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Prisoners to be held in police cells because jails are full, justice minister tells MPs

Prisoners could be held in police cells in an attempt to reduce “acute and sudden” overcrowding in jails, MPs have been told.

In a statement to the Commons, Damian Hinds, the justice minister, said:

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In recent months we have experienced an acute and sudden increase in the prison population, in part due to the aftermath of the Criminal Bar Association strike action over the summer, which led to a significantly higher number of offenders on remand.

With court hearings resuming, we are seeing a surge in offenders coming through the criminal justice system, placing capacity pressure on adult male prisons in particular.

I’m announcing today that we’ve written to the National Police Chiefs’ Council to request the temporary use of up to 400 police cells through an established protocol known as Operation Safeguard.

This will provide the immediate additional capacity we need in the coming weeks to ensure the smooth running of the prison estate and to continue taking dangerous criminals off the streets.

Hinds said that using police cells to house prisoners was not unprecedented, and last happened in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Responding for Labour, Ellie Reeves, a shadow justice minister, said:

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This is yet another crisis created by this shambolic Tory government. It is hard to think of a more damning indictment of this government’s failure on law and order than the fact they have now run out of cells to lock up criminals. But it is hardly surprising when under the Tories 10,000 prison places have been lost.

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Boris Johnson still living in £10,000-per-month accommodation provided by Tory donor, register reveals

Boris Johnson is still having his housing provided by the Bamford family, the latest entry in the Commons register of members’ interests shows.

The former PM has declared receiving accommodation worth £10,000 for himself and his family, covering the month of November, from Lady Carole Bamford.

This is the third month in a row he has declared housing from the Bamfords worth £10,000 a month.

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He has also declared two further donations, both for accommodation worth £3,500, from the Bamfords over the autumn.

Lord Bamford, a pro-Brexit Conservative peer who is chair of JCB, has been a generous Tory donor for decades. He and his wife also paid for Johnson’s wedding party at their mansion in the Cotswolds in the summer, with Johnson declaring the gift as being worth £23,853.

Johnson, his wife and their two children, lived in Downing Street and at Chequers during his time as prime minister. Since then he has been living in Bamford accommodation despite owning or part-owning three homes, in London, Oxfordshire and Somerset.

Prisoners to be held in police cells because jails are full, justice minister tells MPs

Prisoners could be held in police cells in an attempt to reduce “acute and sudden” overcrowding in jails, MPs have been told.

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In a statement to the Commons, Damian Hinds, the justice minister, said:

In recent months we have experienced an acute and sudden increase in the prison population, in part due to the aftermath of the Criminal Bar Association strike action over the summer, which led to a significantly higher number of offenders on remand.

With court hearings resuming, we are seeing a surge in offenders coming through the criminal justice system, placing capacity pressure on adult male prisons in particular.

I’m announcing today that we’ve written to the National Police Chiefs’ Council to request the temporary use of up to 400 police cells through an established protocol known as Operation Safeguard.

This will provide the immediate additional capacity we need in the coming weeks to ensure the smooth running of the prison estate and to continue taking dangerous criminals off the streets.

Hinds said that using police cells to house prisoners was not unprecedented, and last happened in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

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Responding for Labour, Ellie Reeves, a shadow justice minister, said:

This is yet another crisis created by this shambolic Tory government. It is hard to think of a more damning indictment of this government’s failure on law and order than the fact they have now run out of cells to lock up criminals. But it is hardly surprising when under the Tories 10,000 prison places have been lost.

Minister says No 10 will appoint ethics adviser ‘soon’ as he ducks Rayner’s questions about why it is taking so long

Kiran Stacey

Angela Rayner is seeking to put the government on the ropes over its failure to appoint a successor to Lord Geidt as Rishi Sunak’s ethics adviser.

The Guardian revealed earlier this week that several candidates had turned down the role because Sunak is refusing to grant the new adviser the power to launch their own investigations. Sunak had promised that appointing a new ethics adviser would be one of his top priorities in office.

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During an urgent question, Labour’s deputy leader accused ministers of promising “jam tomorrow” and “mañana, mañana”.

But she failed to pin down Alex Burghart, the junior minister at the Cabinet Office, on any of the specifics of the appointment. He told her:

We’re going to have an independent adviser, they’re going to have the powers that they need, and they are going to be appointed very soon.

But he refused to answer any of the detailed questions he was asked about how many candidates had been approached and when the process might be complete.

Starmer attacks Sunak at PMQs over private schools, saying VAT exemption is ‘trickle-down education’

Here is my colleague Peter Walker’s story about PMQs.

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And this is how the story starts.

Keir Starmer has used prime minister’s questions to make a pointed and personal attack on Rishi Sunak over tax benefits for private schools, saying the policy of continued VAT exemption for school fees amounted to “trickle-down education”.

Specifically using Winchester, the private school Sunak attended, as an example, Starmer highlighted a 2017 article by Michael Gove that argued for VAT to be imposed on school fees.

“Winchester College has a rowing club, a rifle club and extensive art collection – they charge over £45,000 a year in fees,” the Labour leader said. “Why did he hand them nearly £6m of taxpayers’ money this year in what his levelling up secretary calls ‘egregious state support’?”

Citing the contrasting example of Southampton, where Sunak grew up, Starmer said four in every ten state school pupils in the city failed either their English or maths GCSEs.

PMQs – snap verdict

Keir Starmer won that quite comfortably, but it was a notable victory – one to remember, and possibly a turning point – for two reasons. The main one is that Starmer is now establishing a winning track record in this arena, and he is bedding down two criticisms of Rishi Sunak that are starting to stick: privileged, and “weak”. Another month of this and it will be received wisdom. But, second, this may have been the most successful example of a Labour leader using private education against a Tory PM in recent times.

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David Cameron and Boris Johnson were both educated at the most elite private school in the country, and Conservative MPs generally are less likely to be state-educated than Labour MPs, but in the past Labour leaders have been cautious about using this as a line of attack. In part that was because people are not responsible for where their parents send them to school, in part it was because it smacked of class warfare, and in part it was out of fear of being on the wrong side of the aspiration argument. Only a minority of people are rich enough to afford private education, but there are many more who would like to be that wealthy one day, and Tony Blair taught his party that it was best not to alarm this group.

Yet Starmer today (with a little help from Michael Gove, whom he quoted) successfully monstered Sunak over going to Winchester. It is worth looking in detail at why it worked for Starmer so well.

First, Sunak’s response was poor. There is not a particularly good argument in favour of the tax advantages enjoyed by private eduction (as Gove pointed out in his Times article five years ago), but there are arguments (principally the cost to the state if private schools close), which is partly why Labour largely accepted the status quo when it was in office. Sunak could have opted a techno-bore answer, laced with references to Labour figures being privately educated. (Starmer himself went to a school that turned private while he was there, although he was able to finish his education there without his parents paying fees.) But instead, in his first response to Starmer, Sunak went for a total non-sequitur, banging on about Covid and the unions. And, in his second response, Sunak went way over the top, claiming Stamer’s question showed that he was “attacking the hard-working aspiration of millions of people in this country”, which meant that “he’s not fit to lead”.

Second, the Labour policy is popular, and has become more so in recent years. As living standards stagnate, there may be more public appetite for bashing private education than in the past. My colleague Pippa Crerar has the polling figures.

Third, by presenting private education as an “aspiration” issue, Sunak made it easier for Starmer to attack him over homeownership. Telling Sunak he should “get out more”, he said:

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He talks about aspiration, they are killing off aspiration in this country and it is not just education. Why is the dream of homeownership far more remote now than it was when his party came into power 12 years ago?

Sunak is the richest person ever to be prime minster. In the past Britons have tended not to mind very much about their political leaders being wealthy. (We are still ruled by a King, after all; egalitarian, we’re not.) But they do expect their prime ministers to be in touch, and to know what people are experiencing. In this exchange Starmer turned Sunak being privileged into a riff about him being clueless, and it worked.

Starmer ended with a spiel about Sunak being weak. (“Every week he gets pushed around and every week he gets weaker”). Sunak has his own weak jibe in response. (“Too weak to confirm no one on the picket line.”) This sounds like an argument about character. In reality, a leader’s “strength” or “weakness” is probably 80% a consequence of political context (how much space they have available to act), and at most only 20% a matter of personal authority and leadership virility. But the public at large won’t take much convincing that Sunak is weak, given everything that is happening in his party and in the country at large (see 9.21am), and so this is an easy hit for Labour.

Kirsten Oswald (SNP) asks why Sunak won’t scrap the retained EU law (revocation and repeal) bill.

Sunak says getting rid of EU law will increase prosperity.

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Paul Bristow (Con) says the small boat crossings are a national emergency. He calls for a Cobra-style committee to address this.

Sunak says the government will take extra powers if it has to do address this. Labour has blocked every proposal on this, he says.

Colleen Fletcher (Lab) says a vulnerable teenager in the West Midlands had to spend two days in a police station because mental health services were not available.

Sunak says the government is already paying for more mental health support in schools.

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Catherine West (Lab) says the Royal Mail paid records sums to shareholders last year, but is now cutting services. Why won’t the government investigate the mismanagement of this service?

Sunak says he has nothing but gratitude and appreciation for the work of postal workers. But their pay demands are unaffordable, he says.

Munira Wilson (Lib Dem) asks if Sunak will deliver for Marcus Rashford and extend free school meals.

Sunak says the government is already funding initiatives such as breakfast clubs.

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Esther McVey (Con) says the trains from the north-west have got worse. What is the government going to do to sort this out, and get the service back to what it used to be. It is “completely unacceptable”.

Sunak says McVey is right to say the Avanti service is unacceptable. The transport secretary is monitoring this, he says. But it needs union cooperation.

Andy McDonald (Lab) says it was sad to see Sunak in a student video saying he did not have any working-class friends. And he won’t make any with the pay offers he is offering public sector workers.

Sunak says he admires nurses, but a 19% pay rise is unaffordable.

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Gordon Henderson (Con) asks when the government will pass emergency legislation to make it easier to remove people crossing the Channel in small boats.

Sunak says the Nationality and Borders Act gives the authorities new powers, which they will use. And it is willing to take more powers, he says.

Abena Oppong-Asare (Lab) asks about the killings of two teenagers in her constituency this weekend. What is the PM doing to address the knife crime epidemic?

Sunak says this was an awful tragedy. He says police numbers are going up. And the police are getting new powers, he says.

Ian Blackford, the SNP leader at Westminster, wishes people a happy St Andrew’s Day. St Andrew is celebrated throughout Europe. So it is sad to watch Sunak champion a law that would rip up 4,000 EU laws. And it is sad to see Labour refusing to oppose Brexit, he says.

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Sunak says he was proud to support Brexit. It was right for the country. It allowed us to get control of our borders, he says.

MPs laugh at that point.

He says the government is also seizing the economic opportunities, and deregulating.

Blackford says even Tory voters do not believe Sunak on Brexit. More and more people say it was a bad idea. And they can see that ‘make Brexit work’ is just a stupid slogan. What is the democratic path for independence?

Sunak says the difference between him and Blackford is he respects the referendum result. And he claims that the UK had the fastest vaccine rollout because of Brexit.

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(That is not true – as a full EU member the UK could still have run its own vaccine programme, although it is arguable that a more pro-EU government than Boris Johnson’s might have stuck with the EU version.)

Starmer says every week Sunak hands out cash to people who don’t need it, and every week he gets pushed around by his party. He says Sunak should let Labour back him on planning. “Country before party, that’s the Labour way.”

Sunak says Starmer tells his party what it wants to hear.

It is the politics of yesterday with him, or the future of the country with me.

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Starmer says the age at which people can buy a home keeps going up. He loves his kids, but he does not want to be cooking them dinner in 30 years time. Apparently Sunak is having a relaunch. He will be tough. How tough will he be on his MPs opposing planning reforms.

Sunak says Starmer is too weak to stop his MPs joining picket lines.

Starmer says Sunak should get out more. He talks about aspiration. What has happened to home ownership?

Sunak says housebuilding is going up. And when the Tories came to power, housebuilding was at a record low.

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Starmer says Sunak is being pushed around by lobbyists. He says that money (effective subsidies for private schools) could be better spent. Starmer says he has made his choice; Sunak must make his.

Sunak says he is about aspiration.

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