HL Deb 10 June 1996 vol 572 cc1550-64

6.53 p.m.

Lord Harris of Greenwich rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what action they propose to take following the annual report of the board of visitors of HM Prison, Wandsworth.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. This is probably the first debate that we have had in the House in recent years on the report of a board of visitors of one of our prisons. I believe that it is right at the outset to express our warmest thanks to all the members of these boards, who, both at Wandsworth and elsewhere, make a major contribution to our penal system. Before I come to the contents of the report of the Wandsworth board, I believe it is right to refer to the problems which now confront the Prison Service as a whole. We are told that the numbers in our prisons may rise to the staggering level of 60,000. At the same time, the service faces large cuts in running costs. Over the three years 1995–96 to 1998–99, the service is to be compelled to reduce its costs per place in real terms by 10.2 per cent. or by 14 per cent. if new money, specifically earmarked for security measures following the report of Sir John Woodcock and for the service's drugs strategy, is left out of the calculation.

It is estimated that as a result of these cuts at least 2,800 posts will be lost, including many of the most experienced officers who, because of their position on the salary scale, are more expensive than the younger, less experienced officers. There will be significant cuts in prison education services. A recent survey by the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education suggested that in a cross-section of prisons there had already been an average cut of 14.5 per cent. in educational provision. We know from a recent Written Answer given to the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton of Eggardon, that 85 of the current probation staff of 645 will have their posts wiped out of existence. In addition, there will be reductions in chaplaincy services—a matter which is specifically referred to in the report of the Wandsworth board of visitors—and a cut in the funding of visitors' centres, which do so much to maintain relationships between inmates and their families. Finally, there have been heavy cuts in the prison refurbishment programmes.

That is the background to the report of the Wandsworth board of visitors. Their report rightly pays tribute to the work of the governor and his staff and to some of the improvements undoubtedly made in previous years, such as the refurbishment of C and D wings at Wandsworth. But what the report discloses in detail provides a most disturbing commentary on how the cuts in the service imposed by Ministers will affect Wandsworth prison. The board say that the effects will force a choice between reducing manning levels and drastically modifying the regime in the establishment. Of course, either would be deeply damaging. But in addition they run the risk of creating serious disturbances within the prison.

I should like to deal now with a number of specific issues mentioned in the report. First, what is to happen to A and B wings at Wandsworth? This matter is specifically referred to in the report. For the moment, both have been mothballed; on neither has the planned refurbishment programme begun. The board has asked for an undertaking from the Home Secretary that the wings will never again, in their unrefurbished state, be used to house prisoners. Is the Minister prepared tonight to give the board and the House that undertaking? I remind the noble Baroness what the board has said about A wing at Wandsworth, which is now mothballed: Its unreconstructed, crumbling Victorian fabric permitted little in the way of hygiene and the vile procedure of 'slopping out', which took place in the same recesses as the sinks used for washing dishes, made the sense of unremitting gloom even worse".

As to B wing, the report said: A feeling akin to hopelessness and despair often seemed to afflict both prisoners and officers.

I am sure that the noble Baroness will not need to be reminded that in his report of March 1995 the Chief Inspector of Prisons said the following: The planned refurbishment of A and B wings should not be delayed once C wing reopens".

Well, C wing has reopened, yet there is no sign of any activity as far as concerns the refurbishment of A and B wings. I hope that the noble Baroness will provide a clear answer to the board's question: is this work to begin? If not, will the noble Baroness undertake never—I repeat never—to return prisoners to the existing wings and the disgusting conditions which exist there? That is a clear question, and I believe that the House deserves a clear indication of the Government's intentions.

Next, I come to education at Wandsworth. This year there will be 201 hours of education in the prison. That is 25 hours fewer than last year. In the words of the board, this is likely to drop drastically this year because of the financial cuts to which I have already referred. I remind the noble Baroness of what the board said on this topic: Education is the backbone of rehabilitation in a prison and any cuts in this service will be a retrogressive step which will almost certainly lead to greater operational problems".

I should be obliged if the noble Baroness would deal with that specifically in her reply.

I come to the library. The board report: It is regrettable that imminent financial cuts are likely to lead to reduced library staff and further reduced access to the library next year".

That of course is this year.

I turn now to the chaplaincy. Its work forms an essential part of the welfare and rehabilitation work of the prison. "In particular", says the board: it contributes positively to work on suicide prevention, education and reform of offending behaviour".

There are, says the board, likely to be reductions in chaplaincy staff, because of the national cuts imposed on the service. Is that really so? Can we really be contemplating such folly?

I hope that the Minister will not, like her colleagues in the other place, attempt to shelter behind the governor of Wandsworth, and suggest that those matters are entirely for him, because it is Ministers, not officials, who have imposed these slashing cuts on the service. They are the people who proudly proclaim that "prison works"; yet at the same time as the prison population is accelerating upwards, presumably to the gratification of Ministers, they are, according to what the Minister said earlier this afternoon, cutting the resources available to the service. They are playing an extremely dangerous game, and game it is. It no doubt gets them the cheerful headlines in the Daily Mail and the Sun, but in the real world they are creating conditions which could lead to the development of a most serious situation in our prisons.

On page after page of the Wandsworth report, there are references to the deterioration of staff morale. And of course they are not alone. In a letter to the Home Secretary this April, the Swaleside board of visitors wrote: The proposed loss of over 30 staff (approximately 10 per cent.) mainly from uniform and education has already had a devastating effect on morale, and will quite quickly destabilise the regime".

Remembering, no doubt, the shameful way in which the governor of Parkhurst, Mr. Marriott, was summarily removed from office when developments occurred at that prison for which Ministers carried a heavy burden of personal responsibility, the Swaleside board said: We wish to place on record that the responsibility for the consequences should not be placed at the door of our Governor or his colleagues".

The report of the Wandsworth board of visitors demonstrates the alarm now felt by many in the Prison Service about the consequences of the Government's conduct. I hope that in her reply the Minister will at least be able to indicate that she and her colleagues have at last begun to appreciate the crisis of confidence which now exists within the Prison Service.

7.3 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, there is a rare quality about the Minister which we admire. I must give her the details on another occasion of a famous statesman who finally felt that he could no longer defend the Government's position. He put aside his brief, saying: You must handle this one, I can't". That moment may come, although possibly not tonight. I cannot imagine a more punishing indictment than that provided by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, on the strength of this damaging report. If someone from abroad wanted to find out what was going on in our prisons he would have only to look at this report, where the whole thing is summarised.

I have more than a little interest in Wandsworth. I suppose I have been there many more times than the Minister. I first visited Wandsworth about 40 years ago. Around that time, I visited Maidstone Prison. It was an enlightened prison. I remember saying to a prison officer there, "I wouldn't mind being governor here". He said, "Anyone can be governor here, but you wouldn't last five minutes in Wandsworth". That was Wandsworth's reputation, which the report recognises as being the worst prison in the country.

A little after that, a famous governor—I found him to be a very good chap—was so unpopular because of the regime he had to implement that he was crucified by former prisoners when crossing the common. I was not actually present. Had I been, no doubt I should have offered him some ineffective assistance. At any rate, that was the kind of treatment that former prisoners meted out to the governor, due to the intensity of feeling at that time.

However, in recent years there has been, as the report brings out clearly, considerable improvement under the present much-to-be-admired governor. I am about to say something nice—it may be for the first time, but I hope not for the last—about the present Home Secretary. I visited Wandsworth because I am in touch with a prisoner there. I had a letter from the governor today. I have been visiting Wandsworth and there are restrictions there. They do not compare with the restrictions in some of the other prisons such as Whitemoor, where one has to take off one's shoes and go through a few other humiliations. I said to the young woman who searched me, "I realise that you have to carry out Mr. Howard's orders". She said, "He came here the other day. He was a nice gentleman". She said that in a tone of utmost surprise. That is the first kind word I have heard said about him in a prison in recent years. At any rate, she thought he was a nice gentleman. Let us agree that Mr. Howard is a nice gentleman, but he has the most evil policy that has ever been applied in a British prison. That is accepted by everyone in the prisons.

So we have the situation now in Wandsworth. Of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, pointed out, it is astonishing that these cuts have been made which fall so heavily on Wandsworth. They do not fall only on Wandsworth of course. I was at a conference the other day. There was a lady who was responsible for a great deal of counselling. She had been counselling three prison officers, although not from Wandsworth, who had become fearful for their lives because of the atmosphere in the prisons. That is just one example.

The terrible atmosphere has been brought about entirely by the Home Secretary, with the full support of course of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. That is the situation throughout the country. In Wandsworth we have these cuts. I have given the Minister an hour or two's advance notice of what I am going to say. She ought to be able to answer the question that I am putting to her directly, but I bet she does not. Why are these cuts being implemented? We are told that the country is more prosperous than ever. So why on earth are these cuts being made? I am asking the Minister, and I hope that she can answer. Why are these cuts, which are so damaging, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, pointed out, being imposed?

One explanation, and the most obvious, is that it is the Government's desire to make prisons unpleasant. They are deliberately treating prisoners as second-class citizens. That may be preventive, and I hope that the Minister has the correct information. At a time when, according to the Government, the country is getting richer and richer, why are they making these cuts?

7.8 p.m.

Baroness Mallalieu

My Lords, the House is indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, for raising this matter. The 1995 annual report of the board of visitors to Wandsworth reflects great credit on two groups of people: first, the visitors themselves. There was a total of 543 visits in 1995, with a member visiting the prison virtually every day. Many of the visits were unannounced. The commitment of those ordinary members of the public to the work of this prison, their pride in the improvements that have been made, and their real concerns for its future shine through the words and conclusions of the report.

Secondly, the governor and the staff of the prison must take the lion's share of the credit for bringing Wandsworth from the 19th century very belatedly into the 20th. Until seven years ago, as has been said, Wandsworth was generally regarded as the worst prison in the country, both to be in as a prisoner and to work in: old, decaying, infected, insanitary, depressing, dehumanising and at times plain cruel in its regime.

Since then a vast amount of constructive work has been done in an attempt to provide prisoners with conditions which are at least humane and with a regime which, within the restrictions imposed by budget, staffing levels and accommodation, is a constructive one. Past Home Secretaries deserve credit for the building work which has been done and the reconstruction which has been completed. As a result, staff and prisoner morale has been improved. The appalling A and B wings have been taken out of service, as both the inspector of prisons and the Director General of the Prison Service rightly said they should. A regime, which by any standards is austere, now, through the efforts largely of the staff, tries to provide conditions in which prisoners can begin to address the reasons why they offended and plan for the future.

However, the message of the report is that those improvements are now under threat. That threat comes from a Government who tell the public that prison works and who take steps to ensure that more members of the public will enjoy the benefits of a stay in one of their establishments while refusing to provide adequate funds for the Prison Service to cater constructively for its increased clientele.

The public are well aware that the Home Secretary wants to see those who commit crime sent to prison for longer. I wonder whether the public realise that he has made no plans to pay for that. Do they realise that the net capital expenditure on prisons in the financial year 1995–96 was £330 million; that in 1996–97 it is to be reduced to £117 million; and in 1997–98 reduced again to £110 million? At the same time the prison population has been seriously underestimated. The projected population was estimated to reach 59,500 in 2004. It is now set to reach that figure next year. The public need to know that because it amounts to serious mismanagement of the Prison Service. All those who work within the service agree that overcrowded and understaffed prisons do not work. Budget cuts against the background of a rocketing prison population are a recipe for disaster.

The report shows that in Wandsworth the cracks are already appearing. First, staff morale is damaged. There are fears that those who felt they had a role to play in future crime prevention are being seen by the Government as no more than turnkeys in a lock-up, to use the words of the report. Staff shortages mean that valuable work can no longer be done.

Perhaps I may take two examples from the report. The sex offender treatment programme, a very valuable part of the work of the prison, is suffering from problems because staff shortages make it difficult to produce officers to work alongside probation officers in the scheme. Searches for drugs in the visitors' area, which is the main point of entry of drugs into our prisons, cannot be conducted routinely because of staff shortages. Waiting lists of those wanting to learn, not as A-level or Open University candidates, but simply to read and write, are growing. It is likely that cuts will make the position still worse next year, affecting the contract with South Thames College. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, referred to those issues.

It is feared that the probation staff of the prison will be cut from 12 to five. Already no probation officer can be found for the newly refurbished healthcare centre. By far the greatest fear in the report relates to A and B wings, which held 480 men. In September 1995, less than a year ago, the Government stated that the work of refurbishment would begin by February this year. In January 1996 we were told that the work was still being considered. The fear in the report is that those insanitary, disease-ridden wings will be used again as they are. Perhaps I may repeat the question that was put so forcefully by the noble Lord, Lord Harris. Will the Minister tell us what the plans are now for that refurbishment? Above all, will she, in the light of the report, give a clear and unequivocal undertaking that neither of those wings will be used unless refurbishment first takes place?

To use those wings again in their present state would be to return to conditions degrading and dangerous for prisoners and staff alike. It would send a message to the governor and his staff in this much improved prison that their work during the past seven years is regarded by this Government as a waste of time.

7.15 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I have read with interest the Wandsworth board of visitors' report and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, for initiating the debate. It gives me the opportunity to be as selective as noble Lords have been in the debate and also to put the record straight. I shall not, as the noble Lord accused in anticipation of my speech, hide behind the governor of Wandsworth Prison. From the outset I shall pay a tribute to him and to his staff for the management of the prison. For that part of my speech I shall pray in aid extracts from the report and from the open letter sent by the Board of Governors. It stated: This year, with some exceptions, the report finds much to praise as it reviews the strenuous efforts of the governor and his staff to make the prison a place where prisoners, although held in conditions which, by any standards, are austere, can, nevertheless, begin to address their offending behaviour before they return to society". In response to a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, about improvements in the prison, I shall quote another part of the report. It states: The past seven years have seen a sea-change. Much of the fabric has been modernised; the regime has been improved; prisoners spend much more time out of their cells involved in work, education and physical exercise; slopping out has all but disappeared; the bug-ridden kitchens have been replaced by temporary, but hygienic, modern ones. Such changes are designed to fulfil the Prison Service's mission statement and to aim to turn prisoners from crime to law abiding lives". Nothing that has happened in terms of the budget this year will alter that.

The noble Baroness, I believe rather discourteously, referred to previous Home Secretaries as having been responsible for that programme. Perhaps I may remind her that a good deal of the programme has taken place under the present Home Secretary. There have been drainage and water supply improvements, a new reception, temporary kitchens and improvements in sanitation in G, H and K wings. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, referred only to C and D wings being refurbished. I can tell him that C, D, E, F and G wings have been refurbished. There have been sanitation improvements in E wing and refurbishment in D and C wings. Healthcare, simple sanitation and security work has been carried out, as has perimeter security work, which is still in progress. The healthcare, sanitation, security and perimeter work to C wing has taken place under my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. That expenditure totals £21.3 million. That is a different picture from that painted so far.

I am glad to be able to pay tribute to the work of boards of visitors. It is always welcoming to know that members of boards of visitors, who are unpaid volunteers, willingly give of their time and effort to prepare a document such as this to alert Ministers to areas of concern and issues that often can require our urgent attention.

Despite the headlines which some of your Lordships may have seen in the national press, the 1995 board of visitors' report on Wandsworth was in fact very positive; particularly in comparison with the report which the prison received in 1994. The board's report for 1995 recognises the efforts made by staff and management to deal effectively and constructively with prisoners there. Some of the noted successes included the improvements that had been made in dealing with prisoners' requests and complaints; the imaginative way staff training courses have been conducted; the high standards of control and discipline within the prison; and the increased standard of the care within the healthcare centre.

There are, of course, always areas of concern raised by BoV reports and today I shall tell your Lordships what the Prison Service is doing in response to each of the main areas of concern that have been expressed individually.

The board of visitors at Wandsworth is concerned about the programme of cost reductions at the prison. Wandsworth, like the Prison Service generally, is required to make efficiency savings this year. The board has expressed its concerns about those cost efficiency savings and fears that they will impact on the positive progress that has been achieved at the prison over the past few years. The board also fears that prisoners will react to staff reductions and some reduction in time out of cell by acts of indiscipline. While I can, of course, understand the board's concerns, the governor and management of Wandsworth have a wealth of prison experience and the governor too recognises that purposeful activity for prisoners is essential not only to maintain control within prison but to assist prisoners to lead law-abiding lives on their release.

The governor has also planned to ensure that the efficiency savings that are required will impact as little as possible on the regimes that he and his staff introduced successfully at Wandsworth. Although the measures he has implemented have been viewed as drastic by some, they are in the spirit of the instructions issued by the director general: that purposeful activities, especially programmes that address offending behaviour, should be preserved.

It is the Government's policy to exercise firm control over public expenditure and to secure greater efficiency in the running of public services. It is right that the Prison Service should not be exempt from this policy. The savings in unit costs which are required of the Prison Service are broadly consistent with those expected of the public services generally.

There is scope for greater efficiency in the day to day running of the Prison Service; for example, by the cost-effective deployment of staff. Additional funding has, however, been made available for security improvements and to combat drug abuse.

It is essential to maintain the balance between security and control measures, constructive and effective regimes for prisoners and providing support for staff. The emphasis, across the Prison Service, is on reducing costs rather than constructive activity for prisoners, and resources will continue to be given to those programmes which help prisoners to address their offending behaviour.

It is true that there will be a reduction in staff in the probation, education and chaplaincy departments at Wandsworth. The probation department will be reduced not from 12 but from 11 to five staff. But the governor is confident that this level of provision will enable him to continue to meet his commitments under the national throughcare framework agreement.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, will the noble Baroness explain why those cuts are necessary?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I shall answer the noble Earl quite directly when I reach that point. The governor is confident that that level of provision will enable him to continue to meet his commitments under the national throughcare framework agreement and to maintain and, indeed, to improve the quality of sentencing planning at Wandsworth. The governor also plans to reduce by 1.5 the number of chaplain posts at Wandsworth, but this (and the other reductions) coincides—a point not mentioned in the debate so far—with a reduction of 380 prisoners in the prisoner population as wings without integral sanitation have been taken out of use. Therefore, the figure is not 480, as the noble Baroness said. Rather, 380 prisoners are no longer there and that is matched by a reduction in chaplaincy needs. But no prisoner will suffer as a result of that. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, knows, those wings certainly need sanitation improvements in any event. That is one reason why they were taken out of use. The loss of the posts will not affect the number of prisoners who are able to have access to the church services.

As to the provision of education, emphasis will be placed on meeting prisoners' basic educational needs. A number of classes have, in the past, run with small numbers and were therefore not providing good value for money. Some of these classes will therefore no longer be available. During 1996, however, a further 135 places will be created in workshops to provide additional employment places for prisoners and the emphasis on basic literacy will be intensified and not reduced, as the noble Baroness suggested.

Another major concern of the BoV report is the accommodation of immigration detainees. That was also highlighted in their 1994 report. I know that this is an area of concern which is shared by other boards of visitors across the prison estate. The board at Wandsworth is specifically dissatisfied about the continued detention of convicted overseas nationals who have completed their sentences and are awaiting deportation. The board feels that, when a detainee has completed a sentence for a criminal offence, he should not remain at Wandsworth. The Prison Service cannot give an unequivocal assurance that such detainees will be transferred automatically. My honourable friend the Minister for prisons has previously informed the board that there is no reason why a person who has served a sentence for a criminal offence and is to be deported from the United Kingdom should not remain there temporarily while arrangements are made for deportation.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I apologise for intervening, but is the Minister aware of what the Chief Inspector of Prisons said on this issue? In March 1995 he said that those detained for immigration purposes should not be held at Wandsworth. That is a clear recommendation which the Government appear to be rejecting out of hand.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the noble Lord has not gone on to outline the reasons for that. A prisoner may have completed his sentence but be subject to a deportation order. The view has been taken that he should remain in custody and therefore, he must do so. As I have said, we hope that that will be temporary while deportation arrangements are made. Some prisoners are moved to other prisons but on some occasions, it is not possible to do that.

Where it is clear that deportation will be delayed, transfer to another establishment may be considered. But much will depend on the individual circumstances. This can include the nature of the offence of which the person was convicted and the immigration issues that need to be resolved before deportation can be effected.

The board is also concerned that the Immigration and Nationality Directorate of the Home Office is not "hard charged" for holding detainees in Wandsworth. The Prison Service is, in fact, allocated appropriate funding to enable it to accommodate immigration detainees. The budget allocated to Wandsworth is based on its operational capacity, and additional funding for particular types of prisoner is therefore not necessary.

The board is extremely concerned that A and B wings should be refurbished to a high standard in addition to having in-cell sanitation installed, and should not be used as contingency accommodation to cope with a steep rise in prison population.

A and B wings at Wandsworth were taken out of use in February 1996 to meet the deadline for providing prisoners with 24-hour access to sanitation. Due to the reduction in the Prison Service's capital expenditure, the refurbishment work at Wandsworth, which was scheduled to start in 1996–97, may have to be deferred. I know that the Prison Service is currently investigating all available options to start the refurbishment work as soon as possible and does not plan to operate A and B wings until this work is completed.

Baroness Mallalieu

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the Minister and I have no wish to be accused of discourtesy twice in the course of this evening. But perhaps she will clarify a point for me about A and B wings. I gave a figure of 480 and the noble Baroness told me that I was wrong about that. Therefore, is the figure wrong on page 40 of the report, because the board of visitors appears to believe that those two wings taken together can hold 480 prisoners? I should be grateful to know which is right.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am told that as a result of the closure of A and B wings, there is a reduction of 380 prisoners in the prison. It may well be that capacity is greater but 380 prison places have been taken out of existence. If I am wrong and the noble Baroness is right, I shall certainly write to her about that, but certainly I have been told that the closure of those wings affected 380 people. My understanding is that that is more than 25 per cent. of the prison population at Wandsworth, which was about 1,100 at the time at which those wings were closed. That accounts for some of the reductions in staff and provision.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I promise that this will be the last intervention. I specifically put a different question. I understand the position in relation to the capital refurbishment programme but I asked a very different question. I believe that the Wandsworth board of visitors and many others would be interested in the Minister's reply. An unequivocal assurance is sought that A and B wings will never again be used to house prisoners while they remain in an unrefurbished state. Is the Minister able to give an answer on that point, because it is a mater of considerable significance to the board and to many of us?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am not able to give a definitive answer. However, I can say that there are no plans to bring A and B wings back into operation before refurbishment is completed. I cannot be definitive because an emergency may arise before the refurbishment. We then have to consider the alternative of police cells. Although we believe that that is an unlikely situation, A and B wings may then have to be brought into operation. But, if that does happen, a view will have to he taken about making those wings habitable for those purposes. That may fall short of a complete refurbishment but we do not plan to bring the wings back into operation until those refurbishments have taken place, which we hope will be as soon as possible.

The governor has ensured that all allegations of assault are thoroughly investigated by prison line management or, where necessary, by an independent investigator, whether that is in-house, a governor from elsewhere in the Prison Service, or the police. The governor took command in 1988 of a prison which he has acknowledged had a reputation for unwarranted use of force against prisoners. He has ensured that there are systems in place which address these problems. I have talked at some length with the governor about the changes that he has brought about. I am more than convinced that he is anxious that he has as open a system as possible and that all prisoners are given open access to make sure that their complaints and grievances are properly heard and properly dealt with.

When the governor took up post independent bodies such as the board of visitors were not allowed unsupervised access to the residential areas and were not therefore privy to the complaints that prisoners wished to air. The board of visitors now has free access to all areas of the prison and is able to listen to prisoners' complaints in an appropriate manner. This is in line with how boards should operate within prisons. The board of visitors' report to the Home Secretary comments on the positive relationships which have been formed with the governor. It is a fact that the governor has facilitated access to the prison for members of the board and ensured that all prisoners have access to them.

The governor has adopted an open attitude and would, and will not, conceal his own concerns about the allegations that have been and continue to be made against staff by prisoners. It is inevitable that when prisoners are given free access to ventilate their complaints this will raise the number of complaints that are made. It is also inevitable that prisoners will sometimes make spurious complaints. This will happen sometimes to "settle old scores", or as a reaction to the control measures which are in place at Wandsworth.

The police have recently conducted an investigation into the conduct and results of the investigations that had taken place into allegations of assault in 1995. This independent police investigation concluded that the inquiries undertaken at Wandsworth had been carried out appropriately and the conclusions reached were satisfactory. Concerted efforts will continue to be made to ensure that this position is carefully maintained.

It is important not to get carried away with the picture that the press might want to paint of a prison at which nothing is going well. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have tried to outline what staff and management at Wandsworth are doing in response to the board of visitors' report. There is a wealth of other good work which is being done at Wandsworth.

The governor and his staff have been enthusiastic in their implementation of the Prison Service's drug strategy: the establishment was selected this year to become a specialised drug treatment centre, and mandatory drug testing has been implemented effectively at the establishment. The drug dealers who remain in the prison have not taken kindly to the stringent measures the governor has taken to prevent drugs being smuggled into his prison. This year, so far, there have been 48 finds of drugs on prisoners and 26 visitors have been gate arrested attempting to bring drugs into the prison. The positive mandatory drug testing results reflect that these measures have been effective. In April this year 82 prisoners were tested and 10 proved positive; this is approximately one-third of the national average. All prisoners who test positive on the MDT programme are offered counselling and treatment.

In his last year with the Prison Service the governor of Wandsworth continues to implement innovative programmes at the prison. For example, the governor is introducing a programme which is designed to help to break the cycle of offending, which is based on the Cambridge study of delinquency development which followed 397 families from South London over 30 years. The programme will address the needs highlighted by local research to identify the size of the delinquency problem amongst prisoners and children.

I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, who referred to the library services. It is unfortunate that the need to provide cells prevented the provision of a proper library on C Wing. Arrangements have now been made for the end of the ground floor to be used as a library. There are no cuts in access to libraries throughout the prison. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, asked why there have been cuts. I have made my next point before but I shall repeat it. We are continuing to seek efficiency improvements and economies throughout the public sector.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, why is it necessary to cut the Probation Service and education service to produce greater efficiency?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the services have not been cut at all. The functions that were carried out by some of those members of the Probation Service are being carried out by the Prison Service. The governor has thought this plan through carefully. Through-care work, both in prison and beyond prison, is an important aspect of prison life and sentence planning. Again, I have talked at length with the governor about this. I believe that the plans he has put in place are effective. I have come clean about why the cuts are necessary; namely, because we believe that the peak of efficiency has not been reached and that more can be done, and we shall continue to pursue that. I would ask the noble Earl whether he would like to pose his question to his colleagues in another place who are not promising any more money for any services whatsoever. That is a pertinent question for members of his party. The Prison Service cannot be exempt from efficiency improvements. The public expenditure settlement for the Prison Service for 1996–97, and beyond, reflects the level of efficiency savings which the Government believe it is reasonable to expect. Extra money has been made available to the Prison Service for extra places and for security.

Much has been said about provision in Wandsworth Prison. It is important to put on record the range of facilities that are available there. There are photography classes and a brass band supported by the London Symphony Orchestra. NACRO runs a gym and power lifting courses. There are 15 computers for 10 sessions a week accommodating up to 150 people. Those courses are run by NACRO. In the main prison there are another 10 computers for nine sessions a week with a capacity of 90 places. The vulnerable prisoners' unit has seven computers for eight sessions a week and provides 56 places. In addition there are basic literacy and numeracy courses and a range of other subjects which can offer fairly high level qualifications. Noble Lords who are familiar with this prison will know that it is a local prison and many of its prisoners are referred to other prisons. If a prisoner arrives at the prison who is already doing an Open University course, provision is made for that. National vocational qualifications are being gained by many of the people who pass through Wandsworth Prison. There are carpentry workshops and work is provided making brushes, and in tailoring, laundry, catering and gardening. A great deal is going on in the prison. In addition, the voluntary sector works within Wandsworth Prison. I refer to NACRO, the Samaritans, the Prisoner Listeners Service, the Bourne Trust, the Prison Reform Trust, SOVA, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, the Prisoners Resource Service, the Rehabilitation of Addictive Prisoners' Trust—

Baroness Mallalieu

My Lords, I hope the Minister will be good enough to give way for a moment. She has listed a large number of voluntary agencies doing work and people who are providing what are clearly important contributions to prison life. However, is there really any substitute for properly trained people to do a job? I have in mind page 25 of the board's report. The board comments in relation to the loss of a probation officer for the healthcare centre: The loss of a Probation Officer is causing concern; much of the work is being done by nurses which is unacceptable to the Board. Future provision appears bleak". Are the Government going to do anything about deficits such as that?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, there will be a full reply from the Prison Service to the board of governors on the specific points that it has raised. Of course the noble Baroness is absolutely right. There is a place for the professional, and the professional will provide services. In terms of the through-care programme, it is possible for prison officers to become involved in that work, just as it is possible for probation officers to do so. Indeed many probation officers become prison officer staff and certainly prison officers work with the professionals to provide the services. The first range of provision I referred to is provided by professionals. I do not wish to decry the important contribution that the voluntary sector makes to the Prison Service. I believe that most prisons work with the voluntary sector in a complementary way to the benefit of prisoners.

I shall complete the list. There is the Rehabilitation of Addictive Prisoners' Trust, Fujalto, a service to foreign prisoners, the Visitors' Centre where the CAB provides a regular surgery, and St. George's Drug Advice and Rehabilitation Service Programme.

There is also an innovative programme called the Koestler Award System. It is an award given for works of art. That is co-ordinated from Wandsworth Prison. In 1994 there were 2,000 entries from prisoners; by 1995 the figure had risen to 2,800; in 1996 it has risen to 3,000. That is a patchwork of work undertaken in prisons to ensure that people are profitably spending their time there.

It is also worth noting that when the present governor came to this prison there was no association time. This prison has come a very long way since then. It has met all its targets for times out of cell for prisoners. Even with the budget reduction this year, that is not expected to change; it will remain the same. The prison intends this year to meet its targets for hours out of cell for prisoners.

More generally, Wandsworth Prison performed more than creditably when measured against the Prison Service's key performance indicators. In 1995 there were no escapes from the establishment. On average more than 24 hours a week of constructive activity was provided for prisoners. On average prisoners spent around 10 hours a day out of their cells. This is not a picture of doom and gloom but a good performance from a prison whose staff and management are doing excellent work. I pay tribute to those staff and that management.

House adjourned at nineteen minutes before eight o'clock.