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Lord Merlyn-Rees: My Lords, I declare an interest in that I am vice-president of the Butler Trust, named in honour of a distinguished predecessor as Home Secretary. The trust gives honours and awards on a considerable scale. They are presented every year at Buckingham Palace to people in the Prison Service who do a good job. A great deal of good work is being done within the service and we must not allow this terrible report to lead people to believe that it is typical of the service. It is not.

There is no such thing as a Prisons Minister; there is only the Home Secretary. Whatever is done in the prisons department of the Home Office to divide up the work, the responsibility lies with the Home Secretary and there is no question of him or my noble friend resigning. It jars with me sometimes when in Northern Ireland reference is made to the "Prisons Minister" and the "Police Minister". There is only one person in charge--and that is the Home Secretary.

The question which I hope is being asked is: why has nothing been done since the last report? We can have all the reports on earth, but is there to be a repeat of the situation? Why was nothing done? It is not a political

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question; this is a different government. Why was nothing done about the last report and what can we expect from another report?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, is right about the Butler Trust. I attended the presentation of the awards this year when the Princess Royal gave the awards commending people. It was humbling to see the excellent work that was done. I took my hat off to those people--and not for the first time. That is why I slightly chided the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for saying that it is the most appalling job in the world. People of the kind identified by the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, make me certain in my belief that it is not the most appalling job in the world. It is difficult and challenging, but good people do it well.

The noble Lord is right about the shorthand that is used. When I watched the Home Secretary's response to questions in another place, he made that very point. He said, "I am Secretary of State at the Home Office. The responsibility is mine." That has not always been the position.

The noble Lord asked why nothing was done about the report. It related to an inspection in the autumn of 1996. I do not know what happened, but it was not published until 21st March 1997. I shall not tease, but I shall allow myself this: it was the last day of the Sitting of the previous Parliament.

Lord Geddes: My Lords, I may have misheard the Minister's reply to my noble friend Lord Cope, but I thought that when rejecting the suggestion of a public inquiry, the Minister, who is normally very careful with his words, said that it may well be that police inquiries are not concluded. I did not understand whether ongoing inquiries have not been concluded or will not be concluded. The answer could be interpreted either way.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am probably trying to be too careful, conscious of the fact that 25 officers at Wormwood Scrubs have been charged with offences involving assaults on prisoners. More than 25 allegations are being made and others continue to be made by solicitors representing other prisoners. That was all I wanted to say. I must be extremely careful because it would be ashes and dust in the mouth if any trial were prejudiced, or could be prejudiced, by anything incautious I said. I think that I was being too Delphic, but that is the explanation for it.

Lord Mishcon: My Lords, as one who had the privilege of being professionally associated with the Prison Officers Association for many years, perhaps I may comment briefly on what the Minister has said. During that time, I came across a number of real idealists and I was proud to know that they were part of the Prison Service, and they were proud to be members of it. Perhaps I may do something which is sometimes objectionable, but not in this case. I should like to pay a special tribute to a great idealist whose name has been mentioned, Mr David Evans, general secretary of the POA.

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It has been asked why a previous report has not been implemented. From the contents of the report, it seems that major items of complaint--and they are terrible--would have been as obvious as a running sore to anyone who carried out any inspection. I understand why a report may not have been implemented, although it is regrettable, but what about inspections in the mean time after the realisation that a report had stated that many things were very wrong at Wormwood Scrubs? How frequently do ordinary inspections take place? If they have been too meagre in the past, is it part of the Government's plan to put things right and to introduce regular inspections which are not announced beforehand, and not only by the Chief Inspector of Prisons once every so often?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Mishcon has had this interest for many years. He was the founding drafter of the charter of the POA a very long time ago. I pay tribute to David Evans, the general secretary. I have been interested in prisons since long before the election and frequently discussed these matters with him. The work done by the race relations committee of the POA is first rate and we have a great deal to learn from it.

There was a running sore in 1996. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, is right to ask whether inspections are sufficiently frequent. I suspect, although I shall correct it if I am wrong, that one would be looking for an inspection every two years or so. But that is not the end of the matter because one is speaking of the chief inspector's inspections. It seems to me that inspections by area managers and ultimately by the deputy director general are also of extreme importance. We are focusing on that aspect because the area manager can visit on a more regular basis. Self-evidently, it is part of his job to manage those governors and prisons within his area. That is an issue which we have very much in mind.

Similarly, we have divided up the organisation of prison matters. The new deputy director general, Phil Wheatley, who is certainly extremely vigorous, well informed and active, is to have operational responsibility, which means of course the oversight of area managers' inspections.

My noble friend also raised the question of unannounced inspections. The last one, by Sir David and his team, to whom I pay full credit, was unannounced. I have myself been on unannounced visits. After the first half-hour it is quite plain that somebody's telephone has been ringing. In my case, all it led to was a request to the Private Office for a photograph so that I might be easily recognised at the gate and there would be even more warning of an unannounced inspection. Unannounced inspections have their virtues, but I am not sure that they would solve all our problems.

We must recognise management's duty to manage. One cannot simply rely on the great inspections. In the same way, in the schools context, one cannot simply rely on Her Majesty's Inspectors of Schools to turn up, because all the pupils tend to be on good behaviour, with the teachers quaking. What one needs is something much more focused and involved, which we must get in the Prison Service and which Martin Narey and

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Phil Wheatley are determined to have. They have absolutely the full support of Jack Straw and myself in everything they want to do, not only to put Wormwood Scrubs right but to remedy any other deficiencies that are found in the Prison Service.

Greater London Authority Bill

5.21 p.m.

House again in Committee.

Schedule 5 [Procedure for determining the Authority's consolidated budget requirement]:

5.20 p.m.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 213B:

Page 197, line 5, leave out from ("of") to end of line 6 and insert ("the Mayor and the Assembly, in accordance with the following provisions of this Schedule, to prepare and approve for each financial year--").

The noble Lord said: This is a straightforward, minor amendment which is consequential to an amendment made to Clause 29 at the Commons Report stage. Clause 29 now provides that any function of the authority is exercised by the mayor unless specified otherwise. The amendment clarifies that the duty of preparing the GLA's budget is shared between the mayor and the assembly, in accordance with the schedule. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Tope moved Amendment No. 213C:

Page 197, line 48, leave out ("February") and insert ("November").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 217A.

We have now moved to Schedule 5, dealing with the process for the preparation of the budget. The purpose of the amendments is to bring the budget cycle forward. It is our view that budget preparation is not just a financial and administrative exercise in a public body such as the GLA or, indeed, any local authority; budget preparation is very much a political exercise as well. I deliberately say "political" with a small "p", because it is about determining policy priorities and should be part of a much wider public debate.

Recently we suggested that the so-called "state of London debate" should be used as part of the public debate on the budget process to help the mayor to determine her or his priority policies so that they can be properly reflected in the budget. This process needs time. If we are to have proper and effective consultation with the various component parts of London--by which I mean not only London borough councils and the City of London, but also the many voluntary and business organisations which have an interest--that needs time to achieve, and it certainly needs time if it is to have any real influence on the budget preparation, reflecting the priorities.

To do all of that in February, when one has a shotgun against one's head, is much too late, so we suggest in Amendment No. 213C that the mayor should be

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presenting the draft on or before 1st November. Incidentally, it ties in with the time when we think there should have been the state of London debate. Whether or not the debate has that title, I am sure that the assembly will have a similar public debate. In that way, there can be an open and meaningful process with Londoners, both in their representative bodies and more widely, determining priorities so that a budget can be drawn up--that is, as far as it is ever possible to reflect that process.

Amendment No. 217A suggests that the final budget should be approved by the last day of November. On reflection, I think that is probably rather too early, especially if the Government persist in having the RSG settlement as late as they currently do. The announcement is usually at the very beginning of December. I have to say in parenthesis that having that statement as late as it is now is causing enormous difficulties for those of us running authorities that want to undertake full and effective public consultation and are forced to do so over the Christmas period. The purpose of all of this is to bring forward the process to enable a much more open and public debate.

This process affects the London borough councils and their own budget preparations. It may well be argued, rightly, that the GLA budget and the GLA precept are not part of the London boroughs' budgets; and they are not. Earlier this afternoon we were discussing the question of pinning the blame--perhaps that is the expression to use, given the nature of some of our debate--or at least clarifying what is a GLA budget and what is a London borough council budget. But the fact remains that London borough councils determining their budgets for the forthcoming year, in particular determining the likely council tax increase for the coming year, will want to have, and certainly should have, account of the overall tax burden which will be put upon their taxpayers.

Therefore, it would be important for the London borough councils also to know the likely--or, preferably, definite--level of the GLA precept at an early enough date to be able to influence their own budget decisions, should they so decide. February is much too late.

So the purpose of the amendment is to test whether the Government seriously share our views about budget-making being an open and transparent process, an involving process, both with the London borough councils and, at least as importantly, with London's communities, and whether they are serious about giving the mayor an opportunity to respond to the views that he or she hears at that time and having time to take them into account before presenting the budget finally to the assembly. I beg to move.

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