HL Deb 26 October 1995 vol 566 cc1192-5

3.24 p.m.

The Earl of Longford asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have seen the manifesto recently published by the Prison Governors' Association and, if so, what is their response to it.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, we welcome the Prison Governors' Association manifesto which is generally helpful and a helpful contribution to the Government's consideration of prison issues.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her Answer. When instructed to argue that black is white, I am sure that the noble Baroness will do so with her usual skill and charm. In my long parliamentary experience, I have never heard a more disingenuous Answer than that one. However, is the Minister aware that—and if anyone wishes to contradict me, they had better do so—the report represents a total lack of trust between the present Government and the Prison Governors' Association, as the emergence of policies associated with Michael Howard two years ago are in total contradiction to the policies pursued by his six Conservative predecessors?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I did say that the manifesto was broadly helpful and that it was a generally positive report; and, indeed, broadly in line with government policies. For example, the Prison Governors' Association has said that it is in favour of mandatory drug testing (which is a new approach) and that linking prisoner incentives to behaviour is a good thing. We agree with the Prison Governors' Association on many things; for example, on the need for active, purposeful regimes centred on education and training. But there are areas where we disagree. I shall mention just three of them. First, there is disagreement on whether prison works; secondly, there is disagreement about whether there should be wider availability of home leave; and, thirdly, there is disagreement about market testing of prison establishments.

Lord Merlyn-Rees

My Lords, given the fact that the prison departmental system within the Home Office was changed some years ago and replaced with the Next Steps Agency system, thus distancing decision taking from the Home Office, and in so far as the manifesto deals with operational matters, does it mean that from now on operational matters will be entirely in the hands of prison governors?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the noble Lord raises an important point. Certainly, since the Learmont Report, the noble Lord will know that there is to be a review about the relationship between the Home Office and the Prison Service. I cannot pre-empt the outcome of that debate because much of what was raised in the noble Lord's question are matters to be considered under that review. In the meantime, the Director General of Prisons remains responsible for the day-to-day operational proficiency, efficiency and effectiveness of the service. My right honourable friend remains responsible for policy.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the Learmont Report reveals widespread incompetence and indiscipline throughout the Prison Service from governor grades down to prison officers? Further, was my noble friend as dismayed as I was at the widespread intimidation by prisoners of other prisoners and of staff? Finally, does my noble friend agree that it was inevitable that Mr. Derek Lewis should be speedily replaced and does she feel that it might be desirable to have a senior military person to take his place?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not respond to my noble friend's specific point about the Director General of Prisons. However, I can say that, yes, I was dismayed—as indeed many people would have been—at what General Learmont had to say in his report. It says much about the operational management of individual institutions and casts doubt on the director general's role as someone who was responsible for the operational management of the Prison Service.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, the Minister's noble friend has made observations about Mr. Lewis. However, is the noble Baroness aware that Mr. Lewis was appointed by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, who took no account of the recommendation of the appointments board, which did not recommend him? Can the Minister explain that situation?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, Mr. Lewis will not be the first person who has been appointed by anyone anywhere who, at the end of the day, does not give full performance which is satisfactory. That is the case. Mr. Lewis was appointed properly and it so happens that he has been found unsatisfactory in the job.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the statements that she has made today—and, indeed, which have been made in another place—concerning the delineation between responsibility for policy and responsibility for operations are wholly in breach of the Government's undertaking given on 8th March 1990 as to the precise responsibilities and accountability of Ministers to Parliament in that regard? Will the noble Baroness say when any public amendment of that undertaking given to this House—and, indeed, given to me when I was standing at the Dispatch Box—was made? When was it amended officially and published in this country?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, my right honourable friend remains accountable to Parliament for the effective delivery of the Prison Service. In order for him to fulfill that obligation to Parliament, it is absolutely essential that he liaises with his Director General of Prisons to find out what is going on in the Prison Service and for the Director General of Prisons to be his information link with the Prison Service. It is not for my right honourable friend to interfere operationally in the running of the prisons. He has defended that right, but he has every right to liaise with his Director General of Prisons to fulfill his obligations to Parliament and to be fully accountable.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the Minister for drawing attention to the review required by the Learmont Report of the relationship between the Home Office and the Prison Service, and indeed for the importance that she attaches to that review. Such is that importance, that she is not able to answer questions about it now. However, if that review was so important, why did the Home Secretary in his Statement to Parliament last week make no effective reference to the review but instead insisted twice that the Learmont Inquiry had made no criticism of him?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the Learmont Inquiry made no criticism of my right honourable friend. My right honourable friend, in his Statement to the House in another place—and my repeating of it in this House—made reference to a review that would look at the relationship of the Home Office with the Prison Service.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that she has missed the whole point this afternoon in everything that she has said?

Noble Lords


The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I am afraid that there is not one noble Lord here who knows quite what I mean when I say that. I shall say it in a sentence. Is the noble Baroness aware that the prison governors' manifesto insists that rehabilitation is the essence of making prison work, and that is a total denial of the Government's policy? Is not the noble Baroness aware of that?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, rehabilitation is an important part of treating prisoners, and the Government take that role seriously. We welcome the report and we believe that it makes a helpful contribution to the debate. We believe that it contains much that is consistent with government policy, but there are one or two areas which are not. I have brought all of that to the attention of the House.