51 Rory Stewart debates involving the Ministry of Justice

Oral Answers to Questions

Rory Stewart Excerpts
Tuesday 23rd April 2019

(5 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Alex Norris Portrait Alex Norris (Nottingham North) (Lab/Co-op)
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10. What recent assessment he has made of trends in the level of violence in prisons.

Rory Stewart Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Rory Stewart)
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I am sure that the whole House will join me in expressing our deep horror at the recent attack against a prison officer in Nottingham prison. It is completely horrifying to see this happen. It must not happen again. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our prison officers for the work they do in very difficult circumstances keeping us safe. There are three main things we can do to stop this kind of thing happening again. We need to improve perimeter security, which means really searching people for weapons and drugs at the gate; we need to make sure that the conditions in the prison are decent and work; and, above all, we need to provide the training and support for prison officers to have the right kind of relationships with prisoners whereby things like this do not occur again.

Vicky Ford Portrait Vicky Ford
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My hon. Friend the Minister vowed that if prison violence did not decrease, he would resign. I, for one, think that we have seen too many members of the Government resign. Could he give us an update on his own ambitions to stay in post?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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As some people in the House will be aware, I promised to reduce violence in 10 key challenge prisons over a 12-month period. At the moment, the figures are looking reasonably positive. In other words, it looks as though, in the majority of these prisons, violence is coming down so hon. Members may be in the unfortunate position of still having me at this Dispatch Box in a few months’ time.

Alex Norris Portrait Alex Norris
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As the Minister mentioned, on Sunday 14 April a prison officer at my local prison in Nottingham had his throat slashed with a razor by a prisoner in what his union calls a cowardly, unprovoked act. According to doctors, this young public servant—a brave man in his early 20s—came within millimetres of losing his life. Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to this prison officer and to his thousands of colleagues facing this sort of violence every day, and does he agree with the union—the Prison Officers Association—that this ought to be treated as an attempted murder?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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I absolutely agree that these are extraordinary public servants. This is a horrifying and completely unacceptable act. We need to punish the person who did it, and we need to punish them properly. At the moment, the charge that is being brought forward carries the maximum life sentence, as it should, but there is more that we can do. That includes body-worn cameras, the rolling out of PAVA spray and ensuring we have enough officers on the landings, which is why I am pleased that we now have the highest number of prison officers at any date since 2012.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
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Would there not be less violence in our prisons if there was a relentless focus from the first day in prison on getting prisoners work on release? We could do that by combining training in prison with employer and college support on release.

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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This is not an either/or. We have to be confident and practical about doing two things at the same time. Controlling prisons—these include some quite dangerous individuals—involves serious measures on searching people for drugs and weapons, but it also involves treating people like humans and turning their lives around, because that is the way we protect the public from the misery of crime through reoffending when these individuals are released from prison.

Vince Cable Portrait Sir Vince Cable (Twickenham) (LD)
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In the light of the recent disturbances among 16 and 17-year-olds at Feltham young offenders institution, is the Minister aware of the previous episodes of violence at the prison, which were attributed to the lack of education and training facilities, 23-hour confinement in cells and the mixing of remand and convicted prisoners? Why do lessons appear not to have been learned?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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A lot of lessons have been learned since that initial event, but the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right; there was a very disturbing event two weeks ago. The basic challenge, as he will be aware, is getting the balance right between ensuring that people are motivated and focused on the regime and that there are high expectations around prisoners and prison officers. To some extent, it is like running a very difficult school, particularly when we are dealing with 16 to 18-year-olds. It is a mixture of being strict on the one hand and loving on the other that is the key to a good prison.

Imran Hussain Portrait Imran Hussain (Bradford East) (Lab)
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Does the Minister agree with his party’s former long-serving Secretary of State, Sir Malcolm Rifkind—a self-confessed true believer in privatisation—who wrote recently in the Financial Times:

“The physical deprivation of a citizen’s liberty should not be the responsibility of a private company or of its employees”?

Does the Minister accept that the renationalisation of HMP Birmingham heralds the end of his Government’s failed prison privatisation agenda?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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I respectfully disagree with Sir Malcolm on this issue. It was absolutely right to take Birmingham back in hand, because that prison was not performing properly. On the other hand, the same company is running some very good prisons in Oakwood, Altcourse and Parc. It is doing good things on family work and on technology. Private sector prisons are often among the safer local prisons in terms of assaults per 1,000. We are not ideological on this. The private sector can certainly play a role.

Paul Blomfield Portrait Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab)
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5. What assessment he has made of trends in the number of people able to access early legal advice for welfare benefits cases.

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Diana Johnson Portrait Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)
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13. If he will make it his policy to pay officials in his Department the living wage.

Rory Stewart Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Rory Stewart)
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We believe very strongly that we need to both provide decent wages for people and grow the economy and make sure we have employment, which is why we have undertaken to provide a living wage to all our direct employees, and also to our third-party employees, but we have done so—and this is where I suspect the disagreement between me and the hon. Lady lies—at a level that has led to us having the highest rates of employment on record.

Diana Johnson Portrait Diana Johnson
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Just to be clear, will the Minister state that the people who clean his offices and the security guards who keep him safe in his role as a Minister will receive the living wage, meaning that his Department’s name, the Ministry of Justice, is accurate?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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Yes, I absolutely can confirm that. In April, their wages will go from £7.83 to £8.21 an hour, which is the national living wage.

Daniel Kawczynski Portrait Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con)
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14. What progress he has made on improving the safety of prison officers.

Rory Stewart Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Rory Stewart)
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Protecting our prison officers is vital to having safe prisons. In order to do this, we have doubled the maximum sentence for assaulting a prison officer; we are introducing body-worn cameras; we are rolling out PAVA spray; and we are ensuring, through the training and support we provide for prison officers and the work we do on drugs, that we keep our prisons safe.

Daniel Kawczynski Portrait Daniel Kawczynski
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A key factor in the safety of prison officers is the number of these professionals in each prison. In an earlier response, the Minister said that the number was at a higher level than in any year since 2012. What is the number of prison officers at the moment and what plans does he have to increase the number of these professionals over the next 12 months?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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We now have 4,300 additional prison officers, which is the highest level since 2012.

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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We have fewer officers than in 2010. There was a reduction from 2010 to 2012, but we have now turned that around, with the 4,300 extra officers, meaning we can now roll out the key worker programme, which is central, as it means we have the ratios we need to have one prison officer allied with four prisoners to make sure we deliver the work on rehabilitation.

Catherine West Portrait Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab)
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The number of officers is only one part of the equation. Will the Minister increase the almost poverty pay of those in the lowest-paid jobs in the Prison Service and the courts?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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We have been looking at this very carefully, and the public sector pay review body is currently gathering evidence on the situation. We owe a huge debt of obligation to our prison officers and we have to think about their salaries. We also have to balance that with making sure our resources go into improving the physical fabric of these buildings and having the right security infrastructure and the right programming in place. Looking at the resources as a whole, we think we have got the balance right, but we will listen to the public sector pay review body.

Andrew Griffiths Portrait Andrew Griffiths (Burton) (Con)
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15. What steps he is taking to ensure that the criminal justice system adequately supports victims of child sexual abuse.

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Gordon Henderson Portrait Gordon Henderson (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Con)
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During an earlier answer, my hon. Friend the Prisons Minister mentioned the roll-out of PAVA spray. When will it be completed?

Rory Stewart Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Rory Stewart)
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I am delighted to be able to remind the House that PAVA spray is an incapacitating spray and that it can be safer, when dealing with acts of extreme violence, to use a spray rather than pulling out a baton or rolling around with someone on the ground. We need to use these sprays in a moderate, controlled fashion, but they can reduce extreme violence in prisons and protect our prison officers, so we are proud to be rolling them out.

Stephen Hepburn Portrait Mr Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow) (Lab)
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T6. In South Tyneside, disabled claimants are having to wait over 12 months for a tribunal, and 80% of those appeals are successful. What discussions have the Minister and the Department had with the Department for Work and Pensions about this flawed decision making?

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Robert Courts Portrait Robert Courts (Witney) (Con)
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Education is at the very heart of rehabilitation. What are Ministers doing to ensure that people have access to education and the jobs they need when they leave prison?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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The big change that has been introduced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is to ensure that education in prison is linked to employment. This involves talking to the local job market, ensuring that we provide the skills that match that market and, above all, ensuring that we have safe, decent prisons so that we can remove the prisoners from their cells and into work and education so that we can get them into jobs. That reduces reoffending by an average of 7%.

David Hanson Portrait David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab)
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T8. How are we getting on with securing the 26 prisoner transfer agreements that are currently in place with the European Union to ensure that they are in place at the end of this year?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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I am delighted that Labour Members are working with us to try to get a good Brexit deal in place, and if we can get such a deal, we will be able to continue through the transition period. In a no-deal situation, however, it will become significantly more difficult because we will have to fall back on older and more cumbersome ways of moving prisoners. That would not be good for us or for Europe.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton) (Con)
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Despite the wilful destruction of thousands of small businesses by their own bank, no senior executive has ever been held to account. Will the Minister update the House on the Government’s proposals to bring forward legislation to make failure to prevent fraud a corporate criminal offence?

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Philip Hollobone Portrait Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con)
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Of the 9,000 foreign national prisoners in our jails, 760 are from Albania. What are we doing to negotiate a compulsory prisoner transfer agreement with Albania?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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My hon. Friend has raised this matter several times, and I recently met with the Albanian Minister of Justice. It is difficult to return prisoners to Albania. We are ahead of the Italians and the Greeks, but we still have a lot more to do. The problem is that the host country needs to receive these prisoners, so we cannot transfer prisoners in a compulsory fashion. I assure my hon. Friend, because he has asked this question in the past, that a no-deal Brexit will make such prisoner transfers not easier, but more difficult.

Stephanie Peacock Portrait Stephanie Peacock (Barnsley East) (Lab)
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Three of the four men convicted of killing my constituent Jacqueline Wileman were on probation at the time of her death. Does the Minister recognise that that demonstrates the devastating failure of the privatised probation system? Will he meet with me to discuss both the case and how to prevent similar deaths, including by removing the maximum sentence for death by dangerous driving?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her campaigning on this issue. This was a tragic case involving death by dangerous driving, and the individuals have now received sentences of between 10 and 13 and a half years for the crime. We fully support the idea that the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving should be increased up to a life sentence, but we still need to maintain a basic distinction in law between people who intend to commit murder and people whose actions lead to the horrible situation of loss of life through gross negligence and carelessness. We support the idea, and I will meet the hon. Lady.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston (Mid Worcestershire) (Con)
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I have met many excellent prison officers who serve at HMP Long Lartin in my constituency and elsewhere, but way too many of them seem to leave to pursue careers elsewhere. What more can be done to retain more prison officers?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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In order to retain people in the job, we need to make sure that we have the right salary rates and that our prisons are safer. However, we also need to make sure that people feel motivated and that their morale is good, which is one of the reasons why the training and support packages we have introduced should transform retention rates for prison staff.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
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Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Street & Arrow is a social enterprise street food project and is part of Scotland’s violence reduction unit. It hires people with convictions for 12 months, mentors them and provides them with wraparound support. Does the Minister agree that such support is the best way to reduce reoffending?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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Obviously I must pay tribute to the extraordinary achievements, particularly in Glasgow, on reducing violence. On my recent visit to the United States, I also picked up things we could do to work with ex-gang members to interrupt the cycle of violence and have a rapid impact, but we can certainly learn from Scotland on this issue.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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HMP Birmingham

Rory Stewart Excerpts
Tuesday 2nd April 2019

(5 years, 3 months ago)

Written Statements
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Rory Stewart Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Rory Stewart)
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Today the Secretary of State and I can confirm the future plans for HMP Birmingham following the step in initiated by HMPPS and also the urgent notification received by the Secretary of State from HM chief inspector of prisons on 20th August 2018.

We have concluded with the full agreement of G4S that the best way forward now is for us to end the contract and bring back the prison under public sector management.

The situation at HMP Birmingham was totally unacceptable which is why we “stepped in” in August 2018 and why we continued to do so in February 2019. We were always clear that the prison would not be handed back until we were satisfied that sufficient progress had been made.

The prison has made some good progress—both we and G4S have however recognised that there is still much more to do to deliver further improvements. It has become increasingly clear that G4S alone is not able to make the improvements that were so badly needed, and that additional ongoing support from the public sector Prison Service is required to ensure that the prison gets the stability and continuity that will be necessary for sustained progress.

This means that on 1 July 2019, HMP Birmingham will return to public sector management. We have agreed a settlement with G4S of £9.9 million, which covers the additional cost to the MOJ of its “step in” action—meeting our previous public commitment and which also includes an amount to cover essential maintenance works.

Our responsibility is to make sure that prisons are properly run for prisoners and the public. At Birmingham, we must accelerate the good work that has already commenced to stabilise the prison for the longer term. The foundation for that is making sure that we have a clean, decent and safe prison. That is the foundation from which we can do all the other things we want to do—in particular, rehabilitate people, change lives and ultimately protect the public.

What we need to focus on now is building on the positive work achieved to date at HMP Birmingham. We are clear that we have made progress and got some of the necessary basics on the right track to drive improvement; specifically, with the deployment of experienced HMPPS staff, managers and specialists we have significantly increased staff confidence, gained greater order and control and improved day-to-day regime delivery. I am confident that we are beginning to get a grip on the issues driving violence and that we will see the results of this in the coming months.

Progress on decency has also been made; two of the three large Victorian wings which did not meet our expectations have been taken out of use. The third will also soon be fully out of use, as another newly refurbished wing builds to full occupancy. Cleanliness has improved across the site and the visitors centre is being refurbished. This work forms part of the family strategy supporting prisoners and their families to stay in touch, which is key to rehabilitation.

HMPPS staff are also tackling some of the key security risks. A dedicated search team has been introduced and improved, intelligence-led searching has been yielding good results. Specifically, a full lock down search was conducted recently in a major operation involving staff from across the wider service, which was successful in finding and confiscating contraband, and taking disciplinary action taken against the relevant prisoners as a result.

It is also important for staff and prisoners to know what the future of the prison looks like and to remove uncertainty. Paul Newton, the governor who has been running the prison during step in, will remain in post following the transfer back into the public. We will continue to work closely with G4S to support the prison and to make the transition as smooth as possible in the meantime for both staff and prisoners.

This is the right decision for HMP Birmingham but we continue to believe that prisoners and the public benefit from a mixed economy of provision. We are going to remain in a situation where the majority of our prisons will continue to be run by the public sector, but the private sector has a role to play. The private sector has delivered real value for money and some new approaches that have been really impressive.

We have now been running private prisons for 25 years. By and large, that experience has been positive. In fact, G4S’s itself, its performance at Oakwood, Parc and Altcourse has been impressive. They are good prisons. So are Bronzefield, Ashfield, Forest Bank and Thameside, run by other private sector providers.

It makes sense to us that for the next couple of new prisons we give the private sector a chance to bid, but we have set a public sector benchmark. We have explained what the costs would be of the public sector providing the quality of service we want at a prison, and if private sector bidders are not able to provide better value for money, we would look again at the public sector running those establishments.

We will of course be learning lessons from Birmingham which must support our approach to contracting for private prisons in the future.

I strongly believe that this decision is the right one for HMP Birmingham at this time. I am pleased that G4S have also recognised this and are working with us to deliver better outcomes for prisoners and a better working environment for staff. I look forward to being able to report further good progress at HMP Birmingham in the coming months.

[HCWS1475]

Knife Crime

Rory Stewart Excerpts
Monday 25th March 2019

(5 years, 3 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Lord Austin of Dudley Portrait Ian Austin
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I commend my hon. Friend for her work with the all-party group. I understand her point but, in the end, if someone has been caught with a knife 21 times, or has been convicted of 33 assaults, I think they should be in prison. Frankly, as I will talk more about in a minute, there should be strong sentences and tough deterrents. Of course, we also have to have all those other things going on in society to prevent people from being sucked into crime, as she has talked about in the all-party group and I will go on to talk about as well.

When people use knives and behave violently there should be tough sentences. Society needs to send out a strong message that that is completely unacceptable. Although the number of people being imprisoned might have gone up recently, it is fair to say that it certainly fell in the previous few years under this Government.

According to Ministry of Justice figures, 1,182 people were cautioned or convicted by the West Midlands police for the possession of a knife or offensive weapon in 2018, but just 347—29%—went to prison. That represents a 7% drop on the previous year and is under the national average. Across the region, 326 knife criminals were handed a community order, 256 were given a suspended sentence and a further 99 were fined or discharged from court without a sentence.

One in four criminals cautioned or convicted were children. It is a tragedy that children are going out with knives.

Rory Stewart Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Rory Stewart)
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For the record, we have gone from approximately 40,000 people in prison in 1995 to 82,000 people in prison now. In that period, the British population grew by about 15%, but the number of people in prison doubled. We have one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, so we have to be cautious about the idea that we are somehow soft on justice in this country.

Lord Austin of Dudley Portrait Ian Austin
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I am sure the Minister will quote all sorts of figures as to why the knife crime epidemic is not the Government’s fault, is not the result of not sending enough people to prison, and is not because they have not kept the promises they made before they were elected eight or nine years ago—I will come to that. It is all well and good for the Government to claim that people caught with a knife are more likely to be jailed now than at any time in the last 10 years, but that is because the number of people being jailed fell after they came to power almost 10 years ago, despite all the promises they made so loudly and frequently in when they were in opposition. The promise was clear: anyone caught carrying a knife would go to jail.

In 2008, the then leader of the Conservative party gave an interview to The Sun, which said that:

“anyone caught carrying a knife will be jailed under a Tory Government, David Cameron vows today. The Conservative leader declares automatic jail terms for carrying a dangerous knife is the only way of smashing the current epidemic gripping broken Britain”.

He repeated the pledge to relatives of high-profile victims, such as the father of Damilola Taylor and the former EastEnders star, Brooke Kinsella, whose brother was tragically murdered. The police and crime commissioner for the west midlands says that the courts are still failing to hand out sentences that reflect the public’s demands for justice after criminals have been arrested and charged.

Despite a lengthy police investigation and a court case, nobody has been convicted for the death of Ryan Passey, the young man I mentioned earlier who was tragically killed on a night out in Stourbridge. That is a source of huge public concern in Dudley and the Black Country, and there has been a big campaign by his family and friends. Will the Minister meet me and the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Margot James), with whom I have been working, and the people campaigning about that case, so he can examine it in detail?

Of course we need schools, youth services, police support and more opportunities for young people, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling said, but people in Dudley also want to see more police on the streets, tougher sentences and proper punishments to prevent people from going out with a knife in the first place.

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Rory Stewart Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Rory Stewart)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mike Hill) for introducing the debate and to the hon. Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain) for the compassion and empathy of his speech. In a debate that has lasted for two and a half hours now, I cannot help but reflect on how committed all hon. Members are to the issue. As a Justice Minister, I have learned an enormous amount, from many different angles. I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) for the extraordinary passion with which he spoke about victims in his area, and to the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), who is a real firecracker—he made a great speech with huge energy and passion, and I am sure that the issues can only ever be gripped in the way that he described.

I have picked up the sense of frustration around this Chamber. The situation is very disturbing and has been getting steadily worse, so I completely understand why people feel infuriated and frustrated and want more action more quickly. I can reassure hon. Members on one particular question by confirming that the Prime Minister will hold the summit at Chequers next week. In her defence, there is a reason that in the past two weeks she has found it difficult to organise a meeting there: Brexit has not stopped everything else happening in the Government, but it has stopped many of the things that might otherwise be in her diary.

To get a grip on the situation, we have set up an inter-ministerial group on serious violence, which meets regularly and is chaired by the Home Secretary. I am a member of that group and we are making a lot of rapid progress; as the hon. Member for Gedling implied, such a Cobra-style approach is vital to bringing everybody together. In thinking about the problem, we need to be realistic and, above all, practical. The Government’s serious violence strategy contains any number of ideas—probably 200 or 300, all of which are good and all of which make a difference.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
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Interestingly, knife crime prevention orders are not part of that strategy. A lot of the organisations that I have spoken to suspect that the orders were partly a knee-jerk response to show that the Government were acting, and that they were never part of the strategy that the Minister is talking about, which is comprehensive in its diagnosis—if not in setting out a solution.

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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I will come back to knife crime prevention orders. The interesting thing about this debate is that although we all share a horror of knife crime, not everybody in this Chamber agrees on the particulars, such as knife crime prevention orders, sentence lengths or whether courts should have discretion. In a sense, the debate in this Chamber is a reflection of the debate among the public.

The core question is which of the dozens of suggestions in the serious violence strategy will make most difference as quickly as possible and be most effective. There may be many individual initiatives that are fantastic at a community level, but others may be even better, and those are the ones that we need to focus on. I want to focus on four areas in particular. The first is sentencing—this is a debate on sentencing, and I am here as a representative of the Ministry of Justice to talk about sentencing. It is true to say that following on from the 2015 two-strike rule, more people are now going to jail for knife possession offences, and they are going there for longer. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Julia Lopez) raised the question whether we have got that balance right, and it is a difficult balance.

The hon. Member for Gedling, a very experienced ex-Policing Minister, asked exactly how these exceptions are defined. They are defined quite closely. Some 82% of people found in a double possession will find their way towards a sentence. Who are the 18% who are not getting sentences? The guidelines stipulate very clearly what the mitigating factors are and lay them out. In extreme cases, it could be somebody with learning difficulties, mental health problems or a serious medical problem, or it could be somebody who has co-operated with the police—all these things are mitigating factors that might lead to someone not receiving such a sentence.

Lord Coaker Portrait Vernon Coaker
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The Minister talks about 82% of people being given a sentence by the court. Does he mean suspended sentences as well as custodial sentences?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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I am including suspended sentences as well as immediate custodial sentences. In the case of a suspended sentence, if somebody breaks their licence conditions, they will be recalled to court for the remainder of their custodial sentence.

Lord Austin of Dudley Portrait Ian Austin
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What proportion of the 82% get suspended sentences, and what proportion receive immediate custodial sentences?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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Out of that 82%, approximately 22% of the cohort do not receive a full custodial sentence. All that goes to the core of what the mitigating and aggravating factors in the judge’s hands are. As the hon. Member for Gedling pointed out, this is absolutely standard in any legislation that we bring forward—we leave some discretion for the judges.

One of the questions at the core of this issue has been raised again and again by the hon. Members for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) and for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova): deterrence. In order to be practical, we need to focus on the fact that the main thing that the evidence suggests makes a difference to somebody who is considering committing a crime is their chance of being caught. Their receiving a six-month, nine-month or 12-month sentence, or even a five-year sentence, is much less likely to motivate their behaviour than the chance of being caught. In burglary, for example, it is almost certainly the very low rate of conviction, rather than the length of sentence, which has made the difference. If someone feels that they have a 3% chance of being caught, it does not really matter how long the sentence is, which is why most of our focus is now going into putting another £100 million behind the police to focus on knife crime, rather than on increasing this form of sentence length.

There is another reason that we have to be cautious in response to the suggestions for a 25-year sentence for using a knife and a 10-year sentence for possessing a knife: any sentencing needs to balance with other forms of sentencing, otherwise victims and their families will feel that justice has not been done. What do I mean by that? If someone gets a 25-year sentence for using a knife in any way—cutting somebody with a knife—while the minimum custodial sentence for murder is 15 years, it would be very understandable that a family would look at somebody getting 15 years for murder and wonder why somebody else was getting 25 years for using a knife. The same would be true if someone got 25 years for using a knife and another person got 25 years for killing somebody with a knife; the family would understandably ask, “How come this person is getting 25 years for using a knife to wound, when here is another person getting 25 years for committing murder with a knife?”

It is a fundamental principle of our law that we look at the consequence of the crime and the culpability of the criminal; we do not look at the weapon used. We do not determine whether somebody used a crossbow, a gun or a knife; we look at whether it was murder or grievous bodily harm. What form of offence was committed? That is really important, because if we start introducing offences based purely on the type of weapon that is used, we will end up with injustice being felt all the way through our legal system. That does not mean that we cannot look at sentencing, but this particular proposal does not make sense.

Let me address the proposed 10-year sentence for possessing a knife. Currently the minimum sentence for possessing a firearm is five years. The public would feel a deep injustice if someone were to get 10 years for a knife and another person got five years for a firearm—it simply does not make sense. In thinking about sentencing, we cannot think about just one type of offence; we have to think about the effect on the whole system.

I shall move on quickly, because I am aware that we have trespassed on your patience for a very long time, Mr Davies. I want to discuss early intervention and prevention, supporting communities, and effective law enforcement, which are the three central planks of any response to knife crime. On early intervention and prevention, the hon. Members for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) and for Croydon Central made very eloquent interventions and speeches. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) for—given Scotland’s extraordinary success in this area—a very modest and charming speech. I thought it was a very intelligent speech, which demonstrated that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution and that we can learn from Scotland without replicating their approach. I pay tribute to what Scotland has done and the spirit with which the hon. Gentleman approached this debate.

Clearly we have to look at risk factors. The key risk factor in an individual involved in knife crime is the individual themselves. As the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) has pointed out, that could mean an acquired brain injury, or neglect, or abuse in the home. The second factor is the family context, which is central. In a recent study, 47% of people who had committed homicide had been in care—almost half of them. The third factor is the community context in which people operate. Living in a deprived neighbourhood makes someone much more likely to commit knife crime.

Another important factor is the school that someone attends. Serious risk factors include an individual being caught up in bullying at school or playing truant, and we need to do more to work with schools. Schools are quite good at picking up on children who are victims of domestic abuse, but are they good enough at identifying people who are being sucked into knife crime? Should we be working with Ofsted to try to assess schools on how good they are at identifying people who are being sucked into knife crime?

Someone’s peer group—the people with whom they spend their time—is the fifth biggest risk factor in determining whether they get sucked into knife crime. We can respond; this is not just touchy-feely nonsense. We can prove that a targeted approach, not a universal approach, is most effective. It is about being really smart with public money. The answer is not to lecture every child in the country on knife crime, but to ensure that we target those who are most at risk with the most serious support. The likelihood of a child going on to commit a violent offence can be reduced by 25% by bringing in a therapist with a case load of five or six children and ensuring that the therapist spends time with the family once a week. That one thing makes a huge difference. As we begin to build up these different things, we can begin to address some of the underlying causes of knife crime.

The hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East spoke eloquently about supporting communities. We need a multi-agency public protection arrangement-style approach, which is something that, again, the hon. Member for Gedling referred to. We need to think about comms and how we get a proper media approach. We need to think about how that could be a digital media approach. How do we communicate to people the dangers of knife crime? We need to think about what we do with retailers who sell knives, which involves bringing in trading standards. If we are going to wrap up different bits of Government, we need trading standards to get under-18-year-olds to try to buy knives online. We need under-18-year-olds to go into shops—even small retailers—to try to buy knives and then report back to the retailer if somebody on the shop floor has sold a knife to someone who is under age.

We need to think about victim support, as the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) said. The answer to her specific question is that anybody who witnessed the attack is entitled to victim support. They do not need to be related to the victim. I am very pleased that she champions that issue.

Catherine West Portrait Catherine West
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Does the Minister agree that victim support is inconsistent? It is very good in some places but not so good in others. What measures are the Government putting in place to monitor where it is not good, and what are they doing about it?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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The answer is that we have just published a victims strategy, and we are investing more in victim support—more than £90 million a year—as part of a broader spectrum of support. We now have £200 million going into a youth endowment fund, which is directly driven by the strategy and responds to the public health approach pioneered in Scotland. We have another £22 million going into an early intervention fund to respond to the stuff that we have been talking about in relation to schools and families.

That brings me to effective law enforcement, where my hon. Friend the Member for Romford is pushing us. He makes a very interesting point about the way in which community policing does or does not overlap with ward boundaries. The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) also spoke in some detail about community policing. We need to balance that with very specific stuff on knife crime, which means ensuring that there are plain clothes officers in hot spot areas. Hot spot areas are central. In Peterborough, we discovered that taking a hot spot approach, getting the right data and finding where the problems are coming from reduced violence by 37% without displacing it to any other area, so hot spot policing is central.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister is making a very thoughtful speech. Although we do not agree on everything, he is talking a lot of sense. A piece of work on that has just been done in Croydon. There are 10 areas in Croydon where most violence outside occurs. It is in the places we would expect, such as outside the supermarkets. He is absolutely right that targeting them with effective policing would be an incredibly sensible way to spend public money.

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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The answer to everyone in the Chamber who spoke about law enforcement is that community policing plays a part. There is a 10 am meeting of the violent crime taskforce every day in Lambeth, where it gets the intelligence from the previous 12 hours about where people have gathered and where the weapons are moving. It then targets its intervention for the day. It has its own team of uniformed officers who back up the plain clothes officers on the ground. They go in and do weapons sweeps and community weapons sweeps. They use section 1 orders to go after individuals and section 60 orders to go after geographical areas. They go after habitual knife carriers. They conduct searches with search warrants, based on drug suspicion in houses. By doing that, and through Operation Sceptre, through which we have 42 police forces across the country doing this at the same time for week-long periods, we are able to hoover up astonishing quantities of knives.

The community part is the real key to that, because it is the local community leader, the head of the local boxing club or somebody who wants to speak for the community who is out there doing the community sweep, finding the knives concealed in hedges and cars. That is far more effective than police officers just doing it on their own.

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am curious to know, in the light of those kinds of activities in boroughs such as Lambeth, whether the Minister has seen any displacement activity. Does he see people move into neighbouring boroughs, or does it have a real impact on knife crime over a much wider area?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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Strangely, the experience is that there has not been displacement activity. We have looked at that very carefully, and it seems that, by targeting those areas, we grab it and do not push it on to neighbouring areas. There are different theories about that. One is that some of this is gang-related, and some gangs are geographically limited, so it is not likely to be displaced into other areas.

At the core of all this is crack cocaine and crack cocaine gangs, although the innocent victims have nothing to do with crack cocaine. Although drug use in general is coming down, crack cocaine use is going up. It went up 18% between 2016-17 and 2017-18. County lines, which are an incredibly important part of this, are also contributing. The same gangs are involved in both. That means that we have to get on top of mobile phones. We have had to bring in new ways of intercepting mobiles, which are central to the way that county lines gangs operate. We have set up a new National Crime Agency taskforce to focus on county lines, and we have had to be much smarter about data. In partial response to my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell), who made a very good speech about that, one of the things we are learning is that our data has not been good enough. For example, we have not been coding knife crimes properly. Setting up smart software that allows us to pick out as knife crime something that was simply registered as grievous bodily harm makes a huge difference to our ability to target hotspot areas.

All the stuff that I have been talking about so far is about preventing somebody from being dragged into these gangs from early childhood onward. Then it is about the violent crime taskforce moving into an area to make sure that if somebody picks up a knife, we get them as soon as possible, particularly on possession. Then—God forbid—if somebody is convicted or uses a knife, we move on to the question of what happens in the courts, prisons and probation. There, too, we have to look at all these other issues. We have to take on board the fact that the real protection for the public is ensuring that the person who has offended once does not reoffend.

Statistically, we are doing a bit better on knife crime than on other crimes. Generally, short-term offenders reoffend at a rate of nearly 60%. Knife crime offenders reoffend at about half that rate. Half that rate is still too high, so we need to address addiction issues, get them jobs and help them into accommodation.

Catherine West Portrait Catherine West
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I thank the Minister for giving way a second time. Does he agree that the current approach to drug rehabilitation services in prison is not robust enough? Not enough people have access to those crucial treatments and are cured of drug and alcohol issues.

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Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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Yes, that is absolutely right. We should do much, much more on addiction. Shoplifting is a big problem. We have a lot of shoplifting, and the majority of people get short sentences of less than six months. The highest single offence is shoplifting by a very large margin. Of those offenders, 76% are crack cocaine or heroin addicts. The real way of dealing with the problem is to deal with their crack cocaine or heroin addiction.

Lord Coaker Portrait Vernon Coaker
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The Minister has given a very thoughtful, measured and informed response, and people listening to it will say, “That’s great. How will the Government and Parliament make that happen?” As part of that, will he tell the House that he will go back, wake up the people who need waking up and introduce regular statements to Parliament, every single week at least, about what is happening, what progress is being made and what is or is not being done? It should be a regular statement to Parliament, not a response to an urgent question.

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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I have enormous admiration for the hon. Gentleman, and I would be very proud to have him as part of our team dealing with this. I am sure he would deal with it very well. I am not in the business of committing colleagues in the Home Office to making statements, but I assure him that we take this very seriously. I have not spoken enough to the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin), but we are putting another £100 million into policing, particularly driven by violent crime and knife crime, in addition to our investment in the youth endowment fund.

Action is not just what happens in Parliament. It is not just about the inter-ministerial group that has been set up and the meeting that the Prime Minister is holding next week. It is about setting up the violent crime taskforce and that 10 am meeting every morning in Lambeth, and about ensuring the money and resources begin to flow in behind this. I believe that this will make a significant difference, but I absolutely agree to sit down with the hon. Member for Gedling. The only way of doing this or anything in Government is with urgency, grip, imagination and passion. Above all, it should be rooted in realism. I thank the hon. Member for Hartlepool very much indeed for this incredibly informative debate.

Justice

Rory Stewart Excerpts
Tuesday 12th March 2019

(5 years, 4 months ago)

Ministerial Corrections
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The following is an extract from a statement to the House on 24 January 2019.
Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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As right hon. and hon. Members will have seen in the media, the inspectors highlighted cases in which sex offenders were placed in hotel accommodation. The first thing I want to say is that this is something we will work very hard to avoid in future, and I will explain how we will do that shortly. This is a very small number of cases. Every year, over 10,000 people are released from prison under that form of supervision, and of those only 54—sometimes it is 55 or 56—will end up in some type of emergency accommodation. Of those individuals, only a very few—perhaps half a dozen—will end up in hotel accommodation.

[Official Report, 24 January 2019, Vol. 653, c. 370.]

Letter of correction from the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice:

Errors have been identified in the statement I made to the House.

The correct wording should have been:

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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As right hon. and hon. Members will have seen in the media, the inspectors highlighted cases in which sex offenders were placed in hotel accommodation. The first thing I want to say is that this is something we will work very hard to avoid in future, and I will explain how we will do that shortly. This is a very small number of cases. So far in 2018-19, over 10,000 people have been released from prison under that form of supervision and 49 offenders have been placed temporarily in some type of emergency hotel or B&B accommodation. Of those individuals, around half were sex offenders.

Oral Answers to Questions

Rory Stewart Excerpts
Tuesday 12th March 2019

(5 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Mary Glindon Portrait Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab)
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3. If he will take steps to accelerate the roll-out of PAVA pepper spray to prison officers.

Rory Stewart Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Rory Stewart)
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The hon. Lady and I have sat down and discussed this matter with the unions. We are determined to make sure that we have safe and appropriate ways to protect prison officers, which is why we have piloted PAVA at four sites, two of which I have now visited. We are currently completing an equalities assessment, and we should be in a position to begin the full roll-out in April.

Mary Glindon Portrait Mary Glindon
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I thank the Minister for that answer, which is good news. I hope he will keep in mind that a significant proportion of prisoners expressed the view that PAVA is necessary, so I hope he will give me a guarantee that he will stick to his word and that this vital protective equipment will be rolled out soon in the spring.

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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Absolutely. As the hon. Lady will bear in mind, we have to be thoughtful about how we use this spray. It is there to deal with issues of extreme violence. This type of pepper spray is a new measure, and we have to be particularly clear when we use it against people with protected characteristics, which is why we are conducting the assessment. I believe that once we have conducted it, this will mean less extreme violence in prisons.

Ruth George Portrait Ruth George (High Peak) (Lab)
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In the past 12 months, there were more than 10,000 assaults on staff in our prison service, which is more than one every hour and represents a 30% increase year on year. Clearly that is unacceptable, and it is having a deterrent effect on the recruitment of prison officers, who are so important in keeping prisoners and other staff safe. How is the Department doing on the recruitment of additional staff to make up for the 7,000 who have been lost?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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The answer is that recruitment has gone quite well. We now have 4,700 additional officers; we have more than we have had at any time since March 2012, so we are at the highest level for seven years.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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Taking into account the fact that prison officers are allowed to claim for compensation for only three attacks throughout their career, will the Minister outline his opinion on the abuse that prison officers are expected to take as part of their jobs, which would be unacceptable in any other job?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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The important thing is to begin by paying a huge tribute to prison officers, who are doing an incredibly important job. They are probably one of the most important operational bits of any public service, and we owe them a huge duty of care. We have to make sure that the drugs and weapons do not get in. We have doubled the sentence for people assaulting prison officers, and I am happy to sit down with the hon. Gentleman to talk about this in more detail.

Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP)
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5. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the future status of the UK as a signatory to the European convention on human rights.

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Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris (Easington) (Lab)
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10. If he will make it his policy to pay the staff in his Department the living wage.

Rory Stewart Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Rory Stewart)
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We pay, both directly as the Ministry of Justice and indirectly through our suppliers, the national living wage in line with legislation.

Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy
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I thank the Minister for his answer. I hope he is aware that I have previously raised in the House the problems relating to procurement and ensuring that every subcontractor adheres to the same rules as the people directly employed by the Department. Will the Minister ensure that subcontractors also pay all their staff the real living wage?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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The point, which is an important one, is that we have to ensure that our subcontractors follow exactly the same rules as Ministry of Justice direct employees. We insist that the national living wage should be paid both to Ministry of Justice employees and to our subcontractors.

Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris
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Cleaners and security staff at court buildings up and down the country are currently in dispute with outsourcers Mitie and G4S over poverty pay and draconian terms and conditions. The Minister can try to wash his hands of this mess and blame his predecessor’s appalling contracts—he is now wreaking havoc with the Brexit ferries—but when is he himself going to intervene to demand that, under new planned contracts, the hard-working staff who clean and protect his Department’s buildings are paid the real living wage and not exploited by their unscrupulous employers?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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I take this opportunity to pay tribute to those staff—the people who maintain the courts and the people who provide the security—who do a very important job. We are absolutely clear that this is a Government policy across the board and that everybody, regardless of whether they are in the private sector or the public sector, is obliged to pay the national living wage.

Ranil Jayawardena Portrait Mr Ranil Jayawardena (North East Hampshire) (Con)
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8. What steps he is taking to reduce costs throughout the prison estate.

Rory Stewart Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Rory Stewart)
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Although our real-terms spending on the prison estate has increased, we continue to drive efficiencies through to make sure that we can put as much money as possible into keeping our prisons safe, decent and secure. The best way of driving down costs is through technology, particularly video conferencing, which reduces the costs involved in moving people to and from courts; facial recognition technology, which has begun to deal with queues in visitor areas; and kiosks, which are overcoming some of the challenges around logistics supply.

Ranil Jayawardena Portrait Mr Jayawardena
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I thank the Minister for that considered answer, but may I ask him to assure me and the House that, in his efforts to reduce the cost of the estate on the taxpayer, he will not scrap short sentences, given that 4,300 knife-wielding criminals last year would have remained on our streets?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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First, I make it absolutely clear that no decision on sentencing policy will be driven by anything other than public protection. That is the key in any sentencing decision. Secondly, I make it absolutely clear that we are fully behind the Home Secretary and the work that is being done on knife crime and we want to make sure that judges have the full powers at their disposal to deal with people who are wielding knives.

David Hanson Portrait David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab)
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Will the Minister confirm to the House that he will not go cold on the Justice Secretary’s pledge to reduce short sentences? Short sentences and removing people from prison who will reoffend if they go to prison are the surest way to save money and to stop reoffending in the long term.

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, this is something that we are continuing to look at very carefully and we are continuing to learn both from what has happened in Scotland and the evidence that suggests, on the basis of a study of 130 different characteristics in 300,000 separate offenders, that people are more likely to reoffend with a short custodial sentence and therefore that tens of thousands more crimes are committed every year by the wrong use of a custodial sentence.

Greg Knight Portrait Sir Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con)
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In seeking to reduce costs, will the Minister give a pledge not to cut corners? He is seeking to build a new prison in my constituency at Full Sutton, but the traffic assessment that has taken place is, I believe, deeply flawed. Will he look at that again? Even if it means extra cost, if he deems it is warranted, will he order a new traffic assessment please?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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I absolutely undertake to look again at the traffic assessment and to sit down with my right hon. Friend to examine it in more detail together.

Alex Norris Portrait Alex Norris (Nottingham North) (Lab/Co-op)
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Previous cost cutting in the Prison Service such as reducing staff has proved to be a false economy. In Nottingham Prison, the prisons Minister has needed a surge of staff to try to stabilise what had become a very violent and dangerous prison. Can I have an assurance from him that, once things improve at Nottingham, those staff will not be withdrawn again?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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Some of the staff at Nottingham, to which the hon. Gentleman is referring, have come from other establishments in other parts of the country, but when they return they will be replaced because we must ensure that Nottingham is fully staffed. That is essential particularly in order to continue with delivery of the key worker programmes so that each prison officer can be paired with six prisoners. That will be vital to getting violence under control in Nottingham.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP)
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9. What recent assessment he has made of the implications for his departmental priorities of the UK leaving the EU.

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Rory Stewart Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Rory Stewart)
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In order to tackle violence in prisons, we first have to make sure that drugs and weapons are not getting into prisons. We need more prison officers, which is why we are pleased that we now have 4,700 more prison officers in place. We also need to invest much more in staff training and support. In the end, the key to reducing violence is good relationships between prison officers and prisoners.

James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Clearly, preventing violence in prisons is a priority, so, to that end, will he update us on what plans he has to increase searches of cells and wings?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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This is absolutely central. Getting on top of cell searching—making sure that we understand what is in a cell, what should not be in a cell, getting the mobile phones and getting the drugs—is vital to having the baseline for a safe prison, so we are investing in more dog teams, in more mobile phone detection equipment and in dedicated search teams across the estate.

John Cryer Portrait John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab)
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In the past eight years 7,000 prison officers have been lost. That means that there is still a deficit, on the Minister’s own figures, of 2,300, with attacks on officers going through the roof. At what point will the number of officers rise to the level where safety is assured?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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We believe that the current number of 4,700 is the appropriate number that we require—in particular, because it allows us to deliver the key worker system. We continue to use operational support grade staff on perimeter security. We think this is the right balance.

Philip Davies Portrait Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con)
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In order to better support our prison officers, I have suggested that anybody who is found guilty of assaulting a prison officer should lose their right to automatic early release from prison. Will the Minister take on board that suggestion?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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We believe that the appropriate response to someone assaulting a prison officer is to work with the Crown Prosecution Service and the police to prosecute them. That is why we are pleased that we have doubled the maximum sentence for anyone assaulting a prison officer, and we are working much more closely to increase the number of prosecutions and the sentences for those who break the law against people we should protect.

Liz Saville Roberts Portrait Liz Saville Roberts (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC)
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I spent yesterday on D and F wings in HM Prison Swansea, and I was told time and again, including by the dedicated search team, that the prison desperately needs a body scanner to reduce the incidence of drugs arriving there. What are the Minister’s plans to roll out body scanners to the entire prison estate?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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Body scanners can be very useful, particularly in local prisons where prisoners are coming in and out a great deal. They are very expensive bits of kit to not only install but manage, and they have medical implications; they can be used safely perhaps 50 times in a year. We are conducting a pilot with 14 X-ray scanners across the estate. Once we have looked at the evidence and convinced ourselves that that is the best way of doing it, we will move forward and prioritise local prisons in that roll-out.

Janet Daby Portrait Janet Daby (Lewisham East) (Lab)
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Inexperienced prison officers, poor conditions and more time being spent in cells contribute to violence in prisons. What steps are being taken to address those factors?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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In terms of inexperienced prison officers, it is about longer training courses and better mentoring on the wings, with band 4 officers in particular working day in, day out with new staff. In terms of time out of cells, this is why having 4,700 more staff is really important—it allows us to unlock people more and get back to a regime that allows people to get into education and work and protects the public.

Imran Hussain Portrait Imran Hussain (Bradford East) (Lab)
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The point that the Minister conveniently misses is that frontline prison officer resignations have more than tripled since 2010, and now one in three officers has less than two years’ experience, as the Minister fails to get a grip on a retention crisis caused by years of relentless cuts. Does he really think that this exodus of experienced staff will keep prisons safe, as assaults and violence rise to record levels?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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There are two separate things here. The shadow Minister is correct that experienced staff are vital, but it is also worth bearing in mind that one reason why there are so many new staff is that we have recruited 4,700 additional officers; by definition, many of them will be new. Retention is vital. The development of the advanced prison officer grade, which allows experienced closed grade officers to move from band 3 to band 4, will be very important in stabilising prisons.

Ian C. Lucas Portrait Ian C. Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab)
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12. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of probation reforms since 2015.

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David Morris Portrait David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con)
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14. What progress the Government have made on improving the safety of prison officers.

Rory Stewart Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Rory Stewart)
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We are doing everything we can to protect prison officers. That is about perimeter security to make it more difficult to get the drugs and weapons into the prisons, making sure that prison officers have the protective equipment to protect themselves against attack, gathering the forensic evidence when an attack takes place, and prosecuting prisoners who attack prison officers. We have a huge duty and we will do everything we can to protect them.

David Morris Portrait David Morris
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for that good answer. The hard-working staff at HMP Lancaster Farms are doing a very good job in this respect and I invite my hon. Friend to come to Lancaster Farms whenever he can.

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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Lancaster Farms is a cat C training prison. It is a challenging prison and we are very pleased with the recent inspection report that we have received from Peter Clarke. He is a tough critic, but he sees it as a decent and competent prison. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the governor, Derek Harrison, for the work that he does.

Judith Cummins Portrait Judith Cummins (Bradford South) (Lab)
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15. What steps he is taking to ensure that rapists do not have access to children conceived through rape.

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Charlie Elphicke Portrait Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con)
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17. What steps he is taking to control prisoners’ access to telephones.

Rory Stewart Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Rory Stewart)
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We need to prevent these mobile phones from getting into prison. That is not always easy, because some of the new phones are almost just an inch in size. This work involves not just metal detectors, but X-ray scanners that can look inside bodies. If these phones get inside prisons, we need to identify them, we need to intercept the calls and block them, and we need to seize the phones.

Charlie Elphicke Portrait Charlie Elphicke
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he agree that, where prisoners use mobile phones to send vile messages to the families of their victims, social media giants such as Snapchat must take responsibility and help the police to bring the culprits to justice?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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First, using a mobile phone in a prison is an illegal act. It is a horrifying thing to harass victims using a phone from prison. It is entirely illegal, and we will be working with colleagues from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to draw the attention of these social media companies to the fact that illegal action is taking place through their systems.

Alan Mak Portrait Alan Mak (Havant) (Con)
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18. What steps the Government are taking to introduce new technology to support rehabilitation in prisons.

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Andrea Jenkyns Portrait Andrea Jenkyns (Morley and Outwood) (Con)
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T3. Will the Minister confirm that he is working with his colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on introducing the necessary legislation to increase the maximum penalty for animal cruelty from six months’ imprisonment to five years?

Rory Stewart Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Rory Stewart)
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I absolutely confirm that. Britain has a very proud tradition in campaigning nationally and internationally against animal cruelty. The Government remain committed to increasing the maximum sentence for animal cruelty to five years.

Stephen Lloyd Portrait Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne) (Ind)
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T2. Means- tested criminal legal aid can be granted only where there is a realistic prospect of custody. Consequently, has a detailed impact assessment been undertaken to show how many people will no longer qualify for legal aid in the event of the reduction or abolition of prison sentences of six months or less?

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Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)
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T4. Both the prisons Minister and the Secretary of State have heaped praise on the Durham Tees Valley community rehabilitation company when I have asked about the not-for-profit organisation’s future, but will the Minister tell me whether it will survive the next round of reforms or be swallowed up and privatised with the rest of them?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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As the hon. Gentleman says, that is a fantastic organisation. We are, of course, conducting a very detailed consultation on the future of probation, but to reassure him, the principles behind Durham’s CRC and, in particular, the involvement of local authorities and of the voluntary sector and the close co-ordination with the National Probation Service are fundamental to our reforms.

Philip Davies Portrait Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con)
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T9. Given the Minister’s opposition to short prison sentences, it must follow that he is equally opposed to fixed-term recalls of 28 days when criminals reoffend when out of prison on licence or when they break their licence conditions. Will he therefore pledge to scrap these fixed-term recalls and ensure that any such offenders are returned to prison for the remainder of their original prison sentence, as was the case in the past?

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Philip Hollobone Portrait Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con)
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There are 9,090 foreign national offenders in our prisons, including 760 from Albania. Why are those people not serving their sentence in prison in their own countries?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

That is a very good challenge. My hon. Friend specifically raised Albania, with which we have a prison transfer agreement in place. I met the Albanian Minister of Justice two weeks ago. We need to ensure that more returns take place, but we are well ahead of Italy and Greece on returns to Albania.

David Hanson Portrait David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab)
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T7. Youth justice funding has fallen from £145 million to £71 million in the past 10 years. Yesterday, the Local Government Association said, “No more.” Is it right?

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Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) (Lab)
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T8. My constituent Phil suffered from addiction, became homeless and then became involved in criminal activity. Because he was given a suspended sentence, he was released from court with no money, no support and nowhere to live, and he spent the night on the streets. If he had been released from serving a sentence, there would have been support in place. Do the Government have a plan to address that disparity, to give people like Phil the best possible chance of rehabilitation?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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It is absolutely true that we need to look not just at convicted prisoners but at people with suspended sentences. That is something we are looking at in reforming probation, and the pilots on homelessness will also seek to address it.

Ruth George Portrait Ruth  George  (High  Peak)  (Lab)
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T10.   Derbyshire Law Centre is the only place to which I can refer many of my constituents who are in desperate need of legal support. Will the Minister commit to securing Treasury funding to provide essential grants to law centres to help ensure their survival?

Short Prison Sentences

Rory Stewart Excerpts
Thursday 7th March 2019

(5 years, 4 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes
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It is, of course, right that we need to consider the causes of crime. That is why I have talked about the erosion of civil society. Of course it is true that when communities become weaker, and when the ties that bind us become looser, people are more likely to act in a malign way. As my hon. Friend knows, life in the state of nature is “nasty, brutish and short”. What stands between us and all of that are the things that I have described—the civil society that Burke defined and that I attempted to illustrate. The truth is that when we emphasise crime as an ill to be treated, by nature we put less emphasis on its effect: the event itself. In that way, there is often, although not necessarily, a tension between one position and the other.

Rory Stewart Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Rory Stewart)
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Although linguistically my right hon. Friend may be correct, and in language we may sound as though we are more liberal, the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves) pointed out the reality. Not simply do we incarcerate twice as many people as we did 25 years ago, but the crime rate has almost halved over the same period, so proportionately, the number of people incarcerated per crime is considerably more than it was 25 years ago. Typically, this is the hypocrisy of liberalism: we talk a liberal language, but in fact we are much more punitive than the Victorians were. In the Victorian period at the end of the 19th century, there were only four prisoners held in prison for sentences longer than two years. Now, for the first time, we have a very large number of young men serving 25 or 30-year prison sentences.

John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes
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My hon. Friend the Minister knows that that argument is predicated on several misassumptions. The first is the fundamental issue of population growth. Of course when we look to the past there were fewer criminals, because there were fewer people. The second, as he will know, is the very well-known criminological explanation of under-counting and under-reporting of crime; it is known as the black or dark figure, the number of crimes that are never reported and therefore never recorded. It also is probably true that the tolerance of crime has risen and more and more of what might be described as petty crimes, which would once have been taken very seriously, are now ignored, partly because people do not think they will be dealt with. That happens in all our constituencies all the time.

The third problem is that there has been a prevailing view about rehabilitation that, while not intrinsically incompatible with the idea of just deserts and a retributive approach to crime, is too often presented as such by people who are on what I described as the “liberal” side of this argument. Part of the business of the criminal justice system is to punish, and part of public faith in the criminal justice system relies and depends on people believing that those who do very bad things get their just deserts. Frankly, every poll that the Minister or I could cite shows that a growing number of people do not think that criminals get their just deserts.

There is a separate issue about what happens once people get to prison; my hon. Friend is the Prisons Minister, so he will know what a mess prisons are in. I hope he is trying to do something about that, because he is right that when people go to prison, one hopes they will not go back. Recidivism is a profound concern, but given that he is the Minister, that is as much his problem as anyone’s.

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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Since my right hon. Friend has taken the opportunity to challenge the statistics and suggest that they can be explained by population growth, population growth from 1992 to 2018 in Britain has been approximately 10%. The prison population during that period has doubled. This cannot be accounted for by population growth.

John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, but if we look at the number of crimes committed in the year of my birth, 1958—I know that is hard to believe, but that is the year—compared with the number of crimes committed now, in almost every category crimes have grown. The number of homicides, for example, in that year, the number of violent crimes in that year, the number of sex-related crimes in that year—if the Minister looks at the figures, which by the way are available from the Library, he will see that in all those categories and many others, the number of crimes has grown immensely over my lifetime, the period I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks.

I want to address the specifics of the debate introduced by the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves). It is useful that she has brought this matter to the attention of the House, because the figures from the Minister’s Department make clear that the effect of doing what I understand the Minister has advocated, and with which others may agree, would essentially be that 34,000 offenders who currently go to prison would no longer do so. Roughly speaking, 30,000 of those are repeat, not new offenders. Their offences include burglary, theft, public order offences and weapon and drug possession, as well as drink-driving and other similar things.

Those are not offences that most members of the public would regard as inconsequential, slight or not a cause for worry—far from it. I suspect that the vast majority of our constituents would anticipate that those sorts of things should attract a prison sentence. If any hon. Members take the opposite view, I would be happy to debate with them in their constituencies on a public platform, and see who held the majority view and who was seen to be on the margins. I wonder whether the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) is on the margins; I will give way to him.

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John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

All I would say in response to that is that the hon. Lady will have seen the national newspaper this week that showed, shockingly, a picture on the front cover of a smirking criminal who, having committed an offence for the second time, took a selfie of himself outside the court. This was a person who was found in possession of both a knife and cocaine, and had been known to the police for a considerable time. Time permitting, I could give account of many similar stories, and particularly of the police’s frustration when we do not, in their judgment, provide the just deserts I mentioned earlier, which so undermines their confidence. As one policeman said of a similar case, “Why do we bother?”.

Prison is of course about trying to put people straight, but it is also about punishing people for the harm they have done. That is an entirely respectable part of criminal justice, and it is what our constituents expect of us and of the Government.

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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Will my right hon. Friend give way?

John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes
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I will give way one last time, but then I really must conclude, because others may want to speak.

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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The only reason I keep intervening is that, unfortunately, my right hon. Friend will be unable to hear my speech, so will be unable to hear me answer, point by point, every point that he makes. Evidence from the Ministry of Justice strongly suggests that sending somebody to prison makes them more likely to reoffend, by one offence a year, than somebody given a non-custodial sentence. Given that the short-sentence population in a single year is about 50,000 people, my right hon. Friend’s proposals would indirectly inflict 50,000 additional offences on innocent victims in Britain. In other words, the wrong use of short prison sentences endangers the public, rather than protecting them.

John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, but by letting on to the streets 34,000 people who would currently go to prison, we would by nature make it more likely that those people would have more victims, unless the Minister believes that those non-custodial sentences have a perfect effect—are an entire solution. I think that the Minister should refocus his efforts on getting prisons right, as I would not want his ministerial career to be characterised by prisons being worse when he ended than when he started. I know he is determined to do so, but he has a lot of work to do. The Government have to pull their socks up in respect of the way our prisons are run, partly because of the policies adopted by previous Governments.

My earlier offer applies to the Minister, too: I would be happy for him to come to my constituency, or for me to go to his, and debate this issue with the people there, to see whether they think that fewer or more criminals should be sent to prison. When they know that we are speaking of the kind of crimes that I described earlier, according to data from the Minister’s own Department, I think they would not only be surprised but, frankly, be outraged.

G.K. Chesterton spoke of the people of England who have not spoken yet, but now the people of England are speaking loud and clear. There may be those who have been deafened by the shrill bleating of political correctness, but many of us have not. We will speak for the people of England, and we will not be silenced.

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Rory Stewart Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Rory Stewart)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves) for bringing this important debate.

To think clearly about prison, we need to think about victims, and we must begin with a strong statement that the prime responsibility of the Government is to protect the public. That is particularly clear at the moment, when we are dealing with the horror of knife crime. We need to be absolutely clear—as this Government and, I hope, Members on both sides of the House are—about our abhorrence of crime and the misery it inflicts on victims, about our absolute commitment to punish criminals in proportion to their offence, and about ensuring, above all, that serious criminals are imprisoned.

We can go beyond that, because the point is that somebody who commits an offence is not simply technically breaking the law. For example, a shoplifter imposes misery on the individual who owns a private shop by stealing valuable possessions and affecting their psychological sense of security. Therefore, in responding to that act, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) has pointed out, we need to ensure that we punish them for the crime they committed, not only to give justice to the victim but to protect future victims of crime.

The nub of the issue is that punishment needs to be combined with deterrence and rehabilitation, and to symbolically express society’s abhorrence of crime. All that is true, and all that was recognised by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes). However, where I respectfully disagree with him—I regret that he did not stay to hear my response—is that he must be more rigorous and serious in thinking through whether, in fact, a short-term prison sentence achieves any of the objectives that he wants to achieve.

Let me take a single example. In Bedford prison last month I saw a prisoner who had been a heroin addict and had serious learning difficulties. Every time he is released from prison, he shoplifts again and he gets put back in prison for four weeks—he was put in Bedford prison eight times last year. My question to my right hon. Friend is this: what does it achieve to put this man in prison eight times in a year? Clearly it is not deterring him from committing crime or rehabilitating him, because he commits another crime as soon as he comes out. He does not even personally experience this as a punishment, so what is being done here?

Perhaps the judge feels that they have no other options, because the individual has committed many other crimes in the past. What else are they supposed to do? Yet what does imprisoning them achieve? Perhaps the judge feels that it is a symbolic disapproval of the act of shoplifting, but what kind of symbolism is it if it is untethered from reality? What is the symbolism of a punishment that does not deter, does not punish, does not rehabilitate and is not experienced subjectively by the victim or by society as having any purpose at all?

We then need to think about prisons, which are vast, complex, expensive organs of Government. A modern prison costs more than £100 million to build. It is manned by hundreds of highly trained prison officers, filled with electronic equipment and fitted with bars on its windows. It is a continual fight, day in, day out, which requires energy and dedication, to stay on top of the drugs and the phones, to challenge violence from prisoners and against prison officers, to control issues of suicide and self-harm, and, above all, to protect the public from the most serious offenders in society.

Short-term prisoners destabilise the whole prison system. They are the ones who disproportionately bring drugs into prisons, because they are the people who go in and out eight times a year—if a criminal gang is looking for somebody to carry drugs in, they target a short-term prisoner, not somebody who is in for 25 years and has no opportunity. They disproportionately have learning difficulties and addiction problems; they are disproportionately connected with violence against prison officers and against themselves.

Short-term prisoners also absorb disproportionately more time in the system than should be attributed to them. That distracts the entire system from focusing on rehabilitating and working with the serious criminals, such as the sex offenders, violent offenders and murderers, who pose a significant threat to the public and who, because of the distraction of this cohort, are not getting the education programmes, work and protection that they require.

As the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) has pointed out, we can do much more in relation to community sentences. We have just introduced GPS-enabled tagging, which for the first time allows us to know exactly where an offender is in the community by the minute, day in, day out. We have also introduced alcohol and drug monitoring tests, which for the first time allow us to know whether an individual outside prison is taking drugs or alcohol in violation of their conditions. We are improving unpaid work and investing in community rehabilitation companies to make sure that they have better supervision in place, that they are meeting people face to face and that they have a proper plan in place to follow them through.

We are investing in addiction treatment in the NHS. Again, with deference to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings, that is not just liberal nonsense. Shoplifters make up by far the largest element in the under-six-months prison population, and 74% of shoplifters are addicted to heroin or crack cocaine. There is a direct causative relationship between their addiction to heroin or crack cocaine and their shoplifting. As the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) pointed out, that investment in NHS treatment requirements will be central if we are to reduce their reoffending.

The key point is that putting these people in prison is not simply futile, but perverse. It is not simply a waste of time; it makes the situation worse. It does not protect the public, but endangers them. A considerable amount of research has now been done on that. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research did a paper on it in 2012 and the Ministry of Justice did another in 2013.

We have just produced another paper that looks at 350,000 offenders and 130 variables—everything from offender demographics to school attendance, family, childhood and trauma—to produce a statistically significant survey of a large number of people that compares like with like. By taking two people who have both committed seven offences and who have almost identical backgrounds and offending histories—in so far as we can; we are looking at a statistical variation of 5%—it shows that the one who is given a custodial sentence, as opposed to the one who is given a community sentence, is likely to commit one extra offence a year. Some 50,000 people get custodial sentences, so that is 50,000 more victims of crime because of the wrong type of short prison sentence.

There is much that we should still learn from Scotland and much that we need to reflect on. It is important to bring people such as my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings with us and keep public confidence. He may be correct that if we were to go in front of an audience, without the time to present incredibly serious and detailed research, it would be possible to whip up a crowd against it through cheap language about decriminalisation and laxity. I do not doubt that. The evidence is absolutely clear, however, and we should be bold in asking what we are trying to achieve with a prison or a community sentence. Is this prison sentence really deterring this individual? Is it really rehabilitating them? Above all, is it really protecting the public?

Privatised Probation System

Rory Stewart Excerpts
Monday 4th March 2019

(5 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Richard Burgon Portrait Richard Burgon (Leeds East) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

(Urgent Question): To ask the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice if he will make a statement on the future of the privatised probation system.

Rory Stewart Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Rory Stewart)
- Hansard - -

I am pleased to be called to address this urgent question, and fully understand why the hon. Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) has raised it. As the House will be aware, we have been looking very carefully at the future of probation services, and this gives me the opportunity briefly to set out the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms, some of the challenges, and our response.

As the House will be aware, Transforming Rehabilitation was strongly influenced by a Labour pilot—the Peterborough pilot—which demonstrated that by bringing in non-state providers, concentrating on a cohort of short-sentence prisoners who had not previously been supervised and paying providers for reducing reoffending, it was possible to achieve significant improvements. Transforming Rehabilitation was a coalition Government commitment and built on those principles by contracting the private sector and others—in Durham Tees Valley, for example, that included the local authority—and undertaking to pay the providers if they were able to reduce reoffending. The contracts were left flexible to encourage innovation. This private model was applied only to low-risk offenders—high-risk offenders continued to be supervised in the usual way by the state. The new model has delivered in some ways, but as the National Audit Office has pointed out, it has not delivered in others.

There has been a reduction in the binary rate of reoffending, although there has been an increase in the separate frequency measure. Some 40,000 additional offenders are currently being supervised who were not supervised under the old system. Some innovation has come into the system, and it has saved the taxpayer money. Even though the hon. Gentleman would point out that through changes to the contracts, more money has gone in, we are forecast to spend significantly less than we originally anticipated—perhaps as much as £700 million less.

The programme was challenged by external factors, some of which were difficult to model and predict. For example, societal changes and different sentencing decisions by judges meant that the case load given to community rehabilitation companies shifted, and the accredited programmes that were allocated were fewer than expected. That meant that the income streams of those companies was less than anticipated. Broader issues such as drugs, housing and treatment programmes also made it difficult for providers to control all the factors in reoffending, which led to the companies losing significant sums of money. We have therefore taken a new approach that seeks to address all those problems.

We have just conducted a consultation and are carefully studying the responses. Our intention, first, is to remove the dependence in the new probation system on unpredictable case loads and to improve co-ordination with the national probation service. We are emphasising overall quality of service in future, not just the reoffending rate. We will be ending the existing contracts two years early. We will be setting minimum conditions for offender supervision, and we have invested over £20 million in through-the-gate services. Our objective, while retaining the benefits of flexibility and innovation, is to create a much higher-quality probation service that focuses on good-quality delivery and protects the public.

Richard Burgon Portrait Richard Burgon
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The National Audit Office report on probation privatisation is another damning indictment of the current Transport Secretary. Once again the Conservatives’ part-privatisation of probation has been exposed as a dangerous experiment that left the public less safe and out of pocket. The NAO highlights a 22% increase in reoffending. Will the Minister now admit that this privatisation has put public safety at risk in a reckless pursuit of running justice for private profit?

The NAO says the Ministry of Justice will pay at least £467 million more to failing private probation companies than was originally required. Does the Minister believe that rewarding failure in that way is the best use of much-reduced Ministry of Justice resources? Despite such failings, the Conservatives are recklessly planning to sign new private probation contracts. Will the Minister halt the current tendering plans to allow an independent review into whether probation should be returned to the public sector, or are they just ideologically driven?

Last month, Working Links, one of the largest probation providers, collapsed. Will the Minister explain the tendering process by which it was quietly handed to another private company? Will he guarantee that there will be no further staff losses under this new arrangement? Another private provider, Interserve, is in deep financial difficulties. Does the Minister have an emergency probation plan ready for if or when Interserve goes under?

Finally, private shareholders should be left in no doubt: Labour will return probation to the public sector. Will the Minister guarantee today that new probation contracts will include break clauses, so that a future Labour Government can put an end to this disastrous privatisation if his Government will not?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

As you would anticipate, Mr Speaker, we do not feel that this is simply an ideological choice between the private and the public sector. There are things that we can learn from the private sector. There have been some significant improvements in the way that services are delivered and in IT. We must also remember that this is not just a question of the private sector. In certain areas, we are working with local authorities and the voluntary sector.

To address the specific challenges that the hon. Gentleman raised, he pointed out that the frequency rate of reoffending has gone up, but the binary rate of reoffending has in fact gone down through the course of these programmes. On the question of cost, it is true that more money has gone in, but it is still much less money than anticipated. Broadly speaking, we were anticipating that we would spend about £3 billion over the course of the contract. The companies committed to spend about £1.8 billion and the Government put in an additional £400 million. That still leaves us spending perhaps £700 million—something of that sort—less than we anticipated. So the public have spent less money than they expected to over the course of this programme.

The Kent, Surrey and Sussex Community Rehabilitation Company is a good provider and we are confident it can step in successfully, but we also have the national probation service working with it to ensure that it operates well in the Working Links areas.

On the broader issue that the hon. Gentleman raised about whether we have looked carefully at the lessons, we absolutely have. As I explained, we will make absolutely sure that we look very carefully at the consultation requirements and that anything we do in the future carefully learns those lessons, de-risks, focuses on quality, improves performance and protects the public.

Lord Clarke of Nottingham Portrait Mr Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In the field of justice policy, as in the field of health policy, arguments are being reduced to a notion that if the public sector provides a service it is automatically better than if the private sector does so. That is completely irrelevant and just a lazy substitute for producing any real ideas on what can be done to improve rehabilitation. I am very attracted by the Department’s idea that we might replace prison sentences of six months and less, because prison tends to toughen up the inadequate and unpleasant people who get those short sentences and need to be punished. It is essential that we strengthen the effectiveness of our probation-based rehabilitation services alongside that. I welcome what the Minister has announced, but does he accept that we need more trials of what can be done in various parts of the country so that we can carry public confidence, if we change the sentencing system, that people can be punished, but punished in a way that might more effectively stop them committing more crimes against the public when they are released?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

Absolutely. As my right hon. and learned Friend points out, if we are to reduce the number of people serving ineffective short prison sentences, we must improve the quality of community sentences. That means that we need better supervision of offenders, better sentence planning and more use of technology, including electronic monitoring. One of the key objectives of the reforms that we will be bringing into probation is to reassure not just the public but the sentencers that good community protection exists.

Joanna Cherry Portrait Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In Scotland, the probation service role is carried out by criminal justice social workers, who are part of local authorities’ social work departments—in other words, it is a public service, and I believe that that is as it should be. Effective reintegration and rehabilitation of offenders is at the heart of the Scottish system—rather than profit and hitting targets—and lately in Scotland, of course, we have had great success with getting rid of short-term sentences, which has led to a fall in the rate of reoffending. Does the Minister accept that probation should never be run for private profit and that reunifying the probation service under public control is the only way to properly protect the public across England and Wales?

Finally, this fiasco is part of a long list of scandalous wastes of public money for which the Minister’s colleague the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), has been responsible in his roles as Secretary of State for Justice and Secretary of State for Transport. This is one of two such scandals that have come to light over the weekend. We are hearing rumours that he is not coming to the House later today to answer the urgent question about the ferry tendering disaster, so I ask the Minister, for whom I have the greatest respect—I realise that none of this is his fault—to tell us when the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell is going to be held to account for his shocking irresponsibility with taxpayers’ money.

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

As hon. Members would expect me to say, these things have more nuances and complexities. The basic idea that it is impossible for anybody except the Government to deliver good probation services was disproved, in fact, by the Labour pilot—the Peterborough pilot—which by bringing in the voluntary sector and social investors was able to reduce reoffending by a staggering 9%, particularly by providing something that we are developing at the moment and that does not fully exist yet in Scotland: a fully integrated through-the-gate service linking the prison officer in the prison with probation in the community. We need to take into account that this is not a binary choice.

Crispin Blunt Portrait Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very slightly disappointed that my hon. Friend referred only to the Peterborough pilot, which we inherited when my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) and I arrived in the Ministry of Justice in 2010. By the time that we were moved from the Ministry of Justice—for me, that was to spend more time with the Kaleidoscope Trust and with you, Mr Speaker—we had at least 20 different pilots, putting responsibility for the rehabilitation of offenders on the probation service in Wales and Staffordshire, three police services, three local authorities and eight health authorities dealing with issues such as drug addiction. We were waiting to see what was going to work best when all these pilots were swept away and the probation service was broken up. Will the Minister look at trying to make the system more coherent by establishing a link between the probation service and police and crime commissioners in the community to make the justice system rather better joined up across the community?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

First, I pay tribute to my hon. and gallant Friend for the work he did on piloting many of these ideas. We can learn a great deal from those pilots. Central to our reforms will have to be co-ordination—having the right relationship between the national probation service and the community rehabilitation companies, and thinking about the geography—and part of that will be thinking about how the CRCs work with the police and crime commissioners.

Chris Bryant Portrait Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I know that the Minister has done a lot of work on brain injury in prisons. Is it not vital, where prisoners with a brain injury have started some form of rehabilitation in prison and have been receiving advice and support, that that is carried through into their experience in the outside world? Otherwise, there is a strong likelihood that they will simply go back inside.

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

First, I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for the work he has done on acquired brain injury. As the House will be aware, he has argued very strongly that brain injury frequently suffered as early as childhood can have a long-lasting effect, particularly on behaviour, and contribute to reoffending. The major question is about getting the right relationship with the NHS. The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), is leading some interesting work, drawing on some of the extra funding now available to the NHS, to make sure we have the right programmes in the community, not just on acquired brain injury but on everything stretching from mental health issues to addiction services provided by the local authority.

Robert Courts Portrait Robert Courts (Witney) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Minister agree that, although CRCs need to improve and perform better, we need to focus on reducing the rate of reoffending, which is what we are seeing, and not on ideological concerns about how a service is provided?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

That is absolutely right. The key thing is learning what works and how to do it in a way that works for the Government budget. We are increasingly learning that although it is about treatment programmes, it is also about housing, getting people into employment and dealing with addiction issues. Getting all of this properly integrated from within the prison out into the community will be the key. That is how we will protect the public.

Kate Green Portrait Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The problems with Transforming Rehabilitation were entirely predicted in 2014, so the NAO report should come as no surprise to Ministers.

I want to ask the Minister about women. There is a great deal of evidence that many CRCs are not offering good-quality tailored provision to women. As he and his ministerial colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), know, women’s centres do a much better job. Will he now consider removing women wholly from the remit of the CRCs and making full use of the provision in women’s centres to address the causes of their offending behaviour?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

That is a very interesting proposal. The London CRC attempted to do it by setting up a programme designed for women entirely separate from the male programme. There were challenges, however, that were then criticised by the independent inspector of probation. I am happy to sit down with the hon. Lady and talk through some of the complexities of doing that.

Robert Neill Portrait Robert Neill
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very grateful, Mr Speaker.

I welcome the Minister’s frank and honest response to the findings of this report, which, as he knows, mirror almost entirely the conclusions of the Select Committee’s report last June. As well as confirming, as I am sure he will, that the Government accept the three principal recommendations in paragraph 21 of the NAO report, will he reflect particularly on the division between CRCs and the national probation service in two respects? First, the division by categorisation of risk has been much criticised, because risk levels vary and change during the process of supervision and the current categorisation does not reflect that. Secondly, the separation and distancing of the CRCs, which deliver the programmes, from the sentencers in court has undoubtedly undermined sentencer confidence in community sentences and alternatives to custody.

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

Of the two arguments, I think that the second is the stronger. The fact that CRCs are not involved in the pre-sentence reports, in particular, is a real issue. Shifting case loads is also an issue. We have seen a 48% variation in case loads, with more focus on serious crime, and we need a way of responding to that, such as better integration between the NPS and CRCs.

Nicholas Dakin Portrait Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The reckless fragmentation of the probation service back in 2014 has predictably led to this sorry end. I appreciate what the Minister is saying—it did not happen on his watch, and he has been put there to put it right—but I want to reinforce what was said by the Chair of the Justice Committee, the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill): what we need is a coherent system with no gaps through which people can fall. Will he achieve that?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

I absolutely agree. I could not have put it better. That is exactly what we are trying to achieve; that is exactly what the consultation is about; and its delivery is exactly what I expect people to judge me on over the next few months.

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis (Banbury) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister has engaged fully with the Justice Committee’s report, which our Chair mentioned a moment ago, but I should be grateful for further clarification of what he intends to do about the increasing number of people who are recalled to prison. Specifically, I should like to know whether a way can be found to monitor that number. Transforming Rehabilitation increased the number of people who were included in work on reoffending, so it is difficult to establish whether or not the number of those recalled is in fact increasing.

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

One of the key measures in Transforming Rehabilitation was the supervision of 40,000 people who had not previously been supervised and whose sentences were shorter than 12 months. Previously, we had no idea what they were doing, because they were not being supervised by any probation officer. By supervising those 40,000 people—they tend to be a cohort of prolific reoffenders—we end up with many more recalls than happened previously. The answer must be to consider on a case-by-case basis whether the recalls are justified, but we must also acknowledge that it is a good thing to supervise 40,000 more people. When they were not supervised, the public were more endangered.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Karl Turner Portrait Karl Turner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This situation is indeed shocking. [Laughter.] I do wonder: either very senior civil servants follow the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) around giving him really bad advice, or he is in fact just incredibly incompetent. Which is it?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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I look at this very seriously.

Karl Turner Portrait Karl Turner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is very serious.

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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Yes, it is. Big lessons need to be drawn from it, not just for the purpose of probation reforms but for the purpose of any other reforms that we make in government. One of the big issues concerned is our ability to predict the consequences of large-scale system change, and in particular to predict the shifts in caseload. As the National Audit Office points out, there was a modelling of a 2% shift, and the reality was a 48% shift. Drilling down into how that advice was given and responded to is one of the ways in which we can draw those lessons.

Vicky Ford Portrait Vicky Ford (Chelmsford) (Con)
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In Chelmsford, we have a very busy prison and people want to know that when people leave prison they do not reoffend. Can the Minister confirm that although some people have gone on to reoffend more, the number of people reoffending has reduced?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

First, may I pay tribute as always to my hon. Friend, who has been a real supporter of the prison officers in her prison and the turning around of Chelmsford prison? It is true that the frequency rate of reoffending has gone up, which means that very prolific offenders continue to offend more, but the absolute number and proportion of people reoffending has decreased—the binary rate has come down—and that is a good thing and worth celebrating.

Lilian Greenwood Portrait Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab)
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The National Audit Office says there is limited time to procure the new contracts, that persisting with the split between the National Probation Service and the community rehabilitation companies still poses risks and that the transition to new contracts threatens service quality. Having wasted millions of pounds and failed miserably to reduce reoffending, why is the Minister intent on pursuing this two-tier system?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

First, wherever we go with this new system, we will have a much more integrated system: it will continue to be a mixed market, but it will be a much more integrated system. Secondly, whatever we do now will involve some transition costs and risks, and we do not want to minimise what they will be, but we have learned the lessons and the most important one is that, instead of focusing on just paying people in terms of reducing reoffending, we will pay people for the overall quality of the services they deliver.

Matthew Offord Portrait Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con)
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The Minister will probably be aware that the former Home Secretary Charles Clarke very much wanted tendering for probation to be, as he described it, the norm. Why does the Minister think there has been a sudden change among some Members in the Chamber today?

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Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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That is a good reminder. The former Home Secretary Charles Clarke and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) are articulating the same point, which is that there is an enormous amount that non-Government actors—not just the private sector, but the voluntary sector—can bring in terms of innovation, efficiency and delivering very good services.

David Hanson Portrait David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Volumes for offences were 48% lower than expected; community rehabilitation companies had losses of £294 million when they were expected to have profits of £269 million; and the figures relating to the reoffending of individuals were 22% up: who signed off these projections and who is accountable for this delivery failure?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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These questions of accountability are quite difficult for me to answer. Normally, I answer by offering to resign; I am not about to do that again, but I would say that these things are related. On the question the right hon. Gentleman raised about the caseload shift, as the NAO pointed out, a 2% case load shift was predicted, but a 48% case load shift happened, directly impacting the second issue of the income coming to the companies. That prediction is a question we are really trying to look into and understand. This is to do with the fact that more violent and sexual offences were committed than previously, and the Crown courts managed to make different decisions in terms of sentence length and not giving accredited programmes. The question is, how do we predict that type of social change? Could we have predicted it; was it predicted; and how do we act on it?

John Howell Portrait John Howell (Henley) (Con)
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Does the Minister agree that the task of rehabilitation can be helped enormously by looking at the experience in Denmark and Germany, where prisoners are encouraged at an early stage to cook for themselves and undertake work that provides valuable training?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

Yes, we can learn a great deal from Germany and Denmark, and indeed in some of our most successful prisons, as prisoners develop in their sentence—as they develop more skills—they are given opportunities to cook for themselves and look after themselves, and of course through the use of release on temporary licence, we can get prisoners into work while they are still in prison. This means, when they leave, they are more likely to have a job. One of the key things about reducing reoffending is making sure there is not a cliff edge at the prison door, but that for at least 10 weeks before people leave a lot of preparation goes into setting up the life they will have outside prison.

Jo Stevens Portrait Jo Stevens (Cardiff Central) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I genuinely have sympathy for the Minister: he is the man with the shovel and brush following a horse that has been ridden by his colleague the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling). We have seen an award-winning public probation service turned into an unmitigated privatised disaster. The Minister did not answer the earlier question about new contracts having break clauses, which was the same question we asked in 2014, so will he confirm that any new contracts issued will have break clauses?

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Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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We will look very carefully at the contracts. Along with the issues that we will be examining, there is the issue of break clauses, but there are other issues, too. One issue that we have learned from is what happens in procurement legislation to allow us to put more money into a service if something unpredictable such as the caseload shift happens and what it takes to bring it back into the public sector. Contracts are the key to this.

Suella Braverman Portrait Suella Braverman (Fareham) (Con)
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I hope that my hon. Friend does not resign, because he is doing a very good job in his post and I hope that he continues to do so. Dickson House is a probation service bail hostel in Fareham, which I have visited. The team there delivers a vital service in supporting former serious offenders and integrating them back into the community. Does my hon. Friend agree that work such as that being done at Dickson House is helping to improve reoffending rates and keep our citizens safe?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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It is great to have an opportunity to pay tribute to the work of our probation hostels. Some of the people who work in them are incredibly dedicated public servants, and they often have to work with very challenged individuals. They often have enormous success in changing lives and protecting the public.

Roberta Blackman-Woods Portrait Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have three prisons in my constituency, and it is really tragic to see what has happened to the probation service in recent years. It is now fragmented and under-resourced, and, critically, it is not reducing reoffending. Given the indictment of the service by the National Audit Office report, is it not now time to call a halt to this privatisation experiment, return the service to the public sector and resource it properly so that it can really bring about the genuine rehabilitation of prisoners and others?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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I absolutely agree that we need to resource the service properly, and I absolutely agree that we need to focus this mixed market on getting the quality of delivery, but respectfully, I disagree with the idea that the answer is simply to bring it back into the public sector. I think it needs to be a mixed market, but it needs to be a mixed market that is unified and that really focuses on reducing reoffending.

Philip Hollobone Portrait Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con)
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The longer a prisoner serves in jail, the less likely he or she is to reoffend. That is simply a fact. If, under the this new system, repeat prolific offenders are more likely to reoffend—which is what the Minister has just said—why are those repeat prolific offenders being released early from their sentences in the first place?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

There is an issue here of correlation and causation. It is true that people who serve 40 or 50-year sentences are less likely to reoffend, for two reasons. The first relates to the offence type. For example, murderers are generally less likely to reoffend than shoplifters. Secondly, the mere fact that they are locked away for 40 or 50 years makes it difficult for them to reoffend. Generally, short-sentence prisoners who are in for under 12 months are overwhelmingly dominated by chaotic individuals who often have drug or alcohol problems and who often commit offences such as shoplifting. They are a much more difficult target group to deal with than the people who are locked away for 40 or 50 years.

Khalid Mahmood Portrait Mr Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab)
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After the failure of Working Links and in the light of the National Audit Office’s damning report into the implementation of Transforming Rehabilitation the first time round by the former Secretary of State—who was then promoted to the Department for Transport, proving that Conservative rehabilitation does not work—as well as continual criticism by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons proving that the mixed system is not beneficial to the taxpayer, why is the Minister continuing with the TR2 programme?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

The first thing is to absolutely reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are looking very carefully at the responses to the consultation and listening carefully to what is being said around the House. Our response will address many of his fundamental concerns. We should see a better resourced, more unified and higherquality probation system at the end of this.

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove (Corby) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister’s reply seemed to mention a £700 million underspend in the system. Will he redirect just a small part of that to Care after Combat, whose work in prisons is working and is reducing reoffending?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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I pay tribute to Care after Combat’s work, and the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), and I have met the organisation on several occasions. Unfortunately, as my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove) will know, when we have a £700 million underspend in the Department, that does not necessarily mean that we have £700 million available to spend on anything we like.

Diana Johnson Portrait Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Following the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner), is not the real lesson from all this that the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) should not be allowed anywhere near any large-scale, transformative Government projects or, indeed, near any projects, as the House will hear during the next urgent question?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

No. Respectfully, that is not the fundamental lesson here. The lesson is that reducing reoffending is very complicated. The reoffending rate has been static across the developed world for nearly 50 years, and addressing that involves changing the lives of some of the most challenged individuals in society, dealing with their housing, their education and their early childhoods. Fundamentally, we need to be serious about the scale of the task.

Liz Saville Roberts Portrait Liz Saville Roberts (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I rise as the co-chair of the justice unions parliamentary group. Friday’s NAO report identifies an inherent risk that offender managers may avoid breaching offenders when that would affect CRC performance against contract targets, and that is the unacceptable face of the profit motive undermining justice for victims and communities. Given that the Justice Secretary has admitted as much and with probation in Wales set to come back into public management by the end of this year, what steps is the Minister taking to ensure that the future Wales probation model is properly resourced to succeed?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

I am glad that the hon. Lady welcomes the decision in Wales, where it was right to bring things under a single, state-run probation system. I know that she has had the opportunity to meet Amy Rees, who is now the executive director of both prisons and probation in Wales. We will be putting in extra resources; but above all, we are relying on the fact that bringing the two things together will deliver significant efficiencies, and if we can get the through-the-gate investment right, I think the hon. Lady will be pleasantly surprised.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My constituent Sam Cook was stabbed to death last year. His killer was on licence having been released after being convicted of a similar knife offence, but the probation officer did not know how to use the IT system, so the monitoring of the killer was not appropriate to the concerns of the probation service. I have no idea how that could possibly happen, and I am sure that the Minister is the same. Will he therefore tell us what processes are in place to ensure that processes are properly carried out, that every member of staff is trained to use the system and that we never again see another young man like Sam Cook killed due to inadequate supervision?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for raising that tragic case, and I am happy to sit down with him and, indeed, the family to talk through the details. The way that we learn the lessons of every serious further offence—this happens in about 0.1% of the cases that we supervise under probation—is to conduct a comprehensive SFO review, and those lessons may be about IT, training, support or how a probation manager raises a matter with a senior probation officer. We are happy to sit down with the hon. Gentleman and the family to learn the lessons from that case and ensure that it does not happen again.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for his responses. Some 69% of females in the judicial system have mental health problems, so how will the current probationary regulations take that disturbing figure into consideration and address it in the privatised probation system?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

I am pleased to have my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care alongside me on the Treasury Bench at this point, because the question of addressing mental health needs goes to the core of the kind of collaboration that we have with the national health service. In the end, our offenders are among the biggest public health risks in the country. Their average life expectancy is 50; their suicide rate is seven times the national average; and as the hon. Gentleman says, their addiction and mental health condition rates are far higher than those of anyone else. We are working closely with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, because getting things right will be good for society and for individuals and, ultimately, will protect the public.

Oral Answers to Questions

Rory Stewart Excerpts
Tuesday 5th February 2019

(5 years, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con)
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3. What steps the Government have taken to tackle criminal activity and drug abuse in the prisons in the 10 prisons project.

Rory Stewart Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Rory Stewart)
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Turning around the problem of drugs in prisons involves focusing on relationships, staff and perimeter security, but for the first time, every one of those 10 prisons will have proper dog teams, X-ray scanners and full airport-style security. I believe that that will drive down the supply of drugs in those prisons, and I expect to be judged on the results.

Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister won the admiration of the nation when he put his neck on the line in pursuit of his ambitious targets to reduce drugs and violence in our prisons. What other practical steps is he taking to meet those targets and to ensure that our prisons not only keep prisoners in, but keep drugs out?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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As well as ensuring that people are searched at the gates, we are investing more in netting and grilles. We are also investing a great deal more in staff training and support. Last week, I was lucky to be able to visit Newbold Revel, our prison officer training college, to see the passing out parade of the new set of individuals who are bringing standards to those 10 prisons.

Stephen Hepburn Portrait Mr Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow) (Lab)
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Violence in prisons has reached record levels, with assaults on prison officers up by 30%. When will the Government realise that their cuts are causing this crisis in our Prison Service?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

The assaults on prison officers are genuinely shocking. That is why we have doubled the sentence for such assaults, and why we are investing in perimeter security. It is also why I have said that if I do not bring down the incidence of that violence, including assaults on prison officers, I will resign.

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis (Banbury) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

When I last visited HMP Bullingdon, it was explained to me that much of prisoners’ mail is saturated with drugs. How is the plan to photocopy mail where appropriate going?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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Every one of the 10 prisons where we are running the pilots will either photocopy the mail or put it through it through a Rapiscanner, which will identify Spice and other psychoactive substances to ensure that prisoners cannot use mail to bring drugs into prison.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This is my celebration tie for Autism Day, Mr Speaker—a little bit of flamboyance for autism.

Nobody wants our prisons to have a culture of drugs and violence, but can the Minister imagine what it is like to be in prison and not to be guilty? I co-chair the all-party group on miscarriages of justice—we are meeting tonight. Some people do 18 years in prison are then found not guilty, but have no compensation and no reintroduction into society. When are we going to do something about that?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

I think that this is a slightly different subject, but I would be very happy to sit down with the hon. Gentleman to look at the rare but tragic cases when somebody is wrongfully convicted.

Robert Halfon Portrait Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

4. What support his Department provides to victims of domestic abuse in taking abusive former partners to court.

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Rory Stewart Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Rory Stewart)
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I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for advocating on this issue consistently and for reinforcing a policy that has led to nearly 45,000 foreign national offenders being deported. In answer to the question, let me say that 46 of the 110 prisoner transfer agreements we have are compulsory. However, it is worth pointing out that, were we to leave the European Union with no deal and no transition period, we would lose 26 of those and face significantly greater challenges in deporting foreign national offenders who constitute nearly 40% of the cohort.

Philip Hollobone Portrait Mr Hollobone
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I understand that under those 26 EU agreements only about 200 prisoners have been compulsorily transferred to other EU countries, so that would make little difference. The point is that at any one time 10% of our prison population is made up of foreign national offenders. The best way to reduce overcrowding is to send these people back to prison in their own country. Will the Minister negotiate more compulsory prisoner transfer agreements so that we can get these people back to prisons in their own abode?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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I agree strongly with what my hon. Friend says, and indeed we are actively engaged in this; my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor will be in Romania to discuss these issues, and I am meeting the Albanian Justice Minister this afternoon. But it is important to understand that, if we are going to put someone back into prison in another country, that country’s police, courts and prison service need to be onside, and that is a diplomatic challenge.

David Drew Portrait Dr David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

One of the saddest groups in our prisons are those women from abroad, usually with children, who have been duped into being drug mules. In the past, the Government have helped with the building of prisons abroad to allow those women to go back to their country of origin; is that still this Government’s policy?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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As a former Minister in the Department for International Development, I assure the hon. Gentleman that we remain open to that. We have recently faced problems in Jamaica because there has been political resistance, not from us but from the Jamaican Government, to British development money being used in that way. We remain open to investment in the rule of law, and if it helps us to return foreign national offenders, at the same time as helping prisoners in that country, we will do that.

Helen Hayes Portrait Helen Hayes (Dulwich and West Norwood) (Lab)
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8. What assessment he has made of the effect of recent (a) changes in court staffing and (b) court closures on access to justice.

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Fiona Bruce Portrait Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con)
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12. What progress the Government have made on implementing the recommendations of the Farmer review, published in August 2017.

Rory Stewart Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Rory Stewart)
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I pay tribute to Lord Farmer for this review. We have accepted all its recommendations and have implemented more than half of them. I meet Lord Farmer very regularly, most recently last Sunday, because we realise that good family ties can reduce reoffending by 37%.

Fiona Bruce Portrait Fiona Bruce
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Women prisoners face particular difficulties when parted from their families—as do their families. What consideration has been given to this issue?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

The specific issue raised by my hon. Friend relates to women in the criminal justice system, many of whom are the primary care givers. So putting those women in prison has a very serious impact on their children, many of whom, unfortunately, then go on to commit crime themselves. We have therefore commissioned Lord Farmer to do a review looking specifically at the family ties of women.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab)
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13. What steps he has taken to reduce the number of children in the criminal justice system.

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Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)
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15. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of prisoners’ access to rehabilitation programmes.

Rory Stewart Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Rory Stewart)
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Over time, we have invested more and more in this, particularly in individualised rehabilitation programmes. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to Stephanie Covington and Edwina Grosvenor, in particular, for their trauma-informed approach to counselling.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

When we think about prisoners, we should understand that we all have a past that we cannot change but a future that we can change, hopefully this side of eternity. Many prisoners out there have records of good conduct and are desperately trying to turn over a new leaf. Surely we should therefore be doing everything in our power to encourage still more firms, companies and other organisations to offer suitable short-term placements to these people, because those placements can be so successful in terms of rehabilitation.

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

Absolutely. It totally transforms a prisoner’s life to have a job, and it leads them to be less likely to reoffend, therefore protecting the public. I pay tribute particularly to the work of Tempus Novo in Leeds, which brings businesses into prison, with two experienced ex-prison officers, and helps companies to become comfortable with employing ex-offenders, thus ultimately changing lives and protecting the public.

Alan Mak Portrait Alan Mak (Havant) (Con)
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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

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Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross (Moray) (Con)
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T2. Body-worn video cameras are available to every prison officer in England and Wales, but they are not routinely provided in Scotland. Will the Minister outline the benefits to both prisoners and officers of those cameras and encourage the Scottish Government to follow this Government’s lead?

Rory Stewart Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Rory Stewart)
- Hansard - -

We often pay tribute to the Scottish Government, but I am proud to say that we are ahead of them on this. We have rolled out body-worn cameras, which are making an enormous difference to safety in prisons. We are also ahead of the Scottish Government in having fully smoke-free prisons. There is something, at least, that Scotland can learn from us.

Alex Sobel Portrait Alex Sobel (Leeds North West) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T3. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is unconscionable that the workers who clean his offices and the security guards who keep the Ministry of Justice safe are not paid the living wage? Will he commit today to finally paying them a wage they can decently live on, with terms and conditions that mean they can take a family holiday?

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Mary Glindon Portrait Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab)
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T5. Can the Minister tell the House whether it is a requirement for prison governors to stay up to date with control and restraint training to receive the required hours addition allowance?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

That is a highly technical question. I will look into it and get back to the hon. Lady.

Vicky Ford Portrait Vicky Ford (Chelmsford) (Con)
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T6. People were shocked to read that over half the knife crime in London is associated with teenagers or children. Can my right hon. Friend reassure the House that he is working with the Home Office to ensure that the new knife crime protection orders will effectively target children who are carrying knives and not end up putting into custody children who are at risk but have never carried a knife?

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Paul Williams Portrait Dr Paul Williams (Stockton South) (Lab)
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T9. Nepacs provides a very valuable family support service to Kirklevington Grange Prison in my constituency, but its Big Lottery funding runs out in May. Will the Minister meet me and Nepacs to see whether there is any way we can continue this great service?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

I would be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman, and to do so as soon as possible.

Philip Hollobone Portrait Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Over the past eight years, the number of trials listed at Northampton Crown court without a firm date—categorised as floating trials—has increased from 10% to 23%. Why is this, and what can be done about it?

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David Hanson Portrait David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab)
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The number of outstanding repairs in prisons is 22,000 higher than this time last year and the number of outstanding planned repairs is 9,000 higher. Why is this?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

It is largely to do with degradation across the estate, but we have had significant improvements in the performance of Amey recently, and we have of course taken Carillion back in-house so a Government company is now operating there. We therefore expect improvements to go with millions of pounds of extra investment into the estate.