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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, the Government must have made some estimate of that figure for the Minister to be so confident that savings will result. What estimates have they made?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I do not have the figures to hand, but if your Lordships want an exercise in logic, perhaps I may say this: if we reduce the number of people who come here, obviously many fewer people will need the services of the local authorities for education for their children or for their social or housing needs, so a considerable amount of money will be saved. That is what we believe will happen. Once this begins to act properly, as it appears to be, local authorities will find that they are spending less money on asylum-seekers because there will be many fewer of them. I am sure that most people in the country welcome that.

On the general question of employment and whether or not the JSA will help people, one of the important elements is the agreement. There will be a pact between the employment service and the individual in order to try to get the individual back into work as quickly as possible. It is well worth pointing out that two-thirds of people are already back in work within six months of becoming unemployed. We have a number of schemes that are designed to help those who are in long term unemployment and are often very difficult to place in employment. We believe that the jobseeker's agreement along with other schemes that we have introduced will go a long way to help those people get back into work. Of course, we do this against the background of falling unemployment, in contrast to what is being experienced by our major European friends. Their unemployment levels are higher than ours, and rising. However, the Labour Party continues to harp on as if the United Kingdom were the only country in the world with high unemployment, oblivious to the fact that UK unemployment is lower than the average of our European friends and is falling while theirs is rising. I believe that JSA will add greatly to our raft of measures to help people back into work. I commend these regulations to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Jobseeker's Allowance and Income Support (General) (Amendment) Regulations 1996

6.51 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 30th April be approved [19th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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Social Security (Adjudication) Amendment Regulations 1996

6.52 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 9th May be approved [20th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

HM Prison, Wandsworth

6.53 p.m.

Lord Harris of Greenwich rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what action they propose to take following the annual report of the board of visitors of HM Prison, Wandsworth.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. This is probably the first debate that we have had in the House in recent years on the report of a board of visitors of one of our prisons. I believe that it is right at the outset to express our warmest thanks to all the members of these boards, who, both at Wandsworth and elsewhere, make a major contribution to our penal system. Before I come to the contents of the report of the Wandsworth board, I believe it is right to refer to the problems which now confront the Prison Service as a whole. We are told that the numbers in our prisons may rise to the staggering level of 60,000. At the same time, the service faces large cuts in running costs. Over the three years 1995-96 to 1998-99, the service is to be compelled to reduce its costs per place in real terms by 10.2 per cent. or by 14 per cent. if new money, specifically earmarked for security measures following the report of Sir John Woodcock and for the service's drugs strategy, is left out of the calculation.

It is estimated that as a result of these cuts at least 2,800 posts will be lost, including many of the most experienced officers who, because of their position on the salary scale, are more expensive than the younger, less experienced officers. There will be significant cuts in prison education services. A recent survey by the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education suggested that in a cross-section of prisons there had already been an average cut of 14.5 per cent. in educational provision. We know from a recent Written Answer given to the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton of Eggardon, that 85 of the current probation staff of 645 will have their posts wiped out of existence. In addition, there will be reductions in chaplaincy services--a matter which is specifically referred to in the report of the Wandsworth board of visitors--and a cut in the funding of visitors' centres, which do so much to maintain relationships between inmates and their families. Finally, there have been heavy cuts in the prison refurbishment programmes.

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That is the background to the report of the Wandsworth board of visitors. Their report rightly pays tribute to the work of the governor and his staff and to some of the improvements undoubtedly made in previous years, such as the refurbishment of C and D wings at Wandsworth. But what the report discloses in detail provides a most disturbing commentary on how the cuts in the service imposed by Ministers will affect Wandsworth prison. The board say that the effects will force a choice between reducing manning levels and drastically modifying the regime in the establishment. Of course, either would be deeply damaging. But in addition they run the risk of creating serious disturbances within the prison.

I should like to deal now with a number of specific issues mentioned in the report. First, what is to happen to A and B wings at Wandsworth? This matter is specifically referred to in the report. For the moment, both have been mothballed; on neither has the planned refurbishment programme begun. The board has asked for an undertaking from the Home Secretary that the wings will never again, in their unrefurbished state, be used to house prisoners. Is the Minister prepared tonight to give the board and the House that undertaking? I remind the noble Baroness what the board has said about A wing at Wandsworth, which is now mothballed:

    "Its unreconstructed, crumbling Victorian fabric permitted little in the way of hygiene and the vile procedure of 'slopping out', which took place in the same recesses as the sinks used for washing dishes, made the sense of unremitting gloom even worse".
As to B wing, the report said:

    "A feeling akin to hopelessness and despair often seemed to afflict both prisoners and officers."

I am sure that the noble Baroness will not need to be reminded that in his report of March 1995 the Chief Inspector of Prisons said the following:

    "The planned refurbishment of A and B wings should not be delayed once C wing reopens".
Well, C wing has reopened, yet there is no sign of any activity as far as concerns the refurbishment of A and B wings. I hope that the noble Baroness will provide a clear answer to the board's question: is this work to begin? If not, will the noble Baroness undertake never--I repeat never--to return prisoners to the existing wings and the disgusting conditions which exist there? That is a clear question, and I believe that the House deserves a clear indication of the Government's intentions.

Next, I come to education at Wandsworth. This year there will be 201 hours of education in the prison. That is 25 hours fewer than last year. In the words of the board, this is likely to drop drastically this year because of the financial cuts to which I have already referred. I remind the noble Baroness of what the board said on this topic:

    "Education is the backbone of rehabilitation in a prison and any cuts in this service will be a retrogressive step which will almost certainly lead to greater operational problems".
I should be obliged if the noble Baroness would deal with that specifically in her reply.

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I come to the library. The board report:

    "It is regrettable that imminent financial cuts are likely to lead to reduced library staff and further reduced access to the library next year". That of course is this year.

I turn now to the chaplaincy. Its work forms an essential part of the welfare and rehabilitation work of the prison. "In particular", says the board:

    "it contributes positively to work on suicide prevention, education and reform of offending behaviour".
There are, says the board, likely to be reductions in chaplaincy staff, because of the national cuts imposed on the service. Is that really so? Can we really be contemplating such folly?

I hope that the Minister will not, like her colleagues in the other place, attempt to shelter behind the governor of Wandsworth, and suggest that those matters are entirely for him, because it is Ministers, not officials, who have imposed these slashing cuts on the service. They are the people who proudly proclaim that "prison works"; yet at the same time as the prison population is accelerating upwards, presumably to the gratification of Ministers, they are, according to what the Minister said earlier this afternoon, cutting the resources available to the service. They are playing an extremely dangerous game, and game it is. It no doubt gets them the cheerful headlines in the Daily Mail and the Sun, but in the real world they are creating conditions which could lead to the development of a most serious situation in our prisons.

On page after page of the Wandsworth report, there are references to the deterioration of staff morale. And of course they are not alone. In a letter to the Home Secretary this April, the Swaleside board of visitors wrote:

    "The proposed loss of over 30 staff (approximately 10 per cent.) mainly from uniform and education has already had a devastating effect on morale, and will quite quickly destabilise the regime".
Remembering, no doubt, the shameful way in which the governor of Parkhurst, Mr. Marriott, was summarily removed from office when developments occurred at that prison for which Ministers carried a heavy burden of personal responsibility, the Swaleside board said:

    "We wish to place on record that the responsibility for the consequences should not be placed at the door of our Governor or his colleagues".

The report of the Wandsworth board of visitors demonstrates the alarm now felt by many in the Prison Service about the consequences of the Government's conduct. I hope that in her reply the Minister will at least be able to indicate that she and her colleagues have at last begun to appreciate the crisis of confidence which now exists within the Prison Service.

7.3 p.m.

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, there is a rare quality about the Minister which we admire. I must give her the details on another occasion of a famous statesman who finally felt that he could no longer defend the Government's position. He put aside his brief, saying:

    "You must handle this one, I can't".

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That moment may come, although possibly not tonight. I cannot imagine a more punishing indictment than that provided by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, on the strength of this damaging report. If someone from abroad wanted to find out what was going on in our prisons he would have only to look at this report, where the whole thing is summarised.

I have more than a little interest in Wandsworth. I suppose I have been there many more times than the Minister. I first visited Wandsworth about 40 years ago. Around that time, I visited Maidstone Prison. It was an enlightened prison. I remember saying to a prison officer there, "I wouldn't mind being governor here". He said, "Anyone can be governor here, but you wouldn't last five minutes in Wandsworth". That was Wandsworth's reputation, which the report recognises as being the worst prison in the country.

A little after that, a famous governor--I found him to be a very good chap--was so unpopular because of the regime he had to implement that he was crucified by former prisoners when crossing the common. I was not actually present. Had I been, no doubt I should have offered him some ineffective assistance. At any rate, that was the kind of treatment that former prisoners meted out to the governor, due to the intensity of feeling at that time.

However, in recent years there has been, as the report brings out clearly, considerable improvement under the present much-to-be-admired governor. I am about to say something nice--it may be for the first time, but I hope not for the last--about the present Home Secretary. I visited Wandsworth because I am in touch with a prisoner there. I had a letter from the governor today. I have been visiting Wandsworth and there are restrictions there. They do not compare with the restrictions in some of the other prisons such as Whitemoor, where one has to take off one's shoes and go through a few other humiliations. I said to the young woman who searched me, "I realise that you have to carry out Mr. Howard's orders". She said, "He came here the other day. He was a nice gentleman". She said that in a tone of utmost surprise. That is the first kind word I have heard said about him in a prison in recent years. At any rate, she thought he was a nice gentleman. Let us agree that Mr. Howard is a nice gentleman, but he has the most evil policy that has ever been applied in a British prison. That is accepted by everyone in the prisons.

So we have the situation now in Wandsworth. Of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, pointed out, it is astonishing that these cuts have been made which fall so heavily on Wandsworth. They do not fall only on Wandsworth of course. I was at a conference the other day. There was a lady who was responsible for a great deal of counselling. She had been counselling three prison officers, although not from Wandsworth, who had become fearful for their lives because of the atmosphere in the prisons. That is just one example.

The terrible atmosphere has been brought about entirely by the Home Secretary, with the full support of course of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. That is the situation throughout the country. In Wandsworth we

10 Jun 1996 : Column 1554

have these cuts. I have given the Minister an hour or two's advance notice of what I am going to say. She ought to be able to answer the question that I am putting to her directly, but I bet she does not. Why are these cuts being implemented? We are told that the country is more prosperous than ever. So why on earth are these cuts being made? I am asking the Minister, and I hope that she can answer. Why are these cuts, which are so damaging, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, pointed out, being imposed?

One explanation, and the most obvious, is that it is the Government's desire to make prisons unpleasant. They are deliberately treating prisoners as second-class citizens. That may be preventive, and I hope that the Minister has the correct information. At a time when, according to the Government, the country is getting richer and richer, why are they making these cuts?

7.8 p.m.

Baroness Mallalieu: My Lords, the House is indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, for raising this matter. The 1995 annual report of the board of visitors to Wandsworth reflects great credit on two groups of people: first, the visitors themselves. There was a total of 543 visits in 1995, with a member visiting the prison virtually every day. Many of the visits were unannounced. The commitment of those ordinary members of the public to the work of this prison, their pride in the improvements that have been made, and their real concerns for its future shine through the words and conclusions of the report.

Secondly, the governor and the staff of the prison must take the lion's share of the credit for bringing Wandsworth from the 19th century very belatedly into the 20th. Until seven years ago, as has been said, Wandsworth was generally regarded as the worst prison in the country, both to be in as a prisoner and to work in: old, decaying, infected, insanitary, depressing, dehumanising and at times plain cruel in its regime.

Since then a vast amount of constructive work has been done in an attempt to provide prisoners with conditions which are at least humane and with a regime which, within the restrictions imposed by budget, staffing levels and accommodation, is a constructive one. Past Home Secretaries deserve credit for the building work which has been done and the reconstruction which has been completed. As a result, staff and prisoner morale has been improved. The appalling A and B wings have been taken out of service, as both the inspector of prisons and the Director General of the Prison Service rightly said they should. A regime, which by any standards is austere, now, through the efforts largely of the staff, tries to provide conditions in which prisoners can begin to address the reasons why they offended and plan for the future.

However, the message of the report is that those improvements are now under threat. That threat comes from a Government who tell the public that prison works and who take steps to ensure that more members of the public will enjoy the benefits of a stay in one of their establishments while refusing to provide adequate funds for the Prison Service to cater constructively for its increased clientele.

10 Jun 1996 : Column 1555

The public are well aware that the Home Secretary wants to see those who commit crime sent to prison for longer. I wonder whether the public realise that he has made no plans to pay for that. Do they realise that the net capital expenditure on prisons in the financial year 1995-96 was £330 million; that in 1996-97 it is to be reduced to £117 million; and in 1997-98 reduced again to £110 million? At the same time the prison population has been seriously underestimated. The projected population was estimated to reach 59,500 in 2004. It is now set to reach that figure next year. The public need to know that because it amounts to serious mismanagement of the Prison Service. All those who work within the service agree that overcrowded and understaffed prisons do not work. Budget cuts against the background of a rocketing prison population are a recipe for disaster.

The report shows that in Wandsworth the cracks are already appearing. First, staff morale is damaged. There are fears that those who felt they had a role to play in future crime prevention are being seen by the Government as no more than turnkeys in a lock-up, to use the words of the report. Staff shortages mean that valuable work can no longer be done.

Perhaps I may take two examples from the report. The sex offender treatment programme, a very valuable part of the work of the prison, is suffering from problems because staff shortages make it difficult to produce officers to work alongside probation officers in the scheme. Searches for drugs in the visitors' area, which is the main point of entry of drugs into our prisons, cannot be conducted routinely because of staff shortages. Waiting lists of those wanting to learn, not as A-level or Open University candidates, but simply to read and write, are growing. It is likely that cuts will make the position still worse next year, affecting the contract with South Thames College. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, referred to those issues.

It is feared that the probation staff of the prison will be cut from 12 to five. Already no probation officer can be found for the newly refurbished healthcare centre. By far the greatest fear in the report relates to A and B wings, which held 480 men. In September 1995, less than a year ago, the Government stated that the work of refurbishment would begin by February this year. In January 1996 we were told that the work was still being considered. The fear in the report is that those insanitary, disease-ridden wings will be used again as they are. Perhaps I may repeat the question that was put so forcefully by the noble Lord, Lord Harris. Will the Minister tell us what the plans are now for that refurbishment? Above all, will she, in the light of the report, give a clear and unequivocal undertaking that neither of those wings will be used unless refurbishment first takes place?

To use those wings again in their present state would be to return to conditions degrading and dangerous for prisoners and staff alike. It would send a message to the governor and his staff in this much improved prison that their work during the past seven years is regarded by this Government as a waste of time.

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7.15 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I have read with interest the Wandsworth board of visitors' report and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, for initiating the debate. It gives me the opportunity to be as selective as noble Lords have been in the debate and also to put the record straight. I shall not, as the noble Lord accused in anticipation of my speech, hide behind the governor of Wandsworth Prison. From the outset I shall pay a tribute to him and to his staff for the management of the prison. For that part of my speech I shall pray in aid extracts from the report and from the open letter sent by the Board of Governors. It stated:

    "This year, with some exceptions, the report finds much to praise as it reviews the strenuous efforts of the governor and his staff to make the prison a place where prisoners, although held in conditions which, by any standards, are austere, can, nevertheless, begin to address their offending behaviour before they return to society".
In response to a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, about improvements in the prison, I shall quote another part of the report. It states:

    "The past seven years have seen a sea-change. Much of the fabric has been modernised; the regime has been improved; prisoners spend much more time out of their cells involved in work, education and physical exercise; slopping out has all but disappeared; the bug-ridden kitchens have been replaced by temporary, but hygienic, modern ones. Such changes are designed to fulfil the Prison Service's mission statement and to aim to turn prisoners from crime to law abiding lives".
Nothing that has happened in terms of the budget this year will alter that.

The noble Baroness, I believe rather discourteously, referred to previous Home Secretaries as having been responsible for that programme. Perhaps I may remind her that a good deal of the programme has taken place under the present Home Secretary. There have been drainage and water supply improvements, a new reception, temporary kitchens and improvements in sanitation in G, H and K wings. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, referred only to C and D wings being refurbished. I can tell him that C, D, E, F and G wings have been refurbished. There have been sanitation improvements in E wing and refurbishment in D and C wings. Healthcare, simple sanitation and security work has been carried out, as has perimeter security work, which is still in progress. The healthcare, sanitation, security and perimeter work to C wing has taken place under my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. That expenditure totals £21.3 million. That is a different picture from that painted so far.

I am glad to be able to pay tribute to the work of boards of visitors. It is always welcoming to know that members of boards of visitors, who are unpaid volunteers, willingly give of their time and effort to prepare a document such as this to alert Ministers to areas of concern and issues that often can require our urgent attention.

Despite the headlines which some of your Lordships may have seen in the national press, the 1995 board of visitors' report on Wandsworth was in fact very positive; particularly in comparison with the report which the prison received in 1994. The board's report for 1995 recognises the efforts made by staff and management to deal effectively and constructively with

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prisoners there. Some of the noted successes included the improvements that had been made in dealing with prisoners' requests and complaints; the imaginative way staff training courses have been conducted; the high standards of control and discipline within the prison; and the increased standard of the care within the healthcare centre.

There are, of course, always areas of concern raised by BoV reports and today I shall tell your Lordships what the Prison Service is doing in response to each of the main areas of concern that have been expressed individually.

The board of visitors at Wandsworth is concerned about the programme of cost reductions at the prison. Wandsworth, like the Prison Service generally, is required to make efficiency savings this year. The board has expressed its concerns about those cost efficiency savings and fears that they will impact on the positive progress that has been achieved at the prison over the past few years. The board also fears that prisoners will react to staff reductions and some reduction in time out of cell by acts of indiscipline. While I can, of course, understand the board's concerns, the governor and management of Wandsworth have a wealth of prison experience and the governor too recognises that purposeful activity for prisoners is essential not only to maintain control within prison but to assist prisoners to lead law-abiding lives on their release.

The governor has also planned to ensure that the efficiency savings that are required will impact as little as possible on the regimes that he and his staff introduced successfully at Wandsworth. Although the measures he has implemented have been viewed as drastic by some, they are in the spirit of the instructions issued by the director general: that purposeful activities, especially programmes that address offending behaviour, should be preserved.

It is the Government's policy to exercise firm control over public expenditure and to secure greater efficiency in the running of public services. It is right that the Prison Service should not be exempt from this policy. The savings in unit costs which are required of the Prison Service are broadly consistent with those expected of the public services generally.

There is scope for greater efficiency in the day to day running of the Prison Service; for example, by the cost-effective deployment of staff. Additional funding has, however, been made available for security improvements and to combat drug abuse.

It is essential to maintain the balance between security and control measures, constructive and effective regimes for prisoners and providing support for staff. The emphasis, across the Prison Service, is on reducing costs rather than constructive activity for prisoners, and resources will continue to be given to those programmes which help prisoners to address their offending behaviour.

It is true that there will be a reduction in staff in the probation, education and chaplaincy departments at Wandsworth. The probation department will be reduced not from 12 but from 11 to five staff. But the governor

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is confident that this level of provision will enable him to continue to meet his commitments under the national throughcare framework agreement.

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