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House of Lords

Thursday, 20th July 1995.

The House met at three of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of St. Albans.): The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Whitemoor Prison: Disorders

The Earl of Longford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What disorders have recently occurred at Whitemoor Prison.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): My Lords, since January 1995 there have been eight acts of collective disorder, eight serious assaults and a number of individual protests which include the so-called dirty protests.

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, the noble Baroness has been fairly economical in her statement of the truth.

Noble Lords: Oh!

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, I am sorry. I was repeating the obvious. However, I should be surprised if any noble Lord has visited Whitemoor Prison more recently than me; I have visited the place many times. Does the noble Baroness realise that the staff now face great difficulties in Whitemoor Prison? I again welcome the advent of the new Home Office Minister responsible for prisons, as I did yesterday. Will the noble Baroness persuade the new Minister for prisons that the Government should abandon their hostility to the Prison Officers' Association and seek some understanding with that body?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Earl suggests that I have somehow concealed part of the Answer. I have given an absolutely straightforward, truthful answer to his Question.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Baroness Blatch: If I may say so, some of the incidents have been protests against new measures and a tightening up of the regime in response to the recommendation in the Woodcock Report.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, will the Minister draw the attention of her right honourable friend to the great sensitivity of certain protests by a small number of prisoners? Will the Home Office maintain the closest possible liaison with the Northern Ireland Office on this matter?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I do not think that I need to remind either my right honourable friend the Home Secretary or my right honourable friend the Prime Minister about understanding the sensitivity of Northern Ireland or keeping the closest possible liaison.

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Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, although all of us want the peace process in Northern Ireland to succeed, is the noble Baroness aware that we find the dirty protest campaign by a limited number of prisoners at Whitemoor Prison entirely unacceptable? We very much hope that there is no question of the Government giving in to blackmail of that character.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am happy to give that assurance. First, I believe that it is absolutely right that all prisoners are treated equally in these matters. The prisoners referred to in the noble Earl's Question are serving a punishment at this moment. They are given a daily opportunity to clean their cells, which so far they have refused. If, at the end of serving this punishment, they are given another opportunity to clean their cells and they refuse, they will receive further punishment.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, does the Minister find it all strange that the charge should have been made of hostility on the part of the Home Secretary towards the Prison Officers' Association when to many of us who have been reading the papers for some time past the boot could appear to be on the other foot?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, what we want to do, and what my right honourable friend the Home Secretary wants to do, is to support prison officers in their very difficult job. I believe that responding positively to the Woodcock Report is helping prison officers to manage some very difficult people in a more effective and efficient way.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, bearing in mind what the Minister said, are any points of substance between the authorities and the Prison Officers' Association operating against the good running of the prison? If so, would it not be better for the Government quickly to resolve the issue with the Prison Officers' Association in everyone's interest?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, there is a very real policy of open access to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and to the Minister responsible for prisons to discuss any outstanding matters. We wish to do all we can to support prison officers in the very difficult job they have to do.

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, will the noble Baroness consent to visit the prison before the autumn when I shall be able to put down another Question? Would she discover one prison officer who has one good word to say for "Howardism"?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I think that that remark was offensive. Whitemoor Prison is a local prison to me, and I have visited it.

Reserve Armed Forces

3.7 p.m.

Lord Molloy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have for the future of the Territorial Army and the equivalent naval and air services.

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Earl Howe): My Lords, the Government are fully committed to the Reserves as an integral part of our Armed Forces. Following the restructuring which resulted from the end of the Cold War, they can now look forward to the future with confidence.

Lord Molloy: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging reply. He knows full well of the Territorial Army, the Royal Naval Reserve and the Auxiliary Air Force. Many young men wish to join those organisations. Many have written to me. They do not know what action to take. Would it be possible for the Minister to consider that point? Perhaps he could give some answer which would help those young people who are keen to join. Not only would that be good for their upbringing, but I believe that it would also be a good contribution to the defence of our country.

Earl Howe: My Lords, I entirely associate myself with the last part of the noble Lord's question. Indeed, we expect and receive the same dedication from our reserve forces as from our regular forces.

The Royal Naval Reserve is now more closely integrated with the Royal Navy and can offer excellent opportunities for sea-going service. The Territorial Army is taking on new tasks including an armoured delivery regiment and the Army's only nuclear, biological and chemical defence regiment. The RAF's reserves are manning Rapier air defence missiles and conducting air crew trials. I believe that we are making useful progress in enhancing the role of our reserve forces.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, in last Friday's defence debate I pointed out that I may not have received the draft Bill to which the noble Earl referred. I apologise to the noble Earl. I intervened only because I receive many documents—for example, those entitled Stable forces in a strong Britain, Managing people in tomorrow's Armed Forces, and Strength in reserve; or (if I may wear my other hat) Our future homes, Biodiversity challenge, or (I do not accuse the Government in this regard) Lady Porter's Old Friends. Will the noble Earl please accept my apologies for that previous intervention? I am sure that I received the document.

As to my noble friend's Question, will the noble Earl accept that the reserves are not just there to provide specialist services, as contained in the draft Bill, but to perform the function of being a link between the Armed Forces and the public at large? It is a good way for the public to understand what the role of the Armed Forces could and should be. Is it not important to preserve that link?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. I am delighted that he is being kept so well informed by my department. I only add that I believe that the reserve forces are not only a useful link between the Armed Forces and the public but they also serve to demonstrate to employers the value of having well trained manpower at their disposal. I hope and believe that the new reserve forces Bill which we hope to introduce at the earliest opportunity will encourage more employers to take on employees who are prepared to give a commitment. We

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recognise that the reserve forces have to be structured, equipped and trained to take their place alongside the regular forces. We are committed to that.

Lord Renton: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that by making the Territorial Army part of the reserves, the Government bring the Territorial Army into a state of readiness which increases its importance? It will be a great encouragement to those serving in it. Speaking for myself, I congratulate the Government on this development of policy.

Earl Howe: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend. As he will know, the main component of the Bill will be more flexible provisions for the call out of our reserves, coupled with the ability to use reservists without call out where that is appropriate. We also propose to create new categories of reservists, as well as safeguards for the interests of the reservist and his or her civilian employer.

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