HL Deb 30 April 1980 vol 408 cc1270-83

Chapter V of the May Committee's Report made a number of recommendations designed to improve the administration of the Prison Service in England and Wales. These recommendations covered the status and independence of the Prison Department within the Home Office; the structure of its senior posts; the arrangements for inspection; the organisation of regions and establishments; and the functions of boards of visitors. The following paragraphs set out the conclusions which I have reached.

Enhanced responsibilities of the Prison Department

2. Under the Permanent Under-Secretary of State, the Prison Department will assume delegated authority for manpower and staffing matters affecting prison governors, prison officers and administrative and specialist staff serving in Prison Service establishments and regional offices, and certain professional, technical and other specialist staff serving at headquarters. These groups comprise virtually all those non-industrial staff who expect to spend a full career in the Prison Service. The Prison Department will also assume delegated responsibility for the day-to-day management of its finance. Work is in hand on the improvements in management accounting methods and financial information systems to which the May Committee attached importance.

3. As the May Committee recommended, there will continue to be a single principal establishment officer, responsible for manpower and personnel matters affecting the Home Office as a whole. A single principal finance officer will exercise similar responsibilities in relation to finance, and there will be a single accounting officer for all Home Office Votes.

Structure of Senior Posts

4. The post of Director General of the Prison Service will continue at Deputy Secretary level. The principle will remain that this and all senior appointments should always go to the best available candidate: it will continue to be held by the present holder of the post.

5. The deputy director general will occupy a position between deputy secretary and undersecretary. As head of the operational service he will be responsible to the Director General for the operations of the Prison Service in the field. The present controller (operational administration) will be appointed to the post.

6. Other senior posts will be the director of regimes and services, responsible for the planning and co-ordination of prison regimes, the prison building programme and the provision of services; the director of operational policy, responsible for policy and casework on the treatment of prisoners; the director of personnel and finance, responsible for personnel management, industrial relations and staff training, and also for manpower and financial control, including accounting and financial information systems; and the director of prison medical services, whose responsibilities will be unchanged.

7. The holders of these six posts will be members of the Prisons Board. The board will also include the four regional directors, in view of their operational responsibility for the Prison Service in the field; and two non-executive members, as recommended by the May Committee, to bring to the board an independent viewpoint as well as their own particular knowledge and expertise. The appointments of the outside non-executive members will be announced as soon as possible.


8. Appointments to the new post of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons will be made directly by the Crown on the advice of the Home Secretary. The widest possible field of candidates will be considered.

9. The Chief Inspector will report to the Home Secretary and will be a member of the Home Office, but he will not be a member of the Prison Department or have any responsibility to that department. His terms of reference will be:

"To inspect and report to the Secretary of State on Prison Service establishments in England and Wales, and in particular on:

  1. (a) conditions in those establishments;
  2. (b) the treatment of prisoners and other inmates and the facilities available to them;
  3. (c) such other matters as the Secretary of State may direct".

10. The Chief Inspector will conduct regular inspections of individual establishments and he will investigate particular incidents or situations on the Home Secretary's directions. He will submit an annual report which will be published and other reports which will be made publicly available where appropriate. In accordance with the May Committee's recommendation, individual grievances will continue to be dealt with under existing procedures.

11. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has asked, and I have agreed, that the services of the Chief Inspector should be available to inspect prison establishments in Northern Ireland.

12. The Chief Inspector will be supported by a deputy chief inspector and by a small team most of whom will be drawn from the Prison Service. Other professional or specialist support will be provided as necessary.

Regions and Establishments

13. The primary tasks of regional directors will be to secure the application of national policy and to contribute to its formulation; and to ensure the proper functioning of their establishments and of the prison system as a whole. They will assume full management responsibility for their establishments, with direct accountability to the deputy director general and with the full support of headquarters. The casework at present done at regional offices is for the most part closely associated with the supervision of establishments and most of it will remain; but specialist functions will for the most part be concentrated at headquarters, as the May Committee recommended. I recognise the value of the work which many of the staff have done while they have been at regional offices and their contribution to the Prison Service, but I am satisfied that their contribution can be made as effectively from headquarters in the future.

14. Establishments for women and girls will for the first time be brought within the regional structure; regional boundaries will be redrawn to remove some of the present anomalies; and the internal organisation of regional offices will be reviewed and standardised.

Boards of Visitors

15. I accept the recommendation that boards of visitors should continue to exercise both an adjudicatory and an inspectorial function. In respect of the latter they will continue to be concerned both with inmates and with members of the staff, but I share the view which most boards have expressed that their links with staff should remain informal. I shall give boards every encouragement to extend where practicable their establishment's involvement in its local community.

Further Action

16. The changes to which I have referred will be carried out within the existing staff resources of the Home Office. Those at headquarters should be largely completed by the end of July; those at regional offices will take longer. Organisational change cannot by itself provide a solution to the more fundamental problems of overcrowding and prison regimes, but the decisions which I have announced today should produce the more cohesive and effective management structure which is an essential basis for the wider but inevitably more gradual changes which are now required.

3.46 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, for informing your Lordships about the situation at the Iranian Embassy.

I should also like to thank the noble Lord the Minister very much for repeating this very important and lengthy Statement.

We shall need time to study some aspects of it, but the noble Lord will recall that one reason why the May Committee was set up by my right honourable friend the then Home Secretary was the crisis level which had been reached in the prison population.

I should like to endorse what he has said about the recommendations which were made by the May Committee regarding the organisation of the Prison Service. Both so far as its structure is concerned, and communications within it, the May Committee found that there were serious shortcomings. Although some of these details will need study, I should like to give an immediate welcome to the proposals which he has made about reorganising the Prison Service and in particular about the proposals to set up a separate inspectorate. This is a very significant change indeed. The independence of a new inspectorate was something which in its report the May Committee particularly wanted. The Minister will have full support from us for any effective measures to reduce the prison population.

I should like to ask him, first of all, whether he can say what reduction he expects to obtain in the prison population—and perhaps over what period of time, if it is possible to say so—as a result of the proposals now being made. On the building programme which he has mentioned, a number of proposals were already in hand when the last Government went out of office. As at 31st October of last year, five new prisons were in planning under the previous Government's proposals and 5,000 new places were to be provided under those proposals by the end of the 1980s. I am wondering whether the Minister can say if the proposals which he has just announced amount to an increase over those proposals, and, if so, to what extent.

I should also like to welcome what the noble Lord said about the alternatives to imprisonment that are being considered, and especially to welcome what he said about drunken offenders and mentally disordered offenders. Indeed, fine defaulters and maintenance defaulters are two other categories who, by being kept out of prison, could well contribute to a reduction in the prison population.

There are just three questions, in addition to the one concerning the building programme and the reduction in the prison population, which I should like to put to the Minister. The first is whether the question of one-half remission in place of one-third remission of sentences is under consideration, because that could indeed make a major contribution towards reducing the prison population. If that were to be implemented, it would also involve changes in the parole system, and I am wondering whether this, too, is under consideration.

So far as the alternatives to imprisonment are concerned, can the Minister say whether those which are being considered include the introduction of partly suspended sentences Of course, it also happens to be the case, as I am sure the noble Lord will agree, that the number of people on remand and the length of time spent on remand are still far too great, and further steps in those directions could indeed contribute to a further reduction in the prison population. As already indicated from this Bench, the noble Lord the Minister can count on full support for any effective measures to reduce the prison population and so to contribute to overcoming the crisis.

3.50 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, for repeating the Statement in this House. The noble Lord may agree with me that the Statement really falls into two parts. The first part deals with what has properly been described by the noble Lord, Lord Boston, as the crisis in our prison system and, although the Statement does not use that word, I think it is clearly the view of the Government that we are faced with a situation of very great gravity.

The second part of the Statement deals with the matter of prison reorganisation and the reform of prison administration. I shall not say anything about that, not because I think it is unimportant but I should like to emphasise, if I may, what I believe to be the terrible gravity of the situation with which we are immediately confronted today in the form of overcrowding in prisons. Look at it how one may, on every count the situation today is worse than it has ever been in the history of British prisons. If we consider the figures taken by the Statement—namely, the figures of the daily average population—we find that that has risen since the publication of the May Report from 42,500 to 44,000 in April of this year, and indeed my information is that in March it went up to nearly 45,000 people. That is the worst figure we have ever had.

Alternatively, we may take another test of the matter: using the test of the difference between the number of prisoners in the prisons at any time and the number of prisoners who can be accommodated without overcrowding, and comparing that with the figure of the population of the prisons as in fact it is, we find that the difference is no less than 6,300 people in excess of the theoretical capacity of the prisons.

Then, if we take the final test, to which no reference was made in the Statement but which no doubt the Government have closely in mind—namely, the test of the number of prisoners who are condemned to live two, three or even four to a cell made for one, we find that that figure works out to the enormous total in February of this year of 17,000 people living in those conditions.

That is despite the fact that since 1974 the number of prison places available has been increased by 5,000. In that context it is important to recognise what prospects are held out by the Statement as to what may be done in the way of preparing new places during the 'eighties. As I understand it from the Statement, the expectation is no more than this, that it may be possible in the 1980s to furbish and create a further 5,000 places, the same number as we created during the previous six years.

Also of course we have had this enormous increase despite the considerable efforts that have been made by successive Governments to find alternatives to imprisonment. I remember that it was said by the representative of the Home Office in the former Government that, had it not been for those alternatives which have been found over the last decade, the prison population today would probably be something like 7,000 more than it actually is. The third thing which has to be taken into account when considering these figures is that it is only in the last decade that we have introduced the system of parole. Yet despite all those things we have had this enormous and critical increase in the prison population.

What disturbs me about the Statement and indeed about the recommendations of the May Report is that the May Report seems to take the view that some of the methods which we have used in the past in trying to find alternatives to imprisonment may in fact have been exhausted and it may be that there is not much more to be gained by travelling along that road. I shall be interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, says in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Boston, about what other alternatives to imprisonment the Government have in mind. If I have correctly interpreted the report of the May Committee on this question of overcrowding, I think they really concluded that there were only two ways in which they thought any real impact could be made upon the overcrowding dilemma. The first was the idea that it might be possible by administrative measures, by an increase in the period of remission, by extending the area of parole and perhaps even by the device of an amnesty, to reduce the number of prisoners. That was one road which the May Committee thought might be profitable and I suggest that the only other road along which they thought any real progress could be made was if we could have a radical review of the sentencing policies of the courts.

It is, of course, received wisdom today to say that there are far too many people in our prisons who ought not to be there at all. But how are they getting there? They are being sent there by the courts, and unless we can tackle the problem at that end there is no real prospect of achieving any reduction in the average daily population of the prisons.

I should like to know what plans the Government have in mind for initiating that radical review of our sentencing policies. The courts might well reply, "We have no alternative but to send to prison people for whom it is really unnecessary, because society does not provide us with alternatives". That was accepted by the May Committee, and the May Committee expressed the opinion that the National Health Service had been gravely at fault in not trying to make provision for secure units for people suffering from mental disabilities.

I join, of course, with the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, in saying that any assistance that can be given to the Government from these Benches and from the Liberal Benches in the other place in tackling this problem—which is not a party political problem, God forbid!—will indeed be willingly offered.


My Lords, perhaps I may reply to the noble Lords who have spoken from the Front Benches and thank them for the constructive response which they have given to my right honourable friend's Statement. In essence, both the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, and the noble Lord, Lord Foot, have asked me about the prison building programme. Because of the need to take old prison accommodation out of use, the legacy of years and years of neglect running over many different administrations in the past, we have this enormously old prison estate which has to be dealt with bit by bit, and I have to say quite openly to the noble Lord, Lord Boston, that the existing building programme will not remove the overcrowding within this decade.

If I may, I should like to bracket with that immediately a recognition that it was the previous Government who put into their public expenditure survey plans for five new prisons, and 3,400 places, as I said in my Statement, are actually in hand at the present moment. What the present Government are doing now is, first, putting these plans into the shape of firm plans for two new prisons in 1981–2 and 1982–3, and it is our intention to follow that up with another two new prisons in the year 1983–4. That is what we wish to do.

The noble Lord asked me about other alternatives, exceptional measures which might have to be taken; he particularly mentioned parole, remission and the partially suspended sentence. These, of course, were matters—I do not know if the partially suspended sentence was—which the May Committee canvassed as being possibilities, and at this stage I would not wish to discuss the relative merits of those matters any further. I indicated at the beginning of the Statement that we have further things we shall need to say to Parliament in the near future, on the report of the Expenditure Committee, for instance.

The noble Lord, Lord Foot, made the point that a radical review of sentencing policy was needed. I hope the noble Lord will forgive me if I say that I hoped that he might have welcomed the part of the Statement which referred to a reduction which can be achieved, in my right honourable friend's view, by the exercise of judicial discretion. Indeed, recent judgments have suggested that this judicial discretion is being exercised. There is nothing between the Government and the noble Lord in what he was saying; we are trying to move in the direction which the noble Lord was saying was desirable.

The noble Lord, Lord Foot, made the very important point that non-custodial measures may perhaps almost have been exhausted in their effectiveness. I do not think that is entirely true. For instance, the provision of £30,000 this year for overnight shelters, for those who otherwise would very likely find themselves in prison for offences associated with alcohol, will help to keep yet more people out of prison. The noble Lord makes an important point when he reminds the Government that the effect of non-custodial sentences has a limit. When the Statement says that we think that non-custodial measures taken together make a significant impact, that is what we mean, and that is the road down which we hope to go.

Finally, may I say this. I know the situation is clearly very serious in our prisons; I accept that the noble Lord was right to make this point. But it did almost sound as if all was woe. Your Lordships might like to know that recruitment for the Prison Service is the highest it has ever been; there is a 50 per cent. increase in the number of candidates for the Prison Service passing through the selection process at the present time.


My Lords, I should like very briefly to ask a question on behalf of the largest voluntary body in the country, the Christian Church, and I think in this respect I can probably represent it. We welcome heartily the proposition that money will be available for overnight accommodation which can be provided by these voluntary bodies, which have only been prevented from so doing by the lack of funds up to now. This will deal with at least some of the overcrowding which we all deplore.

The question I should like to ask is a simple one. As an encouragement to local voluntary bodies, and indeed as a precaution, will the Government set out in some detail what they believe to be the requirements of such overnight accommodation, the conditions under which such overnight accommodation ought to be provided and what will be the organisations taking care of those responsibilities? Not only will it be an encouragement to them to hear that such funds will be available, but—I hope I will not be misunderstood—there are a number of over-sentimentalised efforts which have been occurring in the Church in previous years which have done no good to the general condition whatsoever. It is of the greatest importance that such voluntary bodies as are now almost straining at the leash to do what they can shall be acquainted with the kind of conditions which will make it possible for them to entertain and receive these emoluments.


My Lords, mine is a question as well, bearing in mind the standing orders. I should like to ask what the Government have in mind when they say, "Less serious type of non-violent offence". Perhaps, like others of your Lordships, I am just suffering from the effects of yet another break-in. I feel it would be undesirable if the Government were too hasty to empty the prisons on that very narrow definition. At the risk of sounding like the hanging judge, since all parts of the House have referred to the increase in the number of prisoners, I would remind your Lordships that there has also been an increase in the number of crimes. There is still a way to keep out of prison and that is by not committing crime. The noble Lord mentioned the mentally ill and alcoholics. I would be very interested to know what other class of prisoner would be considered as liable to a shorter sentence merely to empty the prisons, which does seem to me a very curious reason for dealing with this problem in this way.


My Lords, if I may answer the noble Lord, Lord Soper, I thank him for the advice he has given on this, which is valuable and helpful to the Government. The plan is for shelter for people suffering from alcoholic problems which otherwise would land them in prison, which will be provided by existing voluntary organisations who are already running some form of accommodation facilities, people in the field who already know what they are doing. Nevertheless, I should like to draw the attention of my right honourable friend to what the noble Lord said about advice from the department. Already there have been negotiations between the Home Office and some of the voluntary organisations, which of course we had to have before we could come to Parliament to suggest that this is a road down which we wish to go.

With regard to the point the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, made, I think she speaks for many people when she says that it is not always easy to distinguish between what one may call "violent" or "non-violent" offences. If you suffer a burglary and see the appalling devastation in your home, you scratch your head and you say, "I may not have suffered violence, but look at the appalling violence which has been done to my home". None the less, recent judgments have suggested that many judges support the view that, although tough sentences are essential for violent criminals, a shorter sentence could be as satisfactory for many of those currently sentenced to imprisonment for non-violent offences. May I make the point that this is not being said entirely in the context of prisons which are over-full but also in the context of research, a point which many noble Lords take every opportunity to remind me of. Research shows that constant custodial disposals for some criminals in the end can have a counteractive effect.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend three very brief questions. First, I would ask my noble friend whether immigrants awaiting deportation could be dealt with in bail hostels rather than prison? They have not committed an offence such as that referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips. Secondly, could not juveniles be dealt with within the juvenile system instead of prison? Thirdly, I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Boston, on the question of remand cases. Many people in prison on remand finally get a sentence which is shorter than the time they have been in prison on remand.


My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for the three questoins she has put, because, if I may say so, they are most relevant. So far as the first two points are concerned made by my noble friend Lady Faithfull—whether immigrants awaiting deportation could be kept in bail hostels and whether juveniles could not be kept in some sort of accommodation outside prison—of course my noble friend would be the first to realise that there are some people, although by no means all those in prison, who require to be kept in secure accommodation. I think we have to keep that in mind when we look at what the noble Baroness has suggested.

So far as remands are concerned, we were of course to have debated this question very recently in this House and pressures prevented it, but I think within the next three weeks the debate will take place and we ought to await that debate.


My Lords, in deciding whether to exercise judicial discretion on whether to impose prison sentences or not it is the case that the Lord Chief Justice, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lane, has made a most helpful observation on the Bench in his court in the Royal Courts of Justice.


I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord. I understand that that is so.

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, while welcoming the general tenor of the Statement, may I ask the Minister to say what grounds the Government have for thinking that these measures are adequate to deal with this enormous problem? If I may put it in three specific points, if the building of 5,000 additional places in prison in the past six years has proved inadequate, what hope have they, by allowing for 5,000 places to be provided in the next 10 years, of finding that adequate? As money has been allocated for reasonably secure establishments for the health authorities and they have almost always spent the money for other purposes, what grounds have we for thinking that reasonably secure establishments will be provided for the mentally disorientated?

Thirdly, is not the reorganisation of the Prison Service largely cosmetic? What greater power is there going to be in the service? Is the appointment of an assistant director general going to be sufficient, or are we not really dealing with an area where successive Governments have been penny pinching? As a community, we have to face the fact that we have to spend very much more in this public sector.


I think I can answer the noble Lord very swiftly on the important points which he has made. As to the adequacy of what the Government are attempting to do at a time of severe restraint of public expenditure, we are not restraining the recurrent expenditure on the Prison Service. In other words, we are welcoming as many prison officers as will apply and are suitable for service in the prisons. As I sought to explain to the noble Lord, Lord Boston, we are aiming to continue with a substantial prison building programme.

With regard to the suggestion of the noble Lord on the cosmetic nature of the reorganisation of the Prison Service, which is something on which we have not really embarked in this question and answer, that is really not so. If I may give one example only, the appointment of an inspector who is going to be entirely independent of the prison department and responsible only to the Home Secretary, who in turn is responsible for the department, and the appointment of two non-executive members of the general public to the Prisons' Board is, I hope, an earnest of the intention of the Government that they want to be much more open about the affairs of the Prison Service in this country.


My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister able to assure us that the Government have given full consideration to the idea, as an alternative to detention in prison, of giving certain prisoners the opportunity to do constructive work, which would be of good effect to the community as a whole and would greatly affect the morale of the individual concerned by his being able to do something positive instead of being just s hut away in prison?


My Lords, the answer to my noble friend is in the affirmative. I think that the record of the community service order—which of course sprang from recommendations from the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton, who sits on the other side of the House, but was introduced by the party that sits on this side of the House—which is one of good co-operation, speaks for itself. What I will do is to send my noble friend a short note showing the percentage of those offenders who are on community service, and also how successful these community service orders are.

Viscount LONG

My Lords, I think we have had long enough on the Statement—38 minutes. Perhaps, as we have a long night in front of us, we could now return to the debate.

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