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Lord Avebury: My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. I am sorry to intervene when he has passed

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the remarks he was making about the interview that I had with his right honourable friend. Can I make it clear--I am sure that the Minister would acknowledge this--that when I went to see Mr Boateng our discussions centred on the role of a board of visitors and the changes which might occur as a result of the review that was mentioned by the right honourable member for Gosport and Fareham? Mr Boateng made it clear that he did not wish to discuss, for particular reasons, what had happened at Haslar.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I accept that as an accurate reflection of the nature of the meeting. I merely report that it came as a surprise that the issues were being advanced on the basis of a debate in your Lordships' House. It was thought that a fruitful dialogue had emerged that would lead to an improvement in the situation as a result of the noble Lord's meeting with my right honourable friend the Minister.

Let us pass that matter. I can reassure the noble Lord that he is right when he says that the board of visitors was acting within its rights to seek to carry out a survey. It was suggested in a number of contributions that the survey was greatly respected and was the fruit of a significant piece of work on the part of the board of visitors. But it is the case that there were dissenting voices about the report among the board of visitors. It is not the case, as may have been portrayed earlier, that there was a clear position of the board of visitors on what was appropriate at Haslar and that conflicts came with the governor and senior staff. That is not the case. There was also dissension and difficulties within the board. We need to put these matters in context when we look at how some of the problems emerged.

I hasten also to assure the noble Lord--he was probably able to gauge this from his meeting with the Minister--that the Minister was fully apprised of all the facts before he reached his decision with regard to the non-reappointment of the three members of the board of visitors. Part of the difficulty we are all facing is that, because relatively small numbers of people are coming forward, some members of boards serve for long periods. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, himself identified that problem. He said that he served on a board of visitors for a very considerable period. I am not gainsaying the advantage of long experience, but it is probably advantageous if we are able to bring on new people and get fresh perspectives on boards of visitors.

Part of the problem may have occurred in relation to the Haslar Board of Visitors because a substantial number of them had been there for a very considerable period. The leading personalities had certainly had a very long association indeed. That gives them the enormous benefit of experience. But there is also the danger that they stray from their particular responsibilities, which were accurately defined in terms of eyes, ears and conscience. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, expressed graphically the role of the board of visitors. Someone who had played a senior role as chairman or vice-chairman of the board of

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visitors over a long period and had perhaps seen several governors come and go might be in danger of thinking that he or she had rather greater executive authority in relation to the institution than is identified in terms of the proper role of the board of visitors as set out by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I have been following his argument. He has put up the best defence that is possible in the circumstances. However, in the light of his recent remarks, with which all of us would agree, that someone may become too long in the tooth, too dependent on experience and so on, does he not agree that that is a rather puzzling description of, for example, the chairman of the board of visitors at Haslar, who was a 34-year old mother, a professional woman, and someone who had recently come on to the board of visitors and had done an outstanding job, which was recognised by all the people mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman? It is a little puzzling to fit her, for one, into that framework.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Baroness will recognise that I am not in the business of identifying particular individuals. I hear exactly what she says in that context, but she knows that the board of visitors comprised others who did not fit into that pattern. The noble Baroness is right that we need to see greater numbers of younger people becoming members of boards of visitors and a greater representation of ethnic minorities. The imbalance between the sexes is also shown on so many boards of visitors.

I seek to make the point that we have not been able to recruit as effectively as we would like and to bring into the general framework of boards of visitors as many of our fellow citizens as we would wish. Part of the difficulties at Haslar reflected some of those features.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, put a number of other questions to me. I can tell him that the new governor will take up his position in the very near future. A decision on that is imminent. I hope that I have been able to reassure him on that point.

The noble Lord also mentioned the position as regards the board of visitors at Holloway. It has put forward its views on the triennial review system. I do not think that there is any doubt that the Holloway report, following the inquiry, made some helpful recommendations on procedures to be followed in the triennial review process. The suggestions contained in that report may be substantiated in the report from Sir Peter Lloyd, which we look forward to receiving in due course. At the point we expect to take the next significant step forward in the development of this system.

Perhaps I may refer to the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, who raised an issue regarding people at Haslar who have not been found guilty of any offence. She stated that they are treated on exactly the same basis as convicted prisoners. I can reassure the noble Baroness that different treatment is offered appropriate to the

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needs of unconvicted people at Haslar. Two regimes operate and reflect the needs of the different groups. The noble Baroness mentioned in particular the mandatory drugs test. I can tell her that the test which is mandatory for prisoners is not for people being held on a different basis in the holding centre.

I have listened to the representations made this evening with great interest. I am aware that we have here an issue which reflects a difficult set of circumstances. It is clear that relationships broke down. Furthermore, it is obvious that the board of visitors, the probation staff and the governor had reached a point where effective operations could not be sustained. That led to the former governor leaving his post. It has also led to a reconstitution of the board of visitors which, I am happy to relate, appears to be working extremely well. It has given cause for celebration, in that improvements are now being effected in relationships. The scene is being set for a constructive relationship with the new governor.

I appreciate the fact that this debate has come about as a result of very real anxieties about a breakdown in the system, from which we need to learn lessons. I hope that I have succeeded in allaying some of the concerns which have been expressed and that I have responded to the particular questions put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in introducing the debate.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, a number of other issues were raised. Perhaps I

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may return to two of them. First, very damaging comments were made by serving staff as regards the race relations survey that was carried out. I cited one example. What has been done about those comments and what has happened to the individuals who made them?

Secondly, the Minister has still not told the House why those people were not reappointed. It would be helpful, for the sake of openness, if the Minister could write and explain the real reasons for the non-appointment of the visitors.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I think that I have put in context the reason: that the difficulties which emerged at Haslar required the element of a fresh start. There is no question of impugning the integrity of the people who acted in that role. In fact, at least one member of the board of visitors at Haslar has been appointed to a similar position on the board of visitors of another prison. There is no question of impugning the integrity, the capacity or the abilities of the people concerned.

In circumstances where relationships had deteriorated to the pitch where there was a whole range of charge and counter-charge, suspicion and dissent, which led to great difficulties in the operation of Haslar holding centre, changes needed to be made, and they have properly been made.

        House adjourned at five minutes past eleven o'clock.

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