EXAMINATION OF WITNESSES (Questions 1-19)
TUESDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2001
1. Good morning, Mr Narey, Mr Wheatley. We are
very sorry to have kept you waiting. We are very grateful to you
for re-arranging your diary at very short notice to come to discuss
your speeches with us. We were extremely interested in all that
you said and you were kind enough to let us have the notes on
your wind-up speech as well. May I just start by asking what prompted
you to make that speech now rather than six months ago or in six
(Mr Narey) The annual conference is a
very important event for the Prison Service. I made my first speech
as Director General when I had just got the job and last year,
a year into the job, it was a reflection on the first year. This
was very much a reflection on the two years I have been Director
General (DG) and Phil has been Deputy Director General (DDG).
The speech was much more optimistic than has been suggested by
some of the press coverage. What I was saying was that I felt
we were on the verge of doing something which most of us joined
the Prison Service to do which was to run decent and humane places.
I was sensing, as I went around and visited prisons and from our
discussions with colleagues in the Prison Governors' Association,
that some governors were saying we were making life too hard,
too difficult. I was trying at this point, at the only forum in
the year when I speak to every one of our governors, to say that
actually we are on the verge of something which is incredibly
2. That certainly came over to me in the speech
you made. I was all the while as well asking myself a question
and I shall put it to you now, if I may? How is it that prisons
can get into that state in the first place?
(Mr Narey) Not all prisons are bad. I am extremely
proud of a lot of prisons right now and I mentioned some of those
separately. I intentionally mentioned those which have been poor
for as long as I remember; certainly for all the time I have been
associated with the Prison Service. There are clearly some very
difficult problems for the Service which include resourcing, which
include Victorian prisons, major problems with maintenance, overcrowding
and so forth. I have become ever more convinced, certainly in
my time in this job, that sometimes we have used that as an excuse
for not making more of what we have got. Yes, overcrowding is
a problem; I dearly wish we had less overcrowding. I do not think
that the fact a prison is overcrowded does not mean you cannot
treat prisoners with dignity and you cannot keep the recesses
clean and so forth. What I have seen in the last couple of years
at places like Leeds, for example, is the leadership of an inspirational
governor making it a much more decent and humane place. We just
have not quite proved it.
3. I understand all that and indeed in Mr Wheatley's
speech he went out of his way to say none of these were reasons
for not delivering decency. I really do want to understand this.
You say that you have known bad prisons for ever. How can they
get to that state. I genuinely do not understand this.
(Mr Narey) A major part of the explanation is a belief
by those who work in the prisons and those who manage the prisons
that they have to accept the unacceptable, that that is just the
way things are in places like Brixton and Wormwood Scrubs. It
is the way things are. We as a Service have sometimes allowed
our managers to set levels of decency at too low a level. We are
beginning to make a breakthrough on that. It has been a difficult
couple of years but by getting the right managers in the right
placeand neither Phil nor I thought we had the right managers
in the right place when we took over together in these jobsby
getting our very best people in the most difficult places, we
have started to see dramatic change. It is by raising the standards
and by leadership, by saying to staff that we can do much better
4. You singled out one of the issues as POA
opposition. Would you say something about the impression, which
I am sure I am not alone in having, that labour relations, let
alone human relations in the Prison Service are at best very mixed
and certainly not what they should be?
(Mr Narey) There is no doubt at all that relationships
at local level between governors and trade unions are sometimes
not what they should be. The POA have been a traditionally restrictive
organisation who have fought very hard and very successfully to
protect the interests of their members. I have never blamed the
POA at large for that. Sometimes we have failed to manage the
union as effectively as we might and we have failed to assert
management's right to manage in some institutions. We have started
to tackle that. Nationally at the moment the POA is being very
well led and there is a genuine commitment nationally to a better
industrial relations future and we have just agreed to another
pay review body. The POA, I hope, are just about to sign up to
a voluntary commitment never again to take industrial action and
to a disputes procedure which will allow change to take place
much more quickly. These are huge advances. I would be dishonest
to suggest that there are not pockets in individual branches who
are still very, very resistant to change and we have had to manage
them very, very hard.
Chairman: It is the same in this place.
5. Your contract is coming up for extension,
is it not? In 11 months' time, am I correct?
(Mr Narey) Yes; I hope so.
6. In your speech you indicated that you may
not be interested in staying on. You made the point that you needed
the unequivocal support of Ministers and the backing of an outstanding,
committed and cohesive board. You say you believe you have that.
Otherwise, you went on to say, no doubt you would find an easier
way of earning a living. At this moment, can you be quite frank?
Have you made up your mind whether you want to stay on in the
Prison Service or not?
(Mr Narey) I desperately want to stay on. I was trying
to make the point that we cannot do this job from London. We need
the support of every single governor and I need to know that they
are behind me in wanting to effect and sustain the changes we
so desperately need.
7. Would it not be true to sayand I speak
as a politicianthat conditions in prison and prison reform
are not the sort of vote-catching measure? None of usand
I suppose that includes mewhen the election comes will
be knocking on doors and emphasising the importance of prison
reform. In the absence of that sort of political climate, how
do you think you can persuade politiciansand that includes
obviously both the Government and the Oppositionthat conditions
in hell-hole prisonsyou used the word, did you not?must
be improved, that some of the prisons are a disgrace at the moment
and politicians must face up to what is necessary?
(Mr Narey) First of all, I certainly agree with your
general point that prisons are not paramount in people's thoughts
in terms of winning votes. I had better be fair and say I have
had a very fair deal from this Government in terms of the investment
I have enjoyed apart from sufficient money to keep pace with the
population growth so that overcrowding is at least not getting
any worse. I have had very, very significant investment in regimes,
so we have been able to make some quite astonishing progress in
literacy and numeracy. We are making some prisoners employable
for the first time before they leave us. We have tripled offending
behaviour programmes, £75 million in the past three years
into drug treatment. Despite it not being a vote winner, I have
had some very, very important investment and clearly I hope that
whatever happens, whenever it comes up that will continue. I need
the investment; the investment has been sufficient to convince
me that there cannot really be any excuses for not improving prisons
where we have had an investment which I believe is unparalleled.
8. Do you believe there will be any change as
a result of your speech?
(Mr Narey) I am very self-conscious about saying this
because I am sure director generals have believed this before.
I honestly believe that we are making some awful places reasonable
and on a much larger scale making a lot of places which were just
about tolerable much better. I believe that the reactions I got
and responses I got from governors last week, particularly at
the end of the conference, were sufficiently warm to convince
me that the overwhelming majority of them are committed, however
hard the job is and it is a very, very hard job and the job is
an incredibly difficult job. However hard the job is I am convinced
that the overwhelming majority are fully behind me. I think we
will see steady improvements in our care of those in custody over
the next few years. I know the Committee are coming to visit some
young offender establishments. You are going to see a mixed bunch
of them. You will see some which are still inadequate, but you
will see one or two in which there have been quite extraordinary
9. You referred to hell-holes. How many prisons
would you say are in such a condition as to warrant that description?
(Mr Narey) I was using that description in the past
tense. I was referring to places such as Scrubs, Wandsworth, Brixton
and Leeds, all of which are improving. Brixton is late in that
list but even at Brixton the fact that there is association every
weekday evening for 450 prisoners is quite remarkable when one
looks back at the history. Those places are fast improving but
there are still places which Phil and I are both worried about.
Birmingham, Winson Green, on which the Inspector's report has
yet to be published, is in my view the worst place I have seen
and where standards of care, particularly in health care, have
plumbed depths I have not seen before. We already have a talented
governor in there, a very able deputy, good management team and
we will turn Birmingham round.
10. You are quite optimistic about that.
(Mr Narey) I am absolutely positive .
Chairman: I am very pleased to hear that.
11. May I declare an interest at the outset
in that I am on the Board of Trustees of the Prison Reform Trust?
I was at Lord Woolf's lecture a week or so ago when he called
prison overcrowding an AIDS virus within the prison system. You
have previously called it a scourge. A former Chair of the Prison
Governors' Association has called it an obscenity and Lord Woolf
previously called it a cancer. Those are all accurate descriptions,
are they not, of the problems caused by overcrowding?
(Mr Narey) Overcrowding is a very considerable problem
indeed and you are right that I called it a scourge. The reality
of overcrowding for male adults is that 12,500 or so men are sharing
a cell meant for one, which means in most circumstances they are
sharing the toilet in the cell, they have to defecate in front
of one another, they have to eat their food in that cell. It is
pretty hideous. I do not believe it is an excuse for not nevertheless
making the custodial experience as constructive as it can be.
At one or two prisons, Altcourse in Liverpool, for example, where
they do have overcrowding, they have such a good regime, they
have so much time out of cell, prisoners at work, in education,
for so long through the day that that overcrowding becomes much
more tolerable because it is not 23 hours a day, it is four or
five waking hours a day.
12. May I go through some of the problems which
are directly caused by overcrowding? Lord Woolf in his Strangeways
report called, for example, for an end to slopping out. Slopping
out still continues in certain establishments, does it not, because
(Mr Narey) Barely at all. When slopping out was abolished
in the mid-1990s there were four wings which were intended to
be mothballed in which integral sanitation was not installed:
Bristol, where we are now installing integral sanitation; Swansea,
Exeter and Dartmoor are the three others. There is no integral
sanitation and they are occupied by prisoners. We do have staff
on duty through the night to unlock prisoners to go to the lavatory.
13. Does slopping out not take place in Strangeways
itself in four wings?
(Mr Narey) No.
14. Lord Woolf said it took place in Strangeways.
(Mr Narey) I was at Lord Woolf's speech as well and
I did not hear that and it certainly does not.
15. Community prisons. Lord Woolf also recommended
in his Strangeways report that we should hold prisoners as close
to their home town as possible for the very sensible reason that
whether they have a solid family to go home to is the single greatest
factor in determining whether they are likely to re-offend again.
We currently hold 26,000 prisoners more than 50 miles from their
committal court town, do we not?
(Mr Narey) We do indeed.
16. We hold 11,000 more than 100 miles away.
(Mr Narey) I am not sure about the figures, but certainly
we have a real problem with closeness to home. Ideally we would
have prisoners in prisons much closer to their home, but I have
to say that I sometimes think closeness to home is exaggerated.
If my son or my daughter were in prison, I would be much more
interested in them being in an institution in which they were
given decent treatment, reasonable access to education and other
activity, even if that were some distance from home. We do make
stringent efforts to make it economically viable for people to
be visited. We pay about £3 million a year to those on benefit
to visit people in prisons.
17. Which could otherwise be spent on crime
prevention or on re-offending behaviour strategies in prison.
(Mr Narey) Indeed. I am not advocating not having
people close to home, but it is something which we can get around.
I do not think if we suddenly had a redistribution of the estate
and necessarily were able to have prisoners close to home that
on its own would make much difference. It is how people are treated
within the institution which counts.
18. I accept that but, for example, in my constituency
of Wellingborough the youth bench send their young prisoners to
Huntercombe which is miles away. So mums and dads cannot easily
go to visit those kids and cannot provide the kind of support
that those youngsters will need.
(Mr Narey) That is true but as an example we do have
a particular problem with those who are 17 and under because we
only have 13 establishments now specialising in that age group.
It does mean that some young people are further away from home
that they would otherwise be. The counter to that is that they
are enjoying a regime of unparalleled quality. They are unlocked
for up to 14 hours a day, they are in at least 15 hours of education
every week and that is a good example of where there is a balance
which needs to be drawn between closeness to home and quality
of regime and treatment for an offender.
19. How long are offenders locked up in Northallerton
per day? Nineteen hours?
(Mr Narey) I do not think it is 19 hours. Northallerton
has a very unsatisfactory regime. I do not think it is 19 hours
but it will certainly be more than I want. They have association
at Northallerton only on limited evenings.
(Mr Wheatley) I do not have the figures.
1 See Annex. Back