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House of Lords

Wednesday, 10 June 2009.

3 pm

Prayers—read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Liverpool.



Asked By Baroness Stern

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My Lords, the National Offender Management Service is making savings across the range of its services to ensure that it can deliver its priorities to protect the public and to reduce reoffending effectively and within available resources. Plans to reduce costs in prisons include clearer specification of services, more streamlined HQ structures, reducing management costs in prison establishments and the increased use of competition for offender services. The significant investment in new prison places also creates future opportunities for more effective and efficient operations.

Baroness Stern: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that the Chief Inspector of Prisons has expressed considerable concern about Prison Service plans to save money by amalgamating Askham Grange women’s prison, a very good prison, with New Hall, a prison with many problems 30 miles away? Can he give the House more details of the further planned amalgamations of individual prisons into larger units and can he assure the House that these economies of scale will actually save money, rather than just lead to problems that in the end will cost more?

Lord Bach: My Lords, experience from the first successful project to cluster prisons, involving the three prison establishments on the Isle of Sheppey—HMPs Elmley, Swaleside and Standford Hill—has shown that the approach can deliver savings and bring significant improvements to offender management. The Sheppey project delivered savings of more than £2 million, which was then reinvested to improve the delivery of additional programmes for offenders. As to the clustering of New Hall and Askham Grange that the noble Baroness asks about, there is close ongoing consultation and discussion with staff and stakeholders from both sides about the clustering changes that took effect from April this year. I can only say that so far no concerns have been raised in these early stages.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the Prison Service has carried out a mapping exercise in high-security prisons to reduce staff numbers by half? Can he tell the House

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how this sits with government assurances made only on Monday during the Sonnex Statement that public safety is a high priority for this Government? Can he also tell the House what the ratio of staff to prisoner numbers in these high-security establishments was in 1997 compared with today?

Lord Bach: My Lords, as to the noble Baroness’s first question, I assure her that no such mapping exercise of staffing levels in the high-security prison estate has been carried out. As part of its ongoing efficiency programme, the National Offender Management Service is continually monitoring staffing levels to ensure that every prison is resourced appropriately to operate safely and securely. As to the specific figures that she asked me for, I do not have them on me but I will write to her with them.

Lord Judd: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, while we all want to see cost-effectiveness in the Prison Service, any economies that undermine or cut back the introduction of a prevailing culture of rehabilitation will inevitably result in a high cost for society in future as reoffending soars and we try to cope with all the problems that arise from the failure in the prison system?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. Our priorities are always to protect the public and to reduce reoffending. That includes rehabilitation, which is a major part of our policy. But there are financial pressures on the system at present and we have to face up to that.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool: My Lords, the third sector offers a huge resource to offender management. In the light of the spending cuts, will the Government consider a review of the third sector so that, with a more strategic approach and comparatively small investment, the Prison Service could make much more of the voluntary sector, especially in the rehabilitation of offenders?

Lord Bach: My Lords, the Prison Service uses the voluntary or third sector a great deal at present; it plays an invaluable role as far as prisons are concerned. If I may, I will take back to the department his proposal that it should play an even larger role.

Lord Woolf: My Lords, the situation in the prison system worries me intensely, because it now has many of the problems that existed just before the Strangeways riots occurred. Does the Minister agree that the solution to the very real problem of dealing with that situation is for the money allocated to building new prisons to be diverted from that until the economy can justify it and, instead, for there to be a real focus on the need for rehabilitation and for punishing in the community those who can be safely punished in that way?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble and learned Lord for the part that he has played and his expertise in this field over many years. We all owe a huge amount to him. It is important that prisons are for those who have behaved in a particularly bad way. We do not want to send everyone to prison and it is vital that real, hard alternatives to prison are there,

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and we are setting those up. However, it is also important that we move with a new prison-building programme. One of the problems for life in prison is that there are now in the system cells and prisons that really ought to be closed down as soon as possible. That is why we are investing so much in future prison building.

Lord Henley: My Lords, the Government announced some time ago that they were bringing in Titan prisons to save money. They then announced that they would have mini-Titans to save money. They are now bringing in Titans by the back door, from what the Minister said about the amalgamated Isle of Sheppey prison. Can the Government just tell us what they are up to?

Lord Bach: My Lords, we are not bringing Titan prisons in by the back door. Prisons in the Isle of Wight and Isle of Sheppey clusters have retained their own separate perimeters. That is one major difference. They have not merged to become a single prison establishment. That is a second big difference. These efficiencies come from new approaches to sharing management and overheads on these neighbouring sites and by integrating the delivery of some of the regime activities and programmes for prisoners. Surely if that is what these savings are doing, they are worth while. The House has stressed on many occasions the importance of keeping prison programmes at a high level and covering all prisoners.



3.10 pm

Asked By The Earl of Sandwich

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the UK continues to make strong representations to the Kenyan Government and parliamentarians to push for key reforms that are critical to Kenya’s future stability. We are also working closely with Kofi Annan and other international partners, as well as with Kenyan civil society, on these issues. The Prime Minister wrote to President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga on 9 April this year to relay our concerns about the situation in Kenya and to encourage them to intensify their efforts to deliver these reforms urgently. Officials at our high commission in Nairobi continue to do the same.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, although I had it in writing a month ago. I recognise that we are doing a lot for good governance and human rights in Kenya, but the Kenyan people deserve much more than that. They want the perpetrators of the crimes during the post-election violence—that is, the killers of more than 1,000 people—brought to justice in an international court, perhaps in Arusha. Will the Government put their weight behind that idea and behind the thorough investigation of the half-corrupt police service of Kenya, which is responsible for hundreds of those deaths?

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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Earl has identified accurately the deplorable situation in Kenya, where it is quite clear that the police have been responsible for a considerable number of deaths. As he knows, a report from the Waki Commission in 2008, which was subsequently backed up by the UN special rapporteur Professor Philip Alston, showed that these issues need to be examined closely, the perpetrators brought to justice and the police service reformed. The noble Earl will appreciate that the UK Government are firmly convinced of the necessity for action in this area, but it is for the Kenyan authorities to take this action.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, I was in Africa in the 1950s, and the problems mentioned by the noble Earl were apparent then. The imperial Government failed to solve them. Why does the noble Earl, or the Minister, think we can do anything now? The whole problem of tribal resentment was apparent then. Only if you reorganised the frontiers that emerged in the 19th century could you resolve it. Is it worth us even thinking that we can do anything?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Lord and the House will appreciate the fact that Kenya has moved on a great deal from the 1950s. It has some obvious things going for it, such as the economy and certain aspects of Kenyan life, but the noble Lord is right to identify the fact that the bonds of civil society, which guarantee justice and fair treatment by the authorities, particularly by their chief agents the police, leave a great deal to be desired. That is why these atrocities occur and why the British Government are indicating, together with world opinion, that we expect the Kenyans to carry out the necessary reforms. That is the obligation on Kenyan parliamentarians and government.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the Kenyan Government at the moment are performing a splendid service to the international community by bringing almost 60 captured pirates to judicial account? Is he, however, also aware that if this becomes a much greater number, they are straining the judicial system of Kenya to almost unbearable limits? Can Her Majesty’s Government assure us that they are not only helping Kenya at the present time in this respect but are also looking at other countries to bear the brunt of bringing to justice pirates off the Somalian coast?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the House will share my noble friend’s ambition that those responsibilities should be fairly shared, and we pay tribute to the work that has taken place in Kenya to somewhat reduce the international piracy that happens predominantly off the Somalian coast. My noble friend will recognise the difficulties of co-ordinated action on that; however, the Kenyans have been working to preserve stability on the high seas.

Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, the Minister will be well aware that one continuing problem in Kenya is endemic corruption. Is he aware that, last month, the speaker of their Parliament ordered one of their

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committees to inquire into the Anglo Leasing scandal, which has gone unresolved for six years? Can the Minister encourage the Serious Fraud Office in this country to make available to that committee the findings of its investigations?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that is a precise suggestion, which I shall certainly take back to the department on that matter. The noble Lord has identified what is obviously the case; the reason why there are such acute problems in Kenyan civil society is a level of corruption that permeates almost every aspect of Kenyan life. It inevitably renders those without resources vulnerable, but gives those with resources the ability to distort both the economy and justice in Kenya to their own advantage. However, I will take the noble Lord’s suggestion back.

Lord Crisp: My Lords, would the noble Lord—

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, to be fair, we really ought to move on.



3.17 pm

Asked By The Lord Bishop of Salisbury

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, demarcation of the north-south border is a critical component of the comprehensive peace agreement. We are seriously concerned at the delays to this work. The UK has provided technical assistance and is working with partners, including through the CPA’s Assessment and Evaluation Commission, to press the Government of National Unity urgently to complete demarcation. Recent months have seen a worrying escalation in violence in southern Sudan, and uncertainty over the border only adds to tensions.

The Lord Bishop of Salisbury: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that senior figures in the southern Government have rejected the surprising results of the census published last month, based on the existing north-south demarcations, which state that the southern population makes up only just a fifth of the country’s total, rather than the expected one-third that many believe to be nearer the figure? If accepted, that outcome will result in the reduction of already seriously decreasing oil revenues being passed to the south, which will fuel resentment and the urge toward a return to armed conflict. What will Her Majesty’s Government be able to do to support that fragile comprehensive peace agreement? Does the Minister, for example, plan to see Salva Kiir, the President of the south, on his visit to London later this month?

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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, we are concerned about the features that the right reverend Prelate has identified. We were pleased that the census had completed its findings on 22 May and concerned about their rejection by the south, because the census is a crucial feature in both the distribution of resources and the decisions on the demarcation line. That subject is an absolutely crucial component in developing the comprehensive peace agreement. We are doing all that we can, and take every opportunity to further that peace agreement, but the right reverend Prelate is as well placed as anyone in the House to recognise how very difficult the situation is.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, the Minister will recall that 2 million people have died during the civil war in southern Sudan, along with 400,000 people who have died in Darfur. Does he agree that perhaps the most important part of the north-south comprehensive peace agreement is to secure the referendum in 2011, which will determine the future shape of southern Sudan? What are we doing to build critical mass in a vast region where there are only 20 secondary schools and only one in five has been able to take part in immunisation programmes?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the first part of the noble Lord’s proposition rather precedes the second. Unless we have significant progress on the comprehensive peace agreement and, certainly, demarcation of the frontier, we have not got the basis for the effective development of the southern part. We will be able to give some support to civil society in due course, but the noble Lord will recognise that we and the international authorities, including the special envoy, Mr Gration, are bound to concentrate on the issues which are set to guarantee peace first and on the next stage only after that.

Lord Avebury: My Lords—

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords—

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, why do we not hear from the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and then from my noble friend?

Lord Avebury: My Lords, has the Assessment and Evaluation Commission of the CPA been asked for its opinion on whether it is feasible to conduct the demarcation while there is endemic violence all along the border, particularly in Western Equatoria with the LRA on the rampage? If access to the boundary is not feasible, would the Minister consider suggesting to the parties that demarcation by co-ordinates be considered, as was done by the Lauterpacht commission in the case of the boundary between Ethiopia and Eritrea?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that latter point may be considered in due course, but the comprehensive peace agreement envisages the parties reaching agreement with regard to the border. The noble Lord has accurately identified that the border is fraught with conflict and tensions at present. There is a great deal of movement across the border, which is creating substantial difficulty.

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The international community is doing what it can to support the comprehensive peace agreement, but the noble Lord knows how fragile that position is. I am not in a position therefore to be optimistic about the next constructive stage on this until we have had some progress in this crucial area.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is important before the proposed referendum in 2011 to agree not only the line of the border but the nature of the border and how open it will be to the nomadic peoples, trade and so on? Does he also agree that if the proposed referendum—if it were to take place—were to agree to separation, it is important that the international community helps both sides in preparing for the transition before that possible separation?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, as ever, my noble friend is constructive on these matters. Substantial preparations will be needed for the referendum and for developments thereafter. But he will forgive me if my brief concentrates overwhelmingly on the immediate issue here and now, which is how to make the comprehensive peace agreement stick in circumstances where he has rightly identified the factors that make the issue so very difficult. It is bound to be the case that we and the international community concentrate on that issue at present.

Noble Lords: My Lords—

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we are now in the 24th minute.

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