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When this issue was debated in Committee, it was argued passionately and almost unanimously that the prisons inspectorate should not be merged into the proposed new mega-inspectorate. Few voices, if any, apart from those of the Government, were raised in favour of the proposition, and I believe that the Summer Recess has done nothing to diminish that passion. It is devoutly to be hoped that this time the Government really will have ears to hear and will listen.

The arguments for retaining the separate identity, independence and unique role of the prisons inspectorate remain the same and are, I believe,

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overwhelming. When we are dealing with issues concerning the treatment of people who have been deprived of their liberty and are locked away out of the public gaze, there has to be a body with the independence, expertise and muscle to ensure that international human rights standards are complied with and that safety is maintained. That is what our highly respected and internationally admired prisons inspectorate currently does.

We think that we live in a civilised country but that does not guarantee that what happens in our prisons is always civilised—far from it. Indeed, it is arguable that the current chronic overcrowding of our jails makes it almost inevitable that it is not, when people are literally warehoused and churned from place to place as beds become available and any form of rehabilitation is virtually impossible. The excellent reports from the inspectorate demonstrate that but, more than that, there is evidence that the inspectorate contributes directly to promoting change and good practice as a result of its recommendations. Indeed, it also draws attention to existing good practice and helps to disseminate that too.

The inspectorate is so much more than an auditor of process and systems. It requires very special knowledge and insight to inspect properly the treatment in and conditions of penal custody. Without it, there is little doubt that there is a serious risk that standards of treatment will drop and breaches of human rights of prisoners will take place. There is also the concern from the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights that the Government’s plan,

without the insertion of specific guarantees. The six safeguards laid down by the JCHR to ensure compatibility have not all been addressed by the Government and, without them, it is not acceptable that current standards should be undermined by the Government's proposals.

I draw specific attention to one area which requires a particular specialist skill within that of the inspectorate as it currently operates. This concerns the children that we have in custody. Here, there is a separate specialist team, which uses child-centred, welfare-based criteria and has a different set of expectations from those used by the adult prison inspectors. It spends a lot of time talking to children. It conducts joint inspections with Ofsted and the Social Services Inspectorate, thus acknowledging the particular needs and issues of this relatively small but extremely important and sensitive area of inspection. It also demonstrates how importantly it rates partnership, working with other experts. We have heard nothing of the provision that the Government might make for this aspect of the inspectorate's work, and I should welcome a comment on this from the Minister when she replies.

The chief inspector’s latest annual report demonstrates some alarming findings. The most recent annual survey of the juvenile population shows that an average of 73 per cent say that their bell is not

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answered within five minutes; more than a third say that they feel unsafe all the time; a quarter have been insulted or assaulted by staff; and 2 per cent say that they have been sexually assaulted by staff. The latest report from Huntercombe YOI expresses serious concern about the use of force to strip-search children—an acutely traumatic experience for those who have been abused before coming to prison, of whom there are a significant number. In the six months before the inspection, there were four child protection referrals following allegations made by children of abuse while being strip-searched. That is evidence taken by very qualified people who spend time talking to children, and it is taken very seriously.

It is interesting that in the child prisons—the STCs—inspections are carried out by CSCI alone because the children are very young. It took an investigation by my noble friend Lord Carlile into the treatment of children in custody to discover children experiencing practices which would be called child abuse in any other non-custodial setting. That demonstrates the real specialism of the inspectorate.

That is all shocking evidence which needs to be exposed to protect this particularly difficult and vulnerable group within the prison population—the children. As I have shown, it requires very specialist skills to uncover it, even when YJB monitors are on-site. How can we possibly allow this work to be diluted or compromised? I sincerely hope that this time the Government will be able to listen to the arguments from all sides of the House and reconsider their position, where the whole will be far less than the sum of its parts. There is too much at stake.

7 pm

Viscount Slim: My Lords, many years ago, a man called Blake escaped from prison, and the Mountbatten report was produced afterwards. At the end of that report, I was approached, along with some rather special people with whom I was living at the time, and asked to go round prisons, to look at them and to produce some suggestions about making them harder to escape from. I had the full support of every prison governor and many of the senior warders. I visited, with a little team, and lived in prison. I hope we did our job well.

I got very close to the then inspector of prisons whom I thought was a remarkable man. Even then he was worried. I shall not say which political party was in power and speaking from these Benches it does not really matter. He told me that because there had been a disaster, the heavy hand of government was on him every day—harder and harder—and he was frightened of losing his independence as the Chief Inspector of Prisons. We did what we could to help him—I am not saying that that was very successful—but the Government of the day did not treat him particularly well. The lesson I learnt over several months in the prisons business was that such a man or woman must be entirely independent, reporting only to the very highest in the land at top Secretary of State level. I am rather horrified by what is being proposed tonight. I think it is completely wrong.

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Lord Acton: My Lords, the position of the Chief Inspector of Prisons has been a great success and the structure embracing the Chief Inspector of Prisons has been a great success. I hope my noble friend the Minister will think again.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, I apologise for not being present in July, but I was taken ill. I remind the House that I have the privilege of chairing the All-Party Group on Penal Affairs. The Government’s proposal to abolish the independent inspector of prisons is entirely perverse, not least at this time. My noble friend Lady Quin objected to the word “crisis”, but perhaps we can agree on the word “failure”. Any system that spends £37,000 of taxpayers' money every year on locking up each prisoner when two years later 73 in every 100 are back behind bars must be rated as a failure. I am bothered and alarmed that there is not more public concern over that waste of resources. Something clearly is not working in the prison system.

I am especially bothered about the proposals relating to the inspector of prisons as it is precisely at times of overcrowding, with jails bulging at the gates, that added pressures are put on staff. Added pressures on staff mean that mistakes are made, rules are broken and the rights of those whom we lock up are not respected, but ignored. The bigger the pressures on overcrowding, the more mistakes are made, and any attempt at sensible rehabilitation and proper, consistent education goes out the window as well. That is bad enough and adds to the waste of resources but now, because of the pressures on staff, under the Government’s proposals, those behind locked doors will not be properly inspected.

I would like the Minister to explain to the House what extra benefits we shall receive from this new jumbo system of inspection of our prisons. What is Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons not doing now that will be more effectively done under this amalgamated system? I hope my noble friend can spell that out because there has to be a reason for this proposal that makes some sense. It gives me no pleasure to say that the Government will not have my support tonight on this proposal. They do not deserve it.

We have an outstanding system of inspection of our prisons that is literally the envy of the world. I agree with every word that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, a very distinguished former Chief Inspector of Prisons, has said. People from all over the world beat a path to the door of whoever holds the office of Chief Inspector of Prisons to learn how we do this. The pity is that, dare I say, over the years successive Governments and successive Home Secretaries have not taken enough notice of what inspectors have said. Is it not right that time without number the response is, “That was six or eight or nine months ago and most of these recommendations have been put in place”? We know that that simply is not the case.

I urge the Minister to listen to what is being said all around the House. This system deserves and demands to be kept in place, especially at times when we are running out of cells in which to put convicted prisoners. I hope that she will listen and abandon this proposal.

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Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I add the support of these Benches to all the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. Grouped with those are two rather modest amendments in my name—Amendments Nos. 88 and 89—and I suggest that the mood of the House might not be with me were I to try to speak to them. I propose to table them at Third Reading for consideration, if the Minister is happy with that. They relate to Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary.

The guiding principle to which we have adhered is that it is wrong to damage the authority and independence of the Inspectorate of Prisons. We believe that the Government’s proposals would do just that. In Committee, I set out our beliefs and arguments in detail. It would not be appropriate for me at this stage to repeat them.

I recall that, a lifetime ago, when I was a student reading law reports and trying with my addled brain to make sense of them, one member of the Court of Appeal seemed to say almost every time merely, “I agree and have nothing to add”. I used to wonder why he wasted that opportunity to put forward his point of view. Tonight is that time. The passionate convictions have been put and the expertise has been revealed by all those who have exposed the weaknesses of the Government’s proposals. All the arguments have been persuasive. So I agree and have nothing to add, except my passionate conviction that the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, are right.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I have, of course, listened with the greatest care—and with a little alarm and anxiety—to everything that has been said. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, in his very powerful speech said, “Don't shoot the messenger”. In addition he suggested that the messenger was the purveyor of objective information. These amendments are not designed to shoot and do not shoot the messenger. I say to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, that I have never for one moment ever thought, “Who will rid me of this troublesome inspector?”.

The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, I did as a Minister.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I understood him to have felt that. I do not share his anxiety. We have understood that inspection, with all its rigour and its painful, acute attention, brings to our scrutiny something that nothing else could give us. I agree with all those who say that we demand and need that level of acute objectivity. I do not hesitate to say that there are some who are thereby greatly assisted in Government. The argument in support of certain changes and difficulties becomes easier if there is support, encouragement, information and data in a report, enabling them to make it with greater power. I see the noble Lord, Lord Elton, who has doubtless had a common experience, nodding his head. I make it plain to the House that we do not

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make these changes on the basis that they will dilute, divert or in any way subtract from the acuity which has been brought to bear on this issue. Inspection has value.

However, as wonderful as our inspector of prisons is now and has been, all the successors in title are equally difficult, and long may it be so. Noble Lords will perhaps remember his honour Judge Tumim, who was succeeded by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. Anyone who thought that the replacement would make it easier soon learnt their mistake. After the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, shuffled off this particular mortal coil, Anne Owers took up the cudgels. She has been equally vigorous. We have on each occasion found someone of real calibre to discharge this duty. If anyone wishes to know whether super-human beings exist, they need only listen to the debates in this House. We seem to have a large number of them here.

Our proposals will not undermine the quality of inspection. My noble friend Lord Corbett asked what this new inspectorate adds. It adds a great deal. I remind the House that we are talking about five independent inspectorates, each of them excellent. We rely on each to give us that level of change. Things have changed, however, and I must remind the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, how much. He talked about a justice inspectorate working to a single Minister, and points out that there are three. On a number of occasions, I have shared with this House the significant changes since the 2003 Act. The creation of the National Criminal Justice Board with the local criminal justice boards means that the three Ministers, together with the subordinate Ministers who discharge this duty, come together in the National Criminal Justice Board every month to make significant decisions about how the criminal justice system should be managed end to end.

Through that process, we have learnt that the system must be just that if we are to protect individuals, and provide rehabilitation and change. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester said that he was shocked and surprised. I confess that I was shocked and surprised that he should think that we are in any way cynical about our work. I assure him that the passion we feel for changing is by no means diminished, and any action in this regard, although we may disagree, is not due to any degree of male fides. I hope that he will accept that as the truth.

Let us look at the added value. There are huge gaps in what we do and what we know, which must be filled. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said that while 80,000 people are in our prisons, only a small percentage would be subject to supervision. I again remind him of the changes in the 2003 Act, meaning that in the majority of sentences people will spend part of their time in custody and the rest in the community.

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I did not say “a small proportion”. I said “less than half”. I think I am right in saying that some of the provisions of the 2003 Act, such as custody plus, have not been able to be enacted. That may well be the intention, but I suggest that it is not currently the case.

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7.15 pm

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the system we are putting in place is not simply to deal with the situation today, but the whole framework we wish to have in place for the criminal justice system as a whole. We are moving to a situation when it will not just be the period in prison, but will also extend to the period in the community. We are determined to reduce the unacceptable level of recidivism. That involves the seven pathways—which the noble Lord will know about—the work we must do across the piece, and the link between the juvenile estate and the adult estate and making sure they dovetail. We are not prescribing a framework for what is now, but what will be. That is an important issue.

We believe that we have fully registered the concerns about dilution of prisons inspectorates. The Bill preserves the existing remit of the Chief Inspector of Prisons as a special duty. It places a statutory duty on the chief inspector to maintain expertise in inspectorate staff. Transition will be managed to ensure business continuity. On the date, we have of course made plain that this will take time. We said that we would only abolish the prisons inspectorate when the new chief inspector is fully able to take on the role. To facilitate a smooth transition, the appointment of the current Chief Inspector of Prisons has been extended until April 2008. It is hoped that the timetable will encompass such a smooth transition before then. However, it is of course open to Ministers to review a further extension if the timetable proves not to fit into the April 2008 framework. That is what we intend, and how we propose to deal with it.

There has been a suggestion that this could be a cost issue—my noble friend Lady Quin was concerned about costs. I assure her and the House that we expect a one-off cost of setting up the inspectorate of about £2 million. Over time, there should be some efficiency savings, but we expect to maintain total annual funding at broadly existing levels: approximately £20 million per year. Those costs will be met by the business areas in the Home Office, the Department for Constitutional Affairs and the office of the Attorney-General, which are responsible for funding the existing five—

The Lord Bishop of Worcester: My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. Will she confirm that, under the new arrangements, it will be for the new chief inspector to determine the budgetary priorities between the various aspects of the inspection? Does she accept that one of the worries that many of us have is that ministerial direction may influence those priorities in such a way as to impede the proper functions of the prisons inspectorate?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I understand that that is an anxiety. That is why, in structuring, we are putting a specific duty on the existing remit of the chief inspector to ensure that the prisons duty will be carried out. I assure your Lordships that we will be as zealous about those matters as we are now. That is not going to change.

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Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, does the Minister accept that every single speaker this evening, other than the Minister, has indicated that they regard the present system as making Ministers and the Prison Service more accountable? Would it not therefore be sensible not to diminish public confidence in the system, but to keep the system as it is now for the sake of public confidence?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that although I have been in this House for quite a long time, my hearing has not been diminished. I understand what has been said and I have internally digested it. It is only right and fair that I should say to the House that I understand and hear noble Lords’ anxiety. I understand what they fear and, indeed, why they fear it, but it is my role to try to assist the House to understand why those fears, which have been properly, eloquently and expansively expressed, are not founded in fact. It is of course open to the House in due course to disagree, but that is our democracy and that is the purpose. If there is only one person who will defend the Government’s position, your Lordships may notice that it should be me.

We have considered these issues because these concerns were very much our concerns. We have carefully considered the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Human Rights and are now introducing an express requirement that every place of detention should be inspected and clarifying that nothing can prevent the chief inspector from making unannounced inspections. That meets the proper concerns expressed. We have also considered the concern that there will no longer be a single senior independent office-holder with sole responsibility for prison inspections. We intend to develop a strong senior management structure with function-based heads, backed up by the retention of existing specialist expertise throughout organisations to whom the chief inspector can delegate responsibility for specific areas. We are not seeking to diminish that level of expertise. That is true not just for prisons.

The only other matter to answer is the query of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, about the immigration regulator. That position has yet to be decided, but I will certainly make sure that the House is kept informed. We will not commence the justice inspectorate’s new duty to inspect the immigration enforcement system until the position is clear. Meanwhile, there will be no break in the inspection of immigration detention facilities.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, will she answer the question I put to her? What will the new arrangements for the inspector of prisons add to what is currently done?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the nature of prisons has changed. At the moment, the prison inspectorate deals with all issues, although, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, says, health, education and other matters have been dealt with jointly. As a result of changes made for those in

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prison, we now want multi-disciplinary inspections which do not just look at the health and safety issues but at the relationship with inmates, the transfers and the planning of care plans.

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