HL Deb 14 November 1989 vol 512 cc1279-301

6.3 p.m.

Lord Harris of Greenwich rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what action they propose to take on the report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons on HM Prison Wandsworth.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I raise tonight a recently published report by her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons. The report is critical of the regime at Wandsworth; in a number of respects it is highly critical. However, as Mr. Hurd said in his response to the report, it is also constructive. I am sure that all who contribute to the debate tonight will want to be equally constructive.

Before I turn to the contents of the report I should like to refer briefly to the inspectorate. The prison inspectorate was established after Sir John May's report on the prison service. In my judgment it has been a remarkable success. The first chief inspector was Mr. William Pearce, a man of high ability and integrity whose early death was a great loss to the prison service. More recently it has been led by Judge Stephen Tumim, who, by a combination of firmness and good humour, has done a great deal to enhance its reputation.

The inspectorate consists of prison service staff seconded for a period of years to assist the chief inspector. Its reports are a model of what any independent inspectorate should endeavour to achieve. They are detailed and specific, sometimes critical —as on this occasion —but also balanced. The report we are debating this evening is just such a document. It is because it is so fair that its conclusions are so disturbing.

Consider for a moment two of its central conclusions: first, that the general regime at Wandsworth did not meet basic standards of humanity and propriety; and, secondly, that life there was a deadening experience broken only by conversation about routines or a future life of crime.

Those are harsh criticisms, but I accept there are special features about Wandsworth that make the task of the managers there peculiarly difficult. Not only is the prison itself 138 years old —an ancient, decaying building like so many in the prison system —but it also fulfills the role of the prison to which inmates in the South of England are sent if their behaviour is particularly tiresome. One question which, I believe, arises from the report is whether that role of Wandsworth should be reviewed. I hope that at some stage in the future that will be done by the prisons board. In addition, it is also a Rule 43 centre for prisoners who have to be removed from association either because of their offences or because of their conduct in prison.

These are undoubtedly two of the principal reasons why over the years the regime at Wandsworth has been so rigid. Many of the inmates see themselves as tough; and so do many of the staff. Those attitudes have spilled over into relations between management and staff. The new governor, who took up his post last December, told the inspectorate that when he arrived he had a strong sense that the staff culture was happy for him to take to his office, carry out the administrative and symbollic governor tasks but leave the real running of the prison to them.

That is the first matter I want to raise. I agree with the inspectorate that Wandsworth will not be a happy establishment until authority is both exercised and accepted throughout the whole of line management. I hope very much that we have seen the last of episodes such as the one that occurred earlier this year in which, because of a walk-out by uniformed staff, the Metropolitan Police had to come in and run the prison. Fortunately, since then there appears to have been some improvement in relations between staff and management. I very much welcome that.

It cannot be said too often that management has the clear responsibility for doing its best to create good relations with staff and for consulting them when appropriate. But in the final analysis its authority has to be accepted. It is impossible for a prison to be run satisfactorily if constant attempts are made to undermine the governor and his senior colleagues. That applies to Wandsworth and to other establishments in the prison service where unfortunately we have witnessed similar conduct.

I turn now to some of the other important matters which are raised in the inspectorate's report. First, I shall deal with some of the physical problems which are associated with the prison. One of the most urgent is internal sanitation. It is extraordinary that we are still discussing that issue. Everyone accepts that the process of slopping out is a shameful affront to human decency. At Wandsworth, as in some other prisons, the cells were originally equipped with integral sanitation, but that was torn out many years ago on the instructions of someone who has never been identified.

The inspectorate says that a reasonable level of integral sanitation could be provided within the prison within seven years. Unhappily, at present the Home Office plans to provide only 300 cells out of about 1,200 at Wandsworth with lavatories and washbasins during that period. Is it impossible to accept the inspectorate's proposal? I recognise that to do so would carry with it significant implications. The number of inmates at Wandsworth would have to be reduced substantially, but given the size of the present prison building programme, which I welcome, is it out of the question?

Is it right —this is the situation disclosed in the report—that 40 inmates must still share two lavatories, two urinals and two slop sinks? I should have thought not. Is it right that they must wash their eating utensils in the same bucket or bowl as that used for personal hygiene? Is it right for the one towel in each man's possession also to be used to dry those utensils? Again, I should think that both those practices are unacceptable. Are they to be ended? We look forward to hearing from the noble Earl on that question.

There is then the question of the central bathhouse or, as the inspectorate describes it, the ghastly central bathhouse. It seems that not all inmates even receive a weekly shower, mainly due to what is described as a shortage of kit. Again, I shall be grateful if the noble Earl will assist us on this point. Can he indicate whether, as a result of the Government's review of the report, a weekly shower can now be guaranteed? I should have thought that, in the deplorably overcrowded conditions at Wandsworth, it was not a great deal to ask.

I come next to the question of catering arrangements. Here there has been, as I am sure the noble Earl will tell us, a major refurbishment of the kitchen in recent years, costing about £1 million. At the recent inspection, the staff strength in the kitchen was only a governor grade five and four officers—just half the number of staff who are employed in dealing with the question of censorship. That is a matter to which I shall return. That small group of officers must control a work party of 44 inmates.

According to the inspectorate, the effect of that situation was that the general standard of cleanliness within the kitchen complex suffered, as did the overall supervision of the inmates. The inspectorate said that that was demonstrated by, the deplorable state of the wash-up area".

That had become so bad that the health and safety officer had recently recommended that it be closed because it did not meet the minimum standards required under the Food Hygiene (General) Regulations 1970. The waste food collection area was also in a poor condition and there was a problem of pest infestation. There was evidence of the presence of both mice and cockroaches.

This issue goes well beyond Wandsworth. We have had a stream of complaints on the issue from the prisons inspectorate. They have covered many prisons including Maidstone, Pucklechurch, Hollesley Bay, Dartmoor and Blundeston. It is now essential that just as Crown immunity was removed from hospitals after the food poisoning outbreak at Stanley Royd Hospital in Wakefield it should also be removed from prisons. The practice whereby prisons cannot be prosecuted, however verminous their kitchens may be, is in my judgment no longer tolerable.

I now turn to two other issues before coming to the final matter that I want to raise. First, on the question of censorship, when there are so many references in the report to staff shortages at Wandsworth I find it bizarre that 10 uniformed staff are employed full time in censoring correspondence. As I have said, that is twice as many as work in the grossly understaffed kitchens in the prison. The inspectorate says, with remarkable restraint, that it is questionable whether full censorship is required of all outgoing mail. The full cost of that practice at Wandsworth is no less than £150,000 a year. We must ask ourselves —it is a term which trips off the lips of Ministers —whether we are getting value for money with regard to that extraordinary level of expenditure.

I am well aware that in the past prison management has sometimes been hesitant about cutting back on entirely unnecessary censorship practice because of staff attitudes. I well remember an occasion at the Home Office when was present at a meeting with the then Home Secretary in which it was made clear to us that, if we extended the number of establishments where censorship was to be abandoned, immediate industrial action would be taken against us. I hope that, despite those problems, the Minister will be able to indicate whether there can be a sharp cut-back in the resources made available for censorship at the prison.

Secondly, there is the question of the library for inmates, who are, as we all know, sometimes locked up for very long periods of the day. One of the few ways of making their life more tolerable is to be able to obtain a library book. It is alarming —that is the term used by the inspectorate —that inmates have sometimes not been able to change their books for several weeks. The inspectorate's modest proposal is that that should be possible at least once a week. I ask the noble Earl: can that now be guaranteed?

I now come to the final issue that I want to raise. In some respects it is one of the most fundamental. It is the question of race relations. About a third of the inmates of Wandsworth are black. Yet, according to the inspectorate's report, of the 30 orderly jobs in the main prison —jobs which are some of the most popular with inmates —not one is held by a man with a black face, despite the fact that about 33 per cent. of the inmates of that prison are black. We must ask why that should be so. It is also clear from the report that people of ethnic minority background are overrepresented among the unemployed in the prison.

There is little doubt that one of the reasons for this is racial prejudice among a minority —I believe that it is a minority —of prison officers. Just as it was an initial assessment report at Wandsworth Prison some years ago that led ultimately to a judicial finding that an inmate at Parkhurst, Mr. John Alexander, had been unlawfully discriminated against, I believe that, despite all the efforts which have been made to eliminate those practices, some of them linger on.

Perhaps I may make quite clear what I am saying. I do not believe that the record of the prison service is worse than that of the probation service, the private sector, social work agencies, journalism or the profession of politics; indeed, in some respects it is a great deal better. But why is there still not one black orderly at Wandsworth? Why —I now refer specifically to paragraph 3.59 of the inspectorate's report —has management in the past allowed, many staff [to wear] unofficial insignia"?

The inspectorate makes clear that those insignia have clear racial connotations. The inspectorate adds that slashed peaks to uniform hats are no less intimidating.

I have not the slightest doubt that the noble Earl will take the same view of such practices as do the rest of us. They are unacceptable. If a policeman or a soldier wore a similar badge or defaced his cap, he would soon find himself on a disciplinary charge. Precisely the same principle should now be extended to the prison service and it should be done at once. I hope that it will be done not only at Wandsworth but at any other prison department establishment where similar practices exist.

In conclusion, I believe that there are many men and women in the prison service at Wandsworth and elsewhere who work with devotion to make tolerable the conditions for inmates. Some significant improvements have been made despite the huge number that this country holds in custody. I hope that the noble Earl will be able to reassure the House that prompt action is now being taken to rectify the serious shortcomings that have been disclosed in this report.

6.22 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, I shall pursue the argument of my noble friend in general but hope to offer some details other than those that he has so far given to the House. This report should be compulsory reading for every magistrate and judge in the country. Those who have the power and the duty to send people to prison should be aware of what they are doing. This objective and courageous report should act as an extra argument in addition to the many others for not sending anyone to prison if it can possibly be avoided.

I do not want to make attacks on the Minister or the Home Office but it is impossible not to lay some blame on the Government for the deplorable conditions revealed in this report. The Government have had 10 years of an alleged economic miracle in which to put things right. Deplorable building conditions can be put right only by money, so one would have thought that an economic miracle would have been just the job.

Not all prisons are as terrible as this report depicts Wandsworth to be. However quite a few of them are as bad. Several local prisons are far more overcrowded than Wandsworth, which has 25 per cent. overcrowding. Bascially overcrowding is the root of all evil in the prison system. In Wandsworth the crude building conditions are intolerable but even that could be lived with if the 25 per cent. excess over the CNA (certified normal accommodation) were removed and the shortage of staff, which is referred to all through this report, were made good. There would then be some chance of easing the bad conditions which, we are told, will not be put right until the next century and then only up to 87 per cent.

I am fully aware that Wandsworth takes largely men who have been difficult to handle, as my noble friend pointed out. Both officers and men seem to take a pride in being in a "tough nick", as they call it, and to some extent they play up to it. Overcrowding and staff shortages in such conditions cannot fail to lead to bad staff relations and trouble.

When this House discussed the prison department's on the whole excellent Fresh Start scheme for reorganising staff duties, almost every speaker said that it would succeed only if the recommended staff were in fact made available. It is now one and a half years since the change; yet in a prison which has the most unsatisfactory conditions and which holds particularly difficult inmates the recommended staff are still not available.

We were told in paragraph 2.28 that both management and staff were feeling badly let down by the department's failure to produce the 10 officers owing to the prison in April under Fresh Start; nor has the flexible working envisaged in the Fresh Start scheme been applied. Paragraph 2.31 speaks of a shortfall of 17 staff at officer level. Paragraph 2.33 refers to staff vacancies running at around 20 per cent. If there is a 20 per cent. staff shortage and 25 per cent. overcrowding, what can be expected? It seems to me that management and staff must be congratulated on keeping the lid on at all in such circumstances.

Let me turn briefly to the building side of the problem. The Government seem content to neglect current repairs to prison buildings as readily as they have neglected current repairs to museums and galleries, which have been a great deal in the news lately. Keeping up with current repairs is simply a question of men and money, not of prison psychology or anything else. Clearly both are inadequate.

Paragraph 2.08 of the report states that neither the current levels of work-staff nor the resources allocated are enough to maintain the prison in its present state, let alone deal with a heavy backlog of repairs. As my noble friend mentioned, the prison department has installed integral sanitation in eight cells as a pilot scheme. I gave notice to the noble Earl of my intention to ask the following questions, but an answer by letter will do as well as an immediate reply this evening. I want to know how much it cost, how many workmen were involved and how long it took. I want to know whether any prison labour was used, whether any work was contracted out, whether extra staff were taken on or whether the backlog of repairs was simply allowed to increase while this pilot job was done.

I understand that the Government have rejected the chief inspector's clear recommendation to make that 150-year overdue improvement within seven years. If that is not true I shall be very glad to hear it. This recommendation must be adopted, cost what it may. I hope that the noble Earl will explain why it cannot be done in three or four years rather than in seven. The building trade is slackening at the moment and the Government can exercise their favourite discipline imposed on local authorities to contract out for the whole job. I believe that it is simply a question of money and that the highest priority should be given to putting right what is so inhumanly wrong.

So much for the longer-term problems. A number of shorter-term problems have been referred to by my noble friend, and some of them can be put right very quickly. I shall not go through the list which I sent to the noble Earl but feel that I must refer to the question of two towels. That was a recommendation that was sent to the Director General. I hope to make it quite clear in this House that I believe that the Director General ought to agree to that recommendation, and jolly quickly. Secondly, there is the question of the two bowls to which my noble friend referred. That is elementary and obviously right. Thirdly, I shall speak about only one further matter which again was referred to by my noble friend; namely the question of baths, showers and lavatories. Slopping out is a great horror. We all hate it. But after a prisoner has slopped out, if he is then stuck with overcrowded baths and ill kept lavatories, the position becomes almost shameful.

I want to say a few words about the palliatives for strict confinement, the most important of which in my view are work, books and visits. Wandsworth seems to me to get no more than one or two marks out of 10 for any of them. With regard to work, we are told that the workshops in operation can cope with 400 or so persons, but once again owing to shortage of staff the average attendance over the past six months has been 215. That is out of a population of 1,500. At best two-thirds of the inmates are left with nothing to do. In particular, those in the G, H and K cells are on Rule 43; they are kept in the cell most of the time.

On the subject of books, why should access to the library be, in the words of the report, "only patchy"? Why should some men be unable to change their books for several weeks? In many prisons libraries give a very good service but not, it seems, at Wandsworth Prison.

Most important of all is the subject of visits. The recommendations to the governor, numbers 77 to 84, are all about visits and are a serious attempt to remedy the very unsatisfactory arrangements described in paragraphs 3.66 to 3.70 in the report.

Last week we had a most interesting talk at the NACRO AGM from Mr. Brendan Reynolds, who is number two in the Canadian prison service. I asked him about their visiting arrangements and told him that ours depended to a high degree on private charity. He replied that in Canada they regarded money spent on improving visiting conditions as a wise investment, as visits above all other factors tend to reduce tension, and tension is the most dangerous and ultimately expensive condition possible in prisons. I hope that the noble Earl will consider that point. It seems to me that throughout the prison service although some visiting conditions are good, many are very bad. To improve the visiting conditions is a very constructive way of making the situation better.

I wish to described what at the worst may happen to any man who finds himself incarcerated in Wandsworth Prison. He will be locked up for 23 hours a day in a cell designed 150 years ago for one person, sharing it with two others and their chamber pots. He may receive a change of clothing and have a bath sometimes as seldom as once in three weeks. Books are changeable sometimes as seldom as every three weeks. He has nothing to do. I do not pretend that this account describes every prisoner's lot all the time but it may apply to anyone for long periods and it applies to many quite frequently. If it were me, I should hate everyone concerned in any way with my imprisonment: the Home Office, the governor, the prison officers, the probation officers and the police. If I did not go mad I should commit murder or suicide.

All of us who have spoken today, and those who will speak, know very well that the problems confronting the noble Earl and his colleagues are real, formidable and not able to be solved without difficulty and expense. We know also that the noble Earl and his colleagues are just as distressed as we are at the seriousness of the problems, especially that of sanitation. My difficulty is that I have been speaking on this issue for 30 years and nothing has happened. Matters have become observably worse. As a so-called civilised nation, we cannot go on like this any more.

I do not expect the noble Earl to tell me that plans exist to put everything right in no time. However I beg him to persuade his colleagues in the Government to give real priority, with not inconsiderable sums of money, to the righting of this wholly unacceptable state of affairs. We must have a major effort to deal with the minor problems, and a major switch of resources to deal with the large problems of sanitation, building repairs and shortage of staff. Not many problems respond to money being thrown at them, but building problems will respond to nothing else. If tonight we can between us say anything that will hurry up such a priority, the time of the House will not have been wasted.

6.35 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford

My Lords, a number of debates have been held in your Lordships' House in recent years about the prison service and custodial sentencing. Each time we are faced with fundamental questions as to what prisons are for, how we value people who are imprisoned and what our grossly overcrowded prisons say about the state of British society and its legal system. This debate is about a particular prison. I therefore wish to observe, only very briefly, that Christian principles require us to hold together a belief in justice and values with a belief in mercy, because God is merciful and we all need his mercy. Morever, Christans, along with many others, believe in the funadmental value of each human being, in the possibility of change and reform and in the need to create conditions which make reformation possible.

The prison service of England and Wales has an aim in line with such principles. It issued a new statement of purpose at the beginning of this year which includes these words: Her Majesty's Prison Service serves the public by keeping in custody those committed by the Courts. Our duty is to look after them with humanity and to help them to lead useful lives in custody and after release". It is against that background that I wish to speak very briefly about the report.

I am deeply sorry that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark is unwell and is prevented from being here today. Wandsworth Prison is in his diocese. He has been there a number of times and he maintains regular contact with the prison chaplains to whom the report refers. However, in much that I say I shall echo his reactions to the report and his concern.

Appendix 1 of the report reproduces an "Agreed Action Document" for Wandsworth Prison 1988–89. It gives content to the statement of purpose to which I have referred. However, it is instructive to compare the two columns, which show where the specific aims contained in CI 55/1984 have been modified to suit the conditions obtaining at Wandsworth Prison. I note that under Function No. 17 the phrase, individual and collective leisure activities has disappeared, unless there is some reference to it in the unpublished annexes. Under Function No. 18, the phrase, to enable prisoners to spend the maximum possible time out of their cells", has been considerably weakened to read, to provide, where possible, opportunities for prisoners to spend time out of their cells". Reading the report it is quite clear that a great many prisoners spend almost the whole time banged up, as it is called, deprived of even the minimum fortnightly visits to a library and with little prospect of useful work or activity of any kind. There is a continuing failure to provide a regime at Wandsworth Prison which can be described as humane or reformatory in any meaningful way. Thus the report expresses the conclusion that for prisoners, life at Wandsworth was a deadening experience broken only by conversation about routines or about a future life of crime.

Paragraph 3.39 of the report is headed "Inmates' Perceptions". It is a list of those things which are experienced as being most difficult to bear and so induce the most negative feelings about the whole regime. Outsiders, including the press, tend to fasten more readily on the lack of adequate sanitation and hygiene and on the resulting need for slopping out —in the case of some inmates less frequently than need be. Noble Lords have already spoken at some length about this very distressing and dehumanising necessity —if it is a necessity —in the life of our prisons today and I share their distaste.

But it is the perception of many who work in the prison that what is most difficult to bear is the isolation, not only the physical isolation from other people inside the prison which results from the lack of work and leisure activity but isolation from family and friends because of the extraordinarily strict limitations on visiting and on mail. Chaplains spend hours and hours dealing with written applications for news of family or special visits, and these are almost always generated by anxiety and too much time to brood in loneliness.

Paragraphs 3.66 to 3.70 give a dismal picture of the inadequacies to be found in this area of prison life, inadequacies of which most people are quite unaware. Is there no way in which adequate levels of staffing can be obtained in order to break down some of this unnecessary isolation? Is there no way in which the prison authorities can be encouraged to approach local voluntary bodies, churches and so on to try to provide better facilities for visitors? And why on earth should new prisoners be deprived of visits for so long?

Whenever criticism is made of prison life there are always two immediate explanations—overcrowding and staff shortages. The report makes clear that Wandsworth already works under such dreadful constraints, and I doubt whether any of your Lordships would find it easy to work in such an institution; I know I would not. But the conclusions in Chapter Four spell out some things which can begin to change now and paragraph 4.08 states this unequivocally.

We must all be grateful to the judge and his staff for this honest report, to the Home Office for publishing it and to the many people inside Wandsworth Prison itself who gave frank replies to searching questions and who clearly want to see matters improve. It is a matter of great urgency. I believe that it is a matter which should concern us all, and we very much look forward to hearing the noble Earl as he speaks on these serious matters.

6.44 p.m.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, reading the report on Wandsworth is rather sobering. Wandsworth is, of course, the peak of the pyramid of prisons, most of which are overcrowded. I believe that the Government are building a lot of prisons at the moment, and I have no doubt that we shall hear about that from the Minister.

It is often said that there are too many people sent to gaol by magistrates. I sit as a magistrate, like many other noble Lords, and certainly I can say that there is enormous effort made at all times not to send people to gaol. However, the fact is that, inevitably, it is necessary from time to time. But what one discovers is that there is a never-ending variety of crime, a never-ending variety of criminals and their backgrounds and only a very limited means of disposal.

Some people obviously have to go to prison because they are a positive danger to the public or their crimes are on such a scale that there is no alternative. But there are many other people who are eventually sent to prison, such as, for example, the persistent petty offender who repeatedly drives without insurance, who is continually fined, who then refuses to pay his fine, gets community service and in the end, because there is no alternative has to go to gaol. But such a person is not dangerous and gaol is not the right place to send him. He is often 21 years old, is unemployed, has a girl friend and two children and has no money with which to pay any fine.

We see people of this sort over and over again. Every magistrate must know them. Such people go to prison, they do little, they learn little, they learn to be even more idle than they were before, they learn expertise in crime and they learn degradation. We have heard all about this at Wandsworth. It does not do them any good, but what else can one do?

I believe that there should be more alternatives to sending people to prison. We already have community service, probation and so on. These can be used to a great extent and they are very good, but the more alternatives we can find the better. There should be more options than the extremes of fines and imprisonment. What is needed are methods of punishing people so that not only do they get punishment, but, if possible, they learn how to work, to get up in the morning and to get going, so that when they finish their time they are of some use to themselves and have the motivation to get a job and to get going in life.

What is needed are simple jobs which offenders have to do as a punishment. I am talking about repetitive stuff which can get them going. It is very difficult to find jobs of this sort, though community service goes some way towards it. But the point of my speech is to suggest just one such job. It relates to forestry. I want to talk about forestry for a moment. The Forestry Commission have cast acreages of forest throughout the country, most of which is unbrashed. It is like a jungle and there are branches not cut off. Because of that, the forest will remain a jungle and be of low value for the country in the future.

I believe that this could provide work as a substitute for prison. Certain unmotivated youngsters could be sent out to brash specific areas, which they would have to finish before they were allowed out into the community again. They would need little supervision and they would learn how to get up in the morning, because as soon as they had done their stint they could leave. There would be competition to get on and get the job done quickly. Having worked hard for so many acres, which might take weeks or months, they could then go, so they would learn to work quickly and to get on with the job.

There would obviously be a problem with unions, but this work, if it is not done by the equivalent of community service labour, will not be done at all. Having been done, however, the woods would then be available for thinning, which would employ more labour. So it would increase the paid labour needed by the Forestry Commission in the future.

I hope that the Home Office will give serious study to this scheme. I believe that it could be worked out and, if it would enable some people to be kept out of prison, that would leave more room for those who have to go to prison, and it would make a contribution towards solving the overcrowding in the prisons of this country.

6.50 p.m.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, from everything that has been said so far, there is really no doubt at all that all of us who are concerned and involved with standards within our prisons are extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris., for bringing this report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons to our notice. I should like to add my words of tribute to Judge Stephen Tumim for producing such a very excellent, frank report.

It is clear from what all speakers have said that it is a particularly damning report. Speaking for myself, I must confess that when reading parts of it, particularly its conclusions, I could hardly believe that it was a British institution which was being described. I could not believe that it was a British prison being described when the report stated —and the noble Lord, Lord Harris, has already referred to this —in the first lines of the recommendations that, The regime for inmates does not meet basic standards of humanity and propriety". To read such a description of a prison in this country has a very profound effect on all those of us who are very concerned about the standard of our prisons.

As the right reverend Prelate said, there is a cruel paradox between those words and the inscription on all our prison walls which described the aims of our prison service and which conflicts so very harshly with the words of the Chief Inspector.

I should like to speak as the chairman of the New Bridge. I should like to add that this critical report confirms many of the comments which I have heard from the New Bridge volunteers who visit those who they befriend in Wandsworth Prison. Indeed, some would maintain that however bad this report may be, much of it is not saying anything new. They would say that it effectively repeats complaints raised on countless occasions. Those volunteers —and I stress that they are very experienced in this field —describe the prison as a place apart with a regime, system and atmosphere of its own. They find it a very much harder place in which to carry out their befriending role.

Perhaps I may give an example. During the postal strike one of our volunteers who lived close to Wandsworth wished to deliver a letter by hand in order that his client should receive it. He took it to the gates of the gaol and was turned away with the words, "We only accept letters from the Royal Mail". That would seem to substantiate the report's description when it refers to adopting an attitude of giving nothing to prisoners.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, and other speakers have made some very important points. I do not wish to repeat them all but I should like to stress some issues which have been raised and to give my support to many of the points mentioned.

First —and I think it is impossible to refer to this report without referring to the part on sanitation —I cannot understand why the prison department proposes to install integral sanitation in only 408 cells. As the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, asked: how on earth could it possibly take seven years? Indeed, I understand that it may take even longer. At that rate, it will be a photo finish between the building of the Channel Tunnel and the integral sanitation at Wandsworth Prison. It is inconceivable to think of anything which is so deeply needed taking such a very long time.

Again, how can it possibly be that the inmates, who already have so few showers, can only have clean clothes when they have had those very spasmodic showers so that they neither have showers nor clean clothes? As the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said, the health risks brought on by the extraordinary practice described in the report of prisoners washing up their eating utensils in containers used for personal hygiene is quite appalling.

Perhaps I could just say a few words about visits. I was very interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, quote the example from Canada. I believe it is important that a lot of attention is given to visits as that is a very important part of the rehabilitation of the prisoner. From the point of view of the prisoner, I should also like to know how the practice arises whereby sometimes prisoners are denied visits twice per month until they have been there for three and a half months. That seems a particularly harsh practice and I wonder how that arose in Wandsworth Prison.

From the viewpoint of the visitors, what strikes me in the report is the lack of a visitors' centre. I have always wondered why it is the wives and children of our prisoners who are punished. Why do we make them wait such long periods in such terribly bad conditions to see their husbands, fathers or sons? That point is borne out by a letter to The Times from the director of the New Bridge in which he described his own visit to Wandsworth. He talked about the degrading conditions experienced by visitors to HM Prison Wandsworth. He wrote: Hardly a week goes by without a complaint from a New Bridge voluntary associate…about the circumstances to which all visitors are subjected. It seems incredible that for a 30-minute visit you have to spend up to two hours trying to get in and out of the place". He then described the very successful plans being made in other London prisons for visitor centres which are being started up by volunteers. I believe that a visitor centre at Wandsworth seems absolutely imperative.

I should like to say a few words about staff training. There seems to be a rather strange feature that Wandsworth of all places should fill the national role for fielding inquiries about careers in the prison service. It runs initial assessment tests for applicants and also provides a 10-day orientation course before the start of training. Perhaps the Minister could explain why that very unrepresentative prison should have been chosen to fill that all-important function of providing an example to new entrants.

That cannot be the right introduction for people entering into the prison service.

The section dealing with the medical staff says that of the 32 hospital officers, at least five are working exclusively on administration and do not deal with patients. That seems a terrible way of using medical expertise, if there are as many as five people working exclusively on administration.

The section which describes suicide prevention says that there is a serious defect in reporting self-injury on the Form 220. It says that the statistics were graded in five degrees of seriousness ranging from gesture to serious attempt. There was no record of what was actually done; for example, wrists slashed or attempted hanging. It says that those shortcomings should be rectified at once. I very much hope that the Minister will tell us that there is an intention to do that.

I was also surprised to see in the report that there was a 37-bed ward facility standing empty and yet the report talked about the presence of many inmates with psychiatric problems who were not receiving treatement.

Of course, there are many other important questions in this report and many have been covered today. I shall not cover any more specific points except I should like to give my very strong support to what the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said about alleged racism among the staff.

I should also be very grateful to hear from the Minister what action has been taken on those members who, it is said, slashed the peaks of their caps and whether or not it is true that insignias have been worn on uniforms. I should have thought that it went right against the prison rules for members of the staff so to change their uniforms.

Will the Minister also comment on the very worrying point in the report which the noble Lord, Lord Harris, has brought up, that black inmates, who total nearly one-third of the population, appear to be discriminated against and are treated worse than the white prisoners? This is a very serious question to which I feel we need an answer.

I conclude by saying a word about the staff of Wandsworth Prison. It is quite clear from the report that they operate a hard regime; but when one considers the ingredients, so to speak, making up this prison, it seems very much less surprising that they are constricted to such a hard regime. First, there is the building itself which was built in the 1850s and is of a "tired nature", as it is described. Secondly, Wandsworth was never intended to hold such a huge number of prisoners —450 Rule 3 inmates who are locked up 22 or 23 hours a day without treatment therapy, a structural programme of training or anything.

Thirdly, Wandsworth is a receiving establishment for difficult prisoners from other prisons. This brings to the staff all the problems which go with that. The chief inspector's report stated that two-thirds of the inmates were unemployed. The truth is that out of those 1,500 there are rarely more than 250 prisoners on a daily basis able to work. The report says: Both management and Staff Association felt badly let down by the Department's failure to produce the ten officers owing to the prison on 1 April under the Framework Agreement". I too believe, as previous speakers have said, that such a shortfall must be very difficult for the prison to carry. Those points have been brought out many times by the staff at Wandsworth.

All in all, when Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons described the impoverished regime, how nothing is given, the prisoners' attitude and how staff operated a thoroughly institutionalised routine by imposing many simple basic rules, he was quite right to add that by the same token the operation of such an inadequate regime blunts staff development and gives only limited job satisfaction.

As the right reverend Prelate said, this report underlines the lack of any kind of therapy, remedial or rehabilitation treatment. It strongly stresses the need for the public to take more interest in what happens in their prisons. The public take a great interest in what happens in schools and hospitals; if they focused their interest on what was happening inside their own prisons I cannot help but believe that the conditions which have come about in Wandsworth Prison would not be allowed.

I shall be very grateful for some answers from the Minister to my specific questions and I share a hope with all those who have spoken that Judge Tumim's very frank report, its recommendations and this debate will result in vast improvements to this prison and will remove what I can only see as a very grave blot on this country's reputation as a humane society.

7.3 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, for raising this subject today because it is one which exercises your Lordships and your Lordships have been traditionally concerned with prisons —what they are like inside and what happens to those who reside in them. That concern has been expressed again today. It is always difficult to get the balance right between removing people from society as a punishment or to protect society and then ensuring that they are not subjected to a waste of life when they are in prison. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford made quite clear his concern about that. He gave us the benefit of the difficulties to which prisoners are subjected and to which his own pastors are subjected when they try to help the prisoners.

I was also interested by the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Gisborough of using prisoners for work in forestry. It is an interesting suggestion. There are nowadays fewer prisoners who are suitable to work outside the establishment without supervision. This has come about mainly because of the increased use in recent years of non-custodial sentences. In areas where there are open prisons agricultural work and contributions to local community work are carrried out by inmates and these arrangements are operating very satisfactorily. My noble friend is quite right, however, that it gives people an opportunity to do something constructive.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, said that she wished more people would take greater notice of what happens inside prisons. One of the advantages of the publication of the inspector's report is precisely that; these reports are now published and are public knowledge. As has been quite evident today, those of your Lordships who have read the report are interested by what they have discovered.

The report by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons, his honour Judge Tumim, on his inspection of Wandsworth Prison in April 1989 was published on 20th October with a statement setting out the action which was being taken in response. Copies were placed in the Library. The chief inspector provided in the report a constructive —in some places critical —assessment, pointing to serious shortcomings in the regime and in the ethos at Wandsworth. He identified several areas where he considered that improvement was necessary. These included the overall management of the establishment, some aspects of the buildings, the regime for inmates and the facilities for visitors and staff.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, for his observation regarding the governor and his staff. He said that the governor must do all that he can to create good relations between himself and his staff but in the end the governor had to govern. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, was quite right in that, if I may say so. He was right also to underline that very simple but very important point.

The chief inspector recommended that Wandsworth's functions should be more clearly defined and that priorities for management action should be set. As all noble Lords will agree, Wandsworth has always been somewhere which has housed what one might call the heaviest of criminals: those who have raped and mugged, Rule 43 prisoners and those who have been sent there from other prisons because they were not suited to their easier regime.

In that respect Wandsworth has always been a tough place. But its virtue is that its very toughness has enabled other prisons to house less hardened people and therefore to be able to have more enlightened regimes. One should not lose sight of that fact. In other words, it has enabled the rest of the prison system to function better.

Wandsworth is the main prison in London for long sentence prisoners, a function which it carries out very well. Long-term prisoners start their sentences at Wandworth and are allocated from there to other prisons. If a prisoner fails to respond at the prison to which he is allocated, it is clearly best for him to be returned to Wandsworth where he was originally assessed. He can then start again. This inevitably means that Wandsworth has more than its share of difficult prisoners.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford was worried about a prison's ability to reform and to understand its prisoners. I believe he said that prisoners were banged up with nothing to do. He rightly reminded us of the chaplain's difficulties in trying to help prisoners. Nobody denies that it is a difficult position. Governors can and should incorporate the help of voluntary services. I believe that this is a matter about which the right reverend Prelate was concerned. With the best will in the world there are roles which voluntary and Christian agencies can undertake better, more sensitively and more personally than even the best of the prison regimes. The governor of Wandswroth is making as much use of voluntary agencies as he can. These kinds of agencies are being involved in setting up arrangements for improved visitors' facilities. The New Bridge organisation, of which the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, is the chairman, is also involved in that work.

The inspectors were not impressed with Wandsworth's agreed functions document. They considered that a vital early task should be to review the existing statement of functions, and in particular they considered that the function of the Rule 43 wings should be reviewed and the prison's role in coping with difficult prisoners who had failed in other prisons in the South-East region should be examined. This criticism was accepted.

The governor and his senior staff are completely revising the establishment's functions document and its priorities, with the assistance of headquarters specialists. They are drawing up what they call corporate objectives for all groups of staff. That is what one might call prisonspeak for the functions document. There are no plans in the near future to change the basic role of Wandsworth, which will continue to house Rule 43 prisoners in G, H and K wings and which will receive from other prisons in the region inmates who do not find it easy to accept the more open regimes which other prisons offer.

The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, said that it is only money that will put the prison business right. He has frequently said that, and I understand his concern to improve the prisons and his view that a great deal of money has to be spent. During the present year, 1989–90, £123 million is being spent on work in existing prisons. In addition, £200 million is being spent on building new prisons. At Wandsworth £5 million of building work is in hand and over £500,000 is for work due to start early next year. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, may well say that that is not enough, but in his customary generosity he will accept that it is quite a lot of money and that a good deal is being done.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford and the noble Lord, Lord Harris, referred to the visits of relatives and said how important they were. They are important because they enable a prisoner to keep in touch with his family. I do not know how it came about that prisoners were being denied visits twice a month until they had been at Wandsworth for three-and-a-half months. The present governor found that this was the practice when he was appointed and it was then stopped.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, asked about the condition of the buildings. A major survey carried out at the end of 1984 showed that most of the buildings needed to be repaired and to be upgraded. A 10-year programme of work was prepared and that has started. The inspectors recommended that integral sanitation should be installed in all cells at Wandsworth within seven years, and that showers should then be installed in the recesses which have been previously used to house toilets. There is a programme to install integral sanitation in 300 cells at Wandsworth as part of the initiative which was announced by my right honourable friend the then Home Secretary in February this year.

We have considered whether the programme could be speeded up and expanded, but the overall building programme at Wandsworth in the next few years is very extensive, as the report points out. This work is essential if we are to maintain and improve the fabric and the services; if we are to upgrade security and if we are to provide new facilities, including a new reception facility which the chief inspector's report identified as being urgently required. Work is also in hand on the upgrading of the drainage system and is shortly to start on reroofing the wings.

This overall programme of work will extend the works department at Wandsworth to the full, and any additional work at this stage would jeopardise this vital programme. We have accepted the inspectors' recommendation that the works department should be provided with additional resources, and its complement has been increased by six. It is against this background that it would simply not be practicable to speed up the provision of integral sanitation at this time, notwithstanding the fact that it is desirable. I shall give way in a moment to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, but this point is important. We have first to get the main drainage system and the water supply system upgraded before we can implement the new integral sanitation. It simply will not function until the other work has been done.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, the noble Earl has given me half the answer; namely, that certain things have to be done first. I hope that when they are done the noble Earl will try to get assurance that the work will not depend only on the existing staff but will be contracted out in order that the project may be completed much more quickly. Obviously, this work cannot be done before the more urgent work but it should be done immediately afterwards.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I can quite understand the noble Lord's concern. He will realise that these undertakings have to move in progression. What we wish to achieve is to get the drainage work done first. Then it is our intention to have the sanitation work completed as soon as possible. I cannot give a guarantee to the noble Lord as to the method by which this will be done. It is planned to start the integral sanitation once the drainage system at Wandsworth —which at present is being totally disruptive —has been completed. One of the problems is the necessity to decamp prisoners into alternative accommodation while the integral sanitation is being installed. It is preferable that this should be done by closing a whole wing, but that merely compounds the difficulty of prisoner accommodation.

The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, asked about the pilot integral sanitation scheme which has already been installed at Wandsworth. He was kind enough to say that I could answer by letter, but I shall be quite happy now to give the noble Lord the answer which he requires. I am sure he will then be generous enough to say that I have given him the full answer and not only half of it.

Eight cells have had lavatories and washbasins with cold running water installed. The work took six weeks to complete and cost £925 per cell, £475 of which was accounted for by materials. It was undertaken by three prison work staff and six inmates. No contractors were involved in the work. In addition, the opportunity is now being taken, while refurbishing is being done in K wing, to install integral sanitation into 10 cells in K wing.

It is only right to point out that the prototype was installed into cells which are close to existing sanitary recesses where all the services are provided and which therefore makes for relatively simple and easy installation. Installation of integral sanitation throughout all the wings will involve more drainage, cold water tanks, boilers and pipes, and will be a much more complicated task.

We recognise that much needs to be done in order to improve the poor visiting facilities which exist at Wandsworth. The recommendations which were made by the chief inspector to the governor of Wandsworth have been accepted in full. The need for a visitors' centre and for facilities for nursing mothers was identified before the inspection report, and a committee was set up at Wandsworth in order to look at proposals for a visitors' centre.

The Butler Trust and the prisoners' wives representatives at Brixton Prison have been approached for suggestions as to how the facilities can be improved. It is hoped that a building close to the prison will be converted. This new visitors' centre will include a play area and an area for nursing mothers. The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, asked when the visitors' centre will be open. I cannot give a date for that at present. The proposals are still at an early stage but they will be implemented as soon as it is possible to do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, referred to catering. The chief inspector made five recommendations. Catering staff at Wandsworth have increased by six in recent months. The staff now consists of one principal officer, two senior officers and seven officers. A board has recently been held to fill the vacant governor 5 catering post, and the one officer vacancy in the kitchen will also be filled soon.

Work on the major refurbishment of the kitchen wash-up area is due for completion at the end of this month and a full range of food samples is now being retained in case it may be necessary to subject the food to testing at a later date. Funds have been made available for the provision of sterilising sinks in the wings for the washing of trays and arrangements will be put in hand shortly for the installation of these. The relocation of the places from which food is served away from recesses which contain the toilets is a major works programme. This is still being considered. As an interim measure, toilet recesses are not used at times when meals are being served.

The issue of Crown immunity is frequently referred to. At present, the catering facilities of prison service establishments are exempt from the requirements of the Food Hygiene (General) Regulations 1970. These include the requirement which allows environmental health officers of the local authority the right of access to premises to carry out inspections. We are, though, acutely conscious of the need for food hygiene practice in prison establishments to be of a high standard. Despite the fact that prisons have, by tradition, received Crown immunity, it is the Government's policy that prisons should meet the same standards of hygiene as if they did not have that immunity.

To assist in this, a programme of inspections is undertaken by professionally qualified officers in the Home Office, all of whom hold the Diploma in Food Hygiene from the Royal Institute of Public Health and Hygiene. Under this programme, the catering facilities of each establishment are the subject of a formal inspection at least once a year. This programme is supplemented by a series of 12 independent validation inspections each year by an environmental health officer from the Department of Health. Establishments receive no prior warning of either the internal or the validation inspections.

Governors and medical officers have a crucial role to play in the day-to-day monitoring of standards and in identifying shortcomings. Medical officers in particular have a specific responsibility for supervising hygiene standards in their establishments, and they are required to carry out full inspections twice a year. In order to help medical officers and line managers, comprehensive guidance on hygiene was issued in July of this year. Health and safety policy statements were also circulated to the service in August. These set out improved arrangements for monitoring standards and they impose a requirement that governors should include a section on hygiene standards in their annual reports on their establishments. I hope that this will help to improve the standards of hygiene.

There are no plans at present to consider the removal of Crown immunity from the kitchens of prison establishments, as we think that the present arrangements serve to set and to maintain the standards which are required by the regulations. We shall continue to seek ways of making improvements, and we will keep under review the whole question of Crown immunity.

I have some sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said about the intrusiveness of censoring of inmates' correspondence and the effect which this has on relationships between inmates and staff. It is also, as he pointed out, a time-consuming and costly procedure. We recognise that there would be advantages in reducing censorship, not only at Wandsworth but also at all Category B establishments. Noble Lords may know that, in recent years, we have substantially reduced censorship at lower security establishments. There is now no censorship at open prisons, which are Category D prisons, and merely random monitoring of some 5 per cent. of the mail at Category C establishments. Where remand and other Category B prisoners are concerned, the implications for security and control are clearly more serious and will need to be examined in some detail before a decision on a possible reduction of censorship is taken. I can assure the House that this is now being closely considered.

The noble Lord drew attention to the chief inspector's recommendation concerning race relations at Wandsworth prison. The governors have accepted and have acted on all these recommendations.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, asked whether disciplinary action had been taken against staff at Wandsworth who were wearing unofficial insignia or who had slashed the peaks of their caps. I understand that no disciplinary action has been taken. The instructions which the governor issued on the matter were complied with, and there was no need to consider any further action. Disciplinary action is probably not the best way of dealing with this kind of problem, which is more a matter of staff attitudes. We should try to seek changes in other ways.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, and other noble Lords referred to the position of black people in Wandsworth. The noble Lord said that there were no black prison officers. There are at least two black orderlies—

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I was asking why no black prisoners were used as orderlies. The inspector pointed out that there were 30 such jobs. In a prison where 33 per cent. of the inmates are black, there was not one black face in that group of orderlies. Is that question also being addressed?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I can tell the noble Lord that there are at least two black orderlies, including the governor's orderly. The governor is now monitoring the employment of inmates and other activities in order to ensure that there is no discrimination. Allocation of work is now in the hands of a governor grade officer.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford referred to the difficulty of changing library books and asked why this could not be done at least once a week. That is the aim but there are certain logistical problems. Arranging for some 1,500 inmates to visit the library, escorting them there and taking them back presents severe logistical problems. The library can hold only 20 or 30 inmates at a time. It is sometimes necessary to cancel a library visit in favour of other activities such as taking prisoners to court. I can assure the House that it is the governor's aim that visits to the library should take place once a week.

The inspectors acknowledged that Wandsworth had carried out a difficult range of functions for more than 20 years without an escape or a major disturbance. But they stated that this had been achieved by imposing a most basic and restrictive regime which gave inmates a low quality of life and which blunted staff development. The right reverend Prelate, among others, referred to this matter. The chief inspector recommended that urgent steps should be taken to improve the regime for inmates. We agree. But progress on the regime will need to be made in stages, and by looking at each group of prisoners separately. This process has begun.

The first groups to receive attention were the vulnerable prisoners in G, H and K wings and the long-term population. Prison officers now lead courses in G, H and K wings in order to help prisoners cope with living in prison and to prepare them for their release. There are also plans for further courses for prisoners in mid-sentence. Cell hobbies, evening chess clubs and hobbies clubs have been introduced. By the end of this month, prisoners on these wings will have access to showers there. The governor, with the help of regional office at Woking, is now examining proposals in order to improve the regime in other parts of the prison.

However, the chief inspector also found some positive features in the existing regime. He commented on the large amount of devoted work which is being undertaken by the staff. This was also referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, and by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford. As I say, he noted the large amount of work carried out in a devoted fashion. He mentioned favourably the industries at the prison, which has spacious workshops providing some 450 places in tailoring, textiles, carpentry, brushmaking and contract services, as well as work being undertaken in the laundry.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, asked why 37 beds in the hospital were not being used. The chief inspector and his team criticised the prison hospital because they found that ward facilities were under-used and that hospital staff were employed on administrative rather than nursing duties. A thorough appraisal of the hospital accommodation, staff and facilities was recommended.

This recommendation has been accepted by the Director of Prison Medical Services, and a thorough appraisal of the hospital accommodation, staff and facilities has been carried out. There happened to be no particular call on some of the ward facilities. The opportunity has been taken to have a thorough review in order to use the space which is available more efficiently.

The medical director has also taken steps to strengthen medical management within the establishment, and it is expected that at least two hospital officers who are at present engaged on administrative duties will be released to nursing duties shortly.

These measures, taken together, will enable the hospital facility at Wansdworth to play a significantly greater part in the medical and nursing care of prisoner patients in the South-East region. I am most grateful to the chief inspector for the impetus he has given to furthering that desirable objective.

We welcomed the wide-ranging nature of the chief inspector's report. Work was put in hand on many other matters which the report brought to the attention of the director general, the regional director and the governor.

The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, was kind enough to give me advance notice about the points about which he was concerned. He highlighted some of the recommendations, as indeed did the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich. I can assure your Lordships that the Government have been acting upon them. For example, a second bowl and a second towel will be issued to each inmate as soon as supplies are received. The recommended improvements in the arrangements for showers and for changes of clothing are being met.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, asked whether we can guarantee one shower a week. I can tell the noble Lord that that is in fact the aim. However, the question of unforeseen staff demands, such as escort duty and so on, may on occasion make this difficult. I cannot give him a guarantee but I can tell him that it is our aim that this should be so.

A project is being started on the introduction of a personal kit system. Inmates can now buy stamps from their private cash and there are also proposals further to improve the canteen facilities by providing separate facilities for G, H and K wings and for the rest of the prison.

As your Lordships will be aware, the prison department has a thorough procedure for following up inspection reports. This report itself will be followed up by the Deputy Director General of the Prison Service, and he has arranged to visit Wandsworth in the near future in order to do so. Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons will be informed of the progress on his recommendations.

The chief inspector commended staff at Wandsworth for coping as well as they do, and he noted a determination in the senior staff to see through the alterations which had been started. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, also commended the work carried out by the staff at Wandsworth. I am grateful to him for his remarks because the staff receive some fairly robust treatment at times. It is good to know, despite the difficulties, that their work is appreciated. Moreover, I should certainly like to express my thanks to them for their work.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, perhaps I may just ask the Minister about the part of the report which refers to the department's failure to produce the 10 officers who under the framework agreement were owing to the prison on 1st April. He has spoken on several occasions about the shortages of staff and what would happen should the situation continue. Can he comment on that part of the report?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I have tried to cover most matters in my response. If I may, I should prefer to leave that part of the report for the moment. However, if necessary, I shall investigate the matter and write to the noble Baroness accordingly.

We all recognise the fact that there is much to be done at Wandsworth. The chief inspector's report provides a generally realistic and encouraging prescription. We are all concerned to put this into practice as soon as possible. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, that our discussions this evening have shown just how valuable this kind of a debate can be. He has been good enough to put the matter forward and I must say that it has given noble Lords the opportunity to express their concern. I hope that it has given me the opportunity of, if not allaying such concerns, at least telling your Lordships what is being done and how the Government see the matter.