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We know that the police and the probation service, which are already overstretched, cannot keep their eyes on more released offenders. Every probation officer is already supervising between 20 and 80 offenders. Are not the public entitled to conclude that the Government’s strategic and day-to-day management of our prisons has been not just stupid, reckless and incompetent, but
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shamefully irresponsible? Do they not see an exhausted Government, who, as a direct result of their failure to plan and act, have increased reoffending, reduced public safety and wasted huge sums of taxpayers’ money? What do the Government offer but yet another review? Are there no limits to the Government’s inadequacies—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. and learned Gentleman, but I laid down a rule that there would be five minutes for questions and he is reaching six minutes. So, I think we will cut his comments short and let the Minister reply.

Mr. Garnier: I think the Minister has got my point.

Mr. Hanson: I am grateful to the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) for raising some issues. May I put him straight on one thing? He said that I am reannouncing 1,500 prison places, but I am not: I am announcing new money—£80 million—from the Chancellor of the Exchequer for 1,500 prison places. That is over and above the 8,000 places we have already committed to for this period. [ Interruption. ] The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) can chunter all he likes, but that is money that the Government have voted for, raised taxes for and will spend. I challenge him and the hon. and learned Member for Harborough to say where that money would come from in the context of tax cuts for the future.

The hon. and learned Gentleman is quite accurate to say that there are projections that show an increase in the prison population. I accept that. I have already indicated to him in questions that we intend to review the figure in August 2007. We have a building programme for 8,000 places already and 1,500 places have been announced today. We are committed to raising the number of prison places, but we are also committed to things that I know that—deep down, secretly—he supports, such as looking at better community sentences, ensuring that we get people out of prison by reducing reoffending, and looking at people who have under 12 months to serve to see whether we can make sure that they do not reoffend in the future. I know that he believes in that, although the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) takes a different view. I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Harborough will support us, not just in building the necessary prison places now, but in looking at the issues related to preventing reoffending in the long term.

The hon. and learned Gentleman helpfully suggested we consider prison ships or redundant Army camps—as if they were things that the Government had never thought of, examined and tried to do. The issues are difficult. We have looked at the ideas and they are not practicable in the short or long term. What is practicable is building proper prison places, putting in, in effect, extra prison resources, and looking at sentencing and community-based sentences.

The hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned the Lord Chancellor. The Lord Chancellor has ruled out early release; he has ruled out Executive early release. Pressure has been put on us to take that step, but we are not undertaking Executive early release. Early release is
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letting people out. They are not under licence and we do not have control over them. For a small number of people, we have put in temporary transitional licence arrangements to bring them home in the last few days of their sentences. Those people do not include serious and dangerous offenders. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will support that.

Can the hon. and learned Gentleman recall May 2005, when his party fought an election on a manifesto committed to the James review, which contained £35 billion of spending cuts? That was not a question of resources going to deal with issues in our communities. He needs to remember that.

Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): Given the pressures on the prison population, the measures that my right hon. Friend has announced are clearly a sensible and balanced package, but we need to look at the longer term. He spoke about the 25 per cent. increase in the length of sentences passed by the courts over the last few years—often against the wishes of Home Secretaries and Lord Chief Justices. In many cases, those sentences are for crimes where there is no evidence that the increase produces better public protection or a bigger reduction in offending. What discussions are taking place with the Sentencing Guidelines Council to make sure that judges are using the punishment of imprisonment correctly and, secondly, that we make greater use of restorative justice—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but I have told another hon. Member that one supplementary question is enough.

Mr. Hanson: My right hon. Friend makes several important points. As he will know, my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor has already written to the Sentencing Guidelines Council to ask it to examine several matters relating to long-term sentencing. We certainly need to examine how we can mange supply and demand in the longer term through sentencing policy. Such a complicated and difficult issue requires serious consideration. We are willing and able to undertake that with the judiciary in due course.

My right hon. Friend mentioned restorative justice, and the Ministry of Justice has already undertaken several pilot projects. I know from my experience in my previous job in Northern Ireland that that can have a significant impact on reducing reoffending. One of the Ministry of Justice’s purposes is to examine sentencing across the board and the variety of penalties that might arise from other Departments’ legislation. We are acutely aware that extra legislation can often put pressure on prison places. We will continue to look at that and I hope that we are making progress.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I thank the Minister for his statement. He will know that several of his announcements for the future are welcome, but as a new Minister in a newly created Department, does he accept that today’s announcement was the absolutely predictable end to a sorry story of failed policy over the past 10 years, that the situation is an embarrassment to the departing Prime Minister and undermines the criminal justice system, and that the announcement will do nothing of itself to prevent
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reoffending, or to reduce the number of offenders? Does he accept that each of the four Home Secretaries saw this coming, but clearly did not take adequate action to prevent it?

Does the Minister agree that we need to address now the categories of people who are in prison, but should not be there? Is the number of foreign prisoners going down quickly, either at the end of sentence, or by agreement? Will we have secure places for the mentally ill—not just the 1,500 places that exist in mental hospitals—in which people will be treated for a mental illness instead of being locked up in a prison that does nothing? Will he implement Jean Corston’s proposals on women who do not need to be in prison so that such women can be placed somewhere they can support families and be rehabilitated? Will there be a speedy increase in the number of places for people with drug problems who would do better in secure rehabilitation centres instead of crowding our prisons? Given that we know that the numbers are approaching record levels, will we have from today a change to the crazy policy that has seen prison numbers and reoffending going through the roof and a realisation that unless we bring prison numbers down, rather than building more prisons, we will not be giving the public what they want: less crime and, above all, less reoffending?

Mr. Hanson: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has a thoughtful approach to such issues. One of the Ministry of Justice’s prime jobs is to try to prevent reoffending. We need to examine several long-term solutions, such as how we can have an impact on drugs and alcohol treatment, how we can work in the community, and how we can invest more in giving additional treatment to people in prison. However, I cannot get away from the fact that the public need to be protected from the growing number of serious and dangerous offenders. We are examining how we can build extra prison places. Our strategy involves building prison places and examining the wider issues of community sentencing and the way in which to prevent reoffending.

There is work to do on foreign national prisoners, whom the hon. Gentleman mentioned. There are still people in prison who need to be deported back to their home countries, or transferred to the immigration estate. The Ministry of Justice needs to work with its colleagues in the Foreign Office and other Departments to make progress because the small yet significant issue needs to be addressed.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the report by my right hon. Friend Baroness Corston. I said during Justice questions that my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and I welcome the Corston report, which we intend to examine in detail. The Lord Chancellor has tasked the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird), with looking at the details of the report to determine not how to reject the recommendations, but how and when we can implement them. It is our objective that there should be fewer women in prison. With the benefit of that report, we can achieve that over time, with difficulty, with resources and by examining the prison estate as a whole as part of Lord Carter’s review. I have already said that I expect the Government to respond to that report by late autumn at the latest, and I very much hope that we can do that.

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Finally, in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 we put in place drug treatment orders and alcohol orders, which we need to examine more imaginatively and use again in the future.

The only area in which our views do not chime with those of the hon. Gentleman are his views about my right hon. Friends who have previously held positions in the Home Office. They were faced with difficult issues and had to make difficult decisions in respect of not only the prison estate, but terrorism and other matters. They did the best job they could in difficult circumstances. As the Ministry of Justice, we have assessed those issues, targeted a way forward and got the resources from the current Prime Minister and the future Prime Minister to see those proposals through, and I commend them to the House.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): My right hon. Friend says that the issue of foreign prisoners is small but significant, but may I suggest that it is quite large? Will he confirm that about one in seven of the prison population is of foreign origin? Cannot more be done to arrange for them to serve their sentences in their countries of origin?

Mr. Hanson: I accept what my hon. Friend says. In answer to the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), I was referring to foreign prisoners who have served their sentence and are awaiting deportation. There are a small but significant number of those. I fully accept what my hon. Friend says in relation to the number of foreign prisoners in jails in England and Wales. We need to look imaginatively at how we can get those people to serve sentences in their home countries, and we need to take action on that to reduce that number of individuals. I have been in post five weeks. We have looked at a number of key significant issues, and that is one to which we need to return. I am sure that my hon. Friend’s contribution to that debate will be of great help.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): As the crisis was both foreseeable and foreseen, can the Minister confirm that each of the past four Home Secretaries to whom he has just paid tribute asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the money required to provide the additional prison places that were necessary, but that the Chancellor of the Exchequer turned a deaf ear to those requests and refused to make the money available?

Mr. Hanson: There are continuing demands on public expenditure, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman will recognise. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already committed to a building programme for an additional 8,000 places. He has committed today to a further 1,500 places, 500 by January. We have dramatically increased the resource spent on the probation service. Since the right hon. and learned Gentleman was Home Secretary we have increased the resource spent on drug treatment, alcohol treatment, young people’s offending and other issues in the community. It is brass cheek for the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who went into an election committed to a manifesto to cut spending on the Home Office and put it into education and health through the James review, to come to the House and tell me to spend more money on prisons and
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prison services. While we are speaking of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, in his last year in office, 1,100 people absconded from prison—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Minister is in order to speak about the history of a Government Department. He was not in order when he was talking about a manifesto. Does he want to continue?

Mr. Hanson: No, Mr. Speaker.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend go into a little more detail on his comments about extending and expanding tough community sentences and their success in reducing offending?

Mr. Hanson: As my hon. Friend knows, under the 2003 Act there are 12 community-based sentences that we can use, including alcohol treatment, home detention curfews, measures related to drug treatment and other sentences. I need to ensure that we expand the public understanding of the benefit of those schemes. They are tough schemes that prevent reoffending, often much more effectively than does prison. As I am trying to do, I need to visit the probation service, sentencers and the Prison Service and promote the idea that community sentencing has a value. In many cases, particularly for low sentences, it is much better at reducing reoffending and it makes community pay-back visible to people in the community. I want to ensure that we promote the benefits of community sentences both to the offender and to the community, for the simple reason that they prevent reoffending. That means, ultimately, that somebody’s garden shed will not have been broken into; somebody will not have been robbed on the street or mugged; and that some event will not have happened that would have caused crime to rise. I support the general drift of the approach that I think my hon. Friend would wish me to take.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): The Minister mentioned this matter in his statement. The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) said that one in seven prisoners were of foreign origin, and it is estimated that up to 25 per cent. of prisoners currently being held should not be there—low-level repeat offenders, people with medical problems, dysfunctional people and people who are not a danger to the community. Will the Minister’s Department undertake an urgent audit to see what kind of numbers can safely be released on to the street?

Mr. Hanson: We are very aware of the foreign prisoner issue, which my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) mentioned. We have an ongoing review that is trying to get people repatriated to their country of origin. The over-stayers issue is equally important; it is a small but significant issue that I mentioned earlier. I certainly want greater emphasis on the point that the hon. Gentleman has made. We need to look at people on sentences of less than 12 months. Although prison can work, for some people who serve two, four, six, eight or 10 weeks, the level of intervention that can take place in prison cannot particularly help in getting on to the path of reduced reoffending. What we
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can often do through community sentences is bring people face to face with their crime and its consequences, and give community payback, which is also proved to have greater success in reducing reoffending in due course. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support us in pursuing those objectives.

Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): Has the Minister had an opportunity to read the written evidence given by no fewer than 43 different organisations to the inquiry of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, entitled “Towards Effective Sentencing”, much of which argued that there is a range of sensible, workable alternatives to prison that will not put the public in danger?

Mr. Hanson: My hon. Friend raises a very important point. I appeared before the Committee—two weeks ago, I think—to give evidence on behalf of the Government, and I am returning at the end of the inquiry to give further evidence. One of the matters on which I gave evidence was the need to put in prison people who are dangerous, violent or sexual offenders, so that the public can be protected from them. Equally, I emphasised the need for an examination of strong community sentences. We already have in place a very large number of community sentences. I think that we should increase that number if we possibly can and encourage sentencers to do so, not because such sentences reduce the prison population, although being honest, they do, but because they reduce reoffending, which is the most important consideration in bringing forward those ideas.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con): The Prison Service is full of young men, three quarters of whom have serious alcohol and drug addiction problems; about 60 per cent. of whom come from broken homes; and many of whom have the reading age and numeracy age of a child of 11. What this is really all about is the fact that the Government have known all along that that pool of people has been getting bigger and bigger, and it is therefore no surprise that the prison population has been rocketing, because the Government have done nothing about mending that.

Mr. Hanson: I respect the right hon. Gentleman very much, and I respect his contribution to the debate on tackling some of the causes of crime, such as poverty, social exclusion and dysfunctionality, which very often are contributors to crime issues, but I have to say that I disagree as to how we should approach the matter. I happen to believe that public investment in tackling some of those issues is key and should be increased and looked at in the round. I happen to believe—we can debate this to the ninth degree—that ultimately the Conservative party will continue to reduce public expenditure, which will have a knock-on effect in dealing with some of those issues and in tackling crime.

I understand where the right hon. Gentleman is coming from. He and I know that we need to tackle dysfunctionality, social exclusion and long-term drug issues in particular. We can do that outside the criminal justice system in social policy, and we can do it, in my view effectively, in the criminal justice system through prison. Particularly, we can do it through some of the 2003 criminal justice orders, which will help in the community.

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David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): With prisons bursting at the seams and a new Department in charge, this is a watershed at which certain fundamental principles can be re-evaluated. Will the Minister say whether he intends to examine the key performance indicators within which the Prison Service is required to operate, because in the past organisations such as the Prison Reform Trust have criticised the KPIs, arguing that they do not measure whether the needs of the prison population are being met in respect of the distance that prisoners are kept from home and time spent out of cells? Will he revisit that matter, which will respond to sensitive involvement by the new ministerial team?

Mr. Hanson: As my hon. Friend will know, I have been in post for five weeks. I need to examine a number of issues with the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), who has done a good job in the past year. We will examine the performance of the Prison Service with Phil Wheatley and the Prison Service and the National Offender Management Service. The Prison Service is doing a good job of meeting the objectives set by the key performance indicators. We need to keep the matter under review, and I will certainly consider some of the issues that my hon. Friend has mentioned.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con): Does the Minister accept that in the past 10 years four Home Secretaries have responded to media pressure by taking away discretion on sentencing from the courts and putting them under pressure, which has dramatically increased the prison population to almost double what it was when I was Home Secretary, without paying the slightest heed to the inevitable moment when they would hit the buffers and there was no accommodation? Although I do not know what the new Ministry of Justice is for, except perhaps to make the Minister an innocent victim—he has made a statement about a fiasco for which he is plainly not responsible—will the new Department produce a change of culture in which the platitudes about community sentences and making prison only for those who need it are turned into reality by returning proper discretion to the courts and ensuring that prisons are used only for violent, dangerous and recidivist criminals in conditions in which there is some hope that some of them will be rehabilitated?

Mr. Hanson: I am grateful for the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s concern for my innocent victimhood. I do not regard those ideas as platitudes. I believe in community sentencing and considering how we can prevent reoffending in the long term. We are doing a considerable amount of work and putting extra resources into drug treatment orders, which is much more than what happened when the right hon. and learned Gentleman was in office. There is a big problem with drugs in the United Kingdom today, and we need to examine imaginative ways to deal with it. Drug treatment orders are important.

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