HL Deb 16 February 2000 vol 609 cc1308-34

8.13 p.m.

The Earl of Longford rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what action they propose to take on the report of the Chief Inspector of Prisons on Wandsworth prison.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I am sorry that my noble friend Lord McIntosh is leaving the Chamber, because I was going to pay him a compliment of a dubious character.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I shall stay for it.

The Earl of Longford

I am not so sure that he would welcome it. I visited Wandsworth prison not so long ago during the time of the previous governor. I said to him, "Hello Governor. In my eyes you are the ideal prison governor". He said, "Don't tell anybody that because it would ruin my reputation'''. So I had better be careful about congratulating my noble friend on anything at all. 11 might damage his career, which is still in the melting pot, as I understand it. I am glad that he waited long enough to hear that. I am not going to say any more about my noble friend. He has gone anyway.

I am honoured and flattered that so many noble Lords have put their names down to speak in the debate, which is limited to one-and-a-half hours. We shall not have many minutes. Even the Minister will not have many minutes. I am nevertheless grateful. Perhaps the Government Whip, whom we respect so much, will inform me when I have overstepped my limit. I am allowed only 10 minutes, but of course I could go on for hours.

We are told in the Christian gospel, "Judge not, that ye be not judged", but it is impossible not to make a judgment here. The story of Wandsworth prison revealed to us by the much revered chief inspector is a terrible story. I do not know if it is any worse than that of Wormwood Scrubs, but at any rate it is extremely bad. We cannot restrict our criticisms to the prison or to the people in charge of it. One must remember that the Prison Service has a very bad record, as the report reveals. For six months the prison was left without a governor. That was the fault of the Prison Service. What was the Home Office doing?

Therefore, I am bound to put the question, of which I have given notice to the Minister: how far does the Minister accept responsibility for the failure—in this case, the signal failure—of the Prison Service? I hope that he will say that he accepts responsibility and that he will take steps to improve matters in the future. We have seen this dreadful report and we all look to the future rather than to the past.

Those of us who have been visiting prisoners for half a century know that Wandsworth has the reputation of being the worst prison. Many years ago when I visited Maidstone prison, I said on leaving to a prison officer, "I like t1 is prison, you know"—which was a rather stupid and unwise thing to say—"I like this prison. I wouldn't mind being governor here". I shall not say exactly what he said in reply—he used rather stronger words than I can quote to your Lordships—but the gist was, "Any fool can manage this place. You wouldn't last five minutes at Wandsworth". Wandsworth had the reputation of being the worst prison. The Government are tackling that reputation head on and I give them full credit for facing up to it.

At last the story has been told in detail by our much respected Chief Inspector of Prisons. What are we going to do about it? We can all surely accept the general opinion of the chief inspector about what makes a healthy prison and what does not. One thing that does not make a healthy prison, which is brought out clearly in the report, is a situation in which the prisoners are frightened of the staff. There is something particular about the Wandsworth culture. I repeat that phrase because it is important in this connection—"the Wandsworth culture". I have known the Wandsworth culture for half a century. How on earth can it be put right?

I do not underestimate the task facing the Minister. I know that he cannot do it tomorrow, but I want to know how the Government are setting out to tackle the Wandsworth culture. I have met the chief inspector since the report was published. I had good talks with him and with the area manager. I am greatly impressed by what has been achieved in the area plan. I hope that the Minister will tell us about that in due course. The new plan is very good.

I visited the prison last week. I met the governor and deputy governor. Luckily, on my way into the prison I ran into the Catholic chaplain, whom I have known in the past. He told me that there has been a great change in the most criticised of all the departments— what was called the segregation unit. The Minister will tell us that it has been given a new name, which is important. I do not doubt the Minister. I want to be on the side of optimism. Things are happening there.

I do not want the Minister to feel that I am saying in a snide kind of way that I do not know at all what is going on there and that I do not like the smell of it. I do like the smell of it, but the point is, what is going to happen? It is a tremendous task to put right the horrible culture of half a century or more. How are the Government going to do it? The Chief Inspector has pointed the way. A change in management is needed. But how does one change the management without changing the managers?

The Home Office has changed the governor. I knew the previous governor. I liked him very much. I said to him, "In my view, you're a good governor". He said, "Don't tell anyone that. It would ruin my reputation". But he has now been moved. I have met the new governor and his deputy. I was very much impressed, as I have been impressed by the area manager too. There is a very impressive team in charge of the prison so I am asking the Minister to give them inspiration.

Above all, it is a hell of a task. Just before coming to the House—only this evening—I received a letter from the Prison Officers' Association. It is very easy to be nasty about the Prison Officers' Association and to blame everything on it. I do not do that. I am on its side. I should like to think that I am its friend, although I do not think it believes that I am. Nevertheless, the Prison Officers' Association is worried about the damage to the morale of the prison staff caused by these rather crucifying reports. We have to think of the prison staff. I am told—I know only what I read in the letter—that prisoners are attacking the prison officers more frequently as a result of the decline in prison officers' morale. I do not know whether that is true, but that is what I have been told. We have to face that fact. It is no use sitting here saying that everything can be altered. Over half a century the prison staff have treated prisoners in a certain way—I think in a rather bullying way. How are we going to alter that?

That is the great question before us. I know that the Minister means well and the Government mean well. I am on the side of all their efforts. It is a tremendous task. I look with hope to the Minister to tell us how they are going to set about it.

8.21 p.m.

Baroness Linklater of Butterstone

My Lords, anyone who has an interest in what is going on in our prisons today will be extremely concerned by this report. For it represents an indictment of those with responsibility for the custody and care of the prisoners in their charge which reaches to the highest levels in the Prison Service, and their failure properly to discharge those responsibilities. The chief inspector has quite a lot to commend in Wandsworth, but overall he states that it is, far behind the vast majority of other prisons in civilising the treatment of and conditions for prisoners". As a result, a situation has been allowed to develop in Wandsworth in which life has clearly become unacceptably difficult not only for the prisoners held there but also for many of the prison staff and others associated with the prison. That is intolerable for all concerned—and this includes us, my Lords, for we all have a duty of care for how our prisons are run.

The report is particularly concerned about the alarming culture of the prison—"the Wandsworth Way"—which underpins many of the other difficulties, a point referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Longford. The levels of overcrowding, which mirror the catastrophic rise in the prison population generally, coupled with budget cuts have compounded the problems. It makes most unhappy reading. However, I will concentrate on three particular aspects of the report.

I had a feeling of déjà vu about some of the report's contents. The description of the way visits are handled, the attitudes to visitors—described as "despicable" by some, but not all staff—and the mismanagement of arrangements such as the booking system described in Wandsworth today reminded me of the time when I was involved in setting up the first visitors centre at Pentonville back in 1970. Then too visitors, mostly wives and children, were often treated as if they also were criminals when in reality they were more often victims. Then too it could take an hour or more to get into the visits room—plus ça change. When we started the centre it was a controversial idea to provide a service to these families, but it is a measure of progress that visitors centres are now part of the landscape. I am delighted that Wandsworth too has a visitors centre, which was highly praised in the chief inspector's report, so that visitors do have that degree of support. But, how people are treated by prison staff is also crucially important.

There is a clear understanding today that regular, positive contact between a prisoner and his family and friends is absolutely essential if prisons are to be manageable institutions. Thus, visits form a key part of the life of any prison. They maintain vital family links and contacts with the outside world, and are of huge importance to all prisoners. How their visitors are treated and how their visits go can make all the difference to the prisoners concerned, which in turn will impact on the atmosphere in a prison. Visits are never easy, but if properly and sensitively managed they result in prisoners being more relaxed and happier and ultimately that means a happier prison. This is well understood in most prisons, and indeed in Scotland we have seen the introduction of the families contact development officer who spends his time in the visits area actively fostering good and positive relationships between visitors and the uniformed staff. I hope very much that the Minister will give serious consideration to developing this model in England. I should also like to ask what priority is given to spending on visitors facilities and centres when capital funding is being allocated.

The segregation unit also has a familiar ring about it, where the most disruptive, weakest or unpopular—notably sex offenders—are held and this is where the report is most critical. It reminds me of the infamous B Hall in Peterhead prison back in the mid-1980s when men were held in isolation, sometimes for months, by staff who wore riot gear at all times. Like Wandsworth today, it enjoyed a reputation as a hard prison, and that was its hardest feature. I am glad to say that B Hall is no more, and those men were satisfactorily dispersed. But the report refers to the, inhuman and reprehensible way that prisoners were treated in Wandsworth's segregation unit. That is unacceptable.

Just as the gate lodge and visits area of a prison is a barometer of the ethos of a prison in the way it presents itself to the outside world and deals with its visitors, so segregation units are a barometer of basic levels of care. If any level of abuse is occurring, this is where it is likely to be found. That is because of the very difficult nature of the prisoners held in these units, the fact that they are out of the mainstream of prison life and that they tend to be managed by the same staff team. While this can be helpful where there is good practice, if there is not, then they can go badly wrong. These units absolutely require regular supervision and it is imperative that the Government put strategies in place to deal with this very difficult and sensitive area. I ask the Minister what practical plans there are to deal with this problem.

The problems of management and supervision of these units is a symptom of a larger problem for the most senior management levels in the service, which is the need to give an appropriate, effective and clear lead in terms of strategies, goals and vision. It is all too easy to pin the blame on the staff on the ground, or the POA and the "sizeable minority" of staff who embody and perpetuate the tough, negative, aggressive and frightening culture that pervades the prison. That certainly and shockingly exists, and the high proportion of prisoners who feel unsafe or claim that they have been assaulted by staff—even if exaggerated—is unacceptable and cannot be allowed to continue. But a prison which has had periods without its new governor actually on the job in the prison for months at a time, but seconded elsewhere, cannot begin to have its problems addressed. That too was unacceptable.

There are members of staff at Wandsworth who try their best to be constructive and do their job effectively. Indeed, the chief inspector paid tribute to them and identified various areas of very good practice. Having worked to set up and then run the Butler Trust back in 1985, which gives annual awards for outstanding work by staff throughout the prison services of the UK, I believe in the fundamental importance of maintaining standards and morale by recognising and promoting good practice by prison staff and disseminating it throughout the system. But to take that work forward, it must be in the context of clear and firm leadership from the top.

I welcome Jack Straw's initiative in inviting the noble Lord, Lord Laming, to look into the problems of failing prisons and how to identify them so that the Wandsworth abuses never recur. But I understand that he is being asked to report by the beginning of May and also has other commitments. So I should like to ask the Minister how he can possibly have time to make a meaningful report under those circumstances.

There is no quick or simple solution to the problems of Wandsworth. But simply on the indicators of those areas I have highlighted, it is not a healthy prison. I call on the Government to take urgent action to remedy this most shocking and worrying state of affairs.

8.30 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Lincoln

My Lords, we have already heard some of the concerns expressed in the wake of the chief inspector's unannounced visit to Wandsworth last July. I shall not repeat them, save to voice my own concern, as bishop to prisons, at what Sir David Ramsbotham found. Instead, I want to focus on two particular areas.

In his highly critical comments on the segregation unit at Wandsworth, the chief inspector mentions mentally disordered prisoners. It is well known that our over-burdened Prison Service has to deal with an unacceptably high level of mentally ill prisoners. As I have said previously in this House, a normal prison is no place to handle and house such people. It is totally unreasonable to expect ordinary prison officers to deal effectively with such inmates. That does not excuse filthy conditions or idleness, but it does help to illustrate the considerable pressure under which all prison staff are expected to work these days. I beg the Government, and the Minister in particular, to give urgent consideration to these matters.

Sir David says that what his team observed in the segregation unit confirmed his suspicions that the priorities of management are directed elsewhere than to the correct treatment and conditions of prisoners. Our prisons are bursting at the seams, and the Prison Service is obliged by government to give a high priority to budgets and key performance indicators. But we need also to recognise the importance of the quality of treatment and the conditions of prisoners. As Martin Narey, the director-general of the Prison Service told us in General Synod last November, for him, prisoners are ultimately about morality. In our anxieties about efficiency and costs, we need to remember that.

Secondly, I want to express concern about the chaplaincy at Wandsworth. Sir David refers to concerns about the facilities for worship for prisoners of all faiths and denominations in the vulnerable prisoner unit. I am told that the prison's Anglican chapel is now used during the week by a charity running experiential social drama and teaching programmes about relationships. While one applauds the provision of such programmes, it means that during the week the chapel cannot be used for a service, groups, or for individual inmates with a chaplain to pray on the day of a funeral of a close friend or relative that the prisoner may not attend. Chaplains have to make arrangements to re-order the chapel on Saturday for Sunday worship. I can recognise the pressure on space in Wandsworth, but the fact that the mosque can only be reached through the chapel makes respect for sacred space for all traditions of faith difficult and causes concern.

More important is the entitlement of prisoners to practise their religion in Wandsworth. Men whose names are properly listed to attend chapel may not be unlocked, and so their name is not on the list of attendees and they lose a place. Each week, so I am told, numbers of prisoners are not able to attend because there is a restriction on numbers in the chapel, and staffing difficulties do not allow the provision of additional services. There is an attitude that the prisoner must apply and that worship is a kind of recreation, not a right. Clearly, that is an unsatisfactory state of affairs.

Wandsworth is a large local remand prison and its main function is to serve the courts by holding prisoners on remand and directly after sentence. The prison has to take what it is sent. That means that, in the main, the population is on the move continually. I know that staff often feel that Wandsworth "gets the dregs", and they cite examples of difficult prisoners being posted on to Wandsworth. All that gives some insight into the low morale of many officers. It does not encourage them to think creatively or to seek to depart from the "Wandsworth way" of doing things. It is a demoralising experience simply to be dealing with that turnover of difficult and demanding inmates. As the chief inspector rightly points out, Wandsworth shares many problems with other local prisons which are not of its own making.

It is hard, as the noble Earl, Lord Longford, said, to change a culture in a prison. However, the chief inspector told me only this week that, since the publication of his report, a new and impressive governor has been appointed to lead Wandsworth out of its difficulties. That, combined with a very good action plan by the area manager—a plan based on the inspectorate's concept of the healthy prison—should go a long way to turning Wandsworth round. All of us devoutly hope that that may be so.

8.37 p.m.

Lord Judd

My Lords, first, I should like to 'thank my noble friend Lord Longford for once again giving us the opportunity to discuss this issue. I am one of those who believe that we shall be assessed by historians on the conditions of our prisons. It is said that prison conditions say a great deal about the underlying values of the society in which we live.

At the outset, I should like to underline that, in his report, the Chief Inspector of Prisons goes out of his way to say that there are good people working in the Prison Service in Wandsworth, people who are endeavouring to reach the highest standards and who deserve encouragement as well as inspired and firm leadership.

If we are looking at the seriousness of the report, it is important to place it in historical perspective. The task with which the Government, and those responsible to the Government, are confronted goes back a long way. It is more than 10 years since the Chief Inspector, Judge Tumim, in an inspection report, criticised the culture of staff neglecting prisoners and, subsequently, discipline staff walked out of the prison, blaming problems on "difficult prisoners" and police officers were drafted in to run the establishment.

In 1991, the Council of Europe condemned conditions at Wandsworth as "inhuman and degrading". In 1992, Wandsworth Community Health Council severely criticised the standard of healthcare in the prison, three years after the Chief Inspector of Prisons had made similar criticisms. In 1993, an inspection report described life for prisoners as "monotonous and tedious", with "completely inadequate" employment opportunities. Many prisoners were receiving less than one shower a week, and there was no inmate association. In 1997, a Board of Visitors' report criticised education and healthcare provision, and indeed the local Prison Officers' Association then demanded the removal of passages in the report that were critical of staff.

In 1999 the Wandsworth Board of Visitors criticised overcrowding, budget cuts, low staffing levels, lack of middle management and the fact that, on more than one occasion, the prison had been left without a governor for several months. That is a sad history and a very difficult situation for the present team to turn round. I hope that the message which goes out from tonight's debate is not negative but one that encourages and supports them to try to make this prison a model rather than one which continues in the "Wandsworth way".

Having said that, perhaps the Minister in his reply can deal with several specific points, some of which have already been mentioned, and reassure us. I very much agree with the right reverend Prelate that it is a tragedy—I use that word advisedly—that in so many of our prisons people should not be there at all because basically they are mentally ill. It would be good to hear reassuring comments from the Minister this evening that the Government have that issue in hand and are determined to do something about it. At another level, I was very concerned to read that there were two immigration detainees—it was a small number—in this prison. Why on earth were they in this awful place? I should like to have a specific assurance from the Minister that never again will an immigration detainee find himself in Wandsworth.

There are also disturbing observations in the report that staff did not know how many foreign nationals were in the prison and there were communication difficulties because of language. I should like a reassurance from the Minister that something specific is being done about that. The chief inspector also talked about racism. I suspect that in this context he was not talking primarily about the staff. This is a pernicious problem which must be tackled head on. It would also be of assistance to have a reassurance from the Minister on that matter.

I was concerned to hear that last year there were 305 instances of self-harm in Wandsworth. What is being done about that? I totally agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, that we must have evidence from the Minister that the issues surrounding the segregation unit are being tackled and that arrangements for visitors are being made, or should be. Of all that I have learnt about rehabilitation, relationships with families are of crucial importance.

Perhaps the most important issue of all is that it is impossible to read the report without drawing the conclusion that here we have too big and impersonal a prison with all its problems of overcrowding and so on. If there is a future strategy for our prisons it will be of assistance to know that we shall not continue to run establishments of this size which in many ways make it virtually impossible to manage them. I recognise that this situation has been inherited by those with current responsibility, and we want to support them in finding a way forward. However, firm leadership is necessary and that must start with the Government. For that reason, I ask my noble friend to provide specific reassurances on the points that I have raised.

There is one basic point on which I should like to hear the thinking of the Minister. Like others, I have great respect for him and his colleagues in all that they seek to do. I believe that a government that seek to be judged by the toughness and effectiveness of their penal policy must have the challenge of rehabilitation at the top of their priorities. It must be understood that wrongdoing is not acceptable and will be punished, but the challenge is to turn the wrongdoers into decent, positive citizens.

The question is: how does one bring them back into mainstream life so that they make a constructive contribution? The desperately sad fact to emerge from the report is that there is evidence that people are being turned into hardened criminals with little chance of playing a positive part in society and taking an altogether different approach to life on their release. It is not only a matter of what happens in prison but of what arrangements are made to ensure that people are not just dumped back into society. They must be taken by the hand and led back into society so that they can reconstruct their lives. That approach must be based on the underlying culture and expectations of the Prison Service. We have heard about leadership. However, I should like to hear the Minister tell the House specifically what is being done to re-express the culture of the Prison Service so that the challenge of rehabilitation is seen as the principal vocational task of all those who on our behalf look after people in our prisons, which is no easy task.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, Holloway, Feltham, Wormwood Scrubs and now Wandsworth have been the subject of scarifying reports which in the old days would have been enough to see the departure of the Home Secretary. Since the previous Home Secretary managed to hive off the responsibility to the director-general, nowadays almost anything can happen in the Prison Service without disturbing the equilibrium of Queen Anne's Gate. Every time the chief inspector comes out with a hard-hitting report it is greeted with an air of injured surprise in the eyes of Queen Anne's Gate. In the last case the Minister, commenting on the report at the Prison Service annual conference at Harrogate, said: We cannot continue to experience the sort of failures that have occurred in the Scrubs and Wandsworth … in which all those agencies and systems that you would expect to alert the Board [to] problems seem not to lave done so". If there is an absence of an effective early warning system which causes management and the Minister to be caught on the hop in trying to explain to the media why they are unaware of what goes on in their prisons it is about time they found one. It is probable that one of the agencies that the Minister had in mind was the board of visitors. The board has a duty under Rule 77 to, direct the attention of the governor to any matter which calls for his attention, and shall report to the Secretary of State any matter which [it considers] it expedient to report". It also has the quite separate duty to, inform the Secretary of State immediately of any abuse which comes to [its] knowledge". Why does that system not provide an adequate early warning of trouble at Wandsworth or anywhere else?

First and foremost, I suggest that the reports are not read properly by anybody except the chief inspector, who picks up criticisms and expresses them in his own inimitable style. I shall demonstrate that in the case of Wandsworth. Secondly, the reporting duties of boards of visitors are not clearly defined. For some years I have tried to persuade Ministers that the boards should be required to produce annual reports and make them available to the media and the public. In the last year for which we have figures, 132 boards submitted annual reports to the Minister and only 94 of them were published. Will the Minister now place a duty on boards of visitors to publish annual reports, and will he ask them to report specifically on issues which are the main causes of problems?

Apart from routinely reporting to the Secretary of State any matter which they think it expedient to report, boards of visitors have the duty to inform the Minister "immediately" of any abuse which comes to their knowledge. I suggested to the previous Minister that the wording of this provision needed to be clarified because of the vagueness of the term "abuse" and the necessity to investigate whatever allegation might have been made, rather than bombarding the Secretary of State with every allegation which might turn out to be malicious or ill-founded.

In September 1998 the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams, agreed that there might be a need to look at the wording of that rule. He thought that in the mean time it would be helpful if the national director issued guidance to boards of visitors on the point. But. I noticed that the new rules published last year remain unchanged. I asked why the opportunity had not then been taken to make the drafting alterations. The noble Lord who is to respond this evening replied that only a consolidation exercise had been undertaken, plus a few obvious deletions such as the removal of provisions dealing with prisoners sentenced to death. However, the noble Lord undertook to ask the secretariat of the board of visitors to issue guidance to boards on how to interpret that rule until such time as it may be amended. Can the Minister say anything further on that? What are the circumstances in which boards would be required to communicate their knowledge of abuses occurring in their prison directly to the Secretary of State?

There are plenty of warnings in the 1997 and 1998 reports of the Wandsworth board of visitors. The Minister was not being entirely fair to the board when he claimed that all the responsible agencies had remained silent. They dealt with a number of issues raised later in perhaps rather stronger language by Sir David. At the beginning of the report, it commented adversely on the fact, as noted by my noble friend Lady Linklater, that the previous governing governor, Graham Clark, retired in June 1998 but his successor arrived four months later in October. Even then he was apparently taken out to act as area manager leaving the prison without a governing governor for six months. The board described that as unfortunate and said that the gap led to "a lack of direction". So no one can say that he was not told.

Sir David now says that he has criticised Prison Service senior management again and again for allowing that to happen, as one of the reasons for failing the prison. We do not need the noble Lord, Lord Laming, to tell us that. It is already in the report.

The board drew attention again to the problems created by the presence of a large foreign population in the prison—it was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Judd—with no resources to match. On average in that year there were 120 prisoners, or about 10 per cent of the population in the prison. However, at the time of the chief inspector's visit, the number had doubled to 250. Their needs were largely being ignored. The staff did not know how many foreigners there were on their wings, their nationality, or the languages they spoke. To deal humanely with those prisoners, one would have to provide interpreters, and meet the prisoners' dietary and religious needs. They might need reading material in their own language. They might need teaching by qualified ESL teachers. It is not satisfactory to dump the job of assessing those needs on the shoulders of one part-time race relations officer, however competent he may be.

To put that situation right would cost money. Yet governors have the same amount to spend per head on all prisoners irrespective of their nationality. I suggest to the Minister that we need a supplement, an extra payment, to governors to cover the needs I have mentioned where there is a large number of foreign nationals in the prison.

Last November I sent the Minister an analysis of foreign nationals in our prisons in March 1996 and September 1999. It indicated that the number of foreigners in our prisons is increasing even faster than British nationals. Bearing in mind the cost of keeping these prisoners in custody, I asked whether we could undertake a study to determine the reasons for the increase and to consider the possibility that the courts make greater use of suspended sentences with a recommendation for deportation; and whether the arrangements for repatriation of sentenced persons are working properly and expeditiously. Whether or not the Government agree to my suggested terms of reference, we should not turn a blind eye to a phenomenon which has important implications for both the criminal justice and the penal systems.

Finally, one way to improve the early warning of failing prisons would be to upgrade the standards of professionalism and competence of the boards of visitors. The training of board members is not well designed. The courses are not tailored to meet the needs of different kinds of establishment. They have no module on alleged abuse and what to do about it. They have no training on the Human Rights Act. The subject matter is geared to trained volunteers relying on their own experience. Some boards would like to see IIP accreditation, but that would require support from the Minister and the directorate.

8.53 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Southwark

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for initiating a debate on the Wandsworth prison report. Wandsworth is one of four significant prisons in my diocese and my colleagues and I share an active interest in the life and health of people there. I was therefore very concerned about the criticisms of Wandsworth made in the chief inspector's report.

As we have heard, Wandsworth prison, both within the service and outside, has the reputation of being a hard place able to handle prisoners who have proved difficult to handle elsewhere. They were sent to Wandsworth and Wandsworth handled them without too many questions being asked. That was the "Wandsworth way".

The chief inspector's report questions whether the remnant of the Wandsworth way has any place in a modern penal system. In particular, the report makes criticisms of the regime in the segregation unit where some of what the chief inspector calls "the worst and the weakest prisoners" were wont to show up. He says: Never have I had to write about anything so inhuman and reprehensible as the way that prisoners, some of them seeking protection and some of them mentally disordered, were treated in the filthy and untidy segregation unit". The chief inspector adds that those visiting the unit, including chaplains and doctors, should ask themselves why they did not do enough to stop what was going on.

I am in no position to respond to the accusation concerning Wandsworth. But I can tell a story from another prison in a different part of the country which might indicate why criticisms are sometimes muted. The story concerns a young prison chaplain who made several complaints about the harshness of a regime in a wing where vulnerable prisoners were being held. An accusation of sexual misbehaviour by the chaplain was then made and he was suspended. The police were eventually informed and within a short time came to the conclusion that the accusation had been concocted. Nevertheless, it took several months before the chaplain's suspension was lifted and he was then moved to another prison.

I was closely involved in the case and have no doubt that the whole episode was engineered in order to move someone who was perceived to be a troublesome member of staff. Will that chaplain complain again about anything he sees which disturbs him? I doubt it. Will he keep his head down and just get on with his job without complaint? Very probably.

The report is quite correct. In the absence of firm management, inexperienced staff become resigned to decisions being taken by the dominant officer of the day on the wing. And woe betide the member of staff or prisoner who steps out of line.

The report makes many recommendations, and the noble Earl rightly wishes to know how these issues are being addressed. A diocesan bishop is in a privileged position. He can turn up at the gatehouse of any prison in his diocese unannounced and has the right of admission. It is a right rarely used. We usually make an appointment like most civilised folk. However, last night, in order to address the noble Earl's Question I thought it right to show up unannounced at the gate of Wandsworth prison at six o'clock and ask to be taken to the segregation unit. To be honest, I was expecting to be depressed by what I found. On the contrary, I was much encouraged. The unit has been completely redecorated, a new kitchen has been installed, and new showers are in the process of being fitted. While not spotless, the floors and the washbasins are no dirtier than those in the average student accommodation.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the right reverend Prelate. No doubt he will tell us: it has been given a new name.

The Lord Bishop of Southwark

My Lords, indeed it has been given a new name. Nevertheless, it is the same wing. Since the report was published, new staff have been assigned to the unit. They were obviously proud of the changes which have been made. I emphasise that they were not expecting my visit.

I visited five of the prisoners in the unit, whom I chose at random, and, unlike the members of the inquiry team, I saw each of them alone in their cells without a prison officer being present. They ranged from one prisoner who had been put on the wing that day to those who had been there six months because they were reluctant to return to the landings. Each one told me that they felt safer in the segregation unit than on the landings. This would suggest that there is now no brutality in the segregation unit but leaves open the question of whether or not there is bullying or a harsh regime on the landings.

There were no complaints about the frequency of showers, but it is quite obvious that the granting of exercise is still a privilege not a right, and it is a privilege that the prisoners are sure will not be granted if they make a nuisance of themselves. This was the only evidence of any remnant of the Wandsworth way that I discerned in the segregation unit.

Judging from this unannounced visit, changes are in hand. I should caution against merely going through the report's recommendations and ticking off the changes. This "tick box" mentality underestimates the task that is necessary to tackle the deeper issues of exercising authority in a tough gaol in a civilised and civilising way.

Prison officers will only pay more than lip service to change if they are confident that they are not losing control of their environment. There is the feeling among many long-serving prison officers that demanding prisoners are best controlled by locking them in their cells for long periods of time. The best penal practice to which the report points knows that this is not so. Assaults upon prison officers and other prisoners are more of a problem when the pent up anger, developed through long periods of confinement, boils over when the door is ultimately opened. That is when assaults take place. The best regime is created where relatively small numbers of prison officers feel confident in supervising a moderate number of prisoners in association or work. This can be done, and is being done in some of the better regimes. To develop such a regime at Wandsworth prison will take time. It will take firm management by the new governor. It will take clear action against unacceptable behaviour on behalf of prison officers or prisoners and it will take constant monitoring.

I did not expect to be at all impressed during my visit last night. But, to my surprise, I was. I hope that Sir David, when he pays a return visit to Wandsworth, will also see signs of clear progress. I certainly intend to pay unannounced visits from time to time because I believe that this type of public accountability is the best way of encouraging Wandsworth forward. Perhaps we will see developed another kind of Wandsworth way, the way of moving an elderly local prison forward in the most enlightened fashion. It will take time, but it is not impossible. I believe that a good start has been made.

9.1 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I am privileged to follow the right reverend Prelate because he gives that for which we all look; that is, hope and salvation arising out of the report.

The debate tonight has been called for by my friend Lord Longford, who is well known for his interest in penal matters. We congratulate him.

I share the concern expressed by many. In my notes I call the report a disturbing report. It did disturb me. I have visited Wandsworth prison more than once in the past. It is right that parliamentary time should be given to debating the report. One of the values of a debate such as this is that all sides of the argument can be put, not only that in the inspector's report, but comments from outside parties on the inspector's report. It was put to me that the report rested very much on feelings: it was felt this and it was felt that. I thought of Charles Aznavour who had a hit song called "Feelings". We ought to base ourselves on something more substantial than feelings.

Many strictures in the report are well founded, and I do not dispute them. Earlier this evening I met with members of the Prison Officers' Association and prison officers from Wandsworth. They recognise that there is a major job to be done, and that the first issue to be tackled is that of leadership. For six months before the report visit, the governor was going about his proper business; he was then seconded as area manager, and did not have hands-on control. That of itself would be a major factor in a general malaise that might have existed in the prison.

We now have the heartening news of a new governor who has impressed those he has met. That is a good sign because the prison officers to whom I spoke told me that, in a difficult situation, they are working very closely and very well with the new governor on addressing the problems with which they can themselves deal.

There are a number of ameliorating and extenuating factors that ought to receive attention: for example, race relations. Race relations was singled out as a stricture: the presence of and the lack of attention to race relations. I am told that there is now a positive policy and a training package in which the Prison Officers' Association has played a full part. At the annual meeting of the POA this year—which I have attended in the past and addressed many times—the major discussion or debate will be to do with race relations and equal opportunities. The POA does not run away from criticisms either of itself or its members. The record should show that it recognises the problem and it is trying to deal with it.

I was given a note, which I should like to mention in the debate, about the fine work put in by prison officers. Safe Ground is a charity that provides positive training and skills to inmates regarding parental skills. This training is based on drama and film. Another charity is Fine Cell Work. A prison officer has received an award from the governor for producing this work. Then one looks at the laundry workshop that is part of the estate. The prison industry's award went to the laundry at Wandsworth for the best workshop in the Prison Service for 1999–2000. The CoSLA award was presented for the second year running to the prison magazine that was produced by the staff. The gymnasium at Wandsworth is used not only by the inmates; local blind children are brought into the prison and use the gymnasium under the guidance of prison officers.

Drugs now, as in the past, play a major part. I am told that positive results in random tests are one-third of the national average and have been for the past three years. People who know the culture of drugs in our society, let alone in the prisons, realise that that must be a tremendous achievement. It is only done by positive work, understanding and determination by the prison officers.

Tonight, we have a major opportunity to act. Even though the report and the situation are bleak, one ought to make a number of comments. For instance, the chief inspector said: Unfortunately, the good work of many of the staff in HMP Wandsworth is being overshadowed by a pervasive culture of fear … Prison Service management, the Governor and his staff, must all share some blame, as it was quite obvious to the inspection team from the outset that Wandsworth was far behind the vast majority of other prisons in civilising the treatment of and conditions for prisoners". That is not down to the prison officers or the POA but to a whole range of people. Those accused in part of some dereliction ought not to be offended.

The chief inspector also said: The time to dispense with 'The Wandsworth Way' is long overdue. The silver lining to this particularly dark cloud is that I believe the majority of staff have the skills and capabilities to help move the prison out of its current malaise". Martin Narey, Director General of the Prison Service, who has my utmost respect, said: I am afraid that the vast majority of the staff at Wandsworth and more significantly those who know the prison well, including the Board of Visitors and outside groups who work with the prison, will not recognise much of this report. The drug strategy. excellent offending behaviour courses, healthcare and the imaginative use of the voluntary sector in, for example, parenting courses for fathers are praised by all who see them". The Minister, Mr Paul Boateng, said: There is good practice at Wandsworth. Good staff must not see their work undermined by bad attitudes. The drugs strategy, healthcare and the successful offending behaviour courses … are to be admired". Finally, Mark Healey, Chairman of the Prison Officers' Association said that it was unfair to criticise prison officers for conditions which stemmed from staff and funding cutbacks. The enormous overcrowding and tight budgets have a lot to do with the situation. Mark told me: Our members are assaulted every day of the year. Staffing levels are paramount for the POA and it is no good asking for an enhanced regime if the resources are not there". I was told that the number of assaults on prison officers and inmates doubled in the three months surrounding Christmas. There is a feeling that the prisoners think they are winning. The morale of the staff is crucial and that is why I welcome the positive remarks which are attributed to the new governor.

In conclusion, I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us that this can be seen as an opportunity not only for the Minister but also for the Director General, the POA and everyone concerned. Unless it is recognised that one of the most valuable assets in the penal estate is the training and dedication of the prison officers, we shall lose out. Society sends to prison people convicted of a crime, many of whom are illiterate, inadequate, vicious and violent. It locks the doors and says to the prison officers, "Look after them on our behalf". What prison officers need is encouragement and support, and I hope that the Minister can provide that tonight.

9.11 p.m.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for introducing the debate. No one can be surprised that the chief inspector's report on Wandsworth has generated so much concern.

When a person is sentenced to custody, the state takes over the responsibility for his welfare. We therefore expect the highest standards of prison institutions in the way they treat inmates. The courts rightly pass the sentence and no one has the right to develop a culture which further penalises inmates.

Immediately before the debate we approved an order relating to the census. It takes place every 10 years and gives a measurement of the progress we are making in our social policies. Like the noble Lord, Lord Judd, I decided to look back 10 years to when Judge Tumim was the Chief Inspector of Prisons. I shall not go into detail, but I picked up headlines such as that in October 1989, Shake-up called for in prison regime". That was about Wandsworth. Also, Prison lacking a reforming regime", and, Jail conditions at Wandsworth 'lack humanity'''. That was the starting point in examining Sir David Ramsbotham's report. But what Judge Tumim said 10 years ago was very worrying. He went on to say, staff treated inmates with disdain and operated a 'thoroughly institutionalising regime—. He also spoke of the culture of the prison officers. I simply reiterate that to a great extent the inference behind that report was that it was the prison officers who determined how the prison was to be run.

At the time, my noble friend the Chief Whip for our Benches, the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, said that the conclusions of Judge Tumim's report were utterly disturbing and the prison was itself decaying. Ten years ago, HMI said that the prison failed to meet even, basic standards of humanity and decency". It called for a phased but fundamental shake-up of a regime which was primitive and "thoroughly institutionalising".

Perhaps I may return to 1999. When the chief inspector's report on Wandsworth was published on 18th December 1999, it was the third highly critical report to come from the inspectorate, as has been pointed out by my noble friend Lord Avebury. It followed poor reports on Feltham in March and Wormwood Scrubs in June. The latest report still makes disturbing reading, but I should like to pick out, as did the noble Lord, Lord Graham, some important improvements. We should not back away from the good points and I do not wish to be accused of only picking out the bad elements.

The report of the chief inspector was not uniformly critical of Wandsworth. It acknowledged that the accommodation had become cleaner and more modern since the previous inspection; that thoroughcare practice was more advanced than at many training prisons; and that specialist agencies were running positive drug treatment programmes, as has been pointed out by a number of noble Lords. Furthermore, all departments included enthusiastic and dedicated staff who were trying hard to overcome Wandsworth's problems. Let us not forget that we are not talking about all the staff; we are simply pointing out that some staff give a bad name to all those who do good work.

I am chair of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders—NACRO. I am particularly pleased that some 250 staff at Wandsworth have undertaken race relations training devised by NACRO, which aims to cover all the staff over a three-year period. I have a vested interest in this because I believe that a proper race relations strategy forms an important part of prison policy.

I wish to concentrate on five problems identified by the chief inspector and mentioned in many other contributions to the debate tonight. The first problem is that we constantly return to the culture at Wandsworth. It is a culture that has been described as "The Wandsworth way" and is summed up in Sir David's report as follows: HMP Wandsworth has always had, arid some staff have prided themselves upon the reputation of being a 'hard' prison … Over the years, prisoners have been encouraged to think that they have been sent there as a punishment, with which many hardened ones have been happy to collude". The result is that many prisoners consider the best way to survive is to keep your head down and be as anonymous as possible, as was rightly pointed out in an example given by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark.

Other prisoners respond by constantly behaving in a hard manner to show that they are not intimidated. Some ex-prisoners who have had experience of more constructive regimes in other prisons—for example, at Latchmere House resettlement prison—have said that they could tell which prisoners had been transferred from Wandsworth because they showed a hard, "macho" attitude and found it much more difficult to engage positively with opportunities for rehabilitation and to make constructive relationships with staff. This means that the traditional "Wandsworth way" is the opposite of the way in which we should be acting if we want to divert prisoners from reoffending.

The second issue I wish to raise is the high proportion of prisoners at Wandsworth—14 per cent—who claimed in questionnaires returned to the inspectorate to have been assaulted by a member of the staff. While prisoners can of course exaggerate such claims, they were more widespread than the inspectorate found in other prisons. Some ex-prisoners from Wandsworth spoke of verbal and physical aggression by a minority of staff.

Are we powerless to identify culprits among the prison staff? Assault and aggression are unacceptable. Do we not have the technology to identify such officers? The police have successfully introduced ways to apprehend corrupt officers. Is there a lesson to he learnt from the police service in this area?

The most effective way of minimising the risk of misbehaviour is partly by the effective supervision of staff and partly by promoting a strong ethos of rehabilitation. However, at the time of the inspection, the population of the prison had been increased by 50 per cent from 921 to 1,294 but simultaneously was required to make cuts in its budget. How does one operate when the number of prisoners is doubled but there is no more money to look after them effectively?

Another problem that crops up time and again in reports by the chief inspector is the length of time which often elapses before a governor who leaves is replaced. That has been pointed out by a number of Ministers. Could we not devise a practice whereby we have the best possible people for the worst possible prison? Those people should not be taken away from that situation until the situation has been turned around.

Finally, I draw attention to the particular problems faced by the large number of foreign national prisoners at Wandsworth—some 250 at the time of the inspection—whose special needs were largely ignored. I hope that when the Minister replies he will he able to tell us of a firm and effective way to tackle those problems. Martin Narey, the Prison Service director, and Sir David Ramsbotham have done much to improve prison conditions. I have known them for years and I have every confidence in their ability to turn the prison around. In addition, we must never forget the work of the board of visitors, the chaplaincy and others who continuously go into prisons and carry out very useful work.

At the end of the day, our patience will be exhausted. If one has a toothache, there are ways of curing it. If the time comes when nothing works, that tooth must be extracted. Wandsworth will be no exception if its public profile continues to build up over a period of time, condemning it as being inhuman.

9.21 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, this is a most serious report and this has been a most serious debate. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, has done us all a service by securing the debate this evening. The chief inspector makes important criticisms of Wandsworth prison and, in the preface to the report in particular, he also draws some wider conclusions from this particular case.

I have not been to Wandsworth prison. Therefore, I shall not follow the comments that have been made on the details of the report. However, clearly, both the detailed recommendations and the overall case made against the so-called "culture" of the prison deserve the closest scrutiny. From what I have heard about the prison from inquiries that I made before the debate, I gather that while very good work is being done there— attention was drawn to that a little earlier and it is mentioned by the chief inspector in the report—the problem of the culture is very real. It can be summarised as relating to the way that some of the officers treat the prisoners.

I should add at once that, when I was in another place, there were three prisons, or, to be more accurate, three penal establishments in my constituency and, for a while, a Prison Service training establishment as well, which I came to know well over more than 20 years. I have the highest respect for prison officers and governors and for the very difficult work that they carry out on behalf of us all. Although it is not directly relevant, I also came to have very high respect for the Northern Ireland Prison Service when I had responsibility for it for a couple of years. During that time, I came to know some very hard prisons indeed.

I return to Wandsworth. Throughout his report, the chief inspector makes the point that the culture of the prison does not respect prisoners sufficiently. However, both the noble Earl, Lord Longford, in his opening speech and, particularly, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark gave us reason to hope that changes were in progress. I believe that the speech of the right reverend Prelate was very important.

The chief inspector rightly says that Prison Service standards constantly emphasise that the service should respect the human dignity of prisoners. However, he also believes that the proper measures are not being used to judge the working of prisons in this respect. In talking about the information given to top management, he complains that it is, not about the quality of outcomes for prisoners but about budgets, Key Performance Indicators and measurements of quantity of laid down processes". I do not doubt that he is right, but quality is notoriously more difficult to measure than quantity. In particular, it is very difficult to measure how much officers respect the human rights of prisoners. There is no objective measure. Respect can sometimes be measured by politeness—the way in which prisoners are addressed, for example. That leaves something to be desired in some cases. But in every prison there are some prisoners who are difficult to be civil to, let alone polite.

There are also some people who are quite capable of uttering the most polite words while really asserting their power over others. I think immediately of the regimental sergeant-major at Sandhurst explaining to a new officer cadet "You call me 'Sir', sir, and I call you 'Sir', sir, but the difference is—you mean it". I tell that story not in criticism of the sergeant-major, who certainly could not be faulted for lack of politeness on any objective measure, but in illustration of the difficulties of measuring respect.

In the end, I do not think the chief inspector is right to suggest, as he does rather indirectly, that performance indicators can be devised to measure in full the respect for the human rights of prisoners, although they might make a contribution. Governors and senior prison staff management should, of course, concern themselves about it, even if it cannot be measured, and they should do all they can to ensure that a proper culture exists in every prison. But not everything that is important can be easily measured and sent to head office on a form.

The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, referred to the fact that the report was based on feelings. That is true, but the culture of a prison can be felt when visiting, although not so easily on a formal, high-level visit. One example is a ministerial visit, and until this evening I had thought an episcopal visit was another. However, it is something that, for example, the board of visitors should be responsive to, as it visits the prison all the time and sees it in its everyday guise and not on its best behaviour.

The same is true of chaplains and doctors, mentioned by the chief inspector, and of others who regularly go into a prison, although it is important not to damage their proper role by expecting them to be over-concerned with reporting to the management on conditions. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark gave us an important cautionary tale in that respect, too.

I regard what the chief inspector says about governors and senior staff of the Prison Service listening to boards of visitors and other sources of information on the culture of prisons as most important and deserving emphasis. But it is also most important to ensure that the staff at all levels can talk to management if they feel that things are not right. The noble Lord, Lord Graham, spoke of the comments on the report of officers from Wandsworth. I hope that they have had a full opportunity to see the report and to comment on it, not only through the Prison Officers' Association, but directly.

It is also very important to ensure that prisoners' complaints are properly considered and dealt with, as is mentioned in the report.

Above all, the Prison Service is right to be trying to refine its measures of outcomes. It would be very useful to see the statistics of reoffending by prisoners from various prisons. If the most effective regimes and programmes are to be built on, we need to know which they are. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that rehabilitation is one of the most important aims of prisons. But, of course, such statistics would suffer from the same difficulties as school league tables. The nature and habits of those who are sent to a particular prison are reflected in the outcomes. But the real difficulty is that prisoners who serve a sentence of any length do so in different prisons. The prison from which they are discharged would presumably get the credit or blame for their reoffending, or lack of it, and may not necessarily have been the most important influence.

But as the chief inspector indicates, the Prison Service is right to try to improve its information about the quality of treatment and the conditions of the prisoners and to improve comparisons between the outcomes of the different prisons.

This has been an extremely useful debate. Like the report, it has been mainly about one single prison but, in reality, there are messages which affect the Prison Service as a whole much more widely. We are all grateful to the noble Earl both for initiating the debate and also for starting it off on a clear note of hope which has been echoed throughout the debate. We await with interest the Minister's response.

9.20 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am, as ever, very grateful indeed to my noble friend Lord Longford for allowing us to discuss this very critical report from Sir David Ramsbotham, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons. My noble friend Lord Graham put his finger on it when he said that this is an opportunity and I believe that that opportunity must be grasped. It is a very important moment in the development of the Prison Service.

My noble friend Lord Longford has prepared for this debate with his customary care and courtesy, speaking first to the chief inspector, the governor and the area manager and has been very thorough in his preparation.

Sir David has, with his usual robustness, identified severe failings, particularly in the segregation unit at Wandsworth. I want to report to the House this evening on the service's swift response to the chief inspector's findings and to explain how those improvements will be sustained and monitored year on year.

My noble friend Lord Longford asked how much responsibility the Government accept. It is important to address that point first. The Government take extremely seriously their responsibilities towards prisons. Indeed, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has resumed the previously abandoned practice that he and his Ministers should reply in person to Parliamentary Questions from Members of both Houses on prison matters. He made a Statement in the other place in response to the chief inspector's report on Worm wood Scrubs when he reaffirmed his personal responsibility to Parliament. On that occasion he said: There is a broad understanding that I do not undertake to lock up the cells and check the walls every evening. but I am responsible to the House for what happens in the Prison Service".—[Official Report, Commons, 28/6/99; col. 27.] That is a very clear recognition of his accountability.

The chief inspector reports to the Home Secretary and it is right that he, in the first instance, should look to Martin Narey the director general, for a response to the report's recommendations. I assure the House that he and his senior management team do not shirk responsibility when change is clearly needed.

My right honourable friend Paul Boateng, the Minister for Prisons and Probation, visited Wandsworth prison just a few days after he was appointed. He has visited since and has first-hand knowledge of both the problems of that prison and the examples of good practice there.

Wandsworth is one of the largest and most complex prisons in the country, and for many years played a crucial role in taking difficult prisoners from other prisons. With a prisoner population of around 1,300, it was recognised that the regime needed to be controlled and structured. Its success in operating a safe environment for prisoners and staff is reflected in the relatively low number of incidents.

As Sir David recognised, considerable efforts have been made to develop Wandsworth in the 1990s into a multi-functional prison, with offending behaviour programmes, a model drug strategy and good healthcare provision, forming a basis for further development.

As my noble friend Lord Graham noted, Sir David in particular praised, those many good staff who want to do a good job … and who have a genuine affection for, as well as pride in, Wandsworth". He made it very clear that that was the case. He stated: There are enthusiastic, skilled and dedicated staff in all departments, who are trying as best they can to overcome the problems with which the prison is beset". I add my thanks to the POA for its positive response to the action plan. Sir David concluded that there was a good foundation at Wandsworth on which the Prison Service can build, and evidenced that by the number of good practices he noted. Those points were referred to very well by the noble Lord, Lord Graham.

Sir David singled out for mention the introduction of "throughcare", which he identified as being more advanced than in training prisons and is a fine example of close working between prison, probation and psychology staff. It includes commendable initiatives, with two accredited offending behaviour programmes with an implementation quality rating of 100 per cent, which is, indeed, impressive.

In respect of the drug strategy, Sir David commended the fact that every prisoner is tested for substance abuse and that MDT results are presented in a highly sophisticated and effective manner, which he recommended is adopted for use by other prisons. Wandsworth's rate of positive mandatory drug tests is only 7 per cent, which is half the national target. That is an excellent achievement, particularly for a local prison.

The development of the drug strategy at Wandsworth has continued apace with the provision of 10 additional officers and counsellors to provide CARATs and to increase the availability of voluntary testing. Sir David also cited Wandsworth's healthcare as being an example of good practice, commending the arrangements for nurses, management of healthcare generally and the fact that nursing staff are always on duty when prisoners arrive.

Wandsworth is continuing to move forward on a wide range of other partnership-based initiatives. Tomorrow, for example, the Government will be signing a protocol on child protection arrangements with the Chief Executive of the NSPCC, the first of its kind across the Prison Service.

Despite those good points we recognise the seriousness of the criticisms raised by the chief inspector, as does the Prison Service at large. The response to the findings of the chief inspector was swift and focused. Within days of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons leaving the prison, the Prison Service concentrated on immediate improvements to the segregation unit, the focus of some of his sharpest criticism.

All prisoners in the care and separation unit, which, as the noble Lord noted, has undergone a significant name change, now have access to daily exercise and showers and receive clear written or oral explanations of their rights and expectations. A woman officer and two ethnic minority officers are now working on the unit. Search procedures have been reviewed and the governor in charge visits the unit on a daily basis, which are all important improvements.

Adjudications are now carried out by the governing governor or his deputy. Special cells are no longer used to deal with suicidal prisoners. Daily inspections are made by the duty manager to ensure that standards of hygiene are scrupulously maintained. The programme of repainting is nearly finished.

However, as the chief inspector noted, cultural change is vital. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln referred to the value of cultural shift and its importance. We believe there are real gains to be made from focusing on staff attitudes and improving them. That has been achieved by much more visible management, clearer standards of care, clear expectations of staff and written material for prisoners.

Senior management commitment is essential to drive home that new culture of change that we all desire. It is clearly provided in this case. We have found that the most effective means of monitoring improvements is to develop an action plan in response to all of the 147 recommendations of the chief inspector and to monitor it on a regular basis. That has been done for Wandsworth.

I should like to draw out some of the elements of the detailed plan. Wandsworth is committed to delivering a user-friendly visits booking system—a matter raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater; an effective strategy to meet the needs of foreign national prisoners—a matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Judd; a full commitment to the RESPOND (Race Equality for Staff and Prisoners) programme; more drug-free accommodation; more enhanced thinking skills courses and a revised education programme that will focus on basic skills.

My noble friends Lord Longford and Lord Graham, the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred to the absence of a governor from September 1998 to February 1999. At the time, the then governor of Wandsworth was the best candidate to act as area manager. It is accepted that this was, with the benefit of hindsight, an unsuitable arrangement. Martin Narey has made it clear that no prison of Wandsworth's size, complexity and need for change will be left without a governor in this way. As a consequence, there was no gap last month between Mick Knight—the governor of Wandsworth until then—moving to head Norwich prison and the appointment and putting into place of Stephen Rimmer in moving from Gartree to take over at Wandsworth. I believe that that must be welcomed.

The current area manager for London South, Peter Atherton, has responsibility for a number of the largest and most complex prisons in the country. In recognition of that load, an additional area manager, David Waplington, is providing management support. The director general assures me that this means that there will be no lapse in senior support when Peter Atherton moves later this year, on promotion, to lead the high security estate.

My noble friend Lord Longford rightly asked about the senior management team supporting the governor at the prison. Some staff have changed. The team has been restructured to ensure a proper mix of skills. Moreover, some members of the previous senior management team have been replaced. The necessary commitment to change is there, from the new governor and his senior management team of Wandsworth, straight through the area manager to the director general.

The governor most recently met the local branch of the Prison Officers' Association last Wednesday. The POA is co-operating with the planned improvements to Wandsworth. The governor meets the POA branch every month. He also has regular meetings with all staff. The governor is quite clear that the POA committee will make a substantial contribution to the positive developments and that it will support the rooting out of any unprofessional behaviour in Wandsworth prison. I pay tribute to the commitment from the POA branch to the action plan.

Many noble Lords referred to other prisons. Last year, your Lordships debated the Government's response to the chief inspector's report on Feltham remand centre. In that report, the chief inspector expressed his understandable frustration that inadequate action had been taken in response to recommendations made in an earlier report. My noble and learned friend Lord Williams of Mostyn described that report as "bleak" and shared with noble Lords his shock at some of the findings.

It gives me great pleasure to report that a similar package—a solid senior management commitment, a comprehensive action plan and careful monitoring of its implementation—has produced marked improvements. Indeed, Sir David said that he now found Feltham to be, a very different place from the one we left nine months before". He also said: The impressive commitment to change amongst management and staff, from top to bottom, is very noticeable. This confirms what I have said before, namely that there has always been a body of good staff, knowing what they want to and can do, but being denied the opportunity to do so for a variety of reasons". I believe that that response demonstrates exactly what can be achieved within the Prison Service. It shows what can be done. We must repeat that elsewhere. Wandsworth is obviously one of those places that is high on our list as regards a repeat of that performance.

Noble Lords will recognise that I have concentrated very much on the service's response to Sir David's report on Wandsworth. The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, made reference to the noble Lord, Lord Laming. However, I am not likely to believe that the service only reacts when its failings are exposed by the chief inspector. Indeed, most importantly, when speaking about Feltham, Sir David said that, this degree of commitment to improving the treatment and conditions of young prisoners in Feltham should not only follow a bad inspection report; it must be built into the structure of the Prison Service as a matter of course". Those are very wise words.

Strong management is the key to success and it must come from within the Prison Service. The director general is leading from the front with his personal commitment to change. The deputy director general has introduced rigorous arrangements for line managing prison establishments. To strengthen this development, the Government asked the noble Lord, Lord Laming, to chair a working group on targeted performance improvement, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Cope.

The service has made some significant advances in recent years, but there is a need to pull together and sharpen the focus of the work to tackle underperformance. The noble Lord will be able to draw on a range of skills and experience from within the service and from the wider world of business and the voluntary sector in order to develop a strategy to build effective local partnerships and establish prisons as resources for their communities. The Government have asked the noble Lord, Lord Laming, to report by 1st May 2000. That is a challenging time target but one which we feel must be met.

Many noble Lords made many points in the debate. I shall try to address some of those before I conclude. The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, raised the issue of family contact development officers. I am pleased to be able to tell her that a family contact development officer is being piloted at Huntercombe Young Offenders Institution in Oxfordshire. That is an important development. I believe that she also made reference to the need to have adequate facilities to receive visitors. At Wandsworth a major refurbishment programme is under way to improve and brighten the access to the visiting area. The noble Baroness also referred to the gate area. We have taken a careful look al that. That point was raised in the report. A dedicated staff information room has now been provided and the POA posters and bulletins have been removed from the immediate gate area.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln raised the issue of a lack of chaplaincy facilities at Wandsworth. All prisoners now have the opportunity to exercise their statutory entitlement to religious provision. The chaplaincy team works well with a wide range of colleagues, including those involved in the Safe Ground Project that has been mentioned. The prison will continue to seek to maximise the numbers who attend Sunday services.

It is important that we try to focus on some of the other issues which have been raised in the debate. While I am not able to cover all of the points because time does not permit that, I undertake to write to noble Lords on some of the points that I have not been able to cover.

The chief inspector levelled serious criticism at the service and the conditions he found on his inspection. We accept that there are serious failings at Wandsworth. I have described the energy that is going into remedying those failings and the improvements that have already taken place. I also think that it is worth placing this report on one prison in context. It is significant that the chief inspector and the director general agree that Wandsworth is not another Wormwood Scrubs. By coincidence, the chief inspector has finished his follow-up inspection at Wormwood Scrubs. I cannot, of course, prejudge the report of that inspection which will be made to the Home Secretary, but I am confident that Sir David will have seen real change for the better. He described a "transformation" at Werrington, where his previous report had been extremely critical. There have been recent and good reports on Hatfield, Bullwood Hall, Huntercombe and Wayland. The chief inspector will return to Wandsworth in December, 12 months after his report. I am confident that he will find substantial improvements.

The Government do not deny that there are deep-seated problems with some prisons. However, we are encouraged by the evidence of the impact of our unique investment from April of last year of more than £220 million in improving prison regimes. As a result, drug misuse is falling, offenders released after completing offending behaviour programmes are not offending again and, perhaps most impressively, prisoners' employment chances are being transformed by a drive on literacy and numeracy which led to prisoners gaining more than 30,000 qualifications last year. These are improvements we can all take encouragement from. Much good can come from adverse criticism in reports such as that made at Wandsworth, and we must build on those improvements if we are to have a Prison Service which aspires to be the best.