HL Deb 16 April 1986 vol 473 cc669-96

3.10 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge rose to call attention to the present situation at Grendon Prison with special reference to the number and training of staff necessary for a therapeutic regime; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I think I should begin this debate by declaring an interest—not, I need hardly say, a financial one but a very deep and lasting interest—in one of the most bold and imaginative efforts with which I have had the honour to be connected. It is in fact an attempt to deal with an extremely difficult range of problems.

I was lucky enough to be the chairman of the board of visitors of the late Dr. Gray for the first 10 years of his creation and development of Her Majesty's Prison at Grendon. He was a very remarkable man and I doubt whether anyone else in the country could have achieved as much as he did with such difficult material. All of us who worked with him, whether "pros" or amateurs, were proud to have done so and are determined not to allow his work to be wasted. But that is what it seems to us, ominously, is now extremely likely to happen.

I do not want to attack the Minister, the Home Secretary or the Home Office. I do not think that what is happening is because of malice aforethought. It is rather due to inadequate understanding of the problems, some lack of attention and some lack of competent direction. It is now three years ago last February that I raised in your Lordships' House, on behalf of the Parliamentary All Party Penal Affairs Group, the problems confronting Grendon Prison consequent upon the Home Office's declared intention to increase the number of inmates above the level which we thought suitable for an effective, therapeutic regime—a function, be it remembered, for which the prison had been designed some 30 years earlier but not finally built and opened until 1962.

I pointed out then that Dr. Gray did not agree (he was then retired) and would never have agreed to such an increase of inmates. I said it was the unanimous view of the then medical staff and the chairman of the board of visitors and his whole board that such an increase would substantially change the character of the institution and transform it from an effective treatment centre for specially difficult cases into a mere holding prison. However, the Home Secretary wrote to the chairman specifically repudiating this intention, and said that he was determined not to prejudice the therapeutic role. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, in reply to the debate on 9th February 1983, at col. 1311 of Hansard, said: We regard Grendon as an essential and a very successful part of the psychiatric services in the prison system; and we are committed to ensuring that it continues to provide this valuable service.

I see that we have more light on the subject, and this may help us. The noble Lord went on to say, in col. 1312: Our longer-term aim is to ensure that Grendon is more fully used as a therapeutic establishment … These plans involved posting more permanent staff to Grendon and converting some of the dormitories into cubicles. Without being satisfied, I was somewhat reassured, and so was the board of visitors. Soon after that, the medical superintendent, Dr. Jillett, who was Dr. Gray's successor as governor, died and some agitation began (to which I lent my weight) to insist that it must be a medical practitioner who replaced him. Grendon is the only prison which I believe has ever had a doctor as governor, and we thought it important to continue this practice.

There was a long interim, and we got a rather worrying report from the Grendon branch of the National Association of Probation Officers, suggesting that things were not going well, We took this up with the Home Secretary through the Parliamentary All Party Penal Affairs Group, and Mr. Brittan gave a full reply to our chairman, Mr. Kilroy-Silk, MP. He wrote: It is my firm intention that Grendon should continue to function as a psychiatric establishment offering a therapeutic regime. He accepted there was then a serious shortage of staff, but ended by saying: I am satisfied that the changes at Grendon will not interfere with the therapeutic character of the regime, and there is no question of choosing between this and the need to ease the pressure elsewhere in the prison system.

In May 1984 the noble Lord, Lord Elton, let me know that he had in fact appointed a non-medical governor, through lack of suitable medical applicants, in the person of Mr. Selby, someone whom I knew and admired. I went down to see him and discussed the future with him. I came back happy that, doctor or no doctor, he would put his heart and soul into maintaining the therapeutic regime; and I had every hope that he could stop the deterioration of which we were complaining.

In 1985 (last year) as in 1983, the new chairman of the board of visitors wrote to the Home Secretary and to the regional controller informing them once again of the deep concern felt by the board and asking for a sensible review of the situation. As reported in their annual report of 1985, they said that a critical situation had arisen because of staff shortages and cash limits imposed on overtime. The result had been the cancellation of evening classes and physical education sessions and—this is the most sinister thing—the governor told the board that the continuance of therapy was under threat. The chairman comments in the report: Surprisingly, this letter was not acknowledged. I fear that to old hands this will be no great surprise.

Last February, my noble friend Lord Hunt went down to see for himself what was going on, after discussions with us. He will be making his own report to your Lordships in a few minutes. It seems that our fears were justified, that in increasing the number of patients at Grendon and intensifying the work, the Home Office were in fact allowing the therapeutic regime to crumble. This was because, through difficulties we all know only too well, they had failed to accompany their intensification of workload with the promised increase of staff.

This is where we came in three years ago. This is the same old story: appreciation of what is being done but total failure to implement it. This failure is now critical. The current cut is for 124,000. Ten staff were lost last year with several expected to go this year. Dr. Spencer, a pyschiatric consultant, tells me he is in despair and the Prison Officers' Association has issued an extract from a letter from Dr. Kilgour, the senior medical officer, saying the same thing. The position could really hardly be worse at the moment.

I feel sure that the Minister is not going to tell us that he and the Home Secretary have changed their minds about the value of Grendon to the prison service. I am sure he will tell us, as his colleagues have told us twice before, and now for the third year running, that the department is taking the greatest care to preserve the psychological subtleties which are needed to establish and maintain a therapeutic atmosphere in the community and that some temporary shortages of staff will soon be overcome. I can only say that though the bellman claimed, "What I tell you three times is true", I cannot accept such a claim from the Minister today, as the evidence is quite otherwise.

I do not think we can let things go on as they are, with the Home Secretary and his department saying that they value the Grendon regime as an important part of the prison service while the people who are trying to work it say it is in the process of being undermined and will eventually cease to exist as such. It seems to me that the Home Secretary and his advisers wrongly believe that they can run a regime of this kind, with the most intractable human material, at half cock. In my opinion, that would be worse than scrapping the whole thing and accepting Grendon as just another holding prison. If the Home Secretary says, with the prison service labouring under its dreadful difficulties which we do not deny, that he can no longer continue the Grendon regime which depends for its effectiveness on full and proper staffing, we shall attack his judgment but not his propriety. What I beg him not to do is to accept half-baked advice from his advisers and allow the regime slowly and very expensively to deteriorate.

I was brought up by my nanny to believe that if a thing is worth doing at all, it is worth doing well. That is an aphorism which has enabled me with a good conscience to avoid doing some things which I expect that I should have done. However, the Government in 1962 decided that Grendon was worth doing and laid down conditions that enabled it to be done well. The aphorism contradicts its companion maxim: Half a loaf is better than no bread". Half a therapeutic regime is worse than no therapeutic regime and is virtually money wasted.

May I turn for a minute to the question of whether the Grendon regime can be justified morally or practically? I do not think that anyone will doubt that there are a certain number of irrational and irresponsible individuals among Her Majesty's prisons' collection of offenders who are not ordinary petty offenders or ordinary professional or political offenders who commit the most serious crimes. Those people, though demonstrably short of real psychosis and not certifiable as insane, suffer from some mental disorder or, as we tend to say today, from serious personality problems. They do not seem motivated by the ordinary human desires which so often lead to crime—greed, lust, jealousy and revenge. A fair number of them are conscious that they have something wrong and, properly approached, are prepared to accept help.

Sir Norwood East, in the 'thirties, recognised that type of offender as someone whom ordinary prison could not help and could not contain effectively without danger to other prisoners and staff. He put up a strong case for a special therapeutic prison to deal with those mentally disordered folk, and Grendon was the result. Apart from what most of us see as a moral duty, to look properly after people whom we have shut up as punishment or for the protection of the public, there is a considerable practical gain in isolating that category of disruptive inmate rather than leave them to make trouble in other prisons.

Grendon has worked to a very large extent. Its success has been in containing difficult and violent men, without violence and with no escapes bar one in 25 years, and with a population of really explosive potential. Every inmate has come of his own free will for treatment.

Three years ago I gave the following population breakdown, and it has hardly changed today. The average age is 25; the average number of previous convictions is 11; the percentage of suicide attempts before coming to Grendon is 70 per cent. and the percentage of violent actions before coming to Grendon is 80 per cent. In a follow-up of 100 men from Grendon with convictions for offences of extreme violence—by which I mean grievous bodily harm, rape with violence, manslaughter and murder—two years after release 40 per cent. remained free and had not been reconvicted; 30 per cent. had been convicted of non-violent offences and only 30 per cent. had been convicted of violent offences. That must be read against the current reconviction rate of 58 per cent. for all male releases, including first offenders, of whom only one-third were violent offenders, whereas in our sample every man was a man of violence. To succeed to that extent, with a population as difficult as Grendon's, is a real achievement.

Let me end by quoting the Prison Commissioners' definition of Grendon's primary tasks which was given in 1963: Grendon's three primary tasks will be to investigate and treat mental disorders generally recognised as responsive to treatment, to investigate offenders whose offences in themselves suggest mental morbidity, and to explore the problem of dealing with the psychopath. The prisoners … selected will be those whose mental disorder is not of such a nature and degree to qualify for …... transfer to a hospital under section 72 of the Mental Health Act but who require psychiatric treatment and management". I maintain that for 20 years, from 1962 to 1982, those tasks were being carried out successfully. A change of policy in 1983 has led, as we warned the Government that it would, to a serious deterioration in the effectiveness of the work done there. The key problem is one of staff numbers and staff training. My noble friend Lord Hunt will describe that from a first-hand investigation, and the noble Lords, Lord Mishcon and Lord Graham of Edmonton, will say something from the prison officers' point of view.

I repeat my request that the Government should make up their mind one way or the other. I urge them to accept that Grendon's work is worth keeping going at the level set by Dr. Gray during his first 12 years. That means adopting one of two courses—either reduce the number of patients or increase the staff at least to the old ratio under Dr. Gray. Anything less will not deal with the situation. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.26 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I have been informed by the Government Chief Whip that there is no formal restriction on our speeches this afternoon, but I do not intend to abuse the opportunity, if only because the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, has made such a powerful case that I do not know that I can add a great deal to it. As he said, he was chairman of the board of visitors for 10 years. I do not have that degree of knowledge. I first visited Grendon in 1963 and I have visited more than once in the meantime. I visited Grendon this morning so as to be up to date for the benefit of your Lordships.

Every now and again, during these penal debates, I say that we should have another Grendon. We should not be confined to one. We should have more than one. However, that is looking ahead a little. Nothing that I say commits the governor of Grendon. I have talked to people widely. I do not commit him to the view that I shall explain. The view this morning was that Grendon will be lucky to survive. That is what we are fighting for. The noble Lord is leading us to fight for survival.

We must ask the Minister to say clearly whether the Government value the Grendon adventure. We do not just want promises. I call it an adventure because it is something different. The essence of Grendon was that it was different from other prisons. There have been other experiments in prisons. Some of them have been soft-pedalled with the passing of the years. The open prisons have not been used to their full extent, nor for that matter has the hostel scheme. Every now and again the Home Office and people involved with it have good ideas, but they gradually play them down.

There is a widespread feeling inside Grendon, and out of it, that the Government wish it no good. Being a diplomatic man, the noble Lord was tactful. He was not speaking from the Front Bench but he was speaking in the spirit of the Front Bench. He has a great sense of responsibility and he said he was not going to criticise the Government, the Home Office or anybody else. He then went on to make a strong implied criticism, which perhaps is the most effective way of doing it. I criticise all concerned. I think that it has been a lamentable story.

I shall look into one or two of the details. The noble Lord referred to staff. I was at Grendon this morning and I collected some figures. As the noble Lord explained, the number of inmates was more or less doubled a few years ago. But there are now fewer staff than there were—I feel able to underline a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, if he does not mind—when the number of prisoners was half what it is now. The noble Lord, with all his skill and finesse, will find it impossible to answer that effectively and I only hope that at the end of the day he will just take back these criticisms and assure the Home Secretary that there is widespread and very hostile criticism of what has been done to Grendon.

There has been a betrayal of the Grendon ideal over the last few years. You can only call it that. If you have double the number of prisoners and reduce the total staff you cannot do much worse. The general feeling there is that it is deliberate. The noble Lord may say that it is no such thing; that it is muddle. But if it is not deliberate it is very hard to see how that has come about. At this moment, there is an allocation of 82 disciplinary officers and there are 59 employed; there is an allocation of 38 nursing officers and there are 26 employed. In other words, even by the low standards which the Government are setting themselves at the moment, there is a total failure to keep faith with Grendon.

In my time I have criticised Ministers over many years, but I have never criticised this Minister who is less to blame—I certainly do not blame him—and who will find it impossible to answer. There is no way of answering these matters. All he can do, if I may respectfully venture to say so, is to convey the indignation of all who know anything about this to the Home Secretary.

But let us just look at Grendon. Is the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, who is always so acceptable here, going to be able to say clearly that the Government value the Grendon experiment? Is he going to say that it will be kept in being, or is he going to equivocate? He would not wish to equivocate; he is not an equivocal man. But will he give a clear undertaking that Grendon will go on? Will he be able to say that the Government value what Grendon is doing?

Let me say a few words about the Grendon idea. I should have thought it was best described as therapeutic. Some people use words like "psychiatric" or "medical", but let us call it therapeutic. It is in that respect different from the other prisons. All sorts of progressive ideas have been tried at different times in prisons such as Maidstone, but this was something different. Is it still different or is it gradually being assimulated into the ordinary run of more or less unsatisfactory prisons? Will it still be different? Here I think I can quote the governor on this point. He assured me this morning that there is no intention of altering the conception. I accept that as his intention, but will the Government live up to that firm purpose on the part of the governor?

I have to say a word here—in a way I would rather avoid the matter—on the question of whether one should have a governor with medical qualifications. No one would deny, and the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, would not deny, that a great deal was achieved in the time of Dr. Gray that could hardly have been achieved by someone who was not a doctor. That is a matter of history. I am not saying that it is necessary to have a medical person in charge; it may well be that such a person is not available and that may have been the case recently. So I am not saying that it is necessary. But I am bound to say that when you do not have a doctor in charge it is widely understood that the ethos is being altered and that has been widely understood about Grendon.

I happen to have a very high regard for the present governor. He was grossly ill-treated a little while ago in connection with Brixton and I wish him well in every possible sense. I know that he is completely dedicated to making sure that the conception of Grendon remains, but I do not see how it can remain as we knew it in the days of Dr. Gray.

I want to touch on one point which arises on the Motion and which I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, had time to mention; that is, the question of the training of staff. As I said earlier, the disciplinary staff who are untrained medically amount to two-thirds of the staff and the nursing staff represent perhaps one-third. They have had six months' training, which is not long enough, but they have had medical training. I submit that if it is to be the therapeutic prison that we want, all concerned ought to have had some therapeutic training.

I do not want to say more about that. Anyone who knows Grendon today will agree that the ordinary disciplinary staff are showing an exceptional degree of care for the prisoners, so that to some extent the ethos continues, and I shall not make any criticism of those who are now working in the prison. But the fact is that if Grendon is to be something quite remarkable, as it should be, all concerned should have had some therapeutic training.

I shall not say more because, in a way, what one says is counter-productive, and it is as if there was some extraordinary emotional aspect towards it. But I had not been to Grendon for some time and I was horrified when I learnt what is happening through the fault of no one there, but through the fault of the department which the noble Lord represents in this House.

3.36 p.m.

Lord Hutchinson of Lullington

My Lords, I should like to enlarge a little the scope of this debate, a debate which was so impressively opened by my noble friend Lord Donaldson who knows more about Grendon than anybody else in this House—even more than the noble Earl, and that is saying quite a lot. What Grendon does, and has been doing for over 20 years, is of crucial importance not only to the inmates of the institution, but to every one of us as members of the public at large.

In this age, violence has become the foremost concern of the ordinary citizen. Apart from the violence of governments, we see it on the streets in our daily lives and we are brought it by an almost gloating media into our homes every day. Grendon uniquely confronts violence head-on, not with reciprocal violence, not with any media retaliation or retribution, but with cool, constructive down-to-earth analysis, observation and experimentation using the raw material itself—men convicted of crimes of violence, often repeatedly, as we have heard. In this establishment there is therefore a great fund of knowledge and established fact as to why men repeatedly resort to violent anti-social behaviour, how such men can be managed behind bars and how they can learn to accept responsibility for themselves and gain insight into why they behave as they do.

My first plea to the Minister is to recognise the unique work of Grendon, to recognise its central relevance to the law and order problem and to prove that recognition by giving priority to its funding and to its staffing requirements. I implore him not to fob us off with a lecture on current restrictions on public expenditure. We are dealing with priorities, not with the question of restrictions on expenditure, and here, surely, is an overwhelming priority.

My second plea to the Minister is to spread the knowledge and experience of Grendon throughout the prison system wherever men and women of violence are being held. The lessons of Grendon must be applied more widely. The special unit at Wormwood Scrubs was an invaluable spin-off from Grendon and, largely because of the row that we made in this House, that unit was saved from extermination when the government of the day tried to shut it down a few years ago.

I would ask the Minister: is it now in full operation and in full health today? I would also ask him: is the unit at Parkhurst operating now? The unit at Holloway was doing invaluable work until the late governor saw fit to destroy it and to condemn the 20 or 30 disturbed women in that prison to the outrageous and notorious C Wing, which is now being rebuilt and rethought largely as a result of protests in this House.

I further ask the Minister: which is the more intelligent and the more effective approach to the problem of violent criminals? Is it the Tebbit line, the line of sublime ignorance advanced so ironically recently from a pulpit in a place of Christian worship, of longer and longer sentences, of incarceration in the dustbins of our society? Or is it the line of Leon Brittan for lifers of 20 years' minimum imprisonment with no review, no reappraisal, no reward for remorse or reform for at least 18 years? Or, my Lords, is it the careful building on the experience and knowledge of Grendon, to get at what it is that brings men to violence, to learn how to defuse their frustration, their intolerance and their contempt for authority?

The first lesson from Grendon, surely, is that it organises the prison into six wings, each an entity of 40 or so men; a policy, incidentally, recommended by the all-party penal affairs group, in its largely unnoticed but I suggest remarkable publication on life sentence prisoners. Secondly, it operates free association within each wing, freeing the institution at a stroke from the suffocating atmosphere of the turnkey and the clanging of metal doors, the pervading atmosphere of tension to be found in other prisons. Thirdly, and above all, its philosophy, jealously maintained by the inmates themselves, that each man must in the end be responsible for himself, a philosophy practised not by the use of psychotropic drugs or tranquillisers which are banned from use in Grendon but by the creation of groups, including members of the staff, where inmates talk out without restriction their individual problems of aggression.

These inmates are, as we have already heard from the noble Lord, the most difficult persons within the prisons. Twenty per cent. are lifers, and as we have heard no fewer than 70 per cent. have a history of attempted suicide, most of them with long lists of previous convictions for violence. None of them qualifies for hospital treatment because they do not suffer from a diagnosable mental illness, yet they are disturbed, inward-looking with a low tolerance of frustration and aggression, and many are what we used to call psychopaths, a phrase which—thank goodness—is no longer used; men with a personality disorder who are liable to violent, explosive and often infantile behaviour, unable to form relationships; men who are inward-looking, isolated and very, very difficult to change.

The Tebbit approach leads inevitably to the continuing deteriorating circle of events: aggression, crime, punishment; aggression, segregation, release; aggression, crime, punishment, and so on. Grendon breaks that vicious circle. It is a plain fact that there is no violence within this prison. There have been no attacks on the staff, there is no self-mutilation or attempted or successful suicide. The regime is built on gaining self-knowledge and insight and taking responsibility for oneself. Within the group verbal violence is allowed, but outside the group the inmates see to it that there is no violence. The men help each other to work out their frustrations, they share their experiences and above all learn to live with their own abnormal and difficult selves.

My Lords, of course you cannot hear such people, you cannot guarantee that they will not re-offend, but these prisoners at least know something of themselves when they leave that prison, they are aware of their intolerance and aggression and find it possible to deal with the natures which they have.

In the present hysteria about the offence of rape, demands are being made—and regrettably even in this House—that convicted rapists should be castrated—no doubt a foremost Tebbit reform. What does Grendon discover? Such men are not oversexed, the drive towards violence is not libidinal, it is aggressive. Such men are often deeply depressed in the medical sense, they suffer from acute self-depreciation, lack of trust, they are withdrawn, unwanted and often in their own belief impotent and unattractive. In the ordinary prison the authorities accept as inevitable that such persons, particularly if involved with children, are picked on, despised and often assaulted. They are therefore segregated and the causes of their aggression are intensified.

At Grendon they share the routine of all the prisoners, they participate equally in group therapy, they are helped by other inmates to gain insight into the realities of their otherwise fantasy existence. For the continuation and success of the unique contribution that Grendon is making, the staff ratio, the number of inmates, and the continuity of staff must be kept to the figures which are laid down. Overcrowding, understaffing and changes of staff simply kill the regime and the institution then has no purpose.

My own aphorism, not gleaned from any nanny, I may say, is that you cannot maintain a great orchestra by cutting out half the violins. I ask the Minister: should not Grendon be overseen by a medical directorate or a special committee rather than simply the South-East regional office of the prison department? Would he seriously consider that? And would he tell us whether the staff has increased proportionately to the increase in inmates?

We are taking part in a so-called short debate, but as I have come to realise over the years, when penal matters are discussed in this House only on the rarest occasions is there any contribution from the Benches opposite. The knowledge, the experience and the concern seem always to be concentrated in quite large numbers on this side of the House and repeatedly we tend to speak with one voice. There is no debate. Why is it that the Tebbit philosophy is never argued here? Why are the hardliners who go on the air and into print never prepared to stand up and debate these issues in this House? When it comes to a vote on a reform for which we have pressed for years and years in debate after debate, the Party opposite will flow into the lobbies and vote it down. Yet on these crucial questions raised by my noble friend Lord Donaldson and spoken to by noble Lords with long experience and knowledge which override all party political considerations, we hear absolutely nothing from any speaker on the other side of the House.

I hope that the Minister will respond with more than mere polite concern and charm. We have warned the Government for years over the prison officers' plight, on the situation of remand prisoners, on the excessive use of custody, on the demise of law centres, on the breakdown of legal aid and the emasculation of the legal services. I regret to have to say that I have little confidence in the future of Grendon.

3.50 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I rise to speak conscious that I am surrounded by noble Lords extremely well qualified to participate in this debate. I begin by declaring my interest in that I speak in this House on behalf of and with the authority of the Prison Officers' Association. We are not short of documentation in respect of Grendon. I should like to begin by claiming the attention of the Minister whose words on the "Today" programme this morning I heard with appreciation. At the end of a discussion on a separate but not wholly unrelated topic the Minister concluded his remarks by saying that prison officers are a caring profession and they are concerned with the care of those in their charge, or words to that effect. He set the tone for what I hope will be a good day in every respect.

We are here this afternoon not to air grievances and complaints. As previous speakers have demonstrated, we are full of concern and fear about the possible disintegration of an experiment which has been referred to more than once as the jewel in the crown of the prison department. There are those who have spoken with a background of experience and knowledge. The very first speaker encompasses all those qualities. The previous speaker referred to that in his impressive opening. The noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, made that reference to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, and I entirely agree with him. I very much hope that the Minister will understand that we are here today not to berate him or his right honourable friend but to ask him, perhaps before it is too late, to recognise the seriousness of the deterioration of the position at Grendon. It is not a question of something that has happened this year or last year; the statistics will show that the people involved—the medical staff and the prison officers—have been under stress for a long time.

Grendon suffers from a syndrome which is felt throughout the prison service. It rests on an attempt to accommodate major changes on a nil cost basis. It is impossible to do that. It is sad, but at Grendon and at other prison establishments prison officers have fewer and fewer facilities to divert prisoners from engaging in bad behaviour. It is inevitable in the current situation that this will lead to a contraction in the facilities for the inmates. At Grendon, and through the prison service, there is a need for adequate staffing levels to deal with the tasks that have been laid down; laid down not by prison officers but laid down sensibly and fairly after consultation over a wide range of disciplines involved in these matters.

It should not be the only priority for those in management to be concerned to remain within budgets. To remain within budgets is one of a number of imperatives but, at the end of the day, particularly at Grendon, it ought not to be the sole criterion for judgment. There is an increase in the risk factor and for the safety not only of prison officers but of other civilians who are in prison service. It is quite clear—I have figures which are not wholly relevant here—that there is a marked increase in the number of assaults and of disciplinary actions as the stress and strain brought about by a diminution in adequate staffing become apparant.

I referred to documentation. We can always go to the Report on the work of the Prison Department 1984/85. On page 69 under the sub-heading Advisory Committee on Grendon it states: The Advisory Committee, which reports to the Director General of the Prison Service, is chaired by Dr. J. L. Kilgour, Director of Prison Medical Services. The membership includes the Governor, Mr. Michael Selby, Dr. Malcolm Faulk, Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist, Wessex Regional Health Authority". We are told about a report which was submitted in February 1985. The committee made 30 recommendations. I cannot believe that the Minister is not sufficiently well briefed to tell this House how many of those 30 recommendations have been carried into effect some 15 months later. I invite him to tell the House precisely what has been done.

I have the list of recommendations before me and I simply draw attention to some of them: The involvement of prison officers in therapy as part of a multidisciplinary team should continue". Can the Minister comment on that? The rescue unit should be staffed by psychiatrically qualified doctors and registered mental nurses". Can we be told about that? When the pressure of numbers on the prison service reduces, consideration should be given to lowering the adult therapy wings to 35 prisoners". What has been done about that? The number of both professional and prison officer staff at Grendon should be kept to near the authorised staffing level". I can tell the Minister what has happened about that. I am told that the sad situation at Grendon—it may not be up-to-date; these figures are from this morning—is that the authorised staffing level, excluding works, is 178. That figure was agreed, conceived and negotiated by the manpower department—I believe P6—which said that in the light of the CNA one needs 178. This morning there were 136. How on earth does the Minister, let alone the House and the people outside, expect, with a shortfall of 42 officers—a quarter of the total—tasks to be completed successfully from the community's point of view?

I am told that the budget for overtime is always controversial. Last year's budget was £693,000, albeit to meet the shortfall in the number of full-time officers required. This year £817,000 was requested and only £693,000 was agreed. Last year the overtime required to keep Grendon afloat was £759,000. Reference was made to the decline in numbers. There are 12 fewer staff this year than last year. With 12 fewer staff the very least one would need is more overtime to be paid to fulfil the tasks. Yet I am told that the overtime total has been reduced. The position is very serious.

It has been said that it is impossible for prison officers to do their job. Perhaps I may read from a letter in The Times today. It comes from the secretary of the Association of Prison Dental Surgeons, who was commenting on an observation by Mr. Eric Caines, the Prison Department's director of finance and personnel. Mr. Caines had referred to "the restrictive practices" of prison officers. Mr. Bamber, the association secretary, writes today: My members find that often the only reason that they are able to continue to treat patients, with the present shortage of prison staff, is due to the flexible attitude of the prison officers. It is often forgotten that many of the improvements in conditions that have come about in recent years within prisons have arisen not from the Prison Department but due to pressure from the Prison Officers' Association". As other noble Lords have said, this is not an attempt to corner or berate the Minister. We want him to understand the great gap between that which we are told by those on the ground who operate the system and that which he is told by those who manage the system, who are perhaps not as close to the day-to-day operations.

Reference was made by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, to the serious situation at Grendon at this time. He mentioned information supplied by the Prison Officers' Association. I have received a communication from the POA in which it draws my attention to serious expressions of concern that have been coming from the senior medical officer at Grendon. He writes: Superimposed on our undermanned (in staff terms) and overpopulated (in patient terms) regime, the year's budget is a disaster. Because of last year's drastic cut-back in the treatment progamme, treatment has barely been possible". And we are talking about treatment. We are talking about therapy and about therapeutic communities and regimes. He continues: The medical and psychology staff believe that we should dissociate ourselves from a regime that is no longer one of treatment but one of control and containment". I feel very sad, having listened to those who speak with the experience of previous speakers and having followed these matters for 25 years, that Grendon has come to this. It is certainly far removed from the aspirations of 20 or 25 years ago.

In conclusion, I want to say to the Minister that the Prison Officers' Association does not wish, here or anywhere else, to dictate manning levels. It does not challenge management's right to manage. What it wants to see is secure, humane conditions where staff safety can march alongside inmate security.

The Minister has a good opportunity at a terribly difficult time—and I say that sincerely, with all the pressures that are being placed upon him, upon his resources and upon his capacity—to reassure those who feel concern, not only from the staff point of view but also from the community point of view, that, if what we believe is wrong is as stated, he has plans to put the situation right. I hope very much that he will be able to respond helpfully this afternoon.

4.3 p.m.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Donaldson has given the background to the unique quality of Grendon from his long association with that special prison. I speak today against a background only of two visits paid more than 10 years ago, when I was chairman of the Parole Board, but brought up to date by a recent visit last February. I presume to add my voice of concern to today's debate, for which I thank my noble friend, against a background of a fairly long acquaintance with the very different and differing conditions in the majority of our prisons in England, Wales and Scotland.

As my noble friend Lord Hutchinson stressed, Grendon is unique among our penal establishments in being the only prison whose total purpose and commitment has been, from the outset 25 years ago, to provide the specialised regime that my noble friend Lord Donaldson has described.

That regime has also achieved remarkable results with violent and dangerous men, and nothing I have heard or seen over the years has diminished my belief in it. It has been described by two former criminals who were notorious in their day but who are now reformed characters and have broken free from that vicious circle of crime. John McVicar, who has written about his prison experiences, commented: This kind of regime is designed to break down the subculture in which the criminal lives". Jimmy Boyle, who is an equally well known ex-offender and who underwent a similar form of treatment at Barlinnie Prison in Scotland, had this to say: Every one of us had to look at himself, warts and all, probably for the first time in his life". Grendon contains just such men as those two were in their criminal days. They are serving substantial sentences for serious crimes of violence—few would dispute that—and before such people complete their determinate sentences, a very determined effort must be made to turn them away from their propensity to violence, and as my noble friend Lord Hutchinson has said, it is very much in the public interest that that effort should be made.

To visit Grendon—and I am talking of my earlier visits—was, and to an important extent still is, a remarkable and impressive experience. With the sole exception of the governor, the staff and the inmates are all on first-name terms. The whole atmosphere is relaxed, despite a full and demanding programme; or at least that used to be the case, and hereby hangs a tale about which I shall say a few words in a moment. And it has depended upon a high ratio of staff to inmates. It was the whole philosophy of Dr. Gray that it should be one-to-one.

The face to face, personal relationship of course imposes considerable demands on the staff but also upon the prisoners themselves. It is most noteworthy—and my noble friend Lord Hutchinson has made this point—that there have been no assaults on staff, despite reported assaults on staff in other prisons. The nub of the problem, as has been made amply clear to your Lordships this afternoon by others who have spoken, is that as the prison population has soared, there has been a shortage of staff to meet the principle established by Dr. Gray.

That principle has been endorsed on more than one occasion—my noble friend Lord Donaldson referred to a letter from Mr. Leon Brittan when he was Home Secretary to Mr. Kilroy-Silk as one such occasion—but the means are lacking. Mr. Leon Brittan, in a letter to the chairman of the All-Party Penal Affairs Group on 22nd February 1984, assured him that Grendon would benefit from the recruitment of more than 5,000 additional prison officers in the next four financial years. That forecast has not yet shown results at Grendon. The contrary has been the case. In informal conversations with officers of the POA executive that I had recently, I understand that recruitment is flagging.

As regards the question of ratio, the figures have been given by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. I will only say that when I was at Grendon in February, the ratio stood at 148 uniformed staff to 235 inmates. I understand that the number of staff has gone down, while the number of inmates is very much the same today, so the situation has deteriorated.

I should like to stress that the governor and staff have done their very best to compensate for that shortfall of 40 staff, or 20 per cent. of the requirement, as it was when I was last at Grendon, by the expedient of overtime at about 17½ hours per officer per week. That expedient has recently been seriously undermined by Home Office budgetary cuts, as we have heard, in rest time working to produce a saving in the Grendon budget of £124,000 in the current financial year.

That cut has already forced the governor, so I understand, to eliminate overtime work on one day a week, and from early next month it will be necessary to further reduce it by eliminating such work on three days of the week. As a response to that decision there is now, I believe, a threat by the uniformed staff not to participate in group therapy sessions which are (need I stress?) the very essence of the programme. That amounts—and no one could dispute it—to a crisis which puts the future of the prison as a therapeutic institution seriously in doubt.

Even as recently as my visit last February, before the overtime issue had cropped up, I came away very seriously concerned. The shortage of uniformed staff has had, among others, the following effects. It has eroded the education programme; eliminated evening classes and reduced the morning sessions. All three workshops have had to be closed. Recreational activities have had to be severely restricted. This was the source of a very strongly voiced grievance among the younger prisoners with whom I spent a half-hour session trying to answer the questions put to me.

Another effect is that insufficient officers were even then available to take part in all the group and unit therapeutic discussions. Members of the probation staff, with whom I also spent considerable time, are doing their best to fill in but it is only at the expense of their own priority work—their proper job—of social work with prisoners and through care liaison with the families outside.

Finally, and to me the most important point of all, it is having a severe effect on the very special and difficult training that is required of the staff at Grendon. Apart from their generic training they learn on the job, and if there are not enough officers to do the essential jobs the training of new officers is bound to suffer. In those circumstances the prisoners have too much unfilled time on their hands. I cannot stress too strongly the importance of a full programme of education, work and recreation as an antidote to boredom and as a necessary counterpart of the therapy to get at the root of the psychological and emotional problems behind the crimes which inmates have committed.

I have three questions to put to the Minister, but before doing so I wish to say this. Grendon is fortunate in having a governor and staff dedicated to this highly specialised and demanding work. Their concern and sense of frustration today—I would not say despondency, but frustration—are a measure of that loyalty and dedication. There is, too, deep concern among the prisoners at Grendon who do their best to co-operate and to create that climate of community which is the very essence of the philosophy of Dr. Gray.

My questions are these, and I am adding to the questions already asked. Can the Minister reassure the House about the prospects for increased staffing at Grendon without increasing the number of inmates held, as Mr. Leon Brittan led the Parliamentary All Party Penal Affairs Group to expect? My second question arises from Her Majesty's Inspector of Prisons report—Sir James Hennessy's report—published in June 1984, which pointed to the need for research by internal audit and on the effects of specialised treatment afterwards, and also on the reasons that Grendon receives such a very small number of black offenders at the prison. That recommendation for research was endorsed by the advisory committee on the therapeutic regime at Grendon in its report published in July 1984, in recommendations 26, 27 and 28.

Mr. Brittan, who was replying to a Question from Mr. William Cash, MP, in another place in July 1984, said: I have asked the prison department to consider how, and at what speed, the objectives of the Advisory Committee can be achieved". What, therefore, is the position on research?

Finally—and I am repeating a question put in another way by my noble friends—can the noble Lord assure the House that the policy for Grendon's continuing role as a therapeutic establishment is firm and secure for the future despite present appearances? Will he confirm that it remains very much in the public interest to maintain the unique character of this, one of the few among our prisons of which we have real cause to be proud? Grendon is, or should be, treated as a special case.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, may I be permitted to disclose what is very doubtful as an interest in order to comply as strictly as I would want to with your Lordships' rules? I am the senior partner of a firm of solicitors which has for many years acted as legal advisers to the Prison Officers' Association.

As has been said, this debate was so well initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson. Tributes have been paid to him this afternoon and on previous occasions—and rightly so—not only for his knowledge of prison conditions but for his care in regard to prison conditions which is so often expressed by him in this House with a very authoritative voice.

In winding up this very useful and necessary debate, perhaps it would be of use to remind ourselves of the purposes of the prison we are talking about and which has quite obviously reached a very critical situation in its history. What I want to do, if I may—it is a very short but extremely adequate quotation—is to read to your Lordships the introductory paragraph, dealing with those objects, to the report of the Chief Inspector of Prisons on Grendon and Spring Hill; but obviously I am referring particularly to Grendon.

The report was issued in October 1985 and the paragraph reads as follows: The aims of the establishment were to evolve a regime which in itself was therapeutic; to attempt for the first time, in an English prison, a therapeutic community approach to the psychiatric treatment of non-psychotic recidivist offenders with moderate to severe personality disorders; and to report the results. The three primary tasks of the establishment were seen as first, the investigation and treatment of mental disorders generally recognised as responsive to treatment; secondly, the investigation of offenders whose offences in themselves suggested mental morbidity; and thirdly, the exploration of the problem of dealing with the psychopath. The introduction of group therapy was seen as the principal means of breaking down the barriers between prison officers and prisoner and thus fostering the development of a treatment ethos. There have been many debates on prisons, penology, crime and punishment, and there has been a golden thread running through those debates. It is the need, where possible, for there to be curative treatment and a care for prisoners who warrant it. So many times have we talked in terms of the valuable relationship between prison officers and inmate. This was a great experiment of the caring prison officer, assisted medically by specialists in that field, to see what could be done by group treatment to help those who were afflicted by a disorder of some sort in their personalities.

In the course of this debate figures have been quoted that I shall not repeat, but there was a report of Gunn and Roberston in 1982 on the evaluation of Grendon, which was published in Abnormal Offenders—Delinquency and the Criminal Justice System. They reported, a reduction in prisoners' neurotic features; an increase in prisoners' self-confidence; an improvement in prisoners' attitudes towards authority, and—a figure which at first struck me as discouraging—a 70 per cent. reconviction rate within two years. Then I found something which was encouraging and which was statistically most important: there was only a 30 per cent. reconviction rate within two years for prisoners who had been in Grendon longer than 13 months. This shows that, within a reasonable time in which one would expect treatment to take effect, there had been a very solid reduction in the figures for those who were returning to prison as a result of having committed a crime.

Others of your Lordships who are more knowledgeable than I have spoken about the worth of this great experiment. I want merely to say to your Lordships that, as I believe the noble Lord the Minister will acknowledge, we are this afternoon considering one of the very valuable institutions in our prison service and our social life. I must say, as did the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson—and I shall put this comment more in the form of a question than a complaint—that it is extraordinary that, when we are dealing with such vital matters as prison and social reform, there is not one single Back-Bench Member on the Government side who feels it worthwhile to contribute to this debate. I shall answer the question myself. With the charity that I hope I always have and goodwill towards membership of this House on whichever seats their Lordships sit, I shall take it for granted that their absence from the speakers' list was owing to their acute embarrassment after having studied the conditions and the current situation in Grendon, and they felt that they should not further embarrass the Minister when he came to reply. I pay tribute to their loyalty.

I shall continue with what I have to say, and come immediately to the question of crisis. What is the crisis that is at present before what I have no hesitation in calling this great institution? I have two comments to make to your Lordships. First of all the organisation which is so well known to us in this House when we talk in terms of social problems, the National Association for Mental Health, the chairman of which is my noble friend Lord Ennals, has taken a great interest in conditions at Grendon. The association has been good enough to supply me with their reactions to the present conditions, which correspond completely with the summary that was given by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in the course of his authoritative speech to your Lordships following the visits that he made. They record the critical situation as follows: A reduction in the education programme—evening classes have closed and day classes are reduced; closure of workships; restriction of recreational activities; reduction in prison officer participation in group therapy; reported frustration and despondency among prison officers and anxiety and cynicism among prisoners". I am entitled to call that a crisis situation.

The second item that I want to bring to the attention of your Lordships is a very contemporary one. On 1st April, as a result of the economies enforced upon this prison to date, the governor had to issue the following instructions: 1. As from 7 April a reduced task line will be worked on one day a week, namely Monday, at Grendon. 2. In addition, the first 11 tasks on the reducing task list will be permanently cut. 3. On 5 May to keep within budget, it will be necessary to introduce a 3 day restricted task line (as well as the weekend), unless other means of saving can be achieved". I report to your Lordships that, as a result of minor industrial action that was taken, the notice was withdrawn. Immediately I address myself to the Minister: it has been withdrawn, but for how long will it be withdrawn? Can the noble Lord the Minister assure us that no instructions such as those which I have read out to your Lordships, or anything like them, need be given in the future?

I said that there was a crisis. I do not understand what is happening in regard to some of our social services—and I say this perfectly frankly to your Lordships. We are told that the rate of inflation has now been reduced to a very small figure, and in those circumstances one assumes that prices and costs have not considerably increased. We are told by the Government each time we ask a question about unsatisfactory standards, be they in hospitals, in institutions, in the care of the aged, in homes or whatever, that much more money has been piled into these services than was ever there prior to 1979. What is the reason for what, regardless of party differences, we ourselves know are the deficient standards in all these social services, including the prisons? Is it a lack of efficiency? Is it because of wrongful priorities in expenditure? We ought to be looking at this situation because I have no doubt that the noble Lord the Minister, in the course of his reply, will tell us again about the money that has been piled into prisons and new buildings, and yet we have crises of this nature. What is wrong?

Have our priorities gone wrong? One of the priorities about which we ought to be thinking very seriously—and I hope that the noble Lord the Minister will have some encouraging news for us—is what my noble friend Lord Graham has so rightly described, or rather repeated as the description of this prison, as "a jewel in the prison service".

Perhaps I may conclude by asking what possibly the Minister may think are some relevant questions. It was the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, I believe, who mentioned that an inquiry had been advocated by the advisory committee into its astonishing finding that the ethnic minorities contributed a very trivial percentage of the number of inmates at Grendon. It wondered why that should be so. I should therefore like to know whether the inquiry has been carried out and with what result.

In regard specifically to matters raised in the debate—I express again our appreciation from these Benches to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson—relating to the availability and level of prison officer training in psychotherapy and counselling, does the Minister and his department consider that this is adequate? The training was halted between 1982 and 1984. Has it been reinstated? As to the reduction in education and work opportunities, does he agree that the impact on the regime is obviously critical, leading to increased boredom and restlessness? What is he doing about it? I conclude merely by asking this question. Does the Home Office have long-term plans for Grendon and, if so, may the House be informed of them?

4.31 p.m.

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

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, has afforded us another valuable opportunity to debate the work of Grendon Prison. I join with those of your Lordships who have acknowledged that this is a subject on which the noble Lord speaks with special authority and expertise. All of us, I believe, are well aware of his long-standing involvement with, and great interest in, this particular establishment for which he served for many years as chairman of the board of visitors. I pay tribute to his work as I pay tribute to those who worked with him at Grendon.

The noble Earl, Lord Longford, was the first speaker this afternoon, following the opener, to ask me a direct question along the lines: "Do we value the Grendon venture?" I believe that "venture" was the word that he used. I must stress that Grendon does now, and will continue to, play an important role in our prison system. I wish, however, to make two preliminary points before going any further. The first is to express appreciation for the work that goes on in that prison. I shall have more to say about that later.

The second point is to explain that Grendon is of course part of a wider system. It is always right to focus on particular features of the system, and there is good reason to concentrate on Grendon. It has not been short of attention of this kind, for obvious and good reasons. But it is nevertheless part of the prison system. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has responsibility for the system as a whole and this must be the particular perspective that I bring to the debate because Grendon and the prison system are not mutually exclusive.

As the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, said, we had an opportunity to debate Grendon's work in February 1983. On that occasion, as now, his principal and understandable concern was for the maintenance and furtherance of the particular contribution that Grendon makes in the form of its special therapeutic regime. I visited Grendon about two years ago when I was in the DHSS, and I hope to go again in due course. I should like therefore to refer, in general, to the department's policy on mentally disordered offenders in the prison system. It has three facets. The first is to transfer out of prison and into hospital those mentally disordered prisoners who are detainable under the Mental Health Act 1983. The second is to maintain close liaison, in particular with the Department of Health and Social Security, on the provision of sufficient hospital places. The third is to try to provide appropriate regimes for those who have to stay in the prison system.

I am glad to be able to report that we are making headway with the transfer to hospital of prisoners who are mentally disordered within the terms of the 1983 Act. Moreover, we are collecting information about the number of mentally disordered prisoners who cannot be transferred under the 1983 Act to help us re-examine the provision that is made for them within the prison system.

The noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington, referred to other facilities within the prison system for such people. There are existing facilities at Grendon and also in the hospital annexe at Wormwood Scrubs, which is now open. The annexe concentrates on treatment of drug offenders and others who can benefit from the regime. There is also the C1 Unit at Holloway, together with facilities at Glen Parva and Feltham youth custody centres. As your Lordships will be aware, on 30th December last year the first of the special units for disruptive long-term prisoners, recommended by the control review committee, was opened at C Wing, Parkhurst. This unit will eventually hold up to 35 disruptive prisoners from the dispersal system who have a history, or show symptoms, of psychiatric disorder. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson's specific point, it has now about a dozen inmates and is developing in a most encouraging way.

I should say, too, that I am in touch with my noble friend Lady Trumpington, who has a special responsibility for mental health, about how, together, we might extend our existing co-operation between the Home Office and the DHSS in relation to mentally disordered offenders and the development of appropriate provision for them in prison, in hospital or somewhere else in the community. I have her agreement to say that she is sympathetic to our looking for ways to build on what is already being done. I hope that we shall be meeting shortly to map out the ground.

Grendon Prison will celebrate its 25th anniversary next year. It is a closed Category B establishment with a total certified normal accommodation of 190 adult prisoners and 69 young prisoners. It is run, as we have heard, as a collection of therapeutic communities. Each wing is a self-contained and independent unit with daily group meetings of staff and prisoners. Therapy, which is Grendon's whole ethos, is conducted primarily through these meetings by placing emphasis on participants accepting the consequences of, and taking responsibility for, their own actions. It is important, therefore, to understand that careful selection is necessary to find the right sort of person to go to Grendon. Not everyone is amenable to the features that Grendon offers.

The aim is to enable prisoners to mature and to modify their behaviour during their sentences. A secondary aim is to bring about longer-term improvements leading to better social functioning and an ability to act responsibly in the community outside. The group therapy process requires active participation. So, as I say, only inmates who are willing to go to Grendon are transferred there. The group therapy dimension means that there is less concentration on work than elsewhere, but facilities are available for a full range of activities.

As the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington, said, the governor of Grendon has a direct operational responsibility to the regional director of the South-East region. Responsibility for medical matters rests with a principal medical officer in the directorate of prison medical services. All the staff at Grendon are accountable to the governor through the deputy-governor on operational matters and through the senior medical officer on medical matters. So the medical oversight that the noble Lord seeks is, I believe, fully available.

The noble Earl, Lord Longford, expressed interest in the fact that the governor of Grendon, in this case, is not a doctor. The position is that when the last governor/medical superintendent Dr. Jillett, died in April 1983, the department looked for the best person for the post. That is, I believe, what the noble Earl would wish. The best person was appointed—as it happens, someone who is not a doctor. Future appointments to the post will also be made on the basis of the best person for the job.

In 1983 my noble friend Lord Elton made it clear that the Government were committed to Grendon's special contribution. He also made the point—and I recognise that this may not have been music to the ears of the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson—that it was: not possible to protect Grendon entirely from the pressures which bear so ineluctably on the rest of the prison system. That commitment stands, but the pressures are no less powerful. In February 1983, when we were last debating Grendon, the prison population stood at about 44,000. Last summer it exceeded 48,000. It is now about 46,600.

I mention those facts to set this debate further in context; but in doing so I must point out that our response to last year's surge in the prison population was swift and decisive. In successive statements my right honourable friend the then Home Secretary announced the recruitment of additional staff to relieve local prisons; and the provision at short notice of more than 2,000 places by advancing, reopening and rearranging accommodation and purchasing, converting and bringing into use (in 16 weeks) the RAF site at Lindholme.

This major work was undertaken against the background of a clear strategy designed to deliver the prison system from the threat of rises in the inmate population beyond the system's capacity, and to alleviate overcrowding, poor conditions and restrictvie regimes. And we continue to give priority to the prison building programme, which consists of 16 projects of which three have been opened; this will provide a total of 7,700 new places, other schemes providing a further 4,000. Much of the benefit and relief which this strategy will provide lies in the future. For the present, the pressures of population remain heavy.

The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, referred to a broadcast which I made this morning and it therefore may be appropriate if I say a few words about the industrial dispute which is currently threatened by the Prison Officers' Association, because if it were to come about it would have an effect upon Grendon as well as upon other establishments. The Government fully recognise the undoubted pressures on the prison service. These derive principally from the difficult nature of the job which prison officers have to do, whether they be in Grendon or anywhere else. That fact is widely appreciated both inside and outside this House, and it is also connected with the whole question of overcrowding.

I have already described what we are doing about overcrowding through the building programme. We have also recruited, and plan to continue to recruit, significant numbers of additional staff. Later in my reply I shall say more about the record levels of resources that we are now devoting to the service.

The Government have therefore expressed their support for the prison service not just in words but in actions. More and more resources are being provided for the service year in, year out. But there are also serious inflexibilities in working practices which have to be ironed out if the service is to make best use of the money being given to it.

We are by no means satisfied that existing systems of attendance and complementing allow us to make the best use of staff. For example, the shift systems rigidly determine when staff will be on duty regardless of whether that best matches the needs of the establishment. Indeed, Grendon provides a good example of that type of mismatch. The staff there work a shift system which was intended for use in local prisons and remand centres which have a heavy commitment to external court duties. The system means that staff are on duty in large numbers in the morning but are thin on the ground in the afternoons, evenings and at weekends.

Rigidities of that kind have led us to engage consultants to help us find better systems of complementing and attendance. Their report is due to be considered by the prisons' board within the next week or so and we hope that the outcome of the review will point the way forward to less inflexible and more efficient use of staff throughout the prison system

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, will the Minister take on board the letter which I read in The Times this morning? It was from someone whom I would describe as a comparatively disinterested person who very quickly tried to redress the balance of criticism about the inflexibility of the prison officers by pointing out that it was thanks to the flexibility of the prison officers that many prison regimes are capable of being carried on.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I, too, read that letter and it is a matter of judgment just how disinterested was the person who wrote the letter. However, rather than go into that letter now I should like to develop this important theme which I think the noble Lord in particular will agree concerns a very important matter.

The management of the prison service is seeking with the full support of Ministers to remove the inflexibilities to which I have referred and to do so in consultation with all the prison service trade unions, including the POA. I very much hope that even at this late hour the leadership of the POA, over which the noble Lord, Lord Graham, may have some influence, will pick up the repeated statements by the director general of the prison service of management's willingness to seek, through discussion, solutions to current problems. Much of great importance to the future of the prison service lies on the table for discussion. Industrial action will result not in victory for the prison officers but in damage to their interests as well as to those of the rest of the prison service.

Having set the scene, I return again specifically to Grendon. I should like at this point to refer to the important recent development to which several of your Lordships have alluded; namely, the establishment, work and first report of the Advisory Committee on the Therapeutic Regime at Grendon, known under the acronym ACTRAG. The committee was set up in March 1984 to review and monitor the therapeutic regime there, and with the aim of broadening the role it can play in the humane containment and treatment of inmates who require psychiatric facilities in the prison system. Its first report was published in July last year.

The committee's main recommendations were: first, Grendon should continue to concentrate in the main on group therapy, with the therapeutic communiity constituting the predominant form of group therapy; secondly, referral and induction arrangements should be improved; thirdly, the prison hospital should be reorganised and one floor converted for use as a small unit for the temporary care of prisoners suffering from acute psychiatric breakdown elsewhere in the prison system. The report also suggested the establishment of a research strategy and programme, and links with outside academic departments. It made recommendations too about staffing which are directly relevant to this debate. Those matters have been referred to, and I shall have something say about them soon.

We welcomed and accepted the broad thrust of the proposals in the report, in particular the recommendation that Grendon should continue to concentrate on group therapy. My right honourable friend the then Home Secretary had asked the prison department to consider how and at what speed the objectives of the committee could be achieved, having regard in particular to the resource implications.

Since July last year work has been progressing on several fronts, and ACTRAG's recommendations on research are being followed up. We are currently considering two research projects with outside academic institutions, one in the context of Grendon itself, the other going wider into the nature and extent of psychiatric abnormality in prisons. I hope that that gives some reassurance to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that we are taking that particular matter forward.

Secondly, the regional director was asked to undertake a full assessment of a number of key recommendations and of their resource implications. These concern staffing levels and staff selection, which are of course central to this debate; the establishment of an induction unit; the use of the first floor of the hospital exclusively for the physically and mentally ill; the conversion of the ground floor into a "rescue" unit for adult prisoners transferred from other establishments because they are experiencing an acute breakdown; and the staffing of that unit. The regional director's assessment has now been completed and will form the basis for devising an implementation plan within existing resource constraints.

Obviously all this will take time, and your Lordships will understand that I am not in a position this afternoon to say what will be possible or within what timescale as your Lordships would have liked me to have done. However, I would say this: the first report and continuing oversight of ACTRAG, together with our other initiatives in this field, will bring precision and focus to the development of Grendon and of ways of dealing with the mentally disordered in the prison system, and in particular of ensuring that the best possible use is made of the resources which Grendon provides in the prison service.

The noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington, somewhat lightly cast aside the whole matter of resources, but like it or not the resource question is central to any debate about our prisons. It is part of the Government's policy to contain, reduce and make the best use of public expenditure and to reduce where they can civil service manpower. Nevertheless, they have accorded exceptionally favourable treatment to the prison service.

Since the last year of the government of the party opposite in 1978–79, spending on the prison service and the prison building programme has increased from £250 million to £640 million a year, a 36 per cent. increase in real terms. The building and redevelopment programme has more than doubled in real terms. Therefore, I cannot understand how the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, can seriously call that a nil cost basis.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves the question of manning and goes on to resources, may I ask him whether he will now, or possibly later, after thought, answer my final question? Does he agree that if the Government are to support Grendon in the way that it was built up, which I understand him to be saying again that they wish to do, there are only two ways that they can do it? One is by reducing the number of patients treated to the present staff level and the other is by increasing the number of staff to the present inmate level. Nothing else is of the slightest use in my opinion.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I shall come to the point about staffing at Grendon in a moment or two. Staff are a most valuable resource and the number of prison officers in the system as a whole is now higher than it has ever been. It is important to get these points on the record in order to put the debate that the noble Lord has initiated in context. The figure for staff was 18,887 at the beginning of this month, which is an increase of 18 per cent. over the figure for 1st January 1979, compared with an inmate population increase of something around 10 or 12 per cent. Recruitment plans will provide more staff to man the new accommodation and replace wastage.

Within the existing systems of attendance and complement to which I referred, I recognise that, despite the steady increase in staff numbers, there remains a difference between the actual numbers of staff employed authorised staffing levels. It is true that the South-East suffers more than other reegions. Generally speaking—and I shall return to this point—it is the local prisons and remand centres that are under the greatest pressure and their position was seriously affected by last year's surge in the prison population.

As has been described in this debate, there is a shortage of some 21 per cent. of prison officer class staff at Grendon. In part this is due to the net loss last year of 10 staff, but the shortfall is not dissimilar to that experienced by other Category B establishments in the region. Moreover, let us put the shortfall at Grendon into perspective. In the first place Grendon is not exposed to the same pressures to which local prisons are subject. Apart from their escort commitment, the locals have to bear the brunt of overcrowding, and this has to be an important factor to be weighed in the allocation of staff to establishments. At Grendon, by contrast—and this is important—the inmate population, at about 220, is some 15 per cent. below certified normal accommodation.

Nevertheless, I fully understand, as the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, would like me to, the special needs of Grendon. ACTRAG considered that it was important for Grendon that staff in post should be kept near to the authorised staffing level to safeguard the therapeutic regime and maintain staff training and support. I can assure your Lordships that we are fully seized of Grendon's special needs so far as this is concerned. There are a great many competing demands for staff, and many have to be allocated on the basis of greatest need. No one can say that an establishment whose population has stayed below CNA but whose staffing levels are as they are at Grendon has not received a degree of priority, and this will continue. Every effort will be made to match staffing more closely to need. The current aim is to allocate a few additional staff to Grendon later this year. I cannot be more precise than that, but that is the answer I give to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves the subject, can he indicate in which region the increase of staff is anticipated? Is it in medical staff? Is it in prison officer class staff?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, so far as I can tell—and I may have to correct this if I am wrong—this applies to prison officer staff. But I willingly acknowledge that more than one type of staff suits the facility at Grendon. Grendon is a facility which can use others in a therapeutic regime, such as probation officers and those with a high degree of skill in working with prisoners. It is not just prison officers who have the ability to look after prisoners. If I have further information I shall let the noble Lord know.

I turn now to the question of overtime. Again I pause to make a general point. There is no doubt that present numbers and patterns of staff attendance lead to excessive levels of overtime. And overspending on overtime can take place only at the expense of other parts of the prisons' budget; for example, programmes designed to improve the conditions in which prisoners and staff live and work. It was to exert control over overtime spending that in 1985–86 a cash limit set at some £82 million was introduced and budgetary responsibility was devolved to regional directors. They in turn distributed their share of the cash limit to individual establishments.

The staff shortage at Grendon and the overtime cash limit led to some restrictions of regime activities, as was pointed out. However, the governor was able to maintain the group sessions which are at the heart of the regime. Moreover, therapeutic work at Grendon has been strengthened by the appointments of a new psychiatrically qualified medical officer last year and a new psychologist this year, both with considerable experience in group pychotherapy.

For the current financial year Grendon, like other establishments, and indeed according to the same formula as applies to other establishments, has been given an overtime budget for 1986–87. Concern was expressed by Grendon management at the implications of their 1986–87 budget for the maintenance of the therapeutic regime. The governor was asked to set out the additional provision that he estimated he would need in order to maintain it.

The regional director gave full and sympathetic consideration to the matter, and, in view of Grendon's special position as a national resource, the importance attached to its therapeutic regime and the needs of that regime, he decided that the governor should be allowed to plan on the basis that provision would be made to ensure that the regime would be maintained at broadly last year's level. This demonstrates our commitment to the therapeutic regime at Grendon.

Finally, I come to the important matter of training, which was referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. Priority has been given to training in group therapy. Last year it became apparent that staff changes over the previous couple of years had led to a loss of expertise in group therapy. In consultation with the Directorate of Prison Medical Services a course was held to remedy this (and I hope that this answers a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon), and some 30 discipline and hospital staff were trained last autumn. I cannot give the noble Lord a categorical answer on the question of the ethnic issue he raised, but I shall look at that and let him know precisely where we stand.

I should also mention that staff have been trained in control and restraint techniques to enable them to cope in a way which is safe to them and to inmates when violent incidents occur, and they may occur even in a therapeutic regime. In addition, senior officers at Grendon have recently taken part in a five-day introduction to management course; and all staff participating in group sessions have to attend staff support meetings twice a week, which are an indirect form of training. I do not believe that the necessity for training is in any way undervalued.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, the noble Lord says that staff have to attend two sessions a week. Is he saying that they actually attend two sessions a week, because that is contrary to my information?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I understand that they have to attend. If there is a difference in my information and the noble Lord's, I shall try to sort it out.

I have taken careful note of the valuable points raised in this debate, and I shall bear them and the manner in which they have been expressed clearly in mind as we develop Grendon for the future. But to fulfil the noble Lord's forecast, and to sum up, I hope that it is clear to your Lordships that we are committed to the maintenance of the therapeutic regime at Grendon. However, Grendon cannot be entirely isolated from the pressures which bear on the prison system as a whole or exempted from the measures which it is essential for us to take to make the best use of the resources which Parliament has provided. Within the prevailing constraints, however, I repeat my assurance that every effort is being and will continue to be made to enable Grendon to continue to make its unique contribution to the prison system.

5 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his full reply. Above all, I am very grateful to the half-dozen speakers whom we might describe as the "old prison gang", who speak on most occasions. But if we add together what all six of us have said, I am afraid that if one then reads the noble Lord's reply with care one will see that no effort whatever has been made to answer our problem. The position is very clear. Of course we know about the difficulties in the prison service. For heavens sake, most of us have been dealing with it for over 30 years and it has got worse every year under every government. It is no good talking to us about that. In view of the present great difficulties we are asking the Government whether they want to go on with the therapeutic regime at Grendon, which they admit and we agree is important and good, or can they not afford to do it? If they cannot afford to do it, I beg the Minister not to think that he can do it at half cock; he cannot. This is what he is suggesting.

The Minister spoke for something over 20 minutes. For three-quarters of that time his subject was the prison system as a whole. We are not talking about that. If within the Home Secretary's duties of running the prison system something which is effective now is too expensive to run, we should say so and scrap it and make it a holding prison. At least we would not ruin the lives of the psychiatrist and medical staff and the rest of the staff and stop doing any good to the people within the prison.

I am sorry to have to speak so strongly. It is what I was afraid would happen and I hoped very much would not. The noble Lord knows that I respect him. He knows that I believe he values Grendon. I am telling him, as somebody who has much more experience of Grendon than he has, that he is killing it stone dead with his approach. It will not do. There are only two ways of maintaining this system which, for 20 years until 1982 when the policy was changed, worked so well. I should like to repeat those. The first is to reduce the number of inmates to balance the staff and the second is to increase the staff to balance the inmates. If we do not do one of those, it will be no good. A no-good prison of this kind is worse, in my opinion, than a good holding prison.

I wish to make one further point. I was talking about "no good". Does it matter very much? The noble Lord spoke about the certified normal accommodation. Nobody who knows anything about Grendon ever agreed to a CNA of 260. That was thrust upon us against the strongest opposition. We said that it could not work and it has now been proved that it does not. I want to end on a note appealing to the Government to feel rather differently about this special case. It is, as the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, said, the only effort in the whole of the United Kingdom to deal with violence without violence. I have seen what happens in prisons where violent men break out and hit out. They are badly hurt. One cannot expect them not to be. Prison officers have to protect themselves, and when a man is out of control the whole situation is serious.

I remember—it was not in this country, I am happy to say, but in another country—going round a well-run prison and finally seeing a man chained to a wall. I asked what was going on and I was told that he was dangerous and they could not control him. The point is that we can control these people in Grendon, so I beg the noble Lord not to feel that he has satisfied us. I do not think he has satisfied one of us, respect him though we do. I ask him to go to Grendon within the next couple of months. I know how busy he is and that he has much more worrying matters to deal with. When he returns I hope I may be allowed to ask an Unstarred Question to hear whether he is able to offer us a better solution. After those gloomy words, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.