Rory: May I begin by thanking colleagues for their contributions? It is very striking in justice debates how much learning and experience there is around the House; almost every Member who has spoken is either a distinguished ex-prisons Minister or has worked as a solicitor or criminal barrister, and brings deep passion to their work. I also want briefly to pay tribute to the fact that this debate has generally, with perhaps a single exception, been conducted in a very practical, non-ideological, focused fashion, with great charm and commitment and a deep and pragmatic understanding of the individual issues, without lapsing in any way into lazy clichés or any slogans prepared perhaps for YouTube. I also want to thank the officials whose work underlies most of this debate. We owe a huge debt of gratitude, as many have pointed out, to our judiciary, in particular the criminal Bar, which underpins a lot of the respect in which Britain is held throughout the world.

On prisons, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas) who kindly picked out Amy Rees and Russ Trent for the work they have done in communicating their work in Berwyn, and also to the prison officers on the landing, who my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood) pointed out are taking on the most extraordinarily challenging and often very dangerous job, day in, day out.

The core of this debate, however, was set out by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill): the fundamental paradox at the heart of this discussion that, on one hand, justice is not a transaction, but on the other hand, it is demand-led. Somewhere between the deep values of justice—the values that my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) connected so exactly to our national identity—and the constraints imposed by population and funding lie many of the problems that Members have touched on today.

The right hon. Member for Delyn (David Hanson) talked, in a very valuable speech, about many of the problems and challenges in our justice system; my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham extended them to the courts system; the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) found many of those issues within probation; and again the right hon. Gentleman connected this forensically to the questions within both the main estimates and the supplementary estimates over the past four years. I would of course, as expected, want to point out that there have been some elements of progress and some things we should be proud of, but I will come back to the challenges towards the end of my speech, and in particular to the comments of the right hon. Gentleman, who rightly asked how we are going to deal with them; I will wish to finish on that practical question.

First, however, I want to talk about the achievements. A number of things have happened. One of them, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) pointed out, is the transformation in the supervision of offenders on short-term sentences, and in particular, in the supervision of an extra 40,000 offenders during the first 12 months after leaving a short-term custody. The hon. Member for Wrexham used the example of Berwyn to highlight the development of the new prison programme and the 10,000 new places that will be provided through those prisons, with public capital coming forward for the prison in Wellingborough and a private finance initiative for the prison at Glen Parva. Those new prison places, which will ultimately house 20,000 prisoners, will make a huge difference. It is often tawdry buildings—some of them Victorian, some of them more recently built—that underlie the real problems relating to dignity, cleanliness and everyday life that contribute directly to violence.

Ian Lucas:

May I point out to the Minister that Berwyn is a public sector prison that was delivered on budget and on time, and in which a lot of hope is invested? Why have the Government excluded the public sector from tendering for the new prisons that he is referred to?


Wellingborough will be built with public capital. Glen Parva, on the other hand, will be a private finance initiative. We believe in having a mixed economy. That is partly because we think that there are things we can learn from the private sector. The public sector remains the core of our prison estate, and we owe the sector an enormous debt of gratitude, but in Thameside, Altcourse, Park and elsewhere, we have learned about family centres and about technology—particularly in Thameside, with the use of in-cell telephony and computers. At Altcourse, we have learned a great deal about workshops and employment. There is a great deal that we can learn from each other.

The hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston was kind enough to pick out some of the positive elements in the female offender strategy, and I would like to take this opportunity of welcoming the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar) to his place. I think that he will do an enormous amount for the youth estate, for female offenders, and for the general principle, which we all support across the House, that women should not be in custody unless it is absolutely necessary. We have also made progress, through Lord Farmer, in our approach to families. In the past two weeks, we have achieved smoke-free prisons, and we have now managed to announce new policies on scanners for intercepting drugs, of which I am proud.

We also have 2,500 extra prison officers, which we have perhaps spoken about too much in this House, but they are important because they drive our ability to deliver the key worker system. That system will involve a relationship between one prison officer and six prisoners, and for at least 45 minutes a week, an individual conversation about a prisoner’s sentence plan and education plan. That will be an important element in bringing decency and reducing violence. Body-worn cameras and doubling the sentences for people attacking prison officers will also be an important part of restoring some of the civility and decency that we need in order to bring about rehabilitation, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood) pointed out.

I wish to conclude by addressing the question posed by the right hon. Member for Delyn. He asked how we were going to do all that in a tight financial situation. From my point of view, the answer is that there are of course no silver bullets. Everyone in this Chamber, on both sides, has enormous experience of the system that has existed in this country for a very long time. In fact, there is a prison in my constituency that is almost 2,000 years old; it is a Roman prison. There are no simple answers to the question of how we balance punishing someone and isolating them from the public with doing the difficult work of turning around their life and preventing reoffending.

However, the central lesson—which my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes) put his finger on—is training. In the end, this is going to come down to the individual relationship between the prison officer and the prisoner. It is going to come down to the confidence they have to unlock their prisoner, to how they deal with violence and assaults, to how they push towards reoffending and to how they develop in their everyday engagements such as a decision on a telephone call, on a blanket or on a family visit. It is going to come down to the sense of trust and predictability that will ultimately turn around the lives of prisoners. More than 40% of our prisoners have come out of care. More than 50% have been excluded from school. Similarly, more than 50% have not achieved the reading level of an 11-year-old. It is going to take patience and resilience to turn that around.

This training cannot just be about super-governors parachuting in to turn around troubled prisoners and then leaving, only for the system to collapse again. A resilient system is one in which the uniformed prison officers at band 3, band 4 and band 5, in their pride, their purposefulness and their courage, will demonstrate that they can achieve remarkable things. The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) highlighted this achievement in Perth prison, which is an extraordinary example of a decent regime being run in a tough local prison in Scotland. Prisons in this country are already achieving remarkable things in places such as Dartmoor and Altcourse, and even in some of the toughest prisons such as Leeds. If we can get those elements of training and leadership together, I believe that even in a tough financial climate, with all the pressures of the financial crisis and with all that we owe the national health and education systems, we can deliver a prison system that works for prisoners and ultimately protects the public.

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