HL Deb 24 July 1985 vol 466 cc1239-46

5.25 p.m.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Gray of Contin)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a Statement on the report of the Working Group of Suicide Precautions at Glenochil Young Offenders Institution and Detention Centre which is published today.

"Copies have been placed in the Vote Office and in the Libraries of both Houses. I have also laid copies of the determinations of the Sheriff Principal in the cases of Angus Boyd and Derek Harris.

"In November 1984, following a recommendation by the Sheriff Principal after a fatal accident inquiry, I set up an independent working group under the chairmanship of Dr. Derek Chiswick, consultant psychiatrist at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, with the following remit: `To review the precautionary procedures adopted at Glenochil Young Offenders Institution and Glenochil Detention Centre to identify and supervise inmates who might be regarded as suicide risks; and to make recommendations.' "I asked Dr. Chiswick and his colleagues to expedite the report and I am most grateful to them for completing their work by the end of June.

"This is an important report on a subject which has generated a good deal of understandable public concern. It makes a considerable number of recommendations, the majority of which I am ready to accept, although some will require more detailed examination. There are, however, a number of recommendations which I cannot accept. As I cannot, in the time available today, give a detailed response to all the recommendations, I have laid with the report a paper which sets out my initial response to it.

"I would remind the House that procedures to identify and care for vulnerable and inadequate offenders, who may have genuinely suicidal tendencies, must be a vitally important feature of any penal institution. Nevertheless, these are a tiny minority of the inmates. We must not lose sight of the fact that the primary purpose of custody is the deprivation of liberty as a punishment. The inmates at Glenochil are there because they have offended against society and require custodial sentences and rehabilitation. They include many hard and brutal offenders. About half of those in the young offenders institution are serving sentences of between three years and life for particularly serious offences. The authorities at Glenochil have to manage their custody as well as that of a comparatively small number of vulnerable youths.

"I now wish to refer to some of the detailed points made in the report. The report's broad conclusions are—I am pleased to note—in accord with the recent finding by the Sheriff Principal, who conducted the fatal accident inquiry into the death in April of Derek Harris, that there is no evidence that the regimes operated at Glenochil or the actions of staff were responsible for any of the seven deaths which have taken place since 1981: only three of the seven deaths were determined as deliberate suicides. In submitting this report, Dr. Chiswick states that the working group had been impressed by the dedication of the governor and his staff and that the recommendations made in the report imply no criticism of the staff at Glenochil.

"The working group acknowledge that, no matter what steps may be taken to prevent suicides, there is no guarantee that these measures will be successful. They consider that the aim should be to achieve a proper balance between procedures that reduce risk to a minimum and yet are compatible with an acceptable way of life in a penal establishment.

"The report says that, in relation to the young offenders institution, where all but two of the deaths have occurred, the majority of inmates serve their sentences in a purposeful manner and that the problems are attributable largely to a few inmates who behave aggressively towards their fellows. Such aggression is impossible to prevent, without stopping all association among young offenders who mostly serve their sentences without difficulty and co-operate with staff.

"The working group criticise the procedures whereby inmates thought to be suicide risks are kept in what is known as strict suicide observation for lengthy periods. I should remind the House that these procedures have been in use in penal establishments in Scotland for many years. These procedures involve observation being maintained on an inmate in a cell at 15 minute intervals, day and night. All clothing, bedding and furniture which could be used to cause self-injury may be replaced with clothing and bedding of canvas and with cardboard furniture. No one likes using these measures but in Glenochil they have been effective to the extent that no inmate at. Glenochil has committed suicide while under strict observation. Indeed, the two most recent deaths at Glenochil occurred after the inmates were removed from strict suicide observation, and in the case of Angus Boyd the Sheriff Principal commented that death might have been avoided, if he had not been removed from strict suicide observation. This illustrates how delicate and complex is the question of caring for these unfortunate individuals. Nonetheless I accept that the use of these precautions for any other than very short periods is undesirable in relation to young offenders.

"The working group offer advice on identifying possible suicide risks and make a number of recommendations as to how those inmates who are mentally disturbed or who are vulnerable in some other way might be managed. I wholeheartedly accept the important recommendation of using a team approach involving all the professionals and prison staff to counsel inmates and to minimise the risks of suicide. This is the general direction in which we intend to go in the follow-up to the report. Indeed, some of the recommendations in the report have already been met in whole or in part by measures taken since the death of Derek Harris in April. Work has now been completed on a secure hospital facility at Glenochil, consisting of a ward, and a single cell, so that strict medical observation can be provided in appropriate cases. In addition, immature and vulnerable inmates requiring a more closely supervised supportive regime are now housed in `D' Hall of the young offenders institution or transferred to Carrick House at Polmont Young Offenders Institution.

"A number of the recommendations have staffing and resource implications and will require careful consideration. There will also have to be consultation with the staff associations and other interested bodies. Others create problems of adapting existing structures. Recommendations of this longer-term kind will need to be examined very carefully so that the custody and care of inmates is not put at risk in the short-term.

"In a number of respects the working group have gone beyond their remit and discussed issues affecting the overall management of establishments and the prison service as a whole which as a small specifically qualified group, they were not constituted to comment on. A minority of the working group felt that, such was the aura of suicide permeating Glenochil, the only solution lay in its temporary closure. I concur with the view of the majority who rejected that idea.

"I trust that the working group's findings, taken together with the determinations of Sheriff Principal Taylor, will be accepted by honourable Members and by the general public as refuting any suggestion that the unfortunate deaths which have taken place at Glenochil are attributable to the regimes, particularly that of the detention centre, or the behaviour of staff. There is not a shred of evidence to support these allegations.

"My hope now is that the governor and staff of Glenochil will be left to get on with their difficult and demanding task and that the institution will be afforded an opportunity to settle down after recent events, and to make the useful changes which I have accepted from the recommendations in this report."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, we are grateful to the Minister of State for repeating the Statement made by his right honourable friend the Secretary of State in another place. There is no doubt at all about the gravity of the events which caused the establishment of Dr. Chiswick's inquiry and the working party to be set up. When one considers seven deaths, 13 self-inflicted injury cases and about 171 people at risk and under strict suicide observation in three and a half years, the importance of the matter becomes very clear indeed.

The situation has improved and of that there is no doubt. Even before this inquiry took place, and as a result of previous inquiries, the Scottish Office acted. Therefore, improvements have been made at Glenochil. However, the Minister of State must realise the anxieties and tensions which have built up since the beginning of the year. Those anxieties and tensions have been growing in the institution and are affecting the staff and the offenders who are incarcerated there, and they are also affecting the parents of youngsters who are sent there. The anxieties and tensions are very great indeed.

I did not get the impression from the Statement which has been made by the Secretary of State—and admittedly it is curtailed because of the length of the inquiry—that he has given a clear picture of what the report sets out. The report says: there are no instant solutions… We have proposed completely new procedures for the identification and management of those at risk of suicide. The emphasis is on the application of modem principles of medical and nursing care as opposed to the predominately physical measures which currently operate", and which are explained in the Statement. Indeed, to spell them out, to mention what presently takes place—something which has been criticised and condemned in the report—surprises me. What is taking place at present—and it is spelt out both in the Statement and in the report—has been taking place for a long time. That means that it is antiquated, out of date, and falls behind what takes place south of the border in respect of the treatment supplied. We should look at that matter.

I should like to know whether or not any of the suggestions which are put forward in the report have been accepted. Unfortunately, there is no doubt that resource and staffing questions will arise. Expenditure and money will be involved. It is no good the Government saying that only a small section of people are at risk. If there is only a small section involved and you apply yourself to that section, then when you look at the figures as regards the fatalities, self-inflicted wounds and all that arises from the regime, you will get the feeling that the Government are brushing it off and missing its importance.

Do the Government accept the fact that there should be personal officers with, I was about to say, a "back-up" team, but the team is already there; it is not just called in? There is the suggestion that there should be separate psychiatric youth consultants and that there should be forensic psychological consultants as well. None of this exists at present, and it will cost money. The Government may say that money aspects require further consideration. I point out that these matters are basic to the report and to the suggestions which are being made. There is too much about what the Government do not agree with; and there is too little about what the Government do agree with, much of which is important, so far as I can see from the skimming over which I have been able to do in the past 10 minutes. I point out that the Statement has only been in the Printed Paper Office for the past 10 minutes. There is too much lacking about what the Government say at present. Do they accept the suggestion that the units should be smaller, that they should be graded and that the units should be more functional? Or is that a matter which, because it will cost money, is out of the question?

There is also the question of early release. Admittedly the Government suggest that that is a matter not for the Secretary of State, but for the courts. We could work a system of sending the matter back to the courts. There are many youngsters who, because of incapacity, inadequacy and psychological problems, should not be there at all. Admittedly, the Government put forward the suggestion that the hospital is now available, but in my view that should only be an interim measure.

There are more alternatives available within the complex and there is also the use of Polmont as well which is quite a good thing. There should be alternatives to these people going there in the first place. We are too negative in our attitude to non-custodial sentences for people who really should not be in prison. When you consider that the deterrent effect is nil, when you look at the figures of those who offend again, we are not getting much out of our penal system for offenders under 21. The Government ought to look at this.

The noble Lord questioned the remit, and suggested that the committee had gone beyond its remit. There was a certain amount of confusion about this. I understand that they were given a certain amount of latitude in this respect. The fact that this committee felt that they had to go beyond their remit pinpoints the need of a more extensive inquiry into the penal system in Scotland for our under 21s.

I share the relief of the Minister of State that they said that there was no criticism in their suggestions of the present staff, and that they were impressed by the dedication of governor and staff. That is a great relief to us all. But it is not a question of letting them get on with the job, it is a question of giving them the proper resources and back-up staff to do a decent job.

Lord Wilson of Langside

My Lords, the House will be indebted to the Minister for repeating this quite detailed Statement on a matter which has understandably caused so much public concern. I begin by saying that I share the hope expressed in the conclusion of the Statement that the governor and staff of Glenochil will be left to get on with their difficult and demanding task, and that the institution will be afforded an opportunity to settle down after these unfortunate events.

It so happens that a week or two ago I, along with the Scottish All-Party Penal Affairs Group, visited the institution. We were all of the mind that the dedication of the governor and staff was outstanding and was encouraging. But as the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, has indicated there are a number of questions not for the governor and staff at Glenochil but for the Government. These are of considerable relevance and cannot be passed over, or allowed not to have the attention of the House and others.

I was a little concerned at the expression of view that the working group had gone beyond their remit. Was that intended to be critical of them? I was concerned too that while some of the most important recommendations of the committee's report are accepted, and some have already been put into effect, there are still a number which are not accepted.

I readily appreciate that this is one of those many fields where instant comment is better avoided; but having said that, one is curious as to which of the recommendations are not being accepted. From the quick look at the report which those of us who are concerned were able to give it during the past hour or two, I find it difficult to be critical of any of these recommendations. I should have thought, at first sight, that it would be difficult to justify passing over any of them.

5.45 p.m.

It occurs to me that there might be scope for involving in this matter the Scottish All-Party Penal Affairs Group. I wonder whether the Government would be prepared to give serious consideration to this possibility, which might produce some constructive thinking in this whole area. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but as I recall there has been no thoroughgoing review of the criminal justice system in Scotland so far as the under-21s are concerned for many years.

We introduced this short, sharp, shock treatment many years before it was introduced in England. I do not recall any significant or profound examination of the criminal justice system in Scotland having taken place so far as the under-21s are concerned with particular reference to the short, sharp, shock treatment and its impact. I should have thought that the time was ripe, if not overipe, for such a review. The House would be interested to know what comment the Minister has to make on that possibility.

Lord Gray of Contin

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, for their remarks in connection with this report and for the constructive attitude they have adopted. I can quite appreciate the first point which the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, made when he described the tension which has built up in Glenochil and the concern of parents who have children there. At the same time, I think that a great deal of reassurance will now be available to those parents as a result of this report. Probably one of the most important things revealed by the report is that there is no question of any doubt, or shadow, being cast over the regime at Glenochil, and there is no question of any blame for these dreadful deaths being attached to the staff who were engaged there.

The noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, asked how we were going to follow this up. I would say to him that we are going to follow the recommendation in the report to make full use of all the professionals who are available to us by adopting the team approach of the professionals in carefully watching, studying, and monitoring those of the inmates in Glenochil who are considered to be at risk.

As I indicated in my Statement, the Secretary of State has laid a paper with the report which sets out his initial response. I shall not go over the individual points which the noble Lord, Lord Ross, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson, put to me as to which of the recommendations we accept or not, because they are dealt with individually in the paper lodged by the Secretary of State.

Both the noble Lord, Lord Ross, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson, asked me about alternatives. Since the new sentencing arrangements for young offenders were introduced in November 1983, the daily population of convicted young offenders has been reduced by about 20 per cent.; 1,230 in November 1983, and 970 at the latest count. This is a substantial improvement, but we are continuing to develop alternatives to custody such as community service orders, and enforcement officers for fines.

I think that also answers the question which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson, posed to me. I do not think he was quite correct in suggesting that nothing was being done in investigating alternatives to custody and particularly for under-21s. There is a considerable amount of work being done all the time on this matter.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson, also suggested to me that there might be a case for the Scottish All-Party Penal Affairs Group to have a look at this matter. I should not care to comment on that without a little thought, but I shall certainly pass his suggestion on to the Secretary of State for Scotland. I do not think that I wish to comment further on what has been said, but I am grateful to noble Lords for their contributions.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend one further question? Much of the discussion has been about the longer-term recommendations, and my noble friend has spoken about the increase in alternative ways of treating offenders. My anxiety is about the short-term in Glenochil and what my noble friend referred to as the "aura" that has been created and the strain—the effect on the most vulnerable that there is when these things happen in succession in a short period. It turns their minds to something that perhaps otherwise would not be in front of them. Is my noble friend convinced that enough change can happen very quickly for the inmates and their parents to feel that something else is now their experience rather than that which has been the cause of the trouble?

In other words, can there be enough change in the atmosphere, perhaps in quite small ways, in the way the regime is conducted, to ensure that everybody, even the most vulnerable, feels that there has been a break with the old and that something new is going on? I do not mean the big things, but I believe that is possible as it has certainly been the experience in borstals, under the previous system. If that can be done it helps the most vulnerable. Can my noble friend give us any reassurance on that?

Lord Gray of Contin

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. I can give her that assurance. I can assure her that everybody connected with Glenochil is very much aware of what has happened. They are all relieved that the report is as it is, and that the staff, and those most directly concerned with looking after those young people, are completely exonerated from any blame for what has happened. That in itself is significant, and I am sure it will give confidence both to those who work there and those who have youngsters there.

On the small matters referred to by my noble friend, it is significant to realise that we are dealing with a very small number of people. The vast majority of people at Glenochil are not at risk, and for the small number who are there, as I explained in the Statement, significant improvements have already been made. They can be monitored carefully both through hospital and through the cell. I believe that the combination of what has already been done along with the recommendations which will be implemented should go a long way towards giving reassurance to those who have young people at Glenochil.