HL Deb 29 October 1985 vol 467 cc1526-49

8.8 p.m.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs rose to ask her Majesty's Government what measures they are taking to provide adequate custodial provisions for female offenders.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have stayed behind to take part in this debate because it must be true to say that the subject of women in prison is one which is seldom discussed. Indeed, it is one of those areas of human life which I think people do not much like to think about, and perhaps they feel that, by not thinking about it, the whole problem might just disappear. So for my part, this evening I would like as briefly as possible to give a few facts regarding women within our penal system. I will not be arguing that the crime of a woman should be regarded differently in the eyes of the law from the crime of a man, but I will be describing some of the ways in which the effect of a custodial sentence is different for a woman than for a man. In doing so I shall make a case for sentencing policies to distinguish between men and women. What I mean is that I am not asking for more lenient sentences for women, but I am suggesting that sentences for women should be more appropriate.

First, as a background, I should like to make two general observations. The first, to disprove the idea held by many that British courts have become over-lenient, is the fact that we in Britain at present imprison more people, men and women, both in absolute numbers and in proportion to population than other comparable nations in Western Europe.

The most recent figures are for 1982 and show that whereas Britain imprisoned 274 per 100,000 population, the figure for Holland was 184, Spain 153, France as low as 140, which is almost exactly half the British figure, and Portugal with an even lower figure of 78 per 100,000. Therefore, although I understand that there is a corresponding rise in crime rates on the Continent, those countries seem to be dealing with it through means other than custodial sentences.

My second point has regard to the rise in female crime here in Britain. Although of course there has been an increase, the fact that it is only slightly higher than that of men's crime is not always recognised. The figures between 1962 and 1982 show the number of males found guilty of indictable offences to have risen by 132 per cent., whereas over the same period female crime rose by 138 per cent., only slightly higher. Moreover, it would appear that over half that increase can be accounted for by shoplifting. I mention this only to discount the popularly-held view that female crime has increased as a result of changes in the position of women in society. Yet I cannot imagine why the reduction in sexual discrimination should lead to more shoplifting. Surely the more plausible explanation for the rise derives from the increase in self-service in shops and the pressures of the consumer society generally.

To go back to the background of facts, first the number of women's penal establishments and where they are situated. There are four closed prisons: Holloway in London; Styal in Cheshire; Cookham Wood in Kent; and one wing of Durham prison. In addition, there is one closed youth custody centre at Bulwood Hall in Essex, and two open centres at East Sutton Park in Kent and Drake Hall in Staffordshire.

There are three open prisons for women: one in Staffordshire, one in Yorkshire, and one at East Sutton Park. There are, finally, three remand centres which take women and girls and are situated at Low Newton in Durham, Pucklechurch in Bristol and Risley in Cheshire.

The reason I wanted to give this list was to indicate one way in which women are affected differently from men through custodial sentences; namely, that through the smaller number of prisons women are often in prisons far from home, which in turn makes it harder for members of their families to visit them. This results in weakening of the links with the outside world and their own families; links which are so vital for them when they are in the process of rehabilitation after their release.

Next, how many women are there in prison at the present time? What proportion of these are on remand either before trial or before sentence? And lastly, what have been their offences? The latest figures were for September of this year and show that there were then 1,587 women in prison of whom 351 were on remand, 23 were mothers in custody accompanied by their babies, and the C1 unit of Holloway held 40 mentally-disturbed women.

The fact that the precise number of females in prison as at 30th June 1983 was 1,380 shows that the upward trend I mentioned previously is being maintained. However, the most recent figures for a breakdown of a whole year are for 1983 and show that 3,292 women and girls were remanded in custody during that year, but that of these as few as 31.8 per cent. actually received custodial sentences. Thus, over two-thirds of the women who suffered the disruption and stigma of some weeks or months—sometimes as long as 60 days—in prison, at the end were either released or given non-custodial sentences.

With regard to the offences committed by all those women the statistics are as follows: over 50 per cent. of the total received into prison were for stealing in some form (but not including the more serious crimes of robbery and burglary). Secondly, 1,321 were in prison for not paying a fine. Next, 140 for offences relating to prosecution, the majority as a result of fine default for soliciting, and 226 were in prison for drug offences. That leaves a remaining 203 women in prison that year, and they were the only ones found guilty of crimes of violence. Therefore, only one-tenth of the female prison population in 1983 had actually endangered the safety of members of the public, and indeed records show that the people harmed by those women were usually relatives or friends. Therefore, from these figures one can only deduce that a very large proportion of women are imprisoned for nonviolent crimes.

I should like to comment on four areas of how women are affected within the penal system, knowing that other noble Lords are going to touch on other areas. I should like to comment briefly on women on remand, on mothers and babies in prison, on mentally ill offenders, and just a few comments on the recent report which came from Holloway prison.

First, the figures I have given show that females are more likely to be remanded in custody but less likely than males to receive a custodial sentence. One can only wonder why, for indeed some of the offences for which women are remanded in custody seem trivial. One explanation put forward has been that the adjudication process in itself is used as a form of punishment with women serving time in pre-trial custody who are unlikely ultimately to be sentenced to imprisonment. Other commentators relate to the use of medical remands for females, with the unspoken logic that the female offender must be assessed to see whether she is mentally ill because her offending is a more startling and exceptional deviation from the norm than male offending.

A Home Office circular in 1968 advised all courts to obtain a pre-sentence report before sentencing any women to imprisonment. According to the research carried out in the early 1970s this partly explains the use of pre-sentence remands for females. This is despite the fact that social inquiry reports could just as well have been made while the offender was on bail, and therefore would have kept the woman out of prison.

Next with regard to mothers and babies in prison I want to comment briefly, because I strongly believe that before imprisoning a pregnant woman, or a mother with a young child, a court should have to show that there is no alternative to doing so through the woman's imprisonment being essential to protect the public. The reason of course for this is that there is strong evidence to show that the whole process cannot fail to have the most traumatic effect on both the mother and the baby, and in addition creates a hopeless background for the mother to become a good parent on release.

Indeed, I understand that there is evidence from a Great Ormond Street doctor specialising in child abuse that the negative maternal impulses in mothers in prison are inevitably reinforced, whereas positive ones are quashed. Given that there is a much higher likelihood that women in prison will come from broken homes, or have been abused themselves, anything which reinforces a tendency for them to abuse their children when they are released is worrying.

Now, a few words about mentally ill women in prison. I know the Minister is personally concerned about the C1 unit at Holloway and has made a commitment in this House to the effect that a separate unit is to be constructed within the establishment to accommodate and treat the disturbed inmates of the prison. This means that they will be under a hospital regime rather than in a prison one. But the Minister has yet to tell us when this will happen and what funds will be allocated to the project. Without that assurance it is difficult not still to be concerned about women in the C1 unit now. Perhaps he will give us some information when he replies. I hope he does because I am sure that he cannot forget, any more than I can, the heartbreaking statistic given in July this year that during the previous months there had been 20 self-mutilations and four suicide attempts in the C1 unit.

I will not mention any of the horror stories coming from the C1 unit, but I should like to quote briefly from a letter I received from a doctor whose daughter had been trapped in a Catch-22 type situation in the C1 unit. He described how his 20-year-old daughter, Lucy, was mentally disturbed and depressive, had attempted suicide three times and underwent treatment, both in hospital and at a day centre. Her depression then turned to excessive activity and, having discharged herself from the day centre, she got herself into a series of misadventures and scrapes which ended with her arrest for threatening a taxi-driver. She was remanded to Holloway where she spent 16 weeks either in B4 or C1 blocks. Her father tried to arrange daily visits but some were disallowed as she was in a punishment cell and others were conducted through her cell door as she was considered unsafe to let out.

The part of the letter I should like to quote describes the exact predicament that the father was in. This is what he said: The current situation is that everyone appears to agree that [Lucy] is sick, and that given the right treatment the prognosis is good. Everyone agrees that psychiatric facilities at Holloway are unsuitable (including the Governor)—and the sooner she can be moved to a mental hospital the better. Unfortunately the dreaded diagnosis 'personality disorder' has been mentioned and there are problems as to whether the two regional Health Authorities concerned are responsible. As far as I can gather all the hospitals so far approached have said 'No' and the psychiatrists are reluctant to put anything in writing in case the relevant officer in the R.H.A. says that the Home Office should 'pay the accommodation bill'. As far as I can gather there is an appropriate local hospital which is considered medically suitable but financially taboo, if only because it raises the issue of which R.H.A takes responsibility for paying, or publicly sends a mentally disordered person to prison in order to balance its books. We are therefore trapped. If we try and bring the trial forward, with a view to forcing the psychiatrists to commit themselves, there is a danger that Lucy will get a prison sentence because no hospital has been arranged—which means few visits, increased isolation, and probably increased violence [on her part]. Alternatively, if we wait for the psychiatrists to 'explore avenues', Lucy remains on remand in prison. There appears to be little we can do to speed matters up, and no guarantee that a suitable hospital will be found".

The end of the story was that after 16 weeks Lucy was recommended for an order under Section 37 and is now in a psychiatric hospital. Although (as the father made clear in his letter) the prison and nursing staff of Holloway treated her with as much kindness as the prison regime allowed, her psychiatric report unequivocally stated that her psychosis seemed to have become very much more severe after her admission to Holloway.

But what about all the other young women trapped in the same way? Lucy at least had supportive and educated parents to pressurise on her behalf, but so many of the others have been cut off by their parents with no one to speak for them. What will happen to them?

Before concluding, I make the following points regarding Holloway. First, I understand that the number of prisoners on remand in Holloway is as high as 70 per cent. The consequent continual absence of the prison staff on escort duty means that the under-use of a skills training unit, a gymnasium and sports hall has become nothing short of a scandal. I hope the Minister will assure us that this situation will be improved. Secondly, it is felt strongly by many people that an inquiry should be conducted into the medical use of drugs at Holloway, to examine why more drugs are used than in any other penal establishment. Thirdly, Holloway was built to embody the whole range of problems associated with keeping women in custody, so it should not be used as a local prison with the abandonment of such important functions as a therapeutic unit for drug addiction and a newly developed mother and baby unit. Fourthly, in view of the deplorable conditions at Durham H Wing, it is felt that this should be closed and that Holloway's maximum security wing should be brought into use instead.

I hope that perhaps the Minister will comment on all those four points, but, finally, returning to my original point that a custodial sentence has more wide-ranging effects on a woman than a man, I make these concluding remarks. First, there is the effect on the children. I have spoken about the small babies in prison with their mothers, but what about all those for whom provision has to be made when their mother is imprisoned? The figure for March 1982 showed that out of approximately 1,288 women in prison as many as 719 were mothers. Between them they had 1,649 children. In view of the trauma caused to (hose children, should we not be more imaginative in devising non-custodial sentences for women with children who have committed non-violent crimes? A community service order is arguably a more constructive sentencing option for women with children, but is used relatively infrequently. There are attendance centres, probation hostels and other means of detaining a woman without putting her into custody. Surely we should do everything possible to protect family structures which must often in the first place be very fragile and where the children are always the main sufferers.

In view of the fact that so many women spend short periods in custody should visiting conditions not be improved? Moreover, as it is predominantly women who are in prisons far from home, surely they should be the first to benefit from extended facilities such as more uncensored letters, more home leave and so on. Experiments have been made in other countries regarding unsupervised visits and the use of telephones. These have helped women to keep contact with their relatives and children—the contacts which I have said before are so vital both for them and for the community in general, when they leave prison. There are other methods too long to list here which could be tried, but they would all have the same aim of making it possible for women who have offended to resume a constructive place in society on release. Speaking as chairman of the New Bridge I feel most strongly that preparations for prisoners' release are not sufficient. Indeed, the reconviction rates show that some ex-prisoners simply cannot cope with the world outside. They might have been able to do so had there been more preparation for them before they left prison.

I am grateful to all noble Lords who will be speaking this evening. I feel that everything should be done to change policies and attitudes away from regarding women's imprisonment as punishment, which is essentially negative in character and has little to do with reform or treatment, and towards a more imaginative, humane and practical view of the penal system which has as a priority a remedial side to it. I hope that I have persuaded the Minister that some changes should be made as a matter of great urgency for women in the penal system.

8.30 p.m.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, we must all be very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, for giving us such a comprehensive view of the problems of women in prison today. I am sure that the women in prison in England will be grateful to her. Indeed, I suggest that the prison staff throughout the country will be grateful to her, as we are grateful to them for the outstanding work which they do.

I seek to speak on three subjects, all of which have been covered by the noble Baroness but perhaps your Lordships will forgive me if I approach them from a slightly different angle. First, I wish to speak, as indeed the noble Baroness has spoken, on the subject of mothers and babies in prison; secondly, I should wish to touch on the recommendations of the Butler Committee concerning the mentally ill and disturbed women offenders; and finally, briefly, on property and fine offenders.

I draw your Lordships' attention to Home Office Instruction Circular 51, which concerns the criteria for admission to a mother and baby unit and the criteria for staffing and administration of such units. There are 33 places for mothers with babies in England and Wales: at Holloway Prison; Styal Prison, and Askham Grange. The prison rules provide, first, that a baby should not normally be admitted to a unit in a closed prison if the child would attain the age of nine months before the mother's date of release, or by the date of her anticipated transfer to open prison if the child would attain the age of 18 months before her earliest date of release. Secondly, a woman in custody giving birth to a baby, or who has her baby with her, should be separated within four weeks or at four weeks if the baby is breast fed. This applies to women on remand or sentenced.

As the noble Baroness has said, the result of this circular is that 25 per cent. of babies of women prisoners are received into care and 75 per cent. are cared for by either relatives or friends. Again, as the noble Baroness has said, altogether there are between 1,500 and 2,000 children deprived of their mother's care, and broken relationships result.

I am very puzzled about this circular. It was published only in 1983. I am given to understand that there was consultation between both the Department of Health and Social Security and the Home Office. I find this disturbing. The Department of Health and Social Security has funded the National Cohort which is being monitored by the National Children's Bureau. The National Cohort, as your Lordships will know, followed up 17,000 children born in March 1958. These children have been followed up at various stages of their lives. The findings indicate that children who were removed from the person caring for them at an early age tend to be those who later in life lack security, lack the bonding process which is essential to the development of maturity of adolescents and adults. Therefore, by separating the children from their parents, the cycle of deprivation is repeated. Furthermore, the cycle of delinquency tends to be repeated. Therefore, by our treatment of the children, separating them from their parents at an early age, we are in some cases perpetuating criminality in our country.

Thus, I should say that this research bears out what we all believe and know. Therefore, I make a plea to the Minister that there should be consideration given to the children of parents who are committed to prison, either on remand or having been found guilty. However, may we also consider the women? If the women were helped, could keep their children and were positively helped to do so, I am sure that this would in some cases, though I am realistic enough to know not in all, mature the women and help them so that they possibly do not commit further offences. Indeed, looking at the matter in financial terms, it would be cost effective.

I know that this might be a most peculiar recommendation but I do not believe that women with children should go to prison. I believe that we ought to have a completely different attitude to and way of looking at this question. I believe that for such women it would be possible to have set up a supervision order and a condition of residence in hostels, run on positive training lines in the community.

This may sound pie in the sky, but I have been responsible for a number of hostels for mothers and babies, and I can assure your Lordships that at any rate in 80 per cent. of cases they can be successful. I believe that we cannot tinker about with the rules and regulations and circulars. I think we need a completely new attitude and way of dealing with mothers with children.

I should like to touch on the question of the mentally disturbed prisoners. Many of your Lordships will have read a moving book which has just been published, called A Woman in Custody and written by Audrey Peckham. This book shows exactly the same situation as that which was shown in the case of Lucy mentioned by the noble Baroness—mind you, my name is Lucy; and I just wondered! I think we all know what a disaster it has been that Lord Butler's report has not been implemented over all the years. Surely the time has come for us to look at it afresh so that it is implemented, so that the mentally ill are not having to be cared for in prison.

We sometimes do not pay enough attention to the very difficult times that the prison staff have in looking after the mentally ill in prison. We think of the prisoners, we think of what is happening, but we do not consider the staff. I believe that we ask too much of our prison staff. I think that the mentally ill must be given very special consideration.

I come finally to the fine offenders and the offenders against property. The noble Baroness said that only 10 per cent. of women are convicted of violence. Of those 4,780 women who were sentenced to custody or who went to prison for not paying a fine in 1984, about half had been convicted of various forms of theft and a further 7 per cent. of burglary. I feel I must quote a famous governor of Holloway, Dr. Megan Bull, who, when giving evidence to the Expenditure Committee in March, 1978 said: the vast majority of offenders are committing minor offences and the majority of those are theft or handling stolen goods, and I think it is something like 60 per cent. of the people in prison are here on that sort of charge. There are figures too to suggest that the actual amounts of money involved in their offences are relatively small and on the whole women are petty offenders". When we recall also that women prisoners have fewer previous convictions than men, this calls seriously into question the necessity of imprisoning women on anything like the present scale.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, I know of the case of one women, an outstanding secretary to a famous QC. He speaks highly of her work and the service which she gave him. Through a misunderstanding, she made a mistake and eventually was brought before a court for not paying a fine, and finally went to prison. This has done no good for society. It has certainly done no good for her; and we have put quite unnecessary extra pressure on prison staff.

I have to confess that I believe that we could reduce the number of women in prison substantially, recognising of course that there will be some who need to be there. But I believe that we have to find alternative ways of caring for them positively in the community; which does not mean that we excuse anyone for committing crime. Indeed, we diminish the character if we excuse them any sort of crime. Nevertheless, having said that, I hope that perhaps in the next few years we may see reform and a complete change of attitude towards women in prison and particularly in regard to the children.

8.40 p.m.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, I am glad to follow the distinguished speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, and I should like particularly to thank her for having mentioned the prison staff, who could so easily have been forgotten; that of course includes the specialist staff such as the education staff, as well as the prison staff. I am sure that she was right to do so. I should also like to echo her thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, for introducing this subject and asking this Unstarred Question today, if only to give Her Majesty's Government the opportunity of answering a number of questions and, specifically, saying what proposals they have for the improvement of the custodial provisions for women. There is no need to enlarge on the need for an improvement in the custodial treatment, after what we have heard from the two noble Baronesses this evening. There is room for improvement not only for the women in prison but also for the staff.

Secondly, I should like the Government to say what proposals they have for custody of women in the new prison building progamme which was announced, I believe, by the last Home Secretary, Mr. Leon Brittan; thirdly, what proposals they have for the separate custody of women who are on remand or who have not yet been sentenced from those who have been sentenced; fourthly, what proposals they have for the treatment of women in mental health assessment centres within the Mental Health Act 1983 instead of within psychiatric units in prison (this of course has already been touched on); and, finally, what steps they are proposing to take to reduce the number of women entering prison by the provision of non-custodial alternatives. I have limited the number of my questions to five, but there are dozens more that I could ask and that need an answer.

I have listened to or read all the debates on prisons in this House for the last 30 years or so—and that is my sole qualification for speaking today. I must record the remarkable change, a change for the better, in official attitudes that has taken place over those years. This gives me considerable hope that the Home Office, under its new Secretary of State, will take a radical look at this discrete area of women in prison, or, wider than that, women in the penal system, which is a quite distinct category. There are only 1,500 or so women out of a total of 48,000 or so in prison, but it is a quite distinct category, as the two noble Baronesses have said.

With a view to the reduction of the number of those imprisoned and the improvement of the present environment of the residual number of those who must be imprisoned, may I give two examples of the remarkable change in official attitudes which I have observed over the years? Both come from this House. One is from an Archbishop speaking on behalf, I believe, of the Church of England Board of Social Responsibility and the other is from the Lord Chief Justice himself. The late Archbishop of Durham, in 1971—and he was speaking about long term sentences—after saying that what we do on prisons must reflect our moral evaluation of human personality, said this: People are sent to prison as punishment, not for punishment. They are sent to prison for restoration". No one can be happy to compare the condition of women in, say, Holloway or Durham today with that enlightened statement in 1971 in mind.

Perhaps even more remarkable than those words of the most reverend Primate were words spoken by the present Lord Chief Justice, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lane, in his maiden speech in 1982 on the subject of law and order. Perhaps, as the question of law and order is coming up again, his speech may be remembered and read again. This is what he said: Prison never did anyone any good". My Lords, I never even dared to think that I would ever hear such words from a Lord Chief Justice, or hear him go on to say: The shorter a sentence can be, the better", and that a man should be kept out of prison altogether, if at all possible.

Only the other day I listened to a most humane and enlightened speech by the new Home Secretary when he addressed the New Bridge, whose president and chairman are present today. So surely the voice of the Church through the Archbishop, the voice of the judiciary through the Lord Chief Justice and the voice of the Home Office through the Secretary of State must be able to shift the system; and I would seriously suggest that the Home Office might look with special urgency at the penal system as it affects women.

Your Lordships may ask why women should be treated differently from men. The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, has given one or two reasons. I shall give one or two more. I am impressed by some words of Dr. Lena Dominelli of Warwick University, who said this about the nature of the majority of offences by women: Women commit crimes mainly for different motivations from men and they are mainly related to things like the care of the family, particularly the children. And so women get involved primarily in crimes like shoplifting, DHSS fraud and doing the meter. … Women tend to get locked into a cycle of crime because they actually want to be good mothers", which is more important to them than for men to be good fathers. By contrast, she says, men tend to get involved in crimes because they want to keep up with their peers or to get money to spend on themselves.

Dr. Dominelli may well be right, but even if she is not the special family needs and relationships of women with children present a quite distinct and separate custodial problem from the problems of the custody of men; and there is of course the special case of women with babies in prison, which was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull. Of course there should be no women with babies in prison at all, even if there are 33 places for them. There must be some, I suppose, in case there is a residue of those who cannot be anywhere else; but in principle there should be none at all in prison. And do women really need the same security overkill, as it has been called, as in Durham, for example, which must be necessary for the safe custody of dangerous male criminals? Surely not. For these and many more reasons I believe there is a special, urgent need for study and action in this discrete area of women in prison, women within the penal system; and I strongly commend it to Her Majesty's Government.

8.52 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I find it a privilege to rise in support of the Question put by the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, which she expounded in such an effective and comprehensive fashion. As President of the New Bridge, I am honoured to think she has taken on the chairmanship, and the fact that she seems to be an old friend of the present Home Secretary must be an advantage. For that reason and a lot of others, I am sure that she will do great work there.

If I may say so, I was delighted with the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull. At the risk of embarrassing her, I would say that she said things, sitting there in the middle of the Conservative Benches, which would have been laughed out of court if they had been said by some elderly Socialist like myself. At the risk of causing further embarrassment, I would say that I regard her as a kind of humanitarian mole in the "hard-hearted" party—

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, I must rise to the noble Earl. We have compassion and knowledge on our Benches on such subjects.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, we know that the noble Baroness is full of compassion and that it is infectious—it spreads downwards from her. She has made some very revolutionary suggestions which I entirely applaud but which I will not pursue this evening. I found a certain embarrassment in referring to the noble Lord, Lord Henderson. There is no one in this House who is more totally respected and to whom so many Members of the House are deeply grateful; but when he comes here and says that the official attitude is so much better than it was when these debates started, I am short of words. Of course the noble Lord has a certain advantage over me: he has listened to all the debates during the last 30 years whereas I have started many of them and taken part in all of them. In that sense perhaps he is a more dispassionate judge but I am afraid I cannot notice any improvement.

When I started the first debate in this House 30 years ago there were 20,000 people in prison. Soon there will be 50,000, so we cannot say there is much sign of improvement there. And when we talk about these wonderful, enlightened utterances, one would like to see some effect given to them in policy. The previous Home Secretary, Mr. Leon Brittan, produced a number of reforms, which were denounced by everybody outside the charmed circle of the Government; but that is really a topic for another day. I feel that the noble Lord, who has suffered under me for 30 years, should not be expected to suffer any more this evening. However, I must try to keep clear of the general topic because I have a Motion on the Order Paper (no day named) to call attention to the grave increase in the prison population—

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, the point I was making was that all those whom I quoted are in office and are therefore official spokesmen, whereas the noble Earl I have always regarded as a voice crying in the wilderness.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I think there is something in that, but if things had improved so much I should not have thought the wilderness would be quite so bleak. At any rate the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, deserves the respect of everyone here, and by the time we come back to these matters again who knows who will have converted whom?

Tonight we have such a nice, small list of speakers that perhaps I will go on for rather longer than I should have done if there had been a list of 20 or so. At any rate I will speak my mind, as they say, and I shall have quite a bit to say about women and about Holloway. I shall not only be speaking about Holloway but about the staff generally. I agree entirely with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, and others in paying tribute to the prison officers. That includes everyone from the governors downwards, including doctors, education officers and probation officers. They have been much maligned, particularly the good people in Holloway, and naturally they are resentful. I should like to feel that in this House at least we can unite in sending them a message of warmhearted encouragment and admiration for what they are doing.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, and other people have dealt with the subject delicately, and indeed it is a subject on which it is rather hard to say exactly what one wants to say. I personally feel that women in prison require more sensitive treatment than men, and on the whole I would say they receive it. It is now 30 years since I acted as sponsor for the reception of a young woman into the Roman Catholic Church in Holloway. Dressed in white, she was welcomed by the governor, Dr. Taylor (later Lady Taylor) and given tea in the governor's office. I cannot see that happening in any men's prison, then or now, and on the whole I think there is a sensitivity shown by women officers which one does not find, or hardly expects to find, in men's prisons. However, we are faced with the fact that prison is unpleasant, and must always be unpleasant. There is, however, a limit to the inhumanity which any of us, at any rate here, would approve of in prisons. It is difficult for many women in prison to accept the fine statements to which the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, referred. I do not think that to many women—and to men too, although I will not pursue that at the moment—those statements mean a great deal.

Let us take Durham, which was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs. A reference was made to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, who, in this House, denounced the "living tomb", as it was called by certain speakers, including, I think, the Lord Bishop himself, of the men's wing—what was then the top security wing, in Durham. It was partly as a result of his efforts and partly as a result of a near-mutiny in the prison that it was closed down: because this top security wing in Durham was thought to be too inhumane for men, it was closed for men. However, nature and the Home Office abhor a vacuum and so in due course it was opened for women and it has been used for women ever since. It has been denounced by every possible agency, inspector or anybody else who has ever had a look at it, but it is still there.

It was suggested by my noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs and others that when Holloway is expanded—and it is proposed that Holloway will increase its membership, or the number of its inmates, from 330 to 550—the top security wing at Durham should be closed down. I have given the Minister notice of this question. I want to ask him whether he will tell us when the top security wing at Durham will be closed down. Is there any argument at all for sustaining it?

But that is not the only way in which women can suffer rather more in prison than anybody here would wish, and certainly more than the right reverend Prelates or the Lord Chief Justice would wish. I take the case of a woman, a friend of mine, who was sentenced to six months in prison in the present year. She is a cultured woman of 60, who had probably never heard a four-letter word used in anger, but she certainly heard plenty of them when she found herself in a dormitory in an open prison with a lot of tearaway young women whose language, I suppose, consisted of very little else and who applied those epithets to her very freely.

That is the experience of one woman and I have written to the noble Lord and asked whether there is any way of seeing that in open prisons for women there are at least some single rooms. I know that there are some in certain men's prisons, but in that particular open prison there are no single rooms. It was very hard indeed and the lady there, my cultured friend, underwent a cruel experience, which I am sure was the last thing intended by the noble Lord or by anybody else who is concerned with policy.

Again, will it be easy to persuade of the justice of our system a young, or now not so young, woman who has spent 20 years in prison, has been told by the local review committee that she should be given parole and has been commended for her service in prison, if she is then told that, for reasons too profound to be revealed to her, she must spend at least another five years in prison before she can be considered for parole? Will anybody believe fine words, whether they are delivered by the Minister, by the Lord Chief Justice, by the right reverend Prelates or by anybody else, when he or she is living under those conditions?

I must pass on and come a little closer to Holloway. But before I get there, I should like to make the point that some of the troubles at Holloway are reproduced in other women's prisons. I should like to take the case of a really excellent women's prison—I am not here just to blame everybody and everything; far from it—like Cookham Wood. When I went there last week, I was told by one or two prisoners that some prisoners were spending 23 hours a day in the cells. The governor explained to me that this was quite exceptional. It appears that in that excellent prison at Cookham Wood—and I make no complaint whatever about treatment by the staff or the conditions—only half the hours of work for which the authorities would wish are available, and only half the association is available. Why is that? The answer is plain enough. It is because of what is called a staff shortage.

But there would not be this staff shortage if the governor was allowed to offer overtime to a sufficient number of women officers. Owing to the financial restrictions imposed by the present Government, there is a limit to the amount of overtime and, therefore, there is this very sad restriction on education and on all the other facilities in Cookham Wood. By and large, if ever I were a woman and were sent to prison, that is where I should want to be sent, but I might be sent instead to Durham to teach me my business.

But to come to Holloway, I have a few words to say about C1. Everybody is fairly well informed by now, or should be, about C1. Let me point out that in C1 last week there were only 24 prisoners. According to the figures given by my noble friend, which were taken a little earlier, there were 40, and I dare say that 40 is the normal quota. But whether the figure is 24 or 40, there is a relatively small number of people there, out of a total number of prisoners of 340 or so.

Let us look at the conditions of the other prisoners in that total of 340. We all know by now, if we have studied it at all, that the building of the new Holloway has been a terrible disaster. It could be regarded as a farce, if it were not a tragedy. But I leave out the building for the moment and, before coming to C1, take the situation in Holloway generally. I talked last week to the chief education officer, who ought to know what he is about because he has been there for 13 years. I have given the Minister notice of these points, so he is well equipped to refute me, if it is possible to do so, but I do not think it is at this stage.

The educational provision in Holloway has been rapidly declining and has now reached an appalling level. I am not talking about the quality. I am talking only about the quantity. There is a fine education staff with 15 full-time and 25 part-time officers. If you count the part-time ones as a half, you can say that there are well over 20 people employed on education in Holloway. How many classes were held there in the three weeks preceding my visit? I am afraid that there are no prizes in this guessing game. The answer is none. No classes at all were held in Holloway in those few weeks. That is shocking.

If that came from the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, people would believe it, but coming from me they may wonder whether I am exaggerating. But it is the brutal truth. There were no classes held for three weeks, although there were 20 education people all equipped and longing to provide education. Your Lordships may ask: what is the problem? The problem is the shortage of staff. That is the argument used. But how many disciplinary staff would be required to supervise the work? I am talking not of the teaching staff, but of the disciplinary staff. I am assured by the chief education officer there that two staff are needed to supervise the education. How many staff are there in Holloway? Well over 300. The ratio is roughly one to one, so out of more than 300 staff they cannot find two to supervise the education. As a result (although I must not say there is no education, because they can do a little education in the cells) there are no classes whatever. That is a terrible story and I am going to ask the Minister—I have given him notice of this question—what he proposes to do about it. The noble Lord is a very talented and sincere Minister so no doubt he will find a talented and sincere answer. But it is really not the answer he gives tonight that is important but the action that we all hope will be forthcoming.

We have already been told a good deal about the C1 unit in various reports. As the House will know, the inmates there are highly disturbed or for the most part highly disturbed. Some are placed there because of the nature of their offence. Contained on this wing are some 40 women, diagnosed as suffering from dementia, alcoholism, sub-normality and epilepsy. I am assured that almost half of the women are listed suicide risks and almost half these women have no outside contacts, no families and no friends. That is the tragic population. I am informed that they are locked up for 23 hours a day. Their food is passed through a hatch in the cell door and the only treatment given to them is heavy sedation. That is according to my information, much of which undoubtedly comes from Women in Prison, that fine crusading organisation which is very well-equipped with first hand knowledge, but I did pay a visit to Holloway last week.

What is going to be done about C1? The Holloway Project Review was set up in December 1984 in response to the public outcry at the spate of appalling cases of self-mutilation on C1. It recommended that this wing should be closed and a purpose built unit should be built to house Holloway's mentally disturbed inmate population. What we must press for tonight is a clear indication as to when these things will happen. When does the Minister hope that this new unit will be built; and in the immediate future what action is being taken to rectify the deficiencies? It is admitted on all sides that it is a shocking affair. What immediate steps are being taken, and what is the programme for long distance action?

Before I sit down, I must refer to the kind of staff who are necessary in this unit. It is a difficult question and I agree that there are problems here. When I went there last week I found that 10 of the staff were prison officers unqualified in medicine. There were nine nurses, most of whom were not psychiatrically trained. I shall close by quoting the Holloway Project Committee Report: We recommend that ultimately the unit should be staffed either by psychiatrically qualified prison nursing staff trained to carry out prison duties, or by appropriately trained prison hospital officers recruited from nursing grades". I am sure that that is right in the long run. I honestly do not feel that most of us would wish to wait for the long run for this to work itself out. I shall quote one more sentence from the recommendations of the Holloway Project: Both nurses and discipline officers should receive appropriate training in caring for the mentally disturbed, including training offered by the NHS". Will the Minister agree that this should be proceeded with rapidly in the immediate future? Again, I have given the noble Lord a chance in advance to look at these questions.

I cannot remember a Government report so damning as this one. Let us give all those concerned the proper credit for a full and frank confession; but what we want from them in religious jargon is a clear indication of a firm purpose of amendment.

9.14 p.m.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, as has been said already, my noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs deserves the thanks not only of Members of this House who have stayed for this important debate, but in my view of the country at large which is indebted to her for having initiated it. We especially appreciate the way in which it was done. It is also my pleasant duty when winding up from this side of the House to pay my tribute to all who have spoken, showing, if I may say so, the utmost consideration in regard to this important matter. A voice of mercy has been heard in the House; at the same time a voice of realism.

I say "a voice of realism" because prisons and the whole prison system will continue, I am afraid, to be the bane of any Government of whatever complexion. It does not do to make a political issue out of prisons—and nobody has attempted to do this. I only hope that my own Government when they Come to power will be able to carry out a number of reforms. But they are not there yet, so I am going to plead when summing up this debate for something to be done by the present Government in regard to this matter.

It has been truly said by the Lord Chief Justice—and the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, quoted this—that prisons never did any good to anybody. I wish that man or woman, or a combination of both, could think of an alternative system for dealing with our criminal offenders. Nobody has succeeded very much. We have thought in terms of community service orders, which I think is a very useful reform. We have thought also of intermediary stages before prison is reached. However, the whole time it is a question of custody. The whole time, too, we find that when people leave prisons, imprisonment has not done them the slightest bit of good. Indeed, we find too many returning there.

If we cannot constructively put forward alternatives along the lines of those mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, and other speakers tonight—such as greater use of community service orders and other ways of trying to keep people out of prison—then we must in practical terms say to the Government that something ought to be done and they ought to be doing it.

Having tried to study this subject in a little more detail than I had before, I was very impressed by the evidence that, so far as concerns women in prison, many of them are there for offences which do not involve violence. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, touched on the point that if there are acts of violence, one often finds that they are emotional acts of violence, connected with members of the family or those who have upset the family. That is a very different streak of violence from that usually associated with crimes of violence committed by men.

It has been said often in this House, and one says it again now with respect to the judiciary, that we must try so far as we possibly can, especially in the case of women, to see to it that imprisonment is the last resort so far as punishment is concerned. It has also been said, so appropriately, that the last thing in the world that one should do, unless one has no conceivable alternative, is to send a woman to prison if she happens to be pregnant or has young children.

There was a very progressive governor named, I believe, Mr. Anderson, who recommended that women who were in prison and who were pregnant or who had young children should be let out on licence. That proposal came from a very experienced governor. When the Minister replies I should like him to indicate whether he agrees with that view. If he does not agree, then will he say why?

The second matter that was raised in our debate, and it is very important, concerns the number of women—far greater than men—who are on remand in prisons. More than once we have pleaded in this House for remands in custody to be kept to a minimum. The scandal is the period for which people are kept on remand—and they are so often acquitted in the end.

I was very moved, as I am sure the Minister was, by the report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons for 1984. I quote from paragraph 2.11: The past few years have seen an increase both in the numbers held in custody awaiting trial or sentence, and in the average length of time spent on remand—both awaiting trial and prior to sentencing. In 1973 the average daily population on remand was 4,613. Ten years later the figure was 8,651. The average length of time spent in custody awaiting trial in 1970 was for men 23 days; in 1983 the average was 47 days—more than twice as long. Over the same period the average time spent is custody for men between conviction and sentencing rose from 25 to 31 days, and for women from 24 to 31 days. Something must be wrong with our system of trial, investigation of crimes or the bringing of criminals to justice. Again, we have said this before in this House, and I think we look with some amount of jealousy north of the Border, because they have done something about limiting the period of remand, when otherwise the prosecution has to be dropped. I shall be hoping—I do not know whether it is with undue optimism—that in the gracious Speech that we are soon to hear there may be some legislation dealing with the limitation on periods of remand unless there are very exceptional circumstances.

"Why do women suffer from this?" asked my noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs, and she gave some reasons. I believe that there are some additional reasons, and I should like the Minister to deal with them. One is that very often a woman is remanded because the magistrate or judge thinks, in terms of mercy, that she is in need of some psychological investigation and he will not deal with her until the psychological report is received. The proper procedure should be that she ought to go into a hospital for a psychological report, and not into a prison. There again, something is wrong with our system when a woman is sent to a prison for a psychological report. I believe that another reason may be that there are not enough bail hostels for women. I ask the Minister, what is his programme for more hostels for women in respect of bail?

Much has been said about women who should not be in prison at all because of their psychological condition, and horrifying stories have been repeated about what has happened in Holloway and what the situation is in Durham. Whatever the complexion of a government one cannot allow this kind of situation to continue. I know that much was hoped for in regard to Holloway from the July report which was dealt with so eloquently by my noble friend Lord Longford, and I remember that the noble Lord the Minister answered a Question for Written Answer on 17th July, after that report was put into the Library. His reply arose from a Question put by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharples. I know the Minister will forgive me if I quote him, and this is what he then said: We accept the committee's view that C1 Unit is not currently meeting their needs as well as it should, despite the best efforts of the staff, which we also commend, and that urgent action is needed to rectify its deficiencies. Its physical state is wholly unsatisfactory and its management structure is not clear. We acknowledge the desirability of re-siting C1 Unit in purpose-built accommodation in a different part of the establishment and have asked for an urgent assessment of whether this is feasible". The Minister was feeling enough to put it in those words. I ask him whether that urgent assessment is now available. Later on, he said: High priority will be given to improving the regime on C1 so that the prisoners there can take full advantage of the specialist training and therapeutic facilities available. My noble friend Lord Longford raised specifically the absence of education facilities, and gave rather disturbing facts about this matter. Here was the Minister, talking in terms of high priority. I know that the Minister also will have remembered the very specific recommendations that came in the report of the Holloway project committee. If I remember them correctly, they dealt, as indeed did the 1984 report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons, with the need for education facilities as a very important part, quite obviously, of the treatment of prisoners in prisons.

I shall read from the report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons 1984, and I hope that I do so constructively. He said at paragraph 2.19: Last year we referred to the low levels of attendance in many prison education classes which had resulted from the requirement in so many establishments for disciplinary officers to be in attendance and to escort inmates to and from their classes"— my noble friend Lord Longford referred to that— And when discipline officers were not available classes were cancelled or reduced in number. During 1984 we saw a continuation of this phenomenon. But we also saw instances where education officers made staff and materials available to inmates in their cells or wings. So long as the constraints resulting from staff shortages and the present working agreements continue so will there be a need for such flexibility in the approach of management to the task in hand. In the longer term a review is needed of the present working practice in so many prisons which requires classes to close when discipline officers are not in attendance". I know that my noble friend would want me to quote that. The official report calls for a review of the whole matter because it regards it as so unfortunate that these training facilities and education programme are not available.

The hour is late. It is not for anybody who winds up to repeat ad nauseam points made so much better by his predecessors. I hope that I have limited myself to a few additional comments in what undoubtedly has been a most useful debate. We all look forward to the Minister coming out with a progressive speech which will gladden the heart of my noble friend Lord Longford, who I know will then pay him the same compliment as he did the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull.

9.27 p.m.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, in asking the Question this evening the noble Baroness has drawn attention to an area of our penal system which understandably often gives rise to emotion. She has pointed to the need for a caring and responsible administration of the female prison system, and I assure her that I and the Prison Department share her ideals.

Over the past three years or so I have seen at first hand and spoken to not only women in female prisons but others in various psychiatric units, including the special hospitals, and those who look after them. One thing is quite clear to me. However much one likes to believe that women should not have to go to prison—we all share a natural distaste for the idea—the reality is that women can be guilty of imprisonable offences varying from the less serious to the most violent and hideous. It may be the responsibility of us all to consider what makes them that way—the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, gave us some reasons in a quotation—but the responsibility of the Prison Department is to administer and direct their confinement in a responsible way. That remit it already fulfils, and I believe that it meets the concern of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, that prison should not be over-pleasant nor an infringement of our natural standards of humanity.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, asked me various questions on sentencing, on remand and on sending mothers and pregnant women into custody. I shall develop some of those themes as I go along. The essence of much of what she said concerned sentencing and relates to the exercise by the courts of their powers. It would not be appropriate to go into great detail on that tonight. The task of the prison service is to take into custody those whom the courts send, whatever their circumstances. Where those sent into custody require specialist facilities, we aim to provide them.

By comparison with the male population, that of females is extremely small, averaging in 1984 just under 1,500, fewer than 5 per cent. of the total prison population. Seventy per cent. of the female population is serving 18 months or less. As the noble Baroness said, a large proportion is also on remand. In September, for example, there were 400 remand prisoners out of a total female population of about 1,600. The recent overall increase in prison population has resulted in overcrowding in female remand prisons as well as male establishments. But this is a reflection of pressures on the prison system as a whole, and of course the female prison system has had to take its share. Accommodating the small population of female prisoners presents special problems. Only 11 establishments in England and Wales take female prisoners. That is a fact to which the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, pointed.

The noble Earl, Lord Longford, referred especially to H-Wing at Durham. I accept that the size of H-Wing and its location within the confines of a predominantly male establishment makes it less than ideal. I assure him that we are still mindful of the need to provide alternative Category A accommodation. I also agree that the geographical spread of these establishments is less than ideal bearing in mind the desirability expressed tonight of allowing female prisoners to serve their sentences as near to their families as possible. Remand prisoners have to travel long distances to courts with heavy escorting commitments for the prisons concerned and consequent loss of staff time which could otherwise be devoted to developing regimes for sentenced prisoners.

My noble friend Lady Faithfull, with her great experience of these matters, raised the issue of mothers and babies. She referred to Circular Instruction No. 51 of 1983. May I tell my noble friend that this circular was prepared in close consultation with the DHSS—and that included all aspects of it, medical, social work and nursing staff—and we believe it is right that this should be so. There would have been strong criticism otherwise. As for the children of women left when their mothers go into prison, everything is done for the women by the prison staff to enable them to maintain their contacts with them.

As for questions of separation of mothers from their babies in custody, the circular instruction reflects professional advice and the judgments made in the light of that advice, recognising that there are difficult questions of judgment to be made here. The paramount question, which the circular instruction makes clear, is the welfare of the baby and the baby's interests. These are not necessarily the same as the interests of the mother. That is why there is need for the discretionary power which this instruction enables.

On the question of remand conditions generally—raised, I think, by everyone who spoke, although perhaps particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson—we accept that conditions for remand prisoners are far from desirable. We are taking action to improve them. We have made statutory provision for time limits on bringing cases to trial and we are taking action to reduce delays in the courts. We have also begun a large-scale prison building and refurbishment programme designed to tackle overcrowding and to upgrade existing accommodation. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, asked how the women's prison system would be affected by the building programme. I can perhaps say to him that the main thrust, so far as the women's system is concerned, is the rebuilding of Holloway. There is also a major redevelopment of Styal planned. I hope he will find that encouraging.

As to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, about Mr. Anderson, the governor of Styal, the views that he expressed were personal ones. The question of the immediate parole of women sentenced to prison who have babies is one for the courts to assess. But I can assure the noble Lord that they take this fully into account and only use custody as a last resort. That is something I have stressed in the past.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, I know the noble Lord the Minister will forgive me. I shall not interrupt him again, I promise, unless I have to. I was talking in terms about licensing from prisons, not licensing from the courts. In other words, the licensing on parole could in fact be done by a Home Office order giving that leave to the prison authorities and giving that direction to them. That is what I was inquiring about.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I thought that the noble Lord was referring to the remarks of Mr. Anderson. I do not have that particular quotation in front of me. I shall have to study the remarks of the noble Lord.

On the question of a bail hostel—which was another point—I think again that in the interests of time that is perhaps something I can take up in writing with the noble Lord. There are, of course, matters concerning the courts' willingness to use them and I am sure that if they possibly can they will; but I should like to develop my story a little further, if I may, and perhaps write to the noble Lord.

Population pressures and logistical problems are not the whole story. I should like to echo here comments made by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and indeed my noble friend Lady Faithfull. I think everyone again paid trubute to the staff who work in women's prisons—indeed in all prisons. In spite of severe problems so much positive and encouraging work is going on. The range of educational and training courses, and the availability of work places, offer inmates valuable opportunities to make good use of their time in custody. I shall return to education in Holloway in due course. Staff in women's prisons do their best to help inmates come to terms with the consequences of their imprisonment. The care and sensitivity with which they deal with women in their care should not be underestimated. Indeed, judging by the remarks that have been in this short debate tonight I do not think that they are.

Of course, there are areas of concern; and several of your Lordships have referred to them. The Government accept that the biggest women's prison—Holloway—presents its own difficulties. One of my first decisions when I came to the Home Office was to go and see Holloway prison for myself, aware as I was of the criticisms and concerns which had been voiced in the recent past. I found Holloway a complicated and disorientating place. The variety of functions that it is expected to discharge are of course legion. Some of the buildings are inappropriate for the functions they are expected to perform. The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, for example, has drawn attention to the deficiencies of the visiting facilities. In relation to that, may I just tell the noble Baroness that every prison for women has provision for women to receive visits once a fortnight? That is more generous than the provision in the prison rules, which is 30 minutes every 28 days; and accumulated visits can also be permitted.

Holloway has had to cope with a diverse and rapidly changing population. Changes have taken place in penal philosophy and practice since the prison was designed. The medical model which provided the theoretical basis for Holloway no longer holds sway, as the noble Earl so rightly said. There will inevitably, however, be some for whom medical or psychiatric treatment will be necessary. It is this population which has been the cause of considerable concern in many quarters.

It was against this background that the Government decided in December last year that the pressures on Holloway were such that the role of the prison within the women's prison system needed to be reviewed. As the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has indicated, the report of the Holloway Project Committee has provided us with a valuable analysis of Holloway's difficulties and a refreshingly positive programme for its improvement. The report combined this analysis with practical recommendations for the better treatment of inmates and management of regimes with which no one with the true interests of the prisoners at heart could quarrel. In welcoming the report, we noted in particular its recommendations for the development of its regimes, improvements in management structure, and ways of reviewing staff deployment to ensure that prisoners can be provided with more time on association and more access to Holloway's extensive facilities.

Work is now proceeding across a range of matters identified in the report, and I should like to mention two of them in particualr today. First, manpower. Holloway exemplifies the problems which arise when the need to service a remand function takes away staff who could otherwise be deployed to help develop the regime. No one can be satisfied with a situation in which—as both the noble Earl, and the noble lord, Lord Mishcon, described—of a possible 183 education sessions over the last three months (I think, not weeks) only about half could be provided or in which the use of potentially excellent sporting facilities is severely constrained by manpower shortages. There is a further special difficulty at Holloway in ensuring that the resources of both nursing and discipline staff are deployed as effectively as possible.

In accordance with one of the recommendations in the report, arrangements have been made for an early manpower appraisal to be carried out, and this is a prerequisite for getting it right. That appraisal will have a wide-ranging remit which will enable it to assess the staffing requirements of the prison as a whole. The review will start next month and the aim is that it should be completed by about the turn of the year. That may not be quite the action which the noble Earl was expecting me to describe, but I hope that he will feel that setting out on that track is a significant step in the direction in which he eventually wants us to go.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, is it to be an internal review?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, it is internal within the Prison Department, yes.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, but not within the prison?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, the prison will naturally be involved; but those who examine it will come from outside the prison as well.

The second question concerns the provision which is made for those women either on remand or sentenced who may need psychiatric assessment or treatment. The plight of these women is of course exemplified by the disturbing incidents of self-mutilation and self-injury, of which there have been some sad cases. There is no single, simple explanation for acts like that. All I can say is that everything possible is done to prevent such occurrences. When, despite our best efforts, an act of self-injury occurs, staff deal with the situation professionally and with proper concern for the wellbeing of the prisoner concerned.

Most sentenced women prisoners showing severe mental disorder have been successfully transferred to a mental hospital. However the majority of people in prison who are suffering from mental disorder, which would justify their detention in hospital for treatment, are those who are not sentenced; they are in prison on remand. The best hope of making a significant impact on this problem is by means of the alternative of remand to hospital under Sections 35 and 36 of the Mental Health Act 1983, which were brought into force on 1st October last year. Those sections give courts the power to remand to hospital for a report on the prisoner's mental condition or for treatment. Their use is governed by the requirements that the court should first have medical reports and the offer of a bed from a suitable hospital. It is too early to tell yet how much effect these two provisions are having on the plight of mentally disordered women remanded in custody. Much must depend on the availability of secure hospital beds within the country as a whole. However, I fear that, sadly, there are always likely to be some mentally disordered women remanded to prison while suitable arrangements are made for them.

The Prison Service will inevitably therefore have to cope with a number of these unfortunate people despite the severe problems which they present. It is not right to keep them in ordinary prison locations, and that is why accommodation is available for the highly disturbed element in C1 Unit at Holloway. We accepted the project committee's view that C1 Unit was not currently meeting the needs of the women there as well as it should do, despite the best efforts of the staff, and we accepted that urgent action was needed to rectify its staffing and physical deficiencies. We are now looking in detail at practical steps to improve conditions in the present unit, particularly improvements to the fabric, the replacement of potentially dangerous fittings, and the provision of more space for association. The project committee also recommended that, in the longer term, C1 should be resited, as we have heard, in purpose-built accommodation in a different part of the establishment.

Despite the very many demands on our resources, we have accepted in principle the inclusion within the forward prison building programme of a replacement for C1 Unit. We are not yet in a position to say how much the new C1 Unit will cost or exactly how long it will take. Our main priority at this stage is to concentrate on getting it right. What went wrong in the past was that it was got wrong: that must not happen again. But work is now going ahead on the planning of the new accommodation. When I say "planning" I am not referring to feasibility, which is the sort of mechanical, engineering feasibility of looking for a site, which is what I addressed in answering a question of the noble Baroness a few months ago. On the planning, we are involving advisers from the DHSS, as the project committee recommended, to make best use of their wide experience in the provision of accommodation in special hospitals and regional secure units. I can assure your Lordships that plans for a protected room are well advanced.

We are also pressing ahead with improvements to medical and nursing services at Holloway, as indeed we are at other women's establishments. We accept the project committee's recommendation that the senior medical officer post at Holloway should be upgraded to principal medical officer. Arrangements for selecting suitable doctors for the post, and for the post of senior medical officer with responsibilitity for the medical management of the C1 Unit, are in hand. The senior medical officer on C1 will have a key role to play in the creation of the correct management framework and also in the provision of an appropriate regime for the care and treatment of disturbed women.

Among the anomalies identified by the committee and referred to tonight was the arrangement under which prison officers at Holloway work in hospital sections alongside nurses to carry out custodial and disciplinary tasks which the latter are not trained to undertake. This arrangement has not only led to friction between disciplinary and nursing staff but is also inefficient. It entails deploying two members of staff to perform many tasks which in a men's establishment would be performed by one.

We intend to end this practice by gradually replacing nurse grade staff at Holloway with hospital officers who have nursing qualifications. This will entail recruiting female hospital officers from two sources—existing nurse grade staff and nurses in the community—and then training them for discipline as well as nursing duties. The process will later be extended to the rest of the female system. Members of the prison nursing staff who do not opt to train as hospital officers, or who are not accepted for training, will continue to be employed as nurses. We hope to have the first female hospital officer candidates, in training before the end of the year.

It is important to stress that this development in nursing in no way implies an erosion of the existing policy of employing only nurse qualified staff on nursing duties in establishments for women and girls. Indeed, we shall hope to improve on the already high professional nursing standards in the women's system while at the same time achieving substantial gains in general efficiency and effectiveness.

My Lords, before coming to the end perhaps I may just mention here the use of drugs at Holloway. Concern was expressed this evening, and it has been expressed at other times, about the use of medication in female establishments. There is particular concern about psychotropic drugs—anti-depressants, sedatives and tranquillisers. I can assure noble Lords that it is our very firm policy that medicines should be used only for clinically determined therapeutic purposes and that this is clearly understood throughout the prison medical service. The number of doses at Holloway over the period 1982–84 in fact shows a markedly downward trend and one to be greatly encouraged.

I have dealt at some length with the position at Holloway. It is clear from this debate that it is a matter of concern to your Lordships. I believe that the project committee's report, and the help that it is to us as a guide, provides us with a real opportunity to set the prison on a new course for the benefit of both prisoners and staff. But Holloway, although dominant, is not the whole story.

This has been a useful debate. It has displayed many of the concerns widely felt on an important issue. I share many of those concerns, as do those who care directly for women prisoners. But all is not gloomy, as some of your Lordships have indicated. Despite the pressures on our accommodation and staff resources, the women's prisons are doing more than just coping with their prisoners. They are, I believe, looking after them with care and imagination in the best traditions of the prison service.