Rory has met with representatives from the Pitch Replacement Group for Kirkby Stephen Community Sports Association to discuss the site’s condition and their plans for its improvement.
The pitch, which is over 22 years old, and ten years past its life expectancy, has deteriorated to such a state that it will soon be unfit for use.The facility is used regularly by over 15 local groups including hockey clubs, football clubs as well as larger organisations including Sunderland Football Club and would be a great loss to the community if it was not replaced. As a result, Claire Smithson and Andrea Dixon wrote to Mr Stewart, requesting a meeting, and he was delighted to comply. Claire and Andrea briefed Rory on their plans, explaining that they intend to replace the worn out carpet and shock pad layer, in addition to upgrading the lighting to a cheaper and more efficient LED alternative. They told Rory that, so far, the Association has raised almost two thirds of their £312,000 target, with outstanding applications with a number of different funding steams including the Eden District Council Signature Fund.
Mr Stewart was very happy to lend his support to the project stating that “Projects like this show how strongly community focused local people are. This facility supports not only the population of Kirkby Stephen, but many outlying towns and villages. It ensures that everyone has the opportunity to become involved in sporting activities and, as a result, meet new people and socialise more widely. I am delighted to support this project and look forward to seeing the new pitch in due course.”
On Wednesday 7 November, I had the privilege of spending a day at HMP Wormwood Scrubs shadowing a prison officer.
It was an invaluable experience — and a unique opportunity to understand the logistics, reality and detail of how a prison is run.
I was able to follow the full morning routine shadowing an individual officer — to see how cell inspections were carried out, follow the flow of movement within a prison and participate in morning briefing through unlock to lock-up again.
I wouldn’t have a true understanding of these things without watching them happen for myself, not in a ministerial visit or tour, but by actually working a shift and experiencing them first-hand, watching the daily work carried out by prison staff — some of our most dedicated public servants.
The morning shift
I arrived at Wormwood Scrubs just after 7am and was placed on D wing, along with prison officer Bowden who I was shadowing. I went from unlock, letting prisoners out of their cells, to education and work, and then followed orderlies on their daily tasks. To the laundry room (where we had a bit of a discussion about how many towels we should be getting), to the kitchens where people were preparing for Diwali, the Festival of Light, cooking up some amazing curries.
In the morning, we sat down with a prisoner who had overdosed the day before and was feeling suicidal. We spoke with him to understand why he was trying to kill himself, talked to him about some of the issues in his life, and put an ACCT (Assessment Care in Custody & Teamwork) plan in place to help him, which included small changes like challenging areas of his behaviour.
The afternoon shift
During the afternoon, there was an incident on D wing and the alarm bell was hit. Officers immediately attended, and swiftly de-escalated the situation. Afterwards, I spent time with the orderly officers going through the incident book where we talked in detail about the number of assaults, and discussed some of the ways we can work together to address them. I also got a chance to talk through some of the gang issues faced by the prison, and difficulties with some of the younger and more challenging prisoners.
Wormwood Scrubs is one of the 10 prisons receiving funding from our £10 million investment. This extra resource will help to curb the flow of drugs and phones coming into prisons, improve safety and decency, and strengthen our leadership.
I also got the chance to see some of the improvements the prison has made in recent months. When I visited back in January 2018, I was very worried about some of the conditions of the cells and I was particularly concerned about the prison’s ability to thoroughly search for contraband, particularly for visits.
That’s why I was so encouraged to see the refurbishments and improvements on D-wing. And why I was delighted that the prison has increased its 2 dog handlers up to 7, meaning there is more opportunity to search people for drugs, patrol the perimeter, and check the cells. This led to a huge find at the perimeter during that week. Not only that, but prison officers were telling me that they felt going smoke-free has meant cleaner wings.
And we can really see the effect of this on the landings. By being able to search and find contraband more effectively, prison officers said that they felt people are using drugs less and less, so there’s less Spice on the wings, less smoke, and therefore less violence and medical emergencies, resulting in a calmer, cleaner environment.
The end of my shift — reflections
Reflecting on my day, I’ve had an extraordinary experience.
A prison like Wormwood Scrubs, with so much history and so much challenge, means it’s impossible to simplify my experience into one blog post.
A single ‘day shift’ in an officer’s life can never give me more than a glimpse of a particular prison, at a particular time, and I know that 20 or 30 other days could all be incredibly different.
But for me, it’s the basics and the fundamentals of how a prison is run which is what we, as the Ministry of Justice, need to get right. The thing that interests me most is how the core of any prison is run: the experience on the landings, how officers work together, how they do their morning meetings and interact with prisoners. We need to go back to basics, and have an unwavering regime that sets out the high standards needed to improve our prisons. The core of this is to provide the training and support to the uniformed staff on the landing — creating a calm, safe, orderly environment which has to be the foundation for everything else we care about.
But what I took away from my day, above all, was that combination of the incredible experience and dedication from the longer-serving staff. I was very impressed by staff in a whole range of roles, from the custodial managers, to the chaplains, and officers working on the wings.
I also took away with me a sense of energy, optimism and positive morale, particularly from the newly-recruited staff. It was clear to me that the new recruits are developing the confidence needed to deal with prisoners in very challenging situations. They’re getting the right combination of humour, challenge and discipline which brings calm, order and control into what must be one of the most difficult environments in Britain.
My day has been fascinating, and I am incredibly grateful to the Governor of HMP Wormwood Scrubs, Sara Pennington, to the officer who let me shadow her, to the orderly officers, and everyone else for providing me with the opportunity to get this hands-on experience of daily prison life.
Rory spoke in a Westminster Hall today on ‘Road Safety and the Legal Framework’. Watch it here:
I will do, Mr Betts; it is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. It is also a pleasure to take part in the debate. It is extraordinary; some of our most active and fittest colleagues are gathered in the Chamber to debate something that is very close to their hearts, and close to the hearts of millions of people up and down the country.
I will begin by reflecting on the point made by my hon. Friend Dr Wollaston, which was that, fundamentally, there is much more that we can do to protect cyclists, but we also need to reinforce the central message that immobility is much more dangerous for one’s health than walking or getting on a bicycle. In fact, the beginning of all this has to be our understanding of just how powerful and beneficial cycling and walking can be. Cycling is not only—as most of us who cycle know—the quickest way of getting to this place in the morning, it is also a way of moving that is much less damaging to the environment and much better for our health in the most astonishing range of ways. It is better for our weight, our bowels, our hearts, our skin, our sex lives—[Laughter.] Yes, much better for our sex lives; recent studies in the United States have shown that men who cycle regularly have the sex life of somebody five years younger than the average. Cycling is also much better for happiness. It should be greatly encouraged, and the more people we can get cycling and walking, the better.
The corollary is that if we are to encourage people to walk and cycle, we need to make sure that they can do so safely. Far too many people still are injured or killed while cycling. In any given year recently, more than 100 people on bicycles have been killed on the roads. We need to take that seriously, while also putting it in the context that, overall, we are making huge improvements in road safety.
Famously, for example, in 1926 when far fewer people owned motorcars, 5,000 people were killed on the roads. As recently as 1966, 8,000 people were killed in motor accidents in a year. Today, although still far too high, the number is 1,700—despite the fact that far more people own motorcars than in 1966 or, of course, 1926. We therefore should not be entirely gloomy. The second thing to put into context is that, as some right hon. and hon. Members have pointed out, it is not only cyclists whom we need to think about in terms of vulnerable road users.
My hon. Friend Derek Thomas pointed out that 40 people a year on horses are killed on the roads, and far fewer people ride horses than bicycles, so proportionately someone is much more likely to be killed on a horse. About 400 or 450 people are killed walking and, as Mr Sheerman reminded us, a similar number are killed on motorcycles—people are extremely vulnerable on a motorcycle on the road. Finally, of course, the largest number of people are killed in a motor vehicle. We should not suggest that anyone killed in a motor vehicle somehow deserves it because many are innocent victims, including children and families, who just happen to be travelling in that vehicle when it is hit.
Any approach to the subject therefore has to be comprehensive. I want to pay particular tribute to Ruth Cadbury and to my hon. Friend John Lamont, the Member for the borders. They managed to provide a very comprehensive description of the range of things that need to happen if we are to protect cyclists. That begins right at the beginning in the way that we train people who drive motorcars, so with The Highway Code, and thinking about things such as the Dutch reach and how tests are conducted or professional drivers might be retested. It extends to road design and, as my hon. Friend Mr Jones pointed out, questions of enforcement, not only sentencing but how the police conduct themselves, how evidence is gathered and how prosecutions are brought. As my hon. Friend Andrew Selous said, it also extends to thinking about rest periods for drivers, the potholes in the roads or, as Matt Western pointed out, questions of a changing gig economy and the kind of people travelling in our vehicles.
All of that needs to be the context, which is why we argue strongly that any real response must take into account not just us in the Ministry of Justice but the Department for Transport and the Home Office. Nevertheless, I am a Ministerfrom the Ministry of Justice, so I will touch briefly on some of the legal issues raised by right hon. and hon. Members.
My hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk emphasised the serious issue of failure to stop. In examining it and making progress, we need to take into account the fact that there is a fundamental difference between the expectations of someone to report a driving offence, and of a burglar or murderer to report their offence: the premise, or presupposition, is that the driving offence is an accidental act. We therefore expect an individual of good will to have a duty of care and a responsibility to help the vulnerable victim in a way that the individual involved in other types of crime might not. That fundamental understanding of the difference between this type of crime and others should inform the approach that we take to the question of the failure to stop and the strong arguments made by my hon. Friend from the borders and others that we should increase the penalty.
Jim Fitzpatrick mentioned hardship, again a very serious point. There seems to be a serious discrepancy in the number of people able to claim extreme hardship. A small footnote to that, however, a caveat, is that it is important to remember that not all those claims of extreme hardship relate to the individual driving the motorcar; they often relate to the dependants of that individual—for example, a child with special needs who requires motorcar travel. Extreme hardship can therefore extend beyond the individual to the family. Nevertheless, I recognise that the number of people making such claims seems disproportionately large.
My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes mentioned restorative justice, but at the centre of everything is the question of careless or dangerous driving. That was discussed by the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth, Stuart C. McDonald, who reflected on those distinctions, and Yasmin Qureshi, who made some interesting jurisprudential points on culpability and consequence or, as she framed it, the objective test of the damage done compared with the subjective question of intent.
That is not something that should be trivialised or put aside—it is a fundamental principle of English law. On the one hand, we have the incredibly stark and horrifying impact on the victim and the victim’s family—the hon. Members for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon) talked about that eloquently and movingly. That death and its consequences are final, destroying a life and the families that surround it, with eddying ripples that extend into broader society. On the other hand, that has to be balanced, as the hon. Member for Huddersfield pointed out, with seriousness about the nature of what happened at that moment. Some situations are genuinely accidents, and in others some of us might feel, “There but for the grace of God go I.” There is an important distinction between a careless act and a dangerous act. All of that needs to be balanced with the impact on the victim.
We have therefore concluded that we must now extend the maximum penalty for causing death by dangerous driving to a life sentence, and the maximum penalty for causing death by careless driving under the influence of drink—alcohol—to a life sentence as well. That has been a difficult decision because of the question of balancing the impact on the victim with the culpability of the individual. However, in the end, the conclusion must be that someone who commits an extremely dangerous act in a vehicle is driving a weapon and committing an unlawful act. Ultimately, if a death results, that is morally equivalent to unlawful act manslaughter. Individuals under the influence of drink or drugs who get into a vehicle knowingly propel an extremely dangerous weapon, having consciously made a decision to incapacitate themselves. That is in direct contravention of their duty of care towards other road users and is therefore equivalent to gross negligence manslaughter. They should therefore face the penalty of a life sentence as a maximum.
In response to the questions asked by Liz McInnes, therefore, we will be do that. I will not delay people or waste their time with explanations about why, particularly in the middle of Brexit, parliamentary time has been limited, or why we feel that we need to take a comprehensive approach that brings in the Department for Transport and the Home Office, but we are determined to do it. That is because cycling is incredibly important for our health, our environment and our connections with landscape and society. We have a particular duty of care and obligation to vulnerable road users. With that, I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions to an extremely stimulating and important debate, which will change the law.
Rory visited the Stainmore Railway Company at Kirkby Stephen East to hear an update on their work and to meet their volunteers.
The Stainmore Railway Company came into being in 1997, following the purchase of the Kirkby Stephen East station site by Stainmore Properties Ltd. in order to build and develop a Heritage Centre and operational railway. Since then, millions have been invested and around 40 volunteers, from all across the area, have come together to work to restore carriages. A new shed has been built with a legacy, while steam and diesel locomotives, alongside Gresley Coaches and Carriages and Wagons, have been restored.
Mr Stewart toured the site with a great deal of interest, stopping to admire vehicles being stripped down and fitted with new wood panels. He also studied the exhibits and spoke to many of the volunteers, asking them about their work, how long they had been with the project and about visitor numbers. Rory takes a keen interest in such projects, which include the Solway Aviation Museum, and regularly champions their cause in Westminster.
Rory commented: “It was a very great pleasure to tour the Stainmore Railway Company and to get a glimpse of the incredible volunteer culture which extends all the way through Cumbria. Teams of dedicated individuals, such as those I was privileged to meet, give their time and effort to carefully restore different parts of our industrial, train and aviation history, and we owe them a debt of gratitude for this. The venues that they help to create not only bring in tourists but also stand as a powerful example of community and commitment”.
Rory has praised the pub trade on a recent visit to the newly opened ‘Taggy Man’.
Mr Stewart was toured around the pub by husband and wife team, Kevin and Jennifer Oates, who chatted to him about the its renovation and their love for Kirkby Stephen and the Eden Valley. The three also discussed the pub’s namesake, a local character from folklore, who was said to capture those children who chose to stay out after the ‘taggy’ (curfew) bell had rung in the evening.
Mr Stewart has, since his election in 2010, taken a close interest in the pub trade in recognition of the important role that it plays in community life – both as a source of enterprise and as a vehicle for community action. As pubs across the UK close, Penrith and The Border’s have pioneered imaginative and innovative approaches to ensure their survival. In Hesket Newmarket the first community-owned pub in Britain was established, a model that was followed in Crosby Ravensworth with the community buy-out of the Butchers Arms (the bar of which the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, opened). Mr Stewart has shares in the Butchers Arms and has been involved in helping the George and Dragon in Garrigill, the Chamley Arms in Warcop, and the Strickland Arms in Great Strickland.
Following his visit Mr Stewart said “I am delighted that pubs continue to go from strength to strength in Penrith and The Border, bucking the national trend, and it was a very great pleasure to visit this beautiful new example in Kirkby Stephen. Kevin and Jennifer have done a fantastic job in restoring the Taggy Man and I am very grateful to them for showing me around. Our pubs are of huge importance to our constituency and our communities, and we need to do more to support them.”