HL Deb 23 July 1991 vol 531 cc729-68

8.14 p.m.

The Earl of Longford rose to ask Her Majesty's Government when they intend to implement the main recommendations of the report of Lord Justice Woolf and His Honour Judge Stephen Tumim (Prison Disturbances April 1990, Cm. 1456).

The noble Earl said: My Lords, the long list of distinguished speakers is evidence of the importance which the House attaches not only to this subject but also to the necessity of having a debate on it before the holidays. I shall not go through the names because in doing so I would use up my time. I am not giving myself a great many minutes. I am particularly pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, will follow me. He has written arguably the best book on penal matters in recent years. Its only rival is a book which I may not mention here on the grounds of indecency. The noble Lord will be dealing with the remand system for prisoners. That is perhaps the greatest scandal of all in our prison system. I shall not be dealing with that matter.

I am also happy that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, is to reply. His energy seems inexhaustible. Someone is bringing a libel action against him. He is accused of receiving replacement hormones. I do not know whether that can happen to a gentleman. However. the noble Earl obviously has some source of strength denied to most of us. He has been dealing with dogs all day and something else before that. Now he is here before us winding up this debate. Does he never eat, drink or sleep? He is a phenomenon. However, his good humour is proverbial. It may be rather strained this evening because, in my mild way, and others more venomously perhaps, will be criticising the line that the Government are taking. I know that his good humour will survive it all.

I submit three propositions with what I consider to be brevity and therefore rather dogmatically. No doubt other speakers will deal with particular aspects. The first proposition is that the state of our prisons and of the life we provide for our prisoners is, at the present time, quite unworthy of our supposedly Christian country. I do not think that anyone who has read the scathing reports of the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Judge Tumim, can deny that proposition. I am glad that he joined with Lord Justice Woolf in the inquiry.

The second proposition is that the Woolf-Tumim report opens up a vision of a prison system and life in prisons of which we can be genuinely proud. Thirdly, it is the urgent duty of the Government of the day, who happen to be our friends opposite, although it could be any government, to commit themselves to the vision unfolded to us by Lord Justice Woolf and Judge Tumim and to move rapidly toward its fulfilment.

That is the background. I pay tribute in passing to the services rendered to all those interested in these questions by at least three organisations and no doubt others. In particular I am thinking of the Prison Reform Trust, NACRO and the historic Howard League for Penal Reform which was much refreshed recently by the accession of Mr. John Mortimer as its president. I wish to quote a sentence supplied to me by the Prison Reform Trust. It sums up the crucial issue before us in better words than I can command. The trust says: Woolf should be particularly commended for its support of more purposeful regimes for prisoners".

That is the most important aspect of all. It is more important than slopping out and such things, although they are vital. The trust also states that with, the provision of appropriate opportunities for prisoners, there is a chance of helping them to lead a more law-abiding life on release".

I quote that particular sentence because it combines the two objectives of the Woolf-Tumim approach and puts into words what many of us have tried to say over the years.

On the one hand, we are thinking of the more humane treatment of prisoners; on the other we are thinking of rendering prisoners better citizens, which is in the interests of society. I wish to quote one other sentence: it is from David Evans. He submitted it to me in evidence when I was writing a book last year. He is the much admired general secretary of the Prison Officers' Association. He has no doubt whatever that conditions in prisons are worse than they were 20 years ago, when standards and conditions in the country generally are rising and are certainly better than they were 20 years ago. Social services also are generally much improved. David Evans told me that, prisoners can be rehabilitated but if they are locked up for most of the day with no work there is no chance of rehabilitation".

That is the opinion expressed by someone who is in close alliance with the Chief Inspector of Prisons.

I turn now to the Tumim report which makes 204 specific recommendations. Fortunately for all concerned, 12 key recommendations were selected for us. Of those I shall touch on only five, and those very briefly. I accept all the recommendations in principle. I shall not go into them too closely except to comment upon the recommendation concerning the more visible leadership of the prison service by the director general. That seems to me to be rather a red herring, but no report is perfect. The report contains that rather unhappy suggestion. That said, I support almost all the recommendations.

I shall speak on just a few of the recommendations. Recommendation No. 4 demands what it calls "an enhanced role for prison officers". That could mean many things, but those are the words used. I certainly subscribe to that wholeheartedly. When I opened the first debate on prisons in this House in 1955 my main constructive suggestion was that prison officers should be given the same kind of training as social workers. Nothing of that kind has happened over the past 36 years. Some improvements have been made, but there have been many retrograde steps. The idea of giving prison officers an altogether new role was mentioned by me 36 years ago. Of course, I now support that recommendation in the Woolf Report. If the Government mean to do anything about that, they must show some sign of action in the immediate future and not merely use weasel words.

Recommendations Nos. 6 and 7 can be taken together. I ask leave to quote them as that will make the House more aware of their content. Recommendation No. 6 states: A national system of Accredited Standards, with which, in time, each prison establishment would be required to comply".

That is crucial. In a sense, it contains all the other reforms. If we had a system of accredited standards we would achieve the Woolf aspirations. Recommendation No. 7 suggests: A new Prison Rule that no establishment should hold more prisoners than is provided for in its certified normal level of accommodation".

If those recommendations were carried out they would transform the whole of prison life. However, I emphasise that that cannot be achieved without great expenditure. There is no way around that. Results cannot be achieved merely by clever management, by a prisoners' charter, a prison officers' charter, or any other charter. To bring about those great changes large sums of money are needed. If I were to be quoted on only one sentence tonight, it would be "you cannot have Woolf on the cheap". That is crucial. If anyone thinks they can achieve the Woolf recommendations without spending extra money, they need their head examining.

The story is different with regard to Recommendation No. 8 which refers to the provision of proper sanitation for all inmates. To be fair to the Government—I am not going out of my way to be fair to them tonight—they say that they hope to be doing better than is suggested in the Woolf Report. Let us give them credit at least for their aspiration.

The last recommendation to which I shall refer is No. 12. It is a long recommendation, but I must read it in full. The recommendation states: Improved standards of justice within prisons involving the giving of reasons to a prisoner for any decision which materially and adversely affects him; a grievance procedure and disciplinary proceedings which ensure that the Governor deals with most matters under his present powers; relieving Boards of Visitors of their adjudicatory role; and providing for final access"—

and this is very important— to an independent Complaints Adjudicator".

Those four recommendations would obviously have a great humanising effect on the life of prisoners. They would not require a great deal of money. I do not see why they cannot be carried out within existing limits. I would not put them on the same level as the recommendations I mentioned earlier which require substantial expenditure.

Before saying a few words about the Government's attitude, I must refer to a subject that was often discussed during the course of the debates on the Criminal Justice Bill. I refer to sentencing policy. We are aware that the Woolf/Tumim inquiry was not mandated to discuss sentencing, and I do not say that it should have been. It was instigated as an inquiry into the prison riots. I have not even mentioned the riots, though I did visit Strangeways Prison twice during that period. I believe the noble Lord, Lord Dean, is dealing with the Strangeways situation. However, the inquiry was not set up to deal with sentencing. As has been said so often, we send too many people to prison. We send more people to prison than do other European countries. We do so because the judges send them there. Until we achieve some kind of control over the judges and thereby bring about a new approach on the part of the judges we shall still have the overcrowding which results in an unsatisfactory situation. That is not a criticism of Woolf/Tumim; the inquiry was not asked to deal with that. If we were looking for a complete penal policy it would be essential to establish some kind of sentencing council, or whatever one wishes to call it, and the sooner the better.

I turn now to the role of the Government. There has been increasing cynicism in recent times. I was not sure whether those who were advising me were quite correct in referring to that cynicism. I want the noble Earl to hear what I am about to say because it is the least pleasant part of my remarks and I do not want him to miss it. I was preparing my remarks when it came to my notice that it had been reported in a newspaper—not widely reported, but it was reported —that the present Home Secretary had said that the whole Woolf programme would take 25 years to implement. I have been given a copy of what he said. Where the Home Secretary made that remark last week it caused widespread dismay and despair.

I hope that that is not the Government's last word. If it is, it is a complete betrayal of the Woolf recommendations. It is nonsense to pretend that the Government are in any way accepting the Woolf recommendations if they say the recommendations will take 20 or 25 years. I want the noble Earl to realise that, on the face of it, that remark by the Home Secretary has defeated any possibility that the Government are accepting the Woolf Report. However, this Government will not be here for ever. Governments come and go. We may hope for better things.

The penal reform movement will not disappear. Nothing is likely to undermine it. It has deep and varied. roots. I shall mention only a few names but there are many. Among Christian leaders I think of Archbishop William Temple and of the noble Lord, Lord Super. I think also of Cardinal Hume, without whose efforts even a measure of justice—full justice has not been achieved—would not have been secured for the Guildford Four and the Maguire family. I think also of Victor Glance, who in his latter days called himself a Judea-Christian, and of Barbara Wooten, the great rationalist. I had the great honor to introduce her into this House.

In his hook, the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, referred to Barbara Wooten's services to prison reform. As a magistrate, a criminologist and above all as a promoter of alternatives to prison, I would place her first among the penal reformers of our time. It has not been a Christian monopoly but there has been a strong, Christian tradition, a point which I am sure will be amplified by the right reverend Prelate when he speaks later. I think also of famous reforming Home Secretaries—Sir Winston Churchill while still a Liberal, Lord Butler, a Conservative, and the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hill head, while still Labour. He was a very enlightened Home Secretary. I think of all those people and of many humble people whose names are not known to history.

For myself I can only express my attitude in words which I used in a previous debate. I was asked by someone whether I could feel any kinship or point of contact with someone who had committed a terrible crime. I said that I feel all the kinship in the world— we are both members of the human race. That is the root of the matter. We are all, whether prisoners, prison staffs, or the general public, and never forgetting for a moment the victims of crime, members of the same human race. Any government who deserve the name enlightened in this field should recognise that and try to give effect to it. At the present time the omens are not good. It is the eleventh hour. I can only hope and pray that the light will fall on the Government before they themselves descend into darkness.

8.33 p m.

Lord Windlesham

My Lords, it is a coincidence that earlier today we were debating the final stages of the Criminal Justice Bill. It is worth remembering that legislation is not simply the culmination of a long drawn out process of carefully considered policy formulation by Ministers, civil servants and political parties but is also greatly influenced by unexpected events. The more serious those are, the more likely it is that an inquiry will ensue. It is more often than not the case that that inquiry will be presided over by a judge. The resulting reports and recommendations then form part of an agenda for governmental action. Therefore there is topicality in debating the report on the riots that took place at Strangeways and at other prisons in April 1990. Once again the House owes a debt to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for raising this matter for debate.

The thanks of the House are also due to Lord Justice Woolf, to Judge Tumim and to those who assisted them in their inquiry. The report shows the thoroughness that they brought to their task and the fair-mindedness and the judicious nature of the many recommendations that were made as a result of a period of 10 months' intensive work. I gave evidence to the inquiry on the subject of remand prisoners and also took part in one of the seminars arranged by Lord Justice Woolf, which was a welcome innovation. I should like to concentrate again on that subject.

One of the key approaches towards penal policy at the moment is to try to work towards removing unconvinced and unsentenced prisoners from the grossly overcrowded local gaols and placing them in separate establishments, whenever, that is, they cannot safely be granted bail. The figures tell the whole story. At Strangeways at the time of the riot the total number in custody was 1,647. That was by no means a record. The number had been higher for some months before. Out of that total 500 were adult or young prisoners either awaiting trial or, having been convicted, awaiting sentence. The certified normal accommodation was 940. Lord Justice Woolf and Judge Tumim have already pronounced in their report that the conditions for remand prisoners at Strangeways were impoverished and totally inadequate. They described them as wholly unsatisfactory. They went on to make a wider analysis arising out of what they found at Strangeways.

At that same time—30th March 1990, the eve of the disturbances—the total prison population in England and Wales was 47,304, of whom 8,114 were untried and unsentenced prisoners on remand. I checked with the Home Office today and found that the number on remand has risen sharply to a total of 9,310. That is still around the one in five proportion, which is 20 per cent. or thereabouts. I also found, most regrettably, and perhaps to the surprise of some in the House—it surprised me—that 1,174 are now confined temporarily in police cells. It seemed that there had been a realistic possibility of ending that highly undesirable practice. Indeed, for a period—a period of many months—there were so far as I know no remand prisoners in police custody. To find that the figure has now gone back up more than 1,000 can only be described as a disappointment.

Some of those held in custody on remand are by any standards peculiarly inappropriate prisoners—juveniles and mentally disordered persons.

Widespread concern has been expressed about the practice of remanding juveniles to adult prisons and to remand centres where they are exposed to intimidation, bullying and the harmful influences of older and more experienced offenders. It is a sign of some progress that the Home Secretary, only a matter of weeks ago, announced plans to end remand to prison for juveniles when local authorities can provide alternative secure accommodation. It may take a period of up to four years, but it is to be hoped that the period can be greatly foreshortened. Mentally disordered people, some of whom are unable to cope adequately in the community pending trial, are also particularly ill suited to pre-trial detention in overcrowded gaols.

I contend that it is wrong in principle and harmful in practice that those persons who have been charged with criminal offences which are punishable by imprisonment and who are awaiting trial should be subject to the same, or very often worse, conditions as sentenced prisoners who have been deprived of their liberty as a punishment. We should never forget that the justification for pre-trial detention, the denial of bail, is preventive; it is not punitive. That point is vividly made by Lord Justice Woolf in the report. That separate status should be marked by regimes and, wherever possible, separate establishments which are designed to meet the needs of the unconvicted prisoners who are of course innocent until they are found guilty; that is, if they are found guilty, because a certain number of them are acquitted.

The consequence of sending remand prisoners to the same establishments as convicted and sentenced prisoners has been to get the worst of both worlds. Local prisons, as we have seen from the example of Strangeways, have become more and more overcrowded, causing physical conditions to deteriorate still further. The extra burdens of escorting remand prisoners to and from court and supervising frequent visits can only be met by prison officers neglecting their responsibilities towards the work, training and exercise of sentenced prisoners.

It is true that under the Bill which left this House for the last time earlier today there is a prospect of some relief in the matter of escorts and court security staff. However, the central point is that, so far as I am aware, it has never been public policy, worked out by officials, put before Parliament by Ministers and authorised by Parliament, that accused persons who have been remanded in custody by the courts must go to prison. The reason why an overwhelming majority do so is that there is no other secure accommodation to which they can be sent.

In the report Lord Justice Woolf had much to say. He made sensible and practical observations about diverting remand prisoners from the local gaols and indeed from prison. He spoke about the procedures in court, about bail information schemes, prison bail schemes, bail hostels, special hostels, secure hostels and a number of other alternative policies which could be adopted to divert people from prison who do not have to be held in custody.

My contention is that there is now an opportunity to go further and pursue more far reaching reform, recognising the fact that there is a different status for pre-trial detention from punishment as a result of conviction following a criminal offence. A policy objective should be to separate so far as is possible remand prisoners from those who are serving sentences of imprisonment as a punishment. At the very least, there should be a separate prison department division for remand prisoners and separate rules governing the treatment and entitlements of those who are held on remand. I gave the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, notice of this question. I hope that he will be able to tell me whether the Home Office has made any move as yet in that direction.

In conclusion, we should remember that one in five of the total prison population is unconvicted or unsentenced. Therefore, if a substantial group of several thousand pre-trial detainees can be detached from prison service establishments, not only would their separate status be recognised but the prison service, freed from such a substantial part of the total prison population, would be free to concentrate on the urgent task of providing proper regimes, including proper security for sentenced prisoners, in the way so clearly described by Lord Justice Woolf and Judge Tumim in their notable report.

8.45 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford

My Lords, I should like first to thank the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for the very moving way in which he ended his speech. He reminded us that in all our discussions on the treatment of prisoners we are actually talking about fellow human beings. His is that kind of humanity which is sometimes lacking in our discussions. Certainly, it gives that feeling of talking about brothers and sisters which is very true to the Christian tradition.

I too should like to thank the noble Earl for bringing this matter before your Lordships' House. I say that because I am deeply aware of the necessity to bring a sense of urgency into dealing with the problems identified in the report of Lord Justice Woolf and Judge Stephen Tumim. Like the noble Earl, I was alarmed to see reported in the press on 19th July a prediction by the Home Secretary that it would take Ministers 25 years to implement the recommendations of the Woolf Report.

His remarks, it was commented, fed fears that the Government were preparing to reverse their unequivocal welcome of the report's recommendations, while the director of the Prison Reform Trust added wistfully: I cannot believe that Lord Justice Woolf envisaged that it would take until 2016 to put this report into effect". I devoutly hope that there will not be any tardiness on the part of the Government in dealing with the deplorable prison conditions of which many of us are only too painfully aware.

Chelmsford Prison, a category B prison built in the early 1800s, has the distinction of being the second most overcrowded prison in the country. With a certified normal accommodation figure of 240, it currently accommodates 400 prisoners. It is not difficult to understand what such overcrowding means, nor to imagine some of the strains it puts upon the system. Moreover, despite the density of the prison population, the introduction of integral sanitation has not yet started at Chelmsford.

I cannot but believe that custodial sentences are far too many. But, if custody is to be a penalty which is in any way meaningful or humane or worthy of a Christian country, it must be seen first and foremost as the deprivation of liberty, not entry into a degrading environment in which basic human requirements are either ignored or suppressed. The Mission statement of the prison department of England and Wales has this to say: Her Majesty's Prison Service serves the public by keeping in custody those committed by the Courts. Our duty is to look after teem with humanity and to help them lead law-abiding and useful lives in custody and after release". That is a noble statement, but too often the harsh regime in existence in our prisons makes the fulfilment of its aims and ideals seem an impossibly long way off.

What are the factors which contribute to that situation? The Woolf Report speaks of an enhanced role for prison officers. Like the noble Earl, Lord Longford, I believe that that is crucial. Our prison officers carry out on behalf of society duties which are tough, demanding and wearing. Many people are greatly encouraged by the new staff members who have been recruited over the past few years since the introduction of Fresh Start, and, to some extent, with the new training that they are given. However, that lasts 12 weeks only, while those in middle management as wing managers clearly need additional training in social skills if they are to play their part in the transformation of attitudes and relationships.

Lo:-d Justice Woolf speaks of a compact or contract for each prisoner, setting out the prisoners' expectations and responsibilities to the prison in which he or she is held. The rightness of such a proposal would be seen immediately in any other social or industrial environment, but the introduction of such a compact would have to mean more than do the so-called "rights" which prisoners already "enjoy".

It i a presently the right of prisoners to be able to attend an act of worship weekly. A fortnight last Saturday, Roman Catholic mass at Chelmsford prison was cancelled because not enough prison officers were available. No one wants to be protective about the Church; no one wants to dismiss the practical difficulties faced by the prison service: on the other hand, those opportunities for worship; for receiving ministry from a band of skilled, experienced and dedicated chaplains; for learning something of forgiveness and of the values of God's kingdom must be safeguarded and ought never to be put under threat.

In addition to those difficulties encountered by the chaplaincy service, library visits are frequently postponed, and the education programme is devastated by frequent cancellations. The idea of the compact is to be welcomed, but it must be understood that it will need to he based upon something firmer than existing prisoners' rights.

The Woolf Report recommends: better prospects for prisoners to maintain links with families and the community through home visits and home leaves and through being located in community prisons as near to their homes as possible". Clearly, prisoners need to maintain close links with their families and loved ones if they are to be reintegrated into the wider community after release; but relationships are difficult to sustain during imprisonment, nor does the present system make it easy for relatives. Relatives are often treated with less than civility, almost as if they were criminals themselves. The portacabin beside Chelmsford prison is an attempt by Churches and charities to provide shelter for visitors, who have to wait outside to be summoned by a voice over the Tannoy. It has no toilets or changing facilities for children.

There can be no doubt that stamina is required by those who visit loved ones in prison. What a failure to recognise the importance of encouraging the maintenance of home and family links if hope is to be kept alive, the coarsening effect of prison life is to be counterbalanced and the number of suicides kept to a minimum.

Lord Justice Woolf speaks of remand prisoners. Your Lordships will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, for the expert way in which he dealt with that matter. In Chelmsford, they may be required to stay on remand for 12 to 15 months. Technically innocent until proved guilty, they nevertheless experience the harshness of a regime which, due to the strains on the system, copes more easily when prisoners are locked away. I cannot believe but that much greater effort needs to be made to ensure that only offenders who clearly cannot be granted bail are remanded in custody, and that the possibility of bail is constantly explored by probation officers on behalf of remand prisoners.

Finally, the Woolf Report calls for improved standards of justice. Surely that is fundamental. If justice is felt to be absent by those who are confined to prison, what respect for law and order does that experience engender? A touch more humanity and respect for the human being would not come amiss either, remembering the words of the One who said: I was in prison and you visited me … for inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me".

8.56 p.m.

Lord Blease

My Lords, I join other noble Lords who have commended the initiative of my noble friend Lord Longford in promoting this timely and important debate. It is to be regretted that after some five months we are now considering this crucial report at this late hour at the tail end of the parliamentary Session. It is unlikely that the debate would have occurred were it not for the interest and efforts of my noble friend. Is there not every justification for the accusation that the Government are dragging their feet over the urgent issues highlighted in the report?

The Woolf Report is a weighty document in many respects. It is weighty not just in its size but in the amount of media attention it generated, the high degree of informed public interest and debate it has stimulated, and the measured insight and influence it has brought to bear on prison regimes and the role, functions and structures of the prison service. It is a wide-ranging and constructive report which deals in a penetrating, analytical and positive way with the issues raised by the widespread prison rioting and disturbances which occurred in April 1990. It was an outbreak of prison disorder that shocked the whole of the United Kingdom and attracted worldwide media coverage.

It must be stressed that the report deals with more basic and fundamental issues of urgent penal reform than the immediate causes of last year's prison riots. If accepted in principle and implemented in the fullest practical terms, the 12 recommendations and 204 proposals would be the greatest step forward in penal policy and reform in the history of the United Kingdom prison service.

We await the publication of the White Paper on the future direction of the prison service in England and Wales. We also await whatever administrative short-term measures and the more long-term legislative changes the Government propose. The time scale of those measures must be seen in the light of the Government's history of inertia and neglect in relation to the existing destabilised situation in the prison service. In that connection, we must consider the White Paper, the Queen's Speech, the new parliamentary Session, the new legislative programme and the forthcoming general election. Where, in this programme of events, do the findings of the Woolf Report become substantive? When will the concepts and the words be translated into practical reality—into action that is meaningful to the prison service and the community?

Having mentioned the forthcoming general election, I must say that I do not perceive a public outcry about penal reforms and prison services. Nor do these prison issues feature high on the political agendas of parties' election manifestos. People serving life sentences for the murder of police, security personnel, prison officers, terrorist murders, murders by firearms in the course of robbery and the sexual or sadistic murder of children are not the kind of political causes to be well received or welcomed at party political meetings. In these matters I am sure that we must all be realistically human and acutely sensitive to the sufferings and feelings of the families of the victims of such evil crimes.

At the same time, I am sure that most, if not all of us, agree that people are sent to prison as punishment, not for punishment. Punishment may be necessary to establish the authority of the laws for civilised living. Prison may be necessary for the containment and control of malevolent and dangerous people. However, any form of punishment or imprisonment which makes it harder for the offender to find forgiveness and repentance in plain secular terms diminishes the human dignity of all those who perpetrate such forms of punishment and such conditions.

The declared purpose of the prison service, as stated by the Woolf Report is, to ensure that a prisoner serves his sentence in a way which is consistent with the purpose behind the court's decision to take away his liberty and his freedom of movement; while ensuring he is treated with humanity and justice". That declared purpose is much more consistent with the essence of a faith in the grace and forgiveness of God, which the right reverend Prelate mentioned.

I wish to put the following points to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, who will reply to the debate. I have heard the praise that has already been given to him in this Chamber for the hard work he has undertaken and the attention he has given to the subject. If he is not forthcoming in the matters that I raise, I shall understand his reasons.

First, what is the timetable for the full implementation of each of the measures announced following the Statement on 25th February on the publication of the Woolf Report? When will we have the proposed White Paper on the future direction of the prison service in England and Wales? Does the Minister agree that there is a huge and widespread increase in the expressed public concern about the steep rise in gaol breaks and the escape of prisoners from custody? A Home Office report published a few days ago indicates that in England and Wales, in the six months to the end of May, 726 men and women absconded, 651 failed to return from home leave and 289 went missing.

The report also states that 67 men had escaped from prisons during the five-month period from January to May this year. The average of three escapes per week is double the average figure for the previous three years. During that period there were also 50 escapes from escorts. Is there not a need for urgent government measures to remedy the situation? Would the Minister care to comment on the report published last December which is relevant to the Woolf Report? It was on the review undertaken by Judge Stephen Tumim of the, effectiveness of the current policy and procedures for the prevention of suicide and self-harm in Prison Service establishments in England and Wales, with particular reference to the risks posed by mentally disturbed prisoners, and to make recommendations". I understand that the number of self-inflicted deaths in prisons in England and Wales rose dramatically from 29 in 1985 to 46 in 1987, to 48 in 1989 and 42 in 1990. Can the Minister confirm that the number of mentally disturbed people in prisons in England and Wales is estimated at 9,000? That is about one-fifth of the total daily prison population. What measures do the Government propose to overcome the situation and to take action on the report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales?

For a number of years I have taken more than a passing interest in prison affairs in Northern Ireland, especially in matters concerning prisoners and their families, child care and young offenders. I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of excellently researched, well presented and helpful publications that have emerged from the Home Office. One such publication which is directly relevant to the Woolf Report was sent to me a few days ago. Its title is The Offenders' Tale: Janus Studies. Basically, it is a summary of a new index system of offenders. I understand that the index is one of the largest criminal data bases in Europe.

On., of the findings stated in the publication is that, of all males born in 1953 by the age of 30 one-third had received a conviction for a serious offence. That does not mean that in 1953 people were in some way genetically affected so that they committed crimes. It means that on a population basis in the age group I mentioned one-third of the male population had at some stage been found guilty of a major crime. Those figures, issued officially by the Home Office, are challenging and must be faced squarely by anyone concerned with the future of the prison service.

There are many matters in the Woolf Report which are relevant to the Northern Ireland prison service. However, I am sure that the Minister will be glad to know that I do not propose to raise matters concerning Northern Ireland. I am glad to say that the Province is well ahead of the situation that exists in England and Wales. The House might be interested to hear L. quotation that might indeed be relevant to procedures that could be adopted. The Government information service in Northern Ireland issued a document on 28th June 1991 which stated: The Paymaster General, Lord Belstead, today launched a new strategy which will provide a blueprint for the Northern Ireland Prison Service into the 21st Century. Introducing the booklet Serving the Community, the Northern Ireland Prison Service in the 1990s he said: 'It describes in simple, straightforward language, how the Service will build on its achievements of the past few years and emphasises the wider context within which the Service will operate. Its overriding purpose is to serve the community and the community has a right to know what the Service is about and what is expected of staff. The Minister explained that the strategy emerged from a lengthy consultation process involving staff at all levels in the Service and representatives of groups with a particular interest in prisons and prison matters and added that he was struck by how much common ground there was and how the direction established two years ago by the Service's Aims and Objectives had been validated". The document also stated: The extensive consultation stage included the holding of 6 one-day workshops. Five of these involved over 80 prison staff, the sixth, representatives of groups with a particular interest in prisons". That document shows us the way forward. I believe it is through consultation and co-operation at all levels between the Government and those involved in the prison service—including those who work in prisons and these in the community who take a voluntary interest in these matters—that the recommendations of the Woolf Report can be implemented.

9.9 p.m.

Bareness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, we are very much indebted to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for introducing the Unstarred Question about this extremely important report. The report is of vital interest to everyone.

My association with criminal justice and the prison service started immediately after the Second World War. Herbert Morrison, who was the Home Secretary of the day, appointed the Home Office Advisory Committee on the Treatment of Offenders. At that time I had been the chairman of the National Association of Youth Clubs for many years. Herbert Morrison asked me to represent on the committee youth organisations which helped young people between the ages of 15 and 21. During this period crime was at its lowest level. Prisons were closing due to a lack of prisoners. That is hard to imagine today.

Many highly knowledgeable people were on the committee including prison visitors, the heads of different types of prisons, justices of the peace and many others who had knowledge and experience of the prison service. During that period I visited almost every prison in the country, from Peterhead to Dartmoor. I remained a member of the advisory committee for 10 or 12 years. It was at that time that I became aware of many of the measures that Lord Justice Woolf refers to in the remarkable report that we are discussing today. It is about 40 years ago when I was a member of the advisory committee, and it is rather depressing to learn that the recommendations we made then have still not been fully implemented.

Sanitation was an awful problem 40 years ago and it is still a problem today. Prisoners used to spend long days and weeks in their cells with nothing to do. There was a lack of training offered to them to enable them to cope with the outside world. Those problems are still apparent. Overcrowding was not such a problem when I first became involved with the advisory committee but it became increasingly bad every year thereafter. As we know overcrowding is now a nightmare in our prisons.

Plans to build new prisons were under way 40 years ago but it took a long time for those plans to be executed. I believe that much the same situation applies today, although we all know that new prisons have been built. I have visited the women's prison at Holloway. Enormous improvements have been made there. However, our prisons still have a long way to go and all the 12 specific Woolf recommendations are of great importance. Lord Justice Woolf stresses that it is important that establishments should not hold more prisoners than they were built to hold. That is an absolutely vital consideration. Lord Justice Woolf refers to sanitation. Adequate sanitation is also a vital consideration. He speaks of the need for close co-operation between the different elements of the criminal justice system. He says that more local responsibility should be encouraged and suggests that prison officers should play a more important role.

Lord Justice Woolf has suggested there should be better arrangements for prisoners to see their families and to enable them to maintain contact with the outside world. I believe that more visits from families would be a great help to prisoners. We on the advisory committee recommended that measure but it never seems to have been implemented fully. At that time I obtained some pretty depressing impressions. Some prisoners sentenced for the first time who had no experience of prison life came into contact with long serving prisoners. The latter knew everything there was to know about crime. That had a very bad effect because the incoming prisoners, who knew very little, learned much from the prisoners who had been there for a long time. I felt at that time, and still feel, that it is very important to try to keep offenders out of prison and for them to be treated and taught by probation officers, in probation centres, youth centres or any other training establishment. That is the principle today, but crime has increased so enormously that it is hard to apply it.

The method of treatment of mentally disturbed offenders provides another serious problem which is extremely difficult to solve, but the treatment would be more likely to succeed if it were carried out outside rather than inside prison cells.

I shall not speak for longer as there are so many experts here. Until the general public can be persuaded to support the spending of money on all that the Woolf Report recommends, it will be difficult for any government to use taxpayers' money, but this is vital if we are to succeed. We must be prepared to pay for improvements in the prison service if we are to eliminate the problems which face us today.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, it is clearly out of the question to attempt any detailed analysis of this voluminous report in the course of a short debate, particularly when we have not had the White Paper which was promised for the summer. I am very conscious of the fact that my own direct knowledge goes back so far that I am at considerable risk of making comments which are out of date, but the subject is most important and we must all be grateful to the noble Earl for giving us this opportunity to put points to the Government for them to consider as they brood over the findings of the report.

It is an obvious fact that, thorough though the review has been, it is not the first. Apart from the general policy report to which the noble Baroness has just referred, we have had in particular the May and Mountbatten Reports, and recent events at Brixton and perhaps Leeds will no doubt be followed by another report which will go back to emphasising the security aspects, although we did not really need such grim reminders that the problems facing those responsible for our prisons have many facets.

To justify my making a brief contribution to the debate, perhaps I should say that a long time ago I was deputy chairman of the Prison Commission for a few years. Perhaps I am the only prison commissioner to have sat in your Lordships' House. I was also much concerned with matters of these kinds at various stages of my career in the Home Office.

The report does not take a position on the question of whether the prison department should become an agency, but it has led to comment elsewhere which yet again looks back to the days of the Prison Commission before 1963 as some kind of golden age —a view not altogether discouraged by The Times. I should like to take this opportunity of saying that it was nothing of the kind. It is not always remembered that the chairmanship was a stepping stone for civil servants on the way up. Three of the last four holders of the post went on to become Permanent Secretaries and the fourth, the distinguished Lionel Fox, never served in a prison although he stayed to retirement. Nor should it be forgotten that in Civil Service terms the gradings of the five prison commissioners were lower than those of the present heads of the service. I shall not continue on that point except to say that since my day in the Prison Commission the position has been transformed by problems of overcrowding, AIDS, ethnic minorities and the rest. The noble Earl is probably right in saying that conditions are now worse than they were 20 years ago. Certainly, the old regime could not have coped.

I was glad to see that Lord Justice Woolf recognised that improvements were already in hand well before his inquiry. These events should not obscure the debt we owe to the work put in by Mr. Chris Train during his eventful time as director general of the prison service.

Naturally, I read with particular care what the report said about the leadership of the service. I agree with the comment made by the noble Earl in his opening speech on the recommendation about visible leadership. I add that I do not see that there is all that strong a case for any future head of the service to have had direct prison experience. That is not to my mind anything like the first requirement, but, whoever it may be, it is essential that there should be a clear definition of his or her responsibilities and in particular his or her relation to Ministers. I found the rather brief discussion of that vital issue in the report just a little thin. The report recommends some kind of contract or compact with the head of the service, but does not go into too much detail about its possible content and where exactly the lines of responsibility should be drawn between the head of the service and Ministers.

For my part, I should like to see some kind of statement which would require parliamentary approval and could be discussed in both Houses. The statement could set out the objectives of the prison service, specify the number of places that the director general is expected to supply and the resources that will be made available to him each year, and explain the Government's intentions about accommodation for remand prisoners and possibly their plans for privatisation under their new powers in the Criminal Justice Bill. It could also explain just how responsibilities would be divided. We could, to take a simple example, learn whether it would fall to the director general or the Home Secretary to appoint the next governor of Wormwood Scrubs. I know that it would be a little unusual to involve Parliament on a regular basis in that way, but we are, after all, concerned with the custody of individuals deprived of their liberty, not with issuing driving licences or building offices. This is a question on which we await with particular interest the pronouncements in the White Paper.

On another aspect of the report, it was disappointing to read that Lord Justice Woolf thought that the activities of the prison service were still not adequately co-ordinated with other sections of the criminal justice system, but here again there is some doubt about the particular course that he favours, notwithstanding all the evidence that he received in support. Although he accepts that this is not the only way, he would like to see some kind of council chaired by a judge and with senior representation from the Home Office, the Lord Chancellor's Department, the prisor service, the police, the probation service and the Crown Prosecution Service, with intermittent contributions from the Department of Health. I find that the concept of how such a body would function has been left a trifle nebulous. Although it is said that it would have no executive authority and no collective voice, if it was to achieve anything at all with the support of its local committees there could be some risk of responsibilities being blurred. I am left in some uncertainty how it would fit in with Ministers' responsibilities. However, having said all that, there certainly is a problem here and there always has been. I was well aware that the efforts made in my time at the Home Office to solve it were not successful, but it is a problem going well beyond the future of the prison service itself. I hope that we shall find something about this question too when the White Paper comes out.

The Government certainly deserve commendation for having announced straightaway various steps that they have already taken, including the decision to accelerate the ending of slopping out and improvements in education and censorship. I see that prisons even made a modest entry into the Citizen's Charter yesterday. I have read today that there are at last some prospects of closing down a number of establishments, although the list that I saw did not include some of the candidates for closure which I had in mind all those years ago.

There is the Government's ambitious programme of new prison building. In passing I must say that I wish Ministers would stop implying that no new prisons at all were built before they took office. When one thinks of Long Lartin, Coldingley, Everthorpe and some others, one realises that that is simply not so. But certainly there has been a great acceleration in the programme. One of the few gains from the crises which have hit the prisons and caught the public eye is that expenditure on prisons can now be incurred without upsetting public opinion.

Those who were responsible in the post-war years were perfectly well aware of the horrors of slopping out, the unsuitability of much of the prison stock and what had been achieved elsewhere. But let us think back. What hope was there, when resources were so limited. of a Home Secretary being able to persuade his colleagues that substantial sums should be spent on making life better for convicted criminals rather than or new roads, houses, schools and so on? By and large those colleagues, like the public, had not seen for themselves what conditions were like in prison; nor, I fear, had many of those who took the decisions to send people to prison. I know that a good deal has been done to improve judicial awareness but I could not help noting that Lord Justice Woolf commented that the information about prison conditions and about what happens to those who are sentenced which is available to those who pass sentences is still, as he put it, "modest".

But it is fair to claim that the accumulation of distressing events and the information which has come to light about prison conditions have served to arouse the public conscience. There is a recognition that even those who have committed offences which are grave enough to warrant imprisonment are human beings, as the right reverend Prelate reminded us, entitled to some degree of dignity and not to be subjected to treatment which is likely to make them more embittered when they return to the community. I also believe that the reports by the Chief Inspector have done so much to enlighten public opinion that great credit must go to the Home Office for making that appointment and in particular for putting the present occupant in that post.

I had better stop there. If I were to go on I should say something about the future prison medical service, which is not covered in depth in the report but which I hope will find a place in the White Paper. As president of MENCAP, perhaps I may just call attention to what the report says about the need to give clearer and more specific attention to mentally handicapped prisoners.

In concluding, I can only repeat a point which has already been made; namely, that underlying the whole problem is the need somehow to send fewer people to prison. The overall effect on the prison population of the Criminal Justice Bill is still obscure. Notwithstanding recent falls in that population, I believe it is thought that it is again likely to increase. There will always also be demands—for example, from the police—that more accused persons rather than fewer should be kept in custody to await trial.

The Government have been devoting much thought to alternatives to custody. But the fact remains, as has been pointed out, that we send more people to prison, tried and untried, than do our European friends. I hope very much that the White Paper will point the way to yet further steps to help to meet the problems of the prisons by ensuring that fewer people go to prison.

Like everyone else, I was horrified to read the Home Secretary's forecast that the implementation of the Woolf recommendations would take 20 to 25 years. However, I have sufficient faith in Her Majesty's Government to expect that when the White Paper appears it will herald much faster progress over a wide part of the area that we have discussed today.

9.31 p.m.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

My Lords, I too wish to pay tribute to the impressive report and comprehensive list of recommendations of Lord Justice Woolf and Judge Tumim. I also look forward to the Government's White Paper which I now understand is promised for the autumn. I hope that at least those recommendations which are fiscally neutral will be pursued without delay.

Having listened to previous speakers, I have become conscious that my qualifications for speaking on the subject may appear somewhat tenuous. I have spent most of my life in a different branch of the criminal justice system. However, I am, and have been for a long time, a member of the Howard League. I am currently on its sub-committee which is considering the Woolf Report. My brief has been to consider the recommendations on management.

In considering the management aspects of the prison service, I have come to a conclusion opposite to that of the noble Lord, Lord Allen. I believe that the prison service should have agency status. That is one recommendation that the Woolf Report did not make.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness. However, I did not say that I was against the prison commission having agency status.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord if I misunderstood his point. The Woolf Report states that there are arguments for and against agency status and that the recommendations about the relationship between the service and Ministers are perfectly feasible with or without agency status. However, that runs against the logic of many of the criteria that the report has laid down for improving the prison service.

The report mentions, the dissension, division and distrust which exist between all levels of the Prison Service", and says that improved management is the essential change that the prison department requires.

The report states that, there is a profound desire for more visible leadership". That perhaps is a cri de Coeur from the prison officers. It states that there should be a "structured standoff" between the director general and Ministers so that, the Prison Service should be more clearly seen as an operational organisation which can be expected to work under the clear leadership of the Director General". Lord Justice Woolf believes that the necessary distance between the Home Secretary and the Director General of Prisons can be achieved by the Home Secretary delegating more powers. That, he says, would produce a director general who was more visible to the prison service. However, I am not clear in what way that will be achieved. I do not believe that visibility and clear leadership are attainable within that great but rather amorphous Ministry, the Home Office. Therefore a distinct division between the prison department and the Home Office is needed.

The report states that, the Director General should expect to answer for his stewardship to Ministers and to explain the work of the Service in public through the media". That degree of self-confidence and self-exposure do not sit comfortably with the career experience and expectations of a traditional civil servant but might perhaps with the partial autonomy of a chief executive of an agency.

Agency status would not prevent the prison department working to, policies, priorities and resources established by Ministers". It would still be accountable to Ministers and through them to Parliament. But a small structural separateness from the Home Office would underline the responsibility of the director general and provide the visible head of the prison service that is so urgently needed.

The Woolf Report states: In many establishments there is a deep distrust of headquarters". It quotes the 1989 review of prisons, which states: those whose careers are tied wholly to the Prison Service perceive generalist civil servants at headquarters as lacking commitment to the service, because their … primary loyalty is thought to be to their career and to the Home Office at large". The view that prison officers have of civil servants was exacerbated by the events at Strangeways last year when there appeared to be more concern for briefing Ministers than for what was happening at the prison in those first crucial hours.

In my view, agency status would not reduce the accountability of the prison service. In fact, it would define responsibility more clearly and publicly with, as the Woolf Report says, an operational head who is and is seen to be in day to day charge of the Service—who appears to lead and to answer for the Service". This role cannot be carried out by a civil servant, however effective, if buried within the Home Office. Therefore I urge the Government to consider recommending in their forthcoming White Paper the establishment of the prison department as an agency.

9.36 p.m.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, my namesake. I wish to touch on a group within the prison population that has not yet been mentioned. In recent years a great deal of government and parliamentary time has rightly been devoted to preventing people ever getting into prison. That strategy is known as "diversion". Imprisonment is coming to be seen as the punishment of last resort. That has been the underlying motif of the previous two Criminal Justice Bills. The first concentrated on keeping young people aged 16 to 18 out of custody; the second attempted to minimise the imprisonment of adults. A similar approach is rightly adopted towards suspects awaiting trial. Bail should be given wherever possible and maximum use should be made of bail hostels, in particular for people without a fixed abode. The Woolf Report gives general approval and reinforcement to those trends.

I wish to refer briefly to a category not yet mentioned in the debate nor in the report; namely, asylum seekers whose applications have not yet been decided. By asylum seekers I mean people from other countries who seek political asylum in Britain. In order to be accepted they must show that they have experienced persecution or that they have a genuine fear of persecution on political, religious or ethnic grounds. If accepted they have full refugee status and may settle in this country and be joined by their immediate dependants. In cases where there is some doubt, exceptional leave to remain is often granted.

However, in recent years the practice has grown of detaining some asylum seekers and demanding bail money from others with an inability to pay, leading to imprisonment. I question the legality and wisdom of those practices and most strongly deny their appropriateness. Detention centres such as Haslar and Harmondsworth have been used to hold asylum seekers. So have prisons such as Gloucester, Bristol, Winchester, Maidstone, Pentonville and probably others. In some cases Parliamentary Questions have led to the immediate release of those detained. On 26th April this year 120 asylum seekers were in custody, 32 of whom had been held for longer than five months.

I shall try to explain why imprisoning such people is inappropriate and unacceptable. First, they have committed no crimes here. They have not been charged; they are not even suspected of offences in this country. On the contrary, they seek refuge here and are anxious to conform with our requirements and to present their best behaviour.

Secondly, they arrive here after long and arduous journeys. Often they have suffered physical and verbal abuse together with the loss of family, friends and possessions. In a substantial proportion of cases they have had harrowing experiences of torture, maltreatment and imprisonment in the worst conditions. Such experiences have been carefully recorded in London by the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture.

Therefore, asylum seekers are likely to be in a traumatised condition for some months after their arrival in Britain. Many of them have limited command of English and need the help of skilled and sympathetic interpreters. In my view, prisons are the worst possible places both for the well being of asylum seekers and for the proper assessment of their cases. On the contrary, they need time and access to solicitors and other advisers in order to prepare their cases for admission to this country. If anyone questions that analysis, I recommend that they read the letter printed in the Lancet on 6th July 1991 which was signed by six doctors and psychiatrists.

Will Her Majesty's Government undertake to use their utmost efforts to divert asylum seekers from the prison and detention system? It is not a sufficient answer to say that those people will disappear if they are not securely held. In this country we are fortunate in being well endowed with specialist refugee organisations, ethnic community groups, churches and voluntary bodies which are willing and able to take responsibility for individual asylum seekers.

If the Government are not fully satisfied with such guarantees, they can impose a requirement of reporting to a police station, as formerly happened with certain classes of aliens. I am sure that prison staff have no wish to hold asylum seekers. I urge Her Majesty's Government to find other and better ways of dealing with that category of people.

9.42 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I join with previous speakers in paying tribute to the two judges responsible for the report which we are discussing this evening. It is rather regrettable that such an important subject must be dealt with in an Unstarred Question. There is much to discuss and I do not consider that we can do it justice. I believe that many noble Lords, although raising very important points, have felt rather restricted as to how wide to cast their interests.

My contribution is of a more parochial nature. I was E. Member of Parliament in Leeds, and Leeds prison at Armley was in my constituency. I knew it very well from the occasions when I visited it—as a visitor, not as an inmate. I was always surprised at the uphill battle which the staff had to fight. The prison was old and dilapidated. At that time some of the conditions were horrendous. I hope that they have now improved. I have not visited the prison for some time. On occasions I visited the prison when young school children were being held on remand in conditions in which no one would wish them to be held. Nevertheless, I believe that progress has been made.

The other prison with which I have had a relationship is Strangeways in the city of Manchester where I come from. That is the subject of part of the Woolf Report. One matter comes across clearly. Everything which needs to be said about what happened at Strangeways is in the report. It may be that we shall debate those matters in more depth when the White Paper is published. However, there is no point in going over what happened. It was horrendous and could have been prevented.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, made a very profound point when she said that the people dealing with the situation should be those close to it and not civil servants. The outrage at Strangeways could have been contained over a much shorter period and taken under control by the people on site if they had been listened to.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, perhaps I may intervene, purely out of curiosity. Surely the problem was that any bold step at the beginning to deal with the rioters could have involved a loss of life. Could any governor or civil servant undertake that without the authority of the Minister?

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, that is a matter for conjecture. I visited Strangeways prison with my wife only a few months before the outbreak. Substantial improvements were taking place before the riot occurred. They had the full support of the officers. The education block was being improved; the hospital was being renovated. But it was not sufficient to contain the situation that took place.

When the outbreak happened the situation was quickly taken over by remote control from London. Someone who had little knowledge of what was taking place on the ground, was brought in. There is no question but that the senior staff, including the then governor—though he was somewhat muzzled and at first told not to say anything—could quickly have contained the situation and brought it under control.

My noble friend, who so eloquently opened the debate and who, by asking the Question, has given us the opportunity to discuss this matter, spoke of the time span required for implementing the improvements recommended in the Woolf Report. However, I remind the House that there was £60 million worth of damage done in Strangeways. It is no good my noble friend and others in the debate thinking that we can say to this or any other government, "Give us a blank cheque and we will put the matter right".

Prison reform is not a popular theme with people who have bad housing or poor schools or who are waiting for operations. There is a long way to go to convince people outside that a rapid improvement of the prison system is a high priority when finance and public spending are strictly curtailed. I do not know what the Citizen's Charter says about this. Improvement will not happen as quickly as some of us would like. However, I have made my point that—God forbid—should a situation similar to that which occurred in Strangeways develop elsewhere, I hope that it will be dealt with expeditiously; that it will be left to the people on site. It may be that there is loss of life. Loss of life occurred in Strangeways anyway. I do not know whether that could have been prevented. One could not know unless one was on site.

The point must be made that in my experience from mixing with prison officers both at Armley and recently at Strangeways, the senior officers and governors of prison establishments can better assess a situation than any civil servant, however able, based in London, who tries to control matters from 300 miles away. I have not visited Strangeways since the improvements started. But I understand that they are on target and will be completed by 1993.

In conclusion I should like to pay a tribute. I am president of the Greater Manchester Selcare Trust, which position I took over on the death of our friend and colleague Lord Rhodes. We have been running a visitors' centre at Strangeways on a charitable basis. It has been extremely successful. We are pleased to record our appreciation that the Home Office is to build a new, permanent visitors' centre, which will enable us to carry on our present work.

One can be critical in one sphere over what happened at Strangeways, which may have been avoidable. The Home Office must carry a large share of the blame. However, it is only right to have regard to the efforts being made by the Home Office, as at Strangeways, and to express some gratitude for those efforts.

I hope that a lesson has been learnt. It is not my intention to overplay the argument of the prison officers. But there were repeated warnings of some establishments being at bursting point. I know that from staff who have had to cope with the situation. Strangeways is the biggest prison in Europe. It was always vastly overcrowded. The scene was set for what took place because of certain circumstances. Whatever happens in future, in my opinion, whether the Home Office is under the control of the present Government, a Labour government or any other government, it ignores at its peril the advice of the officers on site dealing with the situation. As I said, if the advice had been listened to earlier, almost £60 million of damage could possibly have been prevented. That money could have gone a long way towards improving some of the terrible establishments which still exist.

9.50 p.m.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, I too would like to express my thanks to the noble Earl for having this important report discussed before we rise for two-and-a-half months, or perhaps even longer if the Government call an election in the autumn. I shall direct my remarks to a mere three pages in the report, pages 333 to 335. Although short, it is an important section which addresses the management of HIV and AIDS in prisons. It is a problem which is inherently extremely difficult. But that does not mean that it cannot be very much eased by sensible and humane management. Some of us have been concerned for a long time that the handling of it leaves a good deal to be desired. I am glad to say that there are signs that there is a better climate and better policies to which I shall refer shortly. However, there is a long way to go.

Perhaps I may begin with the figures so far as they are known. According to the latest available government figures, the number of reported HIV cases in the prison population was 56 on 25th January. I have not been able to get later figures than that. It is most unlikely that that gives a true picture. A recent report called Prisons: HIV & AIDS by Paul Turnbull and others for the AIDS charity AVERT, based on 452 ex-offenders within three months of release, found that 27 per cent. of the prisoners with a history of drug injecting went on injecting in prison. Nearly three-quarters of those shared syringes with other prisoners. One in 10 reported having sex while in prison with an average of three partners. The majority of men engaged in penetrative anal sex without a condom. One in five women reported having lesbian sex; one in 10 of drug injectors were HIV positive. The female injectors had the highest rate at 15.5 per cent. Three in 100 (3.4 per cent.) of heterosexual women and 1.6 per cent. of heterosexual men were HIV positive.

This research has been queried on the grounds of the smallness of the sample and the fact that the interviews took place outside prison. That was due to the limited funds available and the difficulty in gaining consent for conducting such a survey with actual prisoners. However, if it is only half correct it still gives an alarming picture. It is evident that drug injection with shared and often unsterilised syringes takes place on a considerable scale. It is also evident that sex in various forms takes place and seldom with any protection.

Thus the two main means for the transmission of HIV are being practised in gaol. We can only surmise at present on what scale, but we cannot doubt that it is significant. That accords with the high prevalence of HIV in European prisons and it also accords with what one would intuitively expect with prisoners in the main belonging to the sexually active age group. Most of those in the survey who were sexually active in prison were sexually active in the community, where most of them were involved in penetrative sex, sometimes using condoms, which is not an option available to them in prison. When one adds in an excessive number of drug abusers with custodial sentences one has an explosive mix. That is the picture as far as we can glimpse it from the basis of inadequate knowledge.

I now turn to the report at paragraphs 12.354 to 12.373. Some of them make chilling reading. The practice of placing any inmate who takes a voluntary test under a so-called viral infectivity restriction is criticised. It involves seclusion in the prison hospital, a special wing or unit. It breaches normal medical confidentiality and makes it much less likely that prisoners will come forward for testing when faced by the possibility of such a regime. Paragraph 12.359 of the report states: The Inquiry visited a small, dingy and airless basement unit at Wandsworth Prison which contained a number of inmates who either had HIV, or who were awaiting the results of HI V tests. Apart from an hour's exercise, visits to the Library and some classes, they were confined to this small area. They had a television and a small amount of weight lifting equipment. The only available work was a small amount of mail-bag sewing". In the following paragraph 12.360 the report goes on: It is hardly any wonder that, given the prospect of such conditions, prisoners who may be concerned about the possibility of having the AIDS virus, may be reluctant to express that concern to the prison authorities. We could not imagine conditions more likely to deter a prisoner from doing all in his power to avoid revealing that he was or might be HIV positive than those we saw at Wandsworth. The conditions were a travesty of justice". Those are the words of the report. None of that remotely meets the prison service's own stated policy which is: To provide as normal a prison life for identified HIV infected prisoners who are well". However, as I indicated earlier, that is not the whole story. There are some gleams of light. Saughton prison in Edinburgh and Bristol prison are both praised. In the latter a network of trained prison officer counsellors has been established. The report wants increased efforts to train prison staff and examples of good -practice to be extended. Only today I learnt that the Terrence Higgins Trust which is the leading charity concerned with the HIV/AIDS field has established an excellent working relationship with the new prison at Belmarsh where health clinics are held twice weekly. A joint Terrence Higgins Trust/Home Office leaflet has been produced which I understand will be given to every person entering the penal system.

My first question to the noble Earl is: will the Government take steps to see that these examples of good practice are far more widely applied throughout the prison service? The results speak for themselves. As the report states in paragraph 12.368: We were impressed too that, when the VIR restriction was withdrawn at Bristol, 24 out of the approximately 500 prisoners at Bristol, were prepared voluntarily to disclose that they wire HIV positive. This compared with Wandsworth, where only 12 of approximately 1,700 prisoners had identified themselves as HIV positive". Paragraph 12.372 of the report makes the recommendation to, subject the present policies in respect of VIR and confidentiality to critical examination with a view to setting them a side". I understand that Dr. Rosemary Wool, the director of the prison medical service, has accepted the need to: undertake a further review of VIR". Do the Government accept the urgency of this and will they ensure that the review leads to action and that it is not just a way of decently burying the question? Another recommendation is to encourage prisoners to take tests and identify themselves. That presumably requires many more prisons to adopt the Bristol model in this respect. Will the Government encourage that?

The third recommendation is to draw up a programme of treatment and opportunities for HIV positive prisoners. Prison does at least provide the setting for a much more pro-active approach to a literally captive audience. That opportunity should not be missed. The role of outside AIDS counselling agencies is crucial here. The fifth recommendation is that there should be close co-operation between prisons and such agencies; in other words, a much wider open door to the voluntary sector which also provides bridges back into the community on release.

Finally, I want to mention a recent meeting at which Judge Stephen Tumim, the co-author of the report, addressed the all-party parliamentary group on AIDS. At that meeting an additional idea of importance was advanced. I said at the beginning that we simply do not know enough yet about HIV infection in prisons. We do not know and the Government do not know either. That is partly because the Home Office has not to date recognised the necessity for research, thus depriving itself of a vital tool. Judge Tumim advanced the view that the time had come for a full-scale, large sample, academic research project into sex and drugs in prisons by, for example, the criminology department of a university, working inside prisons with the full co-operation of the authorities. My question to the noble Earl is a simple one. Do the Government accept the need for such a project?

If it is carried out, it will take time and we cannot simply stand still in the meanwhile as infection occurs and spreads out beyond the prison walls. There are useful and I should have thought relatively non-controversial steps to be taken. For example, a move towards a more positive use of bleach could be made: heavily diluted to avoid the possibility of poisoning or suicide, it would much reduce the danger of shared and unsterile needles. It is no use pretending that such equipment does not exist because it is not permitted; it does and that must be recognised in the interests of public health. Will the Government take that small step forward in the interests of public health?

I cannot sit down without mentioning condoms, a subject which is always raised in any discussion on HIV in prisons. Different countries have different policies. It may surprise noble Lords to know that Spain, which we always used to regard as the most Catholic country in Europe, issues them to prisoners. That is linked to the right of conjugal access, I think once a month, which of course must do a great deal to lessen the head of repressed sexual steam in prison. These arrangements are known here as "private family visits" and are touched on in paragraph 14.248 of the report: Overseas experience has shown that private family visits are no longer an unthinkable or eccentric exception. They can form a small but, for some prisoners, important part of the arrangements which ensure that they maintain links with the family to whom they may eventually return. If such visits were available, prisoners might be less likely to behave in a dangerous and destructive way while in prison". I do not know how the Government will respond to that but I very much hope that, in the whole area that I have covered, they will keep an open mind, will initiate and act on research, will give every encouragement they can to the tender shoots of good practice which are beginning to emerge and will bring in the voluntary sector on an ever widening basis. I believe, as I said earlier, that there are signs of a new climate, a new awareness of the challenges and opportunities offered by prisons in relation to the terrible problem of HIV infection. What is required is the political will to push all this forward. Only the Government can provide that. It certainly should not take 25 years. If that is reduced to an equivalent number of months, we may be getting somewhere.

10.3 p.m.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, like other noble Lords who have spoken this evening—I think nearly every one—I very much hope that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, will tell us that there is some misunderstanding about the statement from the Home Secretary that it is likely to take 20 to 25 years to implement the recommendations of Lord Justice Woolf. If that were to be true it would suggest relative indifference to the seriousness of the problem, an attitude which has certainly been refuted by all those who have spoken in the debate and, of course, by the most impressive report of Lord Justice Woolf and Judge Tumim. Perhaps we have got it wrong and the Government mean to take effective action sooner.

With such a large number of recommendations, there have to be priorities. It is easy to see that the Government will put some recommendations ahead of others. Indeed, we have been told that they have already made a start, rightly or wrongly, by putting the abolition of slopping out, certainly a most revolting practice, at the top of the list. Whether that is the best way to spend the available resources I do not know. However, it shows that, in one area at any rate, the Government are prepared to take action and not to wait for 20 to 25 years.

It is a question of what the priorities ought to be. Many noble Lords have referred to the great cost of implementing Woolf. Of course, some of the recommendations will involve a very considerable amount of money. But other recommendations, although they may involve a considerable injection of funds in the first place, will save a great deal of money in the long term. When dealing with the improvement of the penal system, I have often felt that it is one of the few social issues where, in many ways, to do the right thing is cheaper than to continue doing the wrong thing, which is what we are doing at present. That point needs to be stressed.

I want to talk about just two issues. One of them has already been discussed and I shall therefore refer to it only briefly; but I do not think that the other has been mentioned. In both cases the result of an injection of money at this stage would, before very long, lead to very considerable savings.

The first issue is the one which was dealt with so fully and admirably by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham. I refer to the position of remand prisoners. Some years ago I undertook a small study of women in prison. I was horrified to find—and amazed at the absurdity of it—that over half of the women held on remand never in fact received a custodial sentence. When one thinks about the disruption, the cost and the consequential problems which arise when a person is put in prison, especially if that person is a mother with children, the urgent argument for finding other ways of dealing with such remand prisoners is surely so strong that it needs no further emphasis.

I understand that it costs over £300 a week to keep a woman in prison on remand. But that is only the beginning. If the woman has children, the social services have to be mobilised to look after them. Moreover, if the children have to be taken into care, the costs are tremendous. Further, there may well be, as is so often the case, consequential family break-ups because the woman has been separated from her husband and children.

Why do we have to keep such people in prison? I know that some of them are dangerous. However, so far as concerns women, a very small number of them are dangerous. Indeed, numerically, that group hardly affects the argument. They may be a great nuisance; but they are not dangerous. So why do they have to be kept in prison? We are told that they have to be there so that they will be available for the making of reports which have to be presented to the courts. But there are surely other ways by which the authorities can achieve contact in order to compile the reports without keeping such people in prison.

If the numbers were large, the probation service could keep in close contact with these people. Such women—or men for that matter—could be placed in bail or other hostels; or, indeed, in many cases, they could be allowed to remain in their own homes with the condition that they report regularly to a probation officer or to the police. That would be infinitely cheaper than keeping them in prison, and much fairer. They are unconvicted people; or, if convicted, they are unsentenced people. It should be seen as an outrage that we are keeping people who are still innocent until proven guilty in such conditions as exist at present in prison, with total, or near total, restriction on their liberty.

Surely improvement in this area must be a top priority. If only we could get a considerable number of people out of prison, it would be the easiest and quickest way to solve the problem of overcrowding and it would also cut costs. Bail hostels and other kinds of hostel are much cheaper than prison. If we can build prisons, we can surely build additional hostels and bail hostels. It cannot be very difficult to do so. There are many other things that governments have found it possible to do quickly because they recognise their urgency and importance. If there were the same recognition of importance and urgency in this area, it would happen, not in 20 years but in 20 months. A great deal could be done about the remand problem even in 20 months.

The other issue which I wish to talk about and which I believe has not been referred to tonight, though it was referred to in the Woolf Report, is the training of prisoners and the finding of work for them when they leave prison. The one commodity that prisoners have in abundance is time. It is the greatest pity not to use that time as constructively as possible. I have said it in your Lordships' House before, and I shall undoubtedly say it again, that the modern economy is such that people without trained skills or competencies find it difficult to obtain and hold work —certainly worthwhile work—if they have no criminal record; if, in addition to having no skills and competencies, they have a record, they might almost settle for a life of crime, regarding the period they spend inside prison as the price they pay for the relatively agreeable time they have when at liberty. That is an expensive and socially and humanly unacceptable way of dealing with the problem.

The urgency of providing training and following it through —the point I wish to emphasise—so that jobs can be obtained is of the greatest importance. We are told that training takes place in prisons. It varies greatly from prison to prison. Some of it, as training, is undoubtedly good, but it must be stressed that training is useless unless it will lead to a job. That is why the Woolf Report is undoubtedly right when it says that training should be carried out in collaboration with employers. That is an important point; but it has implications for the way sentences are carried out if we are to accept it as the way training should be done. Training that does not lead to a job breeds cynicism. If an employer is involved with the training programme, goes into the prison and discusses the skills in which he is interested and which give the man or woman coming out a reasonable chance of obtaining a job, that transforms the whole idea and purpose of training. It is possible to do that only if the prisoner is in a prison near his home. It is not much good gaining the interest of an employer somewhere up in the North West if, when the sentence is over and the training is completed, the man moves back to the South East.

The Woolf Report touches upon that matter. It says that for other reasons it is important to keep prisoners near home. In addition to the importance of keeping them near to home so that they can maintain their family links, I want to stress the importance of keeping them near home so that they can be put in touch—that is what it is in many cases—with the local labour market, given an opportunity to enter the local labour market through training, and then with any luck can obtain a job at the end.

Not long ago, I attended a meeting connected with this kind of topic. Into the room came a young women who delivered a message. It was in the offices of an ordinary commercial company. When the young women had gone out, it was said, "She is from Holloway. She comes here as part of the practical side of her training. She returns to Holloway in the evening". That is what we want. That company ceases to think of her as an offender; she is Mariette, whom it now knows. It finds that she is competent and reasonable and, whatever the offence was, it is likely to he irrelevant to the work she may be doing; so the bridge; is already built and the link established. That has to be accepted as a matter of central importance.

The training must be linked to, and worked out with, employers. The placing of the prisoner must have regard to the local labour market. However, if we could pull this off and increase by even 20 per cent. the number of ex-offenders who obtain jobs and therefore cut down on recidivism, we should pay for the training over and over again. Recidivism is one of the major reasons why prisons are as full as they are, so many people return again and again. That is not the main reason for advocating training, but, against those who say that Woolf will take a long time because people do not wish to spend money on prisoners, these are areas where the argument can be reversed. We could say, "We spend money in order to cut down both the cost of crime and crime itself". That is what this is all about.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I start by saying how grateful I am to my noble friend Lord Longford for having initiated and introduced the debate. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, as I was unable to hear his speech, and also to the right reverend Prelate as I caught only the tail end of what he said. From the reports that I have heard of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and not exactly the trailer, but the opposite, of the speech of the right reverend Prelate, it seems that I agree with almost everything that was said.

At the outset I make a plea to the noble Earl who will reply. The great difficulty we all have tonight is that no one knows what will be the attitude of the Government. To that extent, the noble Earl could argue that the debate is premature. We should wait for the White Paper. I ask him not to shelter too much behind the coming White Paper. After all, those of us who ask him questions and who are on the other side of the table in this debate are entitled to ask for clarification of the remarks of his right honourable friend the Home Secretary last week. I believe that those of us who are interested in the subject are entitled to clarification from the Government as to precisely what they have in mind. Are we to take it that matters will proceed at the pace which Mr. Baker seemed last week to indicate? Was this an oversight, or perhaps the right honourable gentleman was misunderstood? Whatever fig leaf the Minister needs in order to conceal his withdrawal from the apparently stark position that the Home Secretary took up last week I should be perfectly happy to provide.

Whatever one thinks of the individual proposals of Lord Justice Woolf's report, I believe that everyone agrees that it is the most far-reaching blueprint for prison reform this century. It carries a clear message that riots would be less likely in a prison system which had decent conditions for prisoners, full and useful regimes, a positive role for prison staff and a respect for prisoners' rights. That seems to me to be the text of the Woolf Report. Like most texts, it can be expressed in very few words.

If we genuinely wish to avoid future riots, we must accept and learn from Lord Justice Woolf's conclusion that last year's prison riots were symptoms of a long-standing failure to provide justice, humanity and utility in our prisons. We therefore welcomed the immediate steps which were announced by the Home Secretary when the report was published in February. They included the end of slopping out by 1994, the abolition of censorship of most prisoners' mail, access to telephones for prisoners in all penal establishments, more frequent visits and increased home leave in open prisons.

Those are valuable improvements but they cover only a tiny fraction of the recommendations of Lord Justice Woolf. They are not perhaps the most important recommendations that were made in the report. I hope that those who follow these matters will agree that the lesson of the past two decades in penal policy is surely that piecemeal reform is not enough. Unless the forthcoming White Paper adopts at least the thrust of the Woolf proposals for a root and branch change of our prison system, we will have missed the best opportunity for years to turn it into a riot-free system which can equip prisoners to lead law abiding lives on their release.

Tonight I wish to discuss three of the issues which were raised very firmly by Lord Justice Woolf. First of all I wish to say a few words about reducing the prison population. Strangeways was seriously overcrowded at the time of the riot. There is no doubt that overcrowding increases tension in prisons, aggravates the problems of security and control and makes it more difficult to provide an active regime for prisoners. This seems to me to reinforce the case for measures to reduce or eliminate the unnecessary use of prison sentences and custodial remands. The points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, about remand are frankly unanswerable.

That course is desirable not just to reduce overcrowding but because unnecessary prison sentences are an ineffective way of dealing with crime. As Lord Justice Woolf stated: even if the overcrowding problems were to be solved, it would still be important to ensure, as far as possible, that only those for whom there is no alternative are in prison". Hence the need which Lord Justice Woolf identified to develop bail hostels and bail information schemes as rapidly as possible; to establish bail units in all prisons holding remand prisoners; to increase the number of hostels for offenders with drug and alcohol problems; and to extend duty psychiatrist schemes to all courts to divert mentally disturbed offenders from prison.

In this context, I must say that the proposal for a national criminal justice consultative council seemed to me to be useful. I do not share the scepticism of the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, in this respect. A consultative forum representing judges, magistrates, the police, the prison service and the probation service would help the different agencies and services to realise their interdependence and assist the development of better management and proper planning.

If we are to improve our criminal justice system, it is vital that it is looked at as a whole and that consultation should take place between its constituent parts both at national and local level. I do not think that that would prejudice judicial independence; rather it would enhance knowledge and might even serve to reduce judicial isolation.

Secondly, I wish to say a few words about standards as I believe they are fundamental to what Lord Justice Woolf seeks to tell us. One of the most significant steps which could be taken to improve staff morale is to provide decent prison conditions and active prison regimes. That would make officers' jobs more fulfilling and it would make prisoners' time in custody more constructive. I wish to refer to those people, mainly in the Prison Officers' Association, who have to look after prisoners in prison. I sometimes think that we treat their duties and efforts a little too lightly. On my visits to prisons I have often felt that being a prison officer is only marginally better than being a prisoner attached to a prison, particularly if the prison officer works in a difficult prison. Prison officers have a dedication and skill which could perhaps be better tapped. As the House will know, Lord Justice Woolf made some specific proposals in that regard.

Of central importance to the process of humanising our prisons and making them more effective, efficient and better is the proposal for a code of accredited standards which all prisons would be required to comply with over time. For a code of standards to be effective, it must consist of requirements which are specific, objective and measurable. There is no point in dealing with generalities. For example, prisoners should be allowed a shower and a change of clothes every day. There should be measurable minimum amounts of space per prisoner in cells. Every prisoner should have access to proper sanitation and prisoners should be out of their cells for at least 12 hours a day or should have the opportunity of a full day's work or education. These are specific matters which go fundamentally towards the establishment of a code of standards which, if it were to be applied to existing prisons (although I accept that it could not bring prisons up to the required standards immediately) would provide an argument for a planned programme of improvements, working towards an agreed set of standards over a specified period of years. Even if the Government wish to reserve their position on the White Paper, they could perhaps lift the veil a little tonight and tell us how they approach that issue.

Thirdly, justice in prisons is an issue which should appeal to the Government because it does not seem as if it would cost a great deal of money. Lord Justice Woolf emphasised the need to ensure, as he put it—my noble friend Lord Longford referred to this in opening —that justice does not stop at the prison door. In particular, he argued that prisoners must be given reasons for decisions which materially and adversely affect them and for revised complaints and disciplinary procedures. It is axiomatic that effective and credible complaints procedures can reduce tensions in prison, help to ensure the proper treatment of prisoners and reduce the vulnerability of staff to unfounded allegations. Again, I should have thought it was unarguable, almost axiomatic, that prisoners are less likely to turn to, or gain support for, illegitimate methods of drawing attention to their grievances if the procedures for investigating complaints are expeditious, thorough and manifestly fair, and are accepted as such.

The new procedures introduced in September last year have undoubtedly improved the system for dealing with prisoners' complaints. However, there is one major defect in the new system which has been pointed out already tonight—that is, that it lacks an effective independent element. It is a streamlining of procedures which still involves the prison service investigating complaints against itself. That is why there is strong support for a complaints adjudicator to be established in addition to reforming the internal complaints procedures.

In conclusion, anything less than full implementation, at least of the thrust of the Woolf proposals for root and branch reform of the prison system, would mean squandering the best opportunity for prison reform that we have had this century. I am bound to say that I was distinctly concerned when I read the remarks of the Home Secretary on Thursday last week. To say that the whole of the Woolf programme is a programme for 20 or 25 years, and if the prison service is to have any chance of securing an increased share of public expenditure over that timescale it will have to demonstrate that it is doing the best it can with what it already has, is bound to raise suspicions that what the Home Secretary is after is a set of proposals which end up by being fiscally neutral. The truth of the matter is that while the prison service must make the best use of its present resources—nobody would argue against that, and many of the Woolf proposals are designed to ensure that it does specifically that—to suggest that the Woolf Report can be implemented without increased expenditure in the short term and to envisage its fulfilment as something we shall not see for 25 years is a hopelessly inadequate response to Lord Justice Woolf's message.

Improving conditions for prisoners and staff to the lever envisaged by the Woolf Report must involve spending some money. However, this expenditure should be offset by policies to reduce the use of imprisonment for non-violent offenders. We must also remember that the costs of prison riots, which such policies would help to prevent, are enormous put by the side of the costs of the reforms which are contained in Lord Justice Woolf s report. So are the costs, both financial and in human distress, of the high re-offending rates which our current penal system produces.

This is not a party issue. If ever there was a non-party issue this should be one. I hope that the Minister can at least take us some way into his thinking and government thinking on these issues. They are important. The fact that so many of your Lordships have taken part in the debate on an Unstirred Question so late at night, and indeed so late in the Session, is an indication of that. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

10.30 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, as one would expect, this has been a most interesting debate on all aspects of the prison system and prison reform. As the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said, we are all anxious, even at this late hour, to ensure that the prison system is as good as it can be and that it should be improved as much as it can be. The noble Lord was right to say that, in a perfect world with a perfect prison system, you would have fewer riots which would in itself save money. None of us would disagree with that argument.

The House will be grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for providing an opportunity to consider what should be done in response to the report produced by Lord Justice Woolf and Judge Stephen Tumim. As a result of the noble Earl's Question, we have ranged over a whole panorama of issues, some of which were covered by the Woolf Report and some of which were not. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, said that he hoped that I would not shelter behind the fact that the White Paper has not yet been published. But the Question asks Her Majesty's Government when they intend to implement the main recommendations of the report of Lord Justice Woolf and His Honour Judge Stephen Tumim.

That is a fairly limited Question, but every facet of prison issues has been raised. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, asked the Government to lift the veil just a little. He knows perfectly well that it would be difficult for me to lift the veil on subjects which are to be covered in a White Paper that has not yet been produced. Of course, I want to be as helpful as possible, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and other noble Lords will realise, I am in some small difficulty as the Government have not published their response to Woolf. Obviously, I cannot answer as fully as possible some of the points that have been made, but the fact that your Lordships have given your views on what should be in the White Paper is of immense benefit to the Government. The noble Baroness, Lady Hilton of Eggardon, and the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, wanted the prison service to be an agency. I do not propose to answer that point tonight, but I shall take note of their views and desires.

The debate has shown the importance attached by all sides of the House to the extent and magnitude of the Woolf Report itself and of the implications of the programme of change that it proposes, because they are substantial. It is encouraging that so many of your Lordships and so many organisations have been able to say that they welcome the report and support what it seeks to do.

The report was prompted by large-scale and serious disturbances. I do not think that any of us condones for one moment that behaviour. It was pertinent that the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, reminded us of the fact that, as a result of the disturbances, some £60 million must be spent. He is right too to say that people cannot necessarily expect £60 million suddenly and automatically to appear when there are other equally deserving claimants.

The Government have undertaken to do a great deal but, given riots and damage of that nature, one cannot automatically expect the situation to be put right overnight. One problem, to which the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, referred, is police cells. If it had not been for the riots at Strangeways and the restrictions which the Prison Officers' Association had put on prisoners going into prison, there would be few police cells occupied by prisoners. But if one has to discharge 1,600 people who were in a certain prison and find other places for them, inevitably other places themselves become overcrowded. In Manchester some 150 places in "G", "H" and "I" wings are due to come on stream on 19th August. That date has slipped a little, but at least there will be some more places available there.

It is basic that society depends for its reasonable conduct on the adherence to a system of law and order. Imprisonment, disagreeable though it is, has its place and has to have its place. That being so, the problems of security and control have to be balanced with the principles of justice and humanity. It is not easy.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford was quite right when he said that it is important to ensure that those who are in prison have access to family and religious help. It is not an easy task to get the balance right, but we have set about preparing a comprehensive and integrated programme of work. Many of the proposals have staffing and resource implications. If they are implemented, they will have profound effects on other aspects of prison life and the criminal justice system. What we do, therefore, must be the result of careful analysis and careful preparation. But wherever it has been possible to go further or faster in developing the existing policies in line with the spirit of Woolf, the Government have done so.

Your Lordships will be aware of the various steps that we announced in February to improve family ties. In April, we extended the scheme which provides financial assistance for visits to prisoners; in May, the routine reading of mail was abolished in all prisons except dispersal prisons; in June, the arrangements for longer and more frequent visits for adult convicted prisoners were instituted; and the programme for installing cardphones in all prisons will be completed next year.

The right reverend Prelate said that there was no internal sanitation at Chelmsford Prison and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, referred to the disagreeable method of slopping out. It is a horrible process and we all agree on that. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has insisted that the degrading and offensive process of slopping out should be brought to an end even faster than the Woolf Report recommended. It will now cease by the end of 1994, which is over a year earlier than the report recommended.

I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, said how difficult he found it when he was a very distinguished Permanent Secretary in the Home Office to have slopping out removed. The historical fact is that it is and has been difficult. It is expensive and highly disruptive. However bad it may be, those are physical facts with which we must all contend. It should not be considered as idleness or unwillingness on the part of the Government—whether this Government or any other—that it has not been done before. I was glad that the noble Lord, with his great experience, emphasised that difficulty.

In order to help to achieve the end of slopping out, there will be about 3,300 installations of simple sanitation systems this year and in the next two years about 10,000 places will be given access to sanitation in the course of major refurbishment schemes or new construction. But that is not the only work that has been done to improve conditions. For example, there is the substantial investment in kitchen improvements. No less than £56.5 million, which is a huge sum by any standards, has been earmarked for kitchen improvements over the next three years.

Other changes which are less obvious in nature are taking place. The development of new training for staff to try to reduce the risk of suicide among prisoners - to which reference has been made - is also being undertaken. A review of the way in which prisoners who have serious viral infection are managed is being undertaken. The noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, referred to the problem of AIDS. It is indeed a difficult and an unpleasant position. We have already announced a review of the system of viral infectivity restrictions. That will be completed by the end of the year. Other aspects of the Woolf proposals on that subject will be covered by the White Paper. In the meantime, we continue to be committed to doing all that we can to prevent the transmission of infection within prison, to reduce the risk of prisoners infecting others when they go back into the community and to provide care and support for prisoners whom we know to be infected.

I believe that most people who have considered the problem of needles, syringes and so forth at any depth accept that anything in the nature of a needle-syringe exchange scheme for prisoners who are clandestinely injecting drugs while in custody is not a realistic option.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, I did not propose that. I made a much more modest proposal on the use of diluted bleach which could go some way to help deal with the problem.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, that is perfectly true. Diluted bleach is a possibility. However, such cleaning agents can be dangerous when they are in the wrong hands. A new leaflet for prisoners which has been prepared by the Terrence Higgins Trust and which we shall distribute shortly advises the use of soapy water and not of bleach.

Other changes include the development of sex offender programmes. Other work in hand which is very much in the spirit of the Woolf proposals includes the preparations for the implementation of the Criminal Justice Bill and the better jobs initiative for the staff, to name but two programmes.

Planning and organising changes which will affect the entire prison system without at the same time disrupting it is a considerable exercise. The 12 main recommendations and the 204 detailed proposals need to be considered together so that one improvement does not militate against another.

My noble friend Lord Windlesham referred to overcrowding. Across the prison estate as a whole there is an excess of about 2,400 prisoners over places, but the population is about 5,000 down on the peak levels which were reached some four years ago. Some capacity has been temporarily lost because of refurbishment work or industrial action. The Strangeways inmates also had to be relocated.

I have referred to the fact that the Prison Officers' Association branches decided that an establishment should not accept prisoners above its uncrowded capacity. It is quite wrong that they should use such action for that purpose. The Woolf Report made it quite clear that that was a misuse of trade union power.

The prison building programme is about to deliver additional capacity in the form of new local prisons such as Bullingdon, Moorland, Blakenhurst, Holme Home, Woodhill, High Down and a remand prison at Wolds, all of which are due to open in the next 12 months, and major refurbishing schemes are nearing completion at a number of other prisons such as Bedford. Those measures, taken together, should transform the conditions for remand prisoners and others.

The purpose of the Government's White Paper, the prospect of which my right honourable friend the Leader of the House announced to your Lordships on 25th February, is to provide a framework in which the Woolf Report can be seen as a whole and in which the Government can respond to its recommendations in charting the course for the prison service to the end of this decade and beyond.

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary will announce the Government's response to the recommendations of Woolf in the forthcoming White Paper. That is a matter about which the noble Lord, Lord Blease, was anxious.

The noble Lord also asked about the report of Judge Tumim dealing with deaths, and mentally disturbed prisoners. That will also be referred to in the White Paper. Your Lordships will not expect me to anticipate the contents of the White Paper in advance but I can assure the House that it will respond to all the key recommendations of the Woolf Report in a proper and constructive manner. It will include those matters that touch on the different status of remand prisoners to which my noble friend Lord Windlesham and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, referred.

The reorganisation of the prison service headquarters in September 1990 created a new directorate of inmate programmes. That directorate is concentrating in particular on regimes in remand and local prisons. More will be said about that in the White Paper.

The noble Lord, Lord Blease, was also anxious about suicide prevention. It is a serious problem. We welcome the report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector on Suicide and Self-Harm. Many of his proposals overlap with those in the Woolf Report. We have been carrying out a thorough review of suicide prevention policy and a review is also being carried out by the all suicide prevention management groups. We agree with the Chief Inspector that the prevention of suicide and self harm must rest on good general standards of care supplemented by specific measures such as screening, design and the Samaritans. They must also have the support of good staff.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, referred to those people who are detained while waiting for asylum. They arc also treated as unconvicted prisoners. However, it was not an issue in the Woolf Report and there was no separate proposal in respect of their treatment.

The noble Lord, Lord Blease, also referred to escapees. I agree that when a prisoner escapes from legal custody it is always a matter of concern. Any escape is treated seriously and investigated promptly. The majority of escapes have been from category C prisons. A review of physical security in those prisons was carried out in 1988 and the recommendations that followed are being introduced across the category C estate. The prison service is always searching for new and improved physical security systems. Research is currently proceeding into a new type of high-security fencing for category C prisons.

The date for the publication of the White Paper has not yet been set. It will be published as soon as it is ready. Publication will be only a prelude to a great deal of further work and discussion. The purpose of the White Paper will be to set out a planned programme for the further development and implementation of change and for working out its consequences.

The noble Earl, Lord Longford, and the noble Lords, Lord Allen of Abbeydale and Lord Richard, criticised my right honourable friend for referring to 25 years. Obviously, the change cannot be made overnight. However, to try to say, as did the noble Earl, that if the mention of 25 years is a fact it means that the Government have rejected the Woolf Report is an injustice which is uncharacteristic. Of course, the Government have not rejected Woolf. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford said that he hoped that there would not be tardiness in implementing the report.

The noble Lord, Lord Richard, said that if the report were not implemented in full the Government would be squandering the chance of prison reform. I disagree with the noble Lord's suggestion. I know that he wants to know the answers straightaway but he really must wait. He knows perfectly well that I should be wrong to give answers on government policy when it is to be the subject of a White Paper. Neither he nor the noble Earl, Lord Longford, should suggest that because my right honourable friend used that figure, it means that the Government have a cavalier attitude or an attitude of not wishing to get on with the job. That is simply not so.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I am solicitous for the noble Earl's welfare. If my mathematics is correct and if the Home Secretary's estimate is right, he will be 87 and I shall be 84 when the Woolf Report is finally implemented. If at that time we are facing each other across the Dispatch Box croaking at each other and celebrating the implementation of the report, that will be a rather sad sight. Is the 20 to 25 years a considered estimate by the Home Secretary of how long this will take? I ask the noble Earl no more than that.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Lord has made his point very effectively. My right honourable friend said that the White Paper will chart the course. In the short term we should be able to achieve much within the substantial expenditure on staff, buildings and other items already planned. However, the whole programme is a programme of 20 to 25 years. That is what he said.

The Woolf Report suggests many alterations and improvements. They cannot all be carried out immediately, as we should like them to be. As to how quickly and when the improvements will made, the noble Lord must await the publication of the White Paper.

The Woolf Report recognises that it sets out a long-term programme. Any programme must proceed at a pace which the country can afford. If one starts off on a long journey, it is as well to tell people where they are going, why they are going there and the route which it is proposed that they should take. They cannot expect to find themselves at the end of the journey as soon as they have set off. It takes time. It needs understanding, determination and perseverance.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State set out in a speech last week his vision of the sort of prison service which we need for the 21st century. It must be clear what we should aim to be doing. The Government's response to Woolf will shape the prison service for a long time to come.

We must have secure prisons which command the confidence of the public. That is so obvious that it seems hardly necessary to say it—but it needs to be said. We must have stable and safe prisons; and up to a point that has to be achieved on the basis of a more constructive and sensitive relationship between the staff and the inmates. That in itself will be a considerable undertaking with the increase in the proportion of difficult and dangerous prisoners who will be among our long-term prison population.

However, prisons are for people who have committed crimes against society—sometimes terrible crimes. Some are there because, as my noble friend Lord Windlesham said, they are accused of committing crimes. It is a difficult problem. Society has to see that crime is punished and must deter people from wanting to do it again. Prisons must reflect that. They must offer the possibility of rehabilitation. As the right reverend Prelate said, they must be places where people are treated with humanity and understanding. He said that they must be treated as fellow Christians. When people abuse that privilege, as they did the other day, that makes life difficult for other people. It is a curious and contradictory mixture with which we perpetually have to battle.

The noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, referred to Selcare. That is very much in tune with the thinking in the Woolf Report on the need for the prison service to work with those involved in maintaining family ties and helping prisoners to resettle in the community.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, wanted to know what the position is regarding the embryo scheme for a network of charity shops which intend to sell crafts and other products made by prisoners in prison workshops. The prison service is in touch with the Koestler Trust over the practical details and the ideas for a charity shop scheme for selling products made by prisoners.

There is also the considerable organisational task of producing a wider range of constructive activities, especially in our overcrowded local prisons. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State rightly put strong and immediate emphasis on that when the Woolf report was published. The Government fully accept that constructive activities and training opportunities must be developed, and work and training must be properly planned. It would be most useful where it leads to qualifications recognised by outside employers, and the development of national vocational qualifications is important. Sentence planning, to which the noble Earl, Lord Longford, referred, will also have a valuable part to play.

There is always the risk that there will be unexpected obstacles. That is especially true when dealing with a large and complex organisation like the prison service. It is an organisation which is subject to considerable pressures from within and which is always having to cope with changes in the criminal justice system. That is part of the facts of life of the prison service. When the Woolf Report was published, my right honourable friend the Leader of the House commended it to your Lordships. That is the spirit in which we have been studying it in close detail. I hope that your Lordships will agree that when the White Paper is published, the work of the report and the effort which the Government and many others have subsequently put into it, will be seen to have charted a clear and better course for the prisoners well into the next century, and for those who, regrettably, find themselves within the prison system.

I am grateful to your Lordships for the observations that have been made. I only re-emphasise the point about which most noble Lords feel anxiety. Because the figure of 25 years was used, some noble Lords believe that that means the Government have no enthusiasm for the report. That is not so and I ask your Lordships to be patient. When your Lordships see the Government's response I am sure that you will be satisfied.