect of the Government’s measures. What will the prison population be in 12 months if all these measures are implemented effectively? The second thing that worries me is about the group of people who will now have to serve the full term of their prison sentence, some of which we can entirely understand. If you extend that list, how do those in the Prison Service easily do their job? They have to have some hope that the people who they are trying to control could have a shorter sentence if they behave well. If that list grows, what happens is that people who are in prison have no incentive to behave well and the only people who can control them are the prison officers, which makes a difficult life even more difficult.

My final point is that I do not entirely agree with the Minister’s analysis of the growth in the prison population. Covid has certainly played a role, but the prison population was accelerating well before Covid. The two aggravating factors have been the sentencing guidelines—which are always inflated and never reduced, because there is no public clamour for less sentencing, even if it is not effective—and the parole conditions. Those are the two things that have caused the prison population to expand. I am afraid that, if we carry on at the rate we are, it can only get worse. Although the Sentencing Guidelines Council is not a government-backed issue, it is something that they can affect.

My Lords, I will take the last point first. Clearly, sentencing guidelines ought to be kept under constant review. At some point, as I said earlier, the whole approach to prison and its alternatives needs to be rethought, and perhaps fairly fundamentally. The whole debate on how much we spend on building prison capacity and how much we spend on support in the community is one that we should have together; the Government do not disagree with that.

On the noble Lord’s question about what effect these measures will have, I cannot give him any immediate figures. The short-term measures should certainly manage the short-term problem; the longer-term measures will, over time, I hope, reduce the prison population. As to it making life more difficult for some because of an increase in the number of longer sentences, I think that is an operational matter that HMPPS will, I hope, be well-equipped to deal with.

My Lords, I am sure the Government are right in thinking that the expansion of community service is a very cost-effective way of reducing the prison population. The problem is in its implementation. It needs a great deal more vigour and rigour, but above all else imagination. I suggest that the Government set up an inquiry to look at world practices of community services, so that we learn from what is done throughout the world and have something much more imaginative than there is at the moment. It is not, as another noble Lord said, a matter of picking up litter. There is such scope for community service, and we are not scratching the surface.

My Lords, I am sure that a comparative study of the kind my noble friend mentions would certainly be a valuable exercise. I remember some years ago the former Lord Chief Justice, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, went on a community service course. He pretended he was a convicted solicitor and turned up on a Saturday morning with other people. I think he came away somewhat perplexed by the complexity of organising community service. You need quite a lot of intensive resources, and, as the noble Baroness pointed out a moment ago, it is quite expensive and difficult to do. Everybody thinks it is a good thing, but how we deliver it is for further discussion.

My Lords, in the spirit of helpfulness, I wonder if I can help the Minister with his overcrowding problem. As the Statement said, there remain about 3,000 prisoners who have been sentenced to indeterminate sentences—a sentence that was abolished over 10 years ago. The Minister’s announcement in the Statement that there will be a cutting of the licence period for IPPs—a recommendation of the Justice Committee—is very welcome. Could the Minister cut the numbers on the prison estate much further if he implemented the main recommendation of the Justice Committee report to resentence those 3,000 people who are suffering the daily torture of uncertainty, not knowing when their prison sentence will end? Could the Minister look at that during the Victims and Prisoners Bill?

My Lords, it is the Government’s position, as I have set out, that the resentencing exercise is not the answer. All the prisoners of which we speak are there because the Parole Board deems them unsafe for release. The Lord Chancellor’s Statement mentions the possibility of some fairly drastic reforms to the licence period. I am sure we will return to that, and to the point of the noble Baroness, in more detail when the Victims and Prisoners Bill reaches this House.