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Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, as she was good enough to mention my name in the context of paragraph 3.83 and was also good enough not to stigmatise me as a hard-liner (whatever that may be) I ask her this in total amity. If she looks at the report again, surely she realises that there is no criticism of government policy in the documents referred to. I can see none, and I am sure my noble friend Lord Vivian sees none. I just thought that we ought to try to defend ourselves publicly against the charge of not having read the report.

Baroness Mallalieu: My Lords, I would certainly not stigmatise the noble Lord as a hard-liner. His line is always an unpredictable one, as I think those on his side of the House would be the first to agree. The noble Lord clearly refers to some parts of the same volume as I have seen. However, if having heard the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, read that passage to the House, he takes the view that it involves no implicit criticism of the Home Office or the Home Secretary, I can only say that criticism is in the eye of the beholder and the House itself must judge. I read that passage as a damning criticism of the Home Office for, in effect, showering

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the Prison Service with material at a time when it was trying to deal practically with the problems, and hampering it rather than assisting in those difficulties.

Baroness Young: My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, referred to me, perhaps she will forgive me for intervening. I have a great regard for her ability to debate and am surprised that she should sink to name-calling, which I take that description of me to be. I take this as a serious subject but am immensely consoled to think that it will not be long before the Labour Party shares all the views I expressed; after all, it has picked up all the other Conservative ideas!

8.30 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, we have had what has turned out to be an interesting and thought-provoking debate about what is, without question, an extremely important and wide-ranging report with significant implications for the administration of Her Majesty's Prison Service.

Noble Lords will need no reminding that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary commissioned this report from General Sir John Learmont after two of the most serious operational failures in the history of the Prison Service. The report was devastating in its criticism of the service and identified grave weaknesses which required attention.

Having received Sir John's report, the Home Secretary wasted no time in making a start to put matters right. He announced, with some sadness, the termination of the then director general's contract so that public confidence in the security of our prisons could be increased. He announced that Parkhurst would be removed from the dispersal system. And he announced that he had accepted the broad thrust of Sir John's analysis of what needed to be put right in the Prison Service.

The Home Secretary is determined to address all the issues raised by the report, ranging from the structure of the service, its management and security matters, to prisoners' cash and the use of phonecards. Perhaps I may say in passing to the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, that the use and abuse of phonecards in prisons is a matter for the prison officers and the regime within the prison, not my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. He too was shocked and concerned by that laxity in the prison. This debate is about my right honourable friend doing what he can to see that those abuses are curtailed. He will report the results of his deliberations to Parliament during the course of next year.

Included in those deliberations will be the review of the relationship between the Prison Service and the Home Office--a matter which has exercised a number of noble Lords today. Work on that is under way. Assistance was provided during the initial stage, which is now complete, by Miss Kate Jenkins, who, as I have previously explained to the House, was one of the three authors of the report to the then Prime Minister which led to the establishment of executive agencies. She is now an independent consultant and has been able to

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contribute objectively, independently and constructively to the initial work. The precise methodology for the main stage of the work has yet to be determined; but I can assure noble Lords that it will be taken forward in close consultation with the Prison Service. The Home Secretary will report to the House when that work is complete.

One of the matters which is central to concerns is the question of the Home Secretary's accountability for the Prison Service, and several noble Lords have expressed their doubts about the ability of my right honourable friend clearly to distinguish between policy matters and operations. I should like to respond to that matter in some detail.

The distinction between policy and operations is nothing new. The Home Secretary has made his responsibilities in this area, and those of his predecessors, perfectly clear. As I explained during the debate about the Prison Service on 25th January this year, the Home Secretary is personally accountable to Parliament for all matters concerning the Prison Service. He is accountable and responsible for all policy decisions relating to the service.

The distinction between operations and policy is reflected in the framework document which established the Prison Service as an executive agency. It makes clear that the director general is responsible for the day-to-day management of the service. He is accountable to the Home Secretary for performance and operations, and he is the Home Secretary's principal policy adviser.

Although the Home Secretary does not normally become involved in day-to-day management matters, he does expect to be consulted on the handling of operational matters which could give rise to grave public or parliamentary concern. Furthermore, the Home Secretary expects to receive reports from the director general on any incident or matter which is likely to arouse concern. That must surely be right because, in order to be properly accountable, the Home Secretary must be properly informed.

As for the question of who should resign when things go wrong, it is long accepted that Ministers cannot be held personally responsible for all the actions and decisions taken in their departments. There is a relevant precedent to illustrate this. Noble Lords may recall the escape of terrorist prisoners from the Maze prison in 1983. My noble friend Lord Prior, who was then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said that he would have resigned had the inquiry into the escapes shown that they had resulted from an act of policy which was his responsibility, or from a failure on his part to implement something which he should have done. There were no calls for the noble Lord's resignation then. When the Home Secretary received the Learmont report, he examined it very carefully. As he made clear, had the criticisms in the report been made of him, he would have resigned. They were not.

Reference was made to the new Chief Inspector of Prisons. General Sir David Ramsbotham, who succeeded Judge Tumim on 1st December, was selected

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following open competition. He was judged to be the best man for the job from a very strong field of candidates and I am sure that this House will join with me in wishing him well.

The duties of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons are set out in Section 57 of the Criminal Justice Act 1982 and, in general terms, they are to inspect and report to the Secretary of State on prison service establishments in England and Wales and, in particular, on the treatment of prisoners, conditions in prisons and such other matters as the Secretary of State may direct.

Sir John Learmont's recommendation that the Chief Inspector should take on security issues will be considered and the Home Secretary will report the results to Parliament in due course.

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, is the noble Baroness able to tell us whether they have been able to secure a new director general for the Prison Service?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, there is no lack of interest in the post. The appointment has not yet been made. I am absolutely confident that someone will be appointed, so there is no truth in the fact that an appointment cannot be made.

Reference was made to Kate Jenkins' involvement in the work in the Home Office. No decision has been made on whether the report on the review of the relationship between the Prison Service and the Home Office is to be published, because the work in which she was involved has been part of the whole study. The whole study will be reported to Parliament. Kate Jenkins was involved in the initial phases of that and her piece of work is complete. The performance indicators were also referred to and Sir John Learmont's recommendations on those issues will be reviewed.

Reference was also made to the "supermax" prison. As I told this House on 16th October, the Home Secretary has already asked the Prison Service to consider the feasibility, the costs and the benefits of building an establishment of the kind Sir John Learmont recommends. We expect to have that report next spring. The Home Secretary said that he would welcome comments on the proposals for one maximum security prison and a single control prison for the most unruly and disruptive prisoners. I am sure that my right honourable friend will be interested in your Lordships' views. As to consultation, the Prison Service is examining how this can best be undertaken. I welcome the comments made by my noble friends Lord Campbell of Alloway and Lord Vivian.

Ministerial demands on the director general's time were also referred to. Sir John Learmont says that there needs to be minimum political involvement in the day-to-day operation of the Prison Service. But he recognises too that the Prison Service is a politically sensitive area. Many day-to-day issues are serious enough to command the attention of Ministers, who are entitled to be fully briefed by the director general on matters thought likely to cause concern to the public and/or Parliament. As Sir John says, it is for the director general to find a way to balance the need to keep Ministers informed with the requirement to provide leadership and management.

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Sources of advice to Ministers were also referred to. The director general is the Home Secretary's principal adviser on matters relating to the Prison Service. The Permanent Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office is the principal adviser to the Home Secretary on matters affecting the Home Office as a whole. Advice is also provided by the Prison Service monitoring unit. That was established because my right honourable friend the Home Secretary was keen to develop the independent advice on the Prison Service available to him at the centre of the department.

The unit monitors the Prison Service and supports Ministers and the permanent secretary in carrying out their responsibilities in respect of the Prison Service under the framework document. The unit reports to the permanent secretary. I was asked who serves on it. At present the unit has four staff: one Grade 5 head, one Grade 7, one HEO and one personal secretary. The size of the unit could be expanded should that prove to be necessary.

A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, mentioned home leave. The Home Secretary's new arrangements for release on temporary licence, implemented on 25th April, recognise the need to maintain public safety and public confidence in the administration of justice. The results have been very encouraging. The number of temporary release failures has fallen by 80 per cent. since April. My right honourable friend does not feel that the protection of the public would be well served by accepting Sir John Learmont's proposals for more widely available home leave and we have no plans whatever to relax the restrictions. I welcome the comments of my noble friend Lady Seccombe and I was equally shocked by her observation. I, too, was shocked when I first came across it. The Home Secretary and I believe that more widely available in-cell television would be inconsistent with our policy that conditions in our prisons should be decent but, as my noble friend Lady Seccombe said, austere.

The size of the prison population was a vexed issue during the debate. The Prison Service is working hard to prevent overcrowding. A great deal has been achieved. Its first priority is to ensure that existing accommodation is fully utilised. In addition, the Home Secretary has in hand a substantial programme of prison building. Two new prisons are to come into use by 1997-98, providing 1,400 new places. A further 1,600 places are due to be provided to the same timetable through building at existing prisons and the reopening of Lowdham Grange. The measures should keep prison places in step with population forecasts. In spite of recent increases in the population, conditions in our prisons have radically improved. No prisoners have been held three to a cell designed for one since March 1994 and none has been held in a police cell since June 1995. Ninety-six per cent. of prisoners now have access to sanitation and it will very soon be 100 per cent.

The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, asked about the PES settlement and what that would mean for the Prison Service. The settlement allows the service to complete its present new house block programme and

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provide for four privately financed new prisons. In addition, it will provide for the Woodcock security improvement to the dispersal system and for continuation of the drugs strategy.

My noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway referred to tougher regimes for young offenders. A tougher new regime is to be introduced next year for selected young offenders at Thorn Cross young offenders institute in Cheshire. Inmates will have a 16-hour day full of demanding activity and will be subject to strict discipline. They will be expected to conform to high standards of dress and behaviour at all times and will have to earn privileges. The effort demanded of them will include taking responsibility for their criminal actions and the effects these have had, especially on their victims. The regime will help them to learn the skills required for employment on release, including basic education where that is lacking. The regime at Thorn Cross will be based partly on what we have learnt from the American bootcamp experience and also on successful features of regimes here. It will not simply be a copy of one particular American bootcamp but will include features from several which impressed Prison Service officials who visited them.

My noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway referred to other forms of improving "supermax" as well as to persistent young offenders. The secure training centres are also part of our planning. There are to be five of these centres covering England and Wales. Invitations to tender for the first two sites with planning consent were issued in March 1995.

The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 provides the secure training order for the hard core of 12 to 14-year old criminals who commit disproportionately numerous crimes which are not in themselves serious enough to attract the powers to detain which already exist for serious crimes such as murder or manslaughter. Courts will be empowered to impose a secure training order of up to two years when the offender has been convicted of three or more imprisonable offences, when the offender has previously proved unable or unwilling to comply with the requirements of supervision in the community, and when the nature or seriousness of the offending requires custody in line with the criteria contained in Section 1 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991. Offenders will be sent to new secure training centres which will provide positive regimes offering high standards of education and training. High standards of care and discipline in secure conditions will also be a feature of the regime.

The noble Earl, Lord Longford, referred to the post of director general. My right honourable friend will make an announcement on the substantive appointment of director general when he is ready to do so. I can assure the noble Earl that there is no truth in the suggestion floated in the press that the post of director general is to be abolished or that there is no interest in the post and that it cannot be filled.

The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, devoted a large part of his speech to conditions in Thailand. To say that conditions in prisons in Thailand many years ago are in any way comparable to those

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pertaining in British prisons bears no resemblance to reality. I found the attempt to draw the parallel offensive. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, later said that it was a joke. If it was a joke, it was in extremely bad taste. I was therefore heartened by the words of my noble friend Lord Stewartby and welcomed his comments and those of my noble friends Lord Campbell of Alloway, Lady Young, Lady Seccombe and Lord Vivian, which introduced necessary balance into the debate and gave voice to the concerns of the victims of crime and the protection of the public. That balance has certainly been missing in those who have spoken on other Benches.

My noble friend Lord Stewartby referred to mandatory drug testing. The first phase of mandatory drug testing for prisoners was completed satisfactorily in eight prisons at the end of June 1995 with no significant problems being encountered. A training and implementation programme to introduce testing in all prison establishments is now well advanced. Some 80 establishments will have begun testing by the end of December 1995 and the programme is on schedule for implementation in all establishments by the end of March 1996. In addition, to answer a point made by my noble friend Lady Young, staff are alert to the need to ensure that visitors do not bring drugs into prison or pass them during visits. As resources allow, cameras are to be installed in the visiting areas of all closed prisons to assist with that.

My noble friend was concerned about inspections for security and made a very important point. In April 1994 the Prison Service announced the formation of a standards audit unit to conduct thorough and independent investigations of prisons' performance. It has so far audited 70 prisons, completed 77 full inspections and made recommendations to ensure that the highest security standards are met. Each of the dispersal prisons has been audited and all except Full Sutton more than once.

On sentencing proposals, there has been some confusion about White Papers. The particular White Paper that has been mentioned refers to a sentencing White Paper. Progress on all the work that is taking place on Learmont will be the subject of report to Parliament.

Sir John Learmont and Sir John Woodcock have completed their review of the implementation of the recommendations of Sir John Woodcock's report on the escape from Whitemoor Prison. They have submitted that report to the Home Secretary, who will publish it before this House adjourns for Christmas.

Rehabilitation within prisons was mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham. As the Home Secretary has consistently made clear, the top priority of the Prison Service must be to keep prisoners in secure custody. Within prisons, prisoners should be fairly treated. Conditions should be decent and should also be austere.

We also firmly believe--and this is enshrined in the Prison Service's current statement of purpose--in the importance of helping prisoners to lead law-abiding and

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useful lives in custody and after release. I welcome Sir John Learmont's support for the many excellent prisoner programmes which exist and which can play an important rehabilitative role.

As an aside, I have to say, as regards the point made by the right reverend Prelate about the Government listening and taking into account public opinion, and accusing them of being guilty of accepting public opinion as some sort of orthodoxy, and holding the Government guilty of moral relativism, if the Government and Parliament stood guilty on that particular count, we would have hanging today as a punishment, for it is a well known fact that all surveys tell us that public opinion is in favour of capital punishment. But it has been sensibly debated in Parliament and Parliament has taken that view into account but decided not to adopt it. As a Christian, I am disenchanted with the present state of my Church, the Church of England, which has adopted moral and spiritual relativism and turned it almost into an art form. It seems that first principles were abandoned a long time ago.

Moving to a very different point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, no decision has yet been made about the replacement of Parkhurst as a dispersal prison. I shall keep him informed on that matter. I was asked what steps the Prison Service is taking to extend the range and quality of the work available. The range of work being undertaken is expanding all the time. New projects at over 60 establishments range from desk-top publishing to mushroom growing and recycling. A number of these projects involve the private sector. Over 30 workshops are accredited to British Standards 5750, 150 and 9002, being the international standards for quality assurance. I can say to the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, that I have personally witnessed some of those programmes and they are very impressive.

Seeking for a better balance between concern for the victim, protection of the public, punishment with rehabilitation programmes for the prisoner, if that is being hardline, then I, along with my noble friends Lady Young and Lady Seccombe and those others who were mentioned by the noble Baroness, stand guilty. I stand guilty along with them because that is the balance we are seeking.

I welcome the debate because it has provided an opportunity to focus on some of the difficult problems being experienced by the Prison Service and on Sir John Learmont's prescription for putting these matters right. As I have reminded the House, the Government have accepted the broad thrust of Sir John's recommendations, and the task of implementing them is now well under way.

In the spring the Home Secretary will be tabling a report detailing actions which have been taken, or which are planned, to implement most of the recommendations. Later in the year he will announce his decisions on those major recommendations which require detailed study and consultation; for example, the high security and control prisons. The Government are determined to see that this country has a prison service which is properly and effectively run. We shall ensure that those who are deprived of their liberty by the courts

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are held in decent but austere conditions, with the appropriate level of security to safeguard public safety. Sir John Learmont's recommendations will help us to ensure that those objectives are met.

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