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Lord Whitty: My Lords, I suspect that that is no longer the view of the Mayor of London. Indeed, four or five days after the elections it would be a little premature for us to take that view, and we certainly do not. We believe that an executive mayor, certainly in London and probably elsewhere, will be of benefit.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, will the Minister join me in congratulating your Lordships' House for ensuring, by our recent votes, that everyone in London received at least an election address from all the candidates? Looking at the electoral system, I understand that the number of spoilt ballot papers was significantly greater than normal. Can the noble Lord tell me how many ballot papers were spoilt and confirm whether that number is significantly greater than normal? Does he put that down to a bad explanation in the leaflet from the Home Office or the fact that the PR system was as complex as some of us suggested during the debates? As Livingstone's victims always end up in your Lordships' House, when can we welcome "Lord Dobbins"?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, my noble friend Lord Bassam and myself can congratulate ourselves on the cross-party agreement reached in this House on the communication which meant that 5 or 6 million Londoners had in a single leaflet the claims and promises of all the candidates. That was useful and therefore I am grateful to the noble Lord for his co-operation in the matter. As regards his other questions, I fear I cannot be quite so forthcoming.
Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, rightly raised the question of spoiled ballot papers. In one electoral division in which I took a particular interest, there were, I believe, 12,494 spoiled ballot papers in relation to the assembly election. That represented a figure approximately 3.5 times the size of the majority of the winning candidate--I make that comment with some interest. It was not so much the information provided by the Home Office but rather that provided on the ballot paper, instructing people to cast two votes and to register those votes in different columns, that perhaps should be reviewed. Can my noble friend offer his views?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the reason I was unable to be more forthcoming on that aspect of the question of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, was that I do not yet have the full picture. My noble friend is correct to point out an unusually high number of spoiled ballot papers. Undoubtedly that will lead to an investigation by the returning officer for Greater London. He will look at all aspects of the election and will shortly make
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, since the Government have repeatedly assured us that they believe in transparency in all matters electoral and political, is the noble Lord able to enlighten us as to what advice was given to members of the Labour Party as to how they should use their second vote?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, as far as I am aware, the Labour Party gave no advice. However, that is not a matter for this House. No doubt political parties will give different advice and, as I understand it, they will give different advice in different parts of London. I do not believe that that in any way invalidates the transparency of this election and the fact that, by and large, London now has an authority which, for the sake of everyone in the capital, we now wish to see work.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): My Lords, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary does not intend to ask the Chief Inspector of Prisons to investigate this incident as it is rightly a matter for the Prison Service, which is conducting its own inquiry. The chief inspector's recent report highlights a number of serious deficiencies in the treatment of young offenders and in conditions at Portland, but it also recognises the significant progress and plans being made by the new governor. In his report Sir David Ramsbotham stated that the new governor was to be commended on what he had done and should be supported in what he has in mind for the future. The three key issues raised by the prisoners in the recent disturbance are already being addressed.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but it will be of little comfort to parents and in particular to young offenders serving sentences in Portland. Why is it that the Home Office has still to respond to the HMI report of the inspection carried out in October and November 1999? Furthermore, is it not a shocking indictment of the Prison Service when the chief inspector says, in effect, that the treatment of young offenders was wholly unacceptable and that the approach of the staff was based on fear and intimidation? Does the Minister accept that a great many things are going wrong at Portland, as reflected
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it has been acknowledged that the chief inspector's report was extremely valuable. It has been accepted that some aspects of the regime at Portland were overly militaristic and thus were unacceptable. For that reason, the director-general was keen to see in place a new governor for Portland young offender institution. Very good work is now being undertaken. Sir David Ramsbotham has made clear his support for the plans being made by the new governor. As regards the question of whether Sir David should reinspect, naturally he will do so in due course. That usually happens after a period of around 12 months. The visit will be unannounced. No doubt we shall reflect carefully on the findings of that fresh inspection in the context of the 157 recommendations made in his initial report. However, the board of visitors and the director-general found no evidence of institutionalised brutality; neither did the chief inspector. Other aspects of the regime at Portland were of more concern to him.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, the chief inspector did find evidence of widespread bullying at Portland. Has the Prison Service given further thought to the question of why the board of visitors to Portland was unable to pinpoint and report on that bullying? In particular, has the Prison Service decided what further guidance should be given to boards of visitors on the action that they should take under prison rule 774 which calls on boards immediately to inform the Secretary of State of any abuse that is brought to their notice? Furthermore, will the Minister ask the Prison Service to use form F213 relating to reports on violence against inmates and staff rather than findings at adjudications when evaluating key performance indicator 2 concerning violence against prisoners?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, specific action has been taken to deal with the issue of bullying. An anti-bullying committee has been re-formed. I understand that it will be given a high profile within the institution. However, a balance must be struck here. The noble Lord is right to highlight the importance of performance indicators. My understanding is that the recorded instances of bullying in Portland are lower than those elsewhere within the prison estate. I am extremely pleased to tell the House that the governor has recently issued firm instructions to staff; a document entitled HMYO Portland: A Vision for the 21st Century has been produced which deals with precisely these issues; and a whole new training regime has been put in place to address issues of bullying. We believe that these actions are right and that these matters should be tackled firmly. We shall not tolerate bullying in the prison estate as a whole.
Baroness Stern: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, according to the Government's figures, in this country we lock up more young people than most of the rest of Europe apart from Romania, Estonia and Lithuania? Can he tell us when government policies might lead to a reduction in the number of young people being locked up so that the staff at Portland will have an opportunity to deal with fewer prisoners and thus do a better job?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am aware that we have a large prison estate that covers young offenders. Since 1st May 1997 the general thrust of this Government's policy has been to focus much more attention towards activities based on re-educating and reorienting young offenders. That is now developing into a very successful programme. Young offenders also benefit greatly from the welfare-to-work and New Deal programmes that are in place outside prison. The purpose of our policy is to ensure that those who are released from prisons and institutions are better prepared for the world of work. Contact with the world of work is probably one of the biggest deterrents to slipping back into an offending pattern of life.
Noble Lords will be aware that outside this building, in Millbank, there are at the present moment encamped the gathered legions of a company called McNicholas who are planting green piping all over the place. They are either utterly unaware or do not care that they are an infernal nuisance to the citizens of London because they are blocking the highway. Incidentally, if they do not actually block it, they are also restricting access to your Lordships' House.
I am grateful to the Government Chief Whip for his courtesy in looking into this matter. I hope that he will be now be nasty enough to move these people on.
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