HC Deb 21 April 1994 vol 241 cc1032-3
10. Mr. Dickens

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what importance he attaches to the prison population as a measure of the success of the criminal justice system; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Howard

Prison population figures cannot in isolation be seen as a measure of either the success or the failure of the criminal justice system.

Mr. Dickens

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that a custodial sentence satisfies the victims, acts as a deterrent, and provides retribution and punishment? While prisoners are under lock and key they cannot be breaking into people's homes. Will he consider getting rid of the stupid nonsense such as remission, rehabilitation and parole?

Mr. Howard

I entirely agree that custodial sentences —imprisonment—have a very important part to play in our penal system. I do not know that I would go all the way with my hon. Friend: I think that we should take rehabilitation rather seriously as well. But I agree with much of what he said.

Mr. Robert Ainsworth

Does the Home Secretary agree that if he wants to move from rhetoric to effective action he should not be closing bail hostels in the west midlands that are badly needed as part of the strategy for dealing with offenders in what the courts believe to be the most appropriate manner?

Mr. Howard

Bail hostels will continue to play an important part in our strategy. The hon. Gentleman will find that those that are being closed have been under-occupied, and it is incumbent on us all to use our resources as effectively as we can.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

The whole House will want to congratulate the Government on the good news—particularly the 9 per cent. fall in the crime wave in the last quarter. Is it not a fact that the decrease in crime has coincided with a substantial increase in the size of the prison population? Is it not also a fact that if one removes the persistent hard-core offenders from the streets, of course the crime wave will fall and prison will be seen to work, quod erat demonstrandum?

Mr. Howard

The facts to which my hon. and learned Friend refers are irrefutable. The 9 per cent. fall in the crime figures over the country as a whole for the last quarter of 1993 was the biggest that we have seen since quarterly figures were first kept 20 years ago. My hon. and learned Friend has indicated the correlation between the figures and the number of those in prison who are responsible for a disproportionate number of crimes.

Ms Ruddock

Is the Home Secretary aware that in the past year the Prison Service has failed to meet its key performance indicators on having three prisoners to a cell; on the use of police cells; on slopping out; and on the number of assaults, which have risen by 20 per cent? Will he today give the House a clear, unequivocal undertaking that he stands by the Government's response to the Woolf report and that, particularly on the issue of rehabilitation, he remains committed to implementing fully the recommendations of the report?

Mr. Howard

I said a few minutes ago how much importance I attach to rehabilitation. An increasing number of rehabilitation programmes are now available to those in our prisons. These include rehabilitation programmes for those who need to get off drugs, rehabilitation programmes for sex offenders, and general rehabilitation programmes which are making a significant contribution to our objective of turning people away from crime on their release from prison.