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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, if that is the case, then I unreservedly apologise to the House for making that comment. However, I will make a general comment and say that the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, are out of keeping with many of his Front Bench colleagues in another place. These amendments meet the concerns both of Members of another place and of the Government in this area.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has, however, expressed his fear that the new arrangements for temporary release will prevent the effective use of temporary release. He made reference during the Second Reading debate of the Bill of my noble friend Lord Lauderdale to the recommendations of Lord Justice Woolf in his report on the 1990 prison disturbances. The changes to Prison Rule 6 on temporary release arise from a review carried out by the Prison Service in
A working group was established in June 1993 to review the operation of the home leave and temporary release schemes. It included representatives from the police and probation services, as well as from a broad range of penal affairs groups. Those groups included Victim Support, the Prison Reform Trust and the Federation of Prisoner Family Support Groups.
The working group recognised that, since the report of Lord Justice Woolf some two years earlier, the profile of home leave and temporary release had changed significantly. There had been public concern about the operation of both schemes following a number of serious failures where prisoners had committed serious and violent offences, including murder and armed robbery, while released temporarily. In addition, the working group recognised the concerns of victims that prisoners were being granted temporary release only a short time after being sentenced.
The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, asked whether the Government had abandoned the principles of the Woolf Report. Again, I say to the noble Lord that the Government recogniseas, indeed, did Lord Justice Woolf in his reportthe benefits that the temporary release of prisoners can provide. However, it is important that it should be within a clear framework, with the necessary safeguards in place to ensure public safety. The working group established in response to the Woolf Report recommended just such a scheme, which we have now implemented.
The report of the working group was presented to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in October last year. The report included 47 recommendations. They took full account of the needs of both the public and prisoners and their families, the need to maintain good order and security in prisons and, most importantly, public safety. It was in the light of that report that my right honourable friend made his announcement last November about the new system of release on temporary licence. That came into effect on 25th April.
The Government believe that there are important benefits to be gained in releasing suitable prisoners for short periods as part of the process of preparing for their eventual return to the community. Evidence shows that prisoners who have a job to go to, a secure family environment and skills developed by training or education are less likely to re-offend than those released "cold" into the community. Testing prisoners in controlled and monitored circumstances therefore contributes to public safety.
The benefits of releasing prisoners for short periods in that way must, however, be weighed against any potential threat that prisoners who have been temporarily released may pose to the public and against the need to preserve public confidence that prisoners who have been sentenced to a term of imprisonment will not be released back on to the streets shortly after they have been sentenced.
The new scheme of release on temporary licence is more sharply focused than its predecessors. Prisoners will in future be released only for precisely defined and specific purposes. Prisoners will continue to be eligible to be temporarily released for justifiable purposes such as education and training leading to a recognised qualification where that cannot be provided in prison. Any such release would be allowed only where programmed into a prisoner's sentence plan and specifically designed to help the prisoner to lead a law-abiding and useful life upon release. It is unacceptable, however, for prisoners to be released for purposes which are purely social or recreational. That will no longer be allowed.
The new system will also continue to allow prisoners to be considered for temporary release in urgent and compelling compassionate circumstances or towards the end of their time in custody to maintain their family ties or re-establish links with the community in preparation for their return to the community.
One of the primary purposes of the new scheme must be to ensure that the public are not placed at any risk by the unacceptable release of prisoners who pose a threat to public safety. The new scheme includes a mandatory and stringent risk assessment carried out in collaboration with the Police and Probation Services.
Prison governors have a duty, in considering any release, not only to ensure the safety of the public but also to maintain public confidence in the administration of justice. Prisoners should not be released too early after sentencing, nor too frequently. To do so would undermine the purpose of imprisonment. Under the new scheme, therefore, prisoners will have to serve longer in prison before applications for release on licence will be considered.
The second change we have made through the amendment rules is an increase in governor's disciplinary powers. Maintaining good order and discipline will always be a priority for the Prison Service. Prison officers and governors have a difficult task. They face a prison population which is increasing and which shows higher levels of violence and indiscipline than used to be the case.
Prison staff achieve good order in prisons in many waysthrough the right relations with prisoners, through incentives for good behaviour, through the right regimes and through the right security. But all of these need underpinning by proper disciplinary procedures. I am sure that there can be no disagreement over the need for governors to have sufficient powers to maintain authority in their prisons. They need powers that will properly mark the seriousness of the offences they are dealing with, and they need punishments which prisoners will recognise as real deterrents.
From the views that have been expressed by governors, by prison officers, by members of prison boards of visitors and by the public, it is clear that many people have been concerned that punishment powers are no longer adequate and no longer command the necessary full confidence of those who need to use them. Boards of visitors voted at their last annual conference for an increase in governors' powers.
The amendment rules have increased the level of governors' punishment powers by 50 per cent. The only exception is the punishment of cellular confinement, which we increased last year and which we have not changed again.
These increases should give prison staff substantial help in the difficult task they face. At the same time, the punishment powers are at a level where they can be exercised properly by governors. They can be used safely as part of procedures that need to work quickly and relatively simply. They will be operating alongside extra safeguards which have recently been introduced: the Prisons Ombudsman, who has been considering prisoners' complaints since last autumn; the Prison Service's new discipline manual issued at the start of this year; and improved training for adjudicating governors, which started six months ago. For serious criminal offences by prisoners, the governors will continue to look to the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, and the courts.
I hope that I do not need to explain the changes in governors' powers any further. The last full review of prison discipline was nearly five years ago. Since then, offending in prisons has increased by over 23 per cent. There are now nearly 110,000 recorded offences a year for a prison population of 50,000. That level of offending has been held for last year, and the Prison Service has succeeded in reducing levels of escapes and assaults. However, there can be no room for complacency. The amendment rules should give governors the powers they need to help them run well-ordered prisons. They should also give prison officers, and the public, greater confidence that there is adequate authority to back the work that needs to be done.
We have also revised Prison Rule 3(2). We have done so with two aims: to remove unnecessary obstacles to unconvicted prisoners' access to available regime activities and facilities; and to enable governors to make more efficient use of available accommodation. The old rule restricted the possibilities for unconvicted prisoners to take part fully in constructive and purposeful activity while in prison because it required close supervision of any activity which involved contact between convicted and unconvicted prisoners. It also limited the governor's ability to make maximum use of cell space at times of population pressure.
There is sound justification for changing that rule. Imposing restrictions on mixing, in either activities or living accommodation, is clearly unnecessary where unconvicted prisoners are content to mix. In practice, unconvicted prisoners very rarely have any objection to mixing with convicted prisoners for activities or in living areas.
This measure will also reduce the need to hold prisoners in police cells, which is both costly and unsatisfactory in terms of the Prison Service's duty to hold prisoners in decent but austere conditions and to provide positive regime activities.
We are very conscious of the need to acknowledge the special legal status of unconvicted prisoners, which arises from the presumption of their innocence. The amended rule accordingly preserves the principle of
Where the unconvicted are content to mix with convicted prisoners, there will be no obstacle to their doing so. An unconvicted prisoner, however, who chooses not to take part in an activity with convicted prisoners will be given separate access to the activity, if possible, or, failing that, will be allowed to spend the allotted time in another activity approved by the governor. A situation may arise where the governor considers it unreasonable to maintain separation in the residential area, although the unconvicted prisoner may prefer it. In such circumstances unconvicted and convicted prisoners may need to be accommodated on the same landing, but no unconvicted prisoner will be required unwillingly to share a cell with a convicted prisoner.
The change to Prison Rule 3 is accordingly being made in the best interests of both unconvicted prisoners and efficient prison administration. We believe that these rule changes are necessary. They are necessary because they allow a more focused scheme for temporary release, a more positive regime for unconvicted prisoners and maintain a disciplined environment in the prisons themselves.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, let me first deal briefly with the small procedural point which I was obliged to raise. I was not, of course, seeking to censor the Minister's speech. However, I believe that the point is acknowledged. I note with pleasure, and put on the record, that the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, has communicated to the officials in the box that it is not within our rules of debate for there to be any quotations from speeches of Members of Parliament in another place other than the Minister speaking on government policy. It is worth while having that on the record for any future speeches.
The Minister has chosenwe are grateful to her, in a wayto address the entire order rather than simply rule 2 of the schedule, which was all that I addressed. It is legitimate for her to do so, partly because the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, referred to the question raised in paragraph 1 about remand prisoners and convicted prisoners. I was satisfied by what the Minister said: that the new paragraph 2 in rule 3 provides that the consent of remand prisoners has to be obtained if they are to share residential accommodation or participate in any activity with convicted prisoners, and under no circumstances shall be required to share a cell with a convicted prisoner.
The Minister also referred to paragraphs 3 and 4 of the schedule which refer to increased powers of punishment by governors for offences for failure to confirm withhold and leave requirements. She well
However, the issues raised by paragraph 2 in the schedulethey were all that I addressed in my speechare still too serious to be allowed to pass without further comment. The Minister has made no attempt to justify or explain the change in government policy from the opinions expressed by Mr Kenneth Baker earlier. She certainly made no attempt to deal with the pleas of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and Judge Tumim for an increase rather than a decrease in home leave. She has not dealt with the point I made and the quotation I gave from Instruction 11 of 1993. It says specifically that there should be no releases where there is "any doubt"I emphasise the phraseabout the potential behaviour of the prisoner while at liberty. The power to protect the public is not only implicit in the existing rules before those changes were made; it is explicit. There is no justification whatever for such a change of rules.
The Minister relies on that classic phrase "public confidence". She said a number of times that there has to be public confidence about release too early in a sentence. When Jack Straw was responding to the Statement, he was responding not to this order but to a ministerial Statement. It was not clear from that Statement that the way in which the 40 per cent. reduction in home leave was to be achieved was by cutting out early use of home leave. It is still not clear
To that extent, I do not accept that there is any significant difference between Jack Straw and myself about the matter. What I am saying is that when we see the rules and changes in them and the instructions which have been given by the Home Office to prison governors, that is the stage at which it becomes apparent that there is a blind determination to reduce home leave by 40 per cent. The figure was plucked out of the air so far as we can see. It is to be achieved by the most damaging of all possible restrictions on home leaverestrictions at an early stage. I do not accept that public confidence is eroded by early use of home leave, subject to the discretion of governors and to the overriding requirement that prisoners should not be released on home leave when there is any risk of them offending while they are at liberty.
I am not satisfied by the answers given by the Minister. I am grateful to her for the detailed explanation of some of the other parts of the order. But it is only my determination to adhere to the rule that we do not vote against statutory instruments that leads me to beg leave to withdraw the Motion standing in my name.