HL Deb 15 February 1993 vol 542 cc931-49

4.53 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 16th December be approved [16th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Earl said: My Lords, the draft order before your Lordships seeks to extend the powers in the Criminal Justice Act 1991 to allow the management of existing prisons to be contracted out to a private operator.

When it was originally drafted the Criminal Justice Act provided only for the contracting out of remand prisons. During its passage through Parliament another place accepted an amendment which allowed those powers to be extended, by order, to allow for the contracting out of any type of prison, existing or new. In July last year, Parliament approved an order which extended contracting out to new prisons. That order allowed the new prison at Blakenhurst, which is due to open later this year, to be managed by a private operator.

All contracted-out prisons have been subject to a competitive tendering exercise. The first, the Wolds near Hull, opened in April 1992. It is a remand prison which can hold 320 prisoners. It is managed by Group 4 Remand Services Ltd. As the only prison which is managed by a private operator, the Wolds has attracted considerable attention from those who are interested in the penal system and from the press. It is to the credit of Group 4 that it has been willing to allow access to the prison to so many visitors. Between opening in April 1992 to the end of January 1993, 148 people had visited it, excluding, of course, visits to prisoners and the 68 visitors from the press and television.

Wolds is unique in that it is the only purely remand adult prison which we have in England. The high public profile which it enjoys—if indeed enjoys is the appropriate word —has included some alarmist stories. Some of these have been about incidents which have not happened. People rang up constantly to say that Wolds had burnt down. Others telephoned to say that inmates were on the roof, even after it was said that the prison had burnt down. Imagination and scaremongering has been rife and markedly distant from reality. Other reports have given substantial publicity to events which at any other prison would have attracted little or no press coverage, still less coverage at national level.

Wolds offers a high quality regime to its inmates. It recognises the needs of those who are not convicted. The regime includes daily visits from families and legal advisers and 15 hours a day unlocked and out of cells. Few other prisons in the country offered visits to prisoners' families on Christmas day, as Wolds did. We think that Wolds compares well with the public sector, but we need more than one privately operated prison—out of the total of about 130—if we are properly to test the effectiveness of competition in raising standards in the prison system as a whole.

The next prison to open under private sector management will be Blakenhurst, near Redditch which is near to Birmingham. Blakenhurst is a local prison which can take 649 prisoners. Unlike Wolds, it will hold convicted prisoners who are serving their sentences as well as those who are on remand. It will be managed by UK Detention Services Limited. Like Wolds, its performance will be closely and continuously monitored in order to ensure compliance with the high standards which are set out in the agreement with the contractor.

The prison will also develop new ideas. Prisoners will be locked in the cells only at normal sleeping time or for specific security needs. Like Wolds, Blakenhurst will provide 15 hours per day for prisoners to be out of their cells as a norm. A mixture of education provisions, of at least six hours a week, will aim to prepare prisoners for the realities of release. Visiting facilities for prisoners' families will be open in the evening to suit the convenience of the visitor, with daily visits for unconvicted prisoners. Basic hygiene provisions for prisoners will be good, providing daily showers and daily changes of socks and underpants. Prisoners will be involved in decisions which affect them as individuals as much as possible. The services of a solicitor will be made available to give advice on appeals. High standards of health care, suicide screening and sex offender therapy treatment will also be provided in that innovative programme.

In the debate in July 1992 on the order to allow new prisons to be contracted out it was made clear in another place that the Government's policy was to subject all new prisons to competitive tendering. In May we will therefore be inviting private operators to bid for the management of the new prison at Doncaster. That is the last of the 21 new prisons which will have been constructed as part of our most recent prison building programme. The programme has cost a total of no less than £1,200 million. Doncaster prison will have 720 places and it is scheduled to open in the early part of 1994.

Wolds, Blakenhurst and Doncaster are all new prisons. The order before your Lordships today will enable the Government to enter into contracts with private operators for the management of existing prisons. The order is before your Lordships because we are carrying out a market-testing exercise on Her Majesty's Prison Manchester, which is commonly known as Strangeways. Therefore, in addition to half a dozen private sector companies an in-house team from the prison service has also been invited to bid for the management contract.

Bringing forward the order now is not intended in any way to pre-empt the outcome of the tender evaluation process. It is simply a case of needing to be prepared. We need to be in a position to enter into a contract should a private operator be successful.

Manchester is one of our oldest and largest local prisons. Following the riot in April 1990 the larger part of the prison was left in a condition which required major refurbishment and which amounted almost to rebuilding it. At that time the prison held 1,647 prisoners. Those included unconvicted prisoners on remand, those awaiting sentence, and prisoners serving their sentences, including some in the highest security category, category A.

Manchester will now be a virtually new prison when it opens. It therefore seemed right to seek private sector tenders for its management. That is in line with our policy on the management of new prisons. Manchester has remained partially operational while the rebuilding work has taken place, and it has retained a nucleus of Prison Service staff. It seemed, therefore, a good candidate for extending our contracting-out programme to include "market testing", in which in-house bids are sought and considered in competition with those from the private sector.

This is a time of great change in the Prison Service. In April, the service will become an executive agency, under the leadership of Mr. Derek Lewis. As an agency, it will have considerable freedom to determine the best way in which to carry out its remit. An important change to the present position is that the Prison Service will be responsible for implementing government policy on the involvement of the private sector in managing prisons.

Agency status, and the introduction of competition by private sector involvement in the Prison Service, have the same objective—to raise standards and to secure better value for money throughout the prison system. In order to achieve that, we need to find the right balance between public and private sector management of individual prisons, and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has asked Mr. Lewis to provide advice later this year on the extent, the form, and the timescale for increasing private sector involvement. Meanwhile, the Prisons Board will be looking for further establishments which may be suitable for market testing or contracting out.

In relation to contracting out, it might be helpful to your Lordships if I were to say something about the application of the European Community acquired rights directive and the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981 which are, rather nastily, colloquially known as TUPE. Those have been the subject of much recent media coverage. The somewhat alarming-sounding regulations are the means by which the European Community acquired rights directive is given effect in domestic law. They protect the employment contracts and collective agreements of staff when an "undertaking" is transferred from one organisation to another.

When both the European Community directive and the regulations were drawn up, the draftsmen did not have in mind the type of transfer of work from the public sector to the private sector with which many government departments are now involved. That has resulted in considerable discussion about the effect which the regulations will have on a number of contracting out and market testing exercises, including that of Her Majesty's prison at Manchester.

When the invitations to tender for Manchester were issued in October last year the understanding was that the regulations would not apply. Shortly before Christmas further legal advice on the subject was given and it became apparent that we should apply the regulations to Manchester. In relation to other existing prisons, which may be contracted out in future, we shall need to consider carefully each case as it arises.

What is clear is that the application of the regulations to existing prisons will not necessarily be a barrier to private sector involvement. There are, arguably, benefits as well as difficulties in taking over a workforce. New ideas and approaches can be grafted on to existing expertise and skills, of which there is already a good supply in the Prison Service.

The Prison Service is preparing an in-house bid for the management of Manchester. That is an encouraging sign, and it bodes well for the future for a prison system which will be a mixture of directly and privately managed establishments.

I know that within the Prison Service there are many dedicated members of staff who are struggling to provide fair and humane care in difficult surroundings. They do a job which I fancy would not appeal to many people and they do it very well. Their work will continue still to be necessary. The move to agency status, with the devolution of many key decisions such as recruitment of staff to local level, together with the stimulus of competition from the private sector, should result in the ability to introduce change which will be of benefit to individual establishments. Prison governors will be better able to improve the way in which they manage their establishments and they will be better able to try out innovative ideas more easily. That should result in better value for money for the taxpayer and better regimes for the prisoners.

In my view both the move to agency status and the involvement of the private sector are healthy developments. I know that many staff in the Prison Service are ready to take up the challenge which it offers and to begin to build a Prison Service under a new regime which will come to be recognised as a leader in the field by other countries and of which we can all be proud. I commend the order to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 16th December be approved [16th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Earl Ferrers.)

5 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I rise to offer very strong opposition to the lamentable order moved by the noble Earl with more than his usual charm—and that was certainly needed on this occasion. I am aware that the official view of my party will no doubt be very effectively stated by my noble friend Lord McIntosh at the end of the debate. I will be surprised if he much disagrees with my general line. In another place my party divided against the order. For once, I believe that I speak along orthodox party lines.

I am one of the few noble Lords who have visited the Wolds. When we last discussed the issue the noble Earl had not had time to do so. I do not know whether he has had time since. I assume that he has not since he does not rise to confirm that he has visited Wolds. I believe that anyone who speaks for the Government on this issue should find time eventually to visit the Wolds or some such place. But I shall offer some words about the Wolds before I conclude.

I speak now on the principle. The noble Earl is sensitive on such matters. He will realise that those who oppose the order do so on moral grounds. We regard the issue as one of fundamental principle. I have criticised the prison system as often and as sharply as anyone present. But I regard the order as an outrageous attempt to steal the administration of prisons away from the Prison Service and to place it in the hands of a variegated crew of novices with no experience of prisons.

Let us consider the Wolds. I do not know the latest figures. When I visited it, out of 100 operational staff only five had experience of prisons. Apart from the governor, who took me around, I met two senior gentlemen. One had been a physical education officer in a private school; the other had been some sort of management consultant trainee. Shall we pit the wisdom of those gentlemen against the accumulated wisdom over many years of the Prison Service?

Let us consider the position even more fundamentally. I submit that when we take away the liberty of a fellow citizen we assume a grave responsibility. No doubt the primary reason is that we believe ourselves to be acting in the interests of the community. But we cannot discharge our responsibility for the welfare of the citizen in our care. I wish to labour that fundamental point. I have criticised the Prison Service often enough. But throughout the 50 years that I have known the Prison Service, there has been a light of concern, albeit flickering, by staff for the prisoners in their charge. There is no reason to suppose that an international company such as the one which now manages the Wolds will have any such concern.

What is that company doing at the Wolds? What is that foreign company up to? It has come here for one reason only. Neither a charitable nor a public spirited reason, but to make money, to make a profit. There is no harm in that; many of us who have been in business are likely to have done the same in our time. But that is the motive and we should never under any circumstances believe that the company has the same concern for prisoners as the existing Prison Service.

The Government whom the noble Earl represents have a fanatical belief in the superiority of any businessman over any public servant. They have replaced a widely admired head of the Prison Service with a television executive who has never been inside a prison according to my information. That is because the Government believe that the businessman always knows best, and that is what is behind this order.

That is not the only reason. When I went to the Wolds I asked what the advantage of it was. The prison governor—an excellent man—had had experience of prisons. He said to me "We have more flexible working arrangements". In other words, they get on without trade unions. That is what it boils down to. There are businessmen who love the idea of getting on without trade unions. That is the game they are playing, with no nonsense about it.

I am afraid that I feel that this is one more step along the ideological road of crazy privatisation. I can only end with the words of a poet whose name I do not know. If I were asked, I should have to look it up: Turn again, oh my Sweetest"— those words are aimed at the noble Earl— Turn again, false and fleetest"— those words are aimed at the rest of the Government— The beaten where thou beatest I'll swear is Hell's own track". That describes my attitude and, I am sure, that of all those who care for prisoners or value the work of the Prison Service.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, I agree with a good deal of what the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has said. I shall confine myself to one or two detailed points, as I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, will make the rest.

First, in his opening speech the noble Earl said that the Wolds prison compares well with the public sector. So it ought to. No one would take on a contract with the kind of problems we have in most of the other prisons in the country. No one in their right mind would undertake for money running a place like Brixton or even some of the smaller prisons which are nearly as bad. When the noble Earl said that, he was being over-innocent—even though he is always so polite and innocent.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, is the noble Lord talking of me?

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, no, I am talking of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Earl must not be too keen on gathering all the bouquets that the noble Lord is passing.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, after that little effort to keep everyone happy, it is important to realise that, with the setting up of the Wolds, with the proper conditions, with the agreed staff, with the agreed number and no excess in the number of prisoners, if the Government had done that elsewhere the results would have been at least as good as they are at the Wolds. They may possibly have been better, as the noble Earl, Lord Longford, believes. There is no doubt that, if only we could have persuaded the Government to give as much enthusiasm to reacting positively to the 85 recommendations in the Woolf report as they have to introducing this new arrangement for prisons on ideological grounds, things would be much better.

My belief is that it is difficult to oppose on ideological or any other grounds anything which improves the ghastly way in which we treat remand prisoners in this country at the moment. It is absolutely intolerable. Everyone knows that and says so. One-third of those who are on remand and treated in that evil way leave without a sentence in the end. It is an impossible situation. Thus I cannot object if the Tory Party has a special idea that it wishes to do something in a certain way, provided that it is basically sensible. That way is to have proper equipment and no overcrowding—for which we have been shouting for more than 30 years all over the country. If that is achieved, good luck to them.

I cannot go far because I well remember reading the history of penal affairs and of the old gaolers before prisons were nationalised. They depended entirely on bribes for their money. Chains were always put on prisoners first and they had to pay the gaolers before the chains were removed.

I am not saying that the new companies would behave like that, but I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Longford, that there is a motive to make money out of that, without which the companies would not do it. There is nothing else I wish to say as I know that my noble friend Lord Harris will cover all the other points.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I believe that there are two reasons for the order. The first is ideological and I shall return to that in a moment. The second is the deplorable industrial relations record in our prisons. The Home Secretary made no reference to that in the House of Commons, and neither did the noble Earl refer to it today. But it is one of the principal reasons why we have the order.

As the noble Earl will recall, I have raised this matter on a number of occasions. I do not believe that the Government of which I was a member had a good record on this because they did not. There were far too many surrenders to the branches of the Prison Officers' Association. The noble Earl will recall the report of Sir John May soon after the present Government came into office. He drew attention to the lamentable industrial relations situation in the prisons. Curiously, since 1979 it has become a great deal worse. That is not my view. It is the opinion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, who conducted the inquiry into the disturbances which took place at Strangeways.

The reason why the situation has become worse since 1979 is simple. The noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, when Prime Minister, was quite happy to take on the National Union of Mineworkers. She was quite happy to take on other groups of organised workers. But she would under no circumstances take on the branches of the Prison Officers' Association. That is why the situation has deteriorated in many prisons, although not all. In many prisons the industrial relations record is excellent; there are many admirable men and women working in the Prison Service. The noble Earl will recall from the previous debates that we have had on the issue that in other prisons a campaign has been waged by a minority of members of the association to create as much chaos as possible.

The way one deals with the situation, in my view, is the manner in which Mr. Hurd dealt with it when there was the walk-out at Wandsworth. The fact that the Metropolitan Police took over Wandsworth in an extremely ugly situation and brought order to the prison passed a message to the rest of the Prison Service that behaviour of that kind would not be tolerated. Firm management is the way to deal with a bad industrial relations situation, not privatisation.

It is instructive to examine how Ministers have changed their ground since the Bill which became the Criminal Justice Act 1991 was introduced into Parliament. First, there was the proposal to take powers to set up the single remand establishment at the Wolds. It was the idea of Mr. Hurd, and I supported it at the time for the reasons given by my noble friend Lord Donaldson. Remand establishments are, in the judgment of all of us, wholly different from prisons holding sentenced prisoners. If anyone finds it difficult to accept that view, they have only to read the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, to see the justification for that opinion.

I am sure that the noble Earl will recall the words of his then colleague, Mrs. Rumbold, when speaking in the House of Commons on 25th February 1991. That is less than two years ago. She said: The Government are taking the first step in considering contracting out a remand prison … If, and only if, the contracted-out remand centre proves to be a success might we move towards privatisation of other parts of the prison service".—[Official Report, Commons, 25/2/91; col. 720.] In the light of last year's debate and the speech of the noble Earl—when, with great respect to him, he endeavoured (not wholly successfully in my view) to re-write history—it is important to emphasise again Mrs. Rumbold's words: If, and only if, the contracted-out remand centre proves to be a success"— not a tendering exercise, as the noble Earl tried last year to suggest, but if the operation of that establishment proved to be a success.

Let us come again in detail to what the noble Earl told us. When we were debating the Bill which gave the Home Secretary the order making powers we are discussing today he said: If a suitable tender is received that prison may be contracted out. No new remand centres are being built or planned. Therefore, in regard to contracted-out remand centres, that will be the only one for the foreseeable future. At present there are no plans to contract out prisons for convicted prisoners or for existing establishments". He said all that less than two years ago, adding: If we decided to go down that road we should first wish to see how well the contracting out at Wolds had gone, and whether there were any lessons to be learned from that".—[Official Report, 23/4/91; col. 211.] A few weeks later the noble Earl said: I must emphasise once again that my right honourable friend has no plans to contract out the management of existing prisons. There is no hidden agenda of wholesale contracting out of existing prisons".—[Official Report, 21/5/91; col. 211.] We now know that there was just such a hidden agenda. No doubt the noble Earl was not told. The noble Earl is an honourable man. He would certainly under no circumstances have sought to mislead the House. But it is quite obvious that his colleagues had a hidden agenda and that is why we are discussing the matter today.

Last year, when he brought forward the first order dealing with contracting out, the noble Earl had the embarrassing experience of coming back to us to explain that, despite all the assurances he had given only a few months before, the Government had chosen to ignore them. Despite his own promise that the Wolds, will be the only one for the foreseeable future", he moved an order to extend the Home Secretary's power to privatise all new prisons—not existing prisons but all prisons built thereafter. He performed his duties, I may say, without any apparent embarrassment, despite the assurances he had given exactly in the contrary direction.

Not altogether surprisingly in the circumstances, his arguments were a little unconvincing. He said the Wolds, to date … has been shown to be a success".—[Official Report, 7/7/92; col. 1109.] That was a pretty remarkable statement in all the circumstances because it was made at the beginning of July. The Wolds had been opened only in April. When the noble Earl spoke last July it was only one-third full. That is pretty thin evidence for a Government to decide that an experiment has been a remarkable success. But no doubt the noble Earl will be able to assist us in regard to the matter again today.

Today we have another order extending the possibility of privatisation to all existing prisons. I do not want to deal with the general issues of principle involved in the policy. I have already made my position clear. I believe that it is undesirable and foolish. I should just like to raise one or two matters which arise from that decision.

First, I should like to refer to the position of the new director general. I do not know Mr. Derek Lewis.

All I will say is that, given the very heavy responsibilities with which he has been entrusted, I wish him well. He will certainly carry a very heavy burden. Not only will he run the Prison Service; he will also have the responsibility of implementing all the privatisation decisions. How one man can do both jobs is a question that I would find very difficult to answer.

But one statement made by the Home Secretary during the Commons debate on the issue seemed to me a little remarkable. He said: In April, the service will become an executive agency under the leadership of Derek Lewis, whom I appointed recently". —[Official Report, Commons, 3/2/93; col. 422.] Let us consider those words for a moment: "I appointed recently". Perhaps the noble Earl will help to clear up my doubts. Do Ministers now appoint the heads of all executive agencies? If that is so, perhaps the noble Earl will be able to refer me to the date upon which that decision was announced in Parliament.

I have no doubt that Mr. Lewis and other candidates were interviewed by members of the public service, so the noble Earl need not trouble to assure me on that point. I am asking an altogether different question. The holder of that position ranks as a Deputy Under-Secretary of State in the Home Civil Service, although, as we know, Mr. Lewis is paid a great deal more. Is his position within the gift of a Minister of the Crown? If so, I think we are moving perilously away from the traditions of the British public service and the principles laid down in the Trevelyan-Northcote reforms. Perhaps the noble Earl will deal with the matter. I think that we should be reassured on that.

So far as the public service is concerned, the Trevelyan-Northcote reforms have operated for a century and a half. If they are to be discarded, I believe that we should have a clear statement explaining the situation that Ministers have decided upon. We are well aware that so far as Permanent Secretaries are concerned the Prime Minister of the day is consulted. But that is not the issue. Perhaps, as I said, the noble Earl will deal with that when he comes to reply.

I should now like to deal with the other part of Mr. Lewis's responsibilities for the creeping privatisation programme. The Government appear to have got themselves into a fine old mess. Their enthusiasm for privatisation at all costs—the costs, of course, are borne by employees not by Ministers—has apparently been such that they have been ignoring their own regulations. The noble Earl skated fairly briskly, if I may say so, over the question of the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981 to implement the European Commission's 1977 acquired rights directive. That directive broadly lays it down that any new contractor must take over employees on their existing terms and conditions. As we are well aware, for many months, while the pace of privatisation grew, Ministers were either unaware of the order or they believed that they could get away with ignoring its provisions.

Then there were threats of litigation and the Government drew back. As a result, just to take one example reported by the Financial Times, 120 staff employed by the Prison Service Stores Department in Corby have had their redundancy notices withdrawn. The new contractor was to have been Beck & Pollitzer, but it apparently had not been told by Ministers about the existence of the regulations.

I am by no means a doctrinaire opponent of all privatisation proposals. I have made that clear already. Sometimes the private sector will perform a responsibility more effectively and satisfactorily than the public services; sometimes the reverse will be true. But that is not the position of the Government. As the noble Earl, Lord Longford, pointed out, they believe that the private sector is always best, although I should have thought that in recent months there has been much evidence to the contrary.

Let us put that aside for a moment. We have a situation in Corby where 120 longstanding employees of the Prison Service of the Home Office—storemen and storewomen, not highly paid public servants—were suddenly told that after a lifetime of working in public service they were to be fired. They performed their work faithfully and well, but Ministers took no account of that whatever. They were to be discharged. The only reason that their redundancy notices are being withdrawn—no doubt the Statement we heard a few minutes ago is significant in this context—is that some legal adviser to the Government, perhaps the law officers or somebody else, realised that the Government were behaving unlawfully. That is why the redundancy notices have been withdrawn. They are in the process of being withdrawn in a number of other cases. It would have been even more helpful to the House if the Government had acknowledged once again that there had been a serious failure regarding their legal advice. Only because there was a European directive in existence—I say that in the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington—have those people been saved from being thrown on the scrapheap.

I hope that the noble Earl will tell us whether there are any further consequences to the transfer of undertakings order. The Home Secretary said that the successful tenderer at Strangeways would have to take over protected employment contracts. I welcome that, as I am sure many others do also. However, I hope that we shall obtain further information on that point from the noble Earl.

I come to my final point. I have been informed that if there are disturbances in privately managed prisons, the staff in the state sector will not go to reinforce the private sector staff. As they are outside the public service, the view has been taken that they must look after their own security problems. That has major implications for the police service. During the serious disturbances that occurred when Mr. Hurd was Home Secretary, and indeed on many other occasions when riots have taken place, they have been rectified only because staff at prisons which were not affected were sent as reinforcements to those that were.

What happens now? If there are not to be reinforcements from the state sector, who will go to the prisons when there is a substantial disturbance? Will it be the police? Many would welcome an answer from the noble Earl on that point. If it is, does the noble Earl realise that the forces concerned will need substantial programmes of training on how they are to deal with a problem of that nature in a prison. If they are to be given that training, who will pay for it? Will the Home Office make more funds available to the chief officers concerned? It will be helpful to have answers to those questions.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Howell

My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, for allowing me to intervene. An additional point arises on the matter that he raised. In fact the police would also be involving themselves in an industrial dispute, which is to be regretted.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, that may be so but a disturbance may take place when no industrial dispute is involved. In any event, the noble Earl is aware of the point and I hope that he will give us a clear answer. I am sure that the police will follow his reply with the closest attention.

I have made my position on the matter wholly clear. The order we are discussing today is largely, though not exclusively, the result of the Government's doctrinaire obsessions. It will not deal with the pressing problems in our prisons; it merely diverts us from the major issues involved in trying to create more civilised conditions in the prisons of this country.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Longford need have no fear that I shall disagree with him. The order is an abomination. It is only my deep respect for the conventions of this House, and in particular the convention that we do not vote against orders passed in another place, that will prevent me from going into the Lobby against this dreadful order.

There are two fundamental reasons why I oppose the order—one of principle and a whole series on practicality. The reason of principle was best expressed by the distinguished criminologist, Sir Leon Radzinowicz, who argued in The Times in 1988—referring to remand prisons— In a democracy grounded on the rule of law and public accountability the enforcement of penal legislation, which includes prisoners deprived of their liberty while awaiting trial, should be the undiluted responsibility of the state. It is one thing for private companies to provide services to the state system, it is an altogether different matter for bodies whose motivation is primarily commercial to have coercive powers over prisoners". One does not need to cast aspersions on the motives or efficiency of those who undertake the private contracts in order to reinforce the basic point that it is wrong for the private sector to deprive people of their liberty; it is wrong for the private sector to lock people up. I have no reason other than what I read in the press and what I have heard in the House and read from the debate in the House of Commons to be critical of Group 4 or those who propose to take over the contract at Blakenhurst. I have nothing against them, but they are in a position in which we should not have placed them. We should not allow the private sector to lock people up.

I turn to the issues of practicality, of which there are many. I shall talk first of the historical ones before going on to the priorities for the future. I start with the Wolds prison. That is a remand prison that has been referred to on a number of occasions. The Minister today and the Home Secretary two weeks ago praised the record of the Wolds. But, as my noble friend Lord Longford said, it has only been open since last April. When he visited there it consisted of only one third floor. My understanding is that, although it provides for 320 remand prisoners, there have never been more than 233. Under those circumstances it is not too difficult to provide higher standards than are provided elsewhere.

But it does not seem that those standards are being produced. On 19th December the Financial Times described a horrific case where a prisoner was tortured and injected with heroin. Only yesterday the Observer contained details of what had been happening in the Wolds prison and compared it with public sector prisons. It states: Last week there was a second escape from The Wolds in less than a month. A prisoner who was being escorted by the jail's Group 4 staff for treatment at Hull Royal Infirmary suddenly leapt from a wheelchair and vanished". That is the second escape in a month, and unless the Minister has evidence to the contrary, I suggest that that is way above the record for public sector prisoners. It is also reported that in the month following 11th December 1992 there were no fewer than eight assaults on staff. That contrasts, I understand, with a figure for public sector prisons of on average six assaults on staff per year per prison.

In addition to the point which the noble Lord, Lord Harris, has rightly made about what will happen if there are disturbances in the prison—I very much look forward to the Minister's answer on that—I understand that a letter has been sent to the Prison Officers' Association saying that if there is any threat of overcrowding at the Wolds any excess of remand prisoners will be sent to the public prison at Hull. If any difficulties which arise either from disturbances or from the possibility of overcrowding are simply shifted off to public sector prisons, what justifiable comparison can we make between the records of private sector prisons and public sector prisons? My fear about this comparison is confirmed by the fact that the tender which is being issued for Strangeways in Manchester has been taken back and amended so that the tenderers to run Strangeways will have an opportunity to put on extra costs if there is any threat of overcrowding. I have not heard of that being adopted as a principle in public sector prisons.

This is ideology carried to a mad extreme. It is based on a totally false view of what happens in the United States. Ministers went over, visited some presumably ideal prisons in certain parts of the United States and came back with the idea that this was something that would please the Adam Smith Institute. What they seem to have forgotten is that while there are 1.25 million prisoners in the United States —far too many—only 20,000 of them are in private sector prisons. In other words, the United States itself has not adopted private prisons as a proper way of dealing with the problem. Heaven knows, it has enough problems which we would not wish to see in this country.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, referred to the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations and the chaos that has been caused in legal advice to government and in the implementation of that legal advice in their contracting procedures. In introducing the order in another place two weeks ago the Home Secretary said that the new procedures would protect employment contracts and collective agreements and would provide for consultation in the case of redundancies. That is what the regulations say. They have to say that. It is a European directive. They cannot get round it. But they can get rid of the collective agreements and the protected employment before they go out to tender, can they not? Presumably, that is exactly what they will now do. They will remove employees' rights and then they will proceed to the transfer of undertakings rather than run the risk of conflicting with these European objectives.

I do not think that anyone has drawn attention to the point, although it was mentioned in another place by Mr. Robert Maclennan, about the lack of availability of information to Parliament concerning these privatised prisons. Since the Wolds was privatised, any questions about the staffing of the prison and conditions there are described as being "Commercial-in-Confidence". This may well be the last occasion on which we shall be able to debate issues concerning privatised prisons because we will no longer succeed in getting answers from Ministers on these subjects.

The whole thing is a false analogy. It is claimed by Ministers that somehow there is a relationship between privatisation and an enlightened regime, co-operation from the Prison Officers' Association, good conditions and high quality in everything from food to work and education and training. It is assumed at the same time that overcrowding, drugs, slopping out and all of the worst features of our prison system are somehow caused by the fact that it is in the public sector. If we look at the priorities for our prisons I think it will be seen that privatisation is the last thing that we should be considering. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, set out the priorities very clearly in his report. In none of the priorities that he set out is privatisation in any way relevant. He talked about the need for better work opportunities, better education and better treatment, both psychiatric and medical, which will be an extra problem. He talked about an enhanced role and not just a custodial role for prison officers so that they can take part in rehabilitation. Above all, he talked about the horrors of overcrowding and poor sanitation in our prisons. To none of those issues is privatisation an answer. It is just a diversion from the responsibilities which Ministers have.

Indeed there is one way in which the recommendations of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, go exactly contrary to privatisation. In his report he talked about a national system of accredited standards. How can we have a national system of accredited standards if we are going to be privatising little by little our prison system, losing control of our prison system and losing control of the standards in order to fill the ideological imperatives of the Adam Smith Institute and those who presume to follow its guidance?

There is an organisation called the Penal Affairs Consortium. All the members of the organisation do not necessarily subscribe to everything that the consortium collectively says. It consists of Action on Youth Crime, the Association of Chief Officers of Probation, the Association of Members of Boards of Visitors, the Apex Trust, the Biosocial Therapy Association, the Bourne Trust, the Howard League for Penal Reform, Inquest, the Institution of Professionals, Managers and Specialists, JUSTICE, Liberty, the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, the National Association of Probation Officers, New Bridge, the Parole Release Scheme, Prisoners Abroad, Prisoners Advice Service, the Prisoners' Families and Friends' Service, the Prison Governors' Association, the Prison Officers' Association, the Prison Reform Trust, the Royal Philanthropic Society, the Society of Voluntary Associates and Women in Prison. The Penal Affairs Consortium, with that membership, opposes the private management of prisons and escort arrangements on grounds of principle and practicality. So do we. Under those circumstances the best course would be for the Government to bow their head in shame and withdraw the order.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, when I prepared myself for this order earlier I thought what a reasonable order it is. Never in my life did I think that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, would get so worked up about it. He described it as a dreadful order, as an abomination and as ideology carried to a mad extreme. I think that those are extravagant words, if I may say so, for this order.

It is very difficult for the Government because, as I have told your Lordships before now, ever since I have had the privilege of occupying this position at the Dispatch Box I have heard complaint after complaint about how bad the Prison Service is, how bad it is for inmates, how disgraceful it is, and have been asked what we were going to do about it. A very great deal has been done, over the past 10 years in particular, in building new prisons and so forth. Now we come to a different phase and a new phase when we are actually going to contract out some of the running of the prisons. This is a great change but because it is a great change does not mean that it is necessarily a wrong one or a bad one.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said that it was the undiluted responsibility of the state to look after prisoners, and so it is. The state is not reneging from any responsibility. It is saying who is going to manage the prisons. I do not believe that there is any magical, mystical feeling that says only civil servants are able to look after prisoners. In this instance we are getting a very rigid set of principles and a very tightly drawn contract. It is on that that people are being invited to quote.

It is interesting to note the contracting out possibility at Manchester and to compare it with what is being offered to prisoners at other prisons of a similar size. One will find that the prisoners at Manchester will spend at least 12 hours out of the cells seven days a week; in other prisons on average the prisoners spend six hours out of the cells each day and usually fewer at weekends. At Manchester there is access to a minimum of six hours education a week. At other prisons there is no guaranteed access to education and for most prisoners it is limited. At Manchester there is access to a minimum of six hours physical education a week and at other prisons there is at least one session of physical education a week, although some prisoners enjoy more.

Looking at the comparisons one finds the conditions that will apply at Manchester; and the reason for them is because of the very tightly drawn contract which will be better than that which applies at other prisons. Both the noble Lords, Lord McIntosh and Lord Harris of Greenwich said that the Government are being doctrinaire and ideological. They are not. The Government are asking how they can produce a better regime for the prisoners. If it happens to be cheaper then that is better, too. I cannot see what is wrong with that.

In this order we are taking the precaution that when this matter goes out to tender if an outside body meets the tender's specifications—for which the prison department will also be competing—more effectively then that body should be given the contract. That does not mean to say that the contract is necessarily going to a outside contractor.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said that we shall lose control of standards if this work is put out to contractors. I suggest to the noble Lord that that is exactly what one does not do because the standards are very carefully and clearly adumbrated in the contract. In the prison there will be not only the director who will run it but also a controller who will be from the Home Office. He will ensure that the prison is run in accordance with the contract which has been given. So there is no question of the state relinquishing its responsibility. There is no question that the control of standards would be lost. I believe the evidence shows that standards would be better.

The noble Earl, Lord Longford, said that we had no right to hand these contracts over to a motley crew of people who had no knowledge of running prisons. The contractors have to persuade the Home Office that they can run a prison. Many of them have gone to great lengths to acquire the expertise and to submit very detailed proposals. The Home Office sets the syllabus and the standards for the training of staff at a contracted-out prison. The noble Earl was also worried about the staff at the Wolds and whether they were involved with a trade union. They are represented by Apex which is part of the General & Municipal Workers Union. The staff remuneration is broadly comparable to that in the prison service.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, was worried about the contracting out of other prisons. He quoted what I had said and it is fair enough for him to do so. It is perfectly true that what I told the noble Lord at the time was the case; namely, that there were no plans then for contracting out the existing prisons. That was the case then. Like everyone else, the Government are entitled to change their minds when they believe that a change will be more successful. That is what we have done.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, I am glad that we have found that out.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, at least that shows the noble Lord that we are not blinkered in our views. We always listen to what noble Lords say and sometimes we may even act on their views if they are better.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, will the noble Earl accept one intervention? The noble Earl asked us to believe that under the new arrangements the organisation led by a television executive will be able to impose conditions. That produces the most wonderful scenario. Why cannot those conditions be imposed now on the existing service?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Earl will realise that when one tries to change things, even in Government—and the noble Earl had responsibility for many years—that is not quite so easy as it might seem. People get used to what they have done and used to the regimes with which they have been involved. The great advantage of the present system is that at least one has two systems. The privatised and contracted out scheme, if that is the better, will point the way in which the state service should run.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, asked why we did not contract out more prisons before evaluating the first one. We are of the view that the introduction of private sector management into the present system will stimulate competition and encourage the introduction of new ideas much more quickly than would otherwise be the case. He was also worried about the contracting out of warehousing and distribution. We are considering the implications of the legal advice that TUPE applies in Corby and in particular whether to let the contract or to revert to the in-house management.

The noble Earl, Lord Longford, referred to Mr. Lewis. I am bound to tell the noble Earl that he was appointed from a very strong field of candidates. He has the right policies and experience in managing the process of change and in providing the prison service with dynamic leadership. He has been appointed as a career civil servant—the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, was concerned about that—on a fixed term contract. His appointment was made in open competition held under the guidance of the Civil Service Commission and advice from both a senior civil servant and a representative of industry.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, perhaps I may repeat the question which I put to the noble Earl, because clearly he misheard me. I did not ask whether Mr. Lewis had been interviewed by a group of public servants, because I am sure that he had been. I asked the Minister specifically about the words used by the Home Secretary in the House of Commons (Official Report, 3rd February at col. 422) which were: "I appointed Mr. Lewis". Did the Home Secretary personally appoint Mr. Lewis? Does he owe his position to a personal appointment by a Minister of the Crown and, if so, how does he reconcile that with other appointments in the public service?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, perhaps I may correct something which I said. I said that he was a career civil servant. He is not. That was an unfortunate slip of the tongue. The noble Lord quite fairly asked me whether my right honourable friend appointed him. The answer is that he did.

We come now to the so called torture case at the Wolds where a person was injected with heroin. That is a most appalling thing to have happened. It does not matter whether such things happen in state-run prisons or in contracted-out prisons; it is appalling. The Humberside police are investigating it and it would not be appropriate for me to comment further.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, was also worried about what happens if there is a major disturbance. The contractors are required to satisfy the Secretary of State that they have satisfactory contingency plans in place. The chief officers of police in the areas which surround the contracted-out prisons have sought assistance in training their instructors in the use of control and restraint techniques should they be called upon. Some of your Lordships have also referred—

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, with respect to the noble Earl, again that is not the question that I asked him. The question that I asked was totally different. I understand—I believe on good authority —that staff from Home Office prisons, if I may so describe them, will not reinforce the staff at a private sector establishment if there is a riot as they do at the moment if there is a disturbance at another Home Office prison. If that is the situation, the question that arises is: who is to reinforce the staff of the private sector establishment? Will it be the local police? If so, is the Minister aware that that will create substantial resource and training implications for the chief officers concerned? Will they be given additional assistance from the Home Office Police Department, for which the noble Earl is responsible, to deal with that situation?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, a riot in any prison creates great problems—whether it is a privatised prison or, as the noble Lord describes it, a Home Office prison. Eventually, the police will be involved—and that will be the case if there is a riot in a contracted-out prison. The question that the noble Lord asked was, "If there is a riot, where will the immediate resources come from?" That responsibility rests with the contractors, who have to satisfy the Home Office that they can take account of immediate problems. Obviously, if the trouble escalates into the most appalling riot, the police will be involved—as now.

Some noble Lords have referred to escapes from the Wolds. The first was on 23rd January, and the prisoner was returned within 48 hours. He is believed to have escaped via the visiting area as visitors were leaving the prison. The second escape took place at Hull Infirmary on 9th February when a prisoner escaped from his escort after his handcuffs had been removed so that he could receive treatment. The prisoner was recaptured during the evening of 10th February. Several noble Lords were concerned about the number of escapes from and the trouble at the Wolds. I think that it is fair to say that any new prison —wherever it is—initially has its share of problems. It does not matter whether it is a contracted-out prison or a new prison. That is one of the facts of life.

I can only tell your Lordships that we hope and believe that contracted-out prisons will have the chance to make a great contribution to the success of life in prison. Everyone knows—the noble Earl, Lord Longford, knows this better than anyone—that being in prison is very disagreeable. If we can raise the standards of care in prisons, it is relatively immaterial whether that work is done by civil servants, the Home Office or those who contract for it. The point is that the Home Office retains the responsibility for prisoners. It also retains the right to try to provide the best possible treatment and accommodation for them. We believe that in this case contracting out might help.

On Question, Motion agreed to.