MP's Column - Snow heroes, kidnapping and prisons

Recently at the invitation of the Chief Constable I had the privilege of handing out the awards to our '˜snow heroes'who provided excellent service to people across Lincolnshire during the great snows this past winter.

Some drivers were stuck in snow on the A46 for an entire day, while others trekked in severe conditions to make sure people were cared for and animals looked after.

Police, firemen, ambulance workers, nurses, carers, emergency service workers, and members of the public throughout the county performed brilliantly during this crisis and it’s entirely right that the Lincolnshire Resilience Forum has decided to recognise their service.

The list of criticisms that can legitimately be levelled at the premiership of Tony Blair is a long one, but amongst them is the case of Abdul-Hakim Belhaj and Fatima Boudchar.

The British government was inherently complicit in these two individuals being kidnapped in 2004 by agents of the Gaddafi regime and forcibly taken to Libya.

Mr Belhaj was imprisoned and tortured on his return to his native country and later discovered it was British intelligence that tipped Gaddafi off to his and his wife’s location.

The Prime Minister has quite rightly decided it is time to make amends for this travesty and has issued a full apology to Mr Belhaj and his wife.

I pointed out in the House of Commons that it is really Mr Blair who should be issuing an apology, but I doubt any is forthcoming.

Prisons are one of the grim necessities of society. They fulfil two very important functions: first, to punish criminals for their wrongdoing and, second, to remove dangerous threatening people from society.

There is always a great danger of prisons becoming universities of crime, where petty criminals are introduced to worse and higher forms of illegal activity and then unleashed onto the world at large.

Re-offending is a huge problem for the victims of crime as well as for the taxpayer who has to foot the bill for further trials, incarceration, and the like.

Rehabilitation, then, is not a matter of touchy-feely liberalism but must be the very essence of a sensible justice system.

The Government’s new plans for prisoners should help to save the taxpayer £15 billion in re-offending costs by training up prisoners to find further employment once their sentences are finished.

Currently, only 17 per cent of prisoners are in ordinary PAYE employment within a year after their release.

Soon, Governors will be put in control of their prisoners’ education, with the aim of tailoring training to prisoners’ needs as well as to meet local labour market requirements.

At Justice Questions recently I asked what assessment the Ministry had made of participation in sporting activity on re-offending. The reply from the minister revealed a strong correlation between sport or physical activity and wellbeing both amongst current prisoners and amongst ex-offenders.

It’s clear that a well-rounded approach to help rehabilitation and stop re-offending is at the very heart of the Government’s plans for prisoners.

Sir Edward Leigh MP

Gainsborough constituency