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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Amendment No. 213A is intended to ensure that the Secretary of State could exercise his powers under Clause 71 to make regulations to amend the rules governing the calculation of the GLA's component and consolidated budget requirements only with the consent of a majority of assembly members voting. Similarly, Amendment No. 220E would mean that the Secretary of State could exercise his powers under Clause 73 to make regulations to alter the rules for calculating the GLA's basic amount of tax only with the consent of a majority of assembly members voting.
The noble Baroness is clearly continuing the Liberal Democrat campaign to curtail and prune the powers of the Secretary of State and to confer what are usually executive powers on the assembly. Perhaps it would help the Committee if I explain why the Secretary of State's powers in Clauses 71 and 73 are needed. The Clause 71 power is needed so that the Secretary of State can include or exclude certain items from the budget requirement. The budget requirement is used in the tax-setting equation to determine the amount of revenue the GLA will need to raise from council tax after deducting revenue support grant, non-domestic rates, and so on. The Clause 73 power is needed so that the Secretary of State can alter the rules governing the calculations for the basic amount of council tax to accommodate the introduction of new grants or changes to the powers under which grants specified in Clause 73 may be paid.
Both of these powers are similar to the Secretary of State's powers in respect of local authorities generally in the Local Government Finance Act 1992. Any changes to the rules governing calculations would probably need to apply to local authorities generally and to the GLA. Those changes are made only following consultation with local government, and although we would certainly expect to consult the mayor and the assembly about changes, surely the noble Baroness does not seriously expect us to agree that the assembly, uniquely, should have the power to veto them. It is Parliament and not assembly members which rightly has
Baroness Hamwee: All our amendments are serious, and I am sure that the noble Baroness understands that. Indeed, our campaign to prune the powers of the Secretary of State will continue. The fact that the powers are similar to those which the Secretary of State has in relation to local government does not seem an argument for applying the powers to the GLA, but rather to reducing the powers in connection with local authorities. I am sure the noble Baroness is not surprised by that reaction. We shall consider this matter further, but for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, with your Lordships' leave, I should like to repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary earlier this afternoon. The Statement is as follows:
"Prosecutions: before coming on to the report, let me, however, first deal with the question of the prosecution of certain prison officers. On 15th June, after a detailed police investigation, the Crown Prosecution Service announced that 25 prison officers from Wormwood Scrubs were to be charged with offences of assault on prisoners. The House will understand that I am therefore unable to comment on them today. But there can be no place in the Prison Service for abuse of prisoners of any kind. This is a fundamental principle. The Government and the new director general, Martin Narey, will take whatever steps are required to maintain it.
"Sir David sets out a number of specific failings: the needs of prisoners appeared inadequately understood; there were examples of the statutory rights of prisoners being denied; induction procedures were poor; prisoners spent too long in their cells; regimes were inconsistent and impoverished; healthcare had been cut back; there were allegations of abuse, including racial abuse; and arrangements for discharge of prisoners were not systematic.
"Response: these are serious criticisms and Sir David makes a large number of recommendations for improvement. I have asked the new director general, Martin Narey, to put in place a robust action plan to respond to them. He is to report to me within 30 days. I expect the overwhelming majority of the recommendations to be accepted and implemented.
"There is one significant exception. Sir David recommends that Wormwood Scrubs should be market tested. I am keeping this option open but there are new managers in place at almost every level of the Prison Service responsible for Wormwood Scrubs and in my view they should be allowed an opportunity to put the prison back on an even keel. Should, however, rapid progress not be made in reforming Wormwood Scrubs all options--including market testing or closure--are open.
"Change already under way: let me now tell the House of the changes already under way. These include: a thorough overhaul of the procedures of the segregation unit; improved prisoner complaint procedures; more efficient deployment of staff; expansion of the regime, including additional offending behaviour programmes, increased constructive activities and a new education contract; a restructuring of healthcare management; and finalising and implementing an effective drugs strategy.
"The report points out that at the time of the inspection, 46 per cent of prisoners at Wormwood Scrubs came from the ethnic minorities compared to 11 per cent of staff. The chief inspector makes six recommendations relating to race relations and I expect them all to be accepted. As the House knows, the Government are setting the Prison Service challenging targets for the retention and promotion of ethnic minority staff. This reflects our commitment to eradicating racial discrimination in the criminal justice system.
"POA: these remain small beginnings and much remains at a planning stage. What I require is a radical overhaul of Wormwood Scrubs, its culture and its working practices. I firmly believe that the overwhelming majority of prison officers will welcome the improvements which the Prison Service needs to implement at the prison. I expect the Prison Officers Association, both nationally and locally, to work constructively with the service to secure reform.
"The senior POA official who a few days ago publicly described prisoners at Wormwood Scrubs as 'the scum of the earth' has now expressed bitter regret for his gratuitously offensive remarks. Last week the national chairman of the POA gave the director general a categorical assurance that his members would work with the governor and senior Prison Service managers to transform Wormwood Scrubs. I welcome that assurance.
"I have made it absolutely clear to the director general that change must be delivered at Wormwood Scrubs. I hope this will done with the full support and co-operation of the staff at Wormwood Scrubs and of all Prison Service trade unions, including the POA. But there will be change either with or without that co-operation. Wormwood Scrubs has the staff and the resources to meet the challenges laid down by the chief inspector. To ensure progress I have asked Sir David and his team to conduct a further investigation of the prison in six months' time, the results of which, will of course, be reported to the House.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, the House will be grateful, as usual, to the noble Lord the Minister for repeating what the Secretary of State said in his Statement to another place. I am personally grateful for a sight of the report itself, although obviously I have not had time to study it in great detail. I expect the noble Lord the Minister will want to share with your Lordships his own reaction to the report, as the current prisons Minister within the Home Office.
The report made very clear that it believes that responsibility for the failure to make improvements since the last inspection lies with the Prison Board and the area managers and so on, and not solely with the local management. However, some questions can relevantly be asked, particularly as regards what happened during that period. Why was there apparently no governor at the prison for a period of six months or thereabouts? When the prison was in a serious situation, with bad reports both from the inspector and the board of visitors, that seems a very long time for it to be left without proper leadership.
Why was there a 40 per cent cut in health provision when attention had been drawn to the fact that that area required more attention rather than less? The error presumably lay above local management level with the
I support the decision of Ministers not to close the prison at this time or to market test it--although both options remain open and it is correct that they should. Does the Minister agree with the statement of the chief inspector that no private contractor in a private sector prison could get away with what has happened in Wormwood Scrubs?
Lord McNally: My Lords, the Minister must now be considering whether his department is not the "Ministry of One Darned Thing After Another". He should also be aware that over the years the Home Office has proved more often a trap-door than a springboard for ministerial ambition. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Cope, indicated, this Statement is different from the others that the Minister has recently had to make. It covers his direct area of ministerial responsibility and events that have taken place during his watch. I noted a report in one newspaper that the Minister might even consider this a resigning matter. I do not believe that our public life is so rich in talent that that would be a way forward. It would be interesting to know whether the Minister, during his time as prisons Minister, or other Ministers visited Wormwood Scrubs during the period covered by the report.
More broadly, does the Minister agree that this is one of the most damning and disgraceful reports of recent times about any part of our public service? As the report rightly states, Wormwood Scrubs has both the staff and the resources to carry out its responsibility. At any other time, the response to a report of this seriousness and severity would have been to set up a full public judicial inquiry. Was that ever considered?
I understand what the Minister says about market testing. However, the report seems to indicate that market testing in the private sector has proved a success. Are there lessons to be learnt about how those findings might be applied to the public sector?
Almost every prison report over the past 30 years has highlighted the appalling state of industrial relations in our prisons. There is no question that prison officers have a difficult job and that the vast majority of prison officers are decent human beings. But there is overwhelming evidence of rogue branches in the POA and of a canteen culture as bad if not worse than that identified in the police service. The POA has for too long had the reputation of being a cowboy outfit. It should realise just how low is its esteem as an organisation. The POA is as much on test now as Ministers are as regards how to deal with this situation.
Finally, I ask the usual channels to note that the House will expect a full debate on the Prison Service before we rise for the Summer Recess. I said that ministerial resignations were not in question. But Ministers must realise that, if the matters highlighted in the report are not put right at once, the resignation required will not be of the prisons Minister but of the Home Secretary himself.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, in response to the noble Lord's last question about the usual channels, as the noble Lord tactfully and subtly indicates, that is not a matter for him or me. I have always responded on the basis that if there is to be time available for important public matters, I personally welcome the opportunity to explain and, where justification is available, to justify.
The question of market testing has been raised. Jack Straw has said quite plainly that market testing at this time is not feasible and we must make the prison work. To close the prison is not feasible for the same reason. But the Home Secretary has also said unambiguously that he does not rule out any option including market testing or closure. Some lessons are to be learnt about the quality of service provided by private prisons. Equally, not every private prison I have visited or read inspection reports upon is supreme in every way. It is notoriously well known that a number of private prisons at some stage have had quite significant worrying failures.
I turn to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord McNally. Fortunately, I do not have his previous convictions and therefore do not have to have any political ambitions. I have said many times, and I am happy to repeat, that the job of the prisons and probation Minister is one that should be the honourable ambition of anyone who wants to do something useful. One does not regard it as either a prospective platform or diving board, depending on whether one goes up or down. It is not a springboard to ambition in my case. We have a genuine duty to the wider public and to those who are incarcerated as a result of state coercion.
The noble Lord fairly asked about prison visits. My immediate predecessor Joyce Quin visited shortly before the hand-over of responsibilities to me in July of last year. In respect of both Feltham and Wormwood Scrubs, I had intended to make unannounced visits but for the same general reason in both cases I was asked not to do so. I knew that there were to be visits to both by Sir David and his team. One can muddy the waters and take away the virtue of an unannounced inspection. According to the figures given by Jack Straw--therefore, they must be right--I have visited 46 prisons. I believe your Lordships are aware that I visit every Friday. It is possible to visit every prison for a quarter of an hour, but I regard that as deeply insulting to both the prisons and those who work there. One must have a sensible period in a day in order to visit a prison.
We considered a public inquiry. I do not believe that that is appropriate for Wormwood Scrubs at this time. Twenty-five officers have already been arrested, charged and suspended. It may well be that the police inquiries are not concluded. Inevitably, with criminal prosecutions under way, to hold a public inquiry is impossible; in any event, it would interfere with our determination to get things right. Your Lordships will note that we want Sir David to return in six months. Much more importantly, we want a positive action plan within 30 days.
The question is: has the private sector proved a success? Undoubtedly, yes. We are applying market testing to Doncaster and Buckley Hall, both privately run institutions that are open to competition by the Prison Service and the private contractor in the immediate future. Have industrial relations been poor at
The POA sometimes does wrong--I do not know of any human institution that does not--but a very significant number of its members do extremely well. I give one small illustrative example. I visited Blundeston prison on Friday last and learnt of a very imaginative scheme called Encounter that brings young juveniles into the prison to see what may happen to them if they do not pull themselves together. Those who are about to fall into the abyss of the prison system from their point of view are brought into the prison, spoken to firmly and locked up in the cells. That scheme, which is more extensive than the shorthand summary I have given, is run by David Banks, chairman of the POA at Blundeston. Although certain matters have arisen at Wormwood Scrubs, if the POA wants to work with Jack Straw and myself we have made quite plain that we welcome that co-operation.
My first action on taking over the job was to ask both Mark Healey and David Evans to come and see me. We agreed to meet on a regular "diarised" basis so that we could chart the way ahead. But, as Jack Straw said quite unambiguously--no one should be under any illusion or in any doubt--if matters do not improve, no option is excluded. Therefore, he requires certain amelioration from the director general and the full-hearted co-operation of the POA, which we have been guaranteed.
I defend the decision on the internal report. That was taken entirely on legal advice. It is not always possible to hand over documents at that stage. In many ways I believe that it is an advantage to Sir David to come to his own independent conclusion and not necessarily be governed by internal disciplinary inquiries which are not complete. Is there sufficient training in control and restraint? That is a matter very much in the minds of Martin Narey and Phil Wheatley, the new deputy director. Will there be dismissals? I do not know; nor should I know. There are disciplinary charges and it is for the proper disciplinary mechanism to deal with those matter. It is quite wrong for me to speculate one way or another. As to the debate which was the last matter to which the noble Lord, Lord McNally, referred, I responded to that immediately.
Lord Biffen: My Lords, I am sure that the Minister accepts that only the perverse would seek to take any political advantage out of this unhappy situation. Taking account of his reluctance to hold a public inquiry and having regard to the general interest in this topic, would the Minister welcome a departmental Select Committee investigation?
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