I got my opportunity to respond to this year’s Budget this week. In my speech I addressed my deep concerns about the continued austerity under the UK Government and their utter failure to support the people and businesses of North Wales.
It is clear that this was a Budget that included more harm than help for people in work. It continued to cut away at our police, justice and international trade budgets and did nothing of value to unpick the hurt inflicted by Universal Credit cuts.
The Government announced two new prisons would be constructed in England. Both would involve private sector contracts.
Following on from my questioning of the minister in the Justice Committee about the lost £50m of taxpayers money on private contracts today I used an Urgent Question to quiz the minister on how he will stop this becoming another example of wasted money.
The minister is an extremely courteous man, but his warm words did nothing to allay my fears that the Ministry of Justice has not learnt valuable lessons from its past mistakes and it is likely to repeat them.
Following the High Court ruling against the Parole Board that John Worboys should not be released, the Chair of the Parole Board – Nick Hardwick – resigned. I wanted to understand what the Secretary of State meant in his statement regarding rule 25.
This rule currently allows the Parole Board to keep the decision making process on granting parole secret. It is obvious that more transparency is needed and the public should know as many of the facts as possible behind the decisions taken to release a prisoner early.
I am sure the Government will produce more findings and reports on this technical, but important, rule and I will scrutinise it closely to ensure it meets the transparency we all expect from our public bodies.
On Monday, the Government introduced its Prisons and Courts Bill. As a member of the Justice Select Committee we have been scrutinising the Government’s thinking regarding this Bill and we have come across several areas that we find worrying and with questions still left to be answered.
1. Independence of Prison Governors
2. Changes to small claims
3. The Government’s failure to tackle violence in prisons
It is now the case that 76 of the prisons in our estate—some 60%—are overcrowded, and have been deemed to be overcrowded by the prisons inspector. We have seen an increase of 39% in the number of deaths in prison custody over the last year alone, while there has been a 32% increase in self-inflicted deaths. There has also been a massive increase—22%—in the number of self-harm incidents reported. We have seen an increase in the number of assaults by prisoners on staff and on fellow prisoners. There has been an increase in the number of psychoactive substances found in prisons. There has been an increase in the number of mobile phones found in prisons, and, therefore, an increase in the number that are getting into prisons. Sadly, there has been a reduction of some 6,335—26% in the number of prison officers in the past seven years.
I believe that those facts are linked. We have fewer prison officers and the same number of prisoners—prisoners who, for a range of reasons, are more difficult and more challenging and, in many cases, have been convicted of more violent offences. The reduction in prison officer numbers has a real impact on the other statistics. While I do not object to the aims of clause 1 —indeed, I support them—I think that we need to think about what they mean in practice, and about how the White Paper is linked to them. Read more “Prisons and Courts Bill”