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Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, on behalf of these Benches I too thank the Minister for the Statement that she repeated in the House today. Clearly, this is a deeply alarming report. The Statement that has been given to the House is very far from reassuring.

The report was leaked to the Daily Mail last week and was referred to on the BBC in its early programmes today and discussed in detail in "The World at One". It

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seems to me quite inadequate and an offence against Parliament itself that we did not have this report to consider before the Statement was made while others have clearly had an opportunity to examine it in detail.

I agree entirely with what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said on the question of parliamentary responsibility, the need to debate and the responsibilities of the Home Secretary in these respects. In repeating the Home Secretary's Statement, the Minister said there would be a full response in due course to Sir John Learmont's report. Can she tell the House when that full response is likely to take place? Though she was not able to give an undertaking to the House that there will be a debate, can she say to the House today that she will make representations to her right honourable friend that there should be a debate at an early stage when the response is available, if not before?

We must all hope that Mr. Derek Lewis has not been made a scapegoat in any way. It is too soon to draw a conclusion. I say only that, according to his lights, he has done his best to serve the Prison Service during his period of office and there should be no personal animus against him. Clearly he inherited a situation which was far more difficult than he or anyone else could anticipate and there is every reason to believe that he has not had the support of the Home Secretary in those areas which should properly be his if the next steps agency is to function in the way intended.

In that respect it is interesting to read what is now proposed in regard to the Prison Service. The Home Secretary refers to the recommendations of Sir John and says:

    "This work is under way and I shall report on it to the House when it is complete".

The Statement says that Sir John recommended that someone with wide experience of the agency should undertake the work. But who is undertaking the work? Is it a person of independent status or somebody who is responsible to a Minister who may well be less concerned with finding a solution to these problems than finding a solution acceptable to Ministers alone?

Perhaps I may say, without being unreasonably mischievous, that the Minister may like to re-read her speeches of 25th January last. On that occasion we on these Benches raised the whole question of the relationship between the Home Secretary and the Prison Service. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, dismissed all our anxieties as being of no account. Now, less than one year later, because Sir John Learmont says what we were saying then, there is to be an inquiry. I welcome it. But the noble Baroness should look carefully at the way in which she dismissed what we said at that time as being of no account and matters which in some ways should not properly be the concern of this House.

I note also the way in which the Home Secretary selected the recommendations—in so far as he declared his attitude to them—by choosing those with which he agreed and turning down those he found to be inconsistent with his own policies. Again, a difficult question of responsibility arises. What are matters appropriate to the Home Secretary and what are matters appropriate to the Prison Service? If Sir John recommends in-cell television for purposes he sees as

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totally consistent with his report on security, it should not be for the Home Secretary to reject that recommendation because—to use a phrase to which he attaches great importance—

    "prison conditions should be decent but austere".

On the question of home leave, Sir John proposes that it should be more widely available, but the Home Secretary says that he has no plans to relax the restrictions introduced earlier this year. That is a selective choice. If Sir John believes that the recommendations are consistent with higher security, then it follows that in rejecting them the Home Secretary is not adopting the course that Sir John believes to be in the best public interest.

I have one further question for the Minister relating to the cost of the proposals that Sir John Learmont is putting forward. On the face of it a large sum is involved and it would be interesting to hear the Minister say today that, whatever the cost of implementing the recommendations, there will be no delay in doing so. I appreciate that the Minister and the Home Secretary, in deciding how much can be allocated and how much the Chancellor may be asked to bring forward to implement the recommendations, must also have in mind the proposals put forward by the Home Secretary in his Blackpool speech a week ago. If indeed it is the case that the restrictions he then indicated (the intervention he made in matters normally left to the judiciary) will result in an increase in the prison population of 10, 15 or 20 per cent., that will be a large addition to the cost of the Prison Service.

Again, it will help us to assess the relevance and the likelihood of the implementation of Sir John's proposals if the Minister can tell the House today what estimates the Home Office has made already in relation to the cost of implementing the proposals set out one week ago by the Home Secretary. We cannot judge the importance of the Home Secretary's Statement and the expectation we have of the implementation of Learmont except against the wider cost of the Prison Service which the Home Secretary now anticipates. I hope that in replying to these questions the Minister will give the House at least some provisional figures. They must be available and they should be the property of Parliament.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I understand the difficulty, with such an important and detailed report, of responding to it in any kind of detail in the time allowed, and am grateful to both noble Lords for what they have said so far. Perhaps I may address some of the points raised by the report.

First, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, asked about the timetable for the "supermax" prison. A feasibility study is already under way examining the supermax principle and its impact on the remainder of the prison estate. The Home Secretary expects to receive a report in six months and a decision will then need to be taken as to the way forward.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, was concerned also about the impact of the Home Secretary's new proposals on the population within the prisons. That will depend very much on the sentencing decisions of the courts. Of

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course we expect there to be some increase in the size of the prison population as a result of that change. There is already a substantial building programme. It is difficult to assess the demand for places. Some will be needed but I would expect a significant deterrent effect and incapacitation of those locked up to moderate that.

It is also important not to exaggerate the requirement. It will need to be assessed once consultation is concluded on the details of the proposals. It is worth noting how much work has been done on reducing overcrowding in prisons. The Prison Service has done much to deal with increased population. There have been 22 new prisons since 1980; 11,635 new places have been found and 8,000 extra places at existing prisons. There is no evidence of that having a negative effect on security.

Much has been said about the Home Secretary's responsibilities for policy and his role in all this. I am reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, of the exchange we had on a previous occasion in regard to the role of the Home Secretary. At no time did I dismiss the anxieties people felt about this matter. They are legitimate anxieties and it is a legitimate question. But if he goes back to the records he will find that I was more concerned with the tone and some of the accusations being made by the noble Lord at that time.

There is no doubt that the Home Secretary is accountable to Parliament for the Prison Service. I believe he has carried out that accountability with considerable openness and much candour. It is not an easy situation and some of the decisions to be taken will not be easy. But he has never shirked from taking difficult decisions and certainly will not shirk from taking them at this stage. I thought it was entirely characteristic of my right honourable friend to come clean straight away and not to delay on the recommendations. Out of 127 he immediately wishes to reject two and it was right that he should say what they are. He says—and I agree with him—that in-cell televisions should have no place in prisons. He believes that the privileges sought in prisons should be earned and not given automatically as they are at the moment. The changes that he made recently in regard to home leave are beginning to bear fruit and the record is there for all to see.

Reference was made to the agency status of the Prison Service and it was suggested that it had failed. I do not believe that it has failed. With agency status the service is responsible to a far greater degree for managing its own affairs than it was when it was simply another part of the Home Office. Its objectives and its expectations are quite clear and are published. It has a greater degree of accountability both to Parliament and to the public.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, was concerned about implementing Sir John's advice that there should be a more arm's length relationship between Ministers and the Prison Service agency. Work has already started to look at the relationship between Ministers and the Prison Service agency and my right honourable friend will be considering Sir John's recommendations in the light of the outcome of that work. But while Ministers and the Home Secretary are accountable to Parliament for the

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running of the service it is important that they have good liaison with the service in order to be able to fulfil that role effectively.

The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, was concerned about accountability. The Prison Service's framework document makes it clear that the director general is responsible for the day-to-day management of the service. However, the framework document also makes it clear that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is to be consulted by the director general on the handling of operational matters which could cause grave public or parliamentary concern. In that sense my right honourable friend is accountable to Parliament as are his Ministers.

I was asked how long it would be before we give a full response to the report. My right honourable friend says that he will place an implementation plan in the Library as soon as he possibly can. I attach top priority to implementing recommendations, as indeed does my right honourable friend, which directly bear on security. That has to be the priority. My right honourable friend has already given another place his initial response to Sir John's principal security recommendations and I have had the privilege of repeating that here today.

I believe that I have responded to at least some of the points made. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, asked for a debate. That must be a matter for my noble friend the Leader of the House and the usual channels. The House will want to debate this matter at some time and I do not believe that I would be giving too much away in saying that the request for a debate will be received sympathetically.

Questions were asked about costs. I hinted in the Statement that work is being done on costs. My right honourable friend will keep Parliament informed of any detail about costs and any consultation documents issued will include costs.

5.22 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that concern over the substance of the report is not confined to the other side of the House and that, on the contrary, there is considerable anxiety among her noble friends? Will she add a word to what she has just said about the desirability of a debate? I would suggest to her, with respect, that an early debate, during which the views of noble Lords on both sides of the House can be considered in conjunction with the other ideas which are put forward, would be valuable. Although I know perfectly well that my noble friend the Leader of the House shudders when noble Lords ask for a debate—

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