HL Deb 10 May 2000 vol 612 cc1571-3

3.13 p.m.

Lord Dholakia

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether HM Inspector of Prisons will produce a further report on the situation at Portland following the disturbance last week.

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

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary does not intend to ask the Chief Inspector of Prisons to investigate this incident as it is rightly a matter for the Prison Service, which is conducting its own inquiry. The chief inspector's recent report highlights a number of serious deficiencies in the treatment of young offenders and in conditions at Portland, but it also recognises the significant progress and plans being made by the new governor. In his report Sir David Ramsbotham stated that the new governor was to be commended on what he had done and should be supported in what he has in mind for the future. The three key issues raised by the prisoners in the recent disturbance are already being addressed.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but it will be of little comfort to parents and in particular to young offenders serving sentences in Portland. Why is it that the Home Office has still to respond to the HMI report of the inspection carried out in October and November 1999? Furthermore, is it not a shocking indictment of the Prison Service when the chief inspector says, in effect, that the treatment of young offenders was wholly unacceptable and that the approach of the staff was based on fear and intimidation? Does the Minister accept that a great many things are going wrong at Portland, as reflected by the recent disturbances, and is it not time for him to arrange for Sir David to inspect Portland again sooner rather than later?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, it has been acknowledged that the chief inspector's report was extremely valuable. It has been accepted that some aspects of the regime at Portland were overly militaristic and thus were unacceptable. For that reason, the director-general was keen to see in place a new governor for Portland young offender institution. Very good work is now being undertaken. Sir David Ramsbotham has made clear his support for the plans being made by the new governor. As regards the question of whether Sir David should reinspect, naturally he will do so in due course. That usually happens after a period of around 12 months. The visit will be unannounced. No doubt we shall reflect carefully on the findings of that fresh inspection in the context of the 157 recommendations made in his initial report. However, the board of visitors and the director-general found no evidence of institutionalised brutality; neither did the chief inspector. Other aspects of the regime at Portland were of more concern to him.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, the chief inspector did find evidence of widespread bullying at Portland. Has the Prison Service given further thought to the question of why the board of visitors to Portland was unable to pinpoint and report on that bullying? In particular, has the Prison Service decided what further guidance should be given to boards of visitors on the action that they should take under prison rule 774 which calls on boards immediately to inform the Secretary of State of any abuse that is brought to their notice? Furthermore, will the Minister ask the Prison Service to use form F213 relating to reports on violence against inmates and staff rather than findings at adjudications when evaluating key performance indicator 2 concerning violence against prisoners?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, specific action has been taken to deal with the issue of bullying. An anti-bullying committee has been re-formed. I understand that it will be given a high profile within the institution. However, a balance must be struck here. The noble Lord is right to highlight the importance of performance indicators. My understanding is that the recorded instances of bullying in Portland are lower than those elsewhere within the prison estate. I am extremely pleased to tell the House that the governor has recently issued firm instructions to staff; a document entitled HMYO Portland: A Vision for the 21st Century has been produced which deals with precisely these issues; and a whole new training regime has been put in place to address issues of bullying. We believe that these actions are right and that these matters should be tackled firmly. We shall not tolerate bullying in the prison estate as a whole.

Baroness Stern

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, according to the Government's figures, in this country we lock up more young people than most of the rest of Europe apart from Romania, Estonia and Lithuania? Can he tell us when government policies might lead to a reduction in the number of young people being locked up so that the staff at Portland will have an opportunity to deal with fewer prisoners and thus do a better job?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am aware that we have a large prison estate that covers young offenders. Since 1st May 1997 the general thrust of this Government's policy has been to focus much more attention towards activities based on re-educating and reorienting young offenders. That is now developing into a very successful programme. Young offenders also benefit greatly from the welfare-to-work and New Deal programmes that are in place outside prison. The purpose of our policy is to ensure that those who are released from prisons and institutions are better prepared for the world of work. Contact with the world of work is probably one of the biggest deterrents to slipping back into an offending pattern of life.