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Fifthly, what does the Minister propose to do about prisoners with severe mental illness? The Statement says that the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, will conduct a review. What will be the terms of reference and the scope of that review? How long will it be? When will we be likely to get the report of that review? The Statement refers to diverting more prisoners from prisons. I am tempted to ask whether that is another means of massaging the prison figures down and adjusting the number of people who are allegedly in prison.

Sixthly, on Titan prisons, the report refers to three new prisons taking in the order of 2,500 prisoners each. We all know that this Government believe that biggest is best, but I ask the noble Lord to look at the case for going the other way and having more smaller prisons. What is the positive gain of larger and larger prisons? Prisoners will be increasingly more remote

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from their families and, therefore, have less chance of maintaining family ties during their time in prison. Presumably, while they are on remand, going to court and so on, they will be more remote from the courts that are serving them; there would be the danger of yet more time being taken up processing them in and out of prison for going to court, as well as more travelling time. Perhaps the Minister and the Government could look at the possibility of more smaller, local prisons, whose long-term advantages might include saving money rather than incurring greater expense.

Seventhly, we are told that around 11,000 prisoners have been released early during the past four months. What are the Government’s plans for further early release of prisoners as their desperate attempts to manage prison numbers and reduce them by fair means or foul continue?

I have put a number of questions to the Minister and I could go on, but I should like to ask him more generally about sentencing. We had something of an assurance that there would be no plans to tell judges or magistrates that prison capacity should be taken into account in making individual sentences. We would all like to hear that again, and possibly again. We would be grateful if the Minister could develop that a little more when he responds to me and the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner.

There is much in this Statement on the report. As I said, I could go on, but I do not think that today would be the appropriate moment. I shall restrain myself until further occasions. I look forward to those further occasions, when I shall certainly go on.

3.54 pm

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, from these Benches, we, too, thank the Minister for the Statement and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Carter, on his indefatigable efforts in these causes. We look forward to reading the report in greater detail. While broadly welcoming its general thrust, we have some notable concerns.

There are two or three big print issues which stand out in the Government’s thinking on this report. The first and most serious point is the admission of either panic or defeat; namely, that building more prisons and locking up yet more people is the answer. The admission illustrates the paucity of imagination which leads us as a nation to intern more people than any equivalent country in the European Union. France locks up 40,000 fewer people than we do. Even Germany, with a population of 20 million more than the UK, incarcerates significantly fewer people than us.

There is a paucity of imagination, too, in a Statement which calls for a “rational debate” on sentencing yet does not mention the word “rehabilitation” once in the text. While the Lord Chancellor in the other place made much this morning of how the headline crime rate is going down due to locking up more people for much longer, his solution is for yet another body, a sentencing commission, which will provide for indicative sentencing ranges.

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The sentencing commission is based on a proposition that guidelines be changed on the basis of capacity; that is, supposedly, variations according to the day of the week. Where there is an issue of confidence in the criminal justice system, it seems that this will serve only to reduce that confidence, not enhance it. As the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said so eloquently, we know that judges prefer greater discretion in sentencing, with fewer centrally imposed targets. Will the Minister give a reassurance that the working party which is expected to review this will indeed be mindful of the need to remove any perceived arbitrariness as to whether a sentence is given down on a Monday versus a Friday and the term which will go along with it?

On prison overcrowding, we welcome the expansion of prison places through the building programme. But the emphasis on Titan prisons housing 2,500 prisoners is worrying. When the trend should be towards smaller, more widely dispersed prisons so that, as the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said, families are nearer prisoners, three super prisons will serve only to distance people from what precious few support networks they might have in the communities. Will the Minister explain why the emphasis is on these large units, given that prison inspectors say that smaller prisons work better? Many on these Benches will touch on that issue but it would be helpful if the Minister enlightened us as to why the Government have gone for those models rather than for the model that we know from research the trend favours.

We welcome,

which the Statement calls for. However, for a long time much of the research has shown that not only is prison ineffective for short-term sentences but when communities are involved in the debate about community sentences and local solutions, greater awareness of the way in which community sentences work results in a change in attitude among those communities and those involved in rehabilitation. My noble friend Lady Linklater has demonstrated such schemes to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and I pay tribute to her energy and commitment to this issue.

Finally, there is the issue of knowledge and awareness. While we will respond more fully to the contents of the report in due course, will the Government accept the need for greater awareness of the many successful community penalty schemes which are found around the country? Will the Minister confirm that they should be better supported and expanded to address the long-term rehabilitation of offenders so that they can return to meaningful lives within their communities?

3.59 pm

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Henley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, for their welcome of the Statement and report, and I thank my noble friend Lord Carter for his magnificent work in this area. I am glad that the report and Statement were produced in reasonable time; we need to ensure that that happens in the future.

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On the request from the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for a debate, that is, of course, a matter for the usual channels, but I would certainly welcome an early debate on this issue. I am sure that would be extremely helpful both to noble Lords and to my department in taking forward the proposals and decisions relayed in the Statement.

I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, that I know comparisons can be drawn between the number of prison places in this country and those in other countries, but there is a very mixed picture internationally. Some countries—the US, for example—have a much higher prison population than we do. In general, there seems to be a pattern of an increase in prison populations. I agree, though, that alongside the need for prison and the need to deal with existing issues and projections for the future, we need to have proper, rational debates about prison policy. I am sure that the arrangements that have been announced today will help us towards that. If a sentencing commission is eventually set up in the light of the work done by the working group, I have no doubt it will be able to play an important part.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, that there is no doubt about the figures, and crime is an issue. There are elements of criminal activity about which we are all concerned. However, the figures show overall reductions. The fear of crime is a matter that we have to tackle—and that is being done in various ways, not least through more effective community policing, which is one way that the public can be assured—but we should not underestimate the successes that have been achieved.

The noble Lord and the noble Baroness mentioned rehabilitation. The structured sentencing framework that is provided for, recommended by my noble friend Lord Carter, the assurance that we will get the match right between the sentencing framework and the actual provision of prison places, and dealing with the current issues amount to a good foundation for developing programmes of rehabilitation. We should not underestimate some of the good things that are being done in our prisons, such as the trebling of the offender learning budget and the increase in resources, on which I frequently comment, for the prison health service put in by the National Health Service. We wish to continue to build on those successes.

I am tempted to say I will write to the noble Lord about the number of places. He is right that there will be an increase of 20,000 places, but we will expect a reduction of 5,000 places due to the closure of inefficient old prisons, giving a net addition of 15,000, bringing the figure to 96,000. I am happy to set that out in further detail, but that is the rough order of figures.

On the role of judges in dealing with individual cases, I shall respond to the challenge set by the noble Lord. There is no question of fettering individual judges at all. I am sure the working group will pick up on the noble Baroness’s point. The sentencing framework mechanism that my noble friend has proposed will allow the total impact of sentencing decisions to be pulled together within prison and probation resources, but I reiterate that there is no intent to fetter the

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individual decisions of judges. A working group, led by a member of the judiciary, will take this forward.

I endorse what the noble Baroness said about community sentencing. We need to do more to publicise the successes that have come about through the community sentencing options.

Prisons are crowded to make best use of estates in time of tight capacity. Operational capacity decisions are made by area managers. They base them on an assessment of safety and the impact of overcrowding on a prison establishment. In public prisons, the current target for crowded conditions is for the number of prisoners held in accommodation units intended for fewer prisoners not to exceed the average population by 24 per cent. The average rate of overcrowding in public sector prisons for 2006-07 was 23.8 per cent. If the noble Lord, Lord Henley, thinks back to the prisons of the 1980s and the amount of doubling-up that took place, he might acknowledge some of the improvements that have been made. The new provision programme will certainly release some of the pressure and therefore have a positive impact on crowding.

Both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness were concerned that the Titan prisons would be very large and remote institutions. My noble friend has said that it is possible to build large prisons and then to split them into units, perhaps five units of 500 prisoners. However, they will draw on the best of design, new technology and support service, thereby allowing us to get the best of both worlds. It is rather like your Lordships’ House and the House of Commons being together on one estate, and the undoubted benefits of sharing resources. I am sure that I will not live that one down—I wish I hadn’t gone there.

I understand the point about local prisons being close to the local community. It is a matter of concern, particularly with the current level of the prison population, but it will be possible to site Titans in areas of particular concern—London, the West Midlands and the north-west—and therefore deal with the very problem that noble Lords raised.

We are watching the figures on ECL very carefully, but 11,100 early releases have freed up 1,300 spaces, and only 3 per cent of released prisoners have been recalled for failure to comply, and 1 per cent noted as reoffending, which was less than the original target figures.

Diverting prisoners with mental health problems is not a way of massaging the figures, as the noble Lord, Lord Henley, suggested. We debated this matter consistently when discussing the Mental Health Act. It is clear that prisoners with severe and other mental health problems present enormous challenges. I am delighted that my noble friend has accepted the challenge to lead the review. Its significance is that it is a joint report, both to my department and the Department of Health. Through it, we will be able to get a much more co-ordinated and effective response.

4.08 pm

Lord Elton: My Lords, given that when I was Minister for prisons there was a day on which we had only 11 spare places left in the entire system, I extend

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warm good wishes to the present Minister in the formidable task which he faces. We are of course glad to see the large number of new places—they will assist rehabilitation—but whether one should call something which is very big and supposed to be unsinkable anything that sounds remotely like “Titanic”, I doubt. I wonder whether the Government have taken into consideration not only the advantages to the prison population of smaller prisons, but also the enormous difficulty in recovering control of Liverpool prison, for instance, when there was a riot. How much greater will be the problem if control is lost of the Titans?

I want to talk about the elephant in the room that nobody mentions. Carter reveals that almost 80 per cent of the HMP budget now goes on pay of prison staff. He also says that the system is on a sort of escalator, meaning that it will be more than 90 per cent by 2010. Huge savings can be made there, but the Statement is silent about how they are to be achieved. The report indicates that what is needed boils down, in effect, to a system of staff management that is fit-for-service and purpose, which it is not now. That immensely difficult task has been attempted and failed by numerous predecessors. I hope that the Government will say something on that.

My final point, which I have so often made, is that if but 10 per cent of that money—a few hundred million pounds—could be spent on seeing that children had reasonable and interesting things to do in the summer holidays; that children excluded from school were provided for individually; and that voluntary agencies were set up specifically to keep children evidently at risk of getting into crime out of it, by the time those children were 15, this problem would start becoming much smaller.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I welcome the general remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. He has considerable experience in this area, and we need to listen to the points that he raises. I particularly take his point about children during the summer holidays. I know of some good initiatives on that—over the years, I have seen some in Birmingham—but I certainly agree that more could be done, and that we ought to encourage more.

The noble Lord, Lord Elton, mentioned the workforce and was right to point out that the report by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, refers to the size or proportion of the Prison Service budget that is spent on staff wages and salaries. Like the health service, which I know much better than the Prison Service, one is dependent on the staff. Whatever the challenges, some of which we have seen recently, in managing that workforce, it would be remiss of me not to say that we are extremely grateful to the staff for the fantastic job that they do. While the debates in your Lordships’ House are often critical of some regimes in our custodial settings, the fact is that those are very challenging places to work.

I have no doubt that the key to improving efficiency is to work hard with the workforce, and we will clearly have to look at what my noble friend Lord Carter has said. We want a system that really does recognise and reward the excellence of staff, yet is

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somewhat more in tune with modern HR practice than has perhaps traditionally been the case within the Prison Service.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on conducting a review on the need todivert people with mental health problems away from the prisons. However, I ask him to think again about accepting the assertion in the Statement that,

That is the core of the problem. On the Minister’s own definition of persistent and violent offending, less than one-third of those presently locked up need to be in prison. Most of the other two-thirds, some of whom I accept should be in prison, could properly be punished in the community. On the point about the staff, will the Minister pledge now to involve the Prison Officers’ Association in all of the changes foreseen in this Statement?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: First, my Lords, on mental health, the main thing that I learnt from the passage of the Mental Health Act through your Lordships’ House was the importance of the relationship between the Prison Service and health service, and the need for so many offenders to have effective mental health treatment. My noble friend Lord Bradley has taken on an extremely important responsibility here, and we await the results of his review with great anticipation.

On the prison population numbers, my noble friend has looked very carefully into current and future projections to ensure that we do not have overcrowding but that instead we have equilibrium, which will allow us to focus much more effectively on rehabilitation, reoffending and dealing with the prevention-of-reoffending programmes. I accept that there is a debate to be had on penal policy generally, but the implementation of these proposals will give us a much better foundation on which to have that.

As for the staff, I would welcome the constructive engagement of the Prison Officers’ Association.

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I join those who have welcomed the Statement and thank the Minister for repeating it and enabling us to see the report in time. I realise that this is not the time for debate, but I shall welcome the debate, and I hope that it marks a new approach to such studies. The last Carter report was marked by a total lack of consultation with people, with the result that we are living with the disaster of an inappropriately introduced system called NOMS, which has cost a great deal of money and indeed wasted a great deal of money that should be spent on prisoners.

I take all the points that have been made by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, and particularly their points about Titans. I hate Titans and hate the thought of them. The last time they came in they were called “techno-prisons”; they were impersonal, because all locking was done electronically, which broke down the one thing that you need in prisons—the relationship between

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prisoner and staff. I see that all that electronic whiz-kiddery is mentioned in the Carter report. I hope that we will not have Titans, as they are the complete reversal of what everyone has been talking about, which is to place offenders near to the community from which they come so the community can be involved in their rehabilitation.

Lord Bach: My Lords, many noble Lords are interested in this subject and would like to make their comments and ask questions. I know that the noble Lord is an expert on this subject, but I wonder if he could ask his question shortly.

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that. I am coming to my question—that was my introduction.

My concern is the lack of resources. In particular, when the Minister refers to the production of operational specifications for each type of prison, will he include the proper, responsible and accountable management structure for each type of prison? When studying the existing structure of NOMS with the Prison Service, will he include the Probation Service as well, so that there is proper management of offenders and not the continuation of the present rather isolated system?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his comments. I, too, would welcome a debate in your Lordships' House and the noble Lord’s input into further consideration of these matters would be very welcome. That is how we want to go forward. The establishment of a working group led by a member of the judiciary signals our wish to take people with us.

I have noted the noble Lord’s comments in relation to Titans. However, it is not really a question of whether a 2,500-place Titan is necessarily bad or a small unit is necessarily good. What it really depends on is the essential ingredient of leadership. I thought that the Carter report was pretty persuasive in stating that in the establishment of large sites, it is possible to get the economy of scale and the design that would enable prisons to be managed as effectively as possible, by having smaller units within the larger site. I would welcome further discussion with the noble Lord on that matter.

The noble Lord raised an issue dear to his heart—the regional management structures and the different structures between different elements to the service. I am happy to debate that matter with him. He will have noted from the Statement that the regional and headquarters costs will have to be considered as well. If what he is really getting at is the need for an integrated approach at the senior management level across the various disciplines, I certainly agree with him.

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