HL Deb 18 May 1994 vol 555 cc321-44

8.13 p.m.

The Earl of Longford rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will take steps to provide a satisfactory system of aftercare for ex-prisoners.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I rise to ask the Question standing in my name. I begin by thanking the highly qualified persons who will speak later in this debate. They are few but are enormously select. I refrain from mentioning individuals—except one whom I shall mention later and I hope that the others will not be jealous.

The question of the aftercare and resettlement of prisoners goes to the heart of all discussions. We have endless debates about criminal justice, but at the end of the day the prosecution succeeds and people are sent to prison, perhaps for years. What happens to them then? That is the critical moment. I venture to say that the little time that we are spending on this subject tonight is abundantly worth while.

It is 40 years since I was working on an inquiry into the causes of crime for the Nuffield Foundation. I then produced a book. In 1955 I opened the first debate in this House on prisons. In the same year I founded, with the help of others, the New Bridge for Ex-Prisoners, which flourishes today under the presidency of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, and the direction of Mr. Eric McGraw.

Not long after 1955, a dynamic young public relations officer, Peter Thompson, who has since become famous for his foundation of the ever to be admired Matthew Trust for mental offenders and people who have been in mental trouble of all kinds. He asked me to take the chair of the committee. I would have been unable to do that with any success had the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, not been available to act as the secretary of that committee. The noble Lord wrote a report which, I venture to think, had a good deal of influence on public policy. The noble Lord then went on to greater things. Today, he is president of NACRO and has done tremendous work at Grendon and in other spheres of penal reform. That is why I mention his name among all these eminent people, who I hope will not mind my singling him out.

The New Bridge for Ex-Prisoners was founded almost 39 years ago. One has to ask oneself whether things are any better now for the average prisoner leaving prison than they were then. Much has been done to help prisoners. The New Bridge has gone from strength to strength. NACRO, under the presidency of the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, is the biggest provider of help in its field. APEX and other bodies are doing very good work. But one has to ask whether a prisoner coming out today is any better placed than were the prisoners who aroused my concern in 1955.

In those days, of course, the attitude of the Home Office was not favourable. At the New Bridge we were told that we were considered to be a gang of homosexuals helping fellow homosexuals. It was put to the Home Office that at that time I had eight children. The response was: "Ah, we know all about that. That's just cover". That was the attitude of the Home Office to start with. But in recent years it has been much more friendly, and now the New Bridge gets a substantial grant from the Home Office. We have to ask: are things any better? In a sense it does not matter whether they are or are not. We have the same duty towards them, whatever the historical calculation.

I said many years ago that a prisoner coming out of prison will probably be handicapped at least in three ways. First, he will be handicapped by the temperament that took him to prison. That is usually the case. When I say "usually", I mean that there are miscarriages of justice, but usually he has been guilty of something, and usually—at least in a high proportion of cases—he has not lived the right kind of life. That is the original handicap.

Secondly, there is a prisoner's treatment in prison. It is difficult to believe that one would want a member of one's family of whom one was fond to spend any time in prison. Some people have benefited. One prisoner I know very well who is serving 25 years for the alleged importation of drugs has become a distinguished painter. But that is rare. One has normally to assume that, on balance, incarceration—the total denial of freedom—is likely to do more harm than good. Nevertheless, the effort for prisoners should never be abandoned. It would be a sin against the Holy Ghost to say, "Oh well, it is bound to do them harm, so there is nothing we can do about it". That would be abominable.

Thirdly, when prisoners come out of prison they carry a stigma. For the most part that is irrational, but not totally so. If, for example, a headmaster had been convicted of a sexual crime against boys, he would not be appointed to the next vacancy. So to some extent one might have to consider the past record. But the emotional stigma is out of all proportion. But whether or not, we must bear it in mind when trying to help these people who, after all, are our fellow citizens and—to use the expression of the right reverend Prelates—the children of God.

So what is to be done? My first submission is that as soon as we can we should establish a statutory aftercare service which ensures that, when a prisoner leaves prison, he can turn to some authority to ask for help to find work and accommodation. Of course it cannot be guaranteed that they will be available, but at any rate he should have the right to turn to such an authority. That would be the first target to set ourselves.

Experts in this field are aware that under the 1991 Act, those who have been convicted after 1992 and have received a sentence of more than 12 months are to be supervised. But there is no obligation on the supervisors to provide them with help. In the first place we must make sure that there is an obligation on the authorities to provide them with help to the best of their ability.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, perhaps the noble Earl will allow me to intervene. He says that there ought to be statutory provision made. He must be aware that some of the best work being done at present is carried out by voluntary organisations such as Selcare in Greater Manchester. To diminish their role would be a tragedy. We want to encourage such people to stay in business by giving them adequate resources. In fact, the Government have cut them.

The Earl of Longford

I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Dean, who has done very good work for prisoners and has often spoken on these matters in this House, raised that point. There is no conflict with that in what I am saying. There should be more provision. For example, take the New Bridge, of which I was the founder. I do not think that there would be any objection there. I have not asked them but I do not think that there would be any objection. It would mean that when a prisoner came out of prison he would go to the probation officer and the first thing he might be told would be to go to the New Bridge—or some organisation in Manchester. At any rate, there would be the obligation on somebody. We do not have enough time for me to give examples, of which there are many. Let me simply say that I have spoken to relatives of prisoners who have come out of gaol and have had nowhere to go or do not know where they will be the next night. That is the situation today. There is no conflict between me and the noble Lord, Lord Dean.

I shall speak about the voluntary bodies, but before doing so I must raise the question of who will provide such arrangements. The probation service in the first place must be responsible. Undoubtedly that will mean some increase in its funds. At present, according to figures which have been supplied by the Home Office, about £40 million is provided by the Home Office to the probation service for use outside prison. Out of £1,417 million, that is a negligible sum. There can be a considerable increase in the amount provided for the probation service without interfering very much with the total sum.

I believe that not only should that responsibility for helping be placed on that service but also help should be given not only to those convicted after 1992 but to all prisoners. All prisoners, whether or not they are convicted after 1992 or have received a sentence of less than 12 months, should be entitled to look to the state for some assistance in finding work and accommodation when they leave prison.

My next point is the help of voluntary bodies—that is the point that was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dean. No one is likely—certainly I am not—to be reluctant to say that the voluntary bodies are doing a great job. I could mention the one in which I am particularly interested, my own New Bridge, and NACRO, and APEX, which is the organisation of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson; but there are many others. They are all doing great work. They should be given much more assistance. That is my second point.

My third point breaks new ground. This matter has not been discussed in your Lordships' House before. It is the question of resettlement in relation to aftercare. The more that people devote their lives to that issue, the more they become aware of the fact that one cannot separate resettlement, the last year or two in prison and aftercare. If noble Lords have not already done so—my remarks go beyond the attendance in the Chamber tonight because I hope that many people will read my observations—I hope that they will visit Latchmere House and Blantyre House. Latchmere House is called a resettlement prison and there is another one doing excellent work also. Blantyre House is a reintegration prison. We could have a philosophical discussion about the precise difference. But in each case the emphasis is on reconciliation and helping people when they leave prison to be reconciled within themselves and to the community.

Before prisoners leave Latchmere House most of them go to work outside prison. Risks are run every now and then. One reads of those who refuse the right to go and work outside the prison. I read the Sun newspaper every day—like Lord Montgomery who used to look at a picture of Rommel in his tent in the desert. The Sun had a story today about someone who abused that right in Latchmere House. What the Sun did not print was the fact that when the Sun journalist came to Latchmere House, he was told by the other prisoners that Latchmere House was the one organisation which made it less likely that they would commit a crime. That of course was not printed. But perhaps this debate will be printed in the Sun. It is not very likely, but one should not despair.

At any rate, there it is. Latchmere House has the ideal of resettlement. It is hoped that the prisoners, before: they leave Latchmere House, will have obtained jobs which they can follow up in the community when they leave. Obviously that in itself presents difficulties. If they are in the London area, clearly they can work there and go on working outside. In some other parts of England that will not be so easy to do. It may be said —rightly perhaps—that one has to establish such resettlement units in prisons. I have visited all the places that I have spoken of. In the small resettlement units in prisons, the atmosphere of Latchmere House cannot easily be recreated.

I venture to suggest that noble Lords will not totally understand Latchmere House unless they visit it. There is there an extraordinary atmosphere of friendliness. I must be careful with what I say because the Sun newspaper might say that the regime was too cushy. Well, whatever words one chooses to use, there is, nonetheless an atmosphere of friendliness among the; prisoners and staff and also between management and the trade unions. The same is the case in Blantyre House, which was established some years before Latchmere House.

So those places, Latchmere House and Blantyre House, are models. If at times I seem to be critical of the Home Office and appear to imply that nothing good ever comes out of it, please let me remove any such impression. I admire enormously the work done in places like Latchmere House and Blantyre House. But I also have great respect in this connection for the Home: Office, which has endorsed those people, encouraged them and made it possible. I do not want to appear to be always negative in my attitude to the Home Office. But we want a number of other places like Latchmere House and Blantyre House. That is the way forward. That is my third main point.

I have been in touch with the Home Office. As usual, it has done its best to be helpful. In reply to my question, "What are you doing for resettlement?", they gave me a reply under 16 headings. At this time of night I cannot begin to spell those out for your Lordships. However, I am bound to say that the sums of money involved are still quite small. The largest of them is £40 million for the probation service. I think of the efforts made officially by the Government at the moment—I do not say that they are not looking beyond that point—but the fact must be faced that there are 150 prisoners in Latchmere House, fewer than 100 in Blantyre House and about 100 in another excellent resettlement prison. That is a bagatelle compared with the fact that there are 50,000 prisoners, and 19,000 prisoners leave every year. We are therefore not even beginning to solve the problem.

The Home Office started in the right direction. It has made a small timid beginning. I want to encourage it to go much further and I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us tonight that it is going further.

I can sum up under three headings. First, we need a statutory obligation on the Government to provide some assistance to everyone who leaves prison; secondly, we want to provide much more generous assistance to all the excellent bodies that are trying to help ex-prisoners; and, thirdly, we need to double and re-double the number of establishments like Latchmere House and Blantyre House which do such wonderful work. I hope the Minister will be able to say something encouraging in that regard.

8.30 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Southwark

My Lords, I welcome the noble Earl's Unstarred Question and the opportunity it gives me to express some concerns and hopes in this important area of aftercare, though given the lateness of the hour I shall not detain the House for long.

The Christian community accepts that certain dangerous offenders need to be imprisoned to protect the public and that a prison sentence declares the seriousness with which certain offences are regarded by society. Nevertheless, the Christian gospel compels us to regard all people as bearing the image of God, and the rehabilitation and resettlement of the offender are practical duties laid upon us by that high doctrine of man.

In that connection I want to welcome the progress made in the time since the publication of Lord Justice Woolf's important report in the wake of the Strangeways disturbances: progress in improving conditions and regimes; the new emphasis on the role, of prison officers as "personal officers" with a duty to seek the welfare of individual prisoners; the greater flexibility in some establishments of counselling and group therapy for sex offenders; the setting up of a resettlement prison like Latchmere House near Richmond, within my own diocese of Southwark. Yet there is a danger that the current increase in overall prison population and consequent overcrowding will mitigate against the progress and advances in sentence planning and implementation of throughcare targets. It is because of that danger that I wish respectfully to ask the Government three questions.

First, will the Government make provision for more establishments such as Latchmere House, where 50 per cent. of prisoners are in outside employment in the months prior to release? Secondly, what steps are being taken to identify housing and accommodation issues as key performance indicators in assessing the contribution of regimes to the rehabilitation and resettlement of prisoners? Are all prisons taking advantage of the training being offered at Newbold Revel by the NACRO prison links unit on training for officers on housing issues? Thirdly, will the welcome development of counselling and therapy for sex offenders in some establishments since the implementation of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 be extended to all establishments where such offenders are allocated? And further, will community provision be expanded to make such facilities available to prisoners on release and on re-entry into the community?

The problems of homelessness are not of course confined to those leaving prison. There is a general and serious dearth of affordable accommodation and an increase in such provision both by the private and public sector would, among other advantages, offer the possibility of crime reduction, which is one of the major aims of the current Criminal Justice Bill.

Victims at risk of attack by sex offenders returning to the community will also be helped by the knowledge that consistent and careful aftercare provisions are in place to offer social skills, anger management and the possibility of revising attitudes to women for offenders released back into the community on completion of sentence.

In genuinely welcoming what has already been done in both the statutory and voluntary sectors, I simply wish to encourage the Government towards further progress along those lines.

8.35 p.m.

Baroness Gould of Potternewton

My Lords, before intervening in this debate I should declare an interest in that I am acting as an adviser to the Prison Officers Association.

My noble friend Lord Longford asked whether things were better. In some ways that may be the case, but it is still true that for far too many prisoners their punishment continues long after their release from prison. They leave prison in the clothes in which they stand up in, with only a small discharge grant to support them. They re-enter a world in which they have nowhere to go and where they are excluded from the mainstream of society—a society where they have to contend with discrimination against people with a criminal record. If we are serious and sincere about wanting ex-prisoners to become stable members of society, we need to ensure that they have the same opportunities as everyone else and readily available assistance to reach those opportunities.

Prisoners tend to be vulnerable people when they enter prison and the whole prison experience only exacerbates their problems. They need effective support when they are released. That support will be appropriate only if it is nurtured throughout their sentence. Resettlement should start from day one of the sentence and should underpin everything that is done in prison in co-operation with the individual prisoner.

A survey carried out by NACRO in 1992 into resettlement information available to prisoners from various sources found that 9 per cent. received information from outside agencies, 10 per cent. received information from prison staff, 17 per cent. from prison probation staff, and 27 per cent. from probation staff in the prisoner's home area. Some of the prisoners surveyed received advice from more than one source. So in fact the majority of prisoners did not receive any advice on resettlement.

It is therefore encouraging to read in the 1994–97 corporate plan for the prison service published last week, that a constructive and purposeful regime in prison plays a significant part in preparing prisoners for release and encouraging them to lead law abiding lives thereafter". The strategies to achieve that aim include developing community prisons, reviewing home leave and temporary release arrangements and increasing the number of resettlement units in both male and female prisons. Currently I understand that there are three resettlement prisons or wings for men but none for women. That imbalance should be redressed. There should be at least one fully fledged prison or wing in each area division based on resettlement initiatives such as those adopted by Latchmere House, as referred to by my noble friend Lord Longford and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark.

Prison officers can play a large part in helping prisoners with their plans for release provided they have the. proper training—a process that has been started by NACRO's Prison Link Training Unit. The unit trains officers to give advice on housing and employment. NACRO's Women Prisoners' Resource Centre is also holding regular advice sessions in women's prisons and arranging temporary release for women to attend job interviews and look at possible accommodation. That assistance is particularly important for women, who, because of the small numbers involved, find that they do not always have access to the most appropriate help and advice.

I want to make some specific comments about the problems facing women. Time in prison can be particularly damaging to women's lives. Prison is characterised by loss of identity. Women prisoners are often referred to as the "girls" and treated as naughty children rather than as adults. Everything is decided for them; their confidence is sapped. Yet we expect them on release to cope with the complications of existing in what is often a hostile environment. Women ex-prisoners are all too often stereotyped as inadequate and untrustworthy. They face society's general disapproval of women who commit crime. That is not considered proper female behaviour. As a consequence, they find it harder to achieve or regain control over their own lives.

Research persistently shows that prisoners have a better chance of successful resettlement after release if they are able to maintain good and regular contact with their family and with their community while in prison. With only 12 women's prisons, women are more likely to be held far from their homes and families—a situation that could apply to an even greater extent to the young girls it is proposed should be sent to child gaols. Improving visiting facilities and the number and length of visits is a vital factor in the resettlement process. Howard League research shows that, despite pockets of good practice, very few prisons actively provide worthwhile schemes in this vital area. The decision to increase the number of visits from one to two a month is welcome, but 41 per cent. of prisoners reported that their families had problems meeting the cost of their visits to prisons, the procedure for obtaining financial help being too cumbersome.

Similarly welcome is the. value that is now placed on children's visits. Around half of the women in prison are mothers, 6,152 children being affected by the imprisonment of their mother. Account has to be taken of the psychological effect, on both mother and child, of separation, and compassion has to be shown. The cast: of Susan Edwards, the prisoner who was handcuffed throughout the birth of her child on Christmas Eve and who only sees that baby for three hours a week, is a clear example of the need for compassion and understanding. The Home Secretary could make good the harm which has been done and release Mrs. Edwards on compassionate grounds, enabling her and her baby to rebuild their lives.

One of the most damaging effects of imprisonment is; the loss of the prisoner's home. As many as half of the. 100,000 prisoners released each year do not know whether they will have a secure home to go to. There is a lack of affordable rented accommodation in general and few spaces in hostels and housing associations. This; problem is more acute for women with children and for those women suffering from mental health problems or with drug or alcohol dependency.

Prisons should act immediately when a woman enters prison to help her keep her tenancy or give her advice if she feels it would be sensible to move to another area on release. She may quite sensibly want to get away from the environment which brought her into crime or from her ex-partner. She would be assisted if there was more liaison between local authorities and if they were to apply the "local connection" rules more flexibly.

Hostels and housing associations are the main providers of short-term housing for ex-prisoners, but they face funding difficulties and the problems caused by lack of suitable move-on accommodation. They should nevertheless ensure that their referral and selection procedures do not discriminate and should consider accepting women with drug and alcohol-related problems, or a history of violence, on a case-by-case basis, rather than as at present automatic-ally rejecting many such women, who have then to try to find accommodation in special needs hostels. Their position is desperate since the Government transferred the responsibility for these hostels to local authorities, without providing any additional resources. Many women prefer women-only accommodation, where they feel safe after a history of abuse from men, but again the small numbers involved naturally work against the adequate provision of women-only hostels.

The women who go to prison are usually among the most disadvantaged in terms of educational and vocational training. On release, some, as mothers with young children, will be unable to find work, or may have access only to low-paid part-time work which, with the high cost of child care, will not ease their financial burden. Work is essential for released prisoners not only to alleviate their financial problems but to give them a sense of identity and boost their self-confidence. That is an important step towards rehabilitation.

Both prisons and employers could do far more. Prisons could encourage employers to visit women in prison in order to give advice about job search. More "working out" schemes should be promoted and training courses should be provided in prison and be available in the educational institutions for women on temporary release. And most importantly, employers should be prepared to adopt a different attitude to the employment of ex-offenders.

Without a network of practical support, it is extremely hard for a newly released woman prisoner to find her way round all the different agencies that can help her in her struggle to house and unite a family, to make ends meet and to find a job. Prisons should continue to encourage the voluntary organisations to come into the prisons. The local probation services should consistently provide services that are suitable and where possible give women the option of a female probation officer. The Home Office must ensure that all probation services make suitable provision for women. In 1991, only nine of the 55 probation areas had policy statements which related specifically to women. Without that commitment the needs of released women prisoners can too easily be forgotten or marginalised.

Voluntary organisations, which have already been referred to, which concentrate on helping women offenders are very often their lifeline. These organisations are usually short of resources and staff. They are therefore limited in the number of women they can help. The Home Office has a responsibility to ensure that they can continue their valuable work and continue to provide a network of support for women leaving prison to complement the work of the probation service.

If we adopt these measures, we will enable women prisoners to take personal responsibility for their own lives, successfully reintegrating them into the commun-ity without stigma and discrimination, and helping to ensure that they do not reoffend, that crime in the community does not further increase and that our society has taken a humane approach to one of the many problems we face.

8.47 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, it is a pleasure for me to speak in this debate initiated by my noble friend Lord Longford, partly, but not only, because it is seldom that I chance to follow someone who is older than I am. I find it encouraging for some reason. It is also appropriate because my noble friend got me into this business years ago and I shall always be grateful to him for doing so.

The topic we are discussing is aftercare. In 1960, when I wrote the report to which my noble friend referred, after visiting 100 prisoners in 10 different prisons three times each and getting some idea of what was going on, the general idea of aftercare was, roughly speaking, a goodbye meeting with the board of visitors, with a pi-jaw from the chairman saying, "Well, my man, you've been foolish. But you've paid for it and now you have a chance to go out and get a new start. Here's five bob pocket money from us and a new pair of boots so you can get away without the usual travel expenses". Whereas in 1960 it was possibly a little better than that, that had been the approach of the official people who were supposed to care for prisoners—the boards of visitors—for the previous hundred years. That is what I reckoned we were up against then, so we had to think fairly hard.

I said that I visited a lot of prisoners and there have been a number of subsequent surveys. They all showed the same general picture. What the man coming out of prison is stuck for is a home, a job and enough money to cover the time needed to find either. If he can have any of those three things, he is half-way home. The majority of the people whom I saw never had both. They never had both a home and a job; or they had a job and the money and not a home. We know fairly accurately what the main problem is for men. The noble Baroness, Lady Gould, has spoken so fully about women that I reserve the right to talk about men, which will save me a number of extra paragraphs which is a good thing late at night.

In the latest survey which I have seen, of 198 men, 85 wanted help with the benefits system. That means that they did not know how to get their money because it is rather complicated. Half of the men were not married, or were married, or had forgotten, or had two wives, which makes the situation difficult. Of that number, 83 per cent. wanted help with housing; 63 per cent. had tried but failed to get work; 30 per cent. were homeless when they went to prison, and 60 per cent. had become homeless since going to prison. That was a typical group of men. That situation is almost exactly the same as the one which I found 35 years ago. There has been no very great change. I would not say that all the figures are the same, but that is still the general picture.

The difficulty as regards a home and a job is the main problem for everyone whose life is not running perfectly. For those who are less well equipped with capital funds it becomes everybody's problem. This is a problem which recurs again and again. It is a matter which has to be dealt with, but no one has the slightest idea how to deal with it at the moment. The situation is rather depressing.

The first welfare officer was appointed to a prison in, I believe, 1960 so something has happened in that direction. Now we have a full service of welfare officers in prisons. There is, for example, the probation service and other advisers. Something quite real is happening in that regard. As regards housing, Stonham housing was started about the same time in the 1960s. That is now flourishing. There is a good deal of housing being made available for prisoners only which is a thoroughly good thing.

The noble Lord referred to Latchmere House. Looking after prisoners in future has to begin, as the noble Baroness said, when they first go to prison. But it will not be quite like that. The prison service has to shift itself. It has begun with Latchmere House, which I have not been to. I have been to Blantyre House, which is excellent. A man who was sentenced to three or four years and who has done three of them is beginning to think what he is going to do in future. If he goes to Blantyre House, he has about as much help as anyone can expect not only in connection with money but also for advice. That is the first step. I want to see the prison service changing. It has to do so because it is in such a mess. If there are more and more small prisons containing about 100 prisoners with specialist advantages that would be a step in the right direction.

There should be treatment for drugs. Out of the many people in prison who take drugs I believe that about half of them would be glad to stop. One cannot do anything for the other half. The drug takers in the first half are not treated at all in a proper way. They should have to work for that treatment in order to get the privilege of going to a place where they will receive proper treatment and be looked after subsequently. The same applies to all the prisons. I refer to places like Blantyre House and Grendon Prison, which I know well. That prison is concerned much more with disturbed people. They are places to which the prisoners want to go; but they cannot unless they put in an application which is then carefully looked at. They have to be accepted as people who will make proper use of the facilities.

I wish to see the prison service giving its mind to that kind of provision; but it has never done so in the past. Grendon has been a half-baked establishment for nearly 40 years. It could have been made into something much better. Everyone believes that there should be at least two other places offering such facilities, but nothing ever happens. There is a good deal of disappointment.

I want to stress that the right way forward has been suggested by the noble Earl who opened the debate; namely, that in the prison system there should be a number of reforming prisons which are better places to be in. They are more comfortable to be in unless you are a total "bolshie" and would rather stay in Wormwood Scrubs. The prisoner has to work to get in such an establishment, and when he does so he is pleased. He will find good people there to advise him. The result is the problems begin to be dealt with. I do not want to go on for very long. It is a simple point, but a very important one which arises from this debate. If we follow it up, then this debate will not be entirely wasted.

There is one last point. The Government are always on the right side, as they say, but they always allow a muddle to spoil everything. For example, we know what NACRO is. We have talked about it before and also about some of the things which it does. About 18 months to two years ago, because of switching in the arrangements made by the Government in moving from one department to another the training of individuals, NACRO had to sack 600 trained officials and lose about 30,000 training places. We all complained, but nobody cared in the least. There was not a word from anyone saying what an awful thing it was. They said that they were sorry and that they had to take that course. As long as the Government have that attitude, nothing is going to happen. I want to leave as a message the fact that it is no good trying to do what is right unless you make sure that what is wrong is not going on unexpectedly without it being looked at. I leave that as a message to the Government. As they know quite well, I think nothing of them. I would think a great deal more of them if they took more trouble about things which are done by mistake and not on purpose.

8.56 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, perhaps I may declare an interest which is not a pecuniary one. I am president of Selcare in Manchester which is concerned with after-prison care. It was started in 1971 under the aegis of a long-standing friend of mine, although he has now departed from this world. He was a former Member of your Lordships' House. I refer to Lord Rhodes. Selcare covers 10 local authorities and 2.75 million people.

The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, and previous speakers painted a dream—what we would like to happen. But I have to bring us back to reality. There is no way in which this Government—or maybe even the next—could fund an enormous building programme to provide special resettlement prisons. I listened with care to the very detailed case which my noble friend Lady Gould put forward on behalf of women prisoners. But there is no possibility—although the case has been superbly made—of the Government starting down that road. My noble friend said quite rightly that the present system for women prisoners in this country is useless and outdated. We want a new system. But we know that in the immediate future we are not going to get one. My noble friend has put down a marker and perhaps people will take note.

I want to deal with some of the problems as they are at present and what we might be able to do about them. It has been said that the rehabilitation of a person starts on the first day of sentence. One would not cavil at that. But, having said that, if the Prison Officers Association is right—and I believe that it is following on my visits to Armley Prison when I was a Member of Parliament for Leeds and to Strangeways in Manchester—the prisons are today tremendously understaffed in order to carry out the normal duties. That is why we have had those disgraceful episodes at Strangeways, which are the type of thing that could break out periodically in other prisons.

The Government have been warned time and time again by the POA about the situation in prisons. That has been underlined on numerous occasions by Judge Tumim who is of course charged with inspecting prisons. Although I have a high regard for prison officers, I do not believe that the answer lies with them. They are not trained to do that type of work, although some of them are very good at it. They are swamped at present even in carrying out the basic tasks. They are overloaded and undermanned.

Who is supposed to look after people when they leave prison? I speak as someone who is involved with an organisation that cares for men, women, boys and girls when they are discharged from prison. I think that we do a pretty good job in conjunction with some local authorities that provide accommodation which is supervised by probation officers. It is difficult to make properties from the council's housing stock available for men or single women who leave prison. As a former chairman of the housing department in Manchester, I have to say that the housing situation in Manchester is infinitely worse now than when I left in 1974. That is due to government policies.

People in Manchester have to wait for years now to get to the top of the housing list. If I were chairman of the housing department in Manchester and said, "There is a woman coming out of Styal", or wherever it may be, "with a child, and I am sorry, you have waited 15 years but you must wait a bit longer because of her", the bloody place would be in an uproar. People outside see their priority, and quite rightly. We do not live in a compassionate world. It is right that prisoners should come out to accommodation but it must be funded extensively by the Government.

What about jobs? We all know that when men and women leave prison they do not always find people willing to give them jobs. At a time like now when unemployment is rampant, it is almost impossible to get such people placed in a job. For my sins, I was at one time chairman of a local authority building department which employed 4,700 people. They included 900 apprentices. We always had a group of young lads who were dispersed around the sites who had been in trouble. They had left prison, but some of them made damn good building managers. That does not exist any more. That building force has been decimated, because the Government decided that local authorities can no longer build houses. When blasé political decisions like that are made across the board without considering the ramifications, we are in for all sorts of trouble.

The best people to deal with the problem are members of the probation service, so long as it is funded correctly. I happen to be the president of Selcare. I am not actively engaged in its management because it is a specialist unit. It is overwhelmingly supported by voluntary contributions and voluntary labour. For instance, if it is having a new building or an adaptation made, the architectural work is done voluntarily. Those manning the homes are not doing the highest paid jobs in the world, but they are adequately paid. I believe that Selcare built one of the first purpose-built visiting centres at Strangeways a few years ago. It prevented young women who were visiting their husbands or boyfriends from having to change their children in the streets in the pouring rain and snow. It is a superb visiting centre which caters for everything. It has a crèche. Visitors can get a snack and practically everything else. But what happened when we started running into funding trouble?

I believe that it was the responsibility of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, who now exercises authority over the Bahamas, which is a different scene from that at Strangeways. There was a danger that the centre would have to close. When he was asked whether he would provide the funding, he was almost like Fagin. He just turned his back. Then suddenly there was a contradiction. The Government said that new prisons must have a purpose-built visiting centre. But all that those people got who slaved away for a number of years, giving their time and service voluntarily, were two fingers, and "Well, we are very sorry but you are not on the list".

I believe that it is the first time that the Minister has dealt with this problem on the Front Bench. I have to say to him that in real terms the finance made available to voluntary bodies—I have to keep referring to Selcare, because it is the organisation I know and it has been used as a pattern for others—has been reduced dramatically by the Government. That is why, when I listened to my noble friend Lady Gould and the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, talk about new property, I wondered whether they were talking about the real world. It is the world that we all want, but it is right at the end of the telescope. People who support organisations like Selcare are very disappointed. They are running a purpose-built home for boys, girls, young men and young women, but they have perpetually to go down to London with a begging bowl so that they can do a job on behalf of the Government. That is pretty rough on them. The Government would do well to look at dealing with that sort of thing.

I could say a great deal more, but it is late and I believe that I have made the most important points. Prisons are overcrowded. Prison officers are at full stretch. Resettlement starts early in prison. But the overwhelming part of it needs to be carried on outside by probation officers and people with special skills.

Trying to make a success of resettling somebody is like putting a child into the education system. The more time that the probation officer—or teacher—can spend with the boy, girl, man or woman who is the problem, the more likely he is to get a result by fostering a relationship in which there is confidence and mutual understanding. Of course, all that costs money. We want a better funded probation service. We want more probation officers and we want more funding to give them the facilities to do the job.

I close on this point. One of the biggest difficulties when people receive custodial sentences is the question of visiting. The Government should take on board the fact that too many people who are given custodial sentences are sent to what appears to be the place furthest from their home. I do not know whether that is deliberate, but that is how it sometimes appears. If the husband or boyfriend is in prison, there is very little money coming into the household and the wife or girlfriend will be living almost on the breadline. That means that there is very little possibility of her being able to travel from, say, Manchester to somewhere on the south coast, the south of Scotland or in the Border country, so that she can see the person ensconced in prison. Probation officers have told me that that is one of the most demoralising aspects of prison life. The problem arises simply because visits are at an absolute minimum when the locations of the prison and the prisoner's home are so disparate. That problem could be sorted out quickly and with no expense.

I thank my noble friend Lord Longford for tabling this Unstarred Question and for the way in which he opened the debate. I have tried to indicate some of the things that we could do now. The Government will have to find some money for them. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, referred to the cut in the number of training places. What the Government have done in terms of the training facilities that were open to prisoners is nonsensical economics. Prisoners used to be able to train so that they could find a job later. At present, however, they seem to be faced with one tightening of the screw after another. I hope that my noble friend Lord Longford is happy that those of us who have supported him may be able, if not to paint a new picture overnight, at least to move the Government towards the right objectives.

9.11 p.m.

Lord Plant of Highfield

My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Longford for tabling this Unstarred Question and initiating the debate. It is worth noting and marking my noble friend's long interest in aftercare issues. I recently reread his book Five Lives, which I bought many moons ago because he seemed such an intriguing character. It is a work of autobiography in which my noble friend said that he is known as the "prison person". I do not think that those who gave him that designation necessarily meant it as a compliment —certainly, it has not been used in that way since. Nevertheless, my noble friend's commitment to the cause of prisoners and their aftercare is a deep reflection of his Christian convictions. He has been consistent and courageous in his application of the idea that every human being is redeemable, a point that the right reverend Prelate made in his speech.

While we may be confused at the moment about the purposes of punishment and whether it is for retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation or all three and, if so, which takes priority over which, that confusion is reflected in the rather zig-zag course of penal policy over the past few years. Whatever our views about the moral or philosophical basis of punishment, the need for the care and resettlement of prisoners seems obvious. After all, half of all sentenced men and over one-third of all sentenced women reoffend and are convicted of another crime within two years. If we can do something to change that woeful statistic, it seems not only morally right, but in our own self-interest, to do so. Therefore, it is essential that we give some priority to the question of the aftercare of ex-prisoners.

The Unstarred Question also relates to the role of government. Why should the state be involved and, if it is to be involved, what form should that involvement take? The state must have a central role as it is in its name and acting on our behalf that people are deprived —quite rightly, in most cases—of their liberty and suffer all the consequential disadvantages of that deprivation. The state's responsibility, however, cannot stop with sentencing and imprisonment. We bear a responsibility for those consequences of imprisonment which can be rectified and which, given the rates of recidivism which I have mentioned, it is in all our interests to try to rectify. Therefore, the state clearly has a central and unavoidable responsibility.

That responsibility devolves into two parts: first, it has a role in prison before release; and, secondly, it has a role after release in terms of aftercare. Therefore, perhaps I may say a few words about the role of government in relation to the way in which resettlement can start within the prison. I am sure that my noble friend Lady Gould is correct to say that that should start if not at day one, at least as soon as possible. But equally, for reasons to which I shall turn in a moment, my noble friend Lord Dean of Beswick is also right to suggest that there is a lack of realism, given the circumstances that we are facing, in assuming that that could be achieved reasonably quickly.

As far as possible, the prison regime should be not only a form of punishment, central and important though that is, but should also equip inmates for their eventual release into the community—a point made by my noble friend Lady Gould—by building a bridge, to use the name of the charity which my noble friend Lord Longford set up, between the prison experience and the community into which the prisoner will eventually be released.

That commitment to trying somehow to bridge the experience in prison with the outside world, which the prisoner will eventually have to make, has tangible and less tangible elements. Among the more tangible elements within the prison regime, which we need to reach if we are ever to crack the problem, despite all the reservations of my noble friend Lord Dean, which I fully understand, are education and training. Many prisoners are ill-equipped in those terms. We need to provide help for short-term prisoners so that they can maintain their tenancies on accommodation if they are in prison for only a fairly brief time. They need that kind of help. There should be support for families during the sentence so that the family does not become unravelled and the prisoner then has to go out into an alien and lonely anonymous kind of world. It is extremely important to try to keep the family together.

Within the prison, it is important also to help with psychological and health-related problems, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson. We need sentence planning, to make the best and most effective use of the sentence which the prisoner is serving. I saw examples of that on a visit to the Verne prison recently. That is very impressive and it captures the interest and imagination of prison officers. They are often castigated by commentators for having rather dyed-in-the-wool attitudes but particularly the new generation, although also many of the old generation, of prison officers are looking for opportunities to extend their professional-ism, scope and responsibility. They welcome projects like sentence planning but that needs to be extended because all those aspects contribute to the ability of an inmate to make an eventual success of life outside.

There should be training of prison officers to help to offer detailed advice on housing, employment and money management. That need not be terribly high grade or enormously expensive professional training. As the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, said, NACRO has undertaken work in that field. My noble friend Lord Dean may be slightly pessimistic about the extent to which prison officers are interested in, capable of and have time to engage in such activities.

Another important factor within the prison is realistic levels of pay for work, a point which NACRO made in its 1993 report. That should not be seen as a sloppy, namby-pamby approach to prisoners. Rather, if they work and earn money which they can then contribute to support their families outside prison, or alternatively to save for their own release, that would enhance their own self-respect. It would keep up family ties and relationships. Therefore, all those matters are important within prison. Obviously we cannot achieve all those aims overnight, but I agree with my noble friend Lady Gould that we should try to work towards that. We should give priority to those aims. The willingness is there, certainly among prison officers. The prisoners I met at Verne were also interested in some of those ideas.

There are also intangible elements in prison which contribute to an eventual ability to cope and resettle in the outside world without reoffending. Vitally important is the idea of treating prisoners as people with human dignity. That creates a greater sense of self respect and personal worth.

I bear in mind the worries expressed by my noble friend Lord Longford about the tabloid press but, again, that does not seem to me to be a wishy-washy form of self-indulgence. Treating people as persons and trying to respect them can be extremely exacting for both the person treating in that way and the person being treated. I say that because self-respect and human dignity are tied up with ideas of personal responsibility and taking responsibility for your own actions. In so far as prisons can try to deal more justly, more impartially and more fairly with people in order to build up a sense of dignity and self-respect among prisoners, it actually enhances a sense of self-respect and a sense of personal responsibility. All of that seems to me to be absolutely crucial and to be miles away from some idea that that is turning prisons into some kind of holiday camp. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, wishes to intervene. I give way.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, I am much obliged. Does the noble Lord agree that the main prevention to that happening is overcrowding? As long as there is overcrowding, it does not matter how good the prison staff are: they will not behave in the proper way. Indeed, they cannot do so.

Lord Plant of Highfield

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his intervention. I had intended to make a few remarks about overcrowding. It seems to me that the Woolf Report was committed to the idea of the just prisoner-a framework within which a sense of justice could be inculcated by prisoners being treated justly. How can we expect prisoners to learn a sense of justice when they come out of prison if they are not treated justly and impartially when they are in prison? All those aspects of life within prison seem to me to be necessary conditions for successful adjustment to life outside. We must put a good deal of weight on that, but obviously it takes time and we have to do it in stages for the reasons mentioned by my noble friend Lord Dean.

So government have to play a leading role in encouraging those things within prison. Of course, they do not have to do it all themselves, but in prison they do have the primary responsibility. After all, it is the state that has sent people there. As the noble Lord who just intervened has said, a good deal of that seems to be threatened by overcrowding. That was also mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark. It was also the subject of a recent debate in your Lordships' House. That is also threatened by the Government's concern with privatisation. That seems to me to be a move from the central concern with the Woolf proposals to set standards within prisons. We need to recover the enthusiasm for the Woolf proposals and not be diverted on to other things if we are to have any chance of creating the bridge between the prison and the outside world which I believe is a necessary condition of successful readjustment to that outside world.

Of course, government also have a role to play after a prisoner is discharged from prison. It is a role mainly of co-ordination and funding. First, as my noble friend Lord Dean, said, through the probation service there is already a statutory requirement to supervise after release everyone serving sentences of over 12 months. But, at the same time, given the pressures on the probation service, that statutory obligation may have meant less time for those released after shorter sentences. They may be very important people to catch early because, if they have served shorter sentences, it may be that they are rather early in their criminal careers. It is rather important that the probation service should have time to deal with them. The obligation may also mean less time will be available for those who might seek help on a voluntary basis.

While I agree with my noble friend Lord Dean that the probation service is central, we must also look at the pressures on the service and not just impose obligations on it without thinking through the consequences. There should be a partnership between the probation service and the voluntary sector agencies. There are impressive examples of that already taking place from which we should learn.

The Home Office has several roles: co-ordinating to ensure that resettlement help is available in all areas; ensuring that voluntary agencies are properly funded -a point made by my noble friend Lord Dean; and, at the same time, not being too prescriptive about the aims and purposes of those voluntary agencies. It is important in the voluntary sector that funding should be given on terms that allow the space and opportunity for innovation. It should not just be tied to government definitions of what should or should not be done.

In all those terms, the Government have a role that cannot be eliminated. They have a responsibility which they cannot avoid, and such actions must be taken. Government responsibility for building bridges between prison and the outside world seem central if we are to cut the crime rate. That is not-I repeat, not-whatever the tabloids may say, adopting a soft approach to criminals. It is quite the opposite. It is to treat them as morally responsible for their actions and as people who should be prepared to assume their responsibilities to themselves, their families and to society on their release. But they can only do that, given the experience of imprisonment, if some of the sorts of things that I have tried to refer to in this speech—and to which my noble friends have referred—are in place. Help is needed to become responsible. Such a policy is not just morally right: it is also in all our interests.

9.25 p.m.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for raising this subject in the House and for giving us this opportunity to discuss the important concept of the resettlement and aftercare of prisoners in the community. While he and others have exclusively addressed their remarks to the issue in England and Wales, clearly as the Minister responsible for prisons in Scotland, much the same concerns are faced by myself and those who work in the field north of the Border. I hope my objectivity in this matter will be appreciated, as it is intended to be. I am grateful to the noble Earl and to others for the encouragement that they will have given to those who work in the prison service and the probation service and other support agencies who contribute to the work of reintegrating offenders back into society.

I shall begin immediately with resettlement. It would of course be quite wrong to assume that the work of resettlement goes on only at the specialist resettlement prisons. They are indeed achieving standards of excellence but sterling work goes on in this area throughout the prison system. Indeed, it is explicitly embedded in the prison service's statement of purpose which includes these words: Our duty is to look after them"— that is, the prisoners— with humanity and help them lead law-abiding and useful lives in custody and after release". The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, painted a bleak picture of an earlier age. However, I am sure he appreciates—the noble Lord, Lord Plant of Highfield, also referred to this matter—that preparation for release now starts from the beginning of imprisonment. Sentence planning has now been introduced in all prison establishments for prisoners serving 12 months and over. This process helps both prison and probation staff to identify prisoners' needs at an early stage of custody. I would say to the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, that in terms of numbers this is done more frequently with men, but it applies whether the prisoners are men or women.

Significant time is spent on release preparation, as part of wider work with inmates, by prison officers and other staff involved in training, education, PE and leisure activities, religion, employment, community work and so on. This takes place as part of the sentence planning and personal officer schemes and through a range of specific programmes. These include inmate development and pre-release courses, sex offender treatment programmes—the right reverend Prelate referred to that matter—anger control programmes, cognitive skills training programmes, employment and job search preparation courses and job clubs.

I hope it will be encouraging for all those who have contributed to this debate to know that the prison service is committed to extending the resettlement concept. It is proposing to establish small units in establishments best placed to allow maximum advantage of work placement and—this is a theme that came through a number of the contributions made this evening—closeness to home.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord gives an ideal picture of what might be, but that does not correspond, I am afraid, with my experience today at all.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

My Lords, I hope the noble Earl might be encouraged, and indeed would want to welcome, the commitment of the prison service to the extension of that resettlement concept. That is why I indicated that there is a proposal to establish small units, in the way that I mentioned. I hope that the noble Earl will have regard to what I said because he rightly commended Latchmere House, as did the right reverend Prelate and also the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, for the way in which it has established a purposeful and well-ordered environment in which the staff devote their energies to preparing prisoners at the end of long sentences for successful rehabilitation.

Recognising the pressures on the prison estate caused by the rising numbers of prisoners, Latchmere House is committed to raising its roll to in excess of 175. Increasing attention is given to the importance of a. sound and effective training programme which will equip staff with the professional skills necessary for successful rehabilitation work with prisoners and their families.

Kirklevington Grange in the North East offers a similar regime for up to 96 prisoners, together with HMP Oxford, which opened in April as a resettlement satellite of Bullingdon Prison. There are also seven smaller units situated within training prisons throughout the country.

I can assure the noble Earl that it is the intention of the prison service not to lose opportunities to provide further places for prisoners to address specific resettlement issues. To that end, work is being undertaken in the East Anglia and Kent areas in conjunction with the community prisons concept. Kent has been particularly progressive in taking forward the concept of resettlement, not only for those prisoners in the last stages of their sentences prior to release but possibly as early now as the middle of their sentences. Reference has been made to the excellent unique regime at Blantyre House.

The noble Earl also referred to the work of voluntary organisations. I can assure him that we fully recognise the valuable contribution which the voluntary sector can make to the work of the probation service. For that reason, in 1994–95 the Government are making available more than £21 million for grants to the voluntary sector for work with the probation service in England and Wales.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, is the Minister aware that during the dreadful happenings at Strangeways the visiting centre which I mentioned was the only building in the area which the Home Office could use for the necessary remedial treatment? It was rather hard for the people who were manning that service for the whole of the Greater Manchester area to keep the establishment functioning, while the bill for the replacement of the building at Strangeways was £80 million, due to mistakes at the Home Office in not listening to the people on the site and trying to deal with the matter from London. It is rather harsh that while such large sums of money were spent, the people running that service frequently had to come to London to argue with civil servants in the Home Office for money to keep their visiting centre open. That is the type of problem that we ought to do our best to avoid.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

My Lords, I cannot pretend to have the same expertise or intimate knowledge of that instance as the noble Lord, Lord Dean. I can only offer him the clear indication that we recognise the valuable contribution of such organisa-tions. Despite what has been indicated in the course of the debate, a substantial amount has been paid over in grants by way of funding for the voluntary sector.

Those who have contributed to the debate will be sufficiently expert to know that there are two schemes under which grants are made to voluntary and private sector organisations: the probation supervision grants scheme and the probation accommodation grants scheme. Both grant schemes are being devolved to local probation areas. The noble Lord, Lord Dean, may have a particular interest in this aspect in view of his intervention. Probation services will in future be responsible for establishing partnerships with the voluntary and private sectors in their area and spending 5 per cent. of their budget in that way. I trust that this will indeed lead to a more equitable spread of opportunities of this type for offenders across England and Wales and help to ensure that facilities meet local needs. At national level the Home Office will retain a small budget for grants to national and innovative projects aimed at work in supporting the probation service.

The noble Earl has drawn a comparison between the £1.4 billion spent on the prison service and £40 million spent on the probation service outside prison. But this is a somewhat false comparison. The sum of £1.4 billion is very large but with good reason. Imprisonment is undoubtedly expensive because the prison system is charged with important custodial duties on behalf of the community.

I wish to emphasise that the prison service fully accepts that prisoners, be they men or women, who are better prepared for returning to the community have a much better chance of staying in the community.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord repeat that again, and more loudly?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

My Lords, the prison service fully accepts that prisoners, be they men or women, who are better prepared for returning to the community have a better chance of staying in the community. Accordingly, inmate development and pre-release courses are currently running in over 80 prison establishments, and it is the service's intention, spelt out in its corporate plan, to see all establishments running such courses by 1st April 1996.

The prison service also funds the Prisons Link Unit run by the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders. To date, about 100 prison establishments currently run an employment and accommodation advice service for prisoners. That number is increasing each year and the prison service intends that by 1996 all establishments will be providing that service to prisoners.

I should also like to take the opportunity to mention what I perceive to be a very successful course which the prison service is running in partnership with the Employment Service. Known as Employment Focus, the course aims to develop in prisoners a readiness to change their situation and to help them improve their chances of finding a job as quickly as possible—a point properly emphasised during the course of the debate. In particular, the course helps prisoners to find and apply for jobs and to perform well at interviews. Special guidance is included on the effects of a prison record on job application and the difficult issue of how best to disclose such a record to a prospective employer.

There are at present some 16 specialist job clubs for prisoners which provide facilities and assistance towards an intensive search for employment. At Holloway Prison, the job club is run by NACRO and funded by the Employment Service; at Pentonville it is run by the Apex Trust and part funded by the Employment Service. One initiative probably known to your Lordships which has been running for much longer is the pre-release employment hostel scheme. Under that scheme, long-term prisoners have the opportunity to spend their last six months before release in one of seven hostels run by the prison service to help them to re-adapt into society.

Working-out schemes provide an alternative for inmates who have less need of the supportive environment of a hostel. There, too, they go out to work each day and return to prison at night. That enables some prisoners to find employment which, hopefully, they can retain once they are finally discharged.

Training and enterprise councils play an important role. They are responsible for making sure that appropriate training provision is available for those at a disadvantage in the labour market, including ex-offenders. Since they took on this role, a number of TECs and prison establishments have been working closely together in a variety of ways to ensure that prisoners' needs are met. There have been many examples of innovative and successful collaboration between TECs and prison establishments.

Finally, I should like to say something about aftercare. The new early release arrangements introduced by the Criminal Justice Act 1991 provide for all prisoners sentenced to 12 months or more to have a mandatory period of supervision in the community. Now, all those sentenced to 12 months or more will receive supervision. As part of that support, the probation service will intervene to address practical difficulties, including such matters as accommodation and employment.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, may I intervene?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

My Lords, perhaps I may move on.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, this is an important, an essential point. Supervision is not assistance with finding work or housing. Is the noble and learned Lord telling us that at the moment under the statute there is any responsibility on the probation service or anyone to find work or employment for ex-prisoners? He cannot do it.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

My Lords, if I had been allowed a moment more, I might have been able to tell the noble Earl that an important part of undertaking that support is that the probation service will intervene to address the practical difficulties that prisoners confront. That will clearly involve the issues which have arisen time and time again in this debate: accommodation and employment. That is an integral part of the resettlement plan and post-release supervision. I should have thought that that would be welcomed in all parts of the House.

If supervision on release is to be effective, planning should start early in the custodial part of the sentence. To facilitate that, probation staff are seconded to all prison establishments to work alongside prison officers. December 1993 saw the issue of the National Framework for the Throughcare of Offenders in Custody to the Completion of Supervision in the Community. That document aims to clarify the roles and responsibilities of both prison and probation staff and places particular emphasis on the need for a close working relationship to be forged between prison officers, seconded probation staff and the supervising probation officers.

Securing accommodation and employment can be important factors in establishing a settled and law-abiding life style. In a joint initiative, the Home Office and the Association of Chief Officers of Probation have this week issued new guidance to the probation service on employment, education and training. The guidance aims to help probation services improve the employment prospects of unemployed offenders under their supervision. Probation officers are expected to develop area employment policies which should identify the extent of unemployment locally, the services to be provided to address it and the ways in which co-operation with other probation areas and other organisations should take place.

So far as accommodation is concerned, each probation service is required to set up—and I hope this will be welcomed—a local offender accommodation forum. The chief task of that forum is to produce an area offender accommodation strategy, to consider the demand, to assess the extent to which that demand is adequately met, and to agree roles for the voluntary accommodation projects in the area.

As I indicated at the outset, your Lordships' contributions have without exception related to provision in England and Wales. We, in Scotland, have a separate criminal justice system. I am tempted to address the same issues within the Scottish context, but I hope that it will be accepted that my failing to do so is not indicative of any lack of interest or lack of confidence in the comparable development of services in Scotland. Where there are differences, I hope that we can achieve the same improvements in the system. I hope that what I have said is enough to show that both resettlement and aftercare are rightly regarded as high priority issues, both in Scotland and in England and Wales.

Much is going on. Much more is planned, both nationally and as a result of local initiatives and imagination. The importance of this work, as the noble Lord, Lord Plant, emphasised, is to try to help keep offenders out of trouble. If we can reduce the rate of recidivism, so much the better. I conclude by again thanking the noble Earl for giving us the opportunity to discuss this important issue.

House adjourned at fifteen minutes before ten o'clock.