HL Deb 29 February 2000 vol 610 cc450-2

2.59 p.m.

Lord Hurd of Westwell asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many governors of Her Majesty's prisons were, during 1998 and 1999, transferred to other positions after less than two years in post.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton)

My Lords, during 1998 and 1999 a total of eight governing governors transferred to other positions after less than two years in post. In seven cases those governors moved to a higher category establishment and in the eighth case the governor moved up to head the Prison Service's training services on a short-term basis until the arrival of a newly recruited head.

Lord Hurd of Westwell

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, which obviously I shall need to study. However, can he confirm, for example, that Her Majesty's Prison at Glen Parva has had five governors in three years and Chelmsford one governor each year for six years? Those are not extraordinary but quite common examples. A great deal of good has been done in the Prison Service in recent years, but will the noble Lord agree that it is difficult to run a prison effectively under those circumstances? What can the Prison Service do to slow down what in many cases is a dizzy and very damaging merry-go-round?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord is probably correct in his statistics, although clearly we need to look at them more closely. I believe that the process is working properly. An accelerated promotion scheme exists within the service and that is very important. In part, that may explain part of the problem with which we are dealing. It is important that we bring forward bright people in the service and, on the other hand, maintain the right balance by ensuring that we retain experienced people in post. However, by and large we believe that we have the balance right. The chief inspector is happy with the way in which appointments operate within the Prison Service. Unfortunately, there will be occasions when difficulties are caused in some prisons by governors taking new jobs and moving on perhaps rather more quickly than we should like.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, presumably the figures given by the noble Lord do not include the temporary secondment of governing governors to posts at area level, such as was the case when the governing governor at Wandsworth was removed recently, as he will recall. Does the Prison Service accept the recommendation by the chief inspector that one should not take governing governors away from a prison without providing a replacement? Can the noble Lord give an assurance on that point?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am happy to give an assurance because the director-general, Martin Narey, has made it very clear that he intends to take note of and follow as strictly as possible the Chief Inspector of Prisons' comments, observations and criticisms. I am sure that the noble Lord will be aware that during the recent changeover of power at Wandsworth there was no gap between the departure of one governor and the arrival of another. However, I believe it is worth stressing that in most prisons in most circumstances the number two will be fully capable and well able to act in the governing governor position. We have extremely experienced governors who can carry out that important work.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, I doubt that Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons will be happy when prisons such as Wayland, Rochester and Wandsworth, as my noble friend pointed out, have been without a prison governor for six months. In the case of Swansea the period has been even longer. Why do we take away some of our best people, leaving prisons without prison governors when problem prisons need good people?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I thought that I had made it clear that we do not, as a matter of practice, leave our prisons without good governors. Because of the governor grades—that is, Governors 1 to 5—within the Prison Service and within each prison, there is always a range of governor experience that can be drawn upon and governors can be moved into the primary position. It is most important that we have a broad base of experience within the Prison Service. Of course, that is not to say that we should not do all that we can to ensure a smooth transfer of office from one governor to the next. For that reason, we now pay much more attention to succession planning.

Lord Elton

My Lords, is it not the case that a prison is a very complex organism which takes a long time for anyone to understand? Therefore, an important qualification of an effective governor is the length of time that he has been in service in post. That being so, would it not be better to increase the number of occasions on which governing governors are promoted from among the governors in a prison which they already know, rather than sending governors to sort out another prison which presents them with a completely strange problem?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord and I are on the same track. I agree with him entirely. It is for that reason that in many instances the second-in-command is promoted into the governing governor role. That provides for the good succession arrangement that we want. However, there will, of course, be occasions when we need to bring in specialist expertise when specialist support is required, and there are many excellent governors who perform that important job.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, the Minister said that he believed that my noble friend Lord Hurd was probably right in the disturbing figures that he gave. Will he be kind enough to write to my noble friend, preferably sending a copy to the Library, after he has had the opportunity to become fully briefed on the matter? However, I must admit to having some sympathy for the noble Lord's correspondence secretary.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I suspect that I am a victim of very imaginative questioning in your Lordships' House. I am more than happy to confirm that that is exactly what I shall do. I should apologise to the House as my briefing does not cover the precise point raised earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Hurd.