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Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I thank both noble Lords who took part in this evening's debate. This Bill has received all-party support and I hope that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading this evening.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Prisoners' Earnings Bill

9.22 p.m.

Lord Renton: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

It is a short, practical and, I believe, eminently sensible Bill which is designed to help to motivate prisoners to get the most out of their sentences both for their own benefit and, perhaps more importantly, for the benefit of society in general.

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The Bill was introduced in another place by my honourable friend the Member for Finchley, Mr. Hartley Booth. It passed through all its stages there with the support of all parties and, therefore, I hope that it may commend itself to your Lordships.

Prison has two main purposes: first, it must punish the offender, and it does that by depriving him of his liberty; but, secondly, it should help the offender to lead a more useful and law-abiding life on his release from prison, which is more difficult, but the Bill aims to encourage that.

This is a short Bill and is rather technical in its terms but its purposes and methods are quite clear. The method is to authorise deductions from or levies on a prisoner's earnings when he is undertaking certain kinds of work to which I shall refer; and to provide for the way in which those deductions or levies should be applied for various good purposes.

The two aims of prison tend to work against one another. Prison is an artificial environment and many of the normal responsibilities and decisions of life are removed from the prisoner. If he is to be encouraged to live a law-abiding and useful life after release, prison life should increasingly be made to reflect the realities of the outside world as much as possible. The prisoner must therefore be encouraged to feel a sense of responsibility for his actions.

The Bill aims to contribute to that process of encouragement. It does so by providing the means by which, in return for the privilege--and it is a privilege--of earning substantially higher wages than they would normally do in prison, prisoners will contribute to their own upkeep and that of their dependants; they will contribute to crime prevention; and, indeed, to victim support schemes. That is greatly to the advantage of prisoners. It will also enable savings to be made by prisoners through their work which will then be repaid to them on their release.

Under the Bill's provisions, prison governors are authorised to make deductions from the wages paid to a prisoner participating in what is known as an enhanced wages scheme. That scheme is different from the ordinary run of prison labour for which prisoners receive a very limited amount each week. Alternatively, prison governors can make levies on the wages of prisoners who are working for outside employers for real wages. The Bill further provides that the deductions or levies must be used for the purposes that I have mentioned.

I should just mention that under the Bill, if a prisoner is not satisfied with the deductions made by the governor, he has the right to appeal to the Secretary of State. That is a useful safeguard. Then, of course, the Secretary of State must do as one might expect and either confirm the governor's decision or vary it.

As I have indicated, the Prison Service already has some schemes in place upon which the aims of the Bill can be based--the so-called enhanced wages schemes. Those schemes now cover 1,300 prisoners. There are 54,000 prisoners in prison in England and Wales, so the project has not got very far as yet; but it may do so. In

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addition to those prisoners, roughly 9,000 are employed in prison industries and on farms but without the benefit of the enhanced wages scheme.

Ordinarily, without the benefit of an enhanced wages scheme, a prisoner can be expected to be paid about £7 a week. However, under the scheme he or she can be paid from about £15 a week upwards, depending on productivity. I am told that the effects of the scheme on both output and motivation in the prisons where it has been practised have already been dramatically successful. In one workshop output trebled with the same number of workers.

The schemes are self-financing in that the extra pay is financed from the value of the extra output produced, and there is no extra cost to the taxpayer. Indeed, the taxpayer benefits from the scheme because the prisoner will be made--and this is one of the things that can be done by the deductions--to contribute to the cost of his being imprisoned.

There is also the pre-release employment scheme which enables some prisoners reaching the end of their sentence to work for outside employers at normal rates of pay on day release from prison. The Bill will provide a clear, legal framework for the deductions or levies which accompany those schemes.

I am willing to attempt to reply to any points that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, or my noble friend may raise on the matter. There is a great deal that I could say in introducing the Bill. Indeed, I could go through it clause by clause if your Lordships wished me to do so. However, as noble Lords have had the opportunity to read this short Bill, and bearing in mind the purposes which I mentioned and the method that I have described, I think that it might be better for me to leave any further comments that I have to my reply.

I should, however, just add this. Prison authorities will have to find more work for prisoners to do if the advantages of the Bill are to be obtained. It is crucial that this work should not be obtained at the expense of law-abiding jobseekers in the outside world and the wider community. That is why the Prison Service is increasingly looking for work in partnership with private sector firms rather than in competition with them. It is seeking out opportunities for import substitution or for particular processes or products where prison industries can meet a market need without affecting outside employment. In other words, there are some things that are needed in prisons which outside manufacturers just do not attempt to provide. There is an opportunity there.

With a prison population of over 54,000, if we can get a high proportion of them working productively, that will help in some small way to stimulate the economy and contribute to growth and hence to reduce unemployment. I hope your Lordships will agree that this Bill, though a small one, will have an all round benefit.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.--(Lord Renton.)

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9.31 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, as with the previous Bill, I preface my remarks by saying that Private Members' Bills are supported or otherwise in a personal capacity from this Dispatch Box. However, I have no hesitation in saying that I support the Bill and I welcome the initiative of the honourable Member for Finchley, and of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, in bringing it before Parliament. I note that Mr. Hartley Booth paid tribute to the work of the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Penal Affairs Consortium in the thinking and preparation of this Bill. That encourages me even further to support it.

I was relieved to hear the noble Lord, Lord Renton, describe the purpose of prison as being punishment which he defined as being loss of liberty and rehabilitation. There have been those in the Government who have had rather more retributive ideas of imprisonment. I am glad to see that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, adheres to the old, more liberal views of what prison is for. Of course it is undoubtedly true--everyone agrees with this--that the purpose of prison must be rehabilitation to a considerable extent. One of the best forms of rehabilitation--if we are to stop prisons being universities of crime--is for prisoners to have useful employment, and preferably employment which will be of value to them when they come out of prison. That, of course, is a particularly important element in prison employment and, as I understand it, in this Bill.

I am sure the noble Lord will agree that there are some constraints on what extra money can be earned by prisoners. I think most people would think it unreasonable if prisoners were able to earn more than those, for example, on job creation schemes, whose earnings consist of the dole plus a certain amount. That puts an upper limit on what it is possible to earn from prison earnings. There is also room for argument about the particular purposes for which the deductions might be used. Of course it is entirely reasonable that they should be used for victim support schemes, for example; but what about compensation to individual victims? It is usually assumed that prisoners do not have any resources to make compensation to individual victims. Would it not be worth considering whether the Bill should provide for compensation to individual victims as well as giving general support for victim support services?

The other constraint is that we have to ensure that those additional earnings are not used as a cost cutting exercise in the Prison Service. The noble Lord referred to the increase in the prison population in recent years. He will be as aware as we all are that in real terms the budgets of the Prison Service are being reduced to a considerable extent over the next three years; and we would not like to see prisoners' earnings used to cut costs in prisons. I do not believe that that is possible from the Bill. However, we should be clear that these are genuine extra earnings which are used genuinely for charitable or rehabilitative purposes.

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Allowing for those constraints on the possible effects, the Bill is not a panacea either for the budgets, the Prison Service or the costs of victim support services. However, it is a useful measure and it has our support.

9.36 p.m.

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I intervene in the debate to assure your Lordships that the Government fully support the Bill. In doing so, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Renton on his excellent description of the Bill; and my honourable friend Dr. Hartley Booth.

Constructive work in prison can be shown to be helpful in reducing the risk of reoffending after release. It is essential to do what we can to improve the prisoner's prospects of getting a job outside prison. There is good research to suggest that work experience which leads to realistic job opportunities after release reduces reoffending rates. Along with having a stable home to go to, getting a job after release is the biggest single factor which separates ex-prisoners who avoid reoffending from those who do not.

But constructive work has the additional advantage for prisons that it actually brings income into the system. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, commented on costs. Costs and deductions will go straight into the consolidated fund. Such work also increases the amount of beneficial activity in prison. It enhances its quality, and, properly managed, it will reduce the cost of providing it.

The key is getting more prisoners to work, and getting prisoners to work harder while they are at work. Prisoners are required to work when it is available, but coercion alone cannot make them work harder or more effectively. Nor will it generate the will to work which is such an important aspect of the rehabilitative value of work in prison. But experience shows that prisoners will work harder if there is a reasonable incentive.

It cannot be left simply at that. Prisoners do not have the same living expenses as other people. It would be wrong to enable them simply to accumulate money; and it would be wrong not to take advantage of the rehabilitative potential that constructive work can offer: work which requires prisoners to show responsibility for themselves and their dependants, and for the consequences of their crimes. The Bill establishes a sensible framework, with appropriate safeguards, to maximise all the benefit of the enhanced wages scheme in prisons.

This leads me to the other reasons for Government support for this Bill. The first of these are those which my noble friend set out. It will benefit a wide range of people and organisations. It will benefit voluntary organisations dealing with the effects of crime. It will benefit society at large. It will benefit the prisoner while in prison and after release.

We also support the Bill because it reinforces the ability of the Prison Service to do what both the Woolf Report, the Learmont Report, and HM Inspector of Prisons also said it should: to provide active, busy prisons in which prisoners can do purposeful work.

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Thirdly, we support the Bill because it fits four square with what the Government believe prison regimes should be and do. We believe that prison regimes should not allow prisoners to be idle. They should make plain to the prisoner the value of hard work and working with others. They should enable the prisoner to make reparation to society. They should encourage the prisoner to take responsibility for his own actions, his own upkeep, and that of his dependants.

My noble friend asked about the number of people at present in the scheme. The suggested figure was 1,350. That is just the pilot scheme.

If it meets with your Lordships' approval, the Bill should go a long way towards achieving prison regimes of that kind. If I may say so, I believe that my honourable friend Dr. Hartley Booth has provided invaluable help to the Prison Service and the administration of justice by piloting the Bill so skilfully through its various stages elsewhere. I commend the Bill to your Lordships.

9.40 p.m.

Lord Renton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, for the support which he has given to the Bill and I also appreciated his comments. I ought to answer him on two points that he made. First, he referred to the desirability of compensation to individual victims. I agree with him. The position under the Bill is that, when the court has made an order that a victim should be compensated by the accused, there will be a deduction from the earnings of the accused in order to help towards the victim's compensation. So that point is covered.

The second important point that the noble Lord made was that there should be constraints on the amount of money that may be earned. I can assure him that, even under day release schemes as the prisoner's sentence comes towards its end, the amount that the prisoner can earn must be decided by the governor. The prisoner will not merely be able to make a free bargain with the employer. I do not believe that we need worry about other employees' wages being undercut by prisoners. As I understand it, what the Home Secretary and the prison authorities have in mind is that the enhanced earnings and pre-release earnings must be earned on schemes where prisoners do not compete with labour in our own employment market. They compete with importers. That is rather different. Alternatively, when nothing comes in by way of import nor is anything produced in our own factories it produces goods which are needed in the prisons. One prison found it necessary to get prison mugs made and managed to find an employer who was willing to embark on that under the enhanced earnings scheme. So I hope that will set the noble Lord's mind at rest.

I ask that your Lordships give the Bill a second reading and, in doing so, I wish to say how grateful I am for the support that it has received.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

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