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The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I take the view that government must, so far as they can, create and follow policies which are conducive to conditions of economic well-being. I believe, of course, in the criminal law, but I do not believe that in the matter of these most fundamental human relations it is the function of government to sermonise.
It is the genius of the common law that it recognises these facts of life and adapts to meet them. Your Lordships' House, sitting judicially, recently considered the concept of a family in relation to a same sex partner's rights of occupation under the Rent Acts. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn of Hadley, in holding that such a partner did have such rights, said:
One of the achievements of this Government that gives me greatest pride is the Human Rights Act, which, at long last, has incorporated into our own law those principles of decency and mutual respect that animated the British framers of the European convention 50 years ago. It gave Europe, the cradle of civilisation, a new start out of the ashes of the Second World War. At the heart of the convention is Article 8, which secures to all our citizens respect for family life and which prohibits interference by the state with that right except to the extent that it is lawful, proportionate and necessary in a democratic society.
It remains to be seen how the courts will give effect to this living organism. In many instances our own common law marches hand in hand with the convention. But in others it will be the convention that will inspire the judges to fashion the law to the challenges of this millennium. I cannot predict how precisely this infant will grow, but grow it will. I am confident that our judges will give it good succour and that in adulthood it will bring pride to its progenitors.
The role of the state is to encourage, not to compel; to provide practical help, not to preach. I can assure noble Lords that the Government are certainly not neutral. We have made clear our support for the institution of marriage and for the family. This is well in keeping with the principles of my party. Labour has always supported the family. It was the government of Clement Attlee who began the legislative protection of children with the Children Act 1948. In 1975, we brought forward the Children Act of that year and we gave strong support to the Children Act 1989, which will surely prove to be an enduring monument to the work of my predecessor the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. This proud record is entirely in keeping with our determination to use the resources of our country not for the benefit of the few but for the needs of the many. It is a task to which we have set our hand and from which we shall not flinch until we accomplish it.
I do not know when the general election will come. It may be sooner; it may be later. I could not possibly comment. I can, I think, share this secret with the House. It will certainly come within 18 months. But whether this year or next the support by this Government for families in all its different facets will play a central role in the choice that we place before the British people. I am confident that they will make the right choice.
Baroness Young: My Lords, I should like to begin my concluding remarks by thanking all those who have taken part in the debate, especially my noble friend Lady Blatch, who has always been such a great support to me.
In my opening remarks, I said that I hoped this would be a contribution to the national debate about the future of marriage and I believe that it has been. It has drawn a clear distinction between those of us who actually believe that marriage is the centre of society--indeed, its decline is having terrible consequences--and those who clearly do not hold that view.
There are many points to which I should like to reply, but convention on this occasion does not call for anything other than a few words. However, I should like to draw attention to what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford said about the late Lord Jakobovits, who exercised such a powerful influence in this House, and his analogy about cutting down the forests: you do not realise the damage you are doing until you have cut down a great deal of the forest. That is precisely what is happening in society. We do not realise what we are doing as, bit by bit, we are dismantling it.
The noble Lord, Lord Janner, who is not now in his place, and the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh and Lady Thornton, made the point that we should not impose our ideas on our children; or, indeed, on anyone else. But they impose their ideas all the time. Let us look, for example, at smoking, at drugs, or at racism, if we are going to talk about anything even more serious. They impose their ideas there because they clearly know what they think. It is very sad that they do not impose their ideas in this respect when so many young people are at risk, not only from AIDS but also from sexually transmitted diseases--issues to which I did not refer but which evidence shows to be on the increase.
I turn now to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, whose speeches I always enjoy so much. I only wish that I could think of a suitable reply as regards what the Conservatives were doing in the 17th century, but, alas, such a response does not leap to mind. However, on an issue upon which we have crossed swords before, the noble Earl said that family life is a private matter. Yes, it is. But each piece of law that we pass affects families, and then it becomes a public matter. At that point one has to say what one thinks. As I have said before, I believe that every law sends a signal; and we have sent out a lot of very bad signals recently.
Finally, I should like to thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for his response. He will not expect me to agree with a great deal of his speech. However, I very much support what the Government are doing on the matter of adoption. This is an issue in which I have always been interested. I am very glad that adoption is being made easier, because I believe that to be very important. I greatly welcome that move.
I am sorry that the noble and learned Lord thinks that I am too certain in my views. However, he may be pleased to know that, in preparing for this speech, I have not required either the services of a focus group or of a spin-doctor. Curiously enough, just occasionally, though not very often, I am capable of thinking for myself. Some of us who have principles about life--and I am not ashamed to say this--do feel that if one is in public life one should stand up for what one thinks to be right and true.
I may be wrong in my views, and I do not pretend to have a monopoly on truth. But while listening to many of the speeches opposed to mine, I heard no arguments against the statistics and facts that I presented to the House. It is no argument to say that because everyone is doing something it is necessarily the right way to go forward. I believe that we are treading a very difficult road. The people for whom I worry are not those of my generation; I worry about the future generations.
Lord Mayhew of Twysden rose to call attention to the record of HM Prison Blantyre House as a resettlement prison, and to the circumstances in which a search of the prison was conducted on 5th and 6th May by officers from other prisons and the prison's governor removed from the prison; and to move for Papers.
The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, my great pleasure in succeeding in the ballot was slightly tempered by the recognition that my debate would follow a most distinguished debate. I can only say that I am most grateful to those noble Lords who, for the moment at least, are remaining in the Chamber.
I believe that I should perhaps begin with a declaration of interest. For many years now I have lived in the neighbourhood of Her Majesty's Prison Blantyre House, in the Weald of Kent. It is a prison that has, in my experience, long held the confidence and even the pride of the local community. That is quite significant because it is a prison where a regime has pertained for many years in which a high proportion of prisoners, after being assessed as suitable, have been released into the community as part of the resettlement for work process. This community is not likely to take kindly to perceived naivety in the handling of its local prisoners. Therefore, it is quite significant that the community has had confidence in that regime.
But what was the cardinal feature of that regime? I should describe it as a feature of trust: the governor trusted the prisoners; the community trusted the governor; and the prisoners, in large majority, betrayed the trust of neither. That has led to what Sir David Ramsbotham has described in a report on the prison as an amazing success rate among those who have been released from that prison. On the Home Office's own figures, the recidivism rate has been consistently about 35 per cent better than that of other prisons. I believe that the position can be stated even more favourably than that because the Select Committee of the House of Commons which looked into Blantyre House reported that of those who had left that prison in 1996, 8 per cent had reoffended within two years. The figure for all other prisons was in the region of 57 per cent. That is an enormous disparity.
For that reason one can truthfully say that Blantyre House had become the flagship resettlement prison in England. Confidence was not limited to what I might call "us laity". It was shared by authorities no less eminent than the present Director-General of the Prison Service, Mr Martin Narey, and the Chief Inspector of Prisons, the redoubtable Sir David Ramsbotham. I quote a few lines from the published opinions of each.
The committee was told that planning had begun eight days before, and well before the incoming governor was told of his appointment. The outgoing governor was kept in the dark about the planned search and about his imminent removal. So was the board of visitors. In the course of the search--there was no resistance of any sort--damage was done to property. The outside officers smashed internal doors and other fittings, including the two doors to the chaplain's office in the chapel, and the doors to the health centre, to the full repair value of £6,100. As to all that was discovered, Mr Narey's own memorandum to the Select Committee, five months later, stated that,
In his oral evidence to the committee, Mr Narey described the cannabis found as, "a very small amount". No prisoner had tested positive for drugs, although all had been tested. No criminal proceedings or even disciplinary proceedings have resulted against any prisoner.
If anything is unsurprising in this episode, it is that the ethos of mutual trust that characterised the regime at Blantyre House has been shattered by it. The prisons Minister, Mr Boateng, frankly admitted that to the committee. Trust had been the bedrock of the prison's success, yet it was destroyed just as crudely and immediately as the prison's physical fittings. The difference, of course, is that trust will take far longer to restore.
The very active and supportive board of visitors reacted with anger and dismay, while the Chief Inspector in his evidence to the Select Committee in October described the search as a ghastly mistake, admittedly, as he said, with hindsight. I know that it has given rise to suspicions, which in the light of Mr Narey's contrary evidence I must myself reject, that the object of the search, as evidenced by its manner, was to provide retrospective justification for the removal of the governor.
I suggest that it is not only the right of this House to examine the circumstances in which this extraordinary and disastrous action took place, it is also your Lordships' very proper concern. This is by reason of the implications it may be thought to have for the responsibilities of the other resettlement prisons, Kirklevington Grange and Latchmere House, to say nothing of any new policy in place at Blantyre House itself. May I ask the Minister--I have given him notice of the questions I wish to ask--what, for example, is now envisaged for education at Blantyre House, and especially for its budget, for art, and for photography there?
The Prison Service explanation of what happened, endorsed by Ministers, is that the search derived from developing intelligence of a grave and sensitive nature, and that the protection of the public made it necessary. On this, the committee, in its swingeing report, found as follows:
As to the removal of the governor, I was told in a Written Answer on 23rd May that his career move--I am not making this up--to a different type of prison had been planned for some time. The director-general decided that this move should take place to coincide with the security operation, so that the programme of action required to take the establishment forward could be driven through from the outset by the new governor. Be that as it may, Mr McLennan-Murray was only told of the actual date of his "career move" on 5th May itself. The incoming governor had been told of his own career move just two days earlier.
Your Lordships may consider that that kind of career planning and management is rather remarkable, and I am glad to see that in the Minister's response to the Select Committee, which he published on Monday evening, at least part of it is described, albeit with hindsight, as he said, as "undesirable".
It is here that one may find significance in the tense relationship that had long existed between the area manager, Mr Murtagh, and the governor. Mr Narey had known it to be tense--as he said to the committee--ever since he became director-general in early 1999. The board of visitors had been so worried by it that about a year before the search they had written about it to Mr Narey, and also to the chief inspector. That seems to have been the principal reason why each paid a further visit to the prison, at the conclusion of which each made the supportive comments that he did.
I ask the Minister whether it is not the case that the visitors in their letter had complained of this, and of the governor being bullied? When the chief inspector and his team visited the prison in January 2000, the board of visitors told him that there was little trust between the area manager and the governor. It was, they said, undermining confidence, but it was this confidence that was required to be able to run such a prison.
The management of a resettlement prison of course calls for judgment and courage. The security of the public has to be balanced against the objective of breaking the mould of criminal behaviour through a judicious degree of trust and programmes of activity tailored to individual prisoner's needs. It is the risk-taking in that process which calls for judgment. It is the uncertainty of the outcome which demands courage. Management will always be at risk of being damned if they do and damned if they don't; and not least by Ministers of whatever political colour who are themselves under the lash for presiding over some embarrassing event or another. But surely it is essential that where you have the priceless commodity of trust well established, you must draw on it rather than intemperately jettisoning it when your judgement tells you that changes in the regime are needed. Moreover, you must not let tense relationships in the hierarchy of management persist.
What happened at Blantyre House last year derived, I believe, at least in part from conflicting approaches to its resettlement role. The earlier manager seems to have placed primary importance on fulfilling the security requirements that are appropriate to any
On the other hand, the governor believed that in giving far greater prominence to a successful resettlement ethos he was delivering what Blantyre House was for. His decision to persevere with this was not unaffected by his having been refused by the area manager any of the extra resources he had said he would need to bring security nearer to normal category C standards. In the way of the world, his successor has, of course, now been given these. I should be glad if the Minister would confirm this contrasting treatment and explain it.
I have some further questions of which I have also given notice. Do the Government accept that there is as yet no formulated policy for resettlement in the Prison Service and that there urgently needs to be one? When will one be formulated and will there be a senior, experienced officer directing it? Is it satisfactory that such a post should be combined with that of a retitled director of regimes? What is the Government's policy towards boards of visitors and what weight will be given in future to warnings from them that relationships are causing them anxiety for the welfare of their prisons? Lastly, what is the Prison Service's own assessment of the damage that this episode has done to confidence in the other two prisons in England delivering resettlement programmes and known as resettlement prisons?
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, it is abundantly clear from the report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs on HM Prison Blantyre House that some very serious errors of judgment were made in the way in which the situation was handled. I want to single out one event in particular which has caused considerable disquiet: the way in which the chapel itself was broken into by the raiding party. That was completely out of order for two reasons.
First, a chapel--not least one which had made separate provision for Muslim prisoners--is not just "a. n. other" room. It is a place where the sacred is honoured, a place for prayer, the sacraments and worship. It is a place where people in need can think their deepest and most private thoughts. It is not sacred just because it represents the presence of Almighty God, although of course it does so; it is also sacred because it represents the deepest levels of our humanity. To trample so wantonly and brutally over a sacred place is to trespass upon the holy and upon the human. If chapels in prisons are not honoured, then
I believe that it was also out of order that neither the chaplain, nor his colleagues, nor the board of visitors, were present when the raid on the chapel occurred. Not to have involved them was a serious abuse of power. I seek from the Minister an assurance that when considering raids in the future the Prison Service will be absolutely clear about what may or may not happen in relation to chapels in prisons, and will seek advice from the Bishop to Prisons or the Chaplain-General on the drawing up of guidelines to ensure that such an appalling act of desecration never happens again in our country.
Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, like the right reverend Prelate, I, too, thank my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew for raising this matter. The background and the actions taken in respect of HM Prison Blantyre House are well recorded in the Select Committee's report. I, too, was glad to read the Government's response published in a timely manner for today's debate; namely, as recently as yesterday. One wonders whether it would have appeared so promptly had my noble and learned friend not been planning his debate. Be that as it may, the Government's response is no less welcome for that.
I speak not because I know very much about prisons--sadly, or happily depending upon one's point of view, I do not--but because I am chairman of the Engineering and Marine Training Authority. We have been working in prisons for a number of years promoting engineering training, in particular in resettlement prisons. Our work has not recently included Blantyre House but a number of other prisons. In recent times we have awarded something like 1,000 National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) in basic, and some not-so-basic, engineering skills to prisoners preparing to leave prison. We attach high importance to that work. We hope and believe that the Prison Service does too. There have been some genuine difficulties. I do not make too much of them. For example, sometimes it has been difficult to track prisoners moving from one prison to another with regard to the pursuit of their studies and qualifications. But we have worked with the prison authorities to overcome those difficulties. I hope that the work can continue.
However, it is very difficult for us to pursue our task--I know that many others seek to do similar things--if, even in the model prisons like Blantyre House, there is the risk of the kind of disruption which occurred last year and to which my noble and learned friend referred. There has been no justification for the huge disruption to the resettlement process at Blantyre House by any ministerial pronouncement, any items discovered on the occasion of the raid or any statement to the Select Committee.
My organisation pledges its determination to provide as much training as can be absorbed by the prison system for those who are preparing to return to the outside world. Perhaps some of them will not be returning for a long time. They could also benefit from some of the training that we provide. I hope that our work will not in future be disrupted as it was at Blantyre House on the occasion in question.
Baroness Stern: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, for initiating the debate. It is important for the reasons already outlined--the events of 5th and 6th May and the matters of grave concern raised in the report of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee. It is also important because of the wider questions raised about the role of Blantyre House as a resettlement prison.
I have read the report of the House of Commons committee thoroughly, together with a number of other documents, including the annual reports from the prison's excellent board of visitors. What emerges from those reports is extraordinary. For someone such as me, whose daily work is about imprisonment and how it is done around the world, the story of Blantyre House is remarkable. We read an analysis of a prison that is almost unique in the world. I hope that noble Lords will bear with me if I attempt to set out the particular elements of the work of Blantyre House that make it such an extraordinary place.
First, it ran a regime based on trust. I am not sure that it is widely understood what an achievement that is. The normal structure of a prison is of two sides--us and them. Members of staff and prisoners have, first, to be loyal to their side. If not, the consequences are serious and may be dangerous. That is a basic, universal law of prison life. At Blantyre House, it was challenged and, in many ways, overcome. The prison chaplain told the Home Affairs Committee that the prisoners,
Secondly, there was a basic rule at Blantyre House: no violence, either physical or verbal. Noble Lords will know that violence is deeply endemic in the culture of prisons in all countries, even here. To establish a prison where violence is not acceptable is remarkable.
Thirdly, the prison built an outstanding relationship with the community around it. Fourthly, the prison worked to make prisoners think not just of themselves and how to change themselves, but of other people less fortunate than themselves. There were projects in which the prisoners worked for old and disabled people. They did an annual day out for 1,000 handicapped people and their carers. That also happens in other resettlement prisons. Kirklevington Grange in Cleveland supports 20 local charitable projects and requires the prisoners there to do at least 15 days' community work.
It may be said, rightly, that prisons are not there to try out nice theories. That is not the test. The objective of the work is to help people to change and to come out of prison with a new view of life, a new view of what is a worthwhile life and a different approach to other people and their property.
Deprivation of liberty is the punishment for a crime, but once people are imprisoned there is an imperative in a civilised society to try to do things in prison that give them every reason to rethink their lives and stop committing crime. We have substantial evidence that the Blantyre House approach worked. The rate of positive drug tests was 0.7 per cent, against a Prison Service rate of 14.2 per cent. The figure for absconding--prisoners running away or not returning when they should--was two in the past two years out of 16,000 temporary releases. Reconviction rates have been mentioned. Noble Lords will be aware that that is a minefield. Claims are made and it is important to ask whether like is being compared with like. But taking all the complexities into account, the 8 per cent reoffending rate is well below the rate of 22 per cent that would be predicted for the sort of prisoners taken by Blantyre House.
Other aspects of the running of this mould-breaking prison should also make us feel that our Prison Service has much to be proud of. The oversight system--the board of visitors--which is such an admirable feature of our arrangements in this country, works very well. The board takes a deep interest in the prison and the prisoners. It is vigilant in protecting the work of the prison. It ensures that race relations work is properly done. It monitors the work placements and at the same time checks that security is adequate and public protection is in the forefront.
We are talking about a prison with much to be proud of, where we could be described as world leaders. It is very difficult to combine good security, concern for the protection of the public, intelligent assessment and responsible analysis of risk with recognition of what rehabilitation really means. It requires a dedication to looking at the prisoner as a person and a citizen with a capacity to help as well as to harm, to give as well as to take, to show loyalty and trust as well as betrayal and hatred and a determination to help prisoners to stop seeing themselves as the victim and to understand who are the
Mike Newell, the chairman of the Prison Governors Association, wrote an article in the magazine of the Association of Members of Boards of Visitors about the climate in the Prison Service. He described it as a climate of,
He asks why the sickness rate for governors nearly doubled in the past year. He asks why more governors than ever before have been removed or have left their posts. And he says that the cause is the performance culture with an obsession for ever-improving results. He says that figures have overtaken people and that we accentuate the negative. He talks about bullying of governors by their bosses, the area managers. Governors feel that they are not trusted by Prison Service headquarters. He talks about the narrow imperatives of the performance measures; for example, governors are judged by how far they reduce the number of people who test positive under the mandatory drug-testing scheme in prison, even if all the prisoners who abstained in prison are released and return to drug-taking straightaway.
All those speaking in the debate today do so, I am sure, out of a deep concern for the Prison Service, its staff and its director-general and with enormous support for the task that it has to do in balancing custody and care, public protection and rehabilitation. However, we all know that nearly all prisoners will leave prison at some point and that many will do so after a relatively short time. The work of prisons makes sense only if it is geared to the outside world, to the life that prisoners will lead when they leave prison and to their capacity to lead a responsible life in the community.
Therefore, I am sure that everyone in this House will welcome some of the changes announced in the Government's reply to the Home Affairs Committee. I am sure that we all welcome the statement that the director-general expects staff to act with complete integrity. Presumably, integrity excludes the type of bullying mentioned by Mr Newell in his article. We must welcome the redesignation of the regimes directorate as the resettlement directorate because it shows a recognition that for most prisoners the prison regime should be oriented towards returning to the community. We must welcome the decision that a key performance indicator about resettlement will be operational from the year 2002.
In conclusion, I ask the Minister, who I know is committed personally very much to resettlement and rehabilitation, whether he can assure us that the Prison Service values the work of the resettlement prisons, understands the complexity of the task of resettling those who have committed serious offences and intends to support, encourage and build on the work of those who try to carry it out. I should also like to know whether the Prison Service has responded to the concerns of the prison governors expressed by Mr Newell and what action is in hand to rebuild good
Finally, in view of the Prison Service statement which says that it will look after prisoners with humanity and the director-general's statement at the February 2000 Prison Service conference that prisoners should be treated with dignity, I ask the Minister whether he intends to produce guidelines setting out the minimum standards of humanity and dignity to be observed when prisoners and prisons are being searched.
Lord Elton: My Lords, I begin by endorsing with enthusiasm everything that the noble Baroness has just said. I start from the premise that the purpose of the Prison Service is to reduce the level of crime in this country. I make the following observations: first, it is supposed to do so by deterrence and by the rehabilitation of the prison population; secondly, the figures show that it is manifestly failing; and, thirdly, rehabilitation has always seemed to take a very low place in the planning of the Prison Service.
When I was the Minister with responsibility for the Prison Service, I remember how it was necessary to keep repeating the mantra that prisoners went to prison as punishment, not for punishment. They were not there to be beaten up; they were there to be improved. I am not saying that beating up was a common occurrence, but in my day the ethos of the Prison Service was not that of an organisation bent on returning people into society in an improved condition from that in which they had been taken from it.
The increasingly important imperative of reducing crime in this country means that the rehabilitative function is of enormous importance. When one looks at the Select Committee's figures, one sees that by any yardstick Blantyre House was exemplary. Paragraph 109 on page 32 shows that the time spent in purposeful activity per prisoner was very nearly double the Prison Service target, half as much again as the Blantyre House target and double the Prison Service actual. The successful temporary release rate was above the Prison Service actual figure and above its own targets.
The noble Baroness has already pointed out that the percentage of positive tests for drug use was one-twentieth of that in the Prison Service as a whole. That makes one wonder what in the intelligence led the authorities to believe that a crash search of the extraordinary nature recorded was necessary. That search took place in a prison in which staff absence due to sickness, which in any industry is a good indication of morale, was well below the Prison Service target and 25 per cent below the Prison Service actual average. That provides a picture of a thriving organisation, but the next thing that we hear is that the governor has been removed at two hours' notice.
I must pick up that point from my noble friend. It is ludicrous and an insult to expect people to accept that a career move can be made with two hours' notice. However, that is what we are told happened. As the
The invasion was triggered by intelligence. Well, that is a word that we use in the forces and in security when we wish to say that we have very important information that must not be compromised, that nobody else should have and that should be acted on. I respect the fact that sources must be protected, and I understand that we cannot be told the exact detail of the intelligence, or who provided it. However, what was the route--I think that the Minister can tell us this--by which it came from those who gathered it to the Prison Service directorate? Was it through the area manager's office, one would like to know? It was the catalyst for what happened, and what happened is seen by everyone as a disaster.
An important recommendation of the Select Committee is that there should be a proper programme for resettlement and proper recognition of that in the management structure of the Prison Service. The document containing the Government's response currently eludes me, although I know I have it somewhere. The Government said that they recognise that the situation should be changed and that they will do what they have been asked to do, namely, to put one person in charge of resettlement. However, it
Having sorted out why the situation arose, why there was a breach between the area manager and the governor, why nothing was done about the situation, and what precipitated this unfortunate episode, the most important thing, above all, is to ensure that we restore rehabilitation or resettlement as the prime objective of the Prison Service and that that is not done at the last minute and in relation to the few people whom one thinks are possibly remedial. The appointment to a resettlement prison should be regarded as a plum job in the service, and the best people should fill it. They should be backed up to the hilt by the rest of the Prison Service. Until that is done, we shall still be in a mess.
Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, for bringing to the notice of your Lordships today the extraordinary treatment of Blantyre House by the Prison Service.
The report on Blantyre House by the Select Committee on Home Affairs in another place shows how important it is to have a democratic, independent body uncovering matters that so easily could be covered up and left to stagnate. The introduction of that report states that Blantyre House prison had a "reputation for excellence" in the resettlement of offenders. It has been described by successive heads of the Prison Service, chief inspectors of prisons and the Minister with responsibility for prisons in those terms.
On 5th May 2000, however, the governor, who had been praised for "doing an outstanding job", was removed abruptly from his post and an overnight search ensued, carried out by prison officers from other prisons.
The Minister will, I hope, agree with me that when such a serious error of judgment is made about one prison, there will be ripples of insecurity throughout prisons across the country and among senior staff. That cannot be good for morale or for the people who undertake difficult jobs and need support from the Prison Service.
While I was visiting a category B prison in Kent, to sit in on a drug rehabilitation session and to see how the prison was trying to cope with a drugs situation, I met one of the prisoners, who was a drugs counsellor in the prison. As sometimes happens, he kept in touch with me and, from time to time, gave me reports on how he was progressing. He graduated to Blantyre House and wrote to me from there. He stated:
That is rehabilitation. It involves making people who came to prisons with a chaotic life-style that had turned them to a life of crime realise that they can mend their ways and work hard, and that there is a useful life waiting for them when they are released. The Prison Service should be proud of such success stories.
That did not happen. I received that letter in January. The raid took place in May, wasting public money and leaving staff, prisoners and supporters of the prison in a state of shock and disbelief. The Government said that the planning started in April. That does not add up.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I too add my grateful thanks to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, for instigating this debate. The debate earlier this afternoon concerned marriage and traditional family values. This debate also is about values--the values that a civilised society attaches to its dealings with those who offend and find themselves in our prison institutions.
I should say also that I am delighted that we have so many contributions from noble Lords identifying precisely why they consider things to have gone wrong. I have been a member of a board of visitors for some years and have been involved not only at local level, but also in terms of advising the Prison Service from time to time on a number of issues confronted by it. I can say, like many others here, that I take credit from time to time for the fact that I receive Christmas cards from some former offenders who now lead useful lives.
What happened at Blantyre House prison must concern all those interested not only in the welfare of prisoners, but also, and more importantly, in the progressive policies which help resettle inmates to a law-abiding life. So overcrowded are our prisons that confinement rather than rehabilitation seems to be the primary aim. I know of just a handful of establishments where we can put our hand on our heart and say that they are good prisons. Blantyre House is one of them. Therefore what happened there on 5th May 2000 must shame us all.
In one single evening we demonstrated all that is unacceptable in the running of our prison establishments. Perhaps the Minister could indicate when we last had to send 84 prison officers from other prisons to search an establishment like Blantyre House. I can recollect no such incident in the 25 or 30 years I have been connected with the penal service in this country.
Let me say first that on many occasions I have praised Martin Narey, the Director-General of Prisons, for the way he has tackled difficult issues since taking up his appointment. I am still of the opinion that he is in the mould of progressive director-generals who have run our prisons in the past. We also have some of the best chief inspectors of prisons. Judge Stephen Tumim was no pushover and neither is Sir David Ramsbotham. That is why, the Minister will recollect, we opposed so strongly any idea of diluting the functions of the Prison Inspectorate by merging it with another department. I am glad that that is out of the way and the Minister saw the logic of our argument.
The incident of 5th May will go down as one of the worst examples of ill-informed, misjudged and damaging actions which are a blot on the good name of the Prison Service. I need not repeat in detail what has already been said by many noble Lords in today's debate. The Commons Home Affairs Select Committee set out in detail what happened on that night. I have not been able to read the Government's response to that report as I only received a copy a few moments ago.
The main question--there are many--is: who is ultimately responsible for what happened in Blantyre House? Where does the buck stop? I would hate to go back to the situation of conflict which arose between the then Home Secretary Michael Howard and the then Director-General of Prisons, Derek Lewis. Passing the buck does not help. It would be helpful to know who knew what about the operation at Blantyre House and why the matter was handled in the way it was.
The work of Blantyre House prison in steering long-term prisoners away from a life of crime has been a beacon of enlightenment in the prison system for over a decade. I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, was able to give examples of the successes of the work undertaken in that institution. Prisoners released from Blantyre have a reconviction rate of 8 per cent, compared with the average of 57 per cent for the prison system as a whole. As the Home Affairs Committee pointed out in paragraph 111 of its report,
In 1999-2000 Blantyre House prisoners were involved in an average of 43.6 hours of purposeful activity a week as against a Prison Service average of 23.2. Again, that is a positive way in which to deal with those in our prison institutions. As the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, pointed out, only 0.7 per cent of drug tests on Blantyre House prisoners were positive compared with an average of 14.2 per cent for the Prison Service as a whole. And, most importantly, there were no assaults and no escapes from Blantyre House during that year.
On seeing that record, one must ask what was the purpose of that raid. I sat for some years as a magistrate and when the police wanted a warrant to search somebody's premises they had to answer countless questions. Only if one was satisfied with the answers would one agree to put a signature to it. Did those in the Prison Service who took part in that raid take any interest whatever in looking at the positive record of the prison before agreeing to the activity carried out on that night?
That outstanding record has been put at risk by the aftermath of an extraordinarily heavy-handed raid of a kind which could only have been justified by powerful evidence of extremely serious, organised criminal activity. I ask the same question as the noble Lord, Lord Elton. What was the seriousness of the matter? What was the source of the intelligence which effectively resulted in the course of action taken on that night? For example, was there any evidence of a serious drug-trafficking operation involving staff as well as prisoners? In fact no evidence of such activity was found. The amount of illicit goods found in the prison was minimal, far less than would have been found in a random raid on almost any other prison in this country.
The result of the raid caused serious damage to the morale of the staff and prisoners at Blantyre House. Many grave points of concern arise from that disastrous episode and I shall concentrate on just three. The first concerns the misinformation given in an attempt to defend the raid after the event. I think that was shameful on the part of whoever made those statements. I refer, for example, to the Director-General's statement to the Home Affairs Committee that a quite frightening amount of contraband material was found, when the Prison Service's own internal inquiry concluded that there were no significant finds.
The damage caused by this episode could have been mitigated if the Minister for Prisons or the Director-General had made a statement such as, "I received information suggesting that serious organised criminal activity had occurred at Blantyre House and I authorised the raid in good faith on the basis of that information"--nobody would dispute that that is the right thing to do--"However, the raid found no evidence of such activity. It is therefore clear, with hindsight, that the information was faulty. We will now have to work hard to ensure that the work and ethos of Blantyre House receives the strong support it needs to continue its outstanding work of resettlement".
Even at this stage it would not be too late to say that. I hope that the Minister will be good enough to take that into account. Why did not the Minister for Prisons or the Director-General make such a statement instead of continuing to defend the raid?
We are entitled to ask, are we not, what was the source of their information? I have looked quickly at the response made by the Home Office and find no evidence whatever so far. Why did it not match the outcome of the search? Would it not have been better to admit to and apologise for the grave error of judgment on the basis of which the decision was taken? How much advance warning did the Minister receive and why did he continue to defend something which was not borne out by the search? That issue needs an answer.
Secondly, one of the changes made following the raid was to prohibit prisoners from having driving lessons in order to get driving licences for cars, heavy goods vehicles and fork lift trucks. Possession of driving licences makes a big difference to the chances of ex-prisoners getting a wide range of jobs. That was an extremely shortsighted move. Have the lessons been reinstated? If not, will the Minister ensure that they are recommenced as soon as possible?
Thirdly, a key factor in this episode appears to have been a difference of view between the area manager, Tom Murtagh, and the former governor of Blantyre House about approaches to resettlement. At paragraph 77 of the report, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Sir David Ramsbotham, told the Home Affairs Committee:
Does the Minister agree that the resettlement of prisoners is so important that we must aim to ensure that all senior staff in our prison system are fully committed to it? One does not have the impression that the area manager was committed in the same way as the prison governor. Senior staff must be willing to give their full backing to governors who are involved in imaginative steps to resettle prisoners and divert them away from further crime. Does the Minister agree that a strong commitment should be a key criterion in recruiting staff and assessing them for promotion to area manager and other senior posts?
The point at issue is the hostility between the area manager and the prison governor. The questions we are entitled to ask are: why was the area manager at loggerheads with the policies pursued by the governor? Why was there such a difference of opinion on the matters of resettlement? There were complimentary reports, including independent reports, which praised the management of Blantyre House. Surely we are entitled to know how such policy differences are reconciled between the governor and the area manager.
Sometimes it pays to be bold; bold enough to say to inmates that we were wrong in our assumptions; we were wrong in the way that we carried out the operation at Blantyre House. An apology is due to all those who care about our civilised values.
The action of 5th May at Blantyre House was a blot on the good name of our Prison Service. It has a difficult task, which we all appreciate. We shall continue to praise the many good things it does. Equally, it must be accountable for its failures. We need to know much more about the lessons learnt and who was accountable for what. Nothing less will do. I trust that the Minister will be candid in giving that information.
I was delighted by the contribution of the right reverend Prelate, who mentioned the role of the board of visitors. Perhaps I may say that we need to look again at the role it plays. We want to ensure that it is effective and plays a full part in the operation of prisons. I would have had much confidence in the system, had I not been told a few minutes ago by my noble friend Lord Avebury that at Haslar the board of visitors undertook a race relations survey with the full agreement of the Minister but the governor did not like the way it proceeded to carry out its work and three of the board of visitors were dismissed. That is least likely to build confidence of people who give so much of their time caring about those who are in an institution. It is therefore right that we re-examine the role they play.
I conclude by saying that prison is not simply about locking up people. It is also about what happens to them when they are there. I do not refer only to prisons. As a member of a board of visitors I learnt that what happens in prisons affects families. It affects parents and their children. Yet here we are, carrying out the type of action which has effectively done irreparable damage. It is about time we put that right.
Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in thanking my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew for such an excellent overview of this disastrous situation. Between his speech and the report of the Select Committee the case has surely been made for a damning criticism of the raid on Blantyre House Prison. As noble Lords have mentioned, the reply from the Minister for Prisons was received only yesterday. Therefore, we have had little time to digest its contents. To me it gives two contrasting impressions. I find it somewhat defensive in its reaction to several of the committee's critical findings. However, in addressing the plans for the future of resettlement institutions it is distinctly more positive. The undertaking to report progress to the Select Committee in one year's time is to be welcomed.
My noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew set out the facts on the bungling of the raid. I note in the Minister's reply that no mention was made of the near desecration of breaking into the prison chapel, to which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans has drawn attention; or as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, the discourtesy extended to the board of visitors which was, it would appear, misled into thinking that this was only a routine visit and encouraged to leave the site. Thus an important element of independent witness was absent during the course of the raid. Perhaps I may say that not for the first time I am privileged to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, who brings such experience to this work, in this case as a member of a board of visitors.
Perhaps I may also draw the attention of your Lordships to the fact that, while the excuse for the use of excessive force was that contrary to prison regulations, keys were in the hands of staff outside the prison, no disciplinary action appears to have been taken in respect of what would be a flagrant breach of regulations, either by the Prison Service or Kent police.
However, I recognise that the Minister broadly accepted the criticisms of the mode of the break-in. On the question of intelligence, the Minister upholds the view of the internal inquiry that in the weeks leading up to 25th April there were serious causes for concern. We must accept that view, though, in fairness to the Prison Service, in an otherwise balanced and fair report the Select Committee should have given greater prominence to the evidence given by Mr Narey on 16th May to another session of the Home Affairs Committee in which he stated:
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