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It is most welcome to learn that the first joint training between probation officers and prison officers has begun. Nevertheless, there is a glaring gap between the degree-level qualifications of one profession and the low level of qualifications required by the other. It is very troubling to learn that the prison officer induction training has now been reduced from eight weeks to seven; I would appreciate a rationale from the Minister for that. A prison officer is expected to train further as part of his development, but I am concerned that the current numbers of inmates may prevent prison officers
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It is important to recall recent reports from the Chief Inspector of Prisons. In Committee, the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, quoted from those; they have been referred to earlier today, so I will not repeat them. However, I was prompted to table my amendment partly because of a letter from the Attorney-General in her previous role, which indicated that staff supervision was a matter for the private provider at Yarls Wood immigration removal centre and was not covered by the contract. Supervision is a vital element of continual professional development. It is essential to developing reflective practice, and indispensable in the safe management of vulnerable but troubling people. In the social care sphere, it implies regular, one-to-one supervision by a senior practitioner. According to the minimum standard, each member of staff in a childrens home must be managed individually by his line manager once a month, and new workers must have more frequent supervisory meetings. Such supervision consists of ensuring that the homes policy and procedures are followed to assist the practitioner through discussion to come to a clearer understanding of his relationship with the residents. Hitherto in the prison estate, supervision has been understood to be the simple presence of a senior officer while officers are on a wing. I hope that this notion of supervision is changing.
All this costs money. One needs to free staff from their daily work for development. One needs to free senior practitioners from their important tasks, or hire expensive consultants. My concern is that inertia may win, and the Government may not attain their goal of reducing reoffending by 10 per cent by the end of the decade, unless such requirements are made explicit. We need to raise our ambitions. Norway provides its prison officers with a years training at a college after their first probationary year in a prison. It requires officers in training to do months of community service, and enables them to visit and observe services overseas. Indeed, they often come to this country.
We in this country are notorious for our failure to invest in skills. Our productivity remains stubbornly low in many areas as a consequence. I look to the Minister for reassurance that his eye is firmly on a steep improvement in the training and supervision of prison officers. I beg to move.
Lord Judd: My Lords, I warmly endorse much of the amendment. Not for the first timeI am confident it will not be the last timeI find myself very much in agreement with the arguments of the noble Earl and his clarity is to be commended. In some ways, one can make a comparison with
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We are agreed, and the Minister assured us at earlier stages of our deliberations, that everyone in the Prison Service is involved in rehabilitation. If we use the arguments about the challenges of rehabilitation in the context of the Probation Service, they would certainly apply to prisons. That underlines the importance of training, qualifications and relevant experience.
I am sorry to split hairsif it is splitting hairsbut I have one query on the amendment. That concerns the wording of new Section 8C(2)(a). I think it is too rigid. While experience and authority, which go with seniority, are terribly important, we do not want to slip into a Buggins-turn culture. Occasionally, there will be outstanding people, who can be moved into positions of responsibility earlier than might be the usual practice, and there should be room for that. It should not just be an exception, which might cause a cultural curfuffle in the institution concerned, but it should be accepted that that is the case.
Otherwise, I am very much with the noble Earl in all that he is arguing. Apart from the logic of the Government accepting the arguments on the Probation Service, to which they responded in Amendment No. 24, the important point is that increasingly very valuable work is being done in higher education in preparing police officers. At the outset, there was a certain amount of cultural suspicion about the process in the police force, but it is now recognised, more and more, that the right sort of people, with the advantage of more training and education behind them, can increase the effectiveness in the role that they play. That underlines the importance of the amendment, but I am sorry that I have a reservation on that one point.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I, too, support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Listowel. As far as one can see, with end-to-end management, one would expect very little to be done without involving prison officers in the scheme. I noticed how few references there are to prison officers in the Bill, and yet they must be absolutely crucial to the whole set up. I see one on page 3, in Clause 3(5), which gives some indication that prison officers might be involved in carrying out and making arrangements for probation services. However, I could not agree more with what my noble friend has said.
From an earlier discussion I had with my noble friend, I believe that that referred to the need for more support for probation officers and the same should apply within a prison. You need someone in whom to confide, to whom you can talk about your troubles. There has been far too little of that. I think I am right to follow up that point.
Coming back to this end-to-end management, it is crucial that we see all the members as part of the process. Hence the idea of the overarching training, which could involve different levels, with people taking it at different times and maybe for different serviceseven social services could take some partbut also, of course, with different levels of people. Perhaps people would want to stop at some stage, but otherwise they could go on higher and higher, getting more responsibility for dealing with the really difficult cases, which we need to concentrate on.
If and when the amendment is acceptedI hope that it will bethere will be a much greater role for prison officers in helping the young particularly. I want to get back to the possibility of concentrating rather more resources on some of the offenders, who we could get out of the cycle of deprivation and back into the world, where they would be more use to themselves and, indeed, to the rest of us.
I hope that this can be taken rather more seriously to hearteven better to hear from the noble and learned Baroness the Attorney-General that it is already well under way and that we do not need to worry.
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I support the general intention of Amendment No. 33. I absolutely agree with new Section 8B, but I have a concern about new Section 8C. I accept the minimum standards for supervision as an idea but, when the qualifications for a prison officer are set, I am concerned that the qualifications and training of middle management are frequently missed. The performance of middle management is one of the weakest things in the conduct of imprisonment. Individual prisons sometimes train individuals, but for anyone who knows anything about leadership the worst place to practise leadership is among your friends. People should be moved somewhere to learn the trade.
It would be sensible for the Prison Service to have central trainingor at least a central training syllabuswith perhaps regional centres for middle managers. Untrained middle managers can undoubtedly undermine all the work done on the coal face with prison officers and prisoners. Therefore, in setting down a national framework, the professional qualifications must include the guidelinesthe guidelines and training going back to the earlier amendments on training.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, I urge the Government at least to accept the principle behind the amendment, even if it might need redrafting in some minor details. If the argument is that this is unrealistic because the resources are not available, surely the answer is for the commencement of this section to be delayed until the resources are forthcoming.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, as ever I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for tabling this amendment. Training for prison staff has arisen several times during our debates on the Bill, and it is helpful to be able to address the concerns in a coherent and joined-up fashion. Perhaps before
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The amendment itself deals with two distinct issues, training and supervision. I shall deal first with training. The Prison Service takes the training of its staff very seriously indeed. Prison officer entry level training is delivered over an eight-week period, as the noble Earl understands, with weeks one and five spent in the officers establishment. During the course, officers are trained in the purpose of the Prison Service, interpersonal skills, diversity, security, self harm and suicide, radio use, and control and restraint. Officers may then go on to train in any of a range of specialist areas according to their skills and, of course, the needs of the service. All establishments are required to produce a training plan which is integrally linked to an overall business plan.
Staff working with young people receive specialist training as specified in the service level agreement between the Prison Service and the Youth Justice Board. In 2006, the Prison Service management board approved funding for a new initiative called Professionalising the Prison Service. This is a three-year initiative that is designed to transform training across the service to ensure that staff are equipped with the right skills at the right time in their prison career. A key element is the introduction of a professional development framework. This defines clearly recognised development and progression routes for all staff employed by the service so that they have a clear understanding of the available career pathways. Learning will be competence-based and staff will be able to develop and extend their skills, knowledge and experience in order to maintain continuous professional development and, in many cases, progress to higher levels of responsibility.
From September of this year, the achievement of a level 3 national vocational qualification in custodial care will become compulsory for new prison officers. Failure to achieve this will lead to termination of employment as a prison officer. An optional level 2 qualification will be introduced for support grades wishing to make the transition to prison officer.
I do not think that it is necessary to make provision for this in the statute. Comprehensive information about the qualifications, experience and training required by a prison officer is already widely available in the public domain. We have agreed to make express provision in the Bill for probation training in response to particular concerns raised in the context of the new arrangements for the delivery of probation services. But the situation is very different in relation to the more established arrangements for prison training. There is no such statutory provision now and I do not think it is necessary for the future.
I turn now to the second part of the amendment, which proposes setting out the seniority of supervising officers and the length and frequency of supervisory meetings. This degree of operational detail does not need to be set out in such a rigid way or, for that matter, to be underpinned by statute as the amendment suggests. But I will seek to address the concerns which lie behind the amendment by setting out how supervision arrangements work in practice. Unlike staff in other parts of the offender management service, few prison officers work on their own, or out of sight of other officers or senior members of staff. Because of this, the supervision they receive is continuous, flexible and less dependent on formal procedures such as supervisory meetings. It is difficult to see how the publication of standards would provide any improvement in the current situation. Supervision and oversight differ according to local conditions and are presently managed well within such a framework. Standards in these circumstances would be difficult to establish and then to measure, and any increase in formal procedures is likely to add significantly to the burden of bureaucracy and the cost to the service without necessarily offering any corresponding increase in the quality of service delivered.
As to the seniority of supervision, which the amendment also seeks to prescribe, again it is difficult to see how such a standard could be effectively constructed or implemented. The Prison Service is already a very well structured organisation with a strong tradition of grades and seniority, and there is little day-to-day question about supervisory authority. But it is equally the case that the Prison Service has developed a strong reliance on multi-disciplinary teams, often led by managers who are not senior officers or any part of the officer grading structure but who provide supervision, oversight and, in some instances, even direct management of prison officers.
The purpose of the amendment is well understood and much appreciated, but its implementation and operation would be fraught with difficulties of definition and scope. For those reasons and the reassurance I have given, I hope the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Let me deal with a few other points that came up during the debate. The noble Earl thought that prison officer training was going to be reduced to seven weeks. I can knock that one on the head. I made it clear from my speaking note that prison officer training is eight weeks; there has been no reduction and no reduction is intended. He also suggested that private prison staff were perhaps lacking in experience and poorly trained. Private prison staff undergo a thorough training programme, which is equivalent to that in the public sector Prison Service, and successful completion is a condition of employment. The course offers a variety of modules which are tailored to the needs of the learner and the post to ensure that at the end of the course the person has the necessary technical and general skills to perform their duties. The course they undertake is approved by the comptroller as being fit for purpose.
Course content, training standards and procedures are specified within the terms of each individual contract, which is an additional pressure point in raising standards. The comptroller is able to attend any training module he may wish and can request copies of all training materials given to staff to ensure that proper quality training is provided. The first private prison was opened, of course, in 1992, as has been much discussed today, and there is a significant amount of operational experience now within the system at all levels. This has been recognised by external bodies, such as the prison inspectorate, and the former head of the Prison Service, Martin Narey. I cannot accept that private prisons recruit people of lower calibre. They are delivering the standards which we require within the service and which we seek to set in contracts.
The noble Earl also referred to the Norwegian experience. The problem is that it is not easy to compare prison systems across Europe because the roles and duties of prison officers differ widely from state to state. Offender management arrangements have grown up on national lines and responsibilities in respect of offender management are often very different. I was interested when the noble Earl said that Norwegian staff came over to the United Kingdom. I can only assume that was because they thought they had something to learn from us, which is a good sign. We are keen to examine best practice; we certainly examine it from across Europe. There is considerable regard for UK Prison Service practices and we have attempted to share with our European partners our best practice. I was entertained to find out, for example, that in Bulgaria prison governors are being led by the experience drawn from an English prison governor who has advised them on their reform programme. That, too, is a good sign.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, made the point that there was a lack of reference to or mention of prison officers in the Bill. That is because the Bill seeks to change the arrangements for delivering probation services and increase the involvement of other providers; legislative change is not required for the Prison Service in the same way. Where it is right, however, the Bill makes provision particularly to clarify the role of probation staff in prisons and to enable prison staff to deliver programmes in the community, so it creates that necessary flexibility. That, in essence, explains why there are fewer references to the Prison Service and its particular needs and problems.
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I thank the Minister for taking the time and trouble to make those helpful points. My impression, from discussing private prisons and visiting one, is that they can be very good, but there is pressure due to fewer people working on the front line. That is generally true. My understanding was that the eight-week induction is therefore recognised to be quite short for working in
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The Minister has helped me to a degree with what he has said, and I will study it carefully, but I am concerned that the day-to-day pressures of fewer people on the front line with such a large prison populationthe fact that the staff have to walk with the prisoner from their cell to the gymnasium or whereverappear to be preventing that continual training afterwards.
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I mean the ratio of staff to a particular job: the number of staff on a wing or in a gymnasium. One might argue that they are being more efficient in what they are doing, but there is a drawback. As a senior officer, a man who runs a wing, said, I cant get off to train other people elsewhere, unlike those working in public prisons, because the ratio of inmates to staff is not as favourable in our settings. But I will study carefully what the Minister said. I also appreciate the contributions from across the Housewell, from this side of the Houseon this matter. I did not intend anything by saying that.
I apologise for reading from a script. We have taken some time on the amendment, and I wanted to keep my contribution as short as possible. That is why I read so closely from a speaking note. What the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said about training is what is spelt out in the White Paper on social care, Options for Excellence. To achieve the aim of raising the standard of professionalism of those on the front line, one has to concentrate on developing the first-line managers to ensure that, when they move from working on the front line to their first management position, they get a good start. One also has to look at the senior management to make that work. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is the first of four related amendments that in some ways we should have grouped, which are about special groups and how we deal with them in our offender management system. I apologise that your Lordships have the
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