Monday 26th February 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
15:08
Asked by
Baroness Burt of Solihull Portrait Baroness Burt of Solihull
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to encourage businesses to employ people with criminal convictions.

Lord Bellamy Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bellamy) (Con)
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My Lords, I am pleased to say that the rate of prison leavers in employment six months after release almost doubled in the two years to March 2023, from 14% to over 30%. New Futures Network, the Prison Service’s specialist employment team, runs quarterly recruitment drives. These national campaigns have seen more than 200 employers and partners working with HMPPS to deliver more than 230 events in prison. Several other measures support the Government’s drive to get former prisoners into work.

Baroness Burt of Solihull Portrait Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD)
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My Lords, I know—because I told him about it this morning—that the Minister is aware of the ban the box campaign to do away with the criminal convictions tick box on job application forms so that applicants can be assessed on their skills before their past mistakes. We know that work after prison dramatically reduces reoffending rates and helps to create a safer society. It helps companies to access a rich talent pool, yet three-quarters of them discriminate against applicants with convictions, excluding millions of jobseekers from the market. I thank the Minister for agreeing to look into this campaign, led by the charity Business in the Community, to see how the Government might support it.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, as your Lordships know, under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 the Government have been progressively reducing the need to disclose previous convictions, particularly in relation to community sentences and sentences of under four years, and now even some non-violent sentences of over four years can be regarded as spent. As the noble Baroness has said, the ban the box campaign run by Business in the Community, which comprises more than 150 employers covering over 1 million roles, asks employers to delay the point at which applicants are asked to tick a box on and give details about any criminal convictions so that they can expose their skills at interview before any disclosure of convictions is made, if such disclosure is still required.

The Government are very pleased to commend the work of Business in the Community, which has now led the ban the box campaign for several years. In 2021 it passed the milestone of covering more than 1 million roles, and as long ago as 2016 the Government signed up to it for the Civil Service. The noble Baroness rightly identifies that this is a very important initiative. Increasing rates of employment on release from prison is very important, and the Government will continue to support the initiative.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I was going to ask about ban the box as well. The Minister has given a full answer. However, can he say something about the practices of the Ministry of Justice? When it contracts with numerous companies and NGOs, does it require them to practice ban the box themselves?

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, I will have to come back to the noble Lord on that question, as I am not in a position to answer it straightaway.

Lord Carter of Haslemere Portrait Lord Carter of Haslemere (CB)
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My Lords, I declare my interest as a trustee of the Prison Reform Trust. An impressive 10% of Timpson’s workforce are ex-offenders. Its chief executive said on the radio just a few days ago that they are among his best employees, no doubt because they are highly motivated to succeed. In addition to the Government encouraging businesses to employ more ex-offenders, which I strongly support as a key to rehabilitation, are government departments doing anything to recruit more ex-offenders?

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, the Government do recruit ex-offenders and have signed up to various programmes to do so. That is a matter for individual departments, but it is certainly part of the Government’s programme to pursue that avenue.

Lord Bailey of Paddington Portrait Lord Bailey of Paddington (Con)
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My Lords, with the reoffending rate remaining stubbornly high, what work is being done to prepare offenders to perform properly in the job market when they leave prison?

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, I can give your Lordships a variety of examples. I was talking to a prisoner from HMP Winchester the other day; he was very pleased and said, “It’s been great. I’ve completed the IT course and for the first time in my life I can do a Word document and an Excel spreadsheet”.

Your Lordships may have seen the report in the press this morning about HMP Liverpool, which has been completely transformed. The brewery Marston’s has a mock-up of a pub, where prisoners can train to work in hospitality. In HMP Swansea you will find the mock-up of an HGV with which you can qualify for your HGV licence. In HMP Humber you can do the same thing with a forklift truck. There is a great deal going on in our prisons, and we should be very proud of our Prison Service for pursuing those initiatives.

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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My Lords, from these Benches I add our own sadness at the death of Lord Cormack. His contributions to this House and to the Church will be sorely missed.

As has been said, there has been a serious decline in rehabilitation and release planning services in recent years. Prisoners need to be engaged with purposeful work; there needs to be planning ahead of their release—including release on temporary licence—to secure employment, if we are to prevent reoffending. What steps are the Government taking to increase release on temporary licence?

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, the Government are very keen to allow prisoners release on temporary licence wherever that is possible. I emphasise the work that has gone into preparing prisoners for employment; there is now an employment lead in every one of our 93 prisons, and an employment hub where prisoners can access vacancies, make applications, et cetera. Every prisoner has an ID, a bank account and accommodation arranged when they are being released. There is an employment advisory board in every prison, and these measures are taking effect.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, it is the turn of the Green Benches. If everyone is quick, we can then hear from my noble friend Lord Polak.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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I will be quick. I will just say that I will miss Lord Cormack very much.

There is a section of prisoners—the IPP prisoners, who are imprisoned for public protection—who are constantly being called back to prison, and their mental health is very much under threat; they are a very vulnerable population. Are prisons looking to rehabilitate those prisoners in particular, by preparing them for work?

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, there is a specific action plan in place for IPP prisoners. The question of whether they are being prepared for work is a little premature because they first have to be prepared for release. We are going to discuss this matter in great detail in the debates on the Victims and Prisoners Bill, and I look forward to further discussions with the noble Baroness.

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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My Lords, for eight years I have had the privilege of sitting on this Bench next to Lord Cormack, often annoying him by asking him procedural questions; of course, he knew every answer. Yehi zichro baruch—may his memory be a blessing.

I refer the House to my interests in the register: I am an adviser to Legacie Developments, a small construction company in Liverpool run by John Morley, which last week celebrated the 50th ex-prisoner it has employed. Does the Minister welcome this? How can we expand this sort of operation?

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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The Government are very keen to expand all opportunities for the re-employment of prisoners. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to a range of employers—Timpson, Marston’s, Greene King, Greggs, Wagamama, Marks & Spencer and many others—of which, as a nation, we should be proud.