HL Deb 09 April 1986 vol 473 cc196-8

2.54 p.m.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government why the governor at Styal Women's Prison was transferred at short notice.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Glenarthur)

My Lords, the governor of Styal was informed on 6th February of the proposal to post him to Hindley, as a normal career move. He was asked to take up his new appointment before 1st April, when governors were due to assume responsibility for a new system of local budgeting. He moved on 3rd March.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that I find his Answer a great relief? Nevertheless, it seems to conflict with the governor's own reported comments that he was totally bemused and distressed at his transfer. However, in view of the real distress of the National Association of Probation Officers about the problems facing both prison officers and inmates at Styal Prison, can the noble Lord say how many incidents have occurred at night since Christmas which have resulted in disciplinary action being taken against prisoners? Will he also say why the Prison Department sends so many 17 and 18 year-old prisoners to Styal, and whether they still mix freely with the older women prisoners in that prison?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I cannot give the noble Baroness the number of disciplinary incidents that have taken place, but I shall find out and let her know. As to the mixing of the younger with the older elements in Styal, this is a matter in which the new governor is taking a keen interest, as did the old. Matters are not unsatisfactory, but they will be kept under review.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, will the Minister accept that much of the distress at Styal Prison as well as at many other prison establishments stems from inadequate manning levels? For instance, at Styal, of 16 separate establishments 10 are left unmanned at night. Will the Minister take this opportunity of refuting statements in the press that the removal of the governor was campaigned for by prison officers? Will he say that this is, in fact, a statement without any foundation whatever?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I agree certainly with the noble Lord that the statements that appeared in the press were totally inaccurate in that respect. There was no evidence of any pressure applied by the Prison Officers' Association to move, or to seek to move, the then governor of Styal. So far as night-manning levels are concerned, this is a matter that the present governor is looking at with the northern regional director. It will be closely looked at over the coming months.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, can the noble Lord say what has been his response to the suggestion of the National Association of Probation Officers and others that there should be an investigation into the serious problems that arise from Styal Prison?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, as I have just said, there is no truth in the reports in the press that there have been the difficulties at Styal that some people think have arisen. It has been a gross misrepresentation. But the regional director will be keeping a close eye on the establishment. He has asked the new governor to pay particular attention to those areas about which allegations have been made, and, should it prove necessary, to take corrective action. It is not necessary, I believe, to institute a formal inquiry.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, reverting to the noble Baroness's supplementary question about young female prisoners, have the Government any plans, either at Styal or elsewhere, for segregating young female prisoners and women with babies from the older female prisoners?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, with respect, that question goes very wide of the Question on the Order Paper. However, I can tell the noble Lord that the whole question of the female prison system is currently being looked at by Ministers.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, would the Minister also say that there has been a distortion in the reporting of the level of bullying that goes on in Styal Prison? Can he say whether there is continued evidence of kangaroo courts held at night, when there is a mock trial of other prisoners and punishment meted out? Will the noble Lord also say when he will reply to the letter from the National Association of Probation Officers, written to him on 28th February, asking him about all these different points that we have mentioned?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, bullying is, unfortunately, something that does occur in a number of different establishments, not just female establishments. It is a matter of concern to all those involved in prison life that this in fact happens. Appropriate steps will be taken to lessen it where this can be done. So far as the letter is concerned, I shall certainly look into this and inquire as to when the reply will be forthcoming.