Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, I am sure that the whole House is grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for initiating this debate. His experience of prison work and his concern for the well-being of prisoners go back many years and we are all grateful for the benefit of his wisdom.

The report is written at an interesting time. Sir David Ramsbotham believes that there is a window of opportunity. We welcome that, but we suggest that it is not before time. During the Government's first years in office, too little was done at ministerial level. However, I welcome the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, and the director general, Mr Martin Narey that each considers that his reputation is on the line for the good delivery of the Prison Service of England and Wales. I hope that I do not misrepresent the noble Lord. I assure him that we shall be supportive--and constructively critical when appropriate--of the Government in their attempts to improve the prison regime.

The report is critical of several aspects of the service. Some of Sir David's most severe strictures are directed at senior management, who he feels have not done enough in many cases to eliminate poor standards and have left it to the inspector to identify the problems on

13 Jul 1999 : Column 255

one of his necessarily infrequent visits. Leadership must come from the top. One of the recurrent themes in the report is the lack of time available for training.

The chief inspector's remarks on what is named, with some misplaced gravitas, the "prison culture" are disturbing. He notes a marked contrast in attitude between public and private sector prisons, highlighted by the fact that several of the private sector directors come from the public sector and are able to introduce practices where previously they had been frustrated by "the culture" in the public sector. Sadly, he mentions also that many junior staff in the public sector who have good and progressive ideas find themselves frustrated by what he terms domination and intimidation by their senior colleagues. We very much agree with Sir David's suggestion that addressing the "culture" in public sector prisons should be one of Mr Narey's top priorities.

Allied to that is the relationship of staff associations with management. The chief inspector sees faults on both sides. We are left in no doubt that Sir David is highly critical of the way industrial procedures are spun out to such an extent that the losers turn out to be the prisoners through no fault of their own.

In the debate on Feltham, the Minister assured us that concerns raised in that debate about the Prison Officers' Association and its relationship with management were being addressed. I look forward to hearing how that is proceeding.

On these Benches, we feel that we should welcome moves to extend private sector involvement in the prisons regime. In that regard, I must respectfully disagree with the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and my noble friend Lord Eccles.

This report is now over a year old and another one is due. Much has happened in the intervening period, including two highly critical reports on Wormwood Scrubs and Feltham, and a thematic report on suicides in prison. I look forward to receiving assurances from the Minister that those problems are being tackled.

Perhaps I may say how fortunate we are in having the services of Sir David Ramsbotham. We look forward with interest--and, I think, some awe--to reading his reports for 1998-99. I conclude with a remark addressed to me privately by Sir David. I am sure that he will not object if I repeat it. It relates to his enormous regard for prison officers in the service. I hope that that echoes the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply.

8.22 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, this report covered the period December 1997 to November 1998, although it was published in April of this year, as the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, said. The Prison Service's response to the report continues. It does not of itself require a formal response but we pay very careful attention, as the chief inspector recognises, to his recommendations and, in particular, his thematic reviews. He provides an invaluable service. I value his

13 Jul 1999 : Column 256

personal qualities and his frankness. I have said in his presence on a number of occasions that I value the irritant quality of his reports because that is his duty.

He reported recently on Feltham and Wormwood Scrubs. He complained legitimately that earlier recommendations had not been acted upon as swiftly and effectively as they might have been. I can tell your Lordships that now all inspection reports on prison establishments are dealt with under a more formalised procedure. An action plan is formulated which is monitored to ensure that we do not lose sight of any recommendations.

A large number of the recommendations made by the task force in relation to Feltham have already been implemented; that is, 33 out of 39. The governor, Mr Clifford, has also introduced exercise to all remand prisoners in Feltham B which was not previously available. He has completed reprofiling for the efficient deployment of staff. He is negotiating with the POA but it has objected to some of the proposed changes and that must be resolved.

The new governor of Wormwood Scrubs, Stephen Moore, has completed his draft action plan. He is scheduled to agree it with the area manager, Peter Atherton, on Friday. The finalised plan will be submitted to me in time to meet the 30 day deadline on 27th July. I promised that 30-day deadline to this House when we discussed Wormwood Scrubs.

It is not right for anyone to suggest, as the noble Earl did, that the Home Office--either Jack Straw or I--was trying to duck responsibility. We both said, when we made the Statement on Wormwood Scrubs, that we accepted responsibility. Asked by one of your Lordships what was my response to the terms of the report, I used the words "anger", "fury" and "shame." There is no question of trying to avoid responsibilities.

Nor is there any question of trying to humiliate or punish the POA. I have known the general secretary, David Evans, on a close basis for many years. On becoming Minister with responsibility for prisons, I immediately invited David Evans and Mark Healy, the national chairman, to visit me. I told them that I should welcome regular meetings. I want co-operation with them in reformation of, and a determined attempt to improve, prison conditions.

I have said on earlier occasions when discussing Wormwood Scrubs--and I repeat it this evening--that the majority of those who serve in the Prison Service do so out of a sense of commitment. I do not regard it as appropriate to use the phrase used by the noble Earl on the last occasion, which I rejected even then.

The Earl of Longford: Did you hear what I said tonight, sir?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I did hear what was said this evening and I am glad that the noble Earl has now withdrawn what he said.

The Earl of Longford: I have not, actually.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it might have been better had he done so. Stephen Moore has started

13 Jul 1999 : Column 257

work at Wormwood Scrubs. He has introduced transparent systems and procedures in the segregation unit, new staff, new management and--very important, because it was criticised by Sir David--he has provided unfettered access to visitors; for example, boards of visitors, chaplains and probation staff. He has reintroduced governor grades to prison wings. Each wing is now managed directly by a governor grade. He has introduced a comprehensive incentives and privileges system for prisoners and has increased access to purposeful activity for all prisoners. There has been a refocusing of the education programme on core skills training and a complete overhaul of the staff annual appraisal system. That is only a beginning--but a good one.

I return to the annual report. I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, for what he said about the important window of opportunity. Sir David said that it had been,

    "created by the very deliberate programme embarked upon by the Government in general, and the Home Secretary in particular".

He highlights the work done by my noble friend Lord Warner following the establishment of the Youth Justice Board; the way that we seek to co-ordinate matters within the criminal justice system--the Crime and Disorder Act is the key to the future; and the greater use of community sentences and home detention curfew.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, asked in particular about home detention curfew, and the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, also asked me about home detention curfew for women as opposed to men. Home detention curfew has been an extraordinary success. It is not early release. It is the management of prisoners in the community whereby they serve between two weeks and two months in their own homes. There has been a success rate of over 95 per cent. That is an extraordinary tribute to the work of those who carry out the assessments, principally those in the Prison Service and the Probation Service.

The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, raised the question of management. We have now altered the way that we manage. I chair a strategy board which is the forum for discussing the strategic direction of the Prison Service, its plans and performance. We met for the first time in May; we shall meet again next Tuesday. We shall meet a total of eight times per year. That is a strategy for the next few years rather than for the next few weeks or months.

Martin Narey, who is excellent--I am happy to echo the commendations--chairs the management board with a revamped board of directors. He is supported--and this was a point made by the noble Viscount--by the deputy director general, Phil Wheatley, who provides the source of operational management, which I readily accept was lacking in the past. That was a common theme not only in Sir David's reports; governors and area managers also felt that the direct line of management was not clear.

I pay tribute also to the work of organisations like NACRO and the Prison Reform Trust. I spent an extremely interesting few hours recently with the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, seeing what was being delivered

13 Jul 1999 : Column 258

on the basis of practical utility for those who have no homes to go to, no work to go to. I agree entirely with what the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, says; namely, that the classic indicators against reoffending are settled community, work opportunities, settled family and, very important, somewhere to live.

The areas of achievement highlighted by Sir David included the management of the dispersal (high security) estate and the way that open prisons occupy prisoners productively in work and education and assist in rehabilitation. Examples given were Sudbury, and farms and gardens at Kirkham and North Sea Camp. The high intensity regime at Thorn Cross has already been mentioned. I visited that recently. It does indeed show what can be done with a commitment of imagination and determination as well as resource.

As the noble Lords, Lord Warner and Lord Dholakia, indicated, we are now spending substantially more. At present we spend about £7 million to produce 3,000 completions of accredited offending behaviour programmes by prisoners. By 2001/2002 we will have doubled the number to 6,000 and spent--productively, I am sure--£26 million.

I take up a common theme of your Lordships this evening: we are intent on basic skills education. We have to ensure that when people are discharged from custody they are able at least to hope for work. In some prisons two-thirds of the inmates cannot read or write sufficiently to obtain work. That means that over 90 per cent of the possible jobs available to them are simply excluded.

Fifty one million pounds has been allocated to regime provision for juveniles. The purposeful activity expansion scheme is piloted in eight establishments. We have seven pilot projects involving prisons, probation and voluntary organisations to test out and expand the ways we have of resettling short-term prisoners.

Pilots of service delivery agreements, strongly supported by Sir David, started this financial year in three prisons: Moorland, Askham Grange Women's Prison, which I visited last Friday, and Wealstun. As I indicated to your Lordships earlier, we are determined to focus on the vicious consequences of drug abuse whether it affects offenders outside or in prison.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, raised a number of questions. He was courteous, as always, in giving me advance notice. I am not aware of any plans that the Court of Appeal has to issue guidelines specifically relating to women offenders. The court is, of course, required to take account of circumstances of both offence and offender. As pre-sentence reports are now common in courts, it seems to me that there is a partial opportunity--I agree it is no more than that--for women with children to at least consider making arrangements before they are sentenced. When sentencing a woman with a child or children, the court is obliged to take into account the circumstances of the offence and the offender.

The noble Lord asked me about the work done by Hereford and Worcester Probation Service. I am happy to tell him that three probation pathfinder programmes are being developed under the crime reduction

13 Jul 1999 : Column 259

programme, including the one developed by Hereford and Worcester. A national roll-out of accredited programmes is due to begin in April 2000.

A question was raised about HDC (home detention curfew). At the end of June, 42 per cent of eligible women had been granted home detention curfew compared with an overall 31 per cent of eligible prisoners. I refer to the specific point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. My conclusion would be that those rates are consistent with the great caution and care exercised by prison governors and their colleagues in the Probation Service. We cannot expand home detention curfew without being able to assure the public on sound bases that it is truly a public protection measure as well as managing prisoners back into the community.

Free telephone calls and airmail letters are already encouraged in line with our commitment to maintaining family ties. I can say from my own knowledge that the Prison Service tries to group foreign nationals together when there are problems of different cultures and languages. I have seen that work quite effectively in one women's prison.

As regards the review of mother and baby units, I am happy to be able to tell your Lordships, in response to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, that I was able to announce the completion of the review and publication of the report just a few days ago, on 6th July. I have ensured that copies are available in the Library.

There is a lot more still to be done. I have one minute in which to describe it. I shall give one or two thoughts, if I may. We have to be careful to monitor all our systems. We have to ensure that prisoners in prison unwillingly, by definition, are nevertheless fairly treated and believe themselves to be properly and considerately treated. There are some areas, for instance, where communication is not sufficiently good. I sometimes have complaints that people in the parole system do not quite understand where their cases have got to.

All of these are extraordinary opportunities. I return to the point so well made by my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton. We shall get nowhere without dialogue. The door is open to co-operation. I believe we can make a difference. If we do not make a difference, it will not be the fault of the Prison Service alone, though it may be in part; it will be the responsibility of Jack Straw and myself.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page