HL Deb 13 November 1991 vol 532 cc624-46

7.20 p.m.

The Earl of Longford rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to improve the position of sex offenders in prisons.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I raise the urgent matter of the treatment of sex offenders in prisons, for whom the Government of the day have a direct responsibility. I do not wish to inhibit other noble Lords who may desire to deal with the subject of sex offenders generally. Like other noble Lords, I do not forget for a moment the victims of sex offences. However, that raises an issue for another day.

I rise in a spirit of cautious benevolence, less waspish than on some recent occasions. Not long ago the Government produced the most important statement of intention with regard to sex offenders which has been produced up to the present time in this country by any government. That statement by the Government has been given a cordial, if guarded, welcome by all who care about the treatment of sex offenders. I am pleased that in the lamented absence of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, is to reply to this debate. If he has been instructed by his uncle, David Astor, he will know a lot about this subject.

As I proceed, I shall explain the reasons for the cordiality and guardedness of the welcome. It is common knowledge that unless steps are taken to protect sex offenders or the nature of their offences is concealed, they receive a very bad time in our prisons from fellow prisoners, usually under the name of "nonces". The problem of helping those sex offenders and trying to secure justice for them is complex and controversial. No doubt for that reason it has been totally neglected up to the present time. I believe that this debate is long overdue.

I present my credentials briefly to the House. I have visited a considerable number of the most relevant prisons in September and October: Wakefield, where there are 400 or more sex offenders out of 700 prisoners; Littlehey, where there are 250 sex offenders out of 550 prisoners; Whatton, where there are 160 prisoners who are nearly all sex offenders; Maidstone, 100 sex offenders segregated in one wing out of 500 prisoners; Grendon, on which the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, speaks with unique authority—and I am glad that he is to speak in this debate—has 50 sex offenders out of nearly 200 prisoners. I visited also individual sex offenders in Wandsworth where there are 250 sex offenders. I visited individuals at Belmarsh and Chelmsford. I also visited the Gracewell Clinic. I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, who is associated with that clinic, cannot be with us this evening. Many of us consider that the Gracewell Clinic in Birmingham provides the most advanced form of treatment for sex offenders.

The Government programme to which I referred earlier seeks to concentrate sex offenders in the limited number of prisons under three headings: assessment; core treatment for the great majority of prisoners; and specialist treatment for those who seem to require it. The cordial welcome to which I referred earlier is for the priority which the Government seem to be giving to sex offenders rather than for the details of their programme. There is a general readiness to use the Government's programmes as a basis for progress.

I should explain to those not versed in this subject—that is, the vast public awaiting news of this debate—that the Government plans will be restricted in two ways. They will be confined to those serving more than four years in prison—perhaps two-thirds of the total. The noble Viscount may tell us the figure is higher than that. However, that is the majority of prisoners. There will be a considerable residue who will not be offered any treatment under the Government's plans. I hope that the Minister can tell us what steps will be taken to make sure that the excluded minority are properly cared for.

Secondly, treatment will be confined to those who are willing to receive it. That is rather a difficult issue. For some prisoners there is a reluctance to accept that way of stating the matter. In some prisons the governors say, "If you go about it in the right way, you will persuade most people to accept treatment". I believe that the best formulation comes from the chief psychologist at Wakefield. I think the Government may accept that approach. I suggest that no one should be forced to undergo treatment but every attempt should be made to persuade sex offenders to accept it.

To illustrate this problem of whether or not sex offenders are ready to accept treatment, I refer to two prisoners in Maidstone who reacted differently to the idea of treatment. Both have been convicted of a number of offences against boys. The first one is an intelligent man, and he wrote me a long essay on the subject afterwards. He could see nothing wrong in his relationship with boys aged 15 or so. He saw a positive beauty in it. We must take that on board. I am not saying that it is true of all sex offenders; but quite a number do not believe that they are doing anything wrong. It is no good becoming angry about that because it is a fact. We must cope with people who have that state of mind.

When I left the prison this gentleman handed me a document which said: I intend to write about child love, paedophilia, because I myself love boys. Let me make it quite clear that paedophilia means love of children. It does not include cruelty of any kind. or sadism; nor abduction nor prostitution nor murder". Let us take this very coolly. I am not saying that that is the right point of view. It does not fit in at all with my concept of ethics but it is a point of view sincerely held.

When released, that particular man intends to make his way to a country where sexual relations are permitted with boys of 12. That is an intelligent man who was at public school—although I do not know whether that is in his favour in this House. However, he is intelligent and he argues in that way. Unless one says that he is bonkers and should be shut up in a home, one must study his problem.

The other prisoner felt guilty about the relationship which he had enjoyed with boys between the ages of 11 and 15, if only because he had been abused at that age. That gentleman had no desire whatever to cease to be a homosexual but he felt that if he had proper treatment from a psychologist, which he was receiving, he might be enabled to raise his sights and to concentrate on males who were above the legal age limit. He felt that the treatment could assist him in that way. Many people believe they can benefit from treatment; and many believe that they cannot.

I should say in passing that a sex offender whom I met last week is a very intelligent man. He was a school master and his school still holds a good opinion of him. He had done counselling for many years and is now in prison for improper relations with boys. He claims to be innocent. One may not accept that, but whether innocent or not he is a man of considerable experience not only of teaching but also of counselling. He has also had considerable experience of sex offenders in prison, where he has found himself for some time now. He takes the view that what is known in the social services as "counselling" is likely to do much more good than official psychological training or the kind of group therapy which is provided.

I give the House that example as an up to date opinion which should be floated. Of course every variety of sex offender is to be found among the 2,000 in prison. I take the opportunity of recommending to noble Lords an invaluable booklet published by the Prison Reform Trust. Although I do not agree with all its conclusions, the main facts are there.

Before coming to the principal thrust of the Government's proposals, I must say something about the all-important issue of segregation versus integration. It is not an issue which the Government seriously tackle in their statement. It is not likely but it is just possible that a Member of this House could have a friend who had committed serious sexual offences and was committed to prison for several years. That is not inconceivable. How would a Member of this House wish his friend to be placed? In what sort of prison? In what sort of situation?

The friend may be kept under Rule 43 in Chelmsford or one of many other prisons where he would be in semi-isolation. He might be placed in a segregated prison environment such as the Thanet wing at Maidstone where 100 prisoners, almost all sex offenders, are segregated. He may enjoy the same kind of segregation—protection, safety—in Whatton Prison. He may be placed in a semi-integrated prison such as Littlehey. That is held up by the Prison Reform Trust as something of a model. As I say, I have visited all these places. Half the sexual offenders in that prison are placed in a separate wing but mix freely with the other prisoners for the purposes of education, work and so on. The other half live the ordinary life of the prisoner. That is another solution.

The same situation exists, roughly speaking, at Grendon, about which the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, may say a few words. We all know about Grendon, the famous psychiatric prison where much more specialist treatment is available. The friend in question may serve his time in a fully integrated establishment such as Wakefield Prison, where the sex offenders are in the majority and the other offenders—the minority—are inclined in my experience to feel hard cone by though not actually persecuted. If he is lucky the friend may be sent to the Gracewell Clinic instead of prison, where specialist treatment is provided for a relatively small number of sex offenders.

I will not spend time this evening on the advantages and disadvantages of the alternatives. However, it is high time that they were laid before Members in this House and we were given a chance to bear them in mind and perhaps come back to them on another occasion. It may be that the Minister will have something valuable to say on the subject. I shall not be upset or critical should he adopt a fairly guarded attitude on the question of segregation versus integration. He may say that we must await the results of the application of the Government's programme. It would not be unreasonable if he did so.

Perhaps I may say a few words in regard to the Government's proposals. The crucial fact commented upon by every critic of the proposals is that there is no promise of extra resources. I shall repeat that. No extra resources will be available. Therefore, should the Minister say that things will be better in the future, he will have his work cut out to do that without spending more money. Nobody believes that is possible. However, many people are encouraged by the Government's proposals because they believe the new priority will lead to more resources being available. But they are not being promised now.

We must regard the proposals as pie in the sky; but pie in the sky is better than pie nowhere! I shall leave aside resources for the moment and ask what is the principal snag in the Government's proposals. It lies in the fact that the so-called core programme which applies to the great majority of prisoners will be basically operated by prison officers with hardly any training. When I visited Maidstone a prison officer of obvious capacity had just returned from a course of 12 hours' training. I said incredulously, "You mean 12 days". He said, "No, 12 hours' training". That was the course. It was a weekend's training.

I am delighted that prison officers should be involved in the work in any way. It is vital that they should feel part of the whole process. But no one can seriously argue that a prison officer, anyone else or even one of your Lordships, could be regarded as a trained therapist after 12 hours' training. One is aware that prison nursing officers receive six months' training. I suggest that in order to make prison officers, for whom I have spoken on recent occasions, into effective therapists, they should receive far more training. Ideally, before one becomes a sex therapist in prison or plays any part in that work, one should receive the same kind of training required to become a nursing officer.

That brings me back to resources. To speak of more adequate training for prison officers we must realise that we are thinking in terms of more prison officers being turned on to this work. Let us take Maidstone as an example. Maidstone has 26 prison officers to deal with 100 prisoners. That is a low ratio compared with many prisons. It had been thought possible up to now to spare only two of those officers.

I should like to receive the Minister's attention. I realise he understands the gist of my remarks but he may not have them all in his head and may want to hear them again.

In Maidstone only two prison officers are spared for the work of therapy. It is reckoned that to do the job properly in the way the Government intend it needs at least another four. That will cost money unless they are taken off other work. Therefore in practice it comes down to this: does one take them off another job—supervision of work or education—or is one ready to do the decent thing and provide extra resources?

Perhaps I may be allowed to point in a direction. Perhaps the Minister has heard of the Gracewell Clinic. At any rate, he cannot hear of it too often. If he has time to spare, he could do much worse than to visit that clinic in Birmingham. It is generally assumed that that is the most advanced kind of sex treatment in this country. Other people may say it is not perfect, and of course it is not. Nevertheless, it is very good compared with anything else.

I asked Ray Wyre, the consultant, whether the Gracewell Clinic used any of the best-known models of treatment. He said that they were eclectic. They drew on any method that was likely to be fruitful. I gather that drugs are not ruled out but they are not a main feature. He added that one-to-one therapy is often necessary but group therapy can be still more effective. The staff is professionally qualified. The rank and file are probation officers who are trained much more than prison officers in the ordinary prisons. Of course no one can say that the Gracewell treatment cannot be improved upon. I am not suggesting that tomorrow one could provide that treatment with that ratio of staff and release probation officers for the whole sex offender population in prison. Nevertheless, it provides a model, an aspiration or an ideal to which we can work. I am very glad to recall that when I was last there I was told that the Home Secretary has now indicated that there will be a second Grendon. Many of us have said again and again that there should be more than one.

In all the prisons that I visited on this occasion I asked whether there was any message which they wished me to deliver in opening this debate in your Lordships' House. The answer was always the same; namely, resources. They begged me to implore the Government to back up words with deeds. I cannot expect an earth-shaking pronouncement from the noble Viscount this evening; but I ask him to give us some solid ground for hope that tomorrow if possible, and not the day after, sex offenders will for the first time be treated as belonging to the same human race as ourselves.

All these possibilities are open. Mr. Peter Thompson has done so much for the Matthew Trust and all those on the borderlines of crime and mental illness. He says that the ideal must be that we make sure that we provide safety for people in the first place. That means segregation. Then we move to integration with the general population. However, we must always remember that these people are human beings. They are treated with contempt by fellow prisoners. I hope that we shall not have any contempt expressed for them this evening.

7.41 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for once again introducing one of these very difficult prison debates. The first thing to be said about serious sex offenders is that they inspire a feeling of contempt and hatred in other people which I believe that we all feel to a greater or lesser degree. As he pointed out, that leads to a desire for vengeance, the bringing back of the cat and that kind of thing. Those feelings are intensified in prison because the majority of prisoners are what one might call good, honest offenders pursuing the ordinary results of greed without the slightest interest in the people they affect. However, they say with pride, that they do so without any sexual overtones.

They can say to themselves, "At least I am not vicious like those nonces". That is a help to the prisoners. All of us who have been concerned with prisons have met that situation. The result is that prison life for the serious sex offender becomes unbearable and the relief of Rule 43 has to be sought. The son of an acquaintance of mine was in prison for a sex offence. I went to see him and asked whether he had had any trouble. He said, "Yes, they ganged up on me in my cell and I only saved myself by yelling 'help!' so loud that the screws came to my rescue". He was then isolated under Rule 43. That is a terrible thing. I wish to associate myself with the noble Earl in congratulating the Government in at least acknowledging the existence of this evil and in saying that they are going to do something to try to put the matter right. That is a great step forward. I do not believe that that has been publicly said in that way before.

We are speaking of men rather than women who are convicted of serious sex offences. In my opinion they are nearly always dreadfully ashamed. The noble Earl gave some instances of one or two unusual people who were not ashamed. My experience is that people who have been convicted of ugly sex offences which they really have committed and who are not claiming innocence, always suffer from shame. Almost invariably they wreck their family lives and their careers and they should not be subjected to further persecution beyond the punishment of a long sentence. I believe that a long sentence can be justified in these cases because the possibility of a change of attitude is extremely uncertain as we know from the psychologists.

The good news is that the Woolf Report supports the view that such offenders can be helped by specific treatment. The Government are now at last accepting that and they are going to try to make a comprehensive effort to provide it. I do not believe that it was said exactly what they are going to do so I shall run through it very quickly. The problem is one of 3,000 offenders who have been convicted. About two-thirds of them have been convicted of serious offences for which the sentence has been over four years. The proposals apply only to them for the moment. As regards the over four years' cases, on conviction the men will be sent to one of six prisons which are to be provided with professional facilities for assessment. After assessment the offenders will be allocated either to the assessment prison or to one of 20 other prisons which are to be equipped as treatment centres.

The noble Earl spoke about counselling. Every treatment centre involves counselling. One does not have to speak in psychological terms because one is a psychologist. At Grendon there is a great deal of general counselling apart from anything technical. So far so good. These arrangements will not be at all easy to get going and certainly not easy to get going very quickly. The noble Earl referred to the personnel for six assessment centres and the fact that they will take some finding. They cannot be just anybody. To find enough people to man 20 treatment centres in 20 different prisons will be very difficult. At Grendon we have a number of nursing prison officers who have had some training, but they are very few. There are not enough of them. I am worrying about how these provisions are ever to be met, but as long as it is said that it can he done then it should be tried.

These factors have to be reconciled with the ominous comment which emerged from the Home Office that the whole plan will be "resource neutral" which is officialese for getting no extra money. Are they really trying to do this for nothing? I hope that the noble Viscount will tell us that that is a false rumour. It will really not do. A long-term plan of this kind must cost a great deal and cannot be cheap. I beg the Government not to let their good intentions fail, as they so often do, because of the lack of proper financial support. The excellent intentions of Fresh Start came off at half-cock simply because of mean financing provision. Therefore, let us at least find out how the offenders are to be accommodated. Are they to be segregated in a separate wing, for example? Is treatment to be voluntary or can they refuse it? The noble Earl raised that point.

Our experience at Grendon is perfectly clear. If one has a centre which is a therapeutic one, it is no good having people who reject the treatment. They will be better elsewhere. I urge very strongly that only prisoners who are prepared to accept and co-operate with treatment should be made available. I believe that in nearly every case they will because it will be evident to them that anything is better than an ordinary prison where they are bullied by everybody.

I shall stop asking questions, but I wish to make one positive suggestion. In my opinion the only way to deal properly with people of this kind—difficult cases—is in special small prisons of not more than 100 inmates. Twenty prisons for 2,000 people is out of the question in anything under about 10 years. But at least we could start right. I would immediately find and either erect or adapt one small prison adjacent to a main local prison, as recommended by the Woolf Report on community grouping. I should send the most perplexing cases there for a start. They should be asked to accept and co-operate in treatment, and should be sent hack to ordinary prison if they breach prison rules or if they fail to co-operate. We know from Grendon that a prison based on therapy willingly accepted, can be run for—in this case 25, or is it 30 years?—without escapes or riots. When I was at Grendon, the most dreaded sanction was the "Ghost Train", on which inmates who had failed to co-operate were sent back to a normal prison. Finally, every district should have such a prison in its prison group. The long-term plan should aim at that.

I believe that a prison of that kind would be much more effective than any other method and would succeed well enough to persuade the authorities to arrange for more. After all, with Grendon's success over 25 years they are already talking of a new building. So we cannot start too early to show what is right if it is to be copied and multiplied.

While welcoming the Government's recognition of these difficult problems, I beg them to consider their present proposals as a temporary expedient, to be gradually replaced by special prisons specifically designed for this purpose.

I have spoken for long enough. But there is a further question which needs to be dealt with, and that is what to do with the balance of prisoners after the severe cases have been removed and dealt with specially. The answer is that there should be more than one—probably 10 or 12—Gracewells scattered about the place. These people should go there as an alternative to prison, on a probation order, and they should be subject to immediate return to imprisonment in the case of a breach of behaviour.

Perhaps I may say something about Gracewell. It has no public money from the Government. That is half-baked. I think it should be given as much money as it needs to expand as far as it can. I think the Government should, within the year, start to open at least two others. It is perfectly simple to do. The Government can find out how to do it and suitable people can be found. In that way we could begin to deal with the less serious cases.

I shall say no more. I genuinely welcome this new and satisfactory effort, and I wish it every success. I repeat what my noble friend said: it depends wholly on being properly financed.

7.53 p.m.

Baroness Mallalieu

My Lords, the noble Earl's Unstarred Question raises a number of issues which have been causing increasing concern to those of us who practise at the Criminal Bar, and who have in recent years found ourselves spending an increasing part of our working time engaged in crimes involving alleged sexual offenders.

In the past 10 years it is no exaggeration to say that there has been an explosion in this category of offences. As an illustration, some 10 to 15 years ago perhaps two or three of the trials taking place at any given time in the Central Criminal Court were involving sex offences. On the last occasion that I was there earlier this year over half the courts in that building were trying cases which involved either sexual attacks of one form or another, or forms of child sexual abuse.

This explosion reflects, in part, a real increase in the commission of this type of offence. Very few women today are unaware of and are unconcerned about the real dangers of even simple operations such as collecting a car at night from an unlit car park, walking home alone at night after dark, or running out of petrol—not just on isolated country roads but even on a motorway hard shoulder.

But the increase in court cases also reflects a real increase in the reporting of sexual attacks and abuse as a result of wider publicity, wider public knowledge about these matters and also the encouragement and the support of various groups such as the Rape Crisis Centres, Women Against Rape, and Childline.

The nation has become more conscious of sexual offences and sexual offenders, and the Government must respond to that anxiety in the way in which they now approach those convicted of these crimes. The increased seriousness with which the nation now regards these offences has been reflected in the past few years by steady increases in the penalties which are not only available to the courts in dealing with such offenders, but which are now reinforced by stricter guidelines to the judiciary. So there is less occasion for public outrage when offenders are seen to be treated lightly.

The benefits of that are obvious. Victims receive more encouragement and support to speak out and they receive help. Also one does not, or should not, now find a rape victim sitting alone on a bench outside a courtroom waiting to give evidence, exposed to the hostile stares, or worse, of the friends and relatives of the accused—as once happened.

But there are disadvantages too. As it is easier for victims to come forward and speak out about their attackers, so it is also easier for unfounded allegations to proceed to trial.

It is regarded as a heresy by some of the support groups to say so, but unfounded sexual allegations are not infrequently resulting in men standing trial because the prosecuting authorities are under pressure to prosecute in every instance where there is a prima facie case. Cases which hitherto would not have been pursued because the chances of conviction were limited now take place. At trial the proportion of people acquitted in sexual cases, particularly rape and child abuse, is consequently a high one. But in the course of this debate it must be remembered that very often accused men are remanded in custody, accused of sexual offences, for many months before trial, and after trial they may well be found to have committed no offence.

The noble Earl's Question asks about improvements to the position of sex offenders in prison. But it must not be overlooked that a significant number of those awaiting trial in custody, and subject to Rule 43, will, at the end of the day, be found to have committed no offence whatever. Therefore, my first anxiety in this matter is that remand prisoners firstly should be protected. I am particularly anxious to know what steps the Government have taken and are proposing to take to ensure their physical safety, not just on a day to day basis while they are in custody, but when they are travelling with other prisoners to court appearances—where violence often occurs—but most particularly in the event of prison disturbances.

In the prison disturbances in 1990 a young man whom I subsequently defended—accused of sexual offences against a former girl friend and on remand in custody in Pucklechurch on Rule 43—was saved from being lynched only by the intervention of convicted Dartmoor prisoners who had been moved to Pucklechurch following other disturbances. He still bore neck injuries when I saw him months later.

Even after that attack, he was moved by the prison authorities and housed together with other Rule 43 prisoners in an unlocked room protected only by a notice on the door which said, "Keep out. Rule 43 prisoners", which guaranteed that he was subject to a further night of terrifying abuse and threats by other prisoners. Can the Government give an assurance that such events could not occur again and that vulnerable prisoners are now adequately protected? It must be no part of our penal system that such prisoners should endure not just deprivation of liberty but should also risk death and serious injury while they are in the care of the prison authorities.

My second concern follows conviction. In my experience it is now almost standard advice given by prison officers at court to a convicted man in a sex case that he should "go on the rule." Between 1983 and 1988 the male sentenced population increased by just under 17.5 per cent. while those on Rule 43 increased by 156 per cent. While personal safety must be the first priority, Rule 43 does not provide the appropriate form of protection for convicted men in this category of sexual offenders. It deprives men of normal association. It can prevent them from having access to facilities for work, education and recreation. It often means that the prisoner is not allocated to a prison near his home and family. Worse still, it effectively confines the prisoner to the company of other sexual offenders which too often reinforces the very attitudes and inclinations which led him into trouble in the first place. In effect it makes these prisoners into the victims and focuses their minds on their own condition and situation and not on what they have done to their victims.

In some prisons these policies are being addressed. Grendon is the shining example, but Grendon is exceptional. What steps are the Government proposing to take to implement the recommendations of the Woolf Report to which previous speakers have referred? Housing vulnerable prisoners in small units with other prisoners, within a liberal regime, with close supervision in those units and the penalty of withdrawal of the benefits of that regime for those who victimise sexual offenders is seen by Lord Justice Woolf as a way forward from Rule 43 with, in effect, a mini-Grendon in each local prison. I hope—and I know that I am not alone in hoping—that the report and recommendations of an enlightened Lord Justice and one of the most outspoken and effective Inspectors of Prisons for many years will not be allowed to collect dust at the back of a shelf.

My concern does not simply relate to the condition of those convicted and serving their prison sentences. My concern goes beyond that, to the effect that government policy on this matter has ultimately on the community and, in particular, on past and potential future victims of such offenders. Some two months ago I received a letter from a young woman whom I had had to cross-examine in the course of a trial. She had been raped at knifepoint by a burglar who had entered her flat during the night. He was under 20 and had received six years' youth custody. She asked what she could do to ensure that this young man received some treatment so that on his release no other woman should go through what she had suffered. I welcome the proposals in relation to offenders who are sentenced to terms in excess of four years, but there are many who fall below that level of sentence who would benefit.

For many years we have been failing to provide facilities for offenders who were anxious for help and were asking for it. Time and again in court we have seen judges read reports prepared by the defence and we have heard them express the wish that the prison authorities should arrange treatment. Time and again nothing has been done. The prisoner has ultimately been released without treatment and there is another victim and another prison sentence. I have just such a case awaiting hearing later this month. The judge's observations in that case on the last occasion were ignored. We have no means of knowing whether treatment might have helped and prevented a repetition because, tragically, it was never tried. This time the offence committed after release is of such seriousness that a life sentence is likely.

Another Grendon, which is promised, and more Gracewells, which let us hope we see, will be welcome but they will not be sufficient unless the Government make a commitment as soon as they can to providing treatment for all convicted sexual offenders who wish it. Lark of resources cannot be an answer to this problem. If we fail to provide the resources for this treatment, we shall simply have to provide even greater resources to have yet another prisoner housed in prison when he is released, reoffends and is reconvicted. We owe it to victims like my letter writer and those who will be victims unless we act. The improvement of the provisions for sex offenders is at the end of the day in the interests of all of us.

8.6 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

God knows, my Lords we live in a sex-sodden society. The pressures and provocations around us need no description from me, and the feminist movement has done well in reminding us that much of what we read, watch, hear and see every day is exploitative and degrading. It is also powerful and pervasive. It is not surprising that the weak, wicked, the inadequate and the deviant fall into crime and commit often hideous offences against vulnerable and innocent people. God is their judge, but, on Earth, so are we, and they are rightly punished when convicted. But it must needs be that offences come.

As we all know, when they are in prison they receive little sympathy from their fellow prisoners. Under Rule 43, many sex offenders are kept separate from all other prisoners for their own safety. The number of adult male prisoners held on Rule 43 for their own protection has increased nearly threefold since 1983; from 632 in that year to 1,835 on 31st August this year. Approximately 70 per cent. of all Rule 43 prisoners are sex offenders. They do not have an easy time. Not only are the conditions for many Rule 43 prisoners wholly unacceptable, there has hitherto been far too little treatment available for such offenders' deviant sexual tendencies. Such treatment and therapy as is available is often undermined by the development of a self-reinforcing culture among sex offenders in Rule 43 units. They are segregated together and they reinforce each other's tendencies.

The Prison Officers' Association, whose members have the unenviable and unlovely job of looking after and protecting these people, believes that in general terms the regimes provided for prisoners segregated for their own protection are still woefully inadequate. The extent to which sexual offenders are encouraged to participate in therapeutic schemes designed to challenge their violent and/or sexual tendencies is at best, across the whole system, patchy and at worst non-existent. It is clear from the high levels of reconviction for sex offences that imprisonment does not of itself stop men from sexually reoffending once they are released.

The central point in all this is that sex offenders, after conviction, must be offered treatment and must be persuaded by all legitimate means to accept it. To do nothing, or simply to exercise passive control, is negative, unintelligent and expensive, since recidivism in this group is so high and the cost of keeping one man in one prison for one day is usually compared with the cost of putting him up at the Ritz. That is why we welcome the Government's positive response to the recommendation in the Woolf Report that greater emphasis must be placed on the need to make therapy available, so that sex offenders can be confronted with their offending.

I congratulate the Government on their new programme and on the speed with which it has been devised and with which it will be introduced. But three things need to be said about the availability of therapeutic treatment for sex offenders after sentence. First, the Rule 43 procedure is very expensive and does nothing, so far as we can see, to reduce the rate of recidivism. If anything, it does exactly the opposite. Secondly, the Government's new programme, welcome as it is, constitutes no more than a first step down a long road on which it will be expensive to travel. I hope that we shall hear some reassuring news from the noble Viscount about the costs of this new programme and how they are to be met. The Prison Service publication, Briefing No. 36, has commented on the new programme in these words: Sex offending can be controlled but treatment cannot guarantee a cure. Random or ill-considered treatment can increase the risk of re-offending. But there is growing evidence that treatment programmes of the type planned by the Service—based on sound theories and carried out by well trained and motivated staff—can reduce sexual recidivism by about half". That is its view: that such treatment programmes can reduce sexual recidivism by about half. However, as we have heard, the programme will apply only to those who are serving prison sentences of more than four years. It would make sense to make increasing use of therapeutic programmes as an alternative to imprisonment for many of those who now receive the shorter term custodial sentences.

We have heard from almost every speaker—I join them and make no apology for nagging on about this—about the work of the Gracewell Clinic in Birmingham. That has illustrated the potential value of this approach in enabling offenders to accept responsibility for their behaviour, to acknowledge the serious damage which it has caused to their victims and to control their deviant sexual tendencies. Since the clinic was opened in 1988 it has had 109 residents for assessment and/or treatment. Not all those residents have been able to continue into treatment and, to date, 49 residents have completed a minimum period of treatment of three months. Some residents stay in treatment for 12 months or more.

Thirdly, the methods, results and costs of the Gracewell Clinic must be studied because they are at this moment the best available practice in this country. Quite simply, the Gracewell Clinic is the Rolls-Royce of the system and it is being driven to the very frontiers of knowledge. At present it can accommodate no more than 21 residents at any one time. It is registered with a local authority as a nursing home. Its fee for assessment and treatment is £495 per week. It is not cheap; but answers to this question are not going to come cheap. It is worth noticing that the clinic has maintained full occupancy since the middle of this year and it now has a waiting list stretching well into 1992.

Clearly the operation is a great success: there can be no question about that. But perhaps I may draw your Lordships' attention to one crucial fact. To date, as I have said, 49 residents have completed a minimum period of treatment. To date, and so far as research can reveal, not one of those men has been accused or convicted of a sexual offence. The Gracewell Clinic does not reduce recidivism by about one half—it has a 100 per cent. record.

However, if treatment options of this kind are to be available to the courts an injection of central government funding is essential and badly needed. At present, the Gracewell Clinic receives no central government funding. Since it was established it has depended heavily on the financial generosity of a single individual benefactor. We have spoken many times in your Lordships' House about the Gracewell Clinic. Yet the view of the Home Office seems to be that it will not provide direct central funding for the clinic until its effectiveness has been rigorously evaluated. I submit that a 100 per cent. record over 49 people is not a bad start.

That is not the approach which the Home Office has taken towards financing other types of worthwhile experiment; indeed, there is plenty of precedent for the Home office arranging to fund experiments in order that they may be evaluated. When the noble Viscount replies can he tell the House why the Home Office did not commission a full, evaluative study of the Gracewell Clinic long ago? How many Ministers and officials have visited the clinic, and how recently? Moreover will he, as a matter of urgency, consult his right honourable friend with a view to evaluating the clinic's work so that it may receive government funding as soon as possible. Surely the Government are fortunate to have a success like Gracewell attached to the prison system. In the words of the poet, W.H. Auden: Why spit on your luck?

8.17 p.m.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Earl and to my noble friend for not putting my name down to speak. But, having had an interest in the subject in the past as a Minister responsible for the Prison Service, many of the remarks which have been made this evening have struck something of a chord with me.

I very much agree with many of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, especially in relation to the plight of Rule 43 prisoners. I, too. found the application of Rule 43. on the dozens of visits I made to prisons throughout the country, to be variable. The reasons for it being variable are difficult to pin down—or, at least, that was the case in 1985–86 when I then had a specific responsibility. Of course, I recognise the difficulty of trying to achieve uniformity in the way that that rule is applied throughout the entire prison system and in the variety of different prison systems which exist. I also very much agreed with the noble Baroness in what she said about the provision of suitable facilities—the equivalent of Rule 43, so to speak—to enable those who are on remand for sexual offences to be properly safeguarded. I believe that that is a very important consideration.

I visited Grendon some time during my period of duty as a Minister. I was especially struck by the work which was done. The work then was experimental and has no doubt developed a great deal since that time. It seemed to me to have very many attributes. I am very glad to hear that that work has continued. I was also impressed by a visit I made only last year to Littlehey. That prison has adopted rather different techniques to try to cope with the problems of many of these prisoners. I found its work equally impressive. No doubt that has also been developed over time.

I believe that the problem is an extremely difficult one. The subject does not lend itself to any description, such as the fact that it may be a perfect science; indeed, it is certainly not. But the same to a very large extent has been true of mental health. Again, that was a subject in which I became deeply involved as the Minister in the DHSS, as it then was. There, some of the most striking improvements have been achieved through a great deal of imaginative effort. I think that "imaginative" is the right word in this respect. I believe that both Grendon and Littlehey are just two examples of what can be done.

Although I have heard about it, I have not visited the Gracewell Clinic. It sounds impressive, and I hope to visit it one day. I do not think that it even existed in my day so I was unable to visit it, as the noble Lord, Lord Morris, would have had me do.

Of course resources are not limitless. They have to be properly applied. There is evidence to suggest that the kind of approach which has been almost universally recommended in the debate tonight may save much grief without excessive cost.

8.20 p.m.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, I am happy to be able yet again to support my noble friend Lord Longford in his call for an improvement in a particular part of our penal system. What makes his request for an improvement in the way we deal with sex offenders so important is that over recent years the number of sex offenders in prison has increased incredibly. It was up to over 3,000 in 1990. My noble friend Lady Mallalieu spoke with great authority from her experience in the criminal courts. She spoke of the increase in the number of sex offences which are now reported and which may not have been reported previously. She also spoke of the odium with which the public views such offenders and the consequent danger of wrongful convictions. What she said about the present Rule 43 was of great value. I hope that the Minister listened carefully.

I shall speak about the present system and the new proposals which the Home Secretary announced in June. I reiterate what all my noble friends have said. I include the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, although he has left the Chamber, among my noble friends. The present system of sex offenders being incarcerated under Rule 43 or being at the prey of other prisoners is hopeless. It offers no hope of prison having a remedial effect upon their offending. There is therefore a danger that they will prey on further victims when they leave. That was the central point made about the danger of the present system of dealing with sex offenders.

My noble friend Lord Donaldson proposed, as did others, that there should be separate small units or prisons for sex offenders. In its evidence to Lord Justice Woolf's inquiry, the Parliamentary All-party Penal Affairs Group said that such offenders should be segregated from the rest of the prison population. It recommended that there should be separate accommodation for vulnerable prisoners like that which exists at Maidstone, Wakefield and Littlehey. Treatment for offenders with deviant sexual tendencies cannot be administered while they remain under Rule 43. No treatment, counselling or cure can be given while they remain in those conditions.

That leads me to the second part of the debate which relates to the initiative announced by the Home Secretary at the Suzy Lamplugh Trust conference. It was an important conference. The initiative was a response to one of Lord Justice Woolf's recommendations: that a new programme for the treatment of sex offenders should be put into operation. That initiative was described clearly by my noble friend Lord Donaldson.

I join all noble Lords in the welcome that they have given to that initiative. I share the fears of many speakers about certain aspects of the programme. Foremost among the anxieties is the question of how the programme will be resourced. That is a point that I hope that the Minister will address, even if he merely says that it will not be resourced. That was the central worry of all speakers. As has been said, the Home Secretary was careful not to commit himself to providing any significant increase in resources to fund the programme when he announced it. Indeed, he said that the initiative is to be "resource neutral". That has a hollow ring. The assumption appears to be that the programme can be run by the existing complement of prison staff.

I, and all noble Lords who have spoken, believe that that assumption is unwise. Although in some prisons there is an existing tradition of work with sex offenders and staffing arrangements which take that into account, in many other prisons comprehensive programmes of work with sex offenders will be a new departure. The introduction of the new programme will mean the reallocation of staff time and the cutting of existing activities. In prisons such as Wandsworth, where the regime is already extremely restrictive—we have often debated that prison—it is hard to see what can be cut to enable the programme to be run.

That leads to the subject of training. There are some indications that the Home Office is willing to resource specialist training for prison staff. However, as other training initiatives have shown, the problem lies not so much in providing the training as in freeing up staff to attend the courses. Lord Justice Woolf recognised that fact when he wrote that in order to accommodate his recommended increase in training: The Prison Service will need to recognise that, for a short time at any rate, additional staff will be required". Given the complexity of the issues relating to, and the dangers inherent in, work with sex offenders, the provision of adequate training is vital. Additional staff will be needed if the treatment is to be provided.

There are also questions about the selection of the specialist prisons. In each prison providing the programme it is crucial to establish that it has the right ethos to allow such programmes to flourish. All the prisons identified as assessment centres have considerable experience of housing large numbers of sex offenders. However, few of them have a record of doing extensive work with such offenders. At least two of them—Dartmoor and Wandsworth—have reputations for harsh and repressive staff attitudes. They would find it hard to move to a system of working in a remedial way with sex offenders. In such an atmosphere it will be difficult to counter the tradition of staff/prisoner antipathies and to create an environment which will encourage prisoners to be open and honest about their offending, something which will be fundamental to the new treatment.

The answer to most of the other anxieties expressed will emerge as more details of the scheme are made known. The Minister may tell us some of them today. Perhaps he will tell us what will happen to the sex offenders who do not wish to participate in the treatment. At what stage in a prisoner's sentence will treatment be offered? What guidance will be issued to the judiciary? I do not believe that this point has been mentioned but it is important since judges may well be tempted to pass sentences of over four years on sex offenders simply to ensure that they will automatically be offered treatment. That is a possibility and therefore guidance to the judiciary seems important.

I would have spoken about the Gracewell Clinic, but it has been well covered by all previous speakers, in particular by my noble friend Lord Morris. I stress the point that he described. The importance and value of the work of the Gracewell Clinic is that it enables offenders to accept responsibility for their behaviour. Before that can happen, no treatment can be of any use. If one can persuade offenders of any kind to acknowledge the serious damage which they have caused to their victims then it will be a start on trying to cure and to change their sexual deviancy.

I hope that the Minister will tell us something about Gracewell. We all believe zthat the Government should provide financial support for it. As my noble friend Lord Morris stated clearly, the evaluation of its effectiveness must have been proved by the success rate which it has had.

I hope that when replying the noble Viscount will clarify the points raised today. We wish to know about the Government's new treatment programmes because we welcome the initiative. We wish it well and want it to work. As speakers have pointed out, the present system is totally inadequate. The Government recognise that, and anyone who has been involved in the prison system and penal affairs will agree that from a remedial viewpoint offenders of this nature can only leave prison in worse shape than when they came in.

I look forward to the noble Viscount's response and hope that we shall hear good news about this excellent new initiative that the Government have proposed.

8.32 p.m.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for the opportunity which he has given to the House to consider the treatment needs of sex offenders in prison. In his comprehensive report on the prison disturbances of April 1990, Lord Justice Woolf recognised that the management of sex offenders creates considerable difficulties for the Prison Service. This is because of the hostility and aggression shown to such prisoners by other inmates. The debate this evening has addressed how the situation of sex offenders in prison can be improved in, I believe, a most helpful and constructive way.

The problem of sexual offending commands a great deal of public and media attention—and rightly so. Sex offenders often have many victims. They strike at the most vulnerable in the community. There is now much greater appreciation than in the past of the incidence of rape and child sexual abuse. There is also a growing awareness of the crippling long-term effects that sexual assaults can have on the victims.

The first priority of government must be public safety and the need to protect potential victims. The courts must have adequate powers to deal with sex offenders. The Criminal Justice Act 1991 accordingly strengthens the powers of the courts to impose custodial sentences where this is necessary to protect the public from serious harm. It empowers Crown Courts to impose longer sentences than would otherwise by justified by the seriousness of the offence, if this is required for the protection of the public. For most sex offenders convicted of serious offences, an immediate and lengthy sentence of imprisonment is appropriate and inevitable.

However, incarceration is not enough. The conditions in which many sex offenders are currently held—segregated from other inmates under Rule 43 of the prison rules and with little access to regime facilities—are likely to aggravate their problems. Without treatment, they may leave prison as dangerous as—if not more dangerous than—when they entered. That was rightly pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, and my noble friend. As Lord Justice Woolf said: When Rule 43 prisoners are subject to assaults or worse that makes them feel, with justification, that they are the victims. It focuses their attention on their own condition and away from what they have done to their victims. Those offenders need to be assisted to avoid offending again. They must be required to confront their criminal conduct". The Woolf Report acknowledged the work that was already being undertaken within the Prison Service. At prisons like Wakefield, Grendon, Littlehey and Leyhill, sex offenders had been absorbed successfully into the prison community. At many prisons individual counselling and group therapy was taking place. But the provision was unco-ordinated, dependent upon individual initiatives and inconsistent sometimes in approach.

That is why, on 7th June this year, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced the new strategy, to which noble Lords referred this evening. In the coming weeks, the Prison Service will be progressively introducing structured programmes for sex offenders in prison.

One of the key features of this strategy is that sex offenders will be concentrated in fewer prisons. This is not just to provide them with a safe haven. The treatment programmes offenders undergo will be demanding and stressful, particularly in the initial stages. They will involve breaking down the offender's denial of his behaviour, getting him to recognise the effect on the victim and inducing guilt for his actions. It is essential, if such programmes are to succeed, that the prisoner is in an environment that can sustain him through this period and support the rehabilitative process.

Such an approach also makes it easier to ensure consistency in the running of the treatment programmes. It makes more cost-effective use of resources and skills. By allowing prisoners to admit and take responsibility for their offences in a supportive setting, it overcomes the legitimate concern about the practice under which some prisoners are effectively encouraged to lie about their offence to enable them to survive on normal location.

Sentence planning will be introduced for sex offenders and priority for treatment will be given to those who are likely to represent the greatest threat on release. I can confirm to noble Lords that this will include prisoners serving less than four years.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I understood that the Government's programme would not cover such people. I am not saying anything against it, but is that a change of policy?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I am not sure whether or not it is a change, but I can confirm to noble Lords this evening that it will include prisoners serving less than four years. I am not entirely sure myself what initial views were taken but that is certainly the case now. I am sure that the House would accept that early attention must be given to those longer-term prisoners whose release date could be adversely affected if their offending behaviour is not addressed.

Assessment will be introduced following conviction and sentence to determine which prisoners are most in need. This will take into account an inmate's previous convictions, evidence of inadequacy or addiction, and evidence of sexual deviancy. It will also reflect his behaviour during the assessment period when he will undergo psychological tests, have individual counselling and participate in group work.

Two main treatment programmes will be available in the Prison Service. A core programme, which does not require significant specialist resources, will tackle offenders' distorted beliefs about relationships. It will enhance their awareness of the effect of sexual offences on the victim, and seek to get inmates to take responsibility for and face up to the consequences of their own offending behaviour. The programme will also get inmates to develop relapse prevention strategies, identifying the nature of their offence cycles and how high risk situations can be avoided.

The extended programme, for those who represent the greatest risk, will be run at establishments with appropriate specialist resources. This will, in addition, tackle problems of deviant arousal, inter-personal relationships, communication skills, anger and stress management, and substance abuse.

Further details of the programme are set out in a document Treatment Programmes for Sex Offenders in Custody: A Strategy produced by the Prison Service. I have arranged for copies of this to be placed in the Library of the House.

The intention is to have these programmes running in up to 20 establishments next year. Thirteen establishments have teams already undergoing initial training. The core programme has been finalised and pilot programmes are being run in prisons. The Government believe that these programmes represent a significant advance in meeting the treatment needs of sex offenders in custody. They are practical. They recognise the difficulties and constraints of delivering treatment programmes in prison. They are deliverable and, we believe, can be sustained over time. They will be fully evaluated.

The noble Earl, Lord Longford, asked about the use of prison officers to deliver these programmes. We believe it is essential that prison officers are directly involved in this work. They bring a wealth of practical knowledge of what goes on in prison to supplement the professional skills of the psychologist, the probation officer and the teacher. They will need—and are currently receiving—initial training. They will need training on the job, sitting alongside, for example, a probation officer running a group. With experience, prison officers can and do make an extremely effective contribution.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, this point is absolutely crucial. Will prison officers be provided with adequate training or will they receive just a few hours training? A few hours training is better than nothing; nevertheless it is a nonsense.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, as I have said, they are receiving initial training. However, training will also be given on the job. It will be a continuing process.

Noble Lords also asked whether sex offenders can be compelled to take part in the programmes. They cannot be compelled, but they will be encouraged to do so.

The noble Earl, Lord Longford, and the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, referred to the work of the Gracewell Clinic in Birmingham. There is certainly an argument for the provision of residential community-based programmes which can complement the work of the prison and probation services. I know Lord Justice Woolf was impressed with the evidence he received about the clinic's work. My honourable friend the Minister of State at the Home Office, Mrs. Rumbold, recently visited the clinic to observe its programmes for offenders. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary will visit the clinic shortly.

The view of Lord Justice Woolf—the Government share that view—is that the clinic's programme should be evaluated. I would point out to the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, that the 49 people he referred to constitute a small sample studied over a short period of time. The number of people involved is small and the period of time involved is short, so the sample cannot be considered representative of all offenders. However, a government-funded research study into a number of community-based programmes, including that at the Gracewell Clinic, will commence shortly.

The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, referred to the protection of remand prisoners. The prison service seeks to provide protection for vulnerable prisoners in all circumstances, both in prison and when they are travelling to and from court. Prison governors are aware of the threat to such prisoners and do all they can to protect them. That was clear during the disturbances at Manchester and elsewhere. However, we appreciate that there is a difficulty in this regard when control breaks down completely. The noble Baroness also asked about advice on Rule 43 prisoners. Prison governors may currently advise prisoners on Rule 43 status, but we wish to move to a situation where prisoners can be held in a more supportive environment. They may need to be held in a specialist prison or unit.

The noble Earl, Lord Longford, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, raised the issue of resources. Certainly we shall be addressing the resource needs of the prisons that will be running the programmes. The Autumn Statement announced that there would be additional resources in 1992–93 for the Prison Service. But we need also to ensure that existing resources are used effectively. Many prisons are already devoting resources to this area. These need to be rationalised. For prisons holding large numbers of sex offenders, we need to ensure that this work is given appropriate priority.

I wish to conclude on a slightly cautionary note. The strategy which my right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced on 7th June has been warmly welcomed. There is evidence that treatment programmes in prison can reduce levels of re-offending. But let no one imagine that, however successfully these programmes are implemented, sex offenders can be cured.

Treatment does not permanently eliminate the attraction of deviant sexual acts for sex offenders.

They are always at risk of repeating their behaviour. Treatment can enable an offender to recognise a situation in which he is likely to re-offend and teach him how to control his behaviour in these situations. But whatever it is possible to accomplish in prison can only lay the foundations for work that has to be continued after the inmate's release into the community.

House adjourned at fifteen minutes before nine o'clock.