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This issue was raised by my noble friend Lord Low in Committee and we were not satisfied with the Government’s answer that they would bring back disability legislation by making provision through Prison Service orders. On reflection, we do not think that that is satisfactory. There is a similarity here to what happened with the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill when the noble and learned Baroness described it as a brave move by the Government that Crown immunity was dropped for certain activities. When I inspected Her Majesty’s Prison Frankland in Durham I discovered to my horror a disabled man confined to the healthcare centre because he was wheelchair borne. Frankland was a new prison. I had seen the plans for Frankland, which included provision for disabled people to get around, including those in wheelchairs, but they were not included in the final build. When I questioned the Prison Service about this, I was told that because of Crown immunity the service was not required to conform to the disability legislation and had therefore excluded them. The man was denied access to work, education and everything else because of his disability, as he could not get out of the healthcare centre.

Therefore, in the spirit of lifting Crown immunity in the context of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill, it is perhaps right to look at all the other aspects of this sort of legislation, including disability, where Crown immunity has previously been prayed in evidence. It was, for

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example, prayed in aid as a reason why the conditions of the Children Act should not apply to prisons until that was overturned by judicial review.

The background to the amendment is explained clearly by what is required by the Disability Rights Commission, which is that there should be a disability equality scheme in every public place. There are already requirements on probation boards, schools, NHS trusts, passenger transport executives and many other public sector bodies to produce such a scheme. The Prison Service has one, but it is not one of its own; it is an adjunct of the Home Office disability equality scheme, and it applies only to staff, not to prisoners. That is not acceptable. The Prison Service must have a scheme of its own, applying to both prisoners and staff. In the context of lifting Crown immunity, the disability regulations must apply. A Prison Service order is not good enough. An explicit duty must be laid on the Prison Service, quite separate from anything connected with its sponsoring department.

That is the purpose behind the amendment. The current treatment of disabled people in prison is not adequate for a whole range of disabilities, as has been mentioned many times. Merely putting a requirement in a Prison Service order does not add any urgency to the requirement to put the situation right, but I believe a duty would. I beg to move.

Lord Addington: My Lords, your Lordships will forgive me for joining in the debate at this very late stage. The noble Lords, Lord Low and Lord Ramsbotham, who did a very good job of bringing forward the amendment, have a very good point here. The prison population has a high number of disabled people, who are mainly unidentified.

My interest in dyslexia is probably fairly well established in this House. The number of undiagnosed dyslexics in the prison population is unacceptably high; the only question is how high. I have seen work recently that identifies them as being roughly 50 per cent of the prison population. The same study, at Chelmsford prison, which did a good job of identifying people who were avoiding education and thus not taking themselves forward, was also identifying a lot of people with similar types of problems due to head injury. The biggest problem they had was short-term memory loss, which tends to lead to language function loss and so on, which means bad organisation. Where that was identified and dealt with, the knock-on effects were surprising. One of them, I was told by a prison officer I spoke to, was that the number of assaults had decreased dramatically, because the amount of defensiveness among a large part of the prison population had dropped. Consequently, so had the touchiness and the number of flare-ups. I asked the prison governor how many people it took to deal with one assault. He said it took about nine people for half a day. The cost implications of getting a duty that allows you to take action, and which is suited to the environment, have to be massive. Why are we not introducing such a duty here?

When I have represented disability interests I have not been above saying, “Poor people, we are all nice”,

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and so on. But disability runs across all sections of society. Unfortunately, certain groups in society have a slightly higher propensity to commit crime, according to the statistics. If you can identify them you stand a chance of breaking the offender cycle, before middle age basically knocks it out of them and you are left with an almost unemployable person.

This type of duty stands a chance of being able to deal with the situation. It is absurd, given the amount of time and effort we have put into getting legislation, that groups with more obvious disabilities, such as being in a wheelchair, should be excluded from the equality duty. We are not saying that they should be allowed out of prison earlier or that they should not be sent there in the first place, but merely that, once they are there, reasonable adjustment should be made for their situation. Surely the Government should embrace that. They have resisted it in the past, but I hope they are starting to think more coherently about the problem.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, I support the amendment. I served on the board of visitors of a young offender institution, now a monitoring board, for 27 years. During that time I was often given disabled inmates. They had all sorts of disabilities; I remember two severely deaf boys, blind inmates, people who had cerebral palsy, and of course there were those with mental health problems—they are in every single prison in the country. Also, sadly, we had one young man who had asthma. He told the prison officers that he thought he was going to die, and they did not believe him. The young man died. It was tragic; he was a young lad of 17.

I have visited many different prisons and young offender institutions. Like my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham, I once visited HMYOI Onley, but for a different reason: the institution was running a project where the young men were helping young people with mental problems who came in and used their gym. That was very good, because they were doing something to help other people. That, I feel, is rehabilitation.

At that institution was a young man who was paraplegic. He had committed a serious offence. He was housed in the hospital wing because of space, but the prison officers wanted to integrate him on a wing. He wrote to me and rang me because he was desperate. He was put in a cell but could not turn his wheelchair because the room was too narrow. In the end, he had to go back to the hospital wing, because there is always more space there, but the people there are not integrated into the whole prison. A lot should be done.

I am a member of the All-Party Group on Prison Health here in Parliament. We look at health problems and visit various prisons. Last year, we went to Leeds prison, which has become a sort of dumping ground for disabled people for the north of England because it has some facilities for them. That prison had a tetraplegic—someone paralysed from the neck down—who also had a problem with his leg, and he had MRSA. There were many other prisoners with different disabilities who were causing the prison a lot

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of difficulties. They needed a special bed for the tetraplegic inmate, and they had managed to get one. Maybe, now that the NHS is looking after health problems in prisons, the situation will get better, but disability is often right down at the bottom of the list. When I served in the Yorkshire health region, I was always having to remind people about disability needs: people forget. Provision in the Bill is therefore necessary.

I hope the noble and learned Baroness the Lord Chancellor—I am sorry, the Attorney-General, the appointment on which I congratulated her yesterday—will be able to do something. We were told that a report was being done by a Minister in the other place, but he has probably moved on now. Someone must take that up and carry on. Disability covers a wide variety of people throughout the country. I hope she will take this seriously.

7pm

Baroness Darcy de Knayth: My Lords, I support the amendment, which has the crucial support of the Disability Rights Commission. As we know, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 gave the DRC the right to be consulted on additions to the specific disability equality duties, so it is important that it is in favour of the amendment. The Prison Reform Trust and Diabetes UK have reported cases of hypoglycaemia being treated as a disciplinary issue. I do not have my noble friend’s experience of prisons, but as a member of the murder and life imprisonment inquiry in 1989 I visited a few prisons. My noble friend Lord Ramsbotham said that the existing Prison Service disability equality scheme covers only staff and he said that it should apply also to prisoners. He also put in a plea for disabled visitors. I found that there was nothing there for a disabled visitor. Parkhurst changed and improved its disabled loo because of my visit. One was discovered in Durham jail that no one knew existed. There was another upstairs but there was no lift to get up to it. I hope that that was changed, but I would put in a plea for visitors to be included under the scheme.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I support the amendment wholeheartedly. We have had briefing from the Disability Rights Commission and my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham has explained the background. Had my noble friend Lord Low been here, I am sure that he would have added a few more vibrant descriptions of some of the horrors that are experienced by disabled people, but we have been lucky enough—at least I have—to have received a briefing from his assistant, William Moy, who has done an effective job in setting out a range of areas where there are clearly problems and a lack of awareness. This equality scheme must go broader than just staff and apply equally to visitors and families, but surely it must also apply to the training of staff, so they understand and can look for the points at which they may wish to refer to a doctor or call in some other form of specialist help. With all that as a background, I do not want to repeat everything that has been said. We had some poignant

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cases at the end picked out from Sean Humber’s published prison report from the journal of the Prison Reform Trust, all of which make fairly horrifying reading, not to put too fine a point on it. Along with my noble friends who have already spoken, I hope that the noble and learned Baroness the Attorney-General will be able to see her way through to doing something.

Baroness Wilkins: My Lords, I will speak briefly in support of the amendment. The punishment of prison is to be deprived of one’s liberty and disabled prisoners should not have an additional punishment of being treated unequally and having less favourable treatment. Only if every prison is required to produce a disability equality scheme will we ensure that they start to make progress in doing such things as ensuring that disabled prisoners have equal treatment and opportunity in taking part in education, in employment schemes, library services, behavioural programmes or visits. I hope that my noble and learned friend the Attorney-General will see her way to support the amendment.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, may I say how charmed I have been by listening to all the different manifestations of my name? I will value each and every one of them. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, seems to have slipped one past me on this occasion. I take this opportunity to congratulate her on her new role. I feel a little distressed that because of the nature of that role we may no longer have her constant appearances at this Dispatch Box and I hope your Lordships agree that her party has therefore done this House a great disservice.

I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for raising the issue. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Low, is not in his place, but it is an important issue and it does honour to this House that so many have spoken in the debate who have great knowledge and passion for it: the noble Baronesses, Lady Masham and Lady Darcy de Knayth, and my noble friend Lady Wilkins, together with the fine advocate for disability and dyslexia in particular, the noble Lord, Lord Addington. These are important issues.

We also have an opportunity to debate how we are responding to the issue. I hope that I made it in clear when we last spoke about it that the Government are firmly committed to tackling all aspects of discrimination and inequality across the criminal justice system. I hear loudly the comments that have been made by those who accurately say that disability should not form a secondary punishment in relation to the criminal justice system. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is concerned about how disability issues are handled in the public and contracted-out Prison Service, particularly in relation to prisoners. The noble Lord, Lord Low, made that point. The noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, makes a good point about visitors, as does my noble friend Lady Wilkins.



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However, the amendment would require that each individual prison establishment, whether managed by Her Majesty’s Prison Service or contracted out, has a separate disability equality scheme and that they each publish a report on the same. The Government consider that it would be disproportionate to make each and every individual prison a separate entity under the Disability Discrimination Act. We do not require the same under the Race Relations Act, nor do we require it of police stations, which stand in a similar relationship to the police authorities. I hope that my comments will in no way diminish the importance of this because I hope that I will be able to explain how we are going to respond. That said, I understand the basis of the concerns of all noble Lords who have spoken. As my honourable friend Gerry Sutcliffe made clear in his recent letter to the noble Lord, Lord Low, on the subject, the Government accept that there are shortcomings in the current Prison Service disability equality scheme and that it does not currently adequately address issues relating to prisoners.

That is why Her Majesty’s Prison Service is currently drafting an expanded disability equality scheme to cover prisoner issues in greater depth. This is despite the fact that Her Majesty’s Prison Service is not currently specified in the legislation as a separate entity. The Prison Service order on prisoners with disabilities is also being revised and updated, and will introduce a mandatory requirement for all prisons, both public and private, to produce an individual action plan detailing obstacles which need to be overcome and the necessary actions to be taken at local level.

All prisons, whether publicly run or contracted out, are required to abide by all applicable Prison Service orders—of which I can assure the House this will be one. In publicly run prisons, compliance with the order is enforced by operational management. The Prison Service standard, which supports the Prison Service order, is auditable and will be revised to include the requirement to produce an establishment action plan. In contracted-out prisons, compliance is enforced through the management of the contract by the National Offender Management Service. Failure to meet the requirements of the order would have contractual implications for the companies managing the private prisons.

The Government believe that the revision of the Prison Service order and the requirement to produce local action plans is the most appropriate and the most effective way of meeting the concerns which were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Low, on the previous occasion and very ably by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and all those who have spoken.

I should point out that the amendment is technically deficient as the Disability Discrimination (Public Authorities) (Statutory Duties) Regulations 2005, as amended on 6 April 2007, already has a Part V. However, I do not think that should impede us doing our duty.

I very much welcome this debate, and the support from all sides of the House for the principle of challenging discrimination on any grounds in the

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delivery of public services. I do not believe that this amendment will help us to achieve any greater compliance from prisons with the spirit and letter of the Disability Discrimination Act than the existing provisions, but I very much welcome the opportunity to have said what I have said, and put it on the record so that it can be returned to if it is found that the assurance that I have given to the House is not being properly complied with. I know that that will be used to good effect by all those Members of the House who retain an interest in these issues.

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, as the noble and learned Baroness said, we have had an extremely valuable debate marked by the contributions of those with detailed personal knowledge of the problems and an understanding not only of what it is to be disabled but to face double jeopardy, as it were, in prison.

I was not referring to individual prisons; I understand where the noble and learned Baroness is coming from there. I felt that the issue concerned the Prison Service as a whole. However, it would be churlish of me not to accept what the noble and learned Baroness said and the assurance that she gave. Therefore, it behoves us to go away, to read the Official Report and to think about it, with the option of bringing the amendment back rather than pressing it at this stage.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth: My Lords, before my noble friend withdraws the amendment, I should point out that the Disability Rights Commission states that, unlike full disability equality schemes—after all, every school has to produce an individual equality scheme—

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, that is precisely the point I was making about looking at the assurance and checking the measure against that which applies in the Probation Board, schools, NHS trusts and others, which have had to form schemes under the legislation, to see whether it matches theirs. It should have the same bearing on the Prison Service.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I know that I am not supposed to respond further, but I shall take back this matter because it accords with our good practice to involve stakeholders. I wanted to add that because it might help.

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, with that proviso, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.15 pm

Lord Ramsbotham moved Amendment No. 33:



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(a) the Secretary of State who shall act as chairman,(b) the Director-General of the Prison Service,(c) the Director of the National Probation Service,(d) the chairman of the Youth Justice Board,(e) the Commissioner for Women appointed under section (Commission for Women Offenders), and(f) other persons who the Secretary of State may nominate.(a) disseminating policy to, and(b) establishing good practice with respect to,

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 33, which we tabled previously, concerns an offender management board. This time I have added a link to Clause 34. Therefore, I shall speak also to Clause 34. I refer to the very specific addition to the members of an offender management board of the Commissioner for Women, whom I hope will be appointed as a result of the recommendations of the Corston report.

My reason—and that of my noble friend Lady Howe—for adding a further paragraph to the amendment concerning the Commission for Women Offenders is to seek enlightenment from the noble and learned Baroness. In May, I tabled a debate on the women’s commission issue. At her request, I withdrew the debate because she said that she would produce a formal response to that and therefore it made sense to have a debate based on the government response. Since then, the noble and learned Baroness has moved to another position. I was told that I should instead contact Vera Baird in the Ministry of Justice, who is now the Minister responsible. I wrote to her. I have not had a reply, which is not surprising as she is no longer in that position either. Therefore, one of my purposes in tabling the amendment is to ask the noble and learned Baroness, before she moves from her position, what exactly will happen and when we can expect the matter to be debated. It is hugely important to have women’s issues properly tackled. They must be represented on an offender management board. That is my purpose in retabling the amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, that although I have changed my role I have not disappeared. This issue is certainly of acute interest both to myself and to the new Solicitor-General, Vera Baird. The issue is under consideration across government and in due course there will be a comprehensive response to my noble friend’s report. We shall then be able to take these issues forward.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I had rather hoped to add something. I hope that the noble and learned Baroness will—

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I beg the noble Baroness’s pardon.


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