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Including this area in the Bill and specifying requirements on training was the subject of much attention in another place. My understanding is that similar amendments were moved there but rejected. It is still our view that including such a requirement is unnecessary in the light of safeguards in the clause and elsewhere. Differences between public and private sector prisons are unnecessary and inefficient, as well as detrimental to operations and security. We do, however, recognise the very genuine concerns raised by these two amendments and are completely committed to ensuring that the treatment of children and vulnerable adults is to a high standard. The changes we are making in Clause 14 mean that private prison staffPCOsare more likely to detect items being illicitly brought into private prisons. We therefore need to give them effective powers to detain suspected offenders until the police can arrive to arrest the individual in the same way as prison officers operate in the public sector, because they have constabulary powers.
We resist these amendments not because their objective is wrong but because the restrictions they would put in place duplicate existing practice. Additionally, any greater detail that might be thought necessary for the clarification of certain obligations can better be achieved through the contractual process. We must not forget that many safeguards already exist to ensure proper treatment of all visitors. First, PCO staff are required to be properly trained in all aspects of their job, and the quality of their training is open to inspection by the controller, who also approves the content of their training courseso there is already that independent view. The course includes sessions on correct searching techniques and child protection. Passing the course is a condition of employment as a PCO. Secondly, PCOs are subject to certification systems, to ensure they are competent and suitable, by the PCO Certification Unit, which is a public sector body. In addition, private providers are required to comply with the National Security Framework (NSF) covering both public and private prisons, which details the precise techniques that must be followed when searching children and vulnerable adults. We believe that these training measures will be sufficient, when they have been adapted to take account of the new power, to ensure that detention under the new power is carried out in an appropriate and lawful manner.
In our view, the above measures, which have been in place since PCOs first started to discharge their duties, achieve the aims of the amendments. Consequently, it is difficult to see what the amendments usefully add in the absence of any concern that current training levels are inadequate for their purpose.
In addition to the above, the controller plus Independent Monitoring Board members at the prison can witness at first hand that the correct techniques identified in the NSF are being rigorously applied. Failure to comply can be punished via existing contractual mechanisms, including the application of financial penalties on the company running the prison.
I am also concerned that the amendments would not apply equally to the public and private sectors. There is no similar requirement for prison officers to be trained in this way, yet they would be employing exactly the same techniquesand they operate around 85 per cent of the prisons in England and Wales. It is wrong to label private prison employees as in some way less competent than their public sector counterparts, when we know that there is good and poor practice in both sectors. Martin Narey has said that it would not have been possible to achieve the decency agenda in prisons had it not been for the involvement of the private sector.
To the extent that it might be said that private contractors need to be made more aware of the details of their obligationsfor example, with regard to conducting searches of, and detaining, childrenwe believe that a fair solution, which achieves precisely the outcome sought in the amendment, is to commit to ensuring that appropriate training in all aspects of the work and compliance with the NSF remain contractual requirements. Failure to provide properly trained staff or to adhere to approved searching techniques will be punished via existing contractual mechanisms, which include financial penalties. The controller will be able to oversee compliance as necessary. This means we can ensure that private prison staff are operating to the same standards as those in the public sector and that children are protected as they need to be, but also allows us the flexibility to respond to changes in training needs in the future without having to have recourse to primary legislation, which in this instance would be a clumsy way of tackling something that we all agree is important.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, asked how far the five-day training had been rolled out. I would like to answer him today but cannot. However, I will endeavour to write to him on that important background information.
It is important that one essential matter is carefully considered in this debate: the clause itself deals with a very short period of detention on suspicion of crime. I understand the valid concerns raised today but they relate to those detained in custody. This clause, of course, deals with visitors, not prisoners.
Lord Ramsbotham: I have a question of clarification. The Minister said that the amendment was unnecessary because the private sector was trained to the same standard as the public sector, but before that he said that the public sector was not trained. Surely that is the purpose of the amendment.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I said that there was no similar requirement for prison officers to be trained in this way. I was not making the point, as the noble Lord seemed to imply, that there was no training for prison officers in the public sector. My concern is that there needs to be equal treatment across both sectors. The overriding desire, which we all have, is to raise standards and to ensure that the proper and appropriate training is in place so that standards across both the private sector and the public sector continue to rise. The noble Lord has previously made the point that some of the best practice from the private sector has had the beneficial effect of working to improve standards in the public sector. In some ways, that is the benefit that we are trying to achieve in part here. However, this amendment would be a rigid and constraining way of trying to achieve an objective that we all share: to raise standards across the public and private sectors.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: Our expectation is of course that the training will be the same. We are trying through these training programmes to ensure that standards rise. I was talking here about the requirements in the logistical framework.
Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: I am still quite confused. Like the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, I thought my noble friend said that those who work in state prisons do not have to meet the requirements in the amendment, although we all want to raise the standard of training, and that the training for those working in state prisons is currently not really good enough. If that is not what he said, perhaps he will clarify it. I am sure that the amendment is trying to raise the standard in private prisons to the level in public prisons. If the standard in public prisons is not good enough, perhaps we should table an amendment on Report to bring it up to the level in private prisons. I am a little worried about the whole question of adequate training. If we put anyone in charge of anyone else, be it in the private or public sector, that person must have adequate trainingthe best training that we as a country can give themnot only for their own sake but for the sake of those whom they look after.
The Earl of Listowel: Before the Minister responds, I thank him for attending to my question and kindly offering to write to me. It may be helpful if I draw attention to an experience I had when visiting a prison for adults. I spoke with a senior wing manager who had a specialism in drugs training. He told me that, unfortunately, as he was working in a private prison he had not had time to train people in this specialism of drugs. There seems to be a widespread problem that it is harder to release custody officers in private prisons to get the training they need than it is to release officers in public sector prisons. One can understand the commercial reasons for that. I should say that some of the private prisons for children I have visited have put great emphasis on training. However, given the commercial pressures that the private sector is under there might be a danger that this sort of thing might slip.
Recently, I tabled a Written Question to the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland of Asthal, about supervision for officers in an immigration detention centre. She answered that she could give no response to my particular question about supervision of custody officers in that centre because that was done within the setting and the Government only checked for the outcomes. In some ways that might seem satisfactory, but to my mind it is crucial when working with vulnerable children and families that officers have that supervision, so it is very disappointing to learn that it is not possible in that case. My worry is that this could slip by and vulnerable children could be put in an unacceptable position.
Lord Judd: When visiting a prison with the Joint Committee on Human Rights, I asked a quite senior prison officer what issue he would like me to go away regarding as the most important as far as he and his work were concerned. Without hesitation he said training. He was a very dedicated officer; that was clear. He was committed to success in the whole operation, not just being part of a warehousing system but achieving a positive outcome with prisoners. He recognised that training was indispensable to achieve that. If we take seriously positive outcomes from the prison experience, it is simply not acceptable at any point in the story to have crucial responsibility carried by people who are not properly qualified.
I say to my noble friend that I believe the Committee is seeking an assurance not only that in principle the Government agree about this, because it is clear that in principle they do, but that they will make it absolutely clear in the Bill that that must happen.
Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: Perhaps I can also ask for a little clarity. As I understand it, these two amendments relate not only to children detained in custody but to children who visit prisons. This is relevant to the powers to detain and search visitors and their families. What is important about this is that it is a very sensitive area; it is also the point at which prison staff, be they in private or public sector prisons, interface with the public. How they manage their visitors is vital not only to public perceptions of the quality of the service but also to the nature of the visit itself, which is one of the most important parts of a prison day. We must be absolutely clear. The wider subject of the training of prison staff with children who are detained in custodybe it for a long or short timeis a much larger and more significant question; this one is fairly narrow.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: The noble Baroness has helpfully brought us back to the point, and I am grateful to her for doing so. She is right that we are talking about a narrow focus. I want to clear up the issue of training, because I thought I had been clearperhaps I was notand I want to make sure that the record is clear. The training is the same, and it is adequate in both the private and public sectors. I was talking more generally about our shared desire in your Lordships House to see standards rise at all times. It would be unduly restrictive to apply a legislative safeguard in the private sector that does not apply in the public sector; we need to have a level playing field. Perhaps because of its narrow focus, the amendment would achieve undue rigidity.
We are at one in the Committee on the desire to raise standards and to ensure that safeguards are properly in place, whether a prison is operating in the public or private sector. I hope that with that clarification we can move on, because I have answered the core points. I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn and that the noble Viscount will feel able to reflect on what others have said in this debate and on what I have said in setting out how we see this working.
Viscount Bridgeman: I am most grateful to noble Lords for their support for the amendment. I am sorry that earlier I did not thank the noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Judd, for their support. This is an unequivocal ideal for which we should aim, and it is much better put into the Bill than left to what the noble Lord called the contracting process. Nevertheless, it would help the Committee if he would write to us about the standards of training in place for prison officers and for those in the private sector.
Viscount Bridgeman: I am most grateful. We attach a great deal of importance to the subject, and we will read very carefully what the Minister said today and says in his written reply. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Viscount said: Amendment No. 104 is in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Anelay. Clause 15 marks a radical departure from the Criminal Justice Act 1991, which enabled the contracting out of private prisons while providing an important safeguard requiring certain functions to be performed only by directly accountable public servants. The powers were adjudication, judgment of prisoners charged with offences under prison rules, segregation, cellular confinement and the application of mechanical constraints such as body belts. Clause 15 would transfer those powers to the employees of a private company delivering a contract at a contracted-out prison, potentially removing the direct line of public accountability from the PCO to a controller based in the new Ministry of Justice.
I am introducing the amendment and this line of argument regardless of any debate to do with the ethics of providing prison services through the private sector. Safeguarding and accountability in prisons are inextricable from the protection of the public and the accurate deployment of the duty of care that the Government owe to those whom they hold in custody. Clause 15 enables the Secretary of State to stipulate by order certain restricted activities that, by default, would be carried out by a prisoner custody officer or a prison officer temporarily attached to the prison, but that could be carried out by workers at a contracted-out prison with the authorisation of the director of the prison. The amendment would ensure that the Secretary of State included in the list of restricted activities those that are most essential to the preservation of safety and order in a prisonnamely, the control of entry and exit of visitors and the staffing of prison control rooms.
I do not wish to undermine the capabilities of staff in the private prison sector. That is not what this amendment is about. It is about maintaining the safeguard of public accountability in a service where, at each legislative turn, the Government seem to seek to abdicate responsibility. In the debates on the Criminal Justice Act 1991 before it was introduced, the then Ministernow my noble friend Lord Waddingtonstated that private prisons would have assigned to them,
The majority of private prisons perform well. Indeed, I would not want to overlook the fact that since they were introduced, private prisons have inspired far greater performance across the whole prison estate. I do not deny that and I congratulate them on their work. However, in this instance, we must focus on the minimum standard of performance expected and the safeguarding of that through public accountability. An analysis of the lowest performing private prisons is necessary.
The need for the amendment is even more pressing following the most recent report of the Chief Inspector of Prisons. I am afraid that the prognosis on the private prison estate was not as good as we might hope. I am grateful for the assistance of the Prison Reform Trust regarding this report. On Forest Bank, the chief inspector noted:
There had been 2,500 adjudications for offences against prison discipline in six months; drugs were rife, with a 40% rate of positive mandatory drug tests in the most recent month; prisoner assaults on other prisoners were running at 25 a month; and there were examples of assaults on, and routine intimidation of, staff. Staff turnover was high, and many lacked the experience and confidence to challenge inappropriate behaviour.
The complaint of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, about training runs right through those reports. As it stands, the delegation of responsibility on custodial tasks is too great a risk to take for that part of the private prison estate.
I hope that the Minister will consider accepting the amendment; indeed, I fervently hope that when it is accepted, it will be implemented in the context of the Government owing a legal duty of care to those held in custody. It would surely be the greatest safeguard that we could hope for.
In the mean time, I urge the Minister to consider the full implications of separating the link between crucial custodial tasks and public accountability. It has been said previously that a Government who have nothing to be ashamed of have nothing to hide. I hope that the Minister will look on this as an opportunity to make a positive concession that demonstrates the Governments faith in the private prison system. I beg to move.
Lord Waddington: Although it was a long time ago, in 1990 I think we envisaged that, barring a disaster, confidence in private prisons would grow with the years and the restrictions on the activities that could be carried out by workers in private prisons without special authorisation would gradually disappear. This amendment is useful because it gives the Minister the opportunity to justify the plan to allow authorisation of activities that are at present restricted. My noble friend referred to the words of the Minister in the other place, who said:
However, the Minister did not begin to explain why he thought that the restrictions were now unnecessary. Is it because private prisons are better run than they were 10 years ago? Is it because there is less indiscipline? That does not seem to square with the inspectors report on Forest Bank. My noble friend quoted from that report and those on Rye Hill and Dovegate. We should be constructive and not just imagine difficulties to justify the maintenance of restrictions. I am certainly not here to make difficulties of that sort. We need some help from the Minister to be convinced that the time has come for a major step forward. There was not the beginning of an explanation in the other place so it would be appropriate if there was a full explanation now.
Lord Ramsbotham: I am interested in this amendment; a later amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, which has now been withdrawn from the Marshalled List, was about the adjudications that are carried out by directors of private sector prisons. That matter causes considerable concern to the Prison Governors Association in particular. When the private sector prisons started, the post of controller was put there as well, as I understand itthe noble Lord, Lord Waddington, will know better than meto be the monitor of the contract. That is a very important role. One of the things that I found disturbing in the recent reports by the chief inspector was the suggestion that there are attempts to work around the contract and not to honour it in total. If there was not a contract monitor there to see it, there might be even more such attempts, which would reduce the effectiveness of the whole custodial operation.
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